Its been a while since twenty one pilot’s Stressed out had been playing in my head on a loop – “Wish we could turn back time, to the good old days”. When the brain fogs and crankiness settles in, I know it’s time to take a break and hit the road. Being a mountain lover, my first choice is always the mountains. After a few weeks of pondering, we (Husband and me), decided to explore Uttarakhand hillsides
Chopta to cool off the overthinking brain.
With all the necessary things packed we left for Chopta on Saturday noon from Dehradun. We prefer driving instead of taking public transport or hired cabs, as it gives us the freedom to make a pit stop anywhere. Our vehicle of choice rolls on five wheels; the four wheels (air pressure checked) and music (updated playlists, aux cable, speakers, and power banks). One hour into the drive and we crossed Rishikesh and made it to our first pit stop in Byasi. A glass of hot tea and coriander/tomato flavoured Maggi was enough to kick in the feel of chill of the mountains. While crossing Byasi, we not only left behind the hustle of the city, but also the secure cover of 3G network ; and our playlist moved from the Gaana.com to good old Rock and Roll.
About 40kms from Byasi is when we entered Devprayag. It’s the place where river Alaknanda and river Bhagirathi meet to become the holy Ganges. And it makes you wonder
“Oh re taal mile nadi ke jal mein
Nadi mile saagar mein
Saagar mile kaun se jal mein
Koi jaane na”
A few minutes break to hold the moment and we were back on the road. Approximately 70kms from Devprayag is Rudraprayag. Our initial plan was to cover the entire distance by evening and reach Chopta before dusk. But, we started off late from Dehradun which ideally was not a very wise decision. Being completely unaware of the road conditions and noticing the mountains being covered in a blanket of pitch darkness; we decided to halt and stay in Rudraprayag.
Next morning, the sun rays peeped through our curtains and it was time to rise and shine and leave for Ukhimath. The bone freezing winds hitting us, we moved through the serpentine roads often stopping for directions and landmarks from the locals.
The roads are in good conditions, barring few rough spots which are the landslides prone areas. Drive slow, stick to your side and bask in the amazing landscape. On one side it’s the river Mandakini that gurgles down. The other side is lined by dense Deodar forests and the snow clad peaks sitting like a crowned jewel.
The main reason I don’t like to drive is cause I feel like gazing out of the window and just thinking. And when you have a view like this, who wants to concentrate on the road? The landscape is right out of my childhood drawing books. An isolated home with a chimney and smoke curling out of it, a river streaming down, a small kitchen garden ,snow covered peaks, shining bright sun and birds chirping around.
Ukhimat is a small village that functions as a base for many treks. It is approximately 20 kms from Kund. We stayed at Snow View Point (Tripadvisor), which is more of a home stay run by a local. It’s nested in a dense jungle and easily approachable by road. The rooms are very well maintained, clean and comfortable. Most of the village has no electricity, no network (BSNL,IDEA works in some random sprinkled locations) and there is no running hot water available. But, the people maintaining the home-stay will go out of their way to make your stay comfortable and provide with all things required. For a few hours in the evening, the staff uses generators, just enough to charge your phones, batteries, power banks. The staff there also provides for hot water as and when required. We had all our meals arranged by the staff at Snow View Point. The food is staple home cooked meals, served hot.
We filled our empty stomachs and headed out for a climb on Deoria tal. It’s a roughly 3km uphill trek from Sari village. The path is steep and the terrain is rocky too. Every trek uphill (a step at a time, a stone at a time) helped me relax and enjoy the hike. Once atop, the lake surrounded by dense forests and snow clad peaks will knock all the breathlessness out of you. The snow peaks visible are Hathi parvat, Kedarnath, Meru, Sumeru, Mandani and Chowkhamba. Locals believe it to be the lake where Yudhisthira answered all questions of Yakshya .
Sitting near the deoria tal I spotted some haystacks moving. Beneath those massive hay stacks were these petite women.
The moment they stopped to catch a breath, I rushed to them to find out about their hidden body strength. At first, they were a bit hesitant but once I showed them the pictures I clicked of them, they were these giggling teenagers wanting some more. The daily struggle these women go through is numbing. From stepping out to walk for miles in search of fodder for their livestock, to climbing tall pine trees with a machete to arrange for firewood, the ‘pahadi’ women are ‘Superwoman’. The older ones fondly called as ‘Ija’ are the story tellers. The ones that weave stories around the mountains, of the Gods that inhabit them and the witches who hang around the Banyan trees.
Sharing a cup of tea with them made us realize how basic necessities are a luxury for them. As the sun went down and the women walked away with their stacks, it was time to descend down and get back to our hosts for the night, who had warned us to be back before dawn as bears and leopards are often spotted around the hiking trail. For anyone who wants to sleep under the stars, tents/camps and rooms atop Deoria tal are available for camping besides the lake.
Next morning we headed out towards Tungnath, abode of Shiva. Tungnath is at a height of 3080 meters. It’s the highest Shiva temple in the world and one of the five Panch Kedars. The trek path is stone paved and goes through breath-taking meadows. Another 1.5kms hike from Tungnath takes you to Chandrashiela. The sheer scale of such magnificence fills your heart and soul with feelings one can’t put in words.
Laying under the sun, covered in a blanket of blue, listening to Floyd and breathing so clear that you can taste the incredibly exhilarating air. A feeling of calmness one can only feel but can’t quantify in black and white. These are the moments that humbles you and makes you forget about the trivial things in life. Moments when you absorb the silence around and for once just end the thought of tomorrow.
With our lungs full of fresh air and hearts full of gratitude it was time for the city dwellers to head back to our concrete jungles and leave behind the majestic hills and its people.
The mountain people whether old or young have a distinctive smell, it’s the smell of relentless hard work, the smell of incredible strength to endure the harsh mountain conditions and of the respect they have for their land. A smell you wish you could bottle up to take with you back to the land that teaches you survival.