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Sunday, July 1, 2018

Kartik Swami temple – a platform for viewing Himalayan vistas


Kartik Swami temple – a platform for viewing Himalayan vistas

The majestic view of the Himalayan ranges as seen from Kartik Swami temple
             I had read about this destination with awe and had seen the photographs of the spectacular vistas of Himalayan ranges on the internet.  Accordingly, visiting Kartik Swami temple was the last, but not the least in order of priorities for me.  I had kept this trek for the last leg, so that even if we got tired, it would be the last trek of the trip.  Having visited Deoriatal the previous day and that being a tiresome journey, sans any food etc. we all got up late in the morning, including the driver.  The ladies of the group i.e. my wife and daughter had started mumbling and grumbling about the trek to Kartik Swami temple, when they heard that it was a 3 km. trek one way.  Therefore, I had no other option than to drop them at Syalsaur and my Son also volunteered to stay back with them.  Thus, I visited the famed Kartik Swami temple on my own.
View of Kedarnath peaks from Syalsaur as we start for Kartik Swami temple

As the road construction activity is underway the vehicles stop on either side
Going past Mohan Khal en-route Kartik Swami temple road
             Katik Swami temple is a small temple dedicated to Lord Kartik, son of Lord Shiva & Parvati, placed on a ledge that offers 270º view of the Himalayan ranges.  It can be reached by trekking for 3 Kms. from a nondescript little village called Kanakchauri.  This village can be accessed both from Rudraprayag as well as a small village called Banswara on Kedarnath Highway, about a kilometer from Syalsaur.  Kanakchauri village is about 40 kms from Rudraprayag on the Rudraprayag - Pokhari route, whereas from the road at Banswara, it is about 37.9 Kms. from Syalsaur.  This road is a narrow and due to ongoing road construction work for another road, connecting some of the villages in the hills, which was taking place, due to displacement of rocks in the process, we had to wait mid-way for about 45 minutes or so.  But this road being used mainly by the local villagers falling in this route, namely – Gair, Kanyas, Akauri etc., till one reaches Mohankhal, which is the nodal point wherefrom the road from Pokhri meets, it is a smooth ride with very few vehicles traversing along this road patch.  Kanachauri village can also be approached from Karanprayag, which is about 40 Kms. from Pokhri and it is another 15 Kms. from Pokhri to Kanakchauri. 
Terraced fields and small villages perched on mountainsides en-route Kartik Swami temple

First view of the Kanakchauri village and ridge astride which is the famed Kartik Swami temple
The first view of Chaukhamba massif on trek route to Kartik Swami temple 
             Kanakchauri village is a very small village and total length would not exceed 150-200 meters along the main road, wherein numerous shops catering to local requirements as well as eateries dedicated to tourists run shop.  In case of heavy rush of tourists, there is not ample space available and the road, being quite narrow, parking is definitely a problem here.  The Mayadeep group has a reasonable rest house constructed mainly with bamboo here and they quote a price of Rs.2000/- per night for each such bamboo hut.  However, I have come across blogs wherein it has been claimed that bargaining can give you a good deal of around Rs.800/- per room per night also during lean seasons.  The trek route for the famed Kartik Swami temple is easily identifiable by a gate constructed on the road side leading towards the trek route.  Although, there are no sight to any Himalayan peaks visible from the village road itself, but a few hundred meters upward trek would make them visible.  The trek route is about 3 Kms. and takes about two hours’ time at a medium pace and the trek runs through a pleasant and virgin Oak and Rhododendron forest and the stillness is broken only with a twig or two breaking under your shoe or that of a bird chirping somewhere in the canopy and the gradient is moderate.
A Nuthatch bird on trek route to Kartik Swami temple
The description hoarding on trek route to Kartik Swami temple
The hut of the temple priest of Kartik Swami temple
A display poster erected by Uttarakhand Tourism near Kartik Swami temple

             Nestled in the Garhwal Himalayas at an altitude of 3048 meters (about 10,000 ft) in the Rudraprayag district of the State of Uttarakhand is the temple of Kartik Swami. Kartik Swami temple is perched on a spur of a ledge, in a serene and beautiful location, that provides a spectacular panoramic view of some of the highest mountains peaks of the Himalayan ranges in India.  The snow laden peaks of Bandar punch are visible to the west. In addition, the peaks of Kedar Dome, Meru, Kedarnath, Neelkanth, Trishul, Nanda Ghunti and Nanda Devi group of peaks are also visible from Kartik Swami. The main attraction of Kartik Swami is the mighty Chaukhamba peak which appears, as if as, it is framed as the temple’s background.  En-route, just before you take onto the huge stone steps for the final assault on the ridge to reach the temple top, is the home of the priest of the temple, who stays in a basic concrete house (an ashram), which is less than 1 km before the temple and he will accompany travelers/devotees to the temple, if required.  There is something mystical about Kartik Swami temple trek, as on the way you find broken bangles and vermillion (sindoor) all along the path made as offerings, while the temple complex has a lot of bells hanging around it.  The ever interrogative mind of mine was getting vexed to know about the mythology of the place and hence I made some research on the internet, searching for answers to my query.

The pen nib like peak_Janhukoot peak as seen from Kartik Swami temple
Panoramic view of the famed Kartik Swami temple
The main temple doorway of Kartik Swami temple
The idol of Lord Kartikey in Kartik Swami temple
The mighty Chaukhambha peak as seen from Kartik Swami temple
         Mythological anecdotes relate this place to Lord Kartik Swami, who is the elder brother of Lord Ganesha and according to Hindu mythology, he is considered as “God for War and Victory.”  He is also known as Murugan Swami in Tamil Nadu, Subramanya in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka and Kartikeya in Bengal. The temple encompasses an idol of Lord Kartik Swami carved on a marble rock.  According to Hindu mythology, Lord Shiva (the destroyer) told his sons Ganesha and Kartikeya that one of them, who will be the first to take seven rounds of the universe will have the privilege of being worshiped first.  Ganesha took seven rounds around Shiva and Parvati, stating that he saw the Universe in them, while Kartikeya faithfully circled the universe. Impressed by Ganesha, Lord Shiva gave him the honor of being worshipped before anyone else. While Lord Kartikeya was taking his final round, he encountered Narada Muni (albeit intentionally), who informed him that he had been made to look like a fool by circling the Universe and that Lord Ganesh had already been granted the boon.  Angered by this kind treachery, Kartikeya sacrificed his body and gave his flesh back to his mother Parvati and his bones to Lord Shiva as an ultimate sacrifice.
As the evening sets in we head back to Syalsaur from Kartik Swami temple
            Having visited the temple and spent some quality time there, we traversed back through the serene trek through the Oak and Rhododendron tree forest and reached back Kanakchauri in about an hour’s time.  As we were totally famished by this time, myself and my driver, who had accompanied me to the temple top, ate some noodles with eggs and tea, which was so sweetened that I could only have one gulp, before discarding it.  Thereafter, as we were about to make our way back, a forest worker requested for ride upto Mohankhal as he had missed the last bus.  We dropped him at his desired destination and made our way back to Syalsaur and thus, ended my winter sojourn for the year, albeit visiting a few more destinations on our way back.


Here is a link to the video of the destination -


Sunday, June 3, 2018

The emerald alpine lake – Deoriatal

The emerald alpine lake – Deoriatal
Panoramic view of  famed Deoriatal
Having completed of morning Puja at Omkareshwar temple in Ukhimath, we commenced with our onward journey towards the Sari village wherefrom the trek to the famed alpine lake known as Deoriatal begins.  The road leads along the same road that one takes for Chopta but bifurcates from main Chopta road, but as the signpost is on the opposite side of the road and is thus, not clearly visible from this side of the road and hence as a key reference for taking the U-turn, the first point of reference that comes into view is the ‘Anjali Tourist Lodge & Restaurant’.  Thereafter, the road actually takes the U-turn towards Sari village from the corner of ‘Hanuman Inn & Resorts’ (check out the video below).
Distant view of Sari village - starting point for trek to Deoriatal - shot from Chopta
View of Mandakini River from road to Deoriatal
Panoramic view of Ukhimath - as we head towards Sari/Deoriatal
         Sari is a very small and a remote village in Uttrakhand, situated at a distance of 12 Kilometers from Ukhimath, it is the base for the trek towards scintillating emerald alpine lake named Deorial Tal (2483 meters).  The trek is about 2.3 kilometers trek from Sari village. Many of the visitors set up camps or hire them at Deoriatal and use it as base for trek to Tungnath Temple and Chopta. One comes across very beautiful bhugyals (meadows) along the road journey from Sari to Chopta.  There are no hotels in Sari village but one can find a few lodges or home stay options, if you explore.  Perched at an altitude of 6,601 feet, the village is quiet & quaint with very little of modern amenities. The villagers go about with their daily chores and lifestyle untouched by commercialization, as we see in the cities in the plains, except for a handful of youngsters enjoying mobile phone facilities. Thus, it also emphasizes that in case you have missed out buying on any of your trekking gear, there is no market in here and you will have to retrace your steps all the way back to Ukhimath to purchase the same. Also please keep in mind that electricity at the village cannot be relied upon as it is intermittent and breaks down in event of any inclement weather hitting the region. You may not be able to charge your electronic appliances here at times, unless you are lucky during the freak weather or you are carrying your own power bank. However, mobile signals of Airtel, Vodafone and BSNL numbers function at Sari.  
Scenic view of Himalayan peaks on way to Deoriatal
A local herder tending to his flock of sheeps
The trek from Sari Village to Deoriatal winds through dense forest of Oak and Rhododendron trees.  I had gauged the steepness of the trek and was seeking some mules to ride on, as being a city brigand I could make out that the trek would be very arduous for me and my family.  However, the contractor with whom I negotiated sought Rs.700/- for onward trip, we therefore decided to trek on ourselves.  However, just ten minutes into the trek we could make out that it was quite tiring, much more that we had anticipated.  However, the mule provider was still waiting below and shouted that he was willing to negotiate @Rs.500/- per mule for one way drop.  This sounded reasonable and hence I agreed and we trekked upwards on mule back, which too was an unforgettable experience (check out the video below).  Fifteen minutes on mule back and half an hour into the trek, one comes across a small temple dedicated to lord Shiva known as the Omkar Ratneshwar Mahadev Temple. Locals worship here and a Pundit is available just outside the temple to help you in making your offerings. Made in the early Nagara architecture style, the walls of the temple are plain with geometrically placed ridges made in stone. A rock sculpture of the mythical cow Nandi is strategically placed at its entrance. Inside the temple one can see avtars of Shiva carved in rock. This temple is a landmark before you start towards the first view point wherefrom you can enjoy the panoramic views of the village below. There are several such viewpoints on the way and locals have conveniently opened small tea shops selling cold drinks and water as well.
The panoramic view of Sari village
Deoriatal is beyond this top that requires to be surmounted
The spire of the Omkar Ratneshwar Mahadev Temple
Panoramic view of the Omkar Ratneshwar Mahadev Temple
White chinned laughing thrush on road to Deoriatal
Chopta as seen from trek to Deoriatal
          As you almost reach the summit of the mountain after the long and arduous trek, one comes across the last the biggest of the ‘dhabas’/local eating joint, which offers tea/water/cold drinks alongwith maggi etc.  One cannot comprehend the majestic view that is going to unfold before one’s eyes, as the narrow kuchha road behind the dhabha leads to the spectacle and offers no clue of what lies beyond until you reach the clearing overlooking the famed Deoriatal.  Yet this stretch I found to be most rich in the avifauna of the region and was able to click a few white throated laughing thrush birds with only a 55-200mm lens attached to my camera.  As one steps out of the oak covered road, the splendor of Deoria Tal opens up before you.  Deoriatal is in itself only a small lake, but the spacious lawns surrounded by dense vegetation around it makes it an excellent spot for camping, sighting distant mountains and star gazing. Local legends associate this lake with certain events of Mahabharata.  As for the legends, it is a mythological belief that the Devas bathed in this lake hence the name, the lake is also sometimes believed to be the “Indra Sarovar” referred to in the Puranas by wandering, Hindu mendicants Sadhus. It is also believed that it was the place from where the Pandavas due to extreme fatigue and arrogance failed to provide answers sought by Yaksha and on drinking its water died, Yudhistara, the eldest of all Pandvas was then asked four questions by Yaksha, which was answered by him and the life of the other dead Pandavas was then restored by Yaksh.
The emerald green deoriatal
Cloud covered Chaukhambha from Deoriatal
The base of the Chaukhamba massif visible from Deoriatal 
Another peak looming across the other side of the deoriatal lake
This is a photograph taken from the internet to show the readers the beauty of Deoriatal
The pen picture of the lake would describe it as an emerald colored lake, surrounded by undulating, soothingly inclined, grass fields that are bounded by a dense wood cover all around. Set majestically in the lap of the mountain, with a backdrop of magnificent mountain peaks, especially Chaukhamba peak that puts in a spectacular reflection on the waters of Deoriatal, is a popular tourist destination for the adventure loving lots.  On the day we visited Deoriatal, it was a bit of damper for me as the Chaukhamba was not visible as it was snowing on its top and hence could not get a glimpse of the reflection on the lake surface.  Yet the trek to the famed lake was worth every penny and after enjoying the environs fully, we started out trek back towards Sari village.  We stopped at the dhaba to have some maggi, so as to get some fuel into our stomach before starting the arduous trek back.  However, there was some smell of either oil or something that dissuaded us from partaking the same and we had to trek back on an empty stomach, which nothing much available at Sari village either.  Accordingly, on the way back we purchased some biscuits, sweet meats etc., as it was almost evening by the time we reached back to Syalsaur.

Here is the link to the video of the destination


Sunday, May 6, 2018

UKHIMATH - A DESTINATION IMBUED IN MYTHOLOGY


UKHIMATH - A DESTINATION IMBUED IN MYTHOLOGY

The outer facade of the famed Omkareshwar temple complex in Ukhimath
         After having visited Chopta as the first destination from my so called base camp i.e. Syalsaur, we were ready for our next trip to Deoriatal.  However, being a Tuesday, as per my practice, I had to visit some Hanuman temple, but this time around I chose to visit Ukhimath because of its importance as a pilgrimage destination that finds mention in the annals of ancient scriptures.  Ukhimath is a small little hamlet situated in the Rudraprayag district of Uttarakhand State in India. It is situated at a distance of 41 km from Rudraprayag and is perched at an elevation of 1317 metres above mean seal level and is juxtaposed to another ancient township of Guptkashi, on the Kedarnath route, saddled on the opposite ridge across the valley.  As we started for temple town in the early morning, the weather was clear and very pleasant and we traversed a distance of about 19 Kms. along the same route that we had taken the previous day and reached the temple precincts of the famed Omkareshwar temple. 
As we get ready for the journey - a perfect clear day lights up Kedarnath peaks - view from Syalsaur
This temple popularly known as Omkareshwar Pith is one of the oldest in the country and houses the deities of Kedarnath and Madhmaheswar during the winter months (November to April). During this time the temple of Kedarnath and Madhmaheshwar remains closed. The deities are brought here from Kedarnath after Diwali and from Madhmaheswar in December and worshipped here for six months. These deities are taken back in a procession to their original temples in mid-May and in 2018 the opening of Kedarnath temple is scheduled for 29th of April, 2018. Ukhimath can be used as nodal destination for visiting different Shiva temples of the Panch Kedar fame that are located nearby, i.e. Madhmaheshwar (Second Kedar), Tungnath ji (Third Kedar) and also Deoria Ta l(natural fresh water alpine lake) that we were scheduled to visit later in the day. 

View of the inner courtyard of Omkareshwar temple in Ukhimath
Typical pahari style painted frames in Omkareshwar temple in Ukhimath
            Ukhimath temple dates to the time of Mandhaata, ancestor of Rama.  It is believed that the wedding of Usha (Daughter of Vanasur) and Anirudh (Grandson of Lord Krishna) was solemnized here. This place was named as Ushamath after the name of Usha and is now known as Ukhimath.  Ukhimath is also written as Okhimath and the temple is known as Omkareshwar.  There are quite a few mythological anecdotes associated with this destination and the name of the temple as Omkareshwar is related with story of Mandhaata.  According to one of the legends, the emperor Mandhaata, during his last years of his reign gave up everything, including his empire and came to Ukimath and did penance for 12 years by standing on one leg. At the end Lord Shiva appeared in the form of ‘omnipresent sound of Omkar', and blessed him. From that day onwards this place came to be known as Omkareshwar.  Ukhimath has many other ancient temples dedicated to several Gods and Goddesses such as Usha, Shiva, Aniruddha, Parvati and Mandhata.  The anecdote associated with Mandhaata is quite intriguing, it is written in the ancient scriptures that Yuvanashva, Mandhaata's father, had one hundred wives but no children. So his guru advised him to perform ‘Putrakameshti yoga’ to beget a child. The sacred water that was generated from this yaga was supposed to be given to his wives, the next morning.  But destiny played a different hand or rather a prank with him and that night Yuvanashva, who was feeling thirsty at night, so he got up and drank the sacred water without realizing that it was the holy water and not the normal water that was kept alongwith.   Thereafter, Yuvanshava started having intense pain in his chest and within a few days Yuvanashva's chest got torn open and therefrom emerged a child, was born as Mandhaata.  Normally, whenever a child's birth takes place from the mother's womb, she feeds the infant with her breast milk to satisfy his hunger and then the child becomes calm and quiet.  However, in this peculiar case ast the child that was born from Yuvanashva's chest, it started crying.  Yuvanashva could not feed the infant, so it started sucking its own fingers.  Lord Shiva had blessed that child with nectar (Amrit) in his fingers. Thus sucking his fingers and satisfying his hunger and thirst, the child grew up and in course of time became an Emperor. This emperor, during his last years gave up everything and did penance for 12 years by standing on one leg.  At the end Lord Shiva appeared in the form of ' the omnipresent sound of Omkar', and blessed him. From that day onwards this place, where the present temple stands came to be known as Omkareshwar.
The main temple base of Omkareshwar temple in Ukhimath
The Chatri shading Nandi bull in front of Omkareshwar temple in Ukhimath
The statute of Mandhata inside Omkareshwar temple complex in Ukhimath

             There is another interesting ancient anecdote associated with Ukhimath, Okhimath or so called Ushamath of ancient times.  Ushadevi, was the daughter of the devil king Banasura, who used to reside at Ukhimath.  Ushadevi had a close friend whose name was Chitralekha. Once, in her dreams, Ushadevi saw a very handsome prince and in her dreams she instantly fell in love with him and married him. Not only this, she even experienced a physical relationship with him in her dream.  The next day she described her dream to her close friend Chitralekha and told her to search for this prince as Usha had decided to marry him in real life too. Hence, Chitralekha started making portraits of all the princes on this earth. After observing all the portraits, Usha was able to identify the prince who had appeared her dream.  Usha asked Chitralekha to cast a magic spell to locate his whereabouts and bring him to Ukhimath. The name of the prince was Anirudha, the grandson of Lord Krishna, and he was staying in Dwarika.  Ushadevi with the help of her friend Chitralekha brought him here to Ukhimath, where Anirudha and Usha started living together. When Usha's father Banasur came to know about it he got angry and put prince Anirudha in prison.

The temple spire of Omkareshwar temple in Ukhimath

Close up of the temple top of Omkareshwar temple in Ukhimath
          Lord Krishna came to know about the imprisonment of his grandson Anirudha and attacked Banasur. A fierce battle took place. There was no sign of vicotry on either side and it became a stalemate, because Krishna himself was God and Banasur had the blessing of Lord Shiva. Thus, there was no sign of this fierce battle ending soon.  At this juncture Lord Kedareshwar appeared there and placated the anger of either side by consoling them.  With the blessings of Lord Shiva, the marriage ceremony of Usha and Anirudha took place in Ukhimath.  Even today you can see the place where they got married. In the beginning this place was known as USHA MATH later it changed into UKHA MATH and now it is popularly known as UKHI MATH.
Worn out sculptures of temple pillars that pre-date history
The panoramic view of the old temple complex behind the Omkareshwar temple in Ukhimath 
The bill board displaying historical facts about Omkareshwar temple in Ukhimath

             The temple precincts and the holy shrine therein is built in the North Indian Nagara style of architecture. The temple houses, a navel-shaped Shivlinga, made of black stone and is located in the sanctum sanctorum. Furthermore, there are shrines of both Shiva's consort, Parvati, and Ardhanarishwara, an image of half Shiva and half Parvati. To the right of this temple is a small shrine of Maa Saraswati, the Hindu Goddess of art and learning. It is wholly made of marble.  Ukhimath is dotted with several artistic ancient temples dedicated to Usha, Lord Shiva, Goddess Parvati, Aniruddha and Mandhata. Ukhimath is mainly inhabited by the Rawals, who are the head priests (pundits) of Kedarnath.  Snow-capped peaks of the splendid Himalayan range are distinctly visible from Ukhimath. From Ukhimath on a clear day one can see the beautiful view of Kedarnath peak, Chaukhamba & other green beautiful valleys that sprawl alongside the lower reaches along the enchanting Mandakini River.  Having performed puja at this ancient temple town and especially when both the deities of Kedarnath & Madhamaheshwar were being housed there, made our souls feel blessed and rejuvenated.

Here is the link to the video for the destination -



Sunday, April 1, 2018

Enticing Chopta


Enticing Chopta

Panoramic view of Chopta - the so called mini Switzerland 
         After having rested for the night at Syalsaur, I got up early in the morning and was rewarded with a scintillating view of the Kedarnath peaks lit up in the morning sun.  I wandered around a bit, trudging up to the main stream of Mandakini River and saw some fishermen, who had placed nets across the stream at a few places, go waist down in the icy cold water to collect their catch, really some hard work indeed.   After returning back to the TRH and having had a hot cup of tea, I retired back to my room to have a bath, before embarking upon the days scheduled trip to the famed Chopta village.
Glorious view of Kedarnath peaks from Syalsaur early in the morning
Having had a heavy B’fast, as we did not expect to find many eateries on the way, we commenced our journey for Chopta at around 10.00 A.M.  The sky was a clear blue and the sun had made its grand appearance for the day, slowly warming up the environ that was still laden with the cold ground frost permeated air.  We traversed a distance of 14 Kms. along the Mandakini River upto Kund, wherefrom the road crosses over the Mandakini River and heads towards Kedarnath and the other one heads straight on uphill towards Ukhimath.  We traversed on an uphill drive for another 5 Kms. before we reached Ukhimath, which is the famous temple town housing the Kedarnath deity during the winter months and I will describe in detail in the ensuing blog.  We had to travel another 29 Kms. from Ukhimath before we could reach the destination for the day i.e. Chopta.

The signpost near Ukhimath
A deep gorge with a village home perched precariously on way to Chopta
Flock of sheep being herded along the road to Chopta
         From Ukhimath, instead of heading towards the main township, one continues along the main road and crosses small villages en-route namely Karokhi, Mastura, Dihara and Dhankund before one reaches Makku bend, wherefrom one roads heads for Makkumath.  Thereafter, the road gets steeper and more curvaceous and you traverse through some virgin Oak & Rhododendron forests and as you start nearing Chopta, a multitude of sign posts crop up showing presence of resorts etc., until you reach Dugalbitta that has a small hotel and some campsites strewn across and thereafter, one crosses Baniakund before finally reaching Chopta.  Being winter, snowfall had taken place in the region a few days earlier, hence some parts of the road was still covered in ice and there was snow along the sidewalks of the road.  The journey to Chopta appeared to be more tantalizing now.
Going past Baniakun en-route Chopta
As I have described that it was pleasantly warm when we had started our journey in the morning and there was a lot to rumbling & grumbling, when I had instructed the family members to don proper winter clothes that we were carrying.  However, no sooner we had alighted from the Car that a strong gust of icy cold winds hit us with gale force.  Some of us, who were still skeptical about donning the winter clothes, quickly dived back into the Car and piled on the jackets and caps et al.  Chopta is a small nondescript little village that is dotted with a number of eating joints, to ensure some grub for the ever hungry tourists, albeit everything is sold at much above the marked price.  Still it is a luxury to get the goods made available in these hostile environs by the local traders.
Panoramic view from Chopta village
Panoramic view of Chopta - towards Tungnath - from Chopta village
The starting point of trek towards Tungnath from Chopta
       As we had a sumptuous B’fast before commencing with the journey, we started our climb towards Tungnath immediately.  One has to pay a fee of Rs.150/- per person for entry, as this entire place comes under the Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary and this fee is collected by the forest department.  However, if you are a student and carrying a valid ID, there is a fifty percent discount.  Having procured the tickets, we started trudging towards our next target i.e. Tungnath temple.  Tungnath is the highest Shiva Temple in the world (3680m) and is one among the Paanch Kedar Shrines. It is believed to be more than 1000 years old. The temple is closed during the winters and the deity is shifted to Mukku village. Tungnath temple opens its doors to pilgrims in the summer around the end of April and shuts down in November in winter.  As per the mythology, Lord Shiva had taken the form of a bull in order to avoid the Pandavas, who were seeking his blessings for their sin of having killed their own kin.  However, Bhima spotted him and Lord Shiva in bull form went into the ground to escape the Pandavas, but Bhima caught hold of its tail so that it could not escape. Several parts of the bull then cropped out of the ground at five spots and accordingly the Panch Kedars were formed. Kedarnath temple is dedicated to the hump of Lord Shiva and is the most famous Paanch Kedar shrine. The other Paanch Kedar shrines are at - Tungnath, Madyamaheshwar, Rudranath, and Kalpeshwar.  At Tungnath temple, Lord Shiva’s arms are worshipped.

The trudge towards Tungnath begins in the right earnest
Fresh snow scattered all around - on way to Tungnath
Sign of life on a dead looking tree - a single flower
Due to the snow and extreme cold conditions, the snowfall that had occurred a few days earlier had failed to melt away, instead a thick coat of black ice now covered the road at many points and was quite treacherous.  We trudged along cautiously, stopping over here and there to catch our breaths, in the rarified air.  After trudging for about two hours or so, we reached a point where there was a meadow, with a small makeshift house cum tea stall, but due to snow it was closed.  We frolicked in the snow and enjoyed some quality time, trying to rejuvenate our slackening energy levels for further climb upwards.  However, I suddenly spotted ominous looking cloud tantalizing closing over the nearby peak and in no time at all the entire valley started to be enveloped by it.  As such the road was treacherous at many parts because of the black ice and even a slight drizzle would have rendered it unusable and could have resulted in really nasty fall and consequent damage to limbs.  So with a sense of despair, I decided to trudge back, better be safe than never and bid adieu to Tungnath with a small resolve of returning back in near future.  But a word of caution, Chopta is fast becoming a commercial destination and there were hordes of visitors, creating a cacophony of noises, shouting at top of their voices, this does not augur well for a designated ‘Wildlife Sanctuary’, therefore, the issuance of permits is required to be restricted and may be issued online for specific number of persons only and they should also be made to give an undertaking of good behavior, once inside the sanctuary or else in a few years it will lose its charm & charisma.  I could not spot a single exotic bird during the entire trek.

Snow covered slopes all across 
Fresh snow scattered all around - on way to Tungnath
Ominous clouds surrounding the peak en-route Tungnath
The clouds enveloping the entire valley - an ominous sign indeed
        However, for the readers I have made some research on the internet to gouge out some information about Tungnath, so that they do not have to refer to other blogs for information.  The trekking distance between Chopta to Tungnath is 4 kms and usually takes around 2 and a half hours to cover for a young personAround ten minutes before you reach Tungnath, there is a small detour to a peak called Ravanshila. It is said to be the place where the demon king Ravana meditated to please Lord Shiva.  The path to Chandrashila starts from Tungnath temple itself. It is clearly marked and cannot be missed. Distance of Chandrashila Peak Top from Tungnath is approx. 1.5 kms and even though it’s a steep climb, the distance can be easily covered in 1 hour. There is a small temple at Chandrashila and from the top one can savor grand 360 degree panoramic views of the Kumaon & Garhwal ranges.  According to a mythological legend, Chandrashila is the place where Lord Rama performed penance after killing Ravana, so as to absolve himself of the sin having killed a Bramhin.
My watch altimeter showing the altitutde at Chopta village
Photographing myself
As the sun sets - view of Guptkashi - across the valley
By the time we reached back down at Chopta about three & half-hour’ time had elapsed since we had started our ascent and we were a famished lot.  Cold winds had gathered speed and it was bone chilling, we ordered some hot cups of tea/coffee to one’s liking and we had some Maggi tossed in with eggs and fried in butter, but the driver, who too had trudged alongwith us, preferred a ‘thali’ i.e. a complete meal.  I placed my watch on the table and set up the altimeter, which showed that we were perched at an altitude of 2820 meters, the warmth of my hands showed the temperature at 25 degrees Celsius and time 3.38 P.M.   By the time we finished our meals, it was almost 4.00 P.M and the temperature had started plummeting and as we retraced our steps back to Syalsaur, I took a few photographs of valleys and Guptkashi, the sister town of Ukhimath perched just across the valley traversed by Mandakini River.  Thus, ended the day late in the evening, as we gorged in some more ‘pakoras’ (chickpea flour based fried food) and tea on returning back to Syalsaur.


Here is the link to a short video of the destination -