The Great Himalayas!
You are so mighty and beautiful,
You make me look so tiny
You remind me that we human beings are nothing in front of mother nature!
You make me cry with gratitude and happiness
You enthral me so much that I want to keep visiting you again and again!
Himalayas! It had become customary that I visit himalayas at least once a year. But for the past two years, I have not gone anywhere close to Himalayas and it was bothering me. That is when I saw the tweet from Indiahikes, calling for travel photographers to capture the beauty on the Deorital-Tunganath-Chandrashila trek. I thought why not give a try? Indiahikes had also mentioned this trek as one of the easiest trek. This is how everything started. Just before registering, I got to know that Pratap had also opted for this and he would be doing the trek as well. Finally, we decided to go together along with one more friend. So our preparation for the trek started. But we hardly had 2 weeks to prepare and that included our physical fitness as well! I started my walks and jogging to ensure that I have strength to do the trek :-).
Our journey started on 18th December, 2015. Our flight to Delhi was at around 7:10 am and we had to reach the airport by 6 am. We reached BIAL on time, but unfortunately the flight got delayed by an hour due to fog at Bangalore. We reached Delhi only by 11:30 am. I had made idly for breakfast and that was our brunch for the day. We decided to use the Delhi Metro to reach the railway station. I am not sure why the Delhi Metro station is so confusing with those useless sign boards. Somehow we managed to reach the railway station and headed towards Haridwar. As usual, train got delayed by an hour or so and we reached Haridwar only by 8 pm. We freshened up and ventured out to have dinner. We had to retire early as we had to be ready 6:30 am next day.
Day 1: Haridwar to Sari
Indiahikes had arranged shared vehicles for the trekkers to travel from Haridwar railway station to Sari village. We reached the station at 6:30 am as per the plan and started at around 7:30 am after having a typical road side chai in the railway station. It was going to be a long day with around 8-10 hours journey. After visiting Valley of Flowers in 2010, this was second time that I was going through the same route and I was thrilled to see the huge mountains with mist rising from them. Believe me, I cannot express the beauty through words here. Imagine the scene of mountains with abundance of green and the Alaknanda river flowing amidst them. We stopped for breakfast and got an opportunity to take few photos. This was the first image I clicked using my new camera 5D Mark3 and the first in the trip as well :-).
As we continued our journey and started climbing up, the surroundings started changing and it was just beautiful. If given an opportunity, I would have stopped at every turning to capture the beauty, which was not possible as we were in a group. Once we crossed Rudraprayag, we caught a glimpse of snow capped mountains. Everyone in the vehicle was excited and couldn’t stop admiring the beautiful mountains. We stopped at a place where we could see Chopta, Tunaganath and the Chandrashila peak. Here, we captured our first view of the place we were going to trek.
We finally reached Sari village by around 5 pm. Sari is a small village in Rudraprayag district near Ukhimath at a height of 6554 feet. It is surrounded by mountains covered with dense forest of Oak and Rhododendron trees. Unfortunately, December is not the time for Rhododendron to bloom (this means I will have to visit this place again :)). We introduced ourselves to the basecamp coordinator Ankit from Indiahikes team and quickly left to shoot the sunset.
After dinner, we wanted to shoot stars and went a little higher looking for a better view of the peaks along with the stars. It was just amazing. Here I want to share a unique incident that happened with us. Pratap went a bit ahead to shoot and I was alone shooting on the road side when I heard some sound from nearby. As I mentioned earlier, the whole area is surrounded by thick forest. I was startled, so I pointed my torch light in the direction the sound came. But all I could hear was sounds of rats (I guess am correct). Somehow, I felt uncomfortable to stay alone and went up towards Pratap and told him about the incident. Apparently, even he and the other friend also had heard the same sound. As we were discussing, we heard a new sound now. The sound was a low meow similar to that of a cat, but it was for sure not from a cat. We had just heard stories from Ankit about he seeing leopards in that area. I had seen videos of leopards and somehow felt that the sound was similar to that of a leopard. We thought it was no more safe for us to shoot and returned back to the hotel. After returning back from the trek, we did research on leopards and found that the sound we heard was similar to that of a leopard cub. Isn’t it interesting and scary as well?
After this mini adventure, we retired to our room thinking about the sunrise we intended to catch the next morning. We were wearing 4-5 layers of clothing to protect us from cold and sleeping inside a small room. Despite all this, we spent the night shivering and hardly got good sleep.
Day 2: Sari Village
This was an additional day that we had kept for ourselves to shoot in and around Sari. We started early morning at around 6 am and went down the village looking out for a good place to shoot sunrise. We patiently waited for the sunrise and I think this is one of the spectacular sunrise I have seen so far.
After shooting the sunrise, while going back to the hotel I was excited to see plenty of birds and enjoyed watching them.
We had lunch and then took some rest. Later, we left to see a small waterfall in Sari village and had plans to shoot sunset as well on our way back. It was quite a good walk and we enjoyed it.
After shooting the sunset, we headed back to the hotel. Our group with whom we were supposed to hike had not arrived yet so we still had time. Once the team arrived, our official briefing session by Ankit started. He gave us a brief on do’s and dont’s along with important tips for trekking as well. We had a brief introduction of all the participants and they had come from all over India like Calcutta, Mumbai, Chennai, Varanasi, Pune and Bangalore. Our trek guides for the trip were Dinesh, Kamal, and Kushi. We had dinner, packed our backpacks and retired to bed as we had to start our trek the very next day.
Day 3 – Trek to Devrital (Deorital)
Our trek to Deorital started at around 9 in the morning. This was our first day of the trek. We offloaded our backpacks and tripod on mules and started the trek. The trek initially was mostly paved with rocks. As per Indiahikes, it was supposed to be an hour 3 km uphill trek. But, for people like us, it took more than 2.5 hours to reach the lake. Of course, we took it easy, stopped wherever we felt like taking photos and enjoyed the nature. We came across a small temple on our way and that was our first halt.
We reached the base camp by noon and as soon as we entered the lake, we stood still looking at the beauty in front of us. There is no way to express what we were seeing in front of us. It was a beautiful small lake in the centre, with snow-capped mountains in the background. It was pristine and panoramic. Devrital or Deorital is a lake located 3km from the village Sari. It is at an altitude of 2438 meters, surrounded by lush green forest on one side and snow-covered peaks of Chaukhamba, Nilkantha, Bandarpunch, Kedar Range and Kalanag (kaalaparvat) on the other. As per mythological stories, this is the lake where Pandavas were asked questions by Yaksha.
Our campsite had a beautiful view of the peaks. We were so happy to see the view and felt we were blessed to spend a night in such a place!
Since we reached the place early, we had lot of time to spend. I saw plenty of birds and that’s all I needed. Soon after lunch, I explored the place for birds. I am sure I will go back to this place again to see these tiny and beautiful friends!
I also explored a good place to shoot the lake with the reflection of the mountains hoping that we can shoot it during the sunset. We also went to a view point some distance away from the campsite where we got to see the beautiful peaks during sunset.
Here are some images of the lake shot during the day and in night as well. After shooting stars and the campsite, we retired for the day. We badly wanted to rest our back after a long day of running around.
Day 4: Deorital to Rohini Bhugyal
The next day our usual morning task started with a visit to the toilets. Needless to say how important it is to finish these tasks before others get up :P. Toilets were situated at quite some distance from the camp and had a pit with a small camp covering it. We were given instructions on how to use these toilets :P. All said and done, we should appreciate the efforts taken by Indiahikes staff to maintain the cleanliness of the surroundings and being environmental friendly was commendable. While going for my morning tea, I had my first fall. I did not realize that the dew drops on the grass had become ice due to cold and it was slippery. Later,Pratap and I managed to shoot the pristine lake during sunrise and here are some shots of the same.
We got ready by 8:30 am to leave the place and it was supposed to be 4-5 hours trek as per our guides. Based on the previous day’s experience, we knew it would take more time than that :-). We were given packed lunch. Swathi from Indiahikes had informed me that this was going to be a trek through the forests and I should watch out for birds on the way. I kept my 100-400mm lens to shoot birds on the way. As usual, all our backpacks and tripods went on the mules. We started the ascent and on the way found few ladies cutting grass and singing songs as they did their work. I saw one lady smiling at me and when asked for the reason, she told me “aap moti hai isliye apko chadna mushkil hai! (You are fat and that is why you are struggling to climb (oops!)). I smiled back and told her that she was correct :-).
The ascent was steep and we reached a peak where we had an awesome view of the mountain range. Below are the photos that depict the path that we took to climb the peak as well. While we were enjoying the view, our lead guide Deepak ji was busy on his walkie-talkie to get an update on campsite near Rohini Bhugyal. We got to know that the actual camp site where Indiahikes was supposed to set up the camp at Rohini Bhugyal was filled with snow, without any source of water.
As we continued further, we entered thick forest with fungi growing in places where sunlight was hard to reach. I also saw a huge flock of parakeets flying across the forest.
We reached a small meadow that was surrounded by forest and mountain ranges on one side. We also observed that there were small houses built out of stone that were destroyed and evacuated. These houses had a huge compound built out of stone. Not sure if someone stayed there and evacuated only during winter as done in most of the hilly regions. The place was beautiful and everyone got busy taking photos and selfies :-).
After an hour walk from the meadow, we reached the campsite around 4 pm. We were all exhausted and were waiting for our evening hot tea. After sipping the hot cup of tea, we offloaded our backpacks and went around to shoot the surroundings.
Day 5: Rohini Bhugyal to Chopta
Our trek for the day was towards the camp at Chopta instead of Bhrujgali. Bhrujgali was filled with snow and hence the change in plans. It was going to be a long day trek, so we prepared ourselves by doing some stretching exercises. We were given packed lunch as well for the day. We started the day as usual by around 8:30 pm with full enthusiasm. The team was all geared up for the trek.
This was a magical route because the forest was filled with snow. After trekking for two hours amidst the forest admiring the beauty, watching pug marks of leopards and bears hoping to see them, we came across a small stream. We were excited to see this and got down from the bridge to take some photos. The water was freezing cold with icicles on the rocks. The water was flowing over the rocks forming a small water fall. After spending some time, we climbed up and had our packed lunch leisurely as many of them were still by the stream enjoying water. The place was pristine and we enjoyed it thoroughly. Then we started our journey towards Chopta.
By around 3:30 pm we reached a place where we could see our camps from a distance. We also saw that the previous batch had completed their trek and were back and enjoying the warmth of sun. We were glad to see that we had to trek a short distance to reach our destination for the day. We reached the place and our camps were being prepared yet. So we interacted with the previous batch to listen to their experience. They said that their was lot of snow and not all could make it to the Chandrashila peak. As the sun was about to set, we offloaded our backpacks in our tent and went to shoot the sunset.
During this time, we also decided to discuss with Deepak ji on how to manage our cameras for the next day. We knew by now that the trek was going to be tough one and we were wondering if we can carry all our gear, including our tripod, as we might need it to shoot the views from Chandrashila. While we were discussing with Dipak ji, I observed that the sun was about to set and the colors were changing dramatically. I left Pratap to continue the discussion and went to get my tripod to capture this amazing sunset.
Later we had dinner and we were given instructions for our final day trekking. We were supposed to leave the place by 5 am in the morning and be back to the campsite by lunch time. We were asked to just carry water bottles, dry fruits and chocolates. We were clearly instructed not to hang our cameras around the neck during the trek. We were given gaiters and crampons for our next day trekking. We retired for the day after shooting the moon as we had to wake up early and be prepared for the D-day trekking.
Day 6: Chopta-Chandrashila-Chopta
I think most of us hardly slept as we were very anxious and also had to get up early to be ready by 5 am in the morning. Previous night we had packed our camera bag that was supposed to be given to Mohan ji from Indiahikes who would accompany us. We carried our basic essentials in the backpack. It was very dark when we started for the day and had to use our torches to see the path. The route was filled with fresh snow that had fallen the previous night and also old snow that had hardened. The hardened snow was slippery and keeping our foot on it by mistake meant a fall. So we had to be very cautious on where we kept our steps. As a result, we were going one behind the other keeping our steps where the others had kept. As the ascent increased, most of us were stopping now and then to catch our breath and catch up with others. In the meanwhile, it started snowing making it even more tough. We had to wear our raincoats / ponchos to protect us from getting wet. We were already wearing 4-5 layers of clothing by now to protect us from the cold. Due to snow fall and also the steep climb, we could not remove our cameras until we reached a place close to Tunganath temple.
A few minutes ascent and we reached Tunganath temple. There was a huge bell in the entrance of the temple and like kids each one of us rang the bell as though celebrating our success of reaching Tunganath temple.
Tunganath is one of the highest Shiva temple in the world and is one of the Panch kedars. There is a mythological story behind the Panch Kedars. Pandavas after the battle with Kauravas went in search of Shiva to pardon them of their guilt. Shiva was avoiding them and took the form of a bull and hid in Guptakashi. Pandavas chased him there as well and finally Shiva rematerialized at five different locations that represent the “Panch Kedar”. Pandavas built temples of Lord Shiva at each location, to worship and seek his pardon and blessings. Each one is identified with a part of his body; Tungnath is identified as the place where the bahu (hands) were seen: hump was seen at Kedarnath; head appeared at Rudranath; his navel and stomach surfaced at Madhyamaheshwar; and his jata (hair or locks) at Kalpeshwar.
Unfortunately, the temple was closed due to winter. We just got to see the structure of the temple. As my hand was paining badly, I could not take even one single photo of the temple. Here is a picture from Pratap and thanks to him for sharing it with me to post here.
By the time I reached Tunganath temple, my left shoulder was hurting very badly and was going numb. The pain was so intense, I had decided not to climb the Chandrashila peak. The only option I had was to leave my bag near the temple and then climb. Initially I was told that I cannot do that by the guide and I decided to stay back. Kushi ji who was also one of the lead guides, came to me and asked what happened. I told him my problem and said that I cannot climb carrying my bag as my shoulder was hurting a lot. He offered to carry my back pack and asked me to climb the peak. If it was not for Kushi ji, I think I wouldn’t have been able to trek the peak. By that time, we were being hurried telling “chalo, chalo” as we were getting delayed. The whole logic was to start the descent before 10 am. Once the sun rises, the snow starts melting making the path slippery to trek down. Though the distance from Tunganath to Chandrashila peak is only 1.5 km, the inclination is at 60 degree, making it a very steep climb. We started climbing with the only focus of reaching the peak at any cost. When we reached the peak, our joy was boundless and we were hugging, congratulating and thanking each other. It was like a great achievement to each one of us. Best part is that even the Indiahikes guides enjoyed the success equally with us as if it was their first climb. I thanked Kushi ji wholeheartedly for all his help.
What disappointed me was the fact that we could not see any peaks as it was covered with clouds and snow. Chandrashila is at an altitude of 12877 ft and it is an impressive vantage point that offers 360 degrees panoramic views of the mighty Himalayas. Chandrashila provides spectacular view of Himalayas especially Nandadevi, Trishul, Kedar peak, Bandarpunch and Chaukumba peaks. We could not see even one peak. But, yes we were happy that we could climb the summit. There is a small temple on top of the summit. The cool breeze accompanied with snow made the weather freezing. Removing our gloves to even take a photo was challenging. We waited for the clouds to clear for sometime but without any luck. We took few photos and wore our crampons and started climbing down.
Climbing down was really tough due to snow and ice. We climbed down to Tunganath temple with ease due to crampons. Crampons are good on hardened snow and not on fresh snow or rock. As we reached the rocky region, we were asked to remove the crampons. The actual fun started then. Most of us were falling as we were keeping our foot on ice without realizing. I think I fell atleast 5-6 times before I reached the camp. I also tried gliding on the snow couple of times and it was fun. Initially, we were very cautious in keeping our steps as we did not want to fall down. After sometime, it did not matter and we were laughing at each other. Due to these falls, we decided not to keep our cameras out and shoot anything. Once we reached the camp, we had our lunch and tried to take some rest. By dinner time, the temperature went below -4 degree. To get some respite from the freezing weather, I went and sat near the camp fire.
After dinner, we were asked to assemble in the dining area. I was very reluctant to get out of the camp that was cosy and giving me some warmth. Not having an option, I went to the dining area reluctantly. Our guides, Deepak, Kamal and Kushi were there. They thanked the team on completing the trek and distributed the certificates. On receiving the certificate, I felt like a small kid who had achieved something great in life! I bet it is an achievement and I will safeguard this certificate forever. It was time for us to talk and thank our guides. Each of us took the opportunity and thanked the Indiahikes team deep from our heart. It is not an easy job for those guides and the team to make arrangements in such places considering the weather conditions. Never did we see them get angry with anyone. They had abundant patience and were there with us when we wanted them. Carrying the groceries all the way to the remote locations and cooking for a team of 25 is not an easy task when it is freezing cold. The weather never deterred the Indiahikes team from doing their job. We were provided with hot food, tea, and breakfast on time whatever the condition was during those 5 days. I bow down to their commitment and passion.
Day 7: Chopta to Haridwar
It was time for us to head back to Haridwar. As soon as we got up, we saw that the moonset was very beautiful. That was enough to tempt us to get out of our cozy camps, remove our cameras and go out to shoot. The weather during the night had gone below -4 degree and it was freezing outside. The cold breeze made it even more worse. Our hands used to get numb within few seconds of removing the gloves. By the time I could set up my tripod, the moon had set and the sun had started lighting the peaks slowly.
Finally, we packed our stuff and were ready to leave. As Chopta and surrounding areas were filled with snow, vehicles couldn’t travel till our campsite. We had to trek 2-3 hours on the road to reach our vehicles. We offloaded our backpacks on the mules and started walking with our camera bags. I continued to fall down due to the ice on the road, but I had got used to it by now. :-).The path was beautiful and it was time for me to get a good glimpse of those snow clad mountains so that I could remember them forever. Though I was falling down every now and then, my focus was on the peaks. It is very difficult to bid good bye to such a beautiful place. My heart was heavy as I was leaving such a lovely place and getting back to my normal life! I had already started thinking about my next trip to Himalayas. As I said in the beginning of my blog, there is something so unique about the great Himalayas, I feel like going back again and again! We bid good bye to the place and started our journey to Haridwar.
I am ending my blog by thanking the Indiahikes team for providing me an opportunity to be a travel photographer. This trek has given me enough confidence to plan for more treks in the future. I am hoping to go back to this place very soon to see the panoramic view from Chandrashila peak and also watch the beautiful winged friends.