Chopta Chandrashila Trek: An adventure to cherish, and reminisce in times to come
“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open” – Jawaharlal Nehru
There isn’t a more genuine eye-opening quote that I have come across in recent times than the one above. And heeding that, I ventured on to experience Himalayan bliss – by undertaking one of the easiest treks. “Easiest”, well, only on paper! As one of our experienced trek members exclaimed: “Every trek, whether you consider it as easy or difficult, is an adventure of its own. So, don’t you dare to have any preconceived notions about any trek you are going to undertake!”.
On paper, the Chopta-Chandrashila Trek featured as a short 5-day trek with no steep climbs and relatively simpler terrain compared to other treks. But, if you are not in the prime of your youth, and fitness is a burning issue, then any trek can prove to be difficult, irrespective of it being classified as easy, moderate or difficult. This was one of the first lessons that I and my friend derived out of the first of many treks to undertake.
The second, but not the least important, lesson was about your gear and clothes. My friend was a little unprepared on that front, given that we were first-time trekkers. And, believe me, Himalayan winters are fully capable of sending that chill right down to your bones, if you aren’t covered in the warmest of apparel.
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The trek, organised by TTH, really started at Sari village which we reached after undertaking an exhausting 9-10 hours journey through the precipitous roads from Haridwar (and Rishikesh). Exhausting, because the government is broadening these roads, which, unfortunately, meant the bad condition of present-day roads and unavoidable traffic delays. Nevertheless, after reaching Sari Village, we had a good cup of tea and a vegetarian dinner after which we went to our respective, allotted rooms. Meanwhile, I tried (in vain) to capture star trails using my DSLR.
The next day’s itinerary was to wake up at around 07:30 am, have tea and breakfast by 9:00 am and then begin our ascent to Deoria Tal Trek by 10:30 am. We did all that and surprisingly, we were punctual by the minute despite being a strong 15-member group brimming with our idiosyncrasies, habits and behaviours. Led by our experienced trek leaders, Mahendra Singh and Billoo (but not Bhayangkara!) Negi, we ascended the entire 3 km stretch with many breaks in between – to catch our breath, capture some beautiful scenery, and chit-chat with fellow mates. This created a great bonding between us, and by the time we had settled in the tents at Deoria Tal, we were playing games, doing casual talks, and making jokes about each other – as if we had known each other from times immemorial! The Chandrashila peak is visible at a distance while trekking from Sari to Deoria Tal.
After we reached Deoria Tal, dumped our bags in the allotted tents, and had our lunch, we went on to explore Deoria Tal Lake. The trail was covered with snow and was a little slippery which made the short journey to the lake even more exciting! And when we had the first glimpse of the lake with the great Himalayan peaks in the background, life felt so much more blissful and beautiful! Trek members clicked a few photographs there, and we explored the entire area for another 2-3 hours. Captured from the Deoria Tal trail with the Chaukhambha peak in the background. After returning from the lake, we had a sumptuous dinner meal, to say the least, and everyone filled their tummies to the maximum, enjoying every morsel of food that they ingested. The temperature hovered around – 4°C now, and we were shivering literally. However, the excitement of tomorrow and the tasty dinner brought some warmth, and we slept by 08:30 pm in our sleeping bags (which were uncomfortable, to say the least!).
The next few days
The next morning, we rose to witness the rising sun, at around 07:00 am, converting the snow on mountain tops to fleeting mist, giving us a mesmerising view. Until the sun’s rays touched our respective tents, the cold was palpable. We had our tea/breakfast immediately and started descending to Sari Village. Reaching Sari village, we gorged on our pre-packed lunch and started off to Buniya Kund in the same Tempo Traveller that transported us in the beginning. The road to Buniya Kund was littered with sleet and snow on the sides, and this made the journey more exciting! However, after a point, the vehicle could not move due to the potential of it skidding off on the slippery road. So, we started walking for another 2 km – the unplanned part of the journey – to reach our respective rooms in Baniya Kund. This helped us not only acclimatise but also give us a taste of the rigour and stamina that was needed on D-day when we undertake the final ascent to the Tungnath and Chandrashila peaks. Descending from Deoria Tal back to Sari for our onward journey to Buniya Kund.
Reaching Baniya Kund, we clicked a few more pictures of the Himalayan peaks as these were a little closer, relaxed, ate pakoras and drank tea like there was no tomorrow! Meanwhile, our trek leader provided us with Gaiters and Teeth Claws Crampons, which will help us the next day when we begin our ascent through the snow trail. As usual, dinner was served by 07:30 pm and we went to our respective rooms and played games till 10:00 pm.
The final ascent
Waking up the next day at 05:00 am became a little difficult because of the cold and also because I am not a morning person. Nevertheless, people were punctual and after doing our ablutions, and having breakfast, we began in earnest by 06:30 am, trekking through the darkness. We had to ascend 9 km that day with a short break at Chopta after 4 km. The climb seemed a little tiring on paper, but once we started, the momentum carried us on. We reached Chopta at around 08:15 am and from there the well-laid path to Tungnath began. However, the path was covered with snow but with Gaiters and Teeth Claws Crampons we had new-found confidence in finding grip and moving forward. With less talk and more action, the entire group moved as a single queue with the trek leaders helping anyone left behind. We reached Tungnath at around 10:30 am and clicked some beautiful pictures on the way! The temple was closed, as all such temples are in winter months, and we paid our respects from outside and started almost immediately to the Chandrashila top.
The final ascent, from Tungnath to Chandrashila, is the steepest with a distance – of 1.5 km – feeling like 3 km. But most members mustered enough courage and determination to make the ascent slowly and steadily, some eventually helped by the trek leaders. The final ascent from Tungnath to Chandrashila peak at 13,000 ft. We took 2-3 breaks in between to catch our breath and appreciate the natural beauty which held us spellbound. The entire group took around an hour to reach the Chandrashila top and everyone was congratulated by the veteran trekkers and the trek leaders on achieving this milestone. We spent another hour with the group, photographing and soaking in the Himalayan splendour from Chandrashila top. Our trek leader, Mahendra Singh, gave us a riveting narrative about the various Himalayan peaks visible from there, including the Nanda Devi, Kedarnath and Chaukhambha Peaks.
The descent from Chandrashila to Baniya Kund was easy and took much less time than the ascent. And we were left wondering while descending how on earth did we manage to cover so much distance! All in all, it was a wonderful trek (with no untoward incidents happening), with clear blue skies, and great Himalayan scenery that not only made us appreciate nature even more but also encouraged us to undertake more Himalayan treks in the future!