Exploring Chopta with a fresh take on travelling
My parents are quite the travelling duo, in love with the outdoors and forever ready for a trip – a sign of their love for nature and keeping up the vitality. The ‘travel gene’, if biologists ever care to christen one, has definitely been passed on, and I’m ever thankful for it.
After a desk job for a few years, the itchy feet syndrome struck me hard in my late twenties. It’s been over five years and there is no remedy in sight. I couldn’t stay in the cubicle anymore. Even if they were short affordable trips, they were ample to satiate the love or travel. The enthusiasm hasn’t died down, so when I am not on trips, I’m planning the next one, or sorting images from the last or documenting them on my blog. Basically, my life is anchored around the word ‘travel’.
My father had been watching this zealous love for a while, and was concerned that I was so deeply suffused in it, that I may be missing out on pulling the breaks and really taking in each experience. My mother and him had just come back from the mountains of Uttarakhand and looked visibily relaxed and refreshed. They were sure that they had found just the right place for me to be away from the lap-top, phone, cameras and digital paraphernalia of any sort. A place that would infuse authentic relaxation and refresh the mind. They said, “Chopta was incomparable. You have to go there for a few days. As a remarkable co-incidence, I received an invitation from Great Indian Outdoors for a trip to Uttarakhand. No points for guessing where I would be headed.
Chopta has found little mention even in the leading guide books and maps, but as far as I was concerned my appetite had already been whetted by my parent's vivid details about the fascinating place and the sighting of the Himalayan Monal. Besides, the place promised great views of ruggedly handsome mountains, where I could stretch the legs for hikes and even a day-long trek. All the crystalline magnificence I had visualised aboutescaping the city and being in the wilderness was brought to life here.
Stunning views while trekking in Chopta
Chopta lies at a distance of 170 km (approximately five hours) from the holy town of Rishikesh, where the mighty Ganges river enters the plains of India. I took a train til Rishikesh and then had a car to take me further on. All the travel rigour of the bumpy journey was immediately forgotten as soon as I stepped out from the car at the Kund Himalayan Eco lodge, my first accommodation of the trip. I was to experience another camp site later on as well.
The Kund lodge is strategically located in the valley of the river Mandakini, with Mount Kedar rising majestically in the background, and further accentuated by the lights and sounds of many temples and shrines, which dot the mountainside around the lodge.Apart from being the starting point of many trekking trails, Kund is also the approach for the world famous Kedarnath temple. Other prominent temples in the vicinity which are easily accessible from Kund are Tungnath (highest Shiva temple in the world ), Madhyamaheshwar and Ukhimath temples. The Tungnath trek is a must for mountain enthusiasts, so I readily agreed to do it.
The Chopta to Tungnath trek is said to be one of the most beautiful treks in the region, which affords spectacular views of the lofty Himalayan peaks of Nanda Devi,Trishul and Chaukhamba. Situated at an elevation of 3680 meters, this moderate level snow trek brings one close to the culture of the Garhwal region apart from offering glimpses of its rare fauna, which includes the stunning Himalayan Monal. I was lucky and thrilled to view both genders of this bird at two spots, early on this trek, a memory which will stay etched in my heart forever.
Ahead of Tungnath, another kilometre of walking takes one to the Chandrashila peak. From here, mountains spill from the feet only a short distance away and the 360 degree view of snow capped peaks is exhilirating. Even though it was only a day long unhurried trip, it was tiring. But the one thing that did not even occur to me through the day, was the absence of a laptop or phone. It was an unadulterated engagement with the outdoors.
Post our exhausting trek, we went back to our fixed base Chalkot camp to relax and rejuvenate. Chalkot camp is nestled at the base of the meadows of Chopta and truly lies in pristine natural surroundings. The adjacent running water stream and breathtaking mountain views made the stay at Chalkot extremely rewarding. That night, with the sweet fatigue of trekking playing up on the legs, I fell asleep soundly.
Chalkot the perfect base camp for birding
The campsite stands in a clearing, bang in the centre of forests, making it an ideal spot for birding. The morning brough Black bulbuls, verditer flycatchers, rufous bellied niltavasand others, daring swiftly here and there.
Chalkot also makes for a great basecamp for a trek to Deoriatal, a lake propped on top of a mountain. This was much easier compared to day long snow trek of Tungnath-Chandrashila. Mid-morning, we reached Deoriatal in a matter of 2 hours, that too at a leisurely pace. The beguiling peaks (especially Chaukhamba) made a painting like reflection on the still water. Unimpeded by any technology or intent to use it, I sat and let myself soak the cool air and magnificent views. There were no other hiking groups at that time and the only palpable presence was that of the towering mountains, the shimmering lake and the relaxing vibe.
I thought of my father’s words and made a silent promise to tweak the speed limit on my travels. Or at least find a few hours during the trips to pace out the experiences. The same father who would nudge me to wake up sooner or ask me to hurry for school and college, had the best advice for the older me. ‘Sometimes it’s good to be lazy.’