Note: I undertook this trek thrice- 16th to 18th August, 2012, 28th September to 1st October 2012 and 29th to 31st December 2013. First time around, I had gone solo, relying on public transport while the second and third time, me and a friend had taken our own car. I have tried to pen down the experiences and information from both perspectives.
For the complete set of pictures from my solo trek in mid August, please visit:
For the complete set of pictures from my second trek in late October, please visit:
For the complete set of pictures from my third trek in late December, please visit:
Jumping on the opportunity of an extended weekend, I decided to head to Uttarakhand for an easy trek to Deoria Tal, Chopta and Tungnath over a span of 3 nights and 4 days.
Two hours before I planned to leave my home, I booked my bus tickets near Anand Vihar ISBT for Haridwar which leaves at 11.30 PM. This was to be my first solo trek and I carried my own tent, sleeping bag, mat and other supplies which made my backpack about 12 kgs heavy. Going thoroughly over a list of items to take along I had prepared a week ago, I made sure that none was missed.
Day 1: Delhi – Haridwar – Rishikesh – Rudraprayag – Ukhimath – Sari – Deoria Tal (7832 feet ASL)
The bus reached Haridwar around 5.00 AM and immediately after, I found a bus going towards Joshimath. Although I had plans to get off at Rishikesh and meet a couple of my friends who were staying there after completing their trek to Valley of Flowers, better sense prevailed and I decided to skip the meeting and head straight for my destination. This turned out to be a very wise decision as I later learnt that buses heading towards Joshimath leave form Haridwar really early in the morning. Otherwise it would have been an almost endless wait for the next bus.
After the 20 seater bus dropped me at Rudraprayag around 11.30 AM, it headed East towards Joshimath while my route takes me North from hereon. With no buses plying on this route, I am left with no option but to look for shared taxis / tempos to reach my destination. After changing 3 shared taxis one after another at Agastyamuni, Chandrapuri and Kund respectively, I am dropped off at a tiny village called Mastura at around 2.00 PM. Mastura falls 1.5 kms before Sari village – from where people generally start the trek for the lake. Since I didn’t have my own conveyance, I strapped on my backpack and commenced the trek. From Mastura, Sari Village is a continuous uphill trek, and from Sari Village, the lake is a further 2.5 km uphill climb. The entire path is well laid out and stone paved. Sari also has a few shops stocking on the basic food items which you can buy at about 15-20% more than the marked price.
I am in the middle of peak monsoons and expecting a clear sky throughout my journey mostly went in vain. With the sun beating down on your head one minute and the monsoon clouds rolling over you the next, you are caught in the dilemma if you should continue your hike in warm, or summer clothes. Hiking on the desolated stretch from Sari to Deoria Tal for more than an hour now, the only presence I felt came from a variety of elusive chirping birds, toads the size of a lunch box and an array of lizards scurrying for the cracks within the rocks every time the monsoon clouds decided to rain down on you.
Once you reach the top of the hill, lush green meadows and the pristine Deoria Tal itself welcomes you with open arms. As the monsoon clouds roll over the lake and gradually head to the other side of the valley, you notice the towering Neelkanth, Bandarpunch, Yellow tooth and the imposing 7000er Chaukhamba Peak dwarfing everything around.
There are three dhabas operating near the lake and you will find the staff extremely helpful and friendly. The dhabas are stocked with Maggie, biscuits, chips and water – all of which are sold at least 20% more than the marked price. Dinner here consists of the staple Indian diet – Dal, Roti, Subzi with rice at nominal rates and served around 8 in the evening. With so many ideal spots near the lake to set camp, you will be spoilt for choice. If you decide to set your own camp, the FRH (Forest Rest House) staff will charge a nominal Rs. 50.00 per night for the tent and Rs. 150.00 (Rs. 600.00 for foreigners) per head as entry fees to the lake site. As mentioned on the receipts given to you in lieu of the entry fees, this collection from trekkers goes towards the maintenance of the NandaDevi Bioshpere Forest Reserve.
With the entire region engulfed in complete darkness by 8.00 PM, I decided to slip into my sleeping bag and call it an early night. The fatigue which set in due to 15 hours of continuous travel helped me drift off to sleep within seconds!
Day 2: Deoria Tal – Sari – Chopta – Tungnath (12,073 feet ASL)
You wake up in the morning with the distinct sound of birds chirping, fish flapping in the water and horses going about grazing around the flawless meadow. The view you get during the sun rise is nothing short of spectacular. The reflection of the Chaukhamba Peak over the calm waters of the lake is quite talked about and photographers spend considerable time to capture that perfect image.
By 9.00 AM, I was done with dismantling the tent, packed my backpack and also helped myself with a sumptuous breakfast consisting of egg omelets with toast at the dhaba. Just as I left the campsite and walked about 100 meters, I spotted a half eaten body of a calf right in the middle of the trail which, as per the locals was killed by a Leopard last night in Sari village and the body dragged all the way up towards the lake!
Putting the grisly sight behind, I continued the downhill trek towards the Sari Village which took about 45 minutes. Once at Sari, I arranged for a local guy to drop me off at Chopta in his rickety Maruti 800 car in exchange for Rs. 600. The road from Sari to Chopta is magnificent and takes about 45 minutes to cover the total distance of 22 kms. There are a number of dhabas at Chopta stocking on everything you might need including walking sticks and rain ponchos.
The trail from Chopta to Tungnath is well laid out and stone paved all the way but also deprived of any flat stretches. This distance of the steadily uphill 3.5 kms can be covered in maximum 3 hours provided you maintain a steady pace. And with quite a few dhabas along the trail, you can choose to take your own time while resting at places. After the first 2 Kms, you will find yourself crossing the tree-line and lofty meadows rolling all around one after the other. Just as I was crossing the tree-line, I was lucky enough to spot a Leopard darting out of one of the bushes and vanish into the forest cover.
Tungnath, at a height of 3680 meters, is the highest Shiva temple in the world and is one of the five and the highest Paanch Kedar temples located in the state of Uttarakhand.
Tourists and pilgrims regularly visit the temple to pay their homage to Lord Shiva. During the winters, even as the temple remains snow bound and unapproachable, few adepts come to the area avoiding pilgrims and to climb Chandrashila. If you are carrying your own tent, the meadows behind the temple provide a strikingly beautiful campsite. In case you do not prefer staying in a tent, there are quite a few basic lodges providing rooms for Rs.300-400 a night for two people.
Situated just below the Chandrashila Peak, Tungnath offers some magnificent views of Chaukhamba, Neelkanth and Kedarnath peaks. With plans to wake up by 4.00 AM next morning to commence the climb to Chandrashila, I had an early dinner and was tucked inside my sleeping bag by 8.00 PM.
Day 3: Tungnath – Chandrashila – Tungnath – Chopta
At about 4 in the morning I stepped out of my tent to find a carpet of clouds spread a couple of hundred feet beneath us. With the full moon washing the entire region with its glow, the use of a torch even at that hour of the morning was rendered useless. The wind had picked up speed since last night and the cold was enough to breach even five layers of clothing and send you shivering.
The summit of Chandrashila Peak from Tungnath is little less than 1.5 kms. The trail begins from the back side of Tungnath temple and is consistently uphill with few patches being surprisingly quite steep. Littered with stones of all sizes, one needs to be careful particularly while hiking in the dark so as to avoid any misstep which might result in a sprained foot.
At a height of 13,232 feet above sea level, Chandrashila Peak has a small temple and a series of cairns perched at the top. The summit provides a spectacular 300 degree panoramic view of some of the highest peaks in India like Nandadevi, Trishul, Kedar Peak, Bandarpunch and Chaukhamba Peaks. As the sun finally decides to rise behind the mighty Nandadevi Peak (7,816 meters), the sky gradually turns into one endless canvas reflecting an array of colors. You can notice the first rays of the sun grace the earth and the peaks being unhurriedly washed with a golden glow as if a fire is lit from within. One will find him/herself consciously seeking out the warm sun rays which instantly relieves you from the cold wind.
Once satiated with the experience I just had, I came down to Tungnath which took no more than 30 minutes. After having some milk and eggs at one of the dhabas, I started my walk down to Chopta. The buses from Chopta to Ukhimath or Gopeshwar are very limited and run on fixed times- usually very early in the morning. It would be a good idea to inquire with a local about the availability and timings one day before you plan to travel.
With 3 treks to to the same destination in less than 5 months, my heart still longs to go back and spend another night under the stars camped at Tungnath which I am sure will happen soon! As for you, get off this blog, pack your bags, and head to this marvelous destination. Every minute used, every muscle sprained and every penny spent to reach such a place couldn’t be more worthy!