A mauni (one who has vowed not to speak) baba, two Russians, a very large hairy bhutiya (hill) dog and I took a rocky perch each and sat dumfounded by the scene in front of us. 300 degrees of snow capped Himalayan peaks spanned from left to right. Silenced by the sheer magnificence, those ten minutes of absolute stillness, but for a mouse scurrying back into its hole, were out of this world. Bound by the thrill of witnessing this amazing view, our difference in backgrounds seemed wan. After a considerable time, one of us broke the silence with a soft appreciation. The mauni baba nodded his inclusion into the conversation. It will be difficult for another scenic panorama to match up to this experience.
Not having done much physical travel this year, I relied on my enthusiasm and last year’s reserve of hiking acumen in South India, to climb the Tungnath and Chandrashila peaks from Chopta, in Uttarakhand. The drive from Kund, where I was staying, was through a brilliant road, meandering between a bright green mixed forest of rhododendrons, oaks, pines and other local species. I had been on the same road long time back,
but every bend revived the memory of this fantastic ride. It was a bright sunny day, lucky for someone who had encountered two days of persistent rain before this – the colourful jungle fowls and the gang of langoors seemed to agree that it was surely a day to be outside. Unfortunately for the small dhabas that we crossed on the way, the nervousness of travel around the Kedar Valley had percolated into this area, quite removed from where the disaster struck in 2013. The shops were bereft of any busines
s, as the Char Dham spill over to Chopta was at the lowest. Few campsites looked alive in the lush meadows of Duggalbita. For a moment my mind wandered to think how they may look in the winters,
but the beautiful views of Yamnotri, Gangotri and , Chaukhamba and Kedarnath mountains on my left nudged me into staying present to the brilliant weather.
Finally, we reached Chopta, from where the trek to the Tungnath temple starts. Several mules owners and guides converged at the car, hoping that I would hire one, but for me the 4km walk to the temple is what I had been looking forward to. Instead, a big hairy bhuitya dog attached himself to me and lead the way for the next four hours. The hiking path is steep, but not challenging- infact it is quite staid, with not much variation. I took a few short cuts across grassy hills to add some interest, but knew that this trek would be perfect for a family – slow and easy. From 2800 meters of Chopta, we ascended with a steady pace to the ancient temple of Tungnath at 3680 meters. Enroute, two local shops made for a good pit stop for a quick chat and some water. The locals come from Malethi gaon (village) and stay here for 6 months, to leave just after Diwali when the cold becomes unbearable. It’s a humbling experience to hear them and I silently wondered how they spend their time these days, as the footfall on these hills has drastically reduced.
The hike, though easy in terms of technique, is surely challenging for someone who hasn’t hit the outdoors too much. But the good thing is that it works as a great warm up trek for a larger expedition. If one is not time bound, it can be comfortably paced out. Green rolling hills, a few small shrines and mammoth Himalayas keep you company. The last stretch seems a little unattainable till you start seeing the grey stone-walls of the Tungnath temple. As per legends, the temple is supposed to be more than 1000 years old and was built by the Pandavas. On the right of the temple, a small path leads upto the Chandrashila peak, at another1.25 kms. The ascent here is more sudden (from 3680 mts to 4000 mts) and exciting, as with every few meters, new stacks of mountains appear, changing the colour from green, to brown and then different shades of blue – one behind the another. Though there is a well chalked out but irregular stony path, the walk up right through the grassy mountain is simpler. I encountered a day old patch of melting snow and decided to follow the mauni baba instead. Ofcourse I huffed behind him, trying to match his quick steps, but managed to reach just after him. Behind me, the dog and the Russians navigated through clumps of mud and grass, and slumped at the small Chandrashila shrine.It is recommended to stop in the middle and look around to take in the views slowly.
On top of the hill, we basked in the shared excitement of having trudged up the steep mountain; the very same peak where Lord Rama and Ravana once meditated. The air was rarified at 13000 feet and twenty minutes was ample time to take in the scene. While bounding down, I realised that I hadn’t noticed any Monal (the state bird of Uttarakhand) on such a bright day – if only I could have a glimpse and the day would turn out absolutely perfect. Sure enough, it must be the extra zealous prayers at Tungnath and I sighted a Monal in a short flight. A customary maggi ended the trek and I was off to the last of the trio, Deoriatal.
As the name suggests, Deoria Taal is a lake, which lies in the trough between mountains. The Sari gaon serves as a base camp, from where a well chalked out stony pathway leads up to the top of the hill (2.5km). This hike is far simpler than Tungnath, first with a great view of the village below and then into the shady copse of a mixed jungle. The route is dotted with small tasteful shelters to take rest. The last tree covered path opens up into a large expanse of mild wavy meadows, on the side of which, lies the famous lake (2378 mts). In the distance, one can see the Kedar, Chaukhamba, Yamnotri and Gangotri peaks.At a steady pace, it took me 45 minutes to arrive at the relaxing ambience of the lake and the mountains. I wondered how it might be to camp at night under the stars. If only I had enough days. I vowed to come back and camp by the lake, and be wooed by the natural beauty of the place very soon.
You can use Himalayan Eco Lodges Campsite in Kund as basecamp for this trek. The guided treks are done with experts who take an alternative ridge-to-ridge route and also offer camping on the fringes of the jungle at night. This is a 3-day trek, meant for beginners and families – a great orientation to the world of mountains.
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