Friday, July 15, 2011

CHOPTA-A Jewel in Garhwal Himalayas, Uttarakhand



It seems like yesterday but it is over twenty years to the day we took an unadvised turn in the road on way to Kedarnath from the Valley of flowers. No one takes this road, we were warned. If stuck, there is no hope for help, food, water, repair. We took the road from Chamoli-Gopeshwat to Ukhimath-Kund. We saw not another soul. Even the road, we got to see only sometimes, but the dense unspoilt forest that accompanied us all the way, was a sight we would give anything for. We came across forests of Deodar, wide undulating meadows and grand views of high snow covered peaks. A lone man reclined on his mud stove under a thatch roof. We were hungry and he had rice and dal and tea. But what was this place and what was he doing here with no people and none seemingly expected. This is Chopta, he said and the trail uphill leads to Tungnath, the highest of the Himalayan shrines and thence to Chandrashila, where Ravana of Lanka meditated for a thousand years to catch a glimpse of Shiva and to seek immortality. I made a mental note. We must come again. We did come again but two decades later. And we are two car loads of family like several others tumbling out of hired Sumos and Innovas. The lonely man spot is now taken by a concrete government house, the road flanked by a dozen food joints, the mud path up is now concrete with mules tethered on either side to ferry pilgrims for a quick darshan. Mercifully, those blinded by faith are few and the route up retains much of its charm.


DESTINATION
  • Chopta
  • Tungnath
  • Chandrashila 


TREK OPTIONS FOR LATER VISIT

  • Deoriyataal
  • Kakragad
  • Madmaheshwar
  • Ansuya Mata
  • Kartik Swamy
  • Vasudhara
  • Kalisila
  • BhavishyaBadri
  • Kalpeshwar
And longer treks to
  • Vasukital
  • Madmaheshwar-Nandikund
  • Rudranath
  • Rudranath-Kalpeshwar
  • Valley of Flowers
(Ignore the language errors and the blog is pretty informative)

OBJECTIVES
  • Walk Chopta
  • Trek Tungnath
  • View sunrise at Chandrashila

After an early start from Haridwar and a breakfast of Mango, Litchi and roasted corn at Rudraprayag we turn to Kund on the road to Kedarnath. I like the GMVN riverside resorts at Chandrapuri and Syalsaur. It is warm in June and not wanting to disturb the sleeping waiters for tea, we drive on. At Agastyamuni we utilise the roadside Sulabh restrooms and drop a five rupee coin in the outstretched palm of the caretaker sleeping away the warm and lazy noontime. Having come so far from Delhi, we expect some respite from the heat. The respite does come but near our destination, with a rapid ascent after Ukhimath. The scene begins to change. Step farms gradually become scarce and so do the homes. AkashKamini, the celestial seductress drops her tresses over the rocks hidden under trees and green foliage at village Pagalpani bridge, about 12km from Ukhimath. Great place to spend a lazy afternoon after paranthas from the dhaba on the riverbank.

Another 12km drive from Akashkamini and we are at Dugalbitta, 6km short of Chopta. There is the PWD rest house with a great view over the valley. The space opposite is occupied by roadside shacks, the dhabas and a hundred meter descent to the unimaginatively built Mayadeep hotel. I found the half a dozen Alpine resort tents in the adjoining meadow, much more pleasant at Rs.1500 a day for a couple without meals. We stayed the first day at Magpie resort, 200 meters short of Dugalbitta and an equal distance walk/climb through near virgin forest opening to one of the most breathtaking meadow-forest-mountain-peaks combination I have ever imagined. The row of half a dozen differently colored tents and an open air bamboo roof dining space at the opposite edge of the meadow, with a backdrop of forest and snow capped peaks, is as close to a poet's heaven as it can possibly be. 

Tungnath is a short 3.5km walk, but steep. It is a surprisingly clean path considering the general Indian indifference to littering. Perhaps we are changing! Tea shops on the way are a refreshing respite to complaining legs. The temple at Tungnath looks ready to crumble any moment. No sign of any significant repair work having come its way after the damage in the last great Chamoli quake of 1999. The way rain falls in the sanctum, the rocks in the roof could be porous like a sieve. We found a Rs.400 room for two in the temple guest house, the best in town, but with plumbing that either leaks or goes totally dry. Beds were fine, at least not stinking like the quilts in Ganesh guest house opposite the temple entrance where the rest of the family retired at Rs.300 a night for four people.

Soaked by the afternoon rain and without any change of clothes, the night was not one of our best. It didn't rankle though, because we slept just a few hours, getting up at 3AM to begin ascent to Chandrashila at 3.30. We took an hour and a half, walking slowly on aching limbs uphill, guided by the boy from Ganesh hotel. Was it eerie or was it divine but this is one of the most memorable walks of my life, with lovely meadows, steep paths, slippery stones, passing through mist and rising above the clouds, all within those 1.5km walked in darkness lighted by the brightest stars I ever imagined. The peaks of Chaukhamba, Nanda Devi, Trishul and Kedar floated like ancient galleons over the ocean of clouds complete with waves. It was pure luck that the clouds were low and the horizon above was clear like nothing, not even air existed. We watched the sunrise, unlike any I have seen before. Then came the moment when the light of the rising sun split like laser rays reaching for the far corners of the Lord's domain to announce the beginning of a new day.

Time to return. All the way down to Chopta. With lungs breathing easy the way down looked different from the way up. We noticed flowers, Oaks and pines. We noticed meadows and boulders. We were singing and taking more pictures. We were already planning the next visit.........in winter! 

 

ROUTE AND DISTANCES
  • Delhi to Haridwar (220 km)
  • Haridwar to Rudraprayag (87 km)
  • Rudraprayag to Kund(On Kedarnath road)( 32 km)
  • Kund to Dugalbitta(Via Ukhimath) (28 km)
  • Dugalbitta to Chopta ( 5km)
  • Chopta to Tungnath(walk) (3.5km)
  • Tungnath to Chandrashila(walk) (1.5km)

 

CHOPTA IS MIDWAY ON THE ROAD FROM UKHIMATH TO CHAMOLI

 
ALTITUDES
  • Haridwar (240 m)
  • Devprayag (475 m)
  • Srinagar Garhwal (579 m)
  • Rudraprayag (1000 m)
  • Ukhimath (1319 M)
  • Chopta (2600 m)
  • Tungnath (3680 m)
  • Chandrashila (3962 m)

 
EXPERIENCES
  • Har Ki Pauri Ganga arti at sunset
  • River rafting on Ganga, Shivpuri
  • Tea at river side Chandrapuri or Syalsaur
  • Lunch at Pighla Pani on river Akash Kamini 10 km from Ukhimath
  • Explore Dugalbitta
  • Tungnath trek
  • Chandrashila sunrise 

ANNOYANCES
Traffic jams at Muzaffarnagar, Roorkie, Haridwar, Rishikesh
Dirty beds and quilts at Tungnath

PLACES TO STAY

GMVN Ukhimath, PWD Rest house Duggalbitta, Mayadeep Dugalbitta, Alpine resort Dugalbitta.
Of course when I go I will call Bharat(09758667755). The location of Magpie camp resort would be as much a reason as the destination itself.

SEASON TO GO

Different seasons different moods. Go when you wish.  

 



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    6 comments:

    1. WOW!
      SEEMS LIKE AN AWESOME PLACE!
      Mr. Abrol, your pics are very nice!

      ReplyDelete
    2. Hi Mayank. We plan to keep adding more places with the idea of collecting pearls 'on the roads less travelled'. Encouraging words help. Thanks!

      ReplyDelete
    3. Loved your narration brother.
      Quite informative it is.
      Captivation pics !!!

      Gaurav Goel
      goel.gaurav25@gmail.com
      facebook.com/gg8777

      ReplyDelete
    4. Very much useful narration in a straight, systematic and beautiful way. Excellent photos too.

      ReplyDelete
      Replies
      1. Thanks Chris. Hope to see you sometime soon.

        Delete