Chopta is a small and peaceful village in the mountains of Uttarakhand, which has a few shops and hotels dotted around. This place is the base camp for a trek to the Tungnath, the highest Shiva temple in the world which is also one among the "paanch kedars" and further up to Chandrasila. We reached the place at 12 in the afternoon and could find a room for the three of us at a meager 300 INR. The room had no electricity until evening and we saw small solar panels in front of our hotel and other shops as well. Power is valuable here. As soon as we lodged our bags and stuff, we geared up for the trek to the top without further delay.
The hotel guy asked us if we needed horses to go up the mountain, and we solely refused, saying we were young enough to take the walk. He passed us his phone number and asked us to feel free to call in case we needed. We could not understand why as Tungnath was only 3.5 kilometers away from here. We thanked him and started walking out while the horses tied near the hotel grinned at us as if making fun of our enthusiasm.
After covering substantial distance, we confronted several grey-colored, black-faced large and small monkeys on either side of the pavement which looked curiously at us. They were around the trees and rocks there but were not seen anywhere on our journey ahead.
We moved further ahead along the trail and could see the gorgeous grass meadows to our left. I got my sweater off while I started running towards them and it felt energizing, with the tiny flowers adding to the beauty of the place. Soon the place got covered by a mist that was carried by the wind, and we got back on the trail. On our way up, we tried to reduce the walking distance by running up the valley to avoid the pavement that took a zig-zag route. While doing that, I missed the trail and one of the natives asked me why I was going via the assumed shortcut when the Government had made such a good path for the pilgrims. It soon felt tiring for all of us, and I was, even more, tired. I began to lie down often and take rest. We were scaling altitude and because the oxygen level was getting low, making it hard to move forward. We could see a few people descending the trail which was otherwise rather empty most of the time. We could hear the voice of a woman from above somewhere as if she was calling someone, and a girl replied from below. She walked hastily and crossed me swiftly; she was about sixteen years of age, and she walked with utmost ease, avoiding the curved path and ascending the valleys straight up, and soon vanished into the oblivion of mist.
I lost the sight of my friends again as I was too tired to move even a few meters forward. To be honest, I rested after every fifty meters forward as I became utterly tired and then resumed walking the next few yards. I held my heavy shoes, to avoid dragging them along, and reached my friends who were resting on a concrete structure. There it was, as if a scene from the novel, The Alchemist, a lot of sheep grazing on the grass fields, accompanied by two shepherds carrying long sticks, and beyond them the pine forests and the mountains. There was nothing else to do other than posing like Santiago, the protagonist from The Alchemist, the book that I carried with me during this journey which I had read about a dozen times till now.We spoke to the shepherds for some time, took snaps, rested, and even ran to the nearest hilltop out of craziness, forgetting our tiredness.It rained at times and we wore the cheap plastic raincoats that we bought in Rishikesh. When the rain got a bit heavier, we found solace and a cup of tea from a tea shop. It was here that mountain girl was spotted again along with her elder sister, and an elderly couple too, probably their parents. The rain subsided, and we began to drag our feet forward again, fighting the gravity that tried to pull us down again and again. Two pilgrims passed us on horsebacks, lead by a horse guy, and the horses grinned at me again; now I knew why the hotel guy insisted on taking them.
After hours of strenuous trekking, we finally saw the Tunganath temple. It felt great having reached our first place on our itinerary. Before moving forward, we went to a shop nearby and ordered hot noodles. We ate the hot Maggie with gratitude seated on chairs which were placed on a high platform above the pavement with the view ahead.After the warm meal, we visited some more shops and finally ascended the steps to the highest Shiva temple in the world. I looked at the time and it passed 6 pm. We had been trekking for almost six hours to cover the 3.5 kilometers from Chopta and were now 12000 feet above the sea level.We rested in the temple premises enjoying the evening after which we started trekking to Chandrasila further up. The path was not paved, but stones and slippery rock pieces filled them. The light was about to fail and we had to trail another kilometer to reach our destination, after which we had to walk all the way down to get back to our hotel room in Chopta.
This trip was originally published on missing mahanikan.