First Look at Camp Chalkot
A trip of firsts for me and (hopefully not lasts) for me. Treks are challenging, mentally more than physically. I had to start with some light prep for at least a couple of weeks before the actual powwow. And I’d strongly recommend the same to you as well! That being said, it’s so truly addictive that once you’ve had a go at it, you want to never stop! Being outdoors, far away from so many things we take for granted, helps to build a newer, fresher horizon. I haven’t been back a week and I’m already raring to get out and get going.
It’s been a crazy long day. Between making it to my train with 6 seconds to spare and having to endure an extremely chatty bunch of co-passengers, I was about as presentable as a member of the Fragglerock family when I was picked up from the Haridwar railway station. Eager to be on my way, I quickly tucked myself in to a corner of my ride and watched it fill up with my group members. Unexpected friendships can be forged when you step out of your comfort zone and this time was no different for me. As we began trundling along the curvy mountain roads, hands were shaken, smiles were exchanged, and I unceremoniously drifted off onto my neighbor’s shoulders. But the beauty I was to witness was just too compelling to ignore and I eventually woke up to a sinful breakfast of aloo parathas and chholey at a local dhaba. What with the fuel in me and some new people to catch up with, I returned to the land of living, fairly quickly.
- Sangam at Devprayag
- Glacial River Banks with Silver Sands
- Lonely Mountain
As we moved deeper into the mountains, we started crossing little hamlets and rivers with pure glacial waters. The temperatures dipped and nature began taking over. There may be words to describe this beauty but I am not aware of any that would suffice. The intense green of the trees interspersed with the vivid blue of the clear sky soothes the mind and makes the heart ache for more. And I wasn’t prepared for how much more of it I would get. The mountains got taller, the jungle denser, and then, the best photo op by way of a river flanked by small beaches (yes, yes, I know rivers don’t have beaches) of glittery, silvery sand! Who’d ever say no to resting their tired feet in a cool water and a picture to mark the moment of relief, eh?
- Unnamed Beach with Twinkly Sands
- Do you see the Glitter
It took us about 6 hours to get there but when we came upon the Kund lodge, it was more than worth the travel.
- First Look at Kund Eco Lodges
- Kund Dining Room
- Looking out of the Kund Dining Room
First Look at Kund Lodge
The vehicle turns off and in the ensuing hush, I can easily distinguish the sounds of the Mandakini river. She is still in her infanthood here and continuously chortles and gushes around. Listen carefully as you fall asleep at night and you can make out the hints of a whispered lullaby, on her waves, to soothe you. Having said that, there was no way I could have slept a teensy wink now that I was finally here! We were welcomed with a round of much needed hot chai and directed to our little haven for the night. Mine was a gorgeous cottage that could have easily stepped out of a hobbit’s storybook. A cozy little nook surrounded by gorgeous plants and easy access to the river.
- A Hobbit’s Cottage at Kund
- Spidery Cottage Ceiling
- Pretty Plants Around my Haven
We spent the rest of the evening unwinding at the river banks, a short leafy trek away from the cottages. The clean water comes chattering down the valley and washes away all stress and worries. It got rid of our exhaustion and we were clamoring for dinner by the time we were back.
- Pano at the Banks of the Mandakini
Not that we had to wait long. Like clockwork, the staff had smoothly wiped away the vestiges of our tea and replaced them with a hearty meal to close our day with. As I lay down to (finally) catch up on my much-needed sleep, I could only marvel at how amazingly well thought out every little bit of this beautiful place is.
Kund Dining Room
A steaming hot bath and a scrumptious breakfast set us on our way to the first trek of the trip.
The first ever trek for me!
I was supremely excited and terrifically terrified. Then I met a wee puppy and one touch of his lovely little nose told me that today, was in fact, going to be fantastic. And boy! Was he right!
- Puppy Power
- Jungle Trail to Chalkot
We stepped onto the road less travelled, by people at least. It wove deeper into the jungle and soon we were completely enveloped into nature’s embrace. Trees on trees till as far as my vision permitted. The sun just touching the tips of the lush mountains and the pure, green smell of early morning. I had earlier been scared stiff of a mild trail on a gentle slope and was pretty worried about a rerun for more people to see. Surprisingly, though, I was fairly comfortable on the trail. possibly because I was so distracted by the play of shadow and light on the jungle floor. We’d step into little pools of warm sunlight and then suddenly be hidden into cool shadows for stretches.
- Sun Kissed Greenery
- Play of shadow and light
- Greenest of Green Trails
We passed delicately pink flowers with minute leaflets.
- Pale Pink Flowers
Gorged on brilliantly orange berries, as delectable as strawberries.
- Vivid Juicy Berries
And then…. we came across this innocent looking son-of-a-plant that scratches any part of you that has the audacity to brush against it. The scratches then end up looking like mosquito bites that sting and burn for a bit and then swell mildly. With the epic level of coordination that I have, I was busy inspecting one such bump when I walked into another one of those leaves. And, so on and so forth until I had a fair bit of these bumps on my arms and legs. I’d like to believe that all my extra inches are because of these plants *shameless giggle*
- The Jungle’s Self Defense – Bichhoo Ghaans
We did happen upon some civilization, though. It was a quaint little mountain village with a colorful temple that marked its entrance. Curious villagers dropped their daily chores for a second to call out to our guides and invite us in for some chai. Sorely tempted as I was, to stay back in those sun-kissed meadows with those innocent and happy souls, I was a woman on a mission. I had to walk the hell out of this trek and I did! We walked over hills, stepped across fields, traversed silent roads, and plodded onwards. Ever onwards towards our exquisite camp at Chalkot.
- Small Village Temple
- A Local Family
While the word ‘camp’ pulls up visions of the great outdoors, little tents, and bonfires, this one was so much more! A little outcrop of rocks on the side, where I could find some peace. A foothold off the dinner tent where I could soak in my morning cuppa in utter isolation. Every passing moment I spent here, whether it was to catch up with my wonderful hosts or to figure my way around their solar lamps, I fell deeper in love with the mountains. The green sunrises and golden sunsets. The overwhelming hospitality of the staff. The absolute luxury in the lap of nature. The new friendships forged over that blessed day.
- The Jungle Walk to Chalkot Camp
- Nearly There
- First Look at Chalkot
- Pano at chalkot
- Sunset at Chalkot
- The Chalkot Temple
If could’ve been granted any wish in the entire world, I knew there was nothing more I could have ever desired from life then. Except, maybe, to be blessed enough to witness this beauty time and again.
The day closes at Chalkot
Today was the day of the main trek. The climb to Tungnath temple and Chandrasheela peak. My Everest. Yes, I’m quite dramatic that way.
Now, if you’re looking for a story on the endurance of human spirit against all odds, I can assure you this is not it. This is the story of how the human spirit is an idiot and won’t let her owner do whatever the hell she wants.
An early start and a LOT of hot porridge inside me, saw me stepping uphill to our waiting ride.
We were to drive a way off to Chopta, from where we were to begin climbing up to the Tungnath temple and Chandrasheela peak. Since it’s a much-visited temple, we were lucky to have a great path to walk on and there was a lot of interesting traffic to look at. Motivated people striding up, satisfied people coming down, and mules transporting the rest around the mountain. And not your run of the mill, muley mules. Oh, no no no! These were hardy sweet little creatures that were all decked up in colorful ribbons and bells around their necks. The clippity clop of their hooves signaled time for a break as we stepped off the path to let them pass.
- First step to 4000 meters
- The climb gets steeper
- Buransh trees lining the path
- The khacchars
- The beauty makes the climb easier
We were to drive a way off to Chopta, from where we were to begin climbing up to the Tungnath temple and Chandrasheela peak. Scenic though the route was, about 3-400 meters short of the Tungnath temple, pretty much every fiber in my body was convinced that this, was in fact, it. That it had done enough and to expect more was just ridiculous. The human spirit was up in arms against me and I had to sit down by a tiny tea shop while I sorted out the state of affairs. Dejected and heaving in an ungodly fashion, I happened to attract the attention of a group of sadhu babas, one of whom took a liking to me and handed me a ‘blessed’ coin. It may have been nothing but I tucked it away nonetheless. Just in case, it DID turn out to be much needed blessings on a bad day! I don’t know if it was the short break or the conversation but I was, finally, able to get on my feet and drag my bedraggled self, uphill. Step by step. Bench by bench. And at long last, I was there at the gates of the Tungnath temple.
- The babaji with the coin
- Winter seat of the Lord of Tungnath
It was decked up in all its glory to welcome the Lord back from His winter abode and had thrown its gates open to devotees, mere days before we had landed there. I was whisked away into the inner chamber for a small puja. The older temples have some magic that cools the interiors no matter how warm it gets outside. The only lights are some diyas that throw off a dim glow, furthering the mystery of the Lord. After a small blessing for the loved ones and a brief parikrama of the mandir, we set off for the Chandrasheela peak. God alone knows the hidden powers in prayer and the mountain air, but I aced that trek. My guide made sure he was nothing but encouraging. Distracting us with wonderful stories of his forays up the mountains and his very contented life amongst them. Very brief breaks, except one for some killer pictures of the valley and we had finally reached the peak! 4000 meters! I have never been this high in my entire life and for a change, it had nothing to do with a certain bottled monk.
- The temple at last
- The way up to Chandrasheela
- Nearly at the peak
- The climb gets closer
We had about 10 minutes before it got too cold to hang around there and it would never be enough to soak in the sights of the mountains stretching out beyond, even my, imagination. A couple of chocolates to commemorate the moment and to get rid of the slight dizziness that was settling in. A couple of much needed pictures and we were heading back down. The only thing I missed out on was a clear view of the peaks above the snow line. But it was a wish that was second to the exhilaration of having gotten up successfully.
- The Chandrasheela temple
- Pano at Chandrasheela
Pano at Chandrasheela
After a much-needed steaming hot chai and maggi, we set downwards when it happened. Barely minutes below the Tungnath temple, I looked up and realized that the winds had shifted and a corner of the thick, black clouds had lifted to allow me a peak at the snowcapped peaks beyond. I froze where I was, the rain now dripping down with some intensity. As my heart skipped beats and my eyes filled up with tears, I couldn’t have asked for a better vision than those grand peaks bathed in the golden aura of the setting sun. It’s hard to explain how humbling it is to be allowed to see this. How you suddenly understand why it is called Devbhoomi. After all, isn’t it fair that only the Gods should be allowed to reside on the pure and nearly unattainable heights?
That night, as I lay replete with the eager hospitality of my hosts and their ridiculously delicious meal, my eyes closed and sleep deliberately dragged me back on the windswept peak, with the towering snowy mountains conceding yet another glimpse at them.
- The day closes at Chalkot
It’s an amazing feeling to wake up feeling all sorts of accomplished and what nots. It’s the EXACT feeling I had this morning. There was a group of kids heading for a round of rafting and were super excited, twittering around like the noisiest birds I’ve ever come across. It was our day to move out of the Chalkot camp and I had extreme mixed feelings. I wanted to go and start climbing for the mountain lake, Deoriatal but I did not want to say goodbye to this nugget of dreamy isolation, either. But as time is, it waits for no ones. As seconds ticked by and the time to depart came ever closer, I had to resolutely set my mind to an image of coming back here soon.
I went over to my special little spot near the dining mess and promised I’d visit again. Sighed into the cute tin cup that I’d resolved not to steal and fed the teddy bear-like doggie that hangs around at camp. Now, we truly had to be off if we were to keep up with the schedule and get to Deoriatal on time. So, we did the only logical thing and got a wee bit late(r).
- Saying goodbye to Chalkot
Sooooo...by the time we were on our way up, the sun was already beginning to make its presence felt. Not that anything was going to deter me from getting to the top today. After yesterday, I was on FIRE! Taking breaks at all the right times, weaving in and out of the jungle, and gazing on the (now distant) Chandrasheela peak where had parked ourselves the previous day.
While the trek itself was not as hard as the one to Tungnath, it was good enough to get the machinery in action. Close to the end, we bumped into this minute shanty that served as a tea shop and a home for the lone old man who served us. Apparently, this dude had absolutely NO worries about being all on his lonesome out there in the dead of the night. WHAT ABOUT THE GHOSTS!?! Man of steel and what nots, eh?
- Uphill to Deoriatal
- Pano on the way to Deoriatal
A small curve tree lined curve and quite suddenly, Deoriatal pops into view. Set against a backdrop of the Greater Himalayan range, this lake is holy. So, before you decide to go speeding into its depths for a quick dip, stop and check if you have permission to do so. The banks are cluttered with close to a million sleek, black tadpoles busily squirming around for all their worth. If you’re lucky (and not too late), the horizon will clear out and you will be able to see for miles out. Times like these, you can also take pictures of clear reflections in the still waters.
- First look at Deoriatal
- Creativity blues
- Very busy tadpoles in the lake
First look at Deoriatal
This was the best spot for a picnic and we rested against the huge, shady tree and munched on some well-deserved food. As our stay drew to a close, the clouds begin rumbling gently on the horizon and drizzling onto us as we began descending to our waiting ride. It’d been the last of three long days and I couldn’t have felt worse that it was ending. Although, honestly, the rains did cheer me up a fair bit. In the mountains, the thunder is epically magnified and the raindrops sound loudly on the tin roofs. Sitting on a lovely little sit out in my cottage, in the fading light, and contemplating how much I am in love with the mountains, I realized there’s so much we can do if we were to simply set our minds to it. I would know, since I’ve pretty much set my mind to do as much more of this as possible.
I woke up and sighed heavily. It was the day to get back to reality. To leave this slice of heaven and go back to the dreary life of worldly trappings. It was pretty hard to say good bye to the incredible people at GIO. If you want to see true hospitality, you HAVE to visit the pahadis. Here, serving their guests is not just a job, it’s a way of life. Be it the chefs dishing out fabulous food, the guides making sure the entire group gets to their destinations, or the villagers calling out to you to come in and share some of their life. The happy smiles and the incredible stories cast an indelible mark on your mind and humble you. In the fast-pacedlife, we lead today, it is incredibly rare to see someone who is HAPPY to bring you into their fold and spoil you rotten.
So, for now, a small goodbye to my new friends and the joy they brought me. An adieu to the amazing man who actually took a month off work to go on a mega trek around the mountains. And a definite tremble of the lips to the grand mountains and their clear fresh air that make me want to stay forever.
Now, as the air conditioning cools my heated face, I realize nothing can compare to the pleasant nip of the virgin mountain air, as it breezes around the peaks and valleys, tousling my hair and bringing a sigh of relief. It seems I am now addicted and must go back soon. Very soon…