Sunday, June 11, 2023

Chopta, Kalpeshwar, Lansdowne and Kalagarh Forest Reserve

Chopta - Kalpeshwar - Lansdowne - Kalagarh Tiger Reserve

26th January 2023, fell on thursday so there was plan to utilise this long weekend. I made plans for Kalpeshwar and Auli, but later Auli ws dropped due to issues in Joshimath area, though we kept Kalpeshwar plan intact.

Trains reaching Haridwar were all late due to foggy conditions, and so I also reached almost 5 hours behind schedule. getting refreshed quickly, we took the road to Rudraprayag.

Decent facility is available at Haridwar railway station to get fresh etc. 

Haridwar to Rudraprayag is about 160 KMs, and we planned to reach there by 4 PM.

Instead of taking Haridwar to Rishikesh highway, we took the road across the Ganga. This route is scenic and passes through forest. Though most of the times, forest department dont allow traffic here, but being a holiday, traffic volume was less, and nobody stopped us.

In next about 2 and half hours we were at Devprayag. We stopped briefly and saw the point where Alaknanda and Bhagirathi merges and form Ganga.

I wanted to visit Raghutnathji temple also here, but we were getting late, so we move ahead, leaving the temple visit to next time.

Rudraprayag is further about 65 KMs from here, we reached here by around 4 PM, as we had planned.

A quick discussion and we turned towards Chopta to spend the night there.

Chopta is a small region of meadows and evergreen forest area, a part of Kedarnath wildlife sanctuary. It's also base for trekking to Tungnath, one of the Panch Kedar temple. It lies about 4 KMs from here. 

Chopta is located at an elevation of about 2700 metres and offers views of the imposing Himalayan range including Trishul, Nanda Devi and Chaukhamba. It is surrounded by forests of pine, deodar and rhododendron and is rich in flora and fauna include rare species of birds and musk deer. 

It's about 35 KMs from Rudraprayag and took around 1 and half hours to reach.

It was bitter cold there with patches of snow everywhere including road. Though road was free from snow on that route but next day, while going towards Gopeshwar, we ralised how dangerous it could be while driving on snow patches on road.

Though Chopta is famous among tourists, good accomodation etc are missing from here. Nearest decent accommodation are at Ukhimath (50 KMs) or Rudraparayag (35 KMs)

Good rush was there as we reached Chopta. The entire area was covered with snow and it was very cold. People were playing in snow or sipping Tea/Coffee.

We got one room for four people. It was just to protect us from bitter night cold. Later we realised the night and early morning temperature had fell down to -8 degrees.

Water pipes were frozen and even the tank kept outside to help us with water was also frozen. It was difficult to use washrooms etc.

Source of electricity was solar battery and was adequte for only one tiny bulb.

We took our dinner at a dhaba and after parking the car at suitbale place we retired in hotel room. 

A couple of hours sleep and I woke up. It was 230 AM and I could not sleep after that. Not sure the reason, but weather was extremely cold and laer I realised that the temperature was -8 degrees.

The morning view from Chopta is invigorating when the crimson rays of the sun kiss the snow-laden Himalayas. Beautiful views of greater Himalayan ranges were infront of us. We rushed to nearby areas to capture the shots and also to witness the whiteness spread across in all direction through mother nature.

A coupe of hours we just witnessed the beauty spread across the small town of Chopta ad then decided to take route towards Kalpeshwar.

The route is via Gopeshwar

Here we felt some issue with our vehicle due to snow on road. 

Though driving slowly, the car was skidding dangerously on snow patches. It was becoming very difficult to drive on that road. We pushed car from all three directions to move it slowly out of patch. Somehow we crossed this patch abut the next patch was even more dangerous and we were kind of stuck.

We were in fix, should we return back and go to Kalpeshwar via Rudraprag and Karnaprayag or risk crossing this patch somehow.

Dropping the car there we walked a little ahead to find how th road is beyond this patch. Road was clear mostly except some small patches of snow here and there, so we decided to give another try and instead of driving car, we will try pushing it slowly to cross that snow patch.

With some try, we were successful and with a sigh of relief, we took the road towards Gopeshwar and Kalpeshwar.

We met a few more patches of snow enroute but those were not that dangerous and so were able to cross them without any event.

We crossed through villages of Mandal and Sagar, which are base for Trek to Rudranath. Its also one of the Panch Kedar temples. We did our breakfast at Mandal and remembered our trek a couple of years back.

From Helang to Kalpeshwar, there used to be a trek of about 12 KMs. Now a Jeep Road has been constructed. This road is not in condition, and it was terrible drive for our Car with low ground clearance. 

It was around 2 PM as we reached Devgram village.

Plan was to visit Kalpeshwar cave temple, one of the panch Kedar temples and also Dhyan Badri Temple, one of the Sapta Badri temples.

For me, this trip was special as I was about to complete visit of all five Panch Kedar Temples in Uttarakhand. Kedarnath (2012), Tungnath (2018), Rudranath (2021), Madmaheshwar (2022) and now Kalpeshwar. 

Kalpeshwar is located at an elevation of about 2,200 Meter in urgam valley in the Garhwal region. Kalpeshwar is the only Panch Kedar temple accessible throughout the year. At this small stone temple, approached through a cave passage, the matted tress (jata) of Lord Shiva is worshipped. Earlier it was approachable by 12 KM trek from Helang on the Rishikesh-Badrinath road but now the road is up to Devgram village from where the trek now is just 500 meters. Though the road is not in good condition and vehicles with good ground clearance only should approach.

Our car has low ground clearance, but we attempted this travel. It went well except at a few places where we could not avoid stones hitting underneath.

It was late afternoon, as we reached there by crossing the Kalp Ganga river. The priest was not at Temple but came to our help for doing some small rituals at temple. His home is just next to cave temple.

The temple is very small, but a very powerful place for meditation.

The surrounding area is full of greenery and very blissful.

The temple priests at this temple are the Dasnamis and Gossains, disciples of Adi Shankara. These priests have been appointed by Adi Shankara. 

There is also a temple in Devgram village associated with group of Sapta Badri temple. I decoded to quickly visit that as well. Locals told me that its inside the village. I searched for the temple. One temple visible was that of Ghantakaran Devta. It was closed at that time and I coud get the glimpse inside. After further enquiry I came to know about the Dhyan Badri Temple.

To my disappointment, the temple was closed, some young boys playing nearby came to me and informed the side door which was just latched. I went inside emple through that door and was blessed to be in vicinity of the merciful lord. It was his grace that I was able to get to him.

Happy, we took the returned road, Sun was going fast towards west and we were in hurry to reach highway before dark. 

Once at highway, we took the road towards Rudraprayag. Idea was to visit Lansdowne next day so we planned to stay at Srinagar that night, where we reached by late evening.

Next day morning, we had two options to go towards Lansdowne, either via Pauri or via Devprayag. With some discussions, we decided to take road vaid Pauri It was a new route for us, so decidd to explore this one. 

Later we realized that this new route was very rewarding with full of beautiful views.

By around 2 PM, we were at Lansdowne. We took lunch at a restaurant just before entering the town.

Lansdowne is situated at an altitude of 1780 mts above sea level surrounded with thick oak and pine forests in the Pauri Garhwal. It was originally known as Kaludanda and was later named after then Viceroy of India, Lord Lansdowne in 1887. It was developed by the British for catering for the Recruits Training center of the Garhwal Rifles. Nowadays, the famous Garhwal Rifles of the Indian Army has its regimental center here. 

The buildings and church of Lansdowne built during British period, which dates back to the pre-independence period. 

Our first destination was the War memorial (Darwan Singh Sanghralaya).

It is a must visit place. Camera inside was not allowed. This small museum has story of braves, some guns, dresses and other articles. Overall, it was a very good experience. I advise all to visit this especially if you are travelling with kids. It has Victoria Cross awarded to Darwan Singh Negi and Gabar Singh Negi.

Next destination was Tip n Top View Point. This place offers good view of snow clad himalayan ranges from far. An ideal place to spend time with friends and family. 

Then we decided to visit Bhulla Tal Lake and enroute walked through St. Mary's Church. It was about more than a KM walk. It is a small lake, though quite picturesque and good playing spot for children.

My impression about Lansdowne is that it's a very small place and can be visited easily in a day. It doesn't have many attractions. Most of the hotels are outside the main town. Though it not much crowded and quite relaxing and serene.

Please don't compare it with Mussoorie or Nainital or Shimla etc.

To reach here, the nearest railway station is Kotdwar at a distance of 44 KM. The drive from Kotdwar to Lansdowne is quite scenic.

Our next target was Kalagarh Forest, which is northwestern stretch of Jim Corbet Tiger Reserve.

Kalagarh Tiger Reserve is a part of Corbett National Park situated in the Lansdowne region of Uttarakhand. When Jim Corbett Park was established in 1974, the northern region of the park was renamed as Kalagarh Tiger Reserve.

Kalagarh Tiger Reserve is about 60 KM from Lansdowne and quite rich in flora and fauna. Sprawling over 300 sq km, the reserve actually forms the northern end of Jim Corbett Park. Apart from the regular spotting of tigers, one can also spot barking deer, hog deer, goral,sambhar, porcupines and other animals. There is also a diverse diversity over 40 bird species such as Hornbills, Orange Bullfinch, and Monal.

This animal refuge is along the Mandaal River. It is divided into four gates: Vatanvasa, Kalingo, Maidavan, and Durgadevi.

We decided to take the Vatanvasa gate entry, Sonanandi Zone.

We booked safari online. It was dark as we reached near Kalagarh and not sure where to stay. Through online search we came to know about a homestay and decided to go there. It was across the river, but water was not much so with car we crossed the river and reached the homestay.

The caretaker and owner were gentleman and took good care of us. He also called the safari driver to pick us from homestay in morning.

It was twilight as we started the safari. Our first encounter was with an elephant, but it sped away as it realized we are approaching, and we could not find it again.

The park is very rich in flora and fauna and greenery. It includes a hills, streams and very dense vegetation.

We encounter barking deer and Jackal as well.

Animal sighting wise it was not great as only a few animals we could spot. Primary reason was thick vegetation and also, I feel this area is full of hills and ghat sections and not very easy to spot animals.

Though forest is very beautiful and green. Chirping of birds and scented breeze smoothens mind and soul.

The nearest railway station, Kotdwar to the Kalagarh Tiger Reserve, Vanvasa gate is about 50 KM.

By mid-day we were back to homestay, we took our brunch and immediately started for home.

On the way we encountered lot of fog in section between Bareilly and Lucknow, but with grace of Mahadev, things went well, though we reached home quite late around 2 AM.

It's advisable not to drive in foggy conditions.

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