A BIT OF SWITZERLAND (Ukhimath to Chopta)

Taking the picturesque routs from Ukhimath to Chopta is a good as navigating some European countryside with at least five different shades of trees dotting the drive.  So, April Spring season Makes for a great time to visit Chopta.  Other than that, October onwards is also a good time to plan a trip here.  Even at an altitude of over 3,000 metres, it is not easy to see a panorama of the imposing Chaukhamba and the Kedarnath range as the leafy forest hides sweeping vistas like a closely-guarded secret.  The rhododendron trees seem to conspire like giant talking Ents from Lord of The Rings and take fascinating shapes as you wind up higher towards Chopta.  Just as you start imagining leopard spots in the nearest bush , the forest is interrupted by a blanket of open meadows (bugyal in local parlance) . The sub-species of rhododendrons changes colour from red to light pink as the altitude increases to roughly 3,500 metres.  And it’s here that you can feel the contrast of the chill – with clouds playing hide and seek – and the warmth of the harsh sun.  We arrive at a few dhabas wedged between a bugyal and a thickly forested entrance leading to the Tungnath shrine.  A few thatched hutments belonging to the gaddi shepherds dot the landscape.  Though the Mayadeep Guest House is the most frequented place to stay at Chopta, you’d rather drive further up to the Chauhan Guest House for clean accommodation, great grub and yes, the espresso coffee!


Although Tungnath is the highest of the Panch Kedar Srines dedicated to Lord Shiva and the highest temple in the world, it is relatively easy to trek up the stone-paved,  four-kilometre stretch via the rhododendronladen Raga forest.  We visited during off season and were, thus saved from unruly crowds enroute.  The trek can be completed in three to four hours depending on one’s level of physical fitness.  Your constant companion upwards are the rhododendrons, found in five a to six sub-species in the region.  While the red ones grow at a lowere altitude, at Chopta you see light pink ones,and on the way to Tungnath, the pink is transformed to magenta.  Growing on these slopes for generations, they are now fighting for survival in a fragile ecosystem, amidst habitat destruction, overgrazing and an influx of reckless tourism . Crisscrossing the route are also beautiful Monal pheasants.  If one makes the effort to start at 4 am from Chopta before the onset of the Chardham yatra crowd (the shrines open May onwards), it is not uncommon to seet the solitary wil Himalayan Thar (an endangered goat) in the drifting volume of fog that takes the shape of the steep and jagged-rock mountain surface.  Travellers can halt at dhabas at Tungnath, snack on some Maggi and even take shelter for night.  The other option is to camp there, provided the chill doesn’t get the better of you.  PS: Sleeping bags, fleece jackets and caps are ideal for such a trek.


The sheer magnificence and scale of the ‘Six-thous;anders’ (the cluster of peaks that are 6,000 ft and above) in Garhwal come into view with full force and the conclusion is inescapable.  The windswept summit of chandrashila is a steep one kilometer ascent from here.  Snow bound till late April, 360 degrees cannot have a better meaning than this.  It takes a full hour or so to do the journey.  For te best views at sunrise, it becomes necessary to do this early morning from Tungnath itself.  The views are endless on a clear day, stretching right up till the Nanda Devi massif and even a little beyond Kumaon.  A small temple and stone cairns mark the summit with a ridgeline running all the way to the higher peaks in the Kedarnath sanctuary ranges.  What a view! Pictures don’t do justice to this thrilling experience.  If not properly acclimatized, it is advisable not to spend too much time here.

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