(Odyssey continues from Part 2)
Ukhimath to Chopta – The Drive
At 8:00 AM we started to drive for Chopta which is ~20 km of curving roads from the Ukhimath rest house where we are stationed. The road passes through a dense forest of oaks, pines, ferns, algae and mosses and is in good condition. It seems as if some artist has scraped through mushy mushy greens using charcoal. We were totally taken with the tranquil beauty of the place.
In addition to the pristine beauty we are also blessed with Solitude. I had selected this place as an escape from crowds and it is delivering remarkably on that.
We reached Chopta by 10:00 AM. It is a very small village where there is no electricity and other amenities that we are used to. I am pleased to know that the administration is making efforts to preserve the charming beauty of this place and use of polluting diesel generators is banned.
Soon after, we started our trek which is a ~3 km concrete paved pathway leading to the tungnath temple and then another rough and steep trek (not climb) of ~2 km to Chandrashila peak. The initial 1 km or so of the trek path passes through a canopy of Rhododendrons (the state flower called ‘buransh‘ in local language) which are in blossoms and render great red, pink, and white highlights to the scenery. Just after clearing the canopy I started jumping in ecstasy as I beheld the snow covered peaks including the Nanda Devi, Chaukhamba and Kedar in my view.
Further on, we crossed patches of pastures (‘bugyal‘ in local language) and a few groups of trekkers, mostly foreign nationals. There were a few rocky huts which I presumed may be make-shift shops selling teas/snacks to the tourists, however they were not operational at this time of year, so can’t say!
We maintained a consistent pace as we passed through the blue-green-white scenery.^
Going much higher, there were no trees but just open sky, melting snow, and mosses turning green in the summer sun.^
This small shrine located enroute made a majestic impression against the blue unrestrained skies.^
By 12:30 AM we reached the Tungnath temple. The trek is considered moderate (sometimes easy). However, my heart was beating madly with legs wanting to give way and lungs gasping for more air.
From 2900 m above sea level at Chopta to 3680 m above sea level at Tungnath in just ~3 kms, a 40-60 degree of incline, it is a feat. Especially for those who spend most of their waking time staring at Liquid Crystal and tap their fingers on plastic squares for physical workout.
Now, Chandrashila at 4000 m above sea level approachable through 1-2 feet wide walkable rocky path made slippery with melting snow and staring down at 1000’s m of cliffs (so we will discover soon) seems daunting!
The Tungnath temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is one of the 5 Kedar temples. Located at an altitude of 3680 m above sea level, and just below the Chandrashila peak, the temple is highest ever Hindu shrine dedicated to Shiva. It is believed to be 1000+ years old and has a legendary history associated with the Pandava’s – the heroes of the Indian Epic of Mahabharata. Due to heavy snow, the temple closes in winters which is when the Lord is temporarily shifted to his summer home at Gopeshwar. When we reached it by 12:30 PM it was still closed but awaiting opening in a couple of days.
After spending sometime here offering prayers to our diety we checked out the temporary establishment which consisted of huts made from stones, mud and wood. Most of them destroyed during the snow season. A couple of them were in the process of being repaired for the upcoming summer tourism. We decided to start their business by buying tea and noodles from them.
It was starting to warm up during the trek just sometime back but here strong wintry winds were blowing and coupled with our body temperatures dropping (since we are not walking anymore), the cold started to bite. We put on our jackets over the sweats and proceeded to Chandrashila. It was a bright sunny morning when we started but now clouds had converged and it could rain anytime and we yet had a peak to set foot on and trek back to Chopta before we felt safe.
Trek to Chandrashila (Hindi translation – ‘the moon stone’)
A small path curved from behind the temple to Chandrashila and we took it. I felt as if the tea stall owner mentioned something about a wrong turn on this trek. This part of the trek was nothing like the earlier stretch. Here, the path was very narrow and sometimes lined by loose slippery rocks. At some places there was no path at all. The melting snow started to make it more difficult. After walking for about 15-20 minutes we realized we had hit a dead-end. Now I understood the warning from the local. Alas …we will have to go back again and look for the diguised left turn that will lead us to our destination!
“Where every step is a combined result of will power and overcoming fear of dropping into a deadly abyss, to retreat is the worst punishment ever. However, there can be No Status Quo and No Quitting Now. It’s not a city road where we can just give up and wait for a ride or call a taxi: we will have to make it to the top and then also come back safe. However, we will keep on making the best of this trek and enjoy the scenery despite all hardships.”
This particular cliff shone like gold as it bathed in sunlight sieving from a tear in the cloudy envelope overhead.^ The snow had just melted from these peaks and the grasses are not yet chlorophyllic which is rendering a magical brown glow to them.
We were just about 60-80 m away from the peak when we felt the raindrops. Being adamant in front of the forces of nature is not a choice. Though, the youngest member of our trio wanted to proceed for the peak but we decided to turn back.
Even in adversity everything around us seemed very beautiful. We reached down to Chopta by 2:00 PM and headed back to Ukhimath. Made it by 3:20 PM in time to enjoy the rainy weather with steaming tea and deep fried vegetable ‘pakoras’.
- Not many buses ply on the Ukhimath-Gopeshwar road, hence personal car/taxi is best way to travel.
- There are not many options to stay at Chopta except for a guest house by GMVN and resorts such as Magpie and Mayadeep at Dugalbitta, hence have advanced arrangements for accomodation.
- Ukhimath is the nearest town from Chopta.
- Expenses at Tungnath – Noodles: INR35/- a plate, Local rice-raunsa (a kind of local bean) plate: INR40/- a plate, Tea: INR15/- a cup.