Trekking in the Himalayas can be a dream and can be a challenge at the same time. But there is nothing that can be as exciting as the prospect of going back to the mountains each time. Every experience is a new one and every time there is so much to learn, bring back and wanting to go back again.
The objective this time was to see and walk to places that we as a group of friends had not ventured into. The aim was to test our limits of strength, endurance, living in difficult conditions as well as experience a spirituality that seemed to touch some of us. Thanks to visiting the Himalayas and Rishikesh a few times earlier, that the need to fulfil that spiritual part of the heart was understood, and attempts were being made to satisfy that need.
As a group of 4 girls (Poonam, Deki, Tushar and myself), our entire trip / trek was customized for our needs and wants by a tour operator called Sacred Explorations. Sacred Explorations have their base in Rishikesh and are extremely adept in organizing trekking, rafting and other adventure tours around the state of Uttarakhand. At the end of it all, we were extremely satisfied with the kind of arrangements as well as getting the all-important guide support in that difficult terrain and volatile conditions.
After an initial couple of days at Rishikesh, doing our favorite things of eating great vegetarian food, getting pampered by watching the gorgeous Ganga flowing so many times, attending the Ganga arthi to get those spiritual bones activated and walking through the small and crowded ‘galis’ of the town, we set ahead for our first trek.
The All Important Itinerary
Our itinerary included the following schedule:
- Drive from Rishikesh to Chopta during the day which was an 8 to 9 hours of drive
- Overnight at Chopta in semi luxury tents*
- Early next morning trek up to the Tunganath temple and Chandrashila peak
- Trek down the same day, travel to Gupthakashi and stay at Guptakashi overnight
- Early morning drive to Gaurikund and trek up to the Kedarnath temple
- Overnight at Kedarnath
- Trek down from Kedarnath and drive to Sonprayag for the overnight stay
- Drive the next day to Sari Village and trek up to Deoriyatal
- Overnight stay at Deoriyatal
- Trek down to Sari village and drive back to Rishikesh
*luxury tents mean a comfortable tent with an attached bathroom for double / triple occupancy. the tent providers also provide food as well as hot water as a part of the package
The drive from Rishikesh to Chopta was easy, comfortable and picturesque. We crossed through some gorgeous views of the Ganga, her changing colours as she met with other tributaries, clouds touching the mountains and the views of the valley were unparallelled. And once in a while, we saw some snow-peaked mountains and our hearts jumped in joy. Little did we know that very soon in the next few days we will be witness to snow peaked mountains all around us 🙂
We reached beautiful Chopta by around early evening and had the evening to spend around that spectacularly beautiful town. Quiet, quaint with greenery all around, it presented our best views of the snow peaked Himalayas. A heart filled with joy, our guide Arvind took us on a little walk around. As we walked a little bit inside the wilderness through the tents that were pitched there, our jaws dropped at the most wonderful sights of the Himalayas. It was as though we were able to touch the ice on the hills. The landscape, the wilderness, the views, the colours, the clam, the unspoilt environment — picture perfect, we roamed in a small radius of a 1 km for more than a couple of hours as it was awe inspiring and felt like we were truly transported to a different world. Chopta had absolutely no mobile signals and that was one of the best thing that a place could offer!
Numerous pictures and the best lemon tea, maggie, some drinks for the tired body, delicious fresh simple dinner, we settled back into our luxury tents singing some old hindi songs and awaiting the trek the next morning.
Tunganath and Chandrashila
We left early next morning for our trek to Tunganath and Chandrashila peak via a short drive to the Chopta market from where the trek began.
The trek began on a high positive note as a team of 4 of us along with our guide and driver walked, sang and laughed our way to the top. Chopta is known as the ‘mini Switzerland’ and it sure did not disappoint us even in the tiniest way. The entire route is well laid out with steps and a pathway, though all of it is a uphill with little respite.
At every point and at every corner, mesmerising views of the mountains beckoned us. We probably took the best pictures of our trip at Chopta and on that trek. We were also as fresh as the mountains and with the highest energy possible at the beginning of the trip.
The first stop at Tunganath temple (a 4 km trek) took about 3 to 4 hours and before we realised, we were at the doorstep of one of the highest Shiva temples in the world. Perched somewhere deep in the mountains, the temple exuded energy, spirituality and a tremendous sense of well being.
There was a table of medicines to take care of altitude sickness and other difficulties of climbing and manned by a team of doctors from the Government. The government of Uttrakhand does take care of its pilgrims and trekkers and are available to help and support whenever needed.
We hoped we did not need any of those pills. After some paranthas, chai and maggie (yes, again and again), we ventured to get to the ultimate destination for the day, the Chandrashila peak. Although the trek up to the peak was only 3 kms, the route was totally uphill, the path stony and not well laid out and with the altitude increasing, the cardio-vascular capacity of each of us was tested.
It was a tough climb of about 1 hour uphill, stopping at regular intervals to take sips of water and electoral as we reached the top one-by-one.
Looking at what we got to see at the peak, we felt like we were at the highest point on Earth at that moment and at that juncture, our hands automatically went up in elation at having achieved another feat of reaching another highest point in the Himalayas.
It was a surreal moment, winds blowing from all directions, the valley from all sides surrounding the peak, a little temple blessing the climbers, the weather cold and soothing to the sweaty limbs, our first win of our trekking sojourn was achieved.
The climb down was obviously easy and with some songs for company, we quickly trekked our way down, reached the base camp and after a freshen up, left towards Guptakashi which was our next destination.
Guptakashi was the place for an over night stay as we had to go to Kedarnath the next day. Guptakashi was about 2 to 3 hours drive from Chopta and we had to drive another couple of hours the next day to reach Sonprayag from where our trek up to the Kedarnath was to begin.
Happy, our friend and drive guide through the entire trip kept us entertained with the latest Bollywood songs in the Innova along with motion sickness pulse freshness and juice and a newly refurbished ‘gaadi’ for the benefit of whom he calls as ‘elite customers’ 🙂
We reached Guptakashi in the early evening hours, freshened up and after a quick dinner, retired early to our beds. The next day was to begin at 4 AM as a drive to Sonprayag / Gaurikund for our trek up to the Kedarnath shrine.
The next day surely and clearly began at 4 AM and we left on a 2 hour drive to Gaurikund.
While we reached the so-called start point for the trek up to Kedarnath, to our surprise we found the queue to get to the actual starting point was more than a couple of KMS long. It was the pilgrimage or the ‘yatra’ season and pilgrims or harris swamped the place and there was little area to step in and walk and stand too!!! We stood in the regular queue while our guide Arvind got some necessary tickets and went to check on the status.
He came back to indicate that the queue was rather long and would take us a couple of hours right there waiting to reach the point.
Apparently post the 2014 Uttrakhand floods, all private vehicles were disallowed after a point and only Government run vehicles could be used upto the start point of the trek or where mules were stationed for pick up of pilgrims.
The long queue was for the vehicles and it was indeed a long one. Our guide Arvind however managed through his local contacts and we went through a special queue to get to the vehicle quickly in about half hour or so.
In a stingy vehicle which should essentially hold 9 people definitely, we reached the exact start point from where our trekking paraphernalia were all ready to be put to use. Trekking poles, water bottles, electral packets, dates and some energy bars, were all ready to be used and yes we started our walk up.
It took us 9 hours in total to view the gorgeous Kedarnath shrine and lo every step and every minute was absolutely worth it.
The 9 hours was nothing short of an adventure. The Kedarnath trekking route is a treacherous one and one of the most riskiest trekking adventures one can undertake. Most people take the helicopter option and the rest take the mules and the number of people opting to trek is fairly less, unless one cannot afford the mules even.
The path is extremely narrow with only some parts of the route having railings towards the side of the valley, so navigating through should be carefully done and with utmost concentration.
With the rains and pony ramblings everywhere it can be quite a daunting effort to walk through in peace and harmony with the mind and body! The terrain slushy, the odour hard on the nose, the uphill all through, difficult on the legs, some incessant rains making it sweaty with the plastic ponchos on, the traffic (that of the mules) horrendous, the KM count never-ending and a slow moving clock can all make it purely a game of mind over matter and a strong will to win over the heart!!!
What keeps you going are the scintillating views, the most gorgeous snow peaked Himalayas all around, the true indomitable human spirt in the name of spirituality, the touching scenes of human porters carrying humans of all sizes, some of them with their feet bleeding with bad shoes and yes children as old as 3 / 6 months waiting endlessly on the ponies to go up as quickly as possible.
This is one truly life changing experience which was unbelievably close to the heart, made one feel humble to the smallest dirt speck, an increase in the divine power and the power of faith. All life lessons don’t teach these as much as this experience did!
Some black tea, Maggie again on the way, warmest of the people and helpers, and yes we reached a spot which was just a KM from the main shrine. And that spot was like a dream and something that I have been wanting to experience all my life. There was SNOW all around and it was a visual treat and my heart was filled with immense pleasure just holding those pieces of ices and feeling the chill in the hands and the body!
After some amazing captures of the entire moment, we walked past the next 1 KM to get that WOW affect again. The Kedarnath shrine standing right in front of us was surreal and tears of joy and umpteen hugs captured that feeling beyond words. We just sat there for a few moments and soaked-in all that the place could offer, because that place just had thousand and million things to offer, all positive, all with energy that showed the power of the divine, the spirit of triumph of the mental will and succeeding in an adventure with the most comfortable and best people in the world.
The temperatures were freezing to say the least, but the adrenalin and the sweaty body kept the heat going for a while before we settled into a little ashram which had rooms near the temple. Well, the rooms were as basic as could be, but the bigger highlight was that the quilts and the beds felt so wet, cold and brrrrr chilly really! Without heaters in the room and temperatures going to be in the lowest single digits and in minus too, we were in for a really cold night.
Bracing ourselves for the coldest night of our lives coming up, we packed ourselves with the warmest of the clothes and headed toward the temple for the all important ‘darshan’
The queue of pilgrims was long long and after a wait of 1.5 hours in the biting cold, we went in for the Darshan and at the end of it felt a sense of contentment like never before. As if the entire trek just came around only for that moment and the heart felt extremely satisfied and filled with gratitude.
Please note that there are tickets available for a special Drashan for anytime as called in by the priests for a special cost and with no wait. One should be able to avail of this option easily and there will be enough people hovering around you to seriously look at this option 🙂
There is no close time in the evening for the temple. It closes when all the pilgrims are done and opens again at 4 AM in the morning. While the special darshan for those with those special tickets could be anytime during the 24 hours of the day.
We woke up early as in 5 AM to have a view of the colored skies at sunrise and view the mountains in broad day light. It was a great decision to do so, waking up to surreal sights, the snow seemingly now so rhetoric as a sight.
My friend and I sat down at the temple steps baring the real cold for over an hour, just saying nothing to each other, but only simply enjoying all that the environment gave to us, whether it was peace of mind or abundant feeling of love or a sense of achievement or remembering all our loved ones. It seemed like meditation!
Deki and Poonam had their highest wish fulfilled as they went in for another special darshan through the help of the priests who are present there. Of course all this comes with an extra cost! Nevertheless it was worth it and they came out of the temple extremely happy and joyous.
With a heavy heart, a couple of hours later, we started our walk down. It was uneventful in the beginning, but I thought we spoke too soon 🙂 While there were about 6 to 7 KMS left to reach the base, the rain Gods decided to shower us with pouring rains. All the rain gear came out of the bags and we walked with only a steadfast goal of reaching the base safely and without loosing the sight of each other. The darshan on that day was eventually cancelled because of bad weather and heavy rains. We thanked our stars to have survived the previous day and having got that elusive darshan on the same day as we trekked up.
We reached the base after quite a tough walk down in the rains, slush and slippery stones and as in the onward journey, we had to wait in the queue for the government vehicle to take us to Gaurikund where Happy was waiting for us with his vehicle.
The queue was unbelievably long reaching upto 2 KMS and the rains showed no sign of stopping! Poonam and Deki made their way to the front ahead of Tushar and I and managed to get a vehicle to take them back before we did.
Tushar and I joined the queue very well knowing that the wait would be no less than a 90 mins one and just stood there. The rains were fierce, the clouds dark, the legs were struggling, the body was shivering in the cold, but the mind and the will to stay strong stood its ground. Not seeing the finish line, nor seeing the light visibly at the end of the tunnel, only having Tushar for support along with our extremely supporting guide Arvind (also shivering in the cold and rain), it was a moment of truth. Without uttering more than a few words, just in that silence and frozen hands, that extreme deep feeling of care, affection, love and support that we had for each other I think will mark our friendship for life.
Even if everything else fails, just sharing those extremely poignant moments together in the middle of nowhere and in the harshest of conditions make it for one of those ‘best learning experiences’ in life and will remain unforgettable till we live on.
Finally after a long wait we did get to sit in the vehicle taking us through the maddening crowds and the rains and back to the vehicle we knew. Happy and the other girls were waiting and we picked our luggage and walked right in and heaved the biggest sigh of relief. In about an hour or so we reached our best destination camp place in the trip called the Kedar Valley Resort. It was a boon for the tired bodies and mind and was like the most sophisticated tent we had ever been. Bathrooms with tissues, hand soap, towels, towel hangers, a sumptuous buffet dinner and impeccable service made it all worth it for that night.
It was a late wake up the next day as two of us geared up for another short trek from Sari village to Deoriyatal which was supposed to a paradise for some of the best and pristine views of the snow peaks of the Himalayas. Drive from Kedar Valley resort to Sari Village was a short one of an hour or two. The rain Gods showed their might again and it started to pour heavily.
Stopping at a little house / eating outlet, we ventured into a little bit of cooking ourselves and soon had a big spread of authentic ‘pahadi’ food (mountain food) and ate to our stomachs content. By then the rains stopped a bit and we decided to go ahead with our trek.
Supposedly an easy trek, it was not meant to be, the distance was only about 3 KM, but the terrain was rocky, steep and slushy. With a few stops here and there we reached the top at Deoriyatal. The accommodation was entirely basic without running water even, but what the hell, we were used to all the hardships and the best accommodation was the least of the priority. Poonam and I like during the other hardships of the trip, lapped this up too and made no qualms about the same.
Arvind took us around for a short walk and lo lo lo, we saw snow peaks that were unbelievable in its beauty and it felt like almost we were touching the peaks. The closeness to the mountains was just too hard to believe. and we enjoyed the sunny weather, clear skies and a quietness that is so true amidst the mountains. The key attraction of the place was the Deoriyatal Lake which by itself is pristine and the water is so clean that one can see the reflection of the white mountains in the waters. We did definitely see the shadows at different times of the day, that evening and the next day morning, in broad daylight.
The next day, with a heavy heart we bid goodbye to the divine hills and headed on a downward trek back to Sari village. This one was a truly a happy one, though it was also a one with mixed emotions. Elated that we survived and endured 4 days of hard core trekking making lifetime memories, sad also that it was over and the routines of life was to begin all over again.
But yes what one takes back as memories from the mountains never fade away or never are replaceable, and once you are addicted to stepping on them, there is a definite probability that you will step back on them again.
Reaching Sari Village after a few high fives and hugs and a delicious breakfast, we headed back on our long journey back to Rishikesh. At Rishikesh, the evening was peaceful and relaxing with a twosome dinner at our favourite hangout restaurant Beatles Cafe. The customary caramelised onion burger which was as good as it could be and some excellent detox juices completed the dinner and a good night sleep was surely guaranteed.
Two great friends lived back memories and all the goodness that the trip brought for each of us. Rishikesh was super hot the next day, Sunday and we loved some tasting the road side flavoured ice golas….so far worrying about possibly catching a cold or a sore throat, that day made it all worth it. Come cold or a throat, who cared, it was a moment to celebrate and cherish. A quick lunch and we are back at the airport, life had come a full circle. Just where we landed 8 days ago was where we got to again 8 days later 🙂
A excel size bag full of memories, tremendous learnings for a full life, some experiences that taught each of us more than what we could learn through any other situation, learning to be more humble, extreme gratitude for all that we have had and continue to have, inner calm and peace, strengthening old relationships, making newer ones, feeling alive, feeling the aura and finally having lived a few days in a different world literally, lapping all the challenges that those day brought with panache, style and a lot of grace.
Small notes on the preparation for a trek like this one and things to carry:
- A decent level of fitness will surely help. Working on the legs and core strength along with an increase in the cardio vascular ability will help manage the trek better
- Preparation of the same 8 / 12 weeks before the commencement of the trek is good enough
- The mountains can change their conditions any time in the day and at different altitudes and different, so warm clothes are a must
- Thermals, sweaters, fleece jackets, gloves, cap, and different layers of clothes are important to carry. Down jacket is a must have for trekking and staying at temperatures that run into single digits and minus degrees
- Trekking shoes could be your best friend along with trekking socks and the trekking pole
- Medicines, energy bars, electral / glucose, dates, nuts, tissue papers, sanitiser are good to have for the journey of the trek
- While ATMs are available all along the way in most of the routes around the trekking regions, cash may not be easily dispensed from all the machines. So it is best to carry enough cash to help you through most parts of the trip