Tunganath

We had barely moved into the hotel (no more than a somewhat sophisticated shack) snow started to fall. The sky was quite overcast and Taju told us this was snow from a snowfall happening elsewhere – but we cared little for such geo-scientific accuracy. It was snow, and it was all around. It immediately made us fall in love with Chopta.

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I think this was 2012. This was a trip in which all five of us had gone together. Baba, Ma, my sister, and the two of us. And Taju was with us, completing the family.

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Our first destination was Birahi. But after a lunchless ten hour drive we reached a desolate landslide-affected place by the Alakananda, and were told that our accommodation was shifted to Pipalkoti, another hour’s drive. The primary reason was the premises had been taken over by a wedding party.

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Our rooms were there, but the rituals would end very late and that silent night would definitely turn into a very loud holy night.

Pipalkoti was amazing. It doesn’t have any major (or minor) attractions as such, but it is a lovely calm village with a picturesque GMVN bungalow. We thanked the authorities and went to a blissful sleep.

Next morning we started for Urgam, from where the 2 km walk to Kalpeshwar begins.

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It is the easiest of the five Kedars having a motorable road for the uphill section and a valley to walk in. The lovely Devgaon falls en route.

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But the mountains had a different plan for us. Our car suddenly stopped. There was a landslide and we had to take an extremely narrow mule-track to a point where the slide ended, and local public transport was available. After some negotiations with domestic animal life we reached a very dusty Urgam.

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The hike itself was picturesque and uneventful. Kalpeshwar doesn’t have a temple. It’s essentially a huge rock which is imagined as the jata (matted hair) of Lord Shiva.

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A few Sadhus were there. But they paid us no attention.

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The next day we went to Chopta. Chopta is brilliant. But you have to remember there is no ‘proper’ accommodation available. There are decent and clean places with somewhat shabby toilets. But considering that a decade back there were no toilets, these shabby ones are a definite improvement. But Chopta makes you forget such little inconveniences. Its rolling planes, breathtaking views and sharp winds give you an experience that you wouldn’t forget in a hurry.

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Staying places in Chopta are situated next to the stairs that take you to Tunganath. Tunganath is the highest point in the region. The climb is the shortest, but on the tougher side. Though the steps and the kainchis (literally translated would mean scissors, but actually the sharp bends that elevate the road a little too quickly for your lungs) cease halfway and a straight paved steep path follows, it doesn’t really get any easier. By then you are tired. But worry not; it isn’t as gruelling as you might think. The road is short and just when you think you have made the biggest mistake of your life (a feeling I always get on hikes) you find yourself in the miniscule settlement. But the view from here erases all fatigue, all doubt.

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We stayed in a hotel made of stone (a point the owner emphatically pointed out to all prospective boarders). It was called Kailash Hotel.

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We took a six bedded room (we were two) simply because it had an attached lavatory. This was essentially a hole in the floor, but with a bucket of water, and for our use only. This entire room, with blankets and pillows used by millions before us and never washed; cost us a princely sum of Rupees Four Hundred. We visited the temple.

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Architecturally and in size it is identical to Madhyamaheshwar. The surrounding temples are quite amazing. Tunganath is the place where the hands of Lord Shiva emerged after he descended into the ground. He did not want to accept the Pandavas’ apology for killing their kin in the war. Even the gods in our culture are quite averse to mass killings (even those glamorised by the concepts of War and Justice, but are ultimately political).

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The afternoon and evening we spent with the owner and Taju in front of a fire. The room seemed frozen after that.

We couldn’t go to the sunrise point. It was inordinately cold for the time of year and for the only time in my life I had breathing difficulties.

We descended next morning.

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We had to tread carefully because there was a handsome amount of sleet.

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There weren’t many people around. And once we were under the treeline we saw a Monal. No photograph though, those are very shy birds, too aware of their ‘state bird’ status. We came down uneventfully. And as always, with a wish of coming back again.

if you are in Chopta or in Ukhimath, do not miss the hike to Deoria Taal. This is one of the most picturesque places in the whole region. This is the place where the gods of yore used to visit for relaxation and frolicking. I don’t know whether they still do so or not, but this place certainly seems divine. This is a somewhat steep climb – mules are available, but should not be necessary. Those who are slow but steady will definitely succeed. It is only two and half kilometres from Sari village where you can park your vehicle. My sister accompanied us on this one. She is not a hiker. But she reached with no great discomfort.

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In fact, once you are there you feel like just staying. There are camps and some campy accommodation available. If you are adventurous, staying is highly recommended. I have a significantly large bucket list. Spending the night at Deoria Taal features on a prominently higher zone.

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