Trip to Deoriataal, Chopta and Tungnath can be put into that category which in scientific terms is referred to as serendipity. We friends were thinking of going out someplace and almost everyone wasn’t too keen on trekking except me who has been bitten by the trekking bug for quite long now. In fact the day in between the treks is what I use for planning the next trek trip. If not for a full time job that I am engaged in right now, I think I would rather be a trek guide or even an assistant guide for that matter.
Now looking back at this trip of four of us, where Rohini was the “Head Planner” with whom we all had to agree, and to my pleasant surprise she too was ok with the trek plan (She later confessed though that she wasn’t in her senses to have agreed to it and that sometime we do make mistakes and at times they turn out to be the ‘’Right’’ ones) and her husband Kishan and Manish (Rohini and Manish are my batch-mates) we actually call him by his better sounding name, Miglani (Manish) too agreed and we decided to venture out on the third Saturday of March (19th) from Delhi. Actually, three of them started from Gurgaon and I was picked up by them from Delhi for Rishikesh . The ride from Delhi to Rishikesh as usual wasn’t that exciting except for the fact that we were all anxious to reach Chopta before sunset. There were some traffic snarls at Muzzafarnagar as the road there is in decrepit condition and the repair or relaying work has still not been initiated. The stretch after the toll road is under construction by NHAI and they are trying to extend the toll road further, which I hope in future, would lead to better drive on this stretch.
After a brief stopover at Rohini’s place in Rishikesh to drop her two little cuties (her twin daughters) we set out for the drive ahead to Chopta. With an expert in hill driving – Kishan we all were in safe hands. Though Rohini, occasionally did tried to play the nagging wife while Kishan was driving, instructing him on how he should be driving; that is slower, safer and with a little more sensibility. Here, I must appreciate Kishan for handling the situation in the most astute manner J
It was quite warm and from Rishikesh till Byasi which is a distance of about 25 KM’s, we could witness the beautiful Ganges flowing on our right, meandering its way through the hills, appearing as a serene goddess. The flora on the banks and lining the road presented an awesome picture of natural bliss adding to the feeling that you are going to witness much better sights in the days to come which till now has been seen only on Google J.
The beautiful confluence of Alakknanda and Bhagirathi rivers, at Devprayag the first major town after Rishikesh was mesmerizing, with two rivers of different hues coming together to form what we call the holy Ganga. The beautiful convergence is referred to as Prayag and thus the godly name Devprayag for the place (Dev referring to someone with god like qualities and prayag to confluence).
As we went along higher up, hunger pangs started knocking some of us and we all started out to look for a place to satiate our belly. We missed quite a few of the places as we (except Rohini) were deeply engaged in political discussion and as only Rohini were somewhat neutral (not entirely), she was the one feeling the most hungry. While coming back from my recent Kuari pass trek (more on that later) I had stumbled upon a nice place which serves homely food on a highway and I was looking for that same place to have our lunch. Everyone agreed for a lunch at that place, not because they all liked my choice but because of the limited options that we have had and the fact that we all have been awake since 3 in the morning without a proper meal and above all we all wanted to have a go at food as quickly as possible. In the middle of our heated political discussion, I managed to somehow spot that place, though I thought earlier that we might have already crossed it. The place is managed by the Chauhan family and though I am not sure about the name, I think it is Chauhan Bhojnalaya with husband-wife duo managing this place with the help of some other family members. We ordered a thali each for all of us and the food was quite simple and homely as if you are eating at home. The owner generously replenished whatever we finished off and we had to say an emphatic ‘’No’’ to further helpings and all this was served for a mere Rs 60/-. The food actually rejuvenated us, as it wasn’t very spicy and almost perfect for a travel in the hills. All four of us continued with our journey further and reached Srinagar, another major town, after almost half an hour. Chauhan Bhojnalaya was at Kirti nagar (Outskirts) and Srinagar is just about 40 minutes drive from there. Srinagar is abuzz with youngsters and the major reason for that is the presence of one of the biggest university there , called Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna Garhwal University. This is one of the major universities of the Garhwal region and almost all major colleges of Garhwal are affiliated to this university. We were looking for a petrol pump (car needed its feed too), but the one we spotted was too crowded and after waiting for a while we moved on hoping to find another one soon. Now all four of us in addition to our discussion (more like arguments) were also keeping a watch for a filling station and pretty soon we found one on our right hardly 15 minutes from where we left the last one. It was practically empty with two youngsters lazily manning it. We got our tank full and moved on.
After we drove for another 15-20 minutes we came across an awesome beach on our left. I do understand that we were not in the coastsal region but on the hills, and that added to the enigma. The river bank of Alaknanda just looked like a beautiful beach and it was practically empty with only two people enjoying the scenic view. This was more of a virgin area with not many footmarks along the way to the bank of Alaknanda, the river which later on meets Bhagirathi at Devprayag. The place was discovered almost by chance and Rohini was the one who actually wanted to go down and experience the place, while Kishan was the most reluctant one a he was keener to drive without too many breaks. The picture taken here would actually appear to have been taken at a beach rather than a river bank (which is full of pebbles and rocks along with sand). However, this particular stretch probably around 50-60 metres in length and 15-20 metres in varying width was an exception. The official photographer of the gang (Miglani) took no time in flexing his photography muscles and took some amazing shots of the place as well as of ourselves. After seeing some of the pictures he had clicked, me and Kishan too got motivated to click few shots, but I must admit, that the pictures Miglani took were a treat to the eyes and brain too (after all its the brain which creates all the perceptions).
After spending almost 30 minutes enjoying and shooting the place we promised ourselves to stop by on our way back too, to click more pictures (to cut the long story short here, we actually didn’t stopped as we put our self under pressure to reach Rishikesh on time and the fact that I had to resume my office from Tuesday). The smooth journey till now got its first major jolt when we got stuck on the road because of the repair work going on ahead of us (This is quite a routine in the hills and we should actually provision our time accordingly). While in the jam, I decided to enquire about the route to Chopta as we were not very sure of our way. People in our country are really very helpful and also believe in shortcuts and I was too told to take one of the short cut by one of the enthusiastic passenger of a stranded bus. He suggested a bypass which would take us straight to Ukhimath and that we could save at least 40 minutes using it compared to the normal route taken. Fortunately, there was another guy listening to his advice, who happened to be a driver and quite familiar with the hilly terrain and the roads here, spilled the beans on the actual status of that route, which according to him is quite narrow and only allows one vehicle at a time, which meant if another vehicle is coming in from the other side we would get stuck without making any further movements. He suggested us to go till Rudraprayag and once we reach the market take a turn (almost a u-turn) which would take us on the toad towards Kedarnath and that Ukhimath falls on that way route only. From Ukhimath, Chopta is further 21 KM’s ahead. He spoke like an expert and we decided to heed his advice and follow the path suggested by him. And yes, by the way, while this expert was suggesting us the route, this particular gentleman who suggested us the bye-pass, smiled sheepishly and as I went on, asked me to follow what I was suggested later. I thanked both of them and relayed the same information to Kishan.
We reached Rudraprayag around 3:30 PM in the evening and after looking for Diamox in some of the chemist shops for Rohini (Diamox ideally should be taken a few days before the trip in hilly areas for acclimatization; we threw common sense out of the car’s window to let her get some emotional satisfaction of having taken it). Manish too strangely wanted to have this pill on the last day while coming back as he felt a little queasy after having an extra parantha. J We finally found one chemist shop selling it and Rohini popped it in immediately. We also kept asking for the way and finally found that turn which goes towards Kedarnath. After this turn, the road and the visuals changed a bit and we could see lots of repair work going on this stretch. Just 5-6 kilometres further we witnessed mounds of earth falling off on the ground generating heavy smoke of dust in the air and eating away some of the road space too. This generated some fear too as we had to return in a couple of days and the sight wasn’t that great. However, we were somewhat relieved to see people working to get the road in the right condition to ensure smooth traffic. The weather started to change by now and we could feel the nip in the air almost 30 minutes further on this new stretch.
By this time we also learned the importance of keeping good music when you are going for a long drive as FM does not work up the hills and the music we were carrying in the pen drive was something we have been listening on a loop and every song in it has been heard by us at least twice plus we would have to listen to it while on our way back too and we were still at least 2-3 hours away from our destination. Kishan being a Yo-Yo Honey Singh fan (considering the number of songs of this singer in the pen drive) was enjoying the music on the loop and for us the saving grace was the pen drive being interspersed with some sensible songs too.
On this stretch we travelled along the river for some time and then crossed some of the most beautiful villages along the way, watched people working in their fields (most of the people were engaged in step farming), kids playing on the road itself (as there is little space for them to play considering the hilly terrain), and womenfolk carrying animal feed from the jungle. It was certainly a beautiful sight set against the setting sun and Miglani captured some of these moments too in his camera.
We stopped for a tiny little tea break again probably almost 15 Kilometres before Ukhimath and the lemon tea at this point of time tasted great. We had a small chitchat with the tea shop owner where he revealed that they get Sun for only half a day during the winters because of the big hillock right opposite the village and thus the working day lasts only till 2 P.M during those months (I thought if something similar could happen in our office too and we could get leave after the first half, I would have loved my current job than all the more). His was a new shop and he was preparing for the yatra (tourist season) season which normally commences in the month of April.
After refreshing our self with the amazing lemon tea we continued our way up along the delightful scenic road and reached Ukhimath by around 5 -5:30 P.M. I thoroughly enjoyed the drive sitting in the backseat, although even after a lot of cajoling Kishan refused to budge away from the wheels and this allowed the rest of us to take advantage of watching the natural beauty of the hills and the road. After reaching Ukhimath we decide to call up the Camp Manager as we did not had any communication with him after booking ourselves at their camp which was almost 15 days before.
The number that I had was not reachable and at this time Rohini gave me the other number which was there on the email too. We had booked ourselves for 2 nights at Pristine Camp which was about 2 Kilometres before chopta as per their website. The number I got from Rohini was of Mr. Kohli and he asked us to reach Ukhimath, than look for Bharat ashram, at that point there would be a tea shop and also the last liquor shop. The hint was meant for us to stock ourselves, however we were already packed and I didn’t paid much attention to those subtle hints of his. He asked us to go along left of the road after the tea shop and Chopta from there would be around 20 Kilometres. He than started describing everything in such excruciating detail naming all the villages and Y’s and T’s of the road, that I got a little confused too. Instead of telling us in straight plain terms to reach the camp and that it is 4 Kilometres before Chopta his information overdose led to hara-kiri later on. Since, he was speaking to me and not Kishan who was driving, I was under tremendous pressure to relay the right information to him as it was already getting darker and we wanted to reach the camp before 7 P.M in daylight.
The overdose of information took its first toll as instead of going towards Chopta we ended up in Sari village, the starting point of Deoria taal trek, where we were supposed to come the next day. This was because of his telling me about the Y on the road and to take the uphill from there. Though later on, in the next call he reasoned that he said right, I am sure he mentioned left in the first instance. After reaching Sari and thinking we might have reached the wrong place we enquired from the locals there and got to know what we have done. So, we took a U-turn and headed straight back to that Y. Now, we although took a turn and went back, I must say that the road meandering through Rhodendron forest was just awesome and inviting. If we would have been there a little earlier, even this loss of direction wouldn’t have hurt us much considering the beauty of the stretch. After reaching back that Y, we went straight towards Chopta. My mistake here cost us almost 30 extra minutes. After about 5-6 Kilometres, we reached the T-point Mr. Kohli was refereeing to. Here, instead of taking any further risks, as it was quite dark now (around 7:30 P.M) we decided to call him up again. Most of the time when you don’t want to get disturbed you invariably get lots of calls and when you actually want to make use of that instrument called a Mobile Phone, it just doesn’t work. Now, airtel may show ads showing awesome coverage in the most remote locations in India, but when it comes to actual testing, it just loses out to others like Vodafone and BSNL in the hills which are far more reliable. I tried switching off and on to get some coverage but it didn’t worked and it was the case with all four of us. Luck smiled at us though finally, as Miglani’s phone showed some faint signals and I latched onto it to make a quick call. After asking him which road to take, he was again trying to tell me the names of all the villages along the way, however I cut him short and asked if I had to take the Chopta road or another road going to a local village he replied with Chopta and I quickly disconnected to avoid getting inundated with his useless dose over information again. We continued along the Chopta road, looking for the signage of the camp. At that T-point too we enquired with some shopkeepers about Pristine camp, but they were not aware of it. We were told that the camp has a signage on the road itself and its quite visible, but that happens when you are driving in daylight, at night you need to be lucky too to spot such things.
When you think, everything is now going on perfectly fine; a thing or two will definitely go out of place. If something has to get wrong it will go wrong (probably the Murphy’s LawJ), no matter what you do and thus we were given another adventure of the trip in the form of a flat tyre around 2 kilometres before the camp in the middle of the forest with mobile and torch light as the guiding force to help us with. The intuitive thought about the flat tyre came from Miglani even though Kishan was driving and when I moved out to check, found out his intuition to be perfectly right. Kishan quickly got into the act and with us as sidekicks and seeking very little help from us changed the tyre quickly. It all happened in 10-15 minutes as if he was waiting for this to happen and to complete it soon to get over it.
The darkness was a big deterrent for us to read the signboards and we could spot some of the signage’s we had looked while searching for the camp on Google. It was here that Rohini’s eye sight worked for us as she could spot the signage soon (probably within 5-10 minutes of replacing the flat tyre). Once she said Pristine camp, it was actually a big relief for all of us. As we stopped there, 4-5 people came down from the camp to help us with our luggage. The camp was totally vacant and we 4 were the only ones to be staying there for 2 nights. They were expecting more people but that was after we would have checked out.
We realized how cold it was when we came out to fix the tyre and everybody put on the heaviest piece of clothing they were carrying. The chilly weather though still felt better than what we have been enduring back in Delhi. It must have been close to 8:00 P.M by the time we entered our tents. The sky was crowded with stars as I looked up, it was very clear and in the moonlight we could see the Himalayan mountain range as its white snow clad peaks reflected the moonlight. It was an amazing sight which I wanted to capture but couldn’t because of the limitation put on me by the phone I was carrying which was not equipped with the right features of taking a good picture at night.
The water was freezing and I could felt the numbness in my hand as I made a valiant effort to wash my hands. I didn’t bother to ask for warm water as I did not had any intention to touch water again. The tents were cosy and comfortable, basically after spending so many nights in tents while trekking and the way those tents are organized, I think these tents were a luxury; with very clean bed sheets and a fresh quilt. Seeing the bed almost everyone wanted to crash but for the hunger pangs which surprisingly gave us the energy to wait for our dinner. We asked for some simple food, daal, subzi and chapattis and the food served was quite simple and satiating. We all decided to wake up early next day and crashed in our beds.
The early morning alarm went off at 5:30 but by the time I came out of the bed it was already 6, and this is what happens most of the time with me and I am sure with a lots of us who plan to wake up early but just get a very greedy for some more sleep. The weather outside surprisingly changed compared to what we experienced at night; it was overcast and all we could see were clouds enveloping the hazy sky. It was not raining so we decided to explore the surroundings. The camp was at the base of a hill and the ground was still like a slope. They had put up tents on a concrete base to keep them straight. Uphill was all forest and we could even see a snow clad slope at a short distance. The hill upwards looked enchanting and I decided to climb it for a little warm-up. It was quite slippery and muddy, but latching on to the grass and tree branches, I somehow managed to reach the top, took a few pictures of the hills and then came back. Others too ventured out to explore the hillock and after coming back everyone decided to ditch the shower for the day and contributed their bit to water conservation J
The camp manager was an affable local by the name of Narendra Singh Negi (he shares his name with a very popular Garhwali singer) and he asked us about what we would want to have for breakfast. The offer was met with a demand for multiple options with everyone asking for almost everything and that’s when he probably realized that he had asked the wrong question at the right time. However, we decided to let go of few things and stuck to the usual boiled eggs, daliya, paranthas and tea. It was still overcast but wasn’t raining so we decided to have breakfast in the open. As we gorged onto boiled eggs, we could feel something falling on us from the sky, at first it felt like as if small droplets of frozen water is being thrown onto the ground irregularly from someone up in the sky, but it soon became more intense and we found ourselves in the middle of a light snowfall. Miglani made the most of this change in weather and clicked some nice pictures using his new camera. While we waited for weather to clear up, it got even heavier and now instead of snow it was heavy rainfall lashing on to the grounds. Sensing we might catch cold, we decided to run inside one of the tents which were being used as a dining area. We finished off the rest of our breakfast in the dining room and waited for the rains to stop. Now we were in a dilemma on where to go first Deoriataal or Chopta (Tungnath).
After some heavy (argumentative) discussion on what we should do, it was decided that the first and the foremost thing to do is to get out of the camp. The rains had dampened our spirits a bit as I thought it would be difficult to trek in this weather as we were not fully prepared for the rains, however mentally I decided to go for a trek from Deoriataal to Chopta, come what may. We planned to go to Deoriataal first and then thought of deciding whether to trek from Deoriataal to Chopta or come back from Deoriataal itself once we reach there. While driving towards Sari Village, the same place we landed in accidentally yesterday, the rain finally stopped and the Sun started playing hide and seek with the clouds. It was a 30 minutes drive to Sari from our camp and the entire stretch was really very beautiful as we were driving in the middle of the Rhodendron forest which was in almost full bloom.
As we parked the car at Sari close to the gate from where the trek starts, some of the guides came towards us enquiring if we would like any help. We thanked them while declining their offer of help as it was a short trek of about 2.5 kilometres. This is what was mentioned on the board from where the trek commences. In the hills people normally talk about distances in terms of time and not kilometres as sometimes even a kilometre can take an hour to cover. What is one kilometre in a plain area can be 7 kilometres in the hills depending upon how the ascent is. We were all pretty excited to have started the journey finally, after a wet start to our day. My adrenaline started pumping again after seeing the trail in front of me which simply looked awesome.
The first few steps gave us a glimpse of what was in store for us. The path was quite steep but very well laid out, made of concrete and at some places the stones were used to make the steps. It was like climbing a staircase as we went up the beautiful staircase laden trail. The natural beauty was mesmerizing and with rainfall in the morning, it looked like as if everything has been washed to make it look even brighter. We were walking through a fully bloomed Rhodendron forest giving us an impression as if the nature has chosen to play with only one colour that day; RED. Rhodendron flower is actually a bunch comprising of 5-6 flowers held together at the stem and looks like a flower vase from a short distance. However, when you look closely it is then that you realize, that it’s not one flower but 5-6 of them stuck together.
Well, just into the trek and after about 300 metres, we encountered an ancient Shiva temple with its priest sitting outside and puffing away his chillum in the cold morning. The temple resembled a strong edifice with a height of about 15 metres made up of stones perched over each other making it look like a something pretty strong. The priest sitting outside the temple was nonchalantly puffing away his chillum (a sort of a pipe) as I entered the temple precincts. I was the only one to enter the temple as other continued on their way up. I spoke to the priest who asked me to come inside and both of us entered the temple together. He was a picture of serenity and calm, partly because of the chillum that he was enjoying while sitting outside the temple doors and partly for his carefree way of life. The Shiva lingam here, he told me is different from others as one can see three different things on the lingam, sun, moon and something else which I don’t remember now. He even washed the lingam with water to enable me to see what he was referring to, and although I didn’t told him, I couldn’t see what he was trying to show me, but still said; yes I could see what you are trying to show me, to make him feel good as it was very difficult to spot something that he could effortlessly see.
As I came out of the temple, he offered me tea, which I politely declined but I did asked him about his name and got to know that his actual name is Mohan and he has been in the temple for quite long. He enquired about me, from where I have come and when I told him that I also belong to Uttarakhand he allowed me to take a puff of his chillum. Now, as I have never smoked a chillum before, I needed his guidance in learning how it is smoked, so he gladly showed me the awesome way to do it. Hold the chillum between the intertwined fingers and take deep puffs from the opening between your two hands without even touching the chillum with your lips (a totally hygienic way of smoking your pot J). Using the technique suggested by him was a great way to inhale some divine smoke which I must admit actually gave me a temporary high in that nippy weather. Those three puffs and the altitude I was at and going towards, took the entire journey to a different high. As I was taking his leave, he asked if I would be coming back to which I told him about my plan to trek from Deoriataal to Chopta. He smiled, blessed me as I touched his feet and I continued on my way up.
I had to sprint a little to catch up with the rest of the folks as I spent almost 30 minutes in the temple. I also got late as I started taking pictures of the temple from a little higher up while reflecting on this short, unexpected, trippy, spiritual experience. We also got accompanied by mules on our way up who were carrying supplies for the tents pitched at Deoriataal. However, besides those mules and two people coming down, we didn’t saw anyone either going up or coming down that day. Along the way the government has put up beautiful resting places which look very cute and inviting. If I would not have planned to go to Chopta, we would surely have taken break at these places. The resting place had a table at the centre with benches on the four sides covered with a red conical roof, overlooking the Himalayan ranges and the cliffs downhill. The atmosphere was awesome and with sun rays peeking through the dark clouds as we watched them, the environment just looked, heavenly. We tried to capture all these moments in our cameras, me in my phone, Miglani in his camera and Kishan in his phone too while Rohini posed for all the pictures.
Rohini was on her first trek and wasn’t feeling comfortable initially and it was here that Kishan motivated her to keep moving ahead getting a stick for her too. He literally carried her through the 2.5 Kilometre stretch while I and Miglani went ahead on our way. After about 1.5 hour we reached a small place sort of a small plateau overlooking the cliff and the mountains just in front of us, where we saw one local woman carrying a humongous bundle of grass on her back. I and Miglani both clicked her while she made her way through a branch of a tree which was just above the trail, shaped like a dome and as she walked towards us we could feel the huge weight she was carrying on her back. Miglani continued to take more pictures and that’s when she asked him to ask me also to take more of her pictures. I was flattered and obliged immediately; the subtle smile on her face while we took her pictures was simply incomprehensible.
We waited for Rohini and Kishan at a dhaba just before the taal and they reached there in about 10-15 minutes, while we used this time to eat few biscuits and drink water. Rains scared us as a little as it started to rain a bit, but luckily for us, it stopped immediately. We reached Deoria taal at about 11:40 A.M. Mentally I was praying for a clear weather as I just did’t wanted to miss out on the trek from Deoria taal to Chopta, a total of about 18 Kilometres.
The lake at Deoriataal was a picture of serenity and its beauty was further accentuated with the way the sun light was fluctuating from bright to dark in the changing weather. Got to know from someone, that it was at this place that Yaksha tested Yuddhistra (Mahabharat) on his wisdom and Yuddhistra after correctly answering all of Yaksha’s questions, brought back to life all his brothers. The surrounding area here had few tents pitched up mostly by Indiahikes. Individuals can also put up tents here at a reasonable rent of Rs 50 per day (Indian) or Rs 250 for a foreigner, which go towards the maintenance of the place and is paid to the forest department. After staying there for a while (close to 40 minutes) I and Miglani (whom I didn’t have to persuade much) went ahead for our trek towards Chopta. Rohini and Kishan decided to stay back for a while to eat and then take a detour back to Sari village. We decided to meet them back at the camp in the evening afterwards.
After bidding goodbye to both of them, we (me and Miglani) went our way towards Chopta on a trail which was quite neatly laid out. I enquired from some of the locals before hitting the trail as this was the first time I was trying it too. After listening to their encouraging replies I felt even more energized. The fact that Miglani was accompanying me also added to the confidence. The trail was close to 18 Kilometres long and supposed to end 2 Kilometres before Chopta on the main road. Our tents were 4 Kilometres before Chopta, so that meant 2 Kilometre of further downhill trek after reaching the main road and a total of 20 kilometres for us to trek. We gave ourselves 6 hours to complete this trail keeping in mind the fact that Miglani was doing it for the first time and we were new to this trail without a guide.
The trail from Deoriataal to Chopta had varying gradient all along the way. As we started off, we walked on something resembling concrete, than stone carved steps and then the normal kuchha jungle trail. The initial trail itself showed us the approaching Rhodendron forest and the view of the valley from uphill was awesome. In fact we felt like too close to the clouds as we looked down at the villages after climbing a short steep trail. We encountered our first hurdle in the form of a steep never ending ascent just after our first few hundred metres. After we had climbed about 300-400 metres we encountered a never ending uphill ascent which seemed to be going to the skies. In terms of the length it would have been a little more than half a kilometres but in terms of the energy we had put in, we felt like we have climbed 10. It drained us of almost all our energy, but we kept moving. I was amazed with the way Miglani, a first time trekker coped with this climb, without a break and walking neck to neck with me. I have been to many treks before and understand that a lot of times you do encounter ascent like these and the best way to overcome them is not to stop but to keep moving at your own predetermined pace and your body automatically adapts to the situation, puts you into a rhythm and you cover much more with far lesser effort.
The rest of the path after this ascent turned out to be quite easy with regular ascents and descents but nothing everlasting as the one we encountered at the start. We started enjoying our walk through the thick forest and luckily spotted few animals too like Mongoose and lemurs. The two Mongooses we spotted were a pair and they were really disturbed to see us in their place as they climbed a tree to make sure there is no intruder left in their territory. We tried clicking the shy animals, but they weren’t too forthcoming to let us capture them in our cameras. The gradient after the first long ascent turned out to be real good, a flat out trail through the forest, but the surroundings were a treat to the eyes. Lush green forest (this particular part didn’t had too many Rhodendron trees), a temple dedicated to the forest goddess in the middle of the trail, big flowery meadows and colourful flowers lining the forest’s periphery.
In the meadows, we witnessed a riot of colours with red Rhodendron flowers weaving a magic against the white flowers and super white snow capped peaks at the back. I haven’t seen paradise, but I am sure it would be like what we saw here as nature was at its best showcasing all its beauty at one place for the connoisseur’s joy. The Rhodendron trees lined up all along the meadow blushing with fiery reds, an overcast sky and surprisingly bright snow peak (as sun was shining there) all came together to create a masterpiece for the lesser mortals – us human beings. We continued admiring this natural beauty and also picked up some pace as we passed, for the first time, two people on our way, who were walking a little slower. This was very reassuring for us, as it implied we were on the right trail. We asked them how far is Chopta from here and when one of them replied with 7 Kilometres, I could only reply with, great, only 7 kilometres. The duo gave us a surprised look as they were really struggling and I felt really bad to have added to their misery with this excitement.
The great thing about seeing these two people was also that we were now mentally relaxed as we had been making a lot of decision all along the way on which trail to follow and while doing this we were relying on the time tested method of seeing which trail looks more used. I had lost my way earlier during the Hampta pass trek as when we were going up we were following the snow trail with obvious visible footmarks, but on the way back, snow melted and I lost my way. So, I was even more careful about not losing my way in the forest especially when Miglani was also relying on me at this point of time. We came across another group of trekker soon and I feel we must have been about 8 Kilometres before Chopta by then, it was close to 2:30 P.M and we had travelled close to 10 Kilometres in 2 hours. We were literally sprinting our way as it was quite flat with not much of an ascent in the latter part of the trek. Most of the people who operate trek on this route take an entire day to cover this stretch and some of them also put an overnight camp in the jungle too. But with no plan to tent overnight, the best option available with us was to move as fast as we can.
The gradient changed again and it became slightly muddy, the quiet weather saved us from a lot of difficulties as if it would have rained, the entire terrain would have become sloppy. We were not wearing the right footwear and also not carrying the right protection from water (only one poncho for me and an old rain coat for Miglani). After trekking for another few Kilometres, we encountered our first major descent akin to the ascent we trekked up initially. This descent seemed like an endless loop too as we just went down and felt like moving to the centre of the earth. We started hearing the sound of a flowing stream and realized this descent would actually take us towards it downwards. Here, I must say that a steep descent is as difficult as a steep ascent, probably a little harder because you have much lesser control over yourself, so it is prudent to be very careful while trekking downhill. Somehow we finally managed to reach the iron bridge laid atop the stream taking us to the other side of the jungle to continue with our adventure. We were feeling quite tired by now and had also exhausted the water we were carrying with us.
We took a small five minute break to refill our bottle and to refresh our self. We managed to cover a decent amount of distance during this period and could have managed to rest for some more time, but I thought it would be better to rest at the camp then at this place as we were also feeling quite hungry. The last meal that we have had was the morning breakfast and hadn’t had anything afterwards. The water in the stream was quite cold but amazingly refreshing and after a few sips we felt re-energized to continue on our way up. After continuing for a few kilometres through a gradient which was now rocky and the trail again like a staircase, we saw another group of about 7-8 trekkers taking a break. I asked for the Trek guide and enquired about the distance to Chopta from him. As he replied with a Kilometre or so, both of us got ecstatic as it was close to 3:45 P.M and we had covered this distance of about 16 Kilometres in close to 3 and a half hours. However, this last Kilometre felt and looked like the longest kilometre of the entire journey. As we walked along kicking up the dead leaves lining up the trail (spring season will have entire forest carpeted with dead leaves), I noticed the main road from a distance of about hundred metres. We shouted in unison, a high five and felt great to have completed this trek. After touching the tar road, we felt like taking a lift till our camp, but even though it was the main road, it was pretty desolate with almost zero traffic during our 15 minute walk up to the camp and we hardly noticed 4-5 vehicles. Miglani wanted to do his stretching once we get back to the camp as tomorrow also we planned to go for a trek though not as long as today’s, around 5-6 kilometres from Chopta till Chandrashila. I too wanted to stretch but was feeling hungrier and thus had two big helpings of bread omelette washed down with a couple of lemon teas. The lemon tea refreshed the soul and gave the much needed energy to stretch too.
Next and the last day we all woke up early and decided to reach Chopta before 7:00 A.M as we planned to reach Rishikesh before 7:00 P.M which would also allow me and Miglani to catch the Delhi bus on time. We woke up to a clear and chilly and a refreshing morning. The shining blue sky provided a perfect contrast to the snow clad white peaks which created an amazing artistic impression boldly announcing the generous nature’s gift to its admirers. We took leave of our very friendly camp manager Mr. Negi who had been really helpful all the while, thanking him for his amazing hospitality of the last 2 days. His entire team came down to see us off and it was actually really sweet of them to prepare an early morning complimentary lemon tea. I would suggest people to at least go to this camp once and do meet Mr. Negi there. You can find about the camp details on google by typing pristine camp, Chopta. Mr. Negi is also a social worker and is involved in running several schools in his native and surrounding villages and meeting him and discussing his work was a real pleasure for all of us. The other staff members were also quite chilled out and all helped in ensuring a great stay for all of us. One of the staff members when asked which direction the sun shines (this was asked on the first night) by Miglani, replied with a very cute and naive; East. The moment he replied we all burst into an uncontrollable laughter riot but he stood there coolly as if this is what he is supposed to answer. We quickly got some group photographs with the entire staff and then moved on towards Chopta for our final trek to Tungnath and Chandrashila.
We reached Chopta around 6:50 A.M standing in front of the gate which is the starting point of the trek. The semi-circular gate had “TRITYA KEDAR” (Third Kedar) mentioned on top of it, signifying the significance of Tungnath as one of the Kedar (Shiva). There was a big bell hanging in the middle of the gate too as it is customary to ring the bell while you enter a temple and me and Miglani too couldn’t resist the temptation of ringing it. The sound of the bell early in the morning in a quaint place like this sounded actually like music to the ears. Rohini and Kishan stayed back as they already had been to this place and also wanted to have their breakfast. After promising them to meet on our way back from Tungnath, we left for our trek. The trail to Tungnath is very well laid out, made of concrete almost all the way till the temple. It was a steep climb, but very scenic, natural and of course not that easy too at least for the first few metres. A person with an average fitness though can easily complete this small trek.
The starting few steps are always tough as your body gets used to the strenuous effort you try to put in, however as you keep moving it adapts itself beautifully to the new rhythm and then you start moving on your own making it feel like pretty effortless. While on a trek at times we start thinking about the trekking itself so much that we just forget to enjoy the natural beauty, whereas it’s very important to relax, enjoy the views that nature has to offer, click pictures as almost all these places are a photographer’s delight. The natural environments provide you with a huge canvas allowing you to put your best imagination while shooting it with your camera.
The mountains, the meadows, tree lines and even the trail look so much in sync with each other; in perfect symmetry that you just can’t help but fall in love with the Mother Nature and crave to come back again and again. Trekking is like a drug, you just can’t resist the temptation once you are into it. As you immerse yourself in nature, everything just slips out of your mind and you feel one with the Mother Nature, a never ending journey you yearn to continue without any disturbance.
The trail we followed took us through cliffs and amazingly beautiful meadows, so beautiful you would just want to sit there enjoy the views and crave for it to go on forever. The zigzagged Himalayan mountain range offers an imposing view of itself with mighty peaks observing you from a distance, birds flying in the sky in the backdrop of snow capped peaks stirring wild artistic imagination in almost anybody. We were fortunate enough to capture Monal (the amazingly beautiful state bird of Uttarakhand). However, as I clicked the picture in zoom because of the fair amount of distance between us, it didn’t came out great, nevertheless watching it was a reward in itself. As we moved along, the trail got more and more snowy and after a while both of us realized that were literally walking on snow. The crackling noise made while the shoe hit the snow still sounded good though. It was an amazing change in gradient as yesterday we were literally walking in the jungle on soil and today we were on snow. Uttarakhand as a place offers so much variety within such short distances, that you could only marvel at the gifts nature has bestowed it with.
The snow, however made the trek a little difficult for us because of the footwear we were using. I was still better placed than Miglani as the grip of my woodland shoes were still better than the grip offered by his sports shoes. We though kept losing our balance frequently and I fell at least 1-2 times, though Miglani had to endure it at least 5-6 times more mainly because of the grip in his shoes.
I must have clicked hundreds of pictures by the time we reached a place called Devlok. I am referring to this name only because of a concrete structure over here bearing this name. All along the trail, there were beautiful huts on the sideways for people to take rest before they continue on their journey. The huts though elicited a lot of romanticism mainly because of the way they were designed and the way they were put up at the most strategic of places offering an amazing view of the Himalayan mountain ranges just in front of them.
As we reached Aakash kund few metres ahead of Devlok, a small structure which I believe is used for storing water, we found two trails in opposite directions, one to our right and the other one going straight and then bending towards the right side. We took the latter one and as it bended on the right, we saw a straight snow clad vertical cliff in front of us. There were footmarks on this trail but only up to a few metres and then there weren’t any. I decided to climb it though Miglani suggested to explore the alternative trail too. However, I was quite excited to see it and wanted to explore it before giving up. As we started our ascent, we realized it is covered with at least a foot of snow and the shoes we were wearing and also the fact that we were not wearing gloves added to the difficulty. The moment you put your hands down to maintain balance, they get totally numb. I led the climb not wanting to put Miglani in too much trouble, who though was sporty enough to try it with me. We climbed almost 15 metres and were left with close to 15 more, when we found out there are no footmarks left. I tried to create a trail on my own and went up a little more, however there was no way to make a grip and I slipped at least 3-4 times, every time using my hands to maintain my balance and from falling down, realizing it doesn’t help much as they get numb pretty quickly. After trying a couple of times more and managing just a few more metres, we decided to take a detour. Actually while climbing up our water bottles which we were carrying in our hands also played a big role in adding to the difficulty in maintaining the balance, however I must say we took the most prudent decision of coming back as that trail wasn’t going anywhere and because of this silly mistake we lost a precious half an hour.
The other trail was hardly 30-40 metres away from Tungnath temple and it was then that we realized the stupid mistake we made of following the other trail as the time we lost could have been used to find the trail towards Chandrashila. When you are too excited, you also become quite vulnerable into taking wrong decisions and that’s what happened with us. After realizing that we have covered enough distance in a decent amount of time, we thought of exploring things out of curiosity. However that mistake not only cost us time but also wasted our energy (remember we still didn’t had our breakfast J)
The temple, about 1000 years old, had a gate which was again adorned with a huge bell in the centre and the entrance looked mesmerizing with the entire temple covered in white snow. There were two three flags flying high in the temple precincts and the entire atmosphere felt very soothing. The temple was closed at this point in time as it normally opens after the snow melts away in April. However, we could still spot a lot of footmarks indicating how popular the place is even when closed.
After spending some time inside the temple admiring the awesome view the place has to offer of the mountain ranges, we decided to continue for Chandrashila. Tungnath temple offers quite great views of Banderpoonch, Chaukhamba, Neelkanth and Nanda Devi. The peaks covered with snow appear mesmerizing and with sun rays getting reflected by the snow, it all adds to the magical splendour.
We took the same trail that we came from and then continued on the one which goes up in an almost semicircle to the temple taking us at the back of the shrine. However, we made a slight mistake somewhere and lost the way. As there was almost no-one there we couldn’t even ask for directions, however we still continued for almost 200 metres more and then the trail started taking us downhill. We were perplexed as what we knew from our Google search was that the trail from Tungnath to Chadrashila is fairly steep and what we were moving now, was a steep descent.
We stopped for a while to discuss our future course of action. As we had already lost our way once, we didn’t wanted to waste more time and decided to retreat. I thought of exploring further, but as Miglani wasn’t very confident of my intuition by that time, I also decided to walk back. The fact that I had to resume office from tomorrow which meant, I had to reach Rishikesh back on time also added to this decision that we took of beating a hasty retreat. We decided to enjoy our descent and slided on the snow on our way back. We fell a couple of time too as the snow on the trail wasn’t too great to make that perfect grip for a decent walk and thus we decided to slide as well. The snow seemed perfect for sliding and after we finished off with the snow laden part, we decided to hop on the way. We took shortcuts and instead of following the trail, jumped from the sides for a quick descent. I really enjoyed that hop down as the distance of almost 2 Kilometres was covered in no time by us. The kid inside me came to the fore while I jumped down my way to where we met Kishan and Rohini, who had also covered a fair amount of distance and decided to rest for a while at a beautiful meadow for clicking some pictures.
After we decided to move on, I just ran my way back, not because I enjoyed that run, but for the fact that I was feeling damn hungry. It was already 10:30 and I didn’t had anything except for the lemon tea that we have had at 6:00 A.M. I am more of a breakfast person and like to eat my breakfast ravenously. After reaching Chopta we had a real unhealthy breakfast of butter laden Paranthas and spicy omelettes. And with that two cups of lemon tea, generously sweet, made its way to my belly.
Even though we were going back but our hearts and minds were still stuck in the hills. Full of memories that would stay forever, till we await another call from the hills that would spark an even stronger desire to return and experience it all over again. I planned for my next trek while on the way back to Rishikesh and decided for the Roopkund trek. Post which I plan to wander for a month in Nepal, the trekkers paradise, after taking a sabbatical. Let’s hope my animal instincts (natural instincts) let me explore the best this world has to offer. I bow to Mother Nature and express my gratitude for the amazing experience she has endowed us all with. Also, I would like to say that all three of you were amazing – Kishan, Miglani and Rohini, the trip would have been very ordinary had it not been for your awesome company.
(All Pictures – Courtesy – Manish Miglani our official Photographer)