Himalayan Adventures: Finding Neverland

‘At last they entered a world within a world – a valley of leagues where the high hills were fashioned of a mere rubble and refuse from off the knees of the mountains. …..Surely the Gods live here!’ said Kim, beaten down by the silence and the appalling sweep and dispersal of the cloud-shadows after rain. ‘This is no place for men!’
Rudyard Kipling – Kim

It’s been a long time coming. I wanted to write about the Trek I made to Tungnath but couldn’t do so as I was struck with typhoid on the very day I arrived back home in Delhi. And inevitably this post got delayed – at least by a month. But the heat and humidity of Delhi made me nostalgic and I thought it’s the time I revisit Himalayas, a place where seekers stop enraptured.

Traveling to the rolling mountain-escape of Himalayas in Uttarakhand is always an enlightening experience, as much about spirit as about landscapes. The luxury of contrasting beauty manifest in sweeping valleys and undulating mountain peaks is akin to the difference between the void described by soul and the apparent divine perceived by heart. A journey to the “Devbhoomi”, abode of gods needs to be experienced. It’s a transcendental experience which can’t be shared…only told.

Towards Tungnath


On a sultry night in Delhi I – along with friend of mine – hopped on to a bus from ISBT (Delhi) to embark on our journey to our favorite retreat, the Garhwal Himalayas away from the din and routine life of Delhi. This time we kinda decided to do a backpacking detour – which with the benefit of hindsight proved costlier venture than our usual venture.

In the wee hours of Friday morning we got down in Hardwar and had to wait more than an hour before we got a taxi to Rudraprayag – inevitably we had to book the vehicle. We reached Rudraprayag late in the afternoon and when we had to book a taxi again all our backpacking dream vanished.

The journey from Rudraprayag to Chopta was most fulfilling and fascinating. With azure river beds on one side and rolling mountains on the other, the road through which we traveled was an enchanting experience. It was a long and winding road, meandering through the Himalayas amidst verdant Oak and Rhododendron forests.

The perfect salubrious climate, glimpse of snow-capped peaks and the calm permeating the environs was invigorating to witness. The sylvan largesse which exists throughout Garhwal is unique. Whenever you travel this region of Uttarakhand, you always get to exult in the pleasure of a nomad footloose in Himalayas.

A bugyal in Chopta

Starting point of Tungnath trek from Chopta

We arrived at Chopta in the evening and checked in at the guesthouse. Here, I’d like to let you know that electricity has not yet made its foray into this tiny hamlet. So if you are carrying a camera make sure that the batteries are fully charged and carry extra batteries if you can.

Booking.com

Notwithstanding the fact that there’s no battery and that water in the washrooms are chillingly cold, the ambiance of Chopta will never let you down or dismay you. Your camera battery might get down, but you will be all charged up and never too drained to explore the charming surroundings of this tiny settlement. We hit the road as soon as we dumped our belongings in our room.

Amidst snow Tungnath trek

Interpolated with thick Deodar, pine and Rhododendron woodland, Chopta offer magnificent views of extensive valley on the one side and commanding Himalayas on the other. It is an extravagance of divergent beauty captivating you for its sheer pristine profusion of nature offering a veritable spiritual experience elevating and subduing at the same time.

We ventured into a lush Bugyal in the evening just before sunset a most fascinating place with abandoned settlements and spectacular views – we were traveling off season when locals move downwards to more hospitable places in absence of the inflow of tourists/pilgrims who mostly flock here for trek to Tungnath which happens to be one of the Panch Kedar destinations and the highest temple too. The place kind of reminded me of the pictures of Incan settlements of Machu Pichhu which I have seen and was certainly no less mystical.

The trek from Chopta at 12,000 ft to Tungnath at 13,072 ft is a distance of just 4 km but with a sharp gradient, enough to make you catch your breath every once in a while. We embarked on our climb early in the morning along the well paved trails and in about half an hour reached a lush bugyal, sheer joy engulfed as we caught hold of the cotton wool peaks of Nanda Devi, Banderpooch, Kedarnath, Chaukhamba and Neelkanth on one side painting a sublime canvas and the undulating Garhwal valley on the other.

Forested hills abound with alpine meadows and deodar, rhododendron and oak coppices in the valley as you trudge on towards Tungnath from Chopta. A panoptic view manifest in this spiritual land is self evident of the fact that this is the place where gods do indeed reside. It’s a place which deserves such residents. I often wonder if T.S Eliot meant exactly this when explaining metaphysical poets with the term ‘disassociation of sensibility’.

But all is not well with this paradise on earth. The constant flow of pilgrims and tourist has their bane too evident in the plastic bags dumped here and there throughout the trail. We were saved the usual throngs of devotees who throng here to seek blessing of lord Shiva as it was off season but the trails strewn with plastic bags bore witness to a gross apathy I have always expected in Indian travelers as opposed to international travelers who not only ensure that they don’t throw away their plastic waste but even help dispose of the litter they encounter during their mountain trekking trails.

Digressions apart, even as we neared Tungnath, we were greeted by snow sprinkled surroundings and even found two tea joints en-route. Offering chips, biscuits, tea, coffee, mineral water, cold drinks (imagine that amidst snow capped mountains) and even Maggie noodles, these small huts are a perfect place to catch breath and get to know the locals and weather forecast. Just as we forayed a bit higher off beaten path we had our moment.

Perched on a rocky outpost, we saw a colorful Himalayan Monal, state bird of Uttarakhand. It was far away but somehow I managed to have it captured in my camera. And let me tell you honestly the male counterpart was definitely more striking with concoction of amazing hues and metallic green crest as opposed to the female, who like in other pheasants, are dull in color.

Male Danphe or Himalayan Monal spotted during Tungnath Trek

A View of Tungnath Temple

A number of small arched huts sprinkled along the tiny plateau greeted us as we arrived at Tungnath Temple. Its high altitude setting and panoramic views of the Himalayan peak with Chandrashila forming the glittering background leaves an indelible impression.

The temple was close when we made our journey due to the presence of snow but we did meet a group of German backpackers and a few mountain climbers who had arrived with gears to climb especially to Chandrashila – which was almost impossible to trek to due to heavy snow. The view which is available from Tungnath endows you with feeling of sheer fulfilment.

Especially the time when we made our visit is unique as it offers both receding snow covers and the youthful lushness. The euphoria of being there and letting the splendor of nature drench your soul is simply incomparable.

Holy and rolling

Lonely at the top Chandrashila peak

A view from inside the temple

Plateau atop Tungnath is haven for those looking for peace, serenity & beauty in the midst of one of the highest regions in Garhwal Himalayas. Everything which is manifest, which could be beheld, could be pondered and everything that is real turns out to be abstract. Even though you are not supposed to be abstract, something turns you on.

It liberates your spirit and you let yourself be seduced, a conscious decision. You let go and drift amidst consciousness and ephemeral, something dawns on you just then. It sinks in as you realize that the journey you undertook was a personal quest to find this never never land.

We stayed there for a while letting the feeling sink in an watching with awe and envy the cotton wool peak of Chandrashila a ravishing frontier to come back to and conquer in future.

  • Wow! A reat treat for all senses – the sign of a true storyteller. Thanks Nikhil for the wonderful post.

    Reading these wonderful stories at Ghumakkar makes me nostalgic for India. I can’t wait to be back.

    The picture of the Monal is amazingly clear considering the distance from which it was taken. These birds are beautiful. I saw them in a bird zoo a couple of years back during a short trip to Shimla. However, seeing one in the wild must have been sensational.

    Keep making these wonderful trips. And keep writing.

    -V

    • Coming as it is from you…that’s a huge compliment. Thank you Vibha. And Monal definitely looks spectacular with such striking hues. And you see in animal kingdom males are more “beautiful” then the female counterparts as opposed to us humans :-) And I did made an other trip and story will be coming shortly. Cheers!
      Nik

  • Hi Nikhil

    superb post and great pics . Overwhelmed.

    • Your reading my post and leaving a comment is my reward. Thanks and keep reading.
      Cheers!
      Nik

  • Rajeshwari

    1. Totally loved this post. Excellent pics..pls. tell me which camera you used because sometimes I wonder…whether its the camera or the person who handled it that makes the difference?
    2. What did you mean by your backpack venture proving out to be a ‘costlier venture’?

    • Thanks Rajeshwari. New readers and comments truly make my day.
      It’s always good to hear appreciation of my photographs :-) And well as to your first question I do think how camera is being handled is of utmost important :-) I normally prefer manual settings as it lets you adjust for light and background as well as let you set the depth of field. I mostly use Nikon coolpic p100 and D60 …most of the time it’s the P100. Although with D60 you can take your depth to upto f32 whereas with P100 its limited to f8 same with long exposure shots as you get only 8 sec in P100 as opposed to 30 sec in D60 and other DSLR (I have taken a few long exposure shot during my recent trip and you can see the difference in my next post so watch this space :-)) BTW All the pictures used in this post is from Nikon P100 but you can see the difference (as in D60 ) in my Sariska post.

      Now to your question 2
      It became costlier because inevitably we had to book a taxi from every point (Haridwar, Rudraprayag, Chopta and Sari) State transportation – as in Buses – were not available and shared taxi were too much crowded and we don’t go for that as it gives you lesser room to shoot pictures. Although with the benefit of hindsight I can say that it was still cheap (Rs 4000 each for our little group which includes food and accommodation :-) 2night/3days) but it did overshot our budget by a few 100 bucks :-)

  • maheh semwal

    Stories on Uttaranchal makes my day !!!!!

    No words for pictures.

    Keep traveling Keep sharing.

  • Lovely images buddy.. im spell bound.. can i take my bullet there.. lol

    • Thanks buddy. Well the road is perfectly motorable… rest depends on your skills of persuasion and daring :-)

  • Bitten by the sublime, bowing before the mighty and getting lost in neverland. Mr. Chandra, you better watch yourself because I see you becoming a poet very soon :-).

    I have never seen a Monal (not even in a Zoo) so looking at this picture was in itself a rewarding experience. Chopta was on my Radar during one period, guess someone did a fabulous story in Outlook Traveller with those lush Bugyals and what not.

    A Royal Garhwal tour should happen some day.

    Read this story and leave a comment if you feel like – http://www.ghumakkar.com/2008/03/17/panch-kedar-series-chopta-tungnath-deoriya-tal/

    Last I heard that Ajeet was off to some trek again and we really need him to tell more of his stories to all of us. :-)

    • Thanks a ton Nandan for such wonderful comment. I’ll keep your advise in mind when I’ll write next. Yes I have read the Outlook Traveller’s travelogue. In fact I love most of the travelogues on Outlook Traveller magazine…especially the language and narration part. They are so vivid and paint such fascinating picture :-) And I’d highly recommend that magazine to every traveler.

      And as a matter of fact I did undertake yet another journey in Garhwal Himalayan region. The places I went to were Haridwar-Chamba-Kanatal-Dhanolti-Rishikesh-Delhi.

      I’ll write soon about it :-)
      Cheers!
      Nikz

      • Hey Nandan,
        What say you about a Ghumakkar tour once in an year…may be that will help us build this community in a more proactive way…and it will also bring together some avid Ghumakkars once in a while…I wish there was a forum to discuss this :-)
        Cheers!
        Nikz

        • I am too embarrassed to respond to this. It has been coming up/requested for a long time and we have not been able to do anything. The latest thing which some of us (read Mahesh, Auro, Sahil, Vinay et al) decided to keep reminding each other was to do a ‘Heritage Walk’ in one of the morning, culminating in a breakfast, as the weather gets better. Lets see.

          Forum is on the cards.

  • Dharmendra

    Hi Nikhil,
    Being an avid traveller myself – esp. love Uttarakhand – could ‘feel’the excitement as I read each and every word written by you.
    Inspired, I plan to undertake the trek to Tungnath soon.
    Look forward to reading about your future escapades too…..
    All the best, and travel safe.

  • AUROJIT

    Hi Nikhil,

    That Monal shot so cleanly…. on our Himalayan ventures we have heard about it, seen some fleeing glimpses of it, tried to capture it in camera – camera somehow stubbornly refusing to capture it in a readable format.

    Compliments for that, which perhaps is worth any trip.

    A nice and precise write-up. Info on electricity was new. Hope you conquer Chandrashila soon – not in abstract but actuality.

    Thanks

    Auro

  • Hey Auro
    Thanks man…and trust me spotting a Monal was as good as it gets…I will definitely look forward to Chandrashila…and I don’t know why but after all these responses I believe we at Ghumakkar should plan for …I mean kinda trek or something like ultimate trek or tour at least once in a year…so that some of get to get together…and it will also mean that we are promoting a common platform for a common cause…And since we all are travelers by choice planning it once in a year in name of Ghumakkar will be worth it… By the way I am looking forward to conquer Ladakh on bike in October…I wonder if anyone’s interested?
    Thanks for your encouraging comment…
    Cheers!
    Nikz

  • AUROJIT

    Hi Nikhil,

    Welcome aboard…the idea of meeting is being discussed for sometime now, as Nandan tells above. This could be precursor of a trek or similar activity, as proposed by you. Lets Hope…

    @ Nandan, this brings me to another aspect…. we have been discussing the meeting in these ‘Response’ columns, which tend to get buried under new posts and responses. Could it be feasible that you create a post, perhaps something like ”Suggestions for get-together of Ghumakkars” – that would be visible to everyone, and its Response column would then provide a platform for arriving at time/place/mode decisions collectively.

    Thanks,
    Auro.

  • I agree that we need a more focused place to discuss the travel plans. Having a post is a very pragmatic thing to do but it would interfere with our policy of publishing of real-travel-experiences :-) (though we are now publishing Interviews as well).

    I looked at the dates and Oct 1 looks like a good date to me. It is a saturday and weather would be in a good mood. We can do a ‘Old Delhi Heritage Walk’ or ‘Sultanate Days walk’ or something like this.

    Lets socialize this idea. I know I have just come one step closer to commitment.