Temple hopping near Kund
Being on the road for several months in an year has inadvertanly made me the ‘in-house Encyclopedia of holiday recommendations’ for friends and family. I’m always being asked about suggestions and tips for solo travels, favourite hostels in a city or the yummiest local food joints. But one question that comes often in my inbox is, ‘‘what’s the best place suitable for children’’ and “Please suggest something for everyone”. Even personally, I’m an advocate of wholesome places – one that have multiple hues, several things to do and that offers a variety of experiences. So when I was invited to a multi-activity trip around Chopta, it promised to be an exciting one. Also, the call of the wild and outdoors is never left unanswered in my travel plans.
Located at an altitude of 2700m, in the Rudraprayag district of Uttrakhand, there is a tiny village called Chopta, which has rightly earned itself the sobriquet of ‘The Mini Switzerland’ of India, when Indira Gandhi visited and termed it aptly. Surrounded by dense forests, with many of the mighty Himalayan peaks towering in the background, my two-day halt at Chalkot camp at Chopta (our base for trek to Chandrashila), was nothing short of an awe inspiring experience. While Chalkot became the base to Chandrashila, another lodge in the nearby Kund, was the pad for Deoriatal and other adventures. Both the lodge and the campsite lie about 35km from each other, and can be used alternatively. Both are run by Himalayan Eco Lodges (HEL).
Stepping foot in both Kund and Chalkot accommodations, I immediately knew that this is what my friends and family had been looking for; multi-active holidays for the entire family, but in off-beat locations.
Snowy hillsides of Chopta
The core concenpt of these these pit-stops is that, being far away from the distractions of more touristy places and no connectivity to outside world, allows families to spend maximum time together and revive their bonds with loved ones. Besides both these places are ideal for first time adventurers, or kids who need to be supervised on hiking trails, bird sighting and other range of exciting adventures – great way for the parents to get a breather. I was going to get a glimpse of all the activities over a the next few days.
The lofty holy shrines of Tungnath and Chandrashila, ideal for a high adrenaline trek amidst the pristine beauty of the snow clad Himalayas, were the highlights for me. A sunny day in March hardly seemed to be the kind that would have me trudging up a snowed-in path. With the sun brightly (and relentlessly) shining down didn’t seem to budge the snow enroute. We started in the morning at the base of the Tungnath trek and stepped deliberatley and carefully through the white path, right uptil the ancient Shiva temple. Whenever I looked up from the path, I could see rolling green hills, some terraced with farms. The higher mountains in the distance looked like a white sheet had been spread on top of them.
The stunning views of Chopta and around
From Tungnath, only a kilometer up was Chandrashila – a spot that allows you to unplug from conversations and thoughts and completely immerse in the 360 degree view of the Himalayan peaks. A memorable moment, that will forever be etched in my mind. While Tunganath-Chandrashila was a high calibre adventures, the 2km hike from the quaint village of Sari to the captivating waters of Deoria Tal was rejuvenating. The freshwater lake is perched at an elevation of nearly 2438m. The reflections of the snow clad Chaukhamba peak in the clear waters of Deoria Tal made for an unforgettable experience.
That night we camped near the lake, taking in the silence of the mountains. Chopta is also a Mecca for birders and I saw several birding groups during my trek to Tungnath-Chandrashila. A staggering 550 bird species are found here, including the beautiful state bird of Uttrakhand, the Himalayan Monal. Needless to say, I was rewarded with quite a few sightings and returned trigger-happy.
Chopta has the vantage address of being a short detour off on the spiritual trail for Hindus. It lies in the vicnity of the Kedarnath region and has many temples dotting its villages. For the culture and history inclined, the temple of Ukhimath, the winter seat of Lord Kedarnath and the temples of Usha and Anirudh are worth a trip. I managed to see a few evening aartis to wind up the day. Despite not being too spiritual, I have to admit that the soothing devotional songs in the middle of the mountains did have a therapeutic tinge.
Popular for high alpine grasslands called Bugyals, Chopta offers something other than snow-capped peaks as well. The Rohini Bugyal is largest one in the region and can be easily accessed. These meadows are surrounded by oak and pine trees to create a fascinating oxygen laden atmosphere. A long walk here seemed to do the trick for my oxygen starved muscles after the trek. There was ample that adventure seekers could try their hands at. The area is known to have stunning escarpments of rocks that are ideal for rock climbing, rappelling and other rope activities. On a free morning, I put my faith in the instructor and rappelled down a fairly high a rock-scape. While I was slightly nervousness then, looking back, it is an ideal activity for kids as well. Afterall, one is strapped up in the gear and have trained instructors to explian and help.
A Monal in Chopta
Chopta’s weather, splendid panoramas of jagged summits and tree carpeted hills around made for the apt scape for an outdoor holiday. Every night, coming back to the cosy and comfortable accommodations at Kund and Chalkot, was a balm for tired muscles. I would sit on my bed and think of the day gone and what my personal highs had been. Looking back at my camera for photos captured of the day, would be veritable trophies for the adventure I had endured. A multi-activity, high action trip was just what I had needed to whet my own travel suggestions and had found just the place. Both camps allowed greater communion with nature, while offering all creature comforts that one could imagine. From adventure, leisure, wellness to cultural activities, it was all available on one single trip. I knew exactly where to point the next time I had someone asking for a ‘family holiday’ suggestion.