Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Tungnath and Chandrashila

During summer of 2017, I had made plans to visit Tungnath shrine. It is part of “Panch Kedar” in Himalayas and was in my trek radar for some time.

During winters almost all important Himalayan shrines in Uttarakhand remains closed, I miscalculated the opening day and accordingly got the reservation etc done for train. But later realized the temple was still closed then and so my plan got postponed!

Mansa Devi Temple as seen from Har ki Paidi
Come 2018, one fine day Shashank proposed for some trek and immediately Tungnath (and Chandrashila) came in my mind.

It didn’t took much time to plan and soon a group of eight got ready for action.

There were some concerns regarding stay at Tungnath or Chopta etc., as had not done any booking. Finally, we dropped all inhibitions and decided to take decisions “then and there”.

Chopta is a small region of meadows and evergreen forest area which is a part of Kedarnath wildlife and is base for trekking to Tungnath, third temple of PanchKedar. It is about 3.5 KMs away. Located at a distance of 1.5 kilometres from Tungnath is Chandrashila, a rising to around 4,100 metres.

As we planned it to be a weekend trip, timing to reach there was crucial. 

Direct trains toHaridwar were running quite late almost every day so we decided to take train till Roorkee, and then by road to Haridwar.

To our surprise and a bit of disappointment the train dropped us at Roorkee, more or less ontime at around 2 AM!

We waited for some time there before hiring a tempo to Haridwar. With some negotiations we got it 500/- rupees.

Early morning, we were at Haridwar and tempo dropped us near to “har ki paidi”. The water of Ganges was cold and refreshing as usual and the flow was “fast and furious”.

I suggest all to carry a mug with them, this will help in taking bath without any fear. Otherwise make sure to hold the chain with both hands!

The life giving nectar equivalent water refreshed us and make us ready for trek ahead!

We took the road to Chopta by around 645 AM.

There was a jam at Motichoor railway crossing. If we follow the lane and remain in queue, things will be easy but people cross lanes and block each other’s way, resulting in jams which can take hours to ease!

At Shivpuri and Kaudiyala, the river rafting enthusiast were busy in their preparation for this adventure sport.

Kaudiyala to Shivpuri till Rishikesh is a popular segment for river rafting.

Similar river rafting, I had seen at Beas river in between Kullu and Manali.

We halted at Beasi for much required brunch. We were running short of time and the idea was to somehow reach Chopta by 2 PM, so that we can trek to Tungnath today itself. It was race against time!

Alaknanda and Mandikini joined by Bhagirathi to form Ganga
We halted for a few minutes at Devprayag to see the confluence of Alaknanda and Bhagirathi. This sacred confluence forms the Ganga, which is center of veneration for every hindu across the world.
Dhaari Devi Temple near Srinagar
With treacherous winding roads, we slowly approached towards the destination reaching there by around 4 PM, well behind the desired time.

Chopta is a small town lying in the lap of the Uttarakhand Himalayas and offers views of the imposing Himalayan range including Trishul, Nanda Devi and Chaukhamba. It is located at an elevation of 2,680 metres above sea level. 

Chopta village is surrounded by forests of pine, deodar and rhododendron and is rich in flora and fauna include rare species of birds and musk deer.

Entrance to Trek to Tungnath
 We quickly assessed the situation, most of us were in favor of trek then itself. Clouds were forming at the horizon and a shower was expected anytime and with no confirmed accommodation at Tungnath, we decided to take the challenge of the situation.

If someone travelling with kids or aged, then suggestion is to stay at Chopta and then take path to Tungnath in morning.

Pony are available to carry people with some good negotiation.

Even if someone wants to cover the distance by foot, its advisable not to carry any bag. It should be either left at Chopta or should be send through Pony. Ascending with luggage is a real difficult task.

on way to Tungnath
We all took one pony and loaded this helping creature with all our bags.

First glimpse of Tungnath Temple
The ascend from Chopta to Tungnath is quite steep. One can guess this by the fact that Chopta is at altitude of about 2680 Meters while Tungnath is at 3680 meters. So in 3.5 KMs distance from Chopta to Tungnath, we need to ascend one KM!

Evening was approaching fast and feeling tired, I decided to take the pony for myself, while others decided to cover the distance by foot.

The pony was quite fast and I think in less than an hour I reached Tungnath. Idea was to get hold of any “hotel” which I can grab for total 8 people. I saw “Hotel Devlok” first, but another group of yongesters who were ahead of me were heading towards that. I had to rush to reach earlier than them. We reached almost same time but I initiated the discussion first and got two rooms. 

These two basic rooms were what he had!

 The path is quite scenic and can be thoroughly enjoyed if weather is good. For us it was a bit difficult situation as we were badly tired with continuous journey and almost no sleep in the previous night, and then the little rain and hailstorm had made things worst.

Temperature had dipped quite significantly. It was good that we all were carrying sufficient warm cloths and cap. A cap and a jacket with a good pair of shoes are must here.

It was becoming dark and still no trace of my colleagues. I was getting a bit tensed as their cellphones were all not reachable. With help of the owner Sujaan Singh of hotel Devlok, I came to know that the group had departed from a nearby “restaurant” and must be reaching in next 20/30 minutes.
I waited patiently and then some silhouette of them at a distance gave me much required relief!

Sujaan Singh quickly prepared the tea and excellent dinner of Daal/Roti and dry vegetable. Temperature was nearing freezing point.

At a distance, over the horizon, lights from towns were clearly visible on that moonless night. Sujaan Singh guided me about the towns of Ukhimath, Tiryugi Narayan, and Guptkashi.

After heart full of dinner we all retired in the rooms. It was very cold, though badly tired the sleep was still away from me. The whole night went just waiting for morning.

At around midnight, Deepak went out for washroom, I also went out to see the weather and walked a few steps in open. At some distance, I heard a growl, most probably aimed at me to deter. I tried looking for it in my torch light, but did not found anything.

I silently went back to my room.

The area is having Leopards and Bears. I don’t know what it was.

Early Morning as soon as some light came, I went out to see the surroundings. Still it was bitter cold, but the majestic peaks of Chaukhambha, Nanda Devi, Kedarnathetc, were visible at a distance.

The water was very cold and with great difficulty we did mouth wash and cleaned our faces. Sujaan Singh helped us with warm water.

Taking bath was not an option.

We decided to first cover the Chandrashila, before doing darshan at Tunganath Temple. It was planned in this manner because at early morning 360 degrees’ view is breathtaking. As the Sun rises over horizon, the distant view is lost in mist.

The view of green valley and high Himalayan ranges started becoming more visible as we ascended to Chandrashila.

Temple of Moon God at Chandrashila peak
Chandrashila is summit of the Tungnath . It literally means "Moon Rock". It is located at a height of about 4,100 metres above sea level. This peak provides views of the snow clad Himalayan peaks, including Nandadevi, Trisul, Kedar Peak, Bandarpunch and Chaukhamba.

There are various legends associated with this place. According to one such legend, this is the place where Lord Rama meditated. Another legend says that moon-god Chandra spent time here in penance.

Legend also states that Ravana did penance to Shiva, the lord of the peaks, when he resided here.

The path is defined but narrow and slippery at many placers so caution required. We had sufficient time at disposal so we ascended slowly and taking adequate rests in between.

 Night stay at Tungnath had acclimatize us, otherwise reduction in oxygen levels might be an issue for some people.

After a trek of about one and half hours finally we were there!

There is a small temple, dedicated to Moon God. No priest was there though he must have visited in morning as the place was clean, gates were open and diety was properly decorated.

We paid our venerations to the Lord.

Behind the temple, there is some flat space. From here the 360 degrees’ view is just breathtaking!

We spend over one hour there, just walking and chatting. It was a feeling of ecstasy. It was the highest point till now where I had ascended so far.

Surprisingly BSNL and Airtel was working there.

We descended slowly and soon we were at the gates of the most merciful Lord of Peaks, Tungnath.

Tungnath is the highest Shiva temple in the world and is the highest of the five PanchKedar temples located in the mountain range of Tunganath in Rudraprayag.

Tungnath temple is the highest Hindu shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva. The temple is believed to be 5000 years old and is the third (Tritiya Kedar) in the pecking order of the PanchKedars, established by the Pandavas.

The legend states that sage Vyas Rishi advised the Pandavas that since they were culpable of slaying their own relatives (Kauravas, their cousins) during the Mahabharata war  their act could be pardoned only by Lord Shiva. Hearing this Pandavas went in search of Shiva who was avoiding them because of the sin of Pandavas. In order to keep away from them, Shiva took the form of a bull and went into hiding in an underground safe haven at Guptakashi. Later he appeared in the form of bull and re-materialized at five different locations that represent the "Panch Kedar".

At each of these places Pandavas built temples of Lord Shiva seeking 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.

There was no rush and only a few people were there. Some Pooja was going inside. We went inside the temple and prayed to the blessed Lord.

There are some small shrines around the temple. This includes that of Ganesha and of Mother Goddess.

The priest at this temple is a local Brahmin from Ukhimath village, unlike the other Kedar temples where the priests are from South India, a tradition set by Aadi Sankaracharya. 

During the winter season, the temple is closed and the symbolic image of the deity and the temple priests are moved to Mukkumath, which is about 19 KMs from here.

Tungnath is at the top of the ridge dividing the waters of the Mandakini River (raising from Kedarnath) from those of the Alaknanda River (raising above Badrinath).

Slowly we descended back to our hut.

A high-altitude botanical station of the Garhwal University is located here not very far from the place we were staying.

Overall the Trek to Tungnath from Chopta is a moderate (and sometimes steep) climb. The trek path is stone paved with benches provided enroute at intervals to rest and enjoy the beautiful views of the Himalayas.

It was about 1030 AM and we started descend to Chopta.

About 1 KM down, on an uneven stone, my left leg got bend and a sharp pain stopped me there. Though the pain receded a little bit but a little swelling happened and some pain continued. I guessed its just a sprain, used the “move” cream and we continued descend. 

My colleagues advised me to take the pony but I refused as wanted to enjoy the route on foot.

At around 12, we were at Chopta, my pain had increased and with little refreshment we all boarded our waiting Sumo to Haridwar.

Our return train was at 1150 PM.

It took about 10 hours to reach from Chopta to Haridwar. I drove nonstop except for a couple of breaks to take refreshments. I remained seated in the Vehicle. Pain in my foot had resurfaced and I am feeling some swelling as well.
We took dinner near Haridwar Railway station. It was not that great. I advise all to check carefully where to eat. 

Generally, hotels near Railway and/or bus stand are not that good in hygiene and quality.

To our shock the train was almost 12 hours late. Night we spend at Haridwar Railway station.

Monday midnight, about 18 hours behind schedule we reached our home, sweet home!

PS:  Sujaan Singh Hotel Devlok, Tungnath (9927590165)


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