Uttarakhand, the moment this name figures in conversations the primary thoughts that run through the mind are two: Himalaya and Spiritual Belief. This state has been the focal point for the above two factors right from the ancient times. It has been the gateway to spiritual belief and becoming one with nature right from the times of Sri Adi Shankar Acharya himself. Thousands have come here in search for peace; many have found their true inner calling among the dense forests and virgin rivers that flow through the lower Himalaya. Home to the greatest of all ancient rivers, the Ganges herself; on her banks many a great spiritual soul has contemplated life and its essence. Boasting of some great trekking options the region is a must on the Bucket list of any traveler.
There is a saying that says home is where your heart is and the other side to it is that the earth is our home. So when we combine the two, we realize how incredible is home. We all have our “go to “places and for me that part is mountains, the landscape just makes the heart sing. It makes me feel alive. For those who stay in the heart of our country or in the western regions, one does not have to go far to experience mountains at their best, the lofty ranges of the Garhwal Himalaya with the image of the mighty Chaukhamba makes anyone feel right at home.
A journey of eight hours by road from Haridwar, along the Kedarnath trail but with a diversion at the settlement of Kund towards the holy town of Ukimath. This route takes one via Augustamuni where one could visit the ashram of Sage Augustamuni and there after one crosses Bhiri village and finally arrives at Ukimath. All the places are small towns nestled in the foothills of mountain ranges. The scenic beauty is evident all along the route. The journey through a familiar/unfamiliar world is sustained by the pause, and the pause is sustained by such a journey.
Omkareshwar temple at Ukimath houses the deities of Kedarnath as well as Madhmaheswar during the winter months. There are five shiva lingas established here which represent the five paanch Kedar. The temple construction and decoration of the Parvati temple is very soothing. This temple is a must visit.
Post the visit one proceeds towards Chopta via Baniyakund and Duggalbitha. The roads grow narrower as one progressed further into the mountains steadily gaining height. This was the region comprising of deodars, pines and birches with range after range of heavily of heavily forested lands.
Chopta (elevation 2700 mts), a series of undulating meadows on the slopes of the foothills of the mighty Garhwal Himalayan ranges is a part of the Kedarnath wildlife sanctuary. It is a base camp for trekking sojourns to Tungnath ji as well as Chandrashila, the moon rock. Chandrashila literally meaning “moon rock “ is situated at a height of 4000 mts above sea level and is the summit of Tungnath. This peak provides a 270 deg view of the Himalayas and is famed for its sunrise with the peaks of Nanda Devi and Trishul clearly visible.
For those who reach magical Chopta are greeted by the blue sky overhead, cool wind blowing through the hair and sights of Rhododendrons in full bloom, yes this is a sight to see and something that cannot be seen anywhere else in the country for this tree is the state tree of Uttarakhand.
So which is the best season to visit Chopta : For a combination of snowcapped peaks, wintry chill and to see the rhododendrons in full bloom , one has to come in the months of march-april when the winter still has its sway in these regions with spring making its presence felt by way of signaling the flowering of the rhododendrons.
Stay Duration: This is a purely personal choice for what can be better than waking up to the sounds of birds chirping in the deodar and pine trees or better still watching the sun rays kiss the Himalayan peaks as they signal the start of yet another glorious day. However, as a thumb rule a two day stay is more than apt. Later on one can move towards Deoriyaa Taal , which we would be speaking about soon enough.
Stay Option. The beauty of a place needs to be experienced in the old ways and this calls for a stay at one of the numerous cosy shacks that cater to the need of the traveler. Expect no luxurious stay however, few tented camps at one of the lower meadows at Duggalbitha is also an option.
Activities to do: There is a lot to do in the time that you spend out at Chopta.
(a) Immerse yourself within oneself and with your loved ones away from the humdrum of city life.
(b) Go for a walk amidst forgotten paths within forested glades of pines , deodars and witness the beauty of the State Bird of Uttarakhand known as Monal. Just take a diversion off the main path and explore the lovely bugyals (meadows) on foot and find many a hidden gem.
(c) Soak in magical sunsets occurring on the peaks of Chaukhmaba (7138 mts) .
(d) Feel the warmth in the night by a camp fire underneath the starry sky.
(e) For the adventurous go for a night drive to come face to face with the elusive leopard in its natural habitat.
Reality Check: Do remember that pristine virgin places like these imply that there will be shortage of electrical supply, limited cuisine and menu options coupled with very basic creature comforts at the place of stay including the washroom facility. In addition, the phone network is sketchy however available on BSNL network. Also carry a portable water filter and my recommendation is LIFESTRAW to be on the safe side.
Clothing advice: Chopta situated at average height of 2700 mts gets fairly cold at the night with temperatures dropping to as low as single digit in the month of March – June. Hence warm clothing is a must and the trick in warm clothing is to wear them in layers to trap the body heat within. Comfortable shoes with a good sole grip are a must. Also carry gloves and woolen caps to for the evening and nights. A hot water bottle will be a god send for many at night when the temperature start dropping. I would recommend inner woolen layers as well as outer waterproof warm layers from Quechua
What next after Chopta??? For those who decide to have more magic and mystical experiences when the time comes to depart from Chopta, one can opt for the religious visit to Tungnath Ji, a four-hour trek one way followed by a short hike to Chandrashila. There is an adjoining peak called Raavanshila which offers a totally different perspective for those who choose to visit it. Tales state that Raavan mediated during the Tretayuga out here. Alternately take the trek route to the magical Deoriyaa Taal and for those who wish to move further, a two-hour drive would bring one to the historical and significant temple town of Gopeshwar and a return to civilization.
Trekking to the highest Shiva Temple in the world(3680 mts): Tungnath one of the five Panch Kedars; more than 1000 years old, accessible only in the non-winter months. Steeped in religious myth and belief, existing since the dawn of the previous Vedic age of Dvpara Yuga, abode of Lord Shiva. There is something profound out there. Under the vast universe the temple stands silent, emanating vibrance that reaches out in all the eight directions with the mighty Himalayan peaks standing as the personal guards. Tales of Lord Shiva and the Pandavas in their quest for forgiveness and atonement for the sin of killing kith and kin surround this place and transport those who undertake the sojourn to pay homage out here to a different plane altogether.
Trek details. The total distance is around five kms however in the Himalaya we generally speak in terms of hours and not kilometers. To a non-trekker city dweller, the trek gradient would appear steep however on a steady pace it would be doable in three to four hours. The path is well laid out and numerous rest/tea shops are dotted all along the trek route.
Best time to trek. Tungnath is inaccessible in the core winter months and with the temple too closed, not many venture here. However the best time to visit would be in the months of March –April when the beauty of the rhododendrons in full bloom change the face of the mountain slopes into a carpet of red color. Additionally, the glamour of walking on snow covered patches has its own charm and the vistas of the Himalayan peaks that come into view as one climbs higher and higher makes the arduous trek worthwhile.
Stay Option. The best option is to stay at Chopta in order to avoid health complications considering the height as well cold that would follow as the sun sets. However for the diehard souls, there are tea shops where one can stay in basic comfort. The effort taken is definitely worthwhile for the sunrise views would be something that will be incomparable to anything seen previously.
Clothing advice. Warm layered clothes is definitely a must out here for the temperature drops rapidly and steadily as the winds pick up by late afternoon. By the time the sun has set, the temperatures plummet and the cold would be very unpleasant if one is not layered in warm clothing comfortably. I would recommend inner woolen layers as well as outer waterproof warm layers.
Activities to do: What does one do at a height of 4 Kms vertically up from the sea level.
(a) Immerse oneself in the religious vibe at the feet of Lord Shiva at Tungnath.
(b) Take a short steep hike to Chandrashila, the moon rock for a 270 view of the Garhwal Himalaya.
(c) Soak in magical sunsets and sunrise.
(d) Indulge in heart to heart talks with your companions under the starry sky totally cut off from the threads of modern existence.
Reality Check: Do remember that a place like Tungnath has no electrical supply, limited cuisine and menu options coupled with very basic creature comforts at the place of stay including the washroom facility and no medical support especially for those staying the night out there. . In addition, the phone network is not available. Also carry a portable water filter and my recommendation is LIFESTRAW to be on the safe side.
Trekking to the enchanting lake of the Devas(2500 mts): Deoriyaa Taal.In the age of the Mahabharata, during the twelve-year exile of the Pandavas, in the course of their wanderings they were put to test on the quotient of Dharma in their thoughts and actions. This test was conducted by none other than Lord Yama, the God of death and other than Yudhishthira, all his brothers failed. He was blessed by Lord Yama stating that no one would recognize them during the course of their exile of twelve years. The place where this episode occurred is none other than the Deoriyaa Taal, this enchanted lake is also believed to the favored bathing place for the Devas as per the Hindu Mythology.
The exalted history of the lake though acquires a subtle backseat when mere mortals like us are confronted by the physical beauty of the lake. Nestled at an average altitude of 2500 mts, heavily wooded surroundings and in the backdrop are the Himalayan Peaks , the beauty stills the heart for few moments.
On cold winter nights when each breath freezes, under the black starry night adorned with constellations one can see the pale white peaks of Mt Neelkanth, Bandarpoonch, Kedar dome, Mt Chaukhamba glittering in the distance casting their refection in the still water of Deoriyaa Taal. A sight such as this mesmerizes all those who brave the cold in order to witness these mystical sights. One is transported back to a time when the earth was still being formed by the creator.
Trek details. The best option is to reach Saari village by metaled road a day before from Chopta and stay overnight in the comfortable home stays at the village . The next morning one is greeted by visuals of a mountain village and its hardworking positive inhabitants going through chores of yet an everyday morning; visuals of women working in the terraced fields, cattle grazing, school children in morning prayer at the school and men in groups discussing something which I do not know .. it was atmosphere of calm poised lifestyle so vastly different from the hordes of people on their way to work in cities each peering into their android and apple phones as their mind focused on the day coming ahead. I do not say which is better or worse just correlating both versions of humanity as experienced personally.
The climb starts from the village and it is a steep climb of around three kilometers till the camp site. The forest trail is through enveloping tunnels of thick wooded trees wooded glades over moss paths. The chirping of a wide variety of birds of various hues and sizes ranging from the Long tail Minivet to the Himalayan Bulbul, is a melody that can never be replicated soothing the trekker and setting up a mental frame that aligns the inner subconscious with nature and it’s positive vibes.
Trek Eligibility. The trek is a beginner’s trek and can be done by just about anybody. For those who would feel that the going is tough can hire a horse from the Saari village which are readily available. Having said this it is still to be understood that in the Himalayas, trekking is never to be taken lightly and due care and preparation is mandatory.
Best time to trek. The lake is accessible all year round and the vistas that greet the traveler each season are different. However, the top slot still goes to the months of March-April. This is the best time to witness the views of the mountains and enjoy the warmth of the wintry sun and the chillness if the cold night.
Stay Option. There are two main staying options available , tented and tea stalls. Many companies offer tents and the small restaurant built a bit away can serve hot basic food if intimated in advance and also offer a place to stay in the night.
Clothing advice. Warm layered clothes is definitely a must out here for the temperature drops rapidly and steadily as the winds pick up by late afternoon. Comfortable hiking shoes are also mandatory for one of the worst thing to occur is shoe bite when one is in such a location. Personal sleeping bags too are desirable and should be taken in order to augment what will be provided at the camp site.
Reality Check: Do remember that a place like Deoriyaa Taal has no electrical supply, limited cuisine and menu options coupled with very basic creature comforts and no medical support especially for those staying the night out there. Also carry a portable water filter and my recommendation is LIFESTRAW to be on the safe side.
Medical support. For those who suffer from breathlessness at heights, do check with your doctor prior to arriving to high altitude places like these. Though one might not be affected by high altitude sickness (AMS) in these places that does not imply that exceptions do not happen. Never ignore the signs of your body and take corrective action in time.
Giving back. It is the onus of each and every one who visits the above bought out places to not litter the place, deface or cut the tree branches for firewood. It is the beauty that draws one to these places and soothes them in the short time spent out there. Hence they have to be preserved the way they exist.
|MANDATORY CHECK OFF LIST FOR THE ABOVE LOCATIONS|
|Warm layered Clothing|
|Comfortable hiking shoes|
|Essential medication including glucose|
|Power Bank Charger|
|Life Straw Water Bottle|
|Torch with spare batteries|
|High energy content eatables like chocolates and resins|
|Sleeping Bag with ground mat|
|Emergency numbers of the district administration|