I woke up to a beautiful view of the valley in front of me. Having slept well, I could now see the rays of sun just penetrating from the side of the mountains. The village being situated in a valley, it was going to take some time before it received the warmth of the sun. I grabbed my mobile and tried to shoot the timelapse, mounting it on my small tripod till I made myself ready for moving ahead in the day.
I had hoped to reached Chopta the night before but citing wildlife reasons, I had to give up on my plan with barely 20kms to go and settle myself in a village called “Mandal”.
With everything set, I was now ready to leave for Chopta after I had my morning tea.
My main reason for including Chopta in my travel plan was to visit the Tungnath Temple, situated at an high altitude and which required a good 2-3 hrs of trek. It is the highest Shiva temple in the world and that being said, many travelers and tourists include it as a part of their itinerary when they visit Uttarakhand.
Soon, I was on the road which I was travelling last night and I thanked myself and the Forest ranger for turning me back yesterday. It was a dense jungle and the road width was narrow. After driving for some minutes ahead, I even encountered black ice on the road which made the riding difficult. Had I been driving this stretch yesterday night, I was surely going to fall. Good that I did not try to push myself.
The warmth from the sun was comforting me and the view to my left were even more beautiful. The mountains stretched as far as my eye could see. They had a light blue tint over them. Gazing at them, I didn’t quite know how “Chopta” arrived so early.
Chopta was bustling with tourists when I arrived. I could see rows of cars parked alongside the restaurants and with them, tourists flocking everywhere. Some were having breakfast or tea while some were preparing for the trek. It was a total shocker for me seeing so many people during this peak winter season.
When I asked around, people told me that accommodation was way costly here as there were limited number of hotels. By no means I was going to afford it had I reached here last night. Again, I thanked that Forest officer in my mind. I think it was in my destiny that I was going to stumble upon him.
I parked my bike in front of one restaurant and entered inside for having breakfast. The cold in the atmosphere could be felt and I badly needed something hot to relieve myself. I had steaming hot “Aloo paranthas” topped with generous amount of butter for breakfast and finally washed it down with Tea.
Once, I had regained enough heat and energy, I readied myself for the arduous trek. Speaking with the hotel owner for luggage, he quickly gave OK nod. I quickly offloaded and kept the luggage at one safe corner and carried with me only the necessary items.
Just as I passed through the entrance gate of the trek, I was stopped to pay entry fees of 150 rs. I quarreled with them but it all went into vain. They were claiming the amount was for the conservation and upkeep of the area. The time was somewhere around 09.30 am.
Initially there were steps laid out along the route, but as soon as I started gaining height it became a normal natural trek trail. At first, I’d started to feel cold due to dense vegetation around but after quite some time as the tree line thinned out, and sun being in direct contact with me, all those heavy riding pants which I was wearing slowed my progress. It started to get hot due to the workout and I also started sweating from inside. And with that, I removed my riding pants, tied both the leg portions and put over my shoulders like a garland. Some people coming down from the trek warned that there was heavy presence of black ice on the trail and cautioned me to tread safely.
Falling on black ice during the hike is really worrysome. More, when the top ice layer begins to melt from the heat of the sun and makes the surface more slippery. But, slowly slowly I was progressing and in between eating the soft snow to quench my thirst. Almost, equal number of people were going down as they were going up.
With nothing but snow all around, the views were just magnificent. It looked as though I was on top of the world with nothing but the air above me. I could get the complete 360 deg view. I was taking it slowly and not hurrying and immersing myself completely into the view. There were also stone benches put up along the path and I used them whenever I ran out of my breath. I could feel the scarcity of oxygen in the air and due to that I was panting heavily.
Slowly and Steadily, I managed to reach the top where the Tungnath temple was situated. The temple was closed as it was off season and I spent time there taking photos and soaking in the surroundings. A huge crowd could be seen there taking selfies of themselves with the amazing backdrop. It was really an awesome place to be and it left me wondering how could someone built a magnificent temple at such a height braving all the harsh weather.
I started my descend after some time and found it more challenging than when I’d trekked up. My whole body weight was leaning to the front which made me more prone to fall. At some points, I had to take shortcuts between the routes as coming down via the same was not advisable. Many could be seen doing the same way. Since, I had a long journey forward, I was being extreme cautious. I came down around 14:00 hrs completing the trek and went to the same restaurant for having something quick for my lunch. I had “Maggie Noodles”.
With me packing the stuff onto my bike, I asked the restaurant guy about which place should I halt up ahead where I could get a comfortable accommodation. They told me “Ukhimath” would be the right place since it had lot of “Dharmashalas” and I could get the best accommodation at a reasonable price. Since it was already late up in the day, taking up a destination which was far away from current place would not be the right thing to do.
After checking that all the items were packed and the bike was ready and having my afternoon cup of Tea, I left the place and started moving in the direction of Ukhimath. It was a gradual descend and within no time I could feel my fingers going numb. While going down, the vegetation had cropped up again and due to that the atmosphere was cold. I was literally taken by surprise and had to ride with my fingers almost going numb till Ukhimath. I vouched to give my numbed fingers some warmth over bonfire as soon as I reached Ukhimath.
Even though the distance was less, it took me almost 2 hrs to reach the place. I was riding at my own pace enjoying the beautiful view all around me. There wasn’t any traffic on the road which made the ride even more pleasurable. There were lot of tight twistys as the road went downhill.
As soon as I reached Ukhimath, I halted at the first building which seemed to me like a hotel or more or less like a Dharmashala place. Upon inquiring, it was indeed a one and had space for me too. The rate was a nominal of 350rs which would eventually go into the donation box of the charity organization running the Dharmashala. These places are mostly located in all the religious site spread across India. They mainly run on a very low budget and whatever money they take from people staying there are accepted as a donation. These places are there so that the pilgrim can stay here at ease without shelling huge amount of money from his pocket. Also, the current Dharmashala, where I was standing was also kept neat and tidy.
I went to see the room and immediately OK’d it. Before I went inside with the luggage, I pulled my DSLR out and took photos of the amazing cloud cover over the Kedarnath mountains. The sun was setting and that cast a orange hue over the clouds hiding the mountains behind them. It was a beautiful sight to see from a distance. Even though, I was in Uttarakhand, I would not be able to visit Kedarnath as its a 16 km trek to the top and secondly, the route was closed due to off season.
I could see some men sitting over a bonfire not far from where I was standing. I quickly joined them for a brief moment of time till my hand and fingers got relived from the cold and were sufficiently warm. As it was getting dark, I thought it would be a good idea to shift my luggage and with that I retired for the day.
It was not a long day for riding today but the trek made me feel tired. Also, I didn’t had proper lunch which made be even more hungrier at Dinner. Dinner was served at the canteen located in the basement and I had the best veg thali of all times. It was prepared fresh in front of us and was piping hot which was really soothing for the stomach and the body.
After the dinner was done, it was time for the bed and pretty much all the things were closed on the outside. I transferred all my GoPro and Mobile data into my portable hard-disk before I went off to sleep.
Tomorrow, I would be travelling to Devprayag visiting the Kartik Swami temple in between, the city, that I longed to revisit again after we brushed by its side on our 3rd day of the tour when we were travelling from Mussoorie to Rishikesh.