The Indian Subcontinent offers a myriad of options to travelers. From forlorn snow-capped mountains to crowded, bustling beaches; from the places that receive the heaviest rainfall to dead-dry deserts. Uttarakhand is a state in North India that contributes significantly to India’s exponentially rising tourism. Also known as Devbhoomi, which literally means ‘the land of the gods’, this state lies in the lap of the majestic Himalayas. The mountainous terrain of the state offers great many trekking routes to enthusiastic travelers. Add to that the spirituality and the religious air which constantly reminds you that the gods have been here. Chopta-Tungnath is one such place, here.
I am from Uttarakhand, and because I have grown up in a place enveloped by hills, the mountains always seem to call out to me. Also, my interest in mythology constantly urges me to visit the places that were once, supposedly, the dwelling grounds of gods. So, when my friend came up with a plan to make a trip to Tungnath, I instantly packed my bags. If you, too, are planning to go there in the near, or not so distant, future, you could tick off some points from my experience. And if you don’t know about the place, or haven’t been keen on it, I plan to change your mind.
Why you should visit Chopta-Tungnath
To begin with, Tungnath holds an immense religious relevance. Located at an altitude of 3680 meters, it is the highest Shiva temple in the world. It is believed to be about 5000 years old, so that makes it an exciting prospect from the archaeological perspective. Human encroachment was restrained in this place by the efforts of the Forest Department, so it is very peaceful here. The hills offer a serene environment and the beauty of this place can’t be put into words. The winding roads take you through the paths laden with trees, as snow-capped mountains stare at you from a distance. The beautiful meadows make you want to stay there forever. And above all, the environment. There is something in the air of this place that seeps deep down into your soul and creates a sense of peace that is hard to find anywhere these days.
The story behind Tungnath
As I said, this place is supposed to be about 5000 years old, and that is way back in time. So, this place is ancient. You must be familiar with the epic Mahabharata. If not, then you should know that it one of the significant epics of Hinduism. The Bhagavad Geeta is a part of this epic. And the story of Tungnath comes from it. After the war between Pandavas and Kauravas ended, both sides were left with a lot of red on their ledgers. Since none of the hundred Kauravas survived the war, things didn’t really matter anymore for them. For Pandavas, however, the victory was haunted. Kauravas were their cousins, and by killing them Pandavas had committed familicide. So, the sage Rishi Vyas advised them to seek penance by receiving a pardon from Lord Shiva. He is the only one who would be kind enough to provide them with a clean slate.
Those who know of Lord Shiva know that he is a solitary soul. He resided with his consort Devi Parvati in the secluded Himalayas. When Lord Shiva learned about Pandavas’ intentions, he took the form of a bull and hid at Guptkashi. This was because even he wasn’t in the mood to pardon their crimes. However, Pandavas were adamant to achieve redemption and they chased the Lord everywhere he went. Realising that obstinate Pandavas weren’t giving up, he rematerialized at five places, in the form of the body parts of a bull. Tungnath is the place where the hands were seen, and so the Pandavas built temples at each of the five locations. You can also see the five small temples next to the main temple of Tungnath. They, as it is said, are the representations of the five Pandavas.
What should be your travel route
With the increasing interest of tourists towards this area, it has seen a lot of development in recent years. Considering that about a decade or two ago there weren’t even proper roads there, the accessibility to Chopta has seen vast progress. The first thing that you have to do is reach Uttarakhand, of course. You can take a flight, that’ll land you in the capital city, Dehradun. If you decide to travel by train, it’ll get you to Haridwar. Dehradun and Haridwar are quite close to each other, so whatever mode of travel you choose, it will not make much of a difference. What you have to do now is catch a bus to Srinagar. There can be a bit of a hassle here because you may or may not find the transportation to Srinagar. To resolve this issue, you can take a bus to Kotdwar.
Once you’re in Kotdwar, you can either take a bus to Srinagar or directly to Ukhimath. However, the frequency of buses from Kotdwar to Ukhimath is less, so Srinagar emerges as a better option. Also, it takes about six hours from Kotdwar to Srinagar and additional 2-3 hours from Srinagar to Ukhimath. So, you’ll have to plan accordingly. If you find yourself in a situation where you have to break your journey and stay at any of the above-mentioned places, do not worry. Accommodation is rarely a problem in Uttarakhand. You’ll easily find places at a reasonable price. Once you’re at Ukhimath, you’ll have to board a taxi that’ll take you to Chopta. And that is your destination.
Nearby destinations that should find place in your itinerary
The very first thing to extend your trip is the Chandrashila Peak. Starting from Chopta you’ll reach Tungnath. But that’s not the summit. A further trek of about a kilometer will bring you at the top of the mountain. This is Chandrashila. Another temple will greet you as you reach there. The place provides a breathtaking view of the whole place. Numerous peaks are visible from this height, and it is an equally wonderful feeling to be here. To add a little trivia, Chndrashila Peak is the place where Lord Rama, as well as his archnemesis Ravana, meditated, at different points in time.
When you embark on your way to Chopta from Ukhimath, on the way, a road diverges to a village Saari. This place acts as a base camp for another trek to another beautiful place, Deoria Taal, which is a popular tourist spot. The path takes you through the forests and provides an excellent view of the peaks nearby. You’ll be able to spot Chandrashila from here and gauge the altitude of your destination. You can explore the small village, and get to interact with the friendly locals. Also, there is a charming book-store here. So, you can cuddle up with a book and tea and stare out at the picturesque views that lay in front of you.
Camping is another good option in this place. Deoria Taal and Chandrashila are popular among tourists to spend the night. Keep in mind that these places get extremely cold at night. If you want to avoid that, but still want to camp, then there are other camping sites at lower altitudes, nearby. You can also enjoy skiing in winters when the mountains are heavily wrapped in snow. It goes without saying, but these environs provide an excellent backdrop for photography.
What things should make your luggage
While traveling, I prefer to keep the luggage to a minimum. I advise you to do the same. Because Chopta is at a high altitude, woolens are necessary. However, some people are more adept at tolerating the cold, so it’ll really depend on you. And the season in which you make your visit. Any season is a good time to visit Chopta. In summers, the climate will be more pleasant, with mild cold and beautiful view of the meadows. In winter, the snow will envelop the entire place, and it’ll all be a white sheet of glowing ice. It’ll be pretty cold. No matter what season you choose, this place will captivate you, anyway.
Tungnath is one of the Panch Kedar temples, and the devotees come to visit this place mostly between May and November. That is because this place is one of the seats of Lord Shiva. The ‘kapaats’ (doors) of the temple remain open for these six months. When winter approaches, the temple is closed and the deity is moved to another place, Mukkumath. If your motivation is to get ‘darshan’ (receive the grace) of the deity, May-November should be your time. However, if your travel is purely for visiting the place, taking the trek, or anything other than the religious motive, any season is good enough. In such a case, you’d want to avoid the crowd, so winter will be a good time. Once the time of the year is fixed, you can pack accordingly.
What should be the budget for Chopta Tungnath
If you have hired a tour guide, then I can’t really say anything about this. Guides charge according to whatever your plans regarding the trip are. But one thing is certain, they are costly. One of the best things about traveling in Uttrakhand is that it is pretty economical. Wherever you go, you’ll easily be able to find a place to stay. The food isn’t costly either. If you are a ‘tea’ person (like I am), I’d suggest you keep a lot of change handy! Taking everything into account, from transportation charges to renting a room, I’d say it shouldn’t take more than 5000 INR per head. If your budget stretches more than this, it’ll probably be because either you are eating too much, or you’re indulging in extra things, like camping. If you travel on your own, it’ll amount to what I’ve told you. But if you’re on the mercy of a tour guide, well, then!
How safe is it to travel alone
Uttarakhand is many things but it is not unsafe. You are free to travel alone here, and trust me, if you encounter any trouble, it is possibly due to your bad luck. The people are lovely and supportive. Although Garhwali is the main vernacular here, people speak Hindi very well. And if you speak in English, that won’t be a problem either. Due to a large inflow of all kinds of tourists, English can be easily (if not perfectly) understood here.
Summing it up..
To find out what this place is actually like, you’ll have a pay a visit. And believe me, it’ll be one of the best trips of your life. The place is calm and quiet and is an excellent location to do some soul-searching. The air will blow out any negativity there is in you, and you’ll be refreshed. If you think that you won’t be able to do the trek because you don’t really exercise much, do not worry. It is not that difficult. The path is stone-paved and there are benches and small shops at regular intervals if you want to stop and catch your breath. And you’ll stop a lot of times. Not because the trek will tire you out, but because the views will take your breath away. There’s no hurry, no one is competing. Make your own pace and enjoy the surroundings.
A trip of 5 days will suffice to indulge in the awesomeness of Tungnath and its surroundings. The majestic mountains, the somber air, the chirping of birds, and the friendly locale will go a long way to soothe your soul. There is a reason they call Uttarakhand the home of the gods. Once you are in Tungnath, you’ll feel like you’re transported back in time. The aura of this place is very strong, and once you’re there, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. This place will rejuvenate you. It’ll breathe life into your body. And nothing will match the feeling when you realize that you’re standing at a spot where the gods once stood. Visit Tungnath, it’ll change you.