(English translation: Go slowly, enjoy the nature!)
This message is now etched in my mind and is exactly what I did on my trek to Deoriatal and Chandrashila. Working with Bikat Adventures has given me the golden opportunity to go places where not many go and since my company organized trekking events in Uttarakhand, Himachal, J&K and Sikkim, I do have the privilege on going to the mountains every 2-3 months. Deoriatal Chandrashila trek was the trek I was looking forward to for more than a month, especially away from the pollution, hustle and bustle of Delhi. So, as I boarded the bus from ISBT Kashmere Gate, I was excited about the 6 day long “official” holiday.
March 18, 2017:
I reached Dehradun by 4:00 AM (a bit too early) and headed towards our store room where our cook, Krishna (he’s the cook on the trek & I will have to write a separate article just to explain how an amazing cook he is), was staying and arranging the equipment for the trek. Soon after, our trek leader, Wakeel, joined in. Every equipment was cleaned and neatly packed by Krishna. Once our transport arrived, we loaded everything and moved towards Haridwar to pick up a family of 6, from Goa & Mumbai, who had booked the trek through us. Over the next 5-6 days, we had tons of fun with this family. We left Haridwar and proceeded towards Sari, a small village in Ukhimath region, where we would spend the night. We reached Sari and met with Mr. Bharat Bhatt and his Nephew, Trilok, who runs a small guesthouse and restaurant. They welcomed us and showed us our accommodation. From the restaurant we could see the valley below as well as Chandrashila (on Tungnath Mountain). The clean air there is simply amazing, especially, for an asthmatic (me) from Delhi. I was taking full advantage of the clean air, as I know that I won't get it in Delhi. After a simple, yet, tasty dinner cooked by Bharatji, we all went off to sleep.
View of the valley from Bharatji's restaurant
March 19, 2017:
Woke up to a beautiful morning in Sari, a little excited that we are finally going to start trekking, although, it was just a 2.5 KM hike from the village till Deoriatal, where we would camp for the night. After breakfast, we started our slow hike. I stayed at the back with our trek leader, Wakeel, clicked a lot of pictures. We meandered upwards on a path made of concrete and surrounded by blooming Rhododendron trees. There was a small Shiv Mandir on the path up, where hikers stopped to seek divine blessing. I was always looking back at the valley and also kept an eye on Chandrashila Peak (which I would scale a few days later) visible on our way up. Every moment of the walk I was conscious of the clean air and was taking deep breathes to enjoy it. Slowly and steadily the rest of the participants and I made it to Deoriatal. A lot of people had told me about how beautiful a place Deoriatal was and I had a picture in my mind of it as if it was like the mythical Garden of Eden. But, the closer I got to it, the feeling I got was of being underwhelmed by the sight. Yes, the view of the mountain range was great, but, the rest wasn’t as good as I thought it would be. The lake’s water wasn’t pristine nor clean (as I was expecting), the surrounding area wasn’t as green as it should have been and, last but not the least, it was crowded. It’s the crowd that made me realize that human activity was the reason for its current state. As per our itinerary, we were supposed to camp at Rohini Bugyal the next day. But unfortunately, the local authorities had closed it due to the damage done by human activity. Maybe, Deoriatal does need such a drastic step so that that it gets time to recuperate & recover it's lost beauty. Anyways, we camped there and I am really thankful for Krishna’s cooking for diverting my mind from the underwhelming sight to the tasty, yet, simple food he cooked. Sporadic rainfall accompanied us throughout the evening into the night. We had our dinners and headed towards our tent for a goodnight sleep.
The beginning of the hike to Deoriatal
The Shiv Mandir en route to Deoriatal
Flowering Rhododendron trees
First view of Deoriatal. The view of the mountains from here was amazing
Another view of the mountains from our campsite, in Deoriatal
March 20, 2017:
Woke up to beautiful sunny morning (which I could get used to). Today was the day when we were supposed to trek till Rohini Bugyal and camp there, but, as I had mentioned earlier, it was closed by the authorities. So, we had decided to go back to Sari and then, go till Chopta on our vehicle. We freshened up, did Yoga (breathing exercises) for 20 minutes and had our breakfast. Then, we packed up our bags and moved towards Sari. What took us 2.5 Hrs. going up the previous day, took 1.5 Hrs. on our way back. Reached Bharatji’s Restaurant and rested. I wondered whether the coming days were as underwhelming as the previous day. Had a good lunch, then, loaded our baggage on our vehicle and proceeded towards Chopta. Before we were off to Chopta, we were informed by Bharatji that we won’t be camping at the usual spot due to excessive snow.
Morning Yoga session conducted by our Trek Leader Wakeel (2nd from Left)
After an hour of riding in our vehicle, we reached a place called Baniya Kund (almost 5 Km. before Chopta). Our camping site was a 10 minute hike down through a lot of trees into an opening and the sight in front of me was B-E-A-UTIFUL! It was a lush green meadow, with no human in sight and my-my, the view of the Bandarpooch range and other mountains were just a view to die for. The peaks visible from the campsite were Kedarnath, Kedar Dome, Sumeru, Meru, Mandiri, Kala Patthar & of course, Chandrashila. This camping site compensated for the disappointment of Deoriatal. I was loving every moment here and the only thing that could prove a dampener here was rain, and thankfully, the next 3 days we sunny.
The view of the peaks from our Camp site in Baniya Kund. The tallest peak in the center is Kedarnath and the one to its left is Kedar Dome. The twin peaks on the right are Meru and Sumeru. Sumeru is the tallest amongst the two peaks.
Camping at Baniya Kund
A closer view of Kedarnath and Kedar Dome peaks. Meru and Sumeru are hiding behind the clouds.
Once we got there, Wakeel started setting up the tents and showed the participants on how to do it and how to use a sleeping bag correctly. They were more than happy to learn. The more time we spend together, the more we got to know the other participants too. Krutika, their “leader”, was also the youngest and she referred to her relatives as the “senior citizens gang”. This group was total fun to be with and the following day proved it. They too were in awe of the view from our campsite. In the evening, the other participants wandered off to discover the place a bit, while I hung around the kitchen tent observing & chatting with Krishna while he prepared the evening tea & snacks and Dinner. Slowly the light of the day gave way to the night. The night sky was brightly lit with the distant stars looking like little fireflies nearby. The clarity of the night sky took me back to my childhood, 22-25 years back, when the night sky in Delhi used to be as clear as it was now, and my dad, sister and I used to spend hours gazing at them and trying to figure out the various constellations. Made me a bit sad reminiscing about the time gone by and I was cursing the pollution in Delhi that prevents us from watching stars again as we used to do. Anyways, after spending quality time gazing at the stars, I joined the others for our delicious dinner and off we went to sleep.
A group of wild rhesus Macaques, frequent visitors near our campsite.
Krishna (left) and Bharatji preparing dinner for us all.
March 21, 2017:
Today was a rest day, so had to do something to pass the time. After our morning yoga session & a hearty breakfast, I decided to walk till Chopta, which was almost 4.5 Km. away from our campsite. I slowly started walking towards Chopta. I was really enjoying the view and, as usual, I was making the most of the clean air that nature was providing. The weather was sunny with scattered appearances by clouds. I just hoped that it didn’t rain, as I wasn’t wearing any rain proof clothing and I was quite far away from the camp. I walked more than 3 Km. and was close to Chopta, but, I started to get thirsty and I wasn’t carrying either a bottle of water nor was I carrying my wallet, as I could’ve bought some water at Chopta. There was plenty of snow around and I could have eaten the snow to hydrate myself, but, that is something that Wakeel says, we should avoid as it further dehydrates you. Eating plain ice to hydrate ourselves can also lead to sore throat, cough and cold, which can hamper your entire trek. So, I decided to turn around and return to the camp. A good 2-3 hour walk was refreshing and by the time I returned, lunch was almost ready.
The path up to the main road from our camp site.
The message that caught my eye (title of this blog)
One of the pics I clicked during my walk till Chopta
Another one from my walk
The place near Chopta, where we were supposed to camp. Chandrashila is visible from here.
Almost reached the next milestone (the one after this) before I decided to turn around.
The picture of our supposed campsite from above, where I had decided to turn around.
After lunch, we were all sitting around the kitchen tent and trying to decide what to do. Wakeel, our trek leader, decided to teach the participants on how to make various types of mountaineering knots. All the participants got a rope each and they carefully observed and then tried their hands on making these knots. Once this session was over, we still had a lot of time to spend. Someone came up with the idea that we should play tug of war. I wasn’t so sure about it because I thought that tug of war might be a bit too much to play for some of the participants considering their age (Krutika aside, the age of the rest varied from 40’s to the 70’s) & was worried as I didn’t want them to hurt themselves. However, these guys proved me wrong and they were having so much fun doing it. These guys were hardcore & were having some kickass fun. Hey, even I had to join them because they were having so much fun! The next 2 hours passed just in a blink of an eye. By evening, we were all a bit tired and were chatting and watching the pictures and videos of our tug of war session. The “rest day” passed by in a whisker, but, all the time Chandrashila was on my mind. I was eagerly awaiting the challenge.
Wakeel teaching the participants on how to make different types of Knots.
Krishna (our "Master Chef") helping one of the participants in the art of "knotting".
Krutika proudly showing us her knot.
Tug of war session. Wakeel was the referee.
March 22, 2017:
Woke up quite early today, at 5:00 AM. We got ready by 7:00 AM, had our breakfast and collected our packed lunch from Krishna and proceeded towards Chopta. Reached Chopta by 8:00.
Trithiya (3rd) Kedar, Tungnath: Starting point of the trek from Chopta.
The start of the snow line. This is where Wakeel decided that we should put crampons on our shoes.
The view from our way to Tungnath Mandir
One Final inspection of our daypacks and we started our slow ascend towards Tungnath Mandir. Tungnath Mandir was around 4 – 4.5 Km. from Chopta and Chandrashila Top was another 1 – 1.5 Km. Within the first two hundred meters of walking, we encountered hard ice on the path and Wakeel instructed us to stop and put crampons (spikes to walk on hard ice) on our shoes. We did as we were instructed and proceeded. Krutika was in the front along with our local guide, Bharatji, I was at the back with Wakeel and Krutika’s “gang of senior citizens” (as she called them) were in the middle. It was quite enjoyable and I was clicking pictures as we were going up. About an hour or hour and a half into the trek I decided to join Krutika and Bharatji at the front, as I wanted maintain my momentum. Wakeel also approved of this and I joined the front lot. Slowly and steadily, we reached the point from where Tungnath Mandir was visible. We reached this point by around noon (3-4 hours from the start). Here we also realized that the snow was almost knee deep at some places and the intensity of the sun was making the ice melt and the snow flaky, which meant that it was going to get even tougher from here. There were two options from there to proceed towards Chandrashila top: 1) Go to Tungnath Mandir and take the route which goes behind it, to the top and 2) Take the route with a steep climb, bypassing the Mandir and go to the Mandir on our return.
Before starting our final push towards the top, Wakeel instructed us to put on a pair of gaiters (Protective covering for lower legs, so that snow or dirt doesn’t seep into your shoes). It wasn’t easy to reach the place where we were and the melting ice made the surface more and more slippery. The rest of the group decided to go till the Mandir and not any further, as it could’ve been dangerous for them. Wakeel decided to stay back and took it upon himself to get the rest down till Chopta safely.
Bharatji, Krutika and I decided to push forward towards the top and we chose the route with the steep climb. Don’t know what possessed us to agree to this route, however, Bharatji had a very good explanation to convince us. Although the other route is not as tiring, but, there comes a point where the path narrows down and there is a deep fall on one side. One slip and you are gone. At last, we started ascending slowly and steadily. The steep climb was taking its toll on us, every time our legs got stuck in the snow, it further sapped our energy. Somehow, we were able to make it to the halfway point, but, the path ahead looked steeper and daunting and the destination still very far from us. I almost felt like turning back, my legs wanted me to give up, my mind was playing games on me and my lungs were screaming for more air. Bharatji’s motivation helped us a lot. He told us not to look at the final destination, but, to keep our heads down and soldier on. We took 1-2 minutes rests frequently in between our struggles. Another thing that helped me go up was the fact that I kept looking behind from where we came and that gave me the additional motivation. I kept telling myself that I have come this far not to fail, but, to reach the top. Then, when we were about a hundred meters from the top, Krutika and I, in unanimity, said that we can’t move ahead. We were so damn tired. Bharatji agreed and told us that we should eat a bit from our packed lunch here. The food did just the trick and provided us with the much needed energy to kick on, and finally, after 2 hours of struggle we made it to the top.
Krutika (in pic) & I, on our way to Chandrashila top.
Stopped for a break on my way to the top. I had to stop and admire the view here. The bright and intense sun made the clicking of pics a bit difficult. A selfie of the #beardedtrekker (me) was a must on the way up.
It was so surreal at the top. Couldn’t believe that I had made it to the top. The view of the surrounding mountains were breathtaking. The excitement and elation on being there at the top is unmatchable. Can’t explain how it felt there. You have to be there to understand how I felt. We clicked a few pics, took a few selfies and then, the realization dawned upon me that no matter how hard going up is, coming down is what really scares me. I realized one thing, “Going up is difficult and tiring, and coming down is easy, but, dangerous.” By now, my legs were aching a lot, my shoes and socks were wet and I didn’t know how I will be able to go down.
Finally, we reached the top! Krutika, in front of the small Mandir dedicated to Lord Ram. It is said that Lord Ram did his thapasya on top of this mountain and hence, it got its name Chandrashila.
Selfie (Krutika & the #beardedtrekker i.e. me) on the top! Pure joy and happiness!
Nanda Devi (second peak from the right), India's highest peak, visible from Chandrashila
Another famous peak, Chaukhamba, visible from Chandrashila
The mandatory selfie of the #beardedtrekker on Chandrashila. Won't get many chances to click a selfie at a place like this.
Krutika, with Nanda Devi in the background
After finishing off the remainder of our packed lunch, we proceeded down cautiously, then, Bharatji showed us the fun way of coming down fast i.e. sliding on snow. It was pretty fun all the way down till Tungnath Mandir. What took us 2 hours from the edge of the Mandir compound to the top, only took 30-40 minutes on the way back. Now, it was time for us to visit the Mandir, but, I had very little energy left. I made it to the Mandir as well. We spent a few moments there and started on our way back to Chopta. My energy had totally been sapped by now, so much so that I had to borrow Krutika’s wooden staff for support. The crampons weren’t working on slippery melting ice and they took a heavy toll on my legs. It was really uncomfortable at this point & we decided to remove it. Krutika slid down wherever possible, but, I had no more energy left to even slide down the snow. I slowly made my way down the unending path, cursing at the unending way down. I needed rest, but, couldn’t as the dusk was approaching. Then, I heard something that made me happy. The bells at the entrance at Chopta, which signified that the end of the path is near. This gave me the necessary boost to make the “last mile” & end the “ordeal”. Wakeel and the rest of the participants were there too, waiting for us and I was happy that I had completed this trek.
We returned to our camp exhausted. Krishna was there to welcome us with a huge smile and the evening snack. My legs were aching and my body was a bit sore and it didn’t let me contemplate on what I had achieved. I was just happy to change my wet clothes and rest till dinner was ready and then, off I went to sleep.
March 23, 2017:
Woke up early, got freshened up and had our breakfast. At 7:00 AM our vehicle arrived to take us till Haridwar/Dehradun respectively. Today, during our way back from Chopta, I got the chance to contemplate what I achieved a day before. There were times that I could’ve given up, however, I didn’t and this did show me what I needed to do in my life and taught me not to give up easily. For far too long I have given up easily, maybe, it’s time that I learn to fight it out a bit more. Stay a bit longer before deciding to give up. It does sound so easy, but, I know that it would be difficult to follow. However, I do hope to give it a try. A huge gratitude to all involved in this trek, they all made it fun. Last, but not the least, a big THANK YOU to the land of Uttarakhand for its beautiful landscape, the mountain and the rivers and above all the clean air that I thoroughly enjoyed. I Hope to see Uttarakhand soon!