Sunday, March 30, 2008

Tunganath Chopta Part I

Our anniversary was approaching and this time, Sandeep and I decided to celebrate it with a small Himalayan trek. Of course in reality we had very limited options and this is because of both the season as well as time. We had a maximum of 4 days Bangalore to Banglore, including the weekend, with us. We contemplated the Chandrashilla-Tunganath winter summit, the Doditaal trek, some small trek in Himachal, the Dayara Bugyal near Uttarkashi. However finally decided on going to Tunganath.

The next thing was getting a decent contact in Chopta area of Garhwal who could tell us about the options we had as well as the weather conditions. We did lot of research and got a contact in Rudraprayag called Mr Rawat. Mr Rawat runs guest house in Duggalbitta which is around 7km before Chopta and about 20km from Ukimath on the Kedarnath-Gopeshwar-Badrinath route. We made all the necessary talks with Mr Rawat and decided to stay at his Duggalbitta guest house called “Maaya Deep”. Actually we had no other choice as well. Chopta is all closed in winters. We were not planning to carry any tents so had to resort to making arrangements at Duggalbitta.

Tragedy struck on the day before we were planning to leave to Delhi. Both Sandeep and I had to stay back due to some emergency in the office. It was quite disappointing, but then I consoled myself by thinking that the mountains probably didn't want us to travel yet. We hadn't canceled our trip, we merely postponed it by around three weeks. Finally we planned on going sometime in mid February. Harsh, one of our friends also decided to join us this time.

We all again called up Mr Rawat for reservations at his Duggalbitta guest house, but he informed us that it was snowing heavily in the higher reaches of Uttaranchal and it was not possible to reach Duggalbitta itself, forget Tunganath. His vehicle would be able to drop us some 3km before Duggalbitta. After talking amongst ourselves and then to Mr. Rawat, we all took a call and decided that we would in any case give this trip a shot. We would try going till a point where we could manage to in all that snow and cold.

Merely the thought of visiting the Himalayas again gave me a pleasant and an excitable feeling.
Finally we started on the evening of 19th February. We met Harsh on the Bangalore airport, we had to catch the evening flight to Delhi and as usual the flight was late. We didn't mind it though, because we spent the time watching a nail biting match between India/Australia. India finally won that match so I thought it was good omen for our trek too.

After reaching New Delhi, we still had more than an hour to catch the train for Haridwar. While having food at Cumsum, Nizamuddin railway station we refreshed our old memories of the Kalindi Khal trek. Finally at 11.30PM, we boarded the Summer Special train. I was feeling very tired so slept after some time. The train reached Haridwar at 4AM in the morning. We immediately got a bus to Rishikesh. We had to reach Rudraprayag as early as possible as we had to reach Duggalbitta before evening. Rudraprayag is about 4-5 hours by road from Rishikesh and Duggalbitta is further 3-4 hours from Rudraprayag. But we had to go through a lot of struggle to get a shared Taxi to Rudraprayag. Since this was the off season, there were very few passengers from Rishikesh to the higher towns in the Himalayas. Finally we got onto a news paper distribution vehicle and started from Rishikesh at around 7.30AM. This was after waiting for 2 hours at the taxi stand.

It was extremely cold in the morning. The roads were also in very poor condition and the BRO guys were reconstructing the road for the coming yatra season.
We reached Rudraprayag at around 11 in the morning. Mr Rawat's vehicle (a Mahindra Bolero) was ready for us. Sandeep and Harsh went to Mr. Rawat's office, thanked him and also discussed the program for the next couple of days.

The drive from Rudraprayag to Mukku bend [3km before Duggalbitta] was just excellent. Just after sometime of starting from Rudraprayag, we got the first glimpse of Mt. Choukhamba (23418 feet). The Mandakini river, which originates from somewhere near Kedarnath and meets the Alaknanda at Rudraprayag, was on our left throughout.

We had our lunch at Ukkimath. The town of Ukkimath is famous as the winter resting place for Kedarnathji. During the winters when the temple at Kedarnath is closed due to heavy snow, the God is worshiped at Ukimath. We decided to visit the temple on our way back.

At around 2PM, driver dropped us the Mukku Bend. After this, there was lot of snow on the road which precluded any further driving. We had to walk from here to our guest house in Duggalbitta.

It took us about 30 more minutes to cover the 3 km and by the time we reached the guest house it was around half past three in the evening.

The place was simply heaven and that is because of the winter snows. I do not have enough words to explain my feeling as I beheld the surroundings. The guest house was perched a little down the road, by a small rivulet. There weren't any people there except the three of us, the care taker of the guest house and a guide. It felt as if the whole village belonged to us.

At Duggalbitta (~8900 feet), there were couple of tea shops, shacks actually but they all remain closed in winters . One of the shack owners, Dinesh had join us from village of Tala, on the way to Mukku bend. We had some hot ginger tea at Dinesh's dhaba and spent some time talking to the care taker and Khadak Singhji, who was to be our guide.

The rest of the evening was spent in exploring the surroundings. The place was really awesome. The guest house was surrounded by snow and all around us we could hear the chirping of different birds. When we tried to follow them or tried to click some photos, they disappeared very quickly into the bushes. On one of the snow patches, we saw some pug marks of an animal. Khadak Singhji later told us that they were the marks of the small black bear.

As the evening gave way to the night, it started to get cold and so we decided go inside the guest house and take some rest. The next days was going to be very long day for us again. The plan for the next day was to start not later than7 in the morning, try to reach Chopta in about 3 hours and then try to attempt Tunganath from there. In the evening Harsh, Sandeep and I talked about settling down in the Himalayas, and then around 8 we had food and slept.

In the night, the temperature inside the room was around -3 degree C. But unlike any of our treks, this time we had got a proper bed and quilt we beat the cold.

Tunganath Chopta Part II

(Home Page)

Tunganath Chopta Part II

We woke up at around 6AM, had breakfast and by 7 we were ready to start. We started with the hope and resolve that we would make it to Tunganath at any cost.

The initial climb was easy and but walking on the slippery snow was taking most of our time. The whole trail till Chopta was through dense forest and so the snow had become hard at some places. The strange part was that you would find very hard snow patches at some place, and after that absolutely clear patch without any snow, on the same trail. As the sun rose in the sky, it became more difficult to walk on the snow because the snow had started melting. At some places the snow was more than couple of feet deep and our legs would get buried deep inside the snow.

As we climbed we got panoramic views of Garhwal Himalayas. The entire range from Gangotri to Kedarnath was visible on our left.

We also saw some dhabhas on the way; they were all totally covered in snow and obviously closed. As we climbed higher towards Chopta, we encountered more snow and it was getting a little difficult to negotiate this snow now.

At around 8.30 AM,we reached Chopta (~9900 feet). We reached much ahead of our schedule. We had thought it would take us more than couple of hours, but since we had taken a short cut from within the forest, we saved on some time.

Chopta is a small settlement which is populated only in the Yatra season. This place lies on the Badrinath-Gopeshwar-Kedarnath route and during the Yatra and Trekking season, a host of dhabas, tea shops, restaurants, lodging houses sprout up. But at this time of the year, all the hotels and dhababas were closed and totally covered with snow. The road were also covered with snow.

We took a small break here and had some water. The problem was the water which we filled in our bottles smelled of kerosene and in Chopta all the water sources were either not working or they were frozen. We were damn dehydrated but didn't have any drinkable water with us. I couldn't stop myself from remembering the situation we faced while climbing the Kalindi Khal pass. At that time also we were running short of water. I decided that next time , any further trek we attempt, I would plan for sufficient water any time.

As we started from Chopta, the snow became 2-3 feet deep. There is a clear trail from Chopta to Tunganath, however this time we couldn't spot any trail as it was all buried under snow. The climb was not very tough, just that the snow made it appear so. We were not wearing any gaiters and a lot of snow had entered my boots. This was quite irritating. My socks had become all wet and we had just started the climb up. The forest part of the trail was over and now the sun was very hard. We could see that the powder snow was sparkling very brightly because of the sun. At this point we had to put on our sun glasses as the only thing visible in the surrounding was just snow.

I should say though that the weather was excellent. The skies were pretty cloudless and even though it was a little cold even at this time of the day, we didn't particularly mind it as there was no rain or snow. This also enabled us to get spectacular views of the Himalayas on our left. We were all doing peak guesses now. Harsh also pointed out to a “Rabbit Ear” formation and was adamant that it was the “Auden's Col” between Khatling and Rudugaira glaciers.

The snow was becoming very deep now. It was waist high almost throughout the trail. I was trying to place my feet on the footmarks made by the person ahead of me, still it was taking a heavy toll on our stamina. Few times, we accidentally slipped or fell down in the snow and then, then getting up and putting up the next step was really a great deal. The distance from Chopta to Tunganath was not very long, it is around 4 km but with this kind of snow it almost seemed to be never ending.

As we gained some more height, the snow became more and more deep. At one point we took almost 30 minutes to cover the next 200 mts. We tried to make way in the deep snow using our ice-axe. (This was the only piece of gear we were carrying to negotiate the snow), but it was totally useless. More than anything, it was the snow which had entered my boots and my wet socks was causing a lot of irritation. At some point after about 4 hours of climbing, we saw a small snow covered hut and decided to take some rest and eat our packed lunch.

All of us were a little (rather quite) exhausted at this point. This place was called “BhujGali”, we were to know later. There was a rock shelter nearby called “Raavan Shila”. From this point we could see the temple of Tunganathji at a distance.

At this point we all stopped to decide on the next course. Our guide was a little reluctant himself to go ahead. Sandeep tried to go ahead himself, but he couldn't walk after taking more then four or five steps. The snow was continuously more than waist deep. Our guide mentioned that further up it could be chest deep.

All of us realized that we wouldn't be able to make it and decided to return from this point. The thought of giving up and returning back was very painful. But we had the constraint of time. We couldn't afford another few hours of plodding through the snow and reaching the temple by evening.

However, the climb back down was easy. We just had to put our feet in the foot marks we had made earlier. The same 200 mts which had taken us 30 minutes to climb, took us about 5-10mins to climb down.

We took about a little more than an hours time to reach back to Chopta. Just as we reached the road head, we found some forest rangers waiting for us. They were following us from the Chopta when had started our climb. The trail from Chopta is all through the protected Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary and requires permission from the forest department to walk through. We convinced the rangers that we were mere trekkers trying to reach Tunganath, and not poachers. We assured the forest officers that we would pay for the the permit while leaving the area the next day.

By the time we reached Chopta, we were extremely dehydrated and we did not have any water as well. We decided to take the road this time to see if we could pass a rivulet where we could fill our bottles. We found one such rivulet just after some time and the water felt like elixir as we quaffed what seemed like gallons of the heavenly drink.

By the time we reached our guesthouse in Duggalbitta it was around 3 PM, which means we still had a lot of time with us before evening. Somewhere in the mind, the thought of not trying or not attempting further till Tunganath temple was still plaguing our minds. All of us were feeling a little bad because of the same fact; did we give up easily was the question in everyones minds. But then I recollected one of the lines which has been very close to me and which says; “Trekking is not about reaching the destination; trekking is about enjoying each part of the journey which takes one to the destination.”. With this thought, I consoled myself. Just being in the Himalayas was itself very a great experience and we shouldn't be feeling bad just because we couldn't reach our destination.

As usual the rest of the evening was spent in talking to the dhaba wala Dinesh, the cook Lakhpathsing ji and the guide and care taker of the guest house Khadaksingh ji. We also strolled around the guest house and admired the natural beauty around the us. After a while as it started getting cold, we had our dinner and hit the sack. We had to do another small trek to Deoria Taal the next day.

The next morning, we started from Duggalbitta and walked till Mukku bend where our vehicle was suppose to take us to village of Sari. Sari is where the trek to Deoria Taal starts. We reached Mukku bend at sharp 10 am and had some tea at one of the dhabas there. Another thing that never fails to amaze me is; no matter where in India you are, cricket is the one thing that binds us more than anything. At the dhaba near Mukku Bend, people were listening to the Sri Lanka-Australia cricket match on a transistor. There is no electricity in this area but people still know the batting average of Mathew Hayden and talk of the terrifying speed of Bret Lee.

On the way to Sari, we paid the forest permit fee at Tala forest chowki.

The drive to Sari was other wise eventless and we reached Sari at around 11.30 AM.

We left our luggage in the vehicle and immediately started to for Deoria Tal. The trail was well marked and the climb is little steeper than the Chopta-Tunganath climb. However there was no snow on the trail. Deoria Taal is at an altitude of about 8200 feet. On the way we could see the Chandrashila peak which is a little above Tunganath. We could also see the point till where also and the point till where we had reached a day earlier.

It took us about an hour and half to reach Deoria Tal. This is an amazingly beautiful place at least in the winters again. There were no tourists here. The lake was surround in patches with snow and there were green meadows all around. There was just one tea shack open. We had chai and omelets here. We also spent some time in appreciating the beauty of the place.

The place is worth staying at night, although there aren't any guest houses here. The tea shop wala actually provides tents to stay. Since we were again constrained by time and had to reach Delhi the next day, we just spent some time at the beautiful lake and decided to head back. Surprisingly it again took us about an hour and half to descend down to Sari, about the same time we had taken to climb up.

We decided to visit the temple at Ukimath on our way back. We had also decided that we would spend the night at the GMVN guest house either at Cahandrapuri or Syal Saur. We made a prayer offering at the temple of Ukimath. The priests here are from Karnataka and we spent some time talking to them as there were no other devotees there.

On the way to Chandrapuri, we met a very passionate bird watcher/ornithologist, Mr Negi. He had a lot of books on bird watching band also had a collection of bird nests. We reached GMVN Chandra Puri at around 4 in the evening. The GMVN is on the banks of Mandakini river. We got hot water after a long time, and there is nothing more pleasant then getting a hot water bath after your trek. This GMVN has lovely lawns where you could just relax with a book while watching the Mandakini rush past you. We did exactly the same thing.

The next morning we took a shared taxi till Rudraprayag and then one for Rishikesh. At around 3 PM we reached Rishikesh, dumped our luggage at the “Muni Ki Reti” GMVN and went to the Lakshaman Jhula.area to spend some time at the banks of Ganga.

I have come to Rishikesh every year, from the last four years and this place doesn't look like it has changed. I get the same divine feeling every time I come here. In the evening , we went to the Ganga Ghat to attend the Ganga Aarti. It was amazing to see that at Ganga Ghat, a foreigner was getting married, with Hanuman Chalisa chants echoed in the back ground.

So this was it. It was a two day trip to the Himalayas which will keep us refreshed us for the next 6 months. The Himalayas have become the most important part of our lives.It is not about challenging ourselves or achieving something; it is about feeling good, peaceful and happy.


(Home Page)



More photos can be found at : More Photos

Here are some references for people traveling to this region.

Mr Rawat : Proprietor Mayadeep Guest House, Duggalbitta
Phone number : +919412029486

Dinesh Bajwal : Runs a Dhaba at Duggalbitta, also a Guide for this area and can arrange for
stay at Chopta.
Phone number : 919761212951

Rajendra Sing Bhatt: For staying at Deoria Taal
Sari Village
Phone number : +91 9359910475, +919359927389