Whoever thought of winning over a mountain, was undeniably a fool. The big rock is alive & breathes its own ways. You can predict its way of life but you can seldom get close to what it really is. If you’re lucky, you can just stand atop the peak & shout out to the world at large. In the end, you’ll only end up whispering to your deepest self and walk out of there as a better person than you were when you gazed the perilous peak from the safe haven. The deciphering silence of a mountain is a blissful disguise. The mountain speaks its own language and we've got to give in to its methods to learn about life & find our true strengths. As they say, you can never conquer a mountain, you can only conquer yourself. Apt!
All of us look at scaling down heights in different ways. For some, it is a way of getting up close with Mother Nature while some of us just enjoy pushing our limits. In both the cases, the perfect doze of adrenaline is well-served with vigour. I always dreamt of taking a wide look at the world from the summit of a mountain. However, even after having done numerous motorcycle rides into the Himalayas, I had never got an opportunity to stand atop a desolate peak. The ecstasy of being on my own on the greater heights eluded me. It seemed like I was able to experience the very touch of wilderness but from a distance. It was about time that those dreams come true.
BON VOYAGE; REACHING SARI
Now travelling to the mountains is joyful unless you develop the common condition of mountain sickness. And trust me, which can really take the fun out of the remarkable trekking experience you’d be eyeing at. Fortunately, none of us in the group suffered severely from the unworkable ailment & managed to survive the unwinding drive in the Mahindra Xylo from Rishikesh to Sari Village.
We were a composed group of six people including our trek leader, Pankaj Deshwal from Bikat Adventures. Having done numerous treks of all sorts in the Himalayas, Pankaj is one well-experienced guide & trek leader one can travel with. Needless to say, he’s a better person than just being a minding authority. Since we were a small pack, we got the opportunity to get along with each other well. Countless talks & humorous moments followed as we put forward one sturdy step at a time on that treacherous terrain.
Making our way through Rudraprayag where we stopped for lunch & Ukhimath, we reached Sari around noon. At 6550 feet above sea level, the village rests amid the beautiful dense forest of Oak & Rhododendron. It’s a very remote establishment surrounded well with the beautiful bugyals (meadows). The stay at Sari was abstemious. Being the base camp for the steep trek to Deoria Tal lake, Sari enjoys much attention from travel enthusiasts. Ample options for accommodation and moderate eating joints make it a pleasant stay at the tiny hamlet. We strayed around in the vast fields behind the lodge in the evening. Since there was no trekking planned for the day, we just laid back & relaxed in the idyllic lap of nature. While we were at it, we managed to click the way of life around the village.
THE MYSTICAL LAKE AWAITS; TREKKING TO DEORIA TAL
Soon after hopping on to some delicious paranthas prepared by our humble host, we initiated our trek towards the heavenly Deoria Tal. On looking at the hill standing between the Sari village and the lake, one can tell that the trek is got to be steep enough. And sure it was. But what made matters worse was the sun. It got too hot within minutes of starting the trek. As soon as we started walking uphill, we could feel the scorching heat determined to test our limits. Throughout the 2 kms trek, the Sari village is visible from every corner. We walked through the dense cover of Rhododendron trees that spill the air with the fresh colour. It was challenging to traverse in that climate but the beauty of the terrain was just too tempting. Tip-toeing through the commendable turf, we reached the majestic lake within 90 minutes of starting. Since it was a steep walk, we almost gained an altitude of 1250 feet. And at the moment, it all looked worthy.
The sight of the clear green lake surrounded by the rough forest with the Himalayan peaks in the backdrop was jaw-dropping. It felt like the scenery has come to life out of a painting. The blue skies welcomed us in the delightful abode while the snow-clad peaks of Chaukhamba gazed calmly at our presence. They say camping at Deoria Tal is a lifetime experience. We could already see some trekkers unpacking their kits & setting up tents. Our host managed to reserve a suitable spot for pitching our tents while we wandered around the unbelievable venue.
The Himalayas present an astounding sight of vigorous tales of nature. Deoria Tal, situated at the height of 7800 feet above sea level, enjoys the presence of vast fauna precariously preserved amid the mighty Himalayan cover. During winters, the lake freezes partially and the weather is chilling. In summers, the days could get a little hot but the climate is pleasant in the evenings. We tried to catch up with the sunset, but all in vain as the valley looked ruffled in clouds. We had a nice dinner at one of the eating joints & took to our tents as the night shadowed upon the sublime lake. As the moon appeared bright & promising, the Himalayas presented an unforgettable sight. The aura looked heavenly in the moon light; I wished I could just stay out & glare at what nature had in store for us. Away from the city life, this was a perfect spot picked out for us. It was a serene silence in the air, when we decided to call it a day. Kudos to the nature for being such a treasure.
INTO THE HILLS; REACHING CHOPTA
It was a bright morning the next day. People wrapped up their tents & continued on their journeys henceforth. By the time I woke up & peeked out from my tent, quite some people had left already. We got ready and prepared the saddle for the trek ahead. The plan was to trek to Rohini Bugyal & camp there for the night.
We traversed into the dense jungle with our local guides. The path was feebly visible but involved a lot of ups & downs. And most of the turf was rocky. While moving downhill, my feet were having a tough time. They were almost sore by the time we reached our destination for the day. We kept eating in small quantities so as to keep up the energy. And of course, drank water at regular intervals. The sun was right above us & the valley opened up. It was too bright a day; sunscreens didn't seem to work much.
We found ourselves climbing steadily sometimes & then easing it up down the hill. It’s makes matters worse when climbing through the rocks. Any slippery section of the rocks could lead to a mishap. Plus, the height we were at made it a little precarious. We made our way through the Rhododendron forests to reach Rohini Bugyal by noon. However, to our surprise, the water streams were all dried up. And without water on our side, it was impossible to spend a night at the place.
Pankaj suggested that we should keep moving forward & aim to reach Chopta by evening. He was of the view that we’d find some desolate water stream flowing on the way for sure; although that was still a lofty expectation as the temperatures rose tremendously that day. We continued on our path through the numerous bugyals. It was 12:30 in the afternoon when we decided to take a break & have lunch. We took to a comfortable lump on the grass & lay back for a while. The food was delicious, given the remote location, we were in good spirits. Soon after gulping down a hefty lunch, we moved on. It was getting uncomfortably hot to carry the backpack in that heat. I was taking regular sips of water and within no time, I was out. Thanks to my friends who could share from their reserve. It’s an important learning from this experience. One must carry enough water to last the trek. Our search for water ended when we made our way downhill towards a stream. We could hear the sound of the ravishing waters from a distance & couldn’t wait to reach there.
Finding a random stream of water is a bliss of nature. We parked our packs on the side & entered the water barefoot to relax our feet. I drank plenty & topped up my water bottle. Soon when the rest of the group joined us there, we made our way towards our destination. It was an hour and a half long walk through the woods. Since we were all charged up after the much needed drinks, we talked a lot on the way. Needless to say, we didn’t even realize when we were down to the last mile. Within no time, we hit the road & could see Chopta from a distance.
I had been to Chopta before, during the True Wanderers 3.0 ride around Uttarakhand. However, I could never enjoy a great meal with bonfire on the side & settle in for the night in a tent. The evening followed with endless talks, smiles all around & a night beneath the starry canvas above us. While we took to our tents for the night, plan was set to start the trek towards Tungnath & Chandrashila early the next morning. And when I say early, I mean 04:00 AM. What was in store for us was watching over the world from the humble summit of Chandrashila.
I never wanted to sleep that night, for I was too excited to scale that mountain. I had been reading about this trail for years but never had I forwarded attempts to reach out for it. This was my chance at something larger than life. With countless dreams & aspirations, I decided to take a nap for the mighty trek under the star-studded sky.
THE FINAL LEG; TUNGNATH-CHANDRASHILA TREK
It was 04:30 AM and the gigantic terrain around us breathed calmly. There was no noise in the air; it was quaint as heaven. We started traversing on the well-laid trail up till Tungnath. Flashlights lit the trail as the path was faintly visible. Soon, we got lost into the dense dark forest that stood daunting ahead of us. While our local guide and Prakshal led the way, others followed. It was chilling at first but with due time I felt normal. The trek is steep enough to break your legs, especially when you’ve not eaten anything for past 6 hours and haven’t got enough sleep. I felt tired within first 30 minutes of walking. Slowly I realized I was at the end of the pack trying to seep through the tough times.
If my memory serves me right, I would have decided to quit the trek a couple of times. But the next moment, I asked myself the question I had been tumbling upon for years, “why climb those mountains?” I realized the efforts & the pain that I experienced were worth the satisfaction of making it to the summit. The view from the top was going to heal every little ache.
It was still dark. We saw snow patches on the side-walks for the first time on the trek. And that was an indication that a white cover could welcome us at Tungnath & for sure on the way to Chandrashila. As the sun hit the horizon, the valley lightened up from darkness & a new day shone to the crimson light. I saw Tungnath from a distance & couldn't help but smile seamlessly. It felt so soothing to have reached the destination after the troubles I faced along the way. The temple was closed as the winter season was declining & there was still a lot of snow around the place. The pack made it to Tungnath in time & sat there for a while. We talked for a minutes, gulped down energy bars & got ready for the climb uphill. And yea, it was literally a climb.
The path ahead of Tungnath temple is a little fight to climb. The broken rocky patches followed by the muddy portions of the trail give the hikers a tough time. We made our way through the desolate trails to reach the point from where on, it was all snow that we could walk on. The trail disappeared and it was just the thick snowy road ahead of us. This is where the pack really split into pieces. We all tried to follow the foot-steps on the snow but could barely stand the cold. The chilling breeze made matters worse. But the astonishing beauty of the place kept us going. We could see the temple at the Chandrashila peak far from our reaches, but we were on our way.
The memory of that instance is still fresh in my mind. I dreamt of scaling down a mountain & it was coming true. We were on a steep incline with nothing but snow under our feet and a terrifying valley staring at us from the swallowing heights. The terrain challenged our bodies but could seldom move our thoughts of making it to the summit. We slipped several times, lost tracks of the foot-steps and got stranded on those unforgettable heights with nothing but the ravishing peaks of Himalayas glancing at us. It was a scene out of a moving canvas & we were all the characters of the play. While the conditions tested our mettle, we defied all odds & made it to the peak exactly after 3 hours of climbing through the rock.
I was tremendously tired; so I took to a rock and rested there for a while as others bowed down to the temple porch & worshipped. I couldn’t bear the breathlessness and at the same time I was overwhelmed that I had made it to the summit. Every mountain around us looked up onto us. The blue frozen skies rested above us and there were horizons in any direction we could turn to. We were higher than the heights we once looked at with dreamy eyes. I thanked God for giving me the strength to keep going.
We had just been 10 minutes on the “Moon Rock”, and the weather Gods decided to turn the tables. The dark clouds from the valley on our side descended towards the trail we had just climbed. The fierce sounds of the winds gave us chills. In view of the depreciating weather conditions, we decided to fall away from the summit. We managed to click a few pictures but all in vain, as it was too cloudy in the distance and the astonishing views of Himalayan peaks that Chandrashila is well-known for, were missing. But nevertheless, we were there and we were delighted.
I found dropping down from the height much easier than climbing on a slippery trail. Also, I had gained more confidence & was not afraid of the valley upfront absorbing me in itself. We took generous time in getting down to Chopta by noon, not because we were tired, but because we wanted to absorb the striking aura of the Himalayas a little more on those heights.
The rest of the day was spent taking ample rest till the evening and taking distant strolls down the Chopta township. We enjoyed the lovely dinner prepared by Bikat’s local team, by the soothing camp-fire on that freezing night. I couldn't have asked for a better getaway than getting lost in the realms of nature.
SO WHY CLIMB THE MOUNTAINS?
Looks like this question is going to be there for a while; since I’m juggling with countless thoughts on what to recollect from the journey. We continue living our lives, doing the daily chores & gutting it out with the social stereotypes. However, we seldom realize the true worth & fragrance of life while we are at it. My message is clear. We’ve got to look beyond the horizons of conventional paradigms & step into the conscience of the fruitfulness this world has to offer. Travelling to the mountains makes me fall in love with the very worth of life & that’s why I wander.
Look for a reason fellas; a reason worth toughing it out for. In the end, that’s all what matters. Take a light moment & talk to yourself. I’m sure you haven’t done that in a while! Expression is of utmost importance & we tend to express in different ways. But speaking one’s heart out never goes out of style. Here’s what I felt:
My travelogues reflect each moment I spend wandering on unknown roads, among unknown faces… My scheme of things might look crazy to some of you, but where people might see craziness, I see inspiration & freedom. And this makes me want to shout out the message loud & clear; that when we start believing in our dreams & our passions, things tend to fall in place. That there’s one thing in our lives that could give meaning to our thoughts. That there’s a road to nirvana & we ought to take it if we seek change. And on the way, we’d inspire life. I be my best while I’m out there, living it up!
A million thanks to my friends who accompanied me on this trek & the organizers for setting things right. Pankaj, you’re the man buddy, thanks for the exceptional guidance throughout. Getting lost in the wilderness is a wonderful of luck; and with you guys, it was fun-n-frolic. A special thanks to Sonu & Prakshal for their incredible contributions to this photo collection. I owe it you guys for the support. Cheers to those who love to wander.
Travel is my inspiration & I shall always be lost in what I feel gives meaning to my life. Looking ahead to higher grounds & mightier challenges. How about you?
Live. Ride. Smile. Find Yourself.