Travel story contributor: Karun Pandey
“Only Lord Shiva can grant you pardon for you are guilty of fratricide and Brahman hatya”, said Sage Vyasa to the great Pandavas.”
I woke up with a sudden jerk while sleeping on the back seat of the car. Looked outside the window and saw a river with emerald green water gushing downstream. Five more minutes and we arrived at a small market with morning hustle-bustle. I realized that we had reached Rudraprayag, one of the panch-prayags in Uttarakhand by the banks of river Alaknanda. It is here where river Mandakini coming from the Kedarnath range meets Alaknanda which further meets Bhagirathi at Devprayag and forms the holy river, Ganga. It was a cold January morning; I was accompanied by seven friends on a winter trek to Tungnath. We had started our journey from New Delhi the previous night in a cab till Chopta, from where we were to trek till Tungnath temple, the world’s highest Lord Shiva temple at 12,000 feet above sea level. If not by cab, then the best way to reach Chopta is to board a bus from Kashmere Gate, New Delhi till Rishikesh, then another bus till Rudraprayag, and finally a shared jeep or local bus from Rudraprayag till Chopta. Total distance from New Delhi to Chopta is approximately a 400 kms and a 12 hours journey.
The Legend of Tungnath
Tungnath is one of the panch-kedars which holds much religious significance for the Hindus. It is said that after the battle of Mahabharata, on Sage Vyasa’s advice, Pandavas were looking for Lord Shiva in the Himalaya to seek pardon for killing their brothers in the battle. One day Bhima came across a bull in the jungle and became suspicious of it. Soon he realized that it was none other than Lord Shiva himself who had been hiding from the Pandavas as he was angry with them for their crime and didn’t want to grant them pardon. Bhima caught hold of the hind limbs of the bull while it was trying to run away. The bull tried so hard to escape from Bhima’s grip that it exploded and a shivling appeared wherever its body parts fell. So, Tungnath is the place where the bull’s hump and front limbs fell.
Chopta, the mini Switzerland of India
From Rudraprayag we crossed the Alaknanda River and took the road to Ukhimath, from where we would finally reach Chopta after approximately 64 kms and two hours. The road throughout runs parallel to the Mandakini River. We had to walk approximately 8 kms till Chopta in deep snow as the road after Dugalbitta was closed due to heavy snow. I had heard a lot about the scenic beauty of Chopta from my friends in Uttarakhand and the place did not disappoint us. Falling in the preserved area of Kedarnath Musk Deer sanctuary and covered with pine, deodar and rhododendron forest, Chopta sits right in the lap of Garhwal Himalaya.
Covered in white snow the place was looking nothing less than heaven! On a clear day one can see the snowcapped Kedarnath, Kedardome, Mandani, Yeonbuk, Meru, Kharchakund peaks (and many others) of the Garhwal Himalaya. Tungnath from here is approximately a 3 kms trek through a well laid out stone path. Since it is a pilgrimage, you will find a lot of shacks which provide food, water and snacks alongside the trail till the main temple premises. Since we were all tired, we decided to attempt the trek to Tungnath the next morning. We quickly pitched our tents at the Dalkhudi campsite and asked our helper to prepare the dinner.
Sun as it sets.
As it grew dark, Mother Nature blessed us with undoubtedly the most beautiful sunsets of our lives! The sky changed colors every minute and so did the snow-capped peaks around. This enchanting view of imposing Himalaya right in front of us was nothing less than a perfect painting!Finally it got dark and after dinner we all crashed into our tents hoping to catch up with even more hypnotizing sunrise.
Fire to keep us warm!
Tonnes of snow and Tungnath
It had snowed throughout the night and most of us could not sleep because of the cold. Imagine our plight! By 7am we all had woken up and it was very cloudy outside. Raghubir, our helper prepared hot aaloo paranthas and tea for breakfast. -6 degrees temperature and you get tea and paranthas for breakfast, what more could one ask for?! Tummies filled, we all packed up and started the trek to Tungnath at 8:30am.
Fresh snow was making it real tough to tread on and find a trail. Fighting the cold, carefully and steadily we finally were on the right track. Looking at the fresh footmarks on the trail we could say that somebody before us had taken this trail in the morning and we were wondering who would dare tread on soft snow that early in the day!
Trekking in snow is twice as difficult as trekking during summers. If you plan to trek during winter, keep in mind that everything is closed from Chopta till Tungnath. The lodges, shops, shacks, even the temple. So, don’t forget to carry enough food and water. After 3 hours of slipping and tripping, we finally reached Tungnath temple. A stone made magnificent architecture stood half covered in the snow and main doors were shut. The temple is said to be more than 1000 years old and we all were wondering how this structure could bear the wear and tear throughout. It was very calm and peaceful there, and we wanted to stay more, but it was getting cloudy and we didn’t want to get stuck at an astounding elevation of 12,000 feet in the snowfall. Without wasting time we offered our prayers from outside and started our descent.
I must add that going back home from such incredible treks that change your heart is difficult. All you want to do is stay some more, soak in some more and dream about it. But, we had to leave promising to make a summer visit and see a different Chopta!
If you want to trek to Tungnath, don’t forget to check out the packages on this link.