In the Lap of Shiva
Characters: Me, Umesh Kaul or only Kaul, Lalit Kumar or Lalit, Atul Kumar Singh alias Atul and Laxmikant Shukla aka LK. We all have been riding on our bikes all the way from Lucknow [for details check: Biking to Badrinath]. While traveling on NH58 we reached Chamoli in the afternoon and decided to have a small detour to Tungnath temple.Leg 1: [Chamoli to Gopeshwar, 8 Kms. 40 minutes]: At Chamoli we crossed over the bridge over Alaknanda and left the river trail. The road ascends and reaches a small market where there is a junction of a road to Gopeshwar town and Chopta, or rather Okhimath road. At this market we took out some money from ATM as we knew that there is no ATM or petrol pump beyond this point till Okhimath.
Forests on the way
Leg 2: Gopeshwar to Chopta [40 Kms, 3 Hours]: Beyond Gopeshwar, after about 4 – 5 Kms, the road enters the thick Kedarnath Forest Reserves. The road is narrow and the traffic is limited to one or two cars or SUVs that may pass you by otherwise you won’t encounter any movable thing enroute except some occasional sighting of monkeys.
The initial phase was mesmerizing. The narrow curling and ascending road, the thick surrounding of oak and pine trees, the solitude, the clear chirps of forest birds all added to the aura of the Mother Nature then but as the clock ticked 5 pm, it grew dark and we could smell rain in the air. We knew we had to be quick as there was still around 16 Kms to be covered but we could not and you are wise enough to know the reasons.
In no time it started drizzling. We could hear the droplets hitting our jackets but soon we realized that we were not getting wet. On closure look we found that they were not drops of water but tiny particles of ice that were bouncing off after striking our clothes. Gradually the intensity of rains increased and it started pouring in. Very soon we were all drenched to our teeth.
Shivering in the sub zero temperatures none of us dared to stop as it was dark and we were in the middle of thick forest. Fortunately, at a bend, there was a clearing and we took shelter there. It was frosty and we could barely stand. Shaking from our bones, LK took some petrol out of his bike while rest of us collected some dry straws and lit a small fire. We literally shoved our hands in to the fire to warm ourselves.
We waited for about 1 hour but realizing that the rain is going to be unrelenting, we decided to move on. Before that we ensured that we extinguished the fire that we have lit. In this last stretch of apparently unending 4 Kms we had to make our way amidst heavy rains. The road maintained its ascend except for the last 300 mts. The relief that we had on seeing couple of lights [or lanterns to be precise as there is no electricity in Chopta] can not be expressed in words.
At Chopta there are not too many options for stay or food. We stayed at the hotel that was just opposite to the main gate of the Tungnath trek route. The tea at the hotel was refreshing and you can well imagine our state. So much so that we could not stop shivering even while we all held our hot tea glasses in our hand and it was spilling all around. Standing near the fire of the earthen pot gave us some reprieve.
The room was low roofed, dim lit with battery bulbs and dingy but appeared heavenly at that moment. Moving on priority lines, we first changed and tied ropes, laces and whatever was handy, all across the room to dry up our clothes. We had hot dinner and went shivering into the warm quilts. It is at the moments like these that one forgets all the luxuries and realizes the importance of basic amenities.
The morning was bright and sunny but the chill was there in the wind. The view was divine as down below, behind our hotel rooms were the green bugyals or meadows and in front were the tall blooming rhodo trees laden with light purple flowers. We quickly spread out all the wet clothes and shoes near the hotel for drying and enjoyed our breakfast of mouth watering parathas. After taking bath [remember, we are on pilgrimage] finally at around 10 am we began our 4 Kms trek that was going to take us from 2450 mts [Chopta] to 3850 mts [Tungnath] and maybe beyond to 4000 mts [Chandrashila peak]
The trek ascends rapidly but there are no risks involved as the route snakes through green bugyals. Far, one can see the Okhimath on one side and snow capped mountains on the other. The trek has some small shacks that provide you with tea and packed snacks. Quickly we had our cameras out and it was some stupendous click time.
Atul had some problems and was the slowest while Lalit and LK were always ahead taking numerous short cuts. I was, one can say, not too slow but steady. After couple of hours we came across Alpine Research Station which is a high altitude plant physiology research centre accredited to Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna Garhwal University, Srinagar, Uttarakhand which was hardly few meters away from the trek route. One can just say … lucky researchers !!!
We also came across Ravan Mukh, a hillock that has a fall which resembles the face of an angry Ravan. Mythology says that Ravan prayed for Lord Shiva in these hills. It also says that Lord Rama prayed at the Chandrashila peak. From here we got the first glimpse of the majestic Tungnath temple but the incline was so steep that it took away the enthusiasm of two of us. Finally we were there and performed our puja. Sorry, but cameras were not allowed inside the temple.Tungnath: It is the highest of Panch Kedars namely, Kedarnath [3600 mts], Tungnath [3850 mts], Madhyamaheshwar [3500 mts], Rudranath [2300 mts] and Kalpeshwar[2200 mts]. It is said that they are to be worshipped in the same order, strictly.
Mythology holds that after Mahabharat, the Pandavas [five brothers] wanted to repent for their sins of killing their own brothers so they set out in search of the Lord Shiva but Lord did not want to meet them so he disguised himself as a bull, Nandi. Bhim recognized Lord Shiva at Gupt Kashi and before he could go underground, he caught him, or the bull, by its tail. To evade him Lord Shiva, or the bull dispersed and the hump fell at Kedarnath, arms at Tungnath, the navel at Madhyamaheshwar, the face at Rudranath and the hairs and the face fell at Kalpeshwar.
There were few other pilgrims or trekkers too at the temple. There was lot of snow [ya! even in June] around. Climb to Chandrshila peak took another 40 – 45 minutes. At 4000 mts, from here we could get a view of Gopeshwar on the other side too. After all, it is seldom that you see a helicopter pass by below the place you are standing, we did !!!. We played a bit in the snow and after an hour of stay decided to return.
Coming down is easy but it seemed as if the rains were following us. Since afternoon we could see the clouds originating from the snow caps of the peaks around. By then, they had grown in size and at around 3 pm they were raining themselves out. We took shelter in a small shack enroute that was a shop and a home too to a family. Within an hour we were at Chopta. After lunch we set off for Chamoli with sweet memories of an eventful short detour.