I certainly looked happy but inside had been hiding sentimental feelings that I did not let come out. I had resigned and will be relieved in next 10 days or so. I didn’t do much reasoning with mind and asked Saurabh, if he wishes to come to a trip with me and, he readily agreed. Saurabh in his early 20’s looked quite thin and lean and was known to have aggressive personality than an average standard when it comes to presentations. Now that, I have known him for 2 years but we have not been on any trip. I first met him in his BBA class where I taught Business Strategy, and the exchange of communication thereupon grew on the classroom notes. Today, we leave for an unknown destination as I searched hard and zeroed upon choices what place should we visit? I had more than a week to dedicate while Saurabh had just been through with his internal exams and had days to dispose.
He brought his bag in the afternoon to the institute and accompanied me to my place. I had my bag ready almost and soon after at 7:30 pm we left for ISBT with still no clue to what place we shall be going?
I recalled last time I had plans to visit Madhyamaheshwar but could not visit due to bad weather and less time at hand (due to which we also could not cover Deoria Taal) but never regretted that. So we decided to cover the place now. I had been to Ukhimath before with Gagan when we covered Tungnath (though we could not see Chandrashila due to the heavy weather), so the place was almost known to me and I thought to show Saurabh the mountain world while I look for known companions in the area like Chamola Ji – the Caretaker, Negi Ji – the Cook at GMVN, and Tiwari Ji – the owner of Anushri lodge and his nephew, whom I had promised to comeback.
We took Uttarakhand Transport bus to Rishikesh. I have been on this route more than any other route and could tell by peeping out the window about how much time it will take to reach the place from here. The bus had ‘less than seat’ passengers so Saurabh stretched out a little while like all times. We reached Rishikesh at 3:40 am as expected. It was the regular chill of early March and no auto-rickshaw was around at this time so we had to walk upto the Tehri bus stand. It was really good walking fast with our bagpacks to heat up our bones and just when we had half a mile to cover, we saw the bus cross by. The driver slowed it down; conductor peeked out and then shouted on top of his voice ‘Joshimath’ looking at us coming out of the narrow lane opposite to the road. And I replied – ‘No’, Ukhimath.
Next we were in this bus which had only last bench seat left to accommodate us; rest the bus was full with non-hindi speaking labours or seemed so from their language. The last bench seat on which we accommodated ourselves to my side along the window had window that would not shut to the full. The window kept sliding every now and then and sometimes I had to cover my ears for constant air bowing through the window inside. Saurabh also had more or less the same trouble. Well, soon we lay down to rest on the same bench dividing the sides to opposite windows though uncomfortably and tackling the window sliding problem at our both ends while our labour fellow snored at a pitch.
Around 7 am we reached Devprayag after having covered some 80 kms, and decided to sip upon tea. It was quite sugary and I really did not like, but since it was piping hot so gulped it down. For next few moments we looked constantly at the Bhagirathi flowing shore to shore, and took deep breath wondering the gallons of water it brings from where, while we knew the answer – Glaciers and tributaries! And, the conductor came upon calling as the bus prepared to set the sailing. The labour passengers in the bus with their half sleepy eyes gave us the freak look as if we did not wanted bus to go, and contrary to it, they looked to me funny with almost all their body covered up right from head to toes in bright colours. Soon, I was gagging and giggling inside imagining what comical characters I am travelling with when their heads roll from one side to the other as the bus moved on the serpent route and their sleep gets irritated.
The sun was out as the visibility gets clearer. The time was 8:15 around and Saurabh was up too. As the locals started to commute, the driver puts up the break every now and then. Now the bus had few people standing. I offered my seat to an old lady and this gave me the opportunity to stretch myself. Saurabh sometimes look outside then closes his eyes and then opens up again, and it continued till we crossed Srinagar. He was still a bit sleepy and slightly unwell. This was his first time; hiking in the bus without break for last 12 hours and yet he showed no signs of disappointment or tiredness on his face.
We reached Rudraprayag around 9:40 am and got down off the bus. The bus that was going to Joshimath shall take different route from here which would move along Alaknanda, while our route would move along Mandakini. Quickly we filled up, and set walking towards the bridge down. The idea was to spare some moments at the confluence. So we started walking down and reached the bridge, Saurabh clicked few snaps. And there came the Jeep from somewhere and the driver yelled at us ‘Okhimath’! And, we jumped inside taking the front seats.
I was wondering about my familiarity with the place, looking out and trying to recall the places that we had to pass to reach Ukhimath. We passed Tilwara, then, Chilayasaur. Both these villages are along Mandakini and quite much humid areas. The roads were bad as BRO works out to reshape and expand the rocky cuts with their big drills. This was the first time I witnessed the blasts too and saw the excitement of people running around and discussing the scene. The roads were better after we crossed Chiliyasaur and reached Ghat where the road divides into two – one goes to Kedarnath and the other one to Ukhimath which was some 20 kms from here and the jeep soon will begin to climb.
We reached Ukhimath and like I had in my mind, we got down at GMVN which is some little more than a km before the bus stand. It was nice to see Chamola Ji and Negi Ji after more than a year and half long time. We exchanged greetings and the time was 12:15 pm when we passed across Anushri Lodge but Tiwari Ji was not seen around nor his nephew.
We filled up and around 1:30 resumed our journey on foot while looking out for jeep service that could drop us to Chopta though I was uncertain about the accommodation. The temple was months far to be opened in June while it was just mid March.
Saurabh was in perfect mood. Taking pics and notes about the places. He seemed to be enjoying the oneness with nature and that anonymous ‘lost for words’ feeling. We walked with few school children – talking, laughing and singing. Contrary, I had tough time telling them why we were there?
After some time, some 4-5kms afterwards, we started to look aggressively for our staying option. We were tired and the fact was it was already 3:20 pm which means we need to find accommodation before the sun sinks and night crawls. I had no clue.
An old villager whom I asked for accommodation, recommended us to go to Duggalbhitta which he described the place that has a PWD and a local hotel, which belonged to a barrister at Rudraprayag. He said the jeep can be expected anytime now. He was right.
Around 4, the jeep came. It had few villagers and 3 associates of this private hotel named Mayadeep. Infact the jeep was popularly called as Mayadeep and at 5:30 we reached Duggalbitta at a crawling speed collecting the firewoods wherever they saw chopped wood and logs. I wondered who might have chopped them and left in so dense a jungle for these fellows to collect the woods. Anyway, it was getting dark, but we thought to first sip upon a tea with some maggi. Saurabh was suddenly unwell and begin to vomit. He felt OK after the tea.
We struggled with PWD caretaker to get the room but he did not give. The reason – he do not intend to invite trouble from Mayadeep fellows who offered him small treats and happy times. Then, we did not have the permit (from District Magistrate) too. We negotiated at the Mayadeep and settled for Rs. 200 a night. The room was pathetic as far the bedding was concerned and with no electricity. Being the part of century, the electricity was not made available which discourages people to set up businesses in the area.
It was 6 past 15. We took a pack of biscuits from our bag and begin surveying the place. It was indeed very peaceful as we trailed inside the jungle area to see what route we are to take to reach Chopta. We clicked few pics and came back to our place, at 8pm, we took the candle light dinner and soon after went off to sleep. We did not have slept much in the bus and for the last night and day were in travel continuously.
Next morning, we got up early, and prepared to leave the place at 6:45. I was disappointed to find that the caretakers were not up yet. We asked the Nepali chap who was one of caretakers, who happened to had served us the dinner, came forward and asked us if we could wait he could prepare us some tea. We readily agreed as it was quite chilling outside.
We finished with our tea, filled up some hot water in the maaza bottle, and started to trek along the path with our bag packs. Chopta was some 7kms along this path from here but if one takes motorable road, then it’s little more than the double.
Finally we reached Chopta, after crossing through the several steep passages and moist slippery surface amidst the wilderness – just two of us.
This was best of the time that we had spent on walking together, talking aloud, clicking pictures and doing whatever possible fun we could think of. After all it was the moment after a really long tiring journey and the worse lodging of all times.
Soon we met the first patch of snow. Both were excited. The more was to come. I was sure that we would encounter some snow while in Delhi just when I was planning the trip but I was wrong. It was not the some ice. It was lot more ice.
We reached Chopta at 9:30, decided to have tea and paranthas at the only open shop. It started to downpour light as we finished up the breakfast and started to trek upwards for Tungnath. We just had walked some 800 mtrs and the snow started to appear on the serpent like hill path. As we keep walking, the snow got thicker and soon the snowfall started. It was a good day indeed!
It started to snow aggressively while Saurabh was enjoying the scene, pretty much lost in photography, I had the doubt in my mind – to go up or come down. And, I asked Saurabh to walk a bit fast to reach ASAP. We really had to rush but too much of snow on the track and the blowing wind and snow fall was suddenly seemed hard to combat that is too when we two were the only souls climbing. We reached the Ganesha temple amidst the knee deep snow and the snowfall reduced. We looked down at the open valley which was covered all white with the snow. The wind stopped too and we offered our prayer and started to click the views around. We were swept away by the enchanted sounds of Monal and flock of birds in the sky. We thought to rest a while beside the Ganesha, and the time was 11:20. After some 15 minutes of rest, we resumed our journey towards the temple of Tungnath, which stood now at some 600 mtrs.
As we prepared to walk, the weather started to get heavy again and the snowfall started again. This time it was heavier than the previous fall and we did not knew what route to approach. By the time we were 100 mtrs to the temple, the visibility got too bad. We had all snow all over clothes and in the shoes. However, Saurabh seemed not be worrying at all but I was certainly thinking – one wrong move and we could end up losing the lives in the deep down gorge to our left.
But, we had faith attached to us. The faith that appeared automatically and did not needed to be recalled in our minds in conditions like this. And, we were now more than reluctant to comeback without paying homage to the deity. The determination grew hard with the ever growing white snow flakes from the sky and we folded our hands at the very first sight of the temple gates and the voice came within ‘Jai Bhagwan Tungnath’ that could be heard mixing up with the echoing sound of the hard blowing wind. We were almost there!
We had to choose the route amidst the deep snow covered area to climb up using our bare hands. It was icy, pretty much but we moved up with all the adrenaline. We reached at the covered ‘kund’ that had water flowing through the lion’s mouth and some architecture built of stones. Snowstorm once more dazzled and rattled and suddenly slowed down to shut up. This was the divine sign, and Saurabh’s hand reached for the big bell at the temple gate which was painted blue (on pillar) and yellow and with red written ‘Shri Tungnath Mandir’ right in the middle.
This was the moment we were longing for and without saying a word to each other, there we were at the locked and sealed gate of the main entrance with our folded hands offering brief prayer. The gate was painted in stripes of 3 colours and was all made up of what it seemed big logs of stone carved out to make this beautiful ancient temple that holds great spiritual experience and the impressive historical relevance.
The hood of the temple which appeared to be like an open wooden square window and painted of yellow, red and green chiefly, with white stripes on the top had a white flag on a golden pole over it. It was hard to interpret both – the coloured painting and the existence of the temple that survived more than 500 thousand years of Mahabharata age.
Besides the temple, on its left, there were small temples that symbolically represented Parvati (immediate next) and Bhairav with other unidentified deities in a row along the temple.
Soon we came to our senses and started to feel the chill of the snow. We had 2 paranthas rolled with some achar in an empty tea packet and some water left in the bottle which we consumed looking at the temple from a shed on the left to the temple from its opposite.
As we put on our bags and looked down from the main entrance gate – a different challenge was awaiting. It was – how to get down! Saurabh suggested following our footsteps and he was right. We came down the steepest of the bend slowly. There we met two fellows whom we first met at Dugalbhitta who were busy doing rounds of smokes and drinks at the same place where we had maggi and tea a day before. They also stayed at Mayadeep – the very place where we also stayed the last night. The only difference between them and us was – they smoked, drank and had bike to carry them over places while we were on foot. We chatted up for a while and then we left since we had to reach Ukhimath back again without the clue whether we would get the drop from Chopta or not.
Meanwhile Saurabh came up with the idea to get down fast. I was interested in HOW? And, he suggested that would skate on snow. I asked again how? I was close to understand him when he said we would slip down sitting and, to both of us the idea seemed fine if not ideal. I went down first and surprisingly got struck in the middle and then had to row with my hands. That was silly. I had snow all over inside. Then he came before I could tell him… No! But even if I would have said no, he might not have listened. He thought it to be the fun, and he would not have listened to even God at the moment or later have blamed me for depriving him of his right to scroll and crawl into the snow. He came crashing down too and in the middle got struck just like me. It was life’s one of the white experience and the idea we rejected without questions.
We came down to Chopta and the clock struck 1:20 pm. The weather was rainy again. We had tea at the same place and soonafter started running down fast to Dugalbhitta as there was no chance for us to get a drop from here. We finally reached the place in at 3 pm with bright and beautiful lit sky with sun shine through the clouds and shadows of them all over the valley. We were quite much warm by now. We had finished almost more than a 20km trek since morning. We had our last maggi and fourth tea of the day and soon after we left for Makku Band some 2 kms more from the place we had our meal. The downpour sometimes starts and then stops, and then resumes but we never bothered about it and kept marching, and discussing our degrees of experience, excitement and enjoyment.
I thanked God for brining me again to the place and to the experience I never had consumed before. First time, it was the sheer chance and this time planned by luck and hence, for sure I have now started believing these chance-luck theories.