Driving through thick forest on the way to #Chopta
#October is such a pleasant time for a road trip in the mountains. The #autumn air brings a slight chill to the air. The roads are newly laid after the monsoons and the flowers are in full bloom.
With such roads the destination can wait.
Early morning views from #tungnath mandir, the highest #shiva shrine in the world @12000 ft.
Our very own #shire.
Shepherd huts around #bugyals(High altitude meadows) in #Chopta
Pit stop perfection
Solitary life in the mountains.
Dhaba owners on such #mountain #trek trails spend six months each year away from their families, away from any iota of comfort with just their spouse for company.
How completely at ease must they be with each other so as to not get bored of each other. Come rain or come shine it’s just them in their less than modest hut in biting cold conditions, with rare neighbors for company, no television and faint radio signals.
One must grow up to become a good talker as well as a good listener to entertain each other.
Evening hues at #chopta
Hike upto to #Chandrashila after #Tungnath Mandir amidst thick fog at 12,000 ft.
I don’t get why one isn’t allowed to photograph deities inside temples. Shouldn’t temples be without walls, free for anyone to worship anytime of the day ?
Imagine seeing the #mythical #Saraswati river in person at #Mana village in #Badrinath and not be able to capture it in frame. How else is it supposed to reaffirm our faith in our #mythology ?
Or witnessing the rare Panchanana #Shiva (Five faced Shivalinga) at #Chandrashila summit of #Tungnath in #Chopta valley of #Uttarakhand.
Seen here in picture is #Ganga Dham #mandir which greets you as you reach the summit of #Chandrashila @4000 mtrs.
‘Ganga Dham’ mandir @ #Chandrashila summit of #tungnath mandir in #chopta @4000 mtrs.
Cairn-A rock on rock pile formation. Mostly used to mark a trail in treeless areas. But for local #uttarakhand folks it is made in remembrance of their lost loved ones.
Also for locals it is at #Chandrashila the ashes of their loved ones ought to be sprayed in order to ensure a peaceful journey to the other world.
Rare Panchanana(Five faced Shivalinga) #Shiva temple at #Chandrashila in #chopta valley at approx. 13,000 ft.
It is here that Lord #Rama meditated after defeating demon king Ravana.
Fifty shades of nature.
The #fog always lifts. Though sometimes it lingers on just long enough to give way to rain and hailstones and all you can do is find just enough shelter for your camera and then just let it drench you all over.
Sometime you’ve gotta look back and smile at how far you’ve come.
16’th April I reach Rishikesh at the break of dawn with a sense of deja-vu. It seems like the same spot where I previously hired a cab on my last visit to HemkuntGurudwara. The tea seller hasn’t shifted his shack since then. If I remember correctly the local newspaper delivery guy loads his jeep from here. There’s a slight nip in the air. I inquire the tea seller over a glass of hot milk. He reminds me the cabbie is named ‘Heera’ and that he’d be here soon for his daily round of delivery. He’s my ride for the day. Meanwhile I keep warm by wrapping my hands around the glass. These sort of shared cabs are the norm here for local transport as buses are few. There are locals returning from out of town, office goers going to their slight far off offices and I’m the only traveler. For a cool 400 bucks I get a ride till Chamoli district. On the way we lunch at a dhaba where we have paranthas and dal. My appetite has risen with the change in the air. How I wish I could just eat and eat and never gain weight. Sigh! Change of cabs in Chamoli district which takes me up till Gopeshwar. That is the last proper town which connects Chopta. From there I call up Pushpender, a local guide I know of from his camping website(http://peacetrips.blogspot.in/) which I’d stumbled upon while researching. He’s a Delhi lad who’s foregone his metro life to run a camp site here. Since he’s a local he gets to buy land here. I gotta check out his homestay
here if I have the time. The remaining 37 kms from Gopeshwar to Chopta runs through a forest albeit with well laid roads. It’s one of the most scenic drives I’ve been on. Pushi, my guide advises me to take out my jacket as we’re going to climb steeply in these 37 kms. We go from an altitude of 1300 mtrs above sea level to 2680 mtrs in this short distance. It’s a narrow winding road carpeted by dried fallen leaves. It’s a sight for sore eyes. I learn later that one can cut this distance by more than half if one can hike on foot by following a well laid trail, at my fitness level, or lack there of I’m best driven up.
Since its off-season, most dhabas/guest houses at Chopta would be shut. So my stay is arranged at a modest little guest house at Duggalbitta which is 10 minutes drive before Chopta. There are guest rooms located downstairs and a couple of tents along the ground. The location is breathtaking. The silence is unmistakable. The sun is setting fast and I hurry to capture the view. But first I whatsapp a friend and let her know I’ve reached safely. She’s anxious to see the view that I have in front of me. I send her a photo of a hut that is built on the edge of a cliff. Quick comes a sigh from her end. She loves the dark green hue the surrounding grass emanates. I can sense the yearning in her. She’s been slogging away at work and hasn’t had an off in weeks. I assure her we’ll travel together soon. Pushi calls out to me to inform me that he’s driving to Chopta to meet a sage. I’m glad to tag along. The road is narrow but inviting. Pushi telle me to keep my camera handy in case we spot a leopard. He tells me he’s seen one around, once while pacing uphill. Chopta is the base town for the trek to Tungnathtemple and Chandrashilasummit. I couldn’t make out any habitation around the town. It’s just a couple of dhabas and a proper guest house named Neelkanth. There’s not a single cab or a vehicle in sight. It’s gonna be a long solitary trek tomorrow it seems. Thankfully both the dhabas are open. Pushi is off to meet the sage who lives around here while I get my canon DSLR out. With the winter abating there’s not much greenery around. Still there are a couple of spots where rhododendrons are in full bloom. I hike up a hillock to capture the meadows/bugyals. The sight is surreal, just what I’d been yearning for. Away from the maddening crowd of the city I have the time all to myself. Time is spent introspecting over this view Dinner is typical of dhaba food and tandoori rotis. The pleasant change of air stokes my appetite. The veggies cultivated in the backyard taste better than those back home. Post dinner I’m shown my room which is just enough to accommodate a double bed and a battery box which powers the lone CFL bulb through solar panels. It’s not much but I’ve slept in smaller dorms. I’m quite non-fussy when it comes to accommodation as long as the sheets are clean and water is plenty. I quickly turn in for the night. Tomorrow is a big day, I would need all my reserves.
I get up early to the chirping of birds. The sound is music to my ears. The sun is not up yet and I take a quick bath in the biting cold water. As I step outside I’m greeted by the sight of this cute fella.
I decide to skip breakfast and am driven to Chopta. Chopta is situated at an altitude of 8840 feet and tungnath temple is at 12144 feet. So in a span of just 3 kms one treks a steep climb of about 3300 feet. The climb to Chandrashila is a further 2 kms. The trek path is stone paved with benches provided en route at intervals to rest and enjoy the beautiful views of the Chowkhamba, NandaDevi, Neelkanth and Kedarnath peaks. So armed with my camera in my backpack and a bottle of water I begin my trek. Must’ve been around 8 am. Not a soul in sight. Just 10 mins into the climb I’m huffing and puffing. Serves me right though, I should’ve prepared for this with brisk walks and jogs back home itself. This is the make or break point, when you know you’re all alone on the trek. As I catch my breath I pan my view to the sight of meadows/bugyals on my left. The hillocks seem like a well manicured golf course. There are abandoned shepherd huts around the base, free for anyone to break open and camp for the night. The well paved path leading up to the temple is about 4 ft wide which is at a steep incline till the last bit. The trek starts with meadows but slowly one crosses the tree line as you reach the top. There are stone benches at intervals and a couple of small stone huts for shelter from rain. I must buy a tent and camp out here in the meadows on a full moon night the next time. The initial stretch of any trek is the toughest part as your lungs take some time to acclimatize. I don’t make the mistake of looking back. It’s always disheartening to see that you’ve only covered a small stretch. Instead I keep my head down and slowly lug my overweight self as the crisp morning air makes breathing even more strenuous. What I lack in fitness, I made up for with doggedness. Trekking can get very lonely unless you muster up the courage from within. The best part about traveling alone is that one can go at their own pace. There isn’t any fixed itinerary to follow. The climb though strenuous is breathtaking. I take my time to admire the view.
The Last Stretch
Passing the last curve reveals this view With the target in sight I get an additional boost of energy. Both the Tungnath temple and Chandrashila summit appear to be completely snowed under. There’s a renewed energy in my stride now but I can’t hurry. About half a kilometer before the top, the path is fully covered in fresh snow. One mis-step and I could fall into oblivion. Thankfully the footprints of the trekkers ahead make spotting the way useful. As anyone who’s trekked in snow would concur, its difficult to trudge in fresh snow. It gets slippery and you can’t make out how deep the snow is. This is where I miss bringing along a walking pole. I make do with a broken wooden stick off a bush. Just below the entry gate to the temple are plenty of temporary shacks left in ruins.
As it is with high altitude peaks the weather has unexpectedly turned for the worst. The sky is a beautiful color of grey now. I have to really thrust my ankles into the snow to grab some traction. There’s absolutely nothing to hold onto while climbing up. It’s reassuring to see other climbers already at the top. I slip a couple of times, thankfully it doesn’t hurt.
The entrance gate to the temple compound is huge. Someone up ahead rings the bells and a soothing sound reverberates through the air. The entire floor of the compound is a milky white carpet of snow. The main door of the temple is also completely blocked with snow. The architecture is medieval but it has withstood the test of time. All the other shrines are completely hidden by snow. At the entrance to the temple there is a Nandi stone image facing towards the sanctum where Shiva’s idol is deified. Unlike the trail the compound is surprisingly full of climbers. A group of well equipped foreigners are nestled inside a hut clicking selfies. There’s another group already on their way towards the higher Chandrashila summit which is a further 2 kms ahead. How they managed to trudge further baffles me. It’s getting too slippery now. Trekking up further seems unfeasible. I’d have loved to reach the summit and catch the 360 degree view of the surrounding mountain peaks but for now I’m more than content with the view. According to one of the popular legend, Chandrashila is where Lord Rama meditated after defeating the demon-king Ravana.
The view from up here is majestic, like standing on top of an overflowing vanilla bucket. Each side of the mountain slope is a smooth layer of snow. I have a perfect 180 degree view of snow-clad mountains. The distant mountains are a beautiful shade of blue. This is exactly what I crave. The solitude, the feeling of being one with nature. Where I have only my thoughts for company. Perfect time and place to introspect. Being atop the highest Shiva temple in the world, it makes me realize how tiny I am in the grand scheme of things. This realization is soothing,my worries take a backseat. I feel light-headed.
Beginning the descent I befriend a couple from Maharashtra and they’re kind enough to take a picture of me. The descent is scary. At one point the ground gave way and my right leg was buried knee-length in snow. It requires my full concentration as I try to find some footing. This couple is blessed to have each other to hold onto in case one slips. I, on the other hand was a bundle of nerves climbing down. The more adventurous of the lot are already sliding downwards instead of walking down the trail. As if this wasn’t difficult enough, it starts to snow. Luckily I’m greeted by this handsome fella.
This fella had been at the temple compound when I climbed up. I guess he came up with a group. He gives me company while climbing down. He truly was a godsend. Luckily we all didn’t have to climb down too far to find a hut to find refuge from the snowfall which has gotten stronger now. The couple open their backpack and dole out a packed lunch to share with me. I express my gratitude for their sweet gesture and happily break bread with them. The handsome canine gets a bite from my share.
The rest of the descent is fast and within half an hour I’m back at base. Thankfully a dhaba is open. The snowfall at the top has translated into a light drizzle back here. I order a hot glass of milk and feed biscuits off my hand to the pooch. As the drizzle picks I’m tempted to leave my belongings and go get soaked. And I do just that. This was my first experience trekking in snow. In hindsight, I think I found a new perspective on fear. That climb changed the way I view risk forever. I faced it head on and overcame it. As the rain washes over me I see the pooch walk away. He has played his part. So long my friend.