Thursday, 25 May 2017

Trek: 9 km – Age: 50 plus

We made it!

There was a child-like exhilaration on our faces. The victory grin was only adding to it. The smell of sweat, for once, did not bother us. In fact, it was making the freshly tanned skin glisten like copper. There was a race going on between our heartfelt laughter and pounding hearts. Obviously, the laughter was superseding the breathlessness.

We had completed our maiden trek from Chopta to Tungnath – about 9 km!

“What’s the big deal?” The regular trekkers may laugh and ridicule us for our miniscule achievement. However, digging deep they also may end up patting our backs.

Three working-women – all fond of luxury life, fond of drinking and eating all sorts of vices and junk, none is into any kind of regular fitness regime, and all in our mid-50s – suffering from some or the other kind of middle age ailments.  

For us it was a big achievement, which compelled me to jot it down and share with others. Who knows whom it may inspire!

We were on a pilgrimage with our focus on Badrinath and Kedarnath shrines in Uttarakhand State. All logistics for that Yatra (journey) were methodically planned. Chopta and Tungnath were only a subsidiary of this journey and no one had given it a second thought.

On reaching Chopta (LINK), which is a village in district Chamoli, our driver, Negi (who, by now, had become our partner in crime) stopped the car on a narrow road. On the right hand side were a couple of dhabas (roadside kiosks selling tea and food) and small warehouse like structures. Sun had already hidden itself behind mountains. Slight rain had been adding to the beauty of the nature.

We presumed Negi has gone out for some road permit or something to do with his taxi. Meanwhile, he popped his head inside the car and asked us to come out and check. “Check what?” our spontaneous reaction.  In this rain, on the roadside what does he want us to check! However, reluctantly, two of us got out and crossed the 10 feet (narrow) road to enter one of the rooms in this 3-roomed warehouse.

One of the three rooms in the blue structure was our abode 

It was our abode for the night. Two double beds with thick quilts. No electricity, no hot water, actually no water. For records, located in Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary, Chopta has only solar generated power, which is not available when it’s raining. The idea behind this is to dissuade urbane tourism and related activities and protect the environment. The absence of modern life facilities, help the flora and fauna flourish in peace.

Within no time, we made ourselves comfortable – tucked in beds. Our phones showed 40C. No one moaned about hot water or even not having water at all. Rather, we enjoyed the thunder and lightning outside which intermittently penetrated the darkness of our room through a small window at the back, which we opened to get some oxygen.
Tired with our Kedarnath Yatra, soon every one of us was snoring.

The morning brought a new day. We were up at 04:30. The door of our room opened on the road. I stepped out, and what I saw made me pinch myself to ensure I am not dreaming. We were surrounded by snow-covered mountain. In front of us were vast and lush meadows (known in Uttarakhand as Bhugyal).
The serenity of the place was simply breathtaking

Chopta is known as ‘Mini Switzerland of India’ (LINK); and we were there!
I walked to the teashop next to us and surprised my friends with nicely brewed ginger tea. All of us were out on the road breathing fresh air, enjoying the fragrance the nature was exuding. Sun was gradually coming up shining the mountains peaks like gold.

We were told that Tungnath (LINK) is 3 km steep trek with pebbled pathway. To us, 6 km sounded doable and we were up and about around 06:30 to start our maiden trek. As preparation, we had in our backpacks water, toffees, sunscreen lotion, and buns and butter (someone told us that there would not be any eatable available up there. It was cold and we were equipped with jackets, scarves, and boots.  We dragged Negi along with us, who kept narrating fables about the place.

We must have walked only half a km. There emerged green meadows sitting and waiting to astound us. Soon, we realised that the lack of oxygen was making us breathless. A km uphill, and we were panting and gasping for breath. However, our determination was too strong and the natural beauty was too compelling to stop us midway. We decided that we may make it slow but we WILL. 

Taking innumerable breaks, talking to every passer-by, making friends all the way up and doing some photography all the while, we finally made it to Tungnath – the highest temple of Shiva (LINK) – one of the Panch Kedars.

The beauty of this temple is that it still maintains the natural structure. Constructed in stones, the temple merges with nature as part of it. The serenity of the atmosphere actually makes one feel closer to the almighty. There is no pushing or shoving for darshan and one can perform puja in peace, and can take as long as one wishes. No one seemed to be in hurry and rushing for the next activity.

Steps leading to Tungnath 
I have no qualms in admitting that this was one of the rarest of temples, where I could actually imagine all my near and dear ones sitting next to me while I prayed to God.

Unfortunately, we could not muster courage and strength to trek another km to reach Chandrashila and get the surreal view of Himalayas. Nonetheless, we have already committed to ourselves for a second time; and then we will go more prepared, so no regrets.

After having some tea and consuming buns and butter which we tagged along, we started descending, which was comparatively easier. (Will write separately about the tea vendor we met in Tungnath).

It took us three hours to reach and more or less similar time to come down, although our hotel owner was surprised to see us back so quickly. Interestingly, it turned out that the trek was not 6 but around 9 km – the difference may be between the pathway and the shortcuts through the meadow, which we explored while coming back. 

However, we were happy that at least we could make it!

Now, this Tungnath trek will always remain one of the key elements of our pilgrimage.
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