Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are snow.
Well, I made up that up post the trek to Chandrashila. The trek was planned with Uttarakhand Tourism Company, in December 2018.
There will be hardly anyone who would not be fascinated by the mighty Himalayas. This time though, the idea was to do a trek in peak winters just for feels – well at least for someone who is from Bombay, it’s peak winters even at -3 degrees Celsius.
However, instead of doing the trek with the usual route i.e. Sari – Deoriatal-Chopta-Tungnath-Chandrashila and back, a quicker one called for experimenting – Chopta to Chandrashila and back & Sari to Deoriatal and back.
The drive from Dehradun to Chopta was a long one, mainly because of the road work being undertaken there (as of Dec 2018). As expected in the mountainous region, the drive was through hairpin bends with an amazing view of the valleys filled with pine, oak & fir trees. The route was via Rishikesh where one can witness the birth of Ganga at Devprayag – the Sangam of Alaknanda & Bhagirathi Rivers. The meeting of the 2 rivers is evident through the diverse colours of each river. Upon reaching Chopta, the snowfall of the previous week was still apparent. As night falls, so does the temperature. Our campsite was in a forest, blanketed under a canopy of oak trees overlooking the starry night.
Summiting Chandrashila Peak
Waking up to a view of alpenglow over the snow-capped mountains always feels like my novels coming alive! Watching this view and sipping hot chai was sheer bliss. And then some stories over steaming hot parathas by our trek leader and kitchen staff. The best part about visiting a place and speaking to locals – so many beautiful stories and experiences!
The trek route was through the Tungnath Temple – the highest Shiva temple, part of the PanchKedar temples, in the world. It is situated at an altitude of 3,680 meters (12,073 feet). The temple is closed during winters as the deities are taken to Mukhmat temple and then reopened in summers where the deities are then brought up again for worship. The trail from Chopta to Tungnath is a well-defined cemented / stony path, covered with ice from the previous snowfall. The climb was a complete ascent. The only colours that were visible on this trail were blue, white and grey (excluding the people of course). And as is always on any trek, there was a mountain dog for company.
The last few meters before the temple were slippery with ice all over. Reaching the temple gives one a panoramic view of the mountain range in that area. And needless to say, it was beautiful!
Unfortunately, visitors have been very careless to litter around the temple. The whole excitement of climbing to the highest Shiva Temple just dropped straight down. Not only is it a place of worship, but the fact that people do not consider the dangers posed to the environment, was saddening.
We then head towards Chandrashila peak which is another 1 kms steep climb, a path where I nearly gave up especially after almost slipping down at the edge of the trail. In approximately an hour, we make it to the breathtaking view of the summit. And needless to say, it was amazingly beautiful! And though this may sound cliché, I stood there, frozen in awe of the spectacular view all around me. The 360-degree view of the Garhwal and Kumaon ranges which includes the Mountains – Nandadevi, Chaukhumba, Trishul, Bandarpoonch, Bhagirathi and more; were just so beautiful!
After spending about 45 minutes at the summit, comes the hardest part of the descent. Snow has increased as temperature drops and besides, we were also late. Not to mention, the fresh ice that has formed on the cemented trail. As the sun goes down the horizon, the sky becomes a canvas painting of pink, yellow and orange hues. And before we know it, the scene turns pitch dark, thus making it difficult to track our way back. There was only 1 solution – slide through the snow. And with all the sliding and gliding, we manage to reach the base. Only to be hungrily devouring on hot tea and Maggi – all our bruises forgotten!
Hiking at Deoriatal
The next day, we drive to Sari and then begin our hike to Deoriatal. The route to the lake has rocky but well-defined steps for almost 3 kms. En route, we met a few Garhwalis and got to hear some lovely stories along with a cup of chai. Deoriatal or Devariyatal – dev (God) Tal (Lake) – was was considered as the bathing spot for the Gods.
As per the Hindu mythology, it is said that it was Yaksha (spirit of nature) that had a Q&A game played with the Pandavas at this lake.
Well, I can’t remember the story as the view was only getting better and increasing my excitement.
As we reached the open forest, we were treated to a grand view of Deoriatal, with Mt. Chaukhambha looming in the background. Mirror reflection of the peaks can be seen very clearly in the lake. The frost on the grass made crispy sounds as we walk around. Watching the moving clouds and the mountains and the peaceful surroundings made it difficult to continue ahead. No camping is allowed near the lake, anymore.
We tread further to Rohini Bugyal. Bugyal means meadow. Walking through the forests with roots of trees acting as steps in most places, we pass through a different sight – autumn foliage. The temperature drops when the clouds hide the sun. Upon reaching the meadow, we notice a small village. However, the place was empty due to the cold and snowy weather. The water stream was freezing. But had the most pure, crystal clear water. My lungs, heart, soul – everything leaped for joy at this. Though the place was isolated, it was peaceful. Birds chirping, the sun shining, laying on the grass and another hot cup of tea. We did not realize the time and as we were supposed to leave before it got dark, we almost raced our way back. As we reached Deoriatal, it turned pitch dark, cold and misty. Tired and hungry we reach the small stall for steaming hot tea, Maggie & omelette.
The Chandrashila – Deoriatal trek was unlike any of the treks done earlier. Although the season of snowfall had begun only but a week prior to travel, it was still a first time. After completing a summer & winter trek, I knew I had to do a snowy trek. Well, this was not to the extent of Sar Paas or the Chadar trek, nevertheless, it was a memorable one!
Picture Credits: Amit Bendkule