|Panoramic view of Chopta - the so called mini Switzerland|
After having rested for the night at Syalsaur, I got up early in the morning and was rewarded with a scintillating view of the Kedarnath peaks lit up in the morning sun. I wandered around a bit, trudging up to the main stream of Mandakini River and saw some fishermen, who had placed nets across the stream at a few places, go waist down in the icy cold water to collect their catch, really some hard work indeed. After returning back to the TRH and having had a hot cup of tea, I retired back to my room to have a bath, before embarking upon the days scheduled trip to the famed Chopta village.
|Glorious view of Kedarnath peaks from Syalsaur early in the morning|
Having had a heavy B’fast, as we did not expect to find many eateries on the way, we commenced our journey for Chopta at around 10.00 A.M. The sky was a clear blue and the sun had made its grand appearance for the day, slowly warming up the environ that was still laden with the cold ground frost permeated air. We traversed a distance of 14 Kms. along the Mandakini River upto Kund, wherefrom the road crosses over the Mandakini River and heads towards Kedarnath and the other one heads straight on uphill towards Ukhimath. We traversed on an uphill drive for another 5 Kms. before we reached Ukhimath, which is the famous temple town housing the Kedarnath deity during the winter months and I will describe in detail in the ensuing blog. We had to travel another 29 Kms. from Ukhimath before we could reach the destination for the day i.e. Chopta.
|The signpost near Ukhimath|
|A deep gorge with a village home perched precariously on way to Chopta|
|Flock of sheep being herded along the road to Chopta|
From Ukhimath, instead of heading towards the main township, one continues along the main road and crosses small villages en-route namely Karokhi, Mastura, Dihara and Dhankund before one reaches Makku bend, wherefrom one roads heads for Makkumath. Thereafter, the road gets steeper and more curvaceous and you traverse through some virgin Oak & Rhododendron forests and as you start nearing Chopta, a multitude of sign posts crop up showing presence of resorts etc., until you reach Dugalbitta that has a small hotel and some campsites strewn across and thereafter, one crosses Baniakund before finally reaching Chopta. Being winter, snowfall had taken place in the region a few days earlier, hence some parts of the road was still covered in ice and there was snow along the sidewalks of the road. The journey to Chopta appeared to be more tantalizing now.
|Going past Baniakun en-route Chopta|
As I have described that it was pleasantly warm when we had started our journey in the morning and there was a lot to rumbling & grumbling, when I had instructed the family members to don proper winter clothes that we were carrying. However, no sooner we had alighted from the Car that a strong gust of icy cold winds hit us with gale force. Some of us, who were still skeptical about donning the winter clothes, quickly dived back into the Car and piled on the jackets and caps et al. Chopta is a small nondescript little village that is dotted with a number of eating joints, to ensure some grub for the ever hungry tourists, albeit everything is sold at much above the marked price. Still it is a luxury to get the goods made available in these hostile environs by the local traders.
|Panoramic view from Chopta village|
|Panoramic view of Chopta - towards Tungnath - from Chopta village|
|The starting point of trek towards Tungnath from Chopta|
As we had a sumptuous B’fast before commencing with the journey, we started our climb towards Tungnath immediately. One has to pay a fee of Rs.150/- per person for entry, as this entire place comes under the Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary and this fee is collected by the forest department. However, if you are a student and carrying a valid ID, there is a fifty percent discount. Having procured the tickets, we started trudging towards our next target i.e. Tungnath temple. Tungnath is the highest Shiva Temple in the world (3680m) and is one among the Paanch Kedar Shrines. It is believed to be more than 1000 years old. The temple is closed during the winters and the deity is shifted to Mukku village. Tungnath temple opens its doors to pilgrims in the summer around the end of April and shuts down in November in winter. As per the mythology, Lord Shiva had taken the form of a bull in order to avoid the Pandavas, who were seeking his blessings for their sin of having killed their own kin. However, Bhima spotted him and Lord Shiva in bull form went into the ground to escape the Pandavas, but Bhima caught hold of its tail so that it could not escape. Several parts of the bull then cropped out of the ground at five spots and accordingly the Panch Kedars were formed. Kedarnath temple is dedicated to the hump of Lord Shiva and is the most famous Paanch Kedar shrine. The other Paanch Kedar shrines are at - Tungnath, Madyamaheshwar, Rudranath, and Kalpeshwar. At Tungnath temple, Lord Shiva’s arms are worshipped.
|The trudge towards Tungnath begins in the right earnest|
|Fresh snow scattered all around - on way to Tungnath|
|Sign of life on a dead looking tree - a single flower|
Due to the snow and extreme cold conditions, the snowfall that had occurred a few days earlier had failed to melt away, instead a thick coat of black ice now covered the road at many points and was quite treacherous. We trudged along cautiously, stopping over here and there to catch our breaths, in the rarified air. After trudging for about two hours or so, we reached a point where there was a meadow, with a small makeshift house cum tea stall, but due to snow it was closed. We frolicked in the snow and enjoyed some quality time, trying to rejuvenate our slackening energy levels for further climb upwards. However, I suddenly spotted ominous looking cloud tantalizing closing over the nearby peak and in no time at all the entire valley started to be enveloped by it. As such the road was treacherous at many parts because of the black ice and even a slight drizzle would have rendered it unusable and could have resulted in really nasty fall and consequent damage to limbs. So with a sense of despair, I decided to trudge back, better be safe than never and bid adieu to Tungnath with a small resolve of returning back in near future. But a word of caution, Chopta is fast becoming a commercial destination and there were hordes of visitors, creating a cacophony of noises, shouting at top of their voices, this does not augur well for a designated ‘Wildlife Sanctuary’, therefore, the issuance of permits is required to be restricted and may be issued online for specific number of persons only and they should also be made to give an undertaking of good behavior, once inside the sanctuary or else in a few years it will lose its charm & charisma. I could not spot a single exotic bird during the entire trek.
|Snow covered slopes all across|
|Fresh snow scattered all around - on way to Tungnath|
|Ominous clouds surrounding the peak en-route Tungnath|
|The clouds enveloping the entire valley - an ominous sign indeed|
However, for the readers I have made some research on the internet to gouge out some information about Tungnath, so that they do not have to refer to other blogs for information. The trekking distance between Chopta to Tungnath is 4 kms and usually takes around 2 and a half hours to cover for a young person. Around ten minutes before you reach Tungnath, there is a small detour to a peak called Ravanshila. It is said to be the place where the demon king Ravana meditated to please Lord Shiva. The path to Chandrashila starts from Tungnath temple itself. It is clearly marked and cannot be missed. Distance of Chandrashila Peak Top from Tungnath is approx. 1.5 kms and even though it’s a steep climb, the distance can be easily covered in 1 hour. There is a small temple at Chandrashila and from the top one can savor grand 360 degree panoramic views of the Kumaon & Garhwal ranges. According to a mythological legend, Chandrashila is the place where Lord Rama performed penance after killing Ravana, so as to absolve himself of the sin having killed a Bramhin.
|My watch altimeter showing the altitutde at Chopta village|
|As the sun sets - view of Guptkashi - across the valley|
By the time we reached back down at Chopta about three & half-hour’ time had elapsed since we had started our ascent and we were a famished lot. Cold winds had gathered speed and it was bone chilling, we ordered some hot cups of tea/coffee to one’s liking and we had some Maggi tossed in with eggs and fried in butter, but the driver, who too had trudged alongwith us, preferred a ‘thali’ i.e. a complete meal. I placed my watch on the table and set up the altimeter, which showed that we were perched at an altitude of 2820 meters, the warmth of my hands showed the temperature at 25 degrees Celsius and time 3.38 P.M. By the time we finished our meals, it was almost 4.00 P.M and the temperature had started plummeting and as we retraced our steps back to Syalsaur, I took a few photographs of valleys and Guptkashi, the sister town of Ukhimath perched just across the valley traversed by Mandakini River. Thus, ended the day late in the evening, as we gorged in some more ‘pakoras’ (chickpea flour based fried food) and tea on returning back to Syalsaur.
Here is the link to a short video of the destination -