Chopta is about a mile from Baniyakund. Along the way are a few tea shops and flophouses. The trail to Tunganath starts at Chopta. The main road carries on to the right and below from Chopta to Bhulkona, a mile away. From there, the road descends to Pangarbasa. The way lies through a deep forest, undulating like a giant snake through the dense canopy. The forest ends at the village of Mandal. From there the road carries on via Gopeshwar to meet the Badrinath road at Chamoli. However, those who venture up to Tunganath need not retrace their steps to Chopta. A pilgrim trail runs down over a pass below the Chandrashila summit, connecting Tunganath to Bhulkona below. It’s a steep, zig zag route down which you hurtle as if someone were pushing you off the mountain. From Tunganath, Chamoli is some18 miles.
The Pilgrim trail from Tunganath (courtesy Rudraneil)
The trail to Tunganath winds up relentlessly. It’s an ascent of some three thousand feet, though the actual distance you cover is only about 3 miles. However, it is a beautiful route, and time passes by like a lazy river without you realizing it as you marvel at the scenery. Through the trees you see far away a gallery of snow peaks- the Kedarnath-Badrinath ranges. It seems as if the green leaves frame this portrait of loveliness. I feel like I’m walking down the corridor of a massive gallery of sublime paintings by the Great Artist mounted against an azure wall. After a while the tree-line ends, and lush meadows carpeted with a riot of flowers make their appearance. Occasionally you pass little streams of snowmelt. Above, the wide dome of the sky. In the distance, the long, massive wall of the Greater Himalayas. It reminds me of that passage- “White swans unfurl their wings and sit- their eyes raised up- floating in the blue ocean of the sky.”
Panorama from the trail to Tunganath
We cross a waterfall just before we reach the temple- the Akash-Ganga. A few houses, a couple of tea shops and a dharamshala. Foregrounded by the distant snow-giants lies the beautiful temple of Tunganath, looking like a giant Shiv lingam.
The lingam worshipped here is of natural origin- a swayambhu lingam. It looks like the rear end of the mythical buffalo form that Shiva took to escape underground. The deities of the other four Kedars are also worshipped here.
The tiny hamlet of Tunganath, with the temple in the background
Tunganath is a still, peaceful place. It is over 12,000 feet in height- the weather is biting cold. Hardly any yatri stays the night here. They pay their respects to the deity and go down to Bhulkona or Pangarbasa, sometimes even all the way to Mandalchoti.
Further above the temple lies the peak of Chandrashila.
You follow a thin track up to the top. At places, even this excuse of a track vanishes. The peak is about a mile or so from the temple, and a good thousand feet higher. The track passes through little patches of grass, jumbles of boulders and the occasional thin stream. Small flowers dot the grass like a patchwork of colour. You can also find deep crimson rhododendron flowers- the nectar from these flowers taste divine.
Cairns atop Chandrashila
On the peak, there’s a short clearing dotted with cairns. Some of the stones are so placed that they remind me of the ruins of an old village or a castle. On the way to Tibet or in the higher reaches of the Himalayas, I have come across colourful cloth and paper flags. Similar flags fly here. At over 13,000 feet, Chandrashila is the highest mountain in the area. The uninterrupted 360 degree view you get from here is breathtaking.
Chaukhamba as seen from Chandrashila
In the distance, you can see an unbroken wall of snow peaks- Bandarpooch, Gangotri, Kedarnath, Chaukhamba. On the other side, Nanda Ghunti, Trishul, Dunagiri, Nanda Devi. They look unreal, like figures etched in a white chalk over a blue slate.
From here you look down into valleys so deep that it feels like you’re peering into the underworld. You can make out the faint white ribbon of a gushing mountain river; deep forests cloak the sides of some mountains; other slopes are barren- covered in hard, rough granite. Many thousands of feet below, you can see little villages and farms that look like miniature carpets. The dolls’ houses make me feel like I’ve stumbled into the playpen of the Nature. Somewhere there in those villages a dog barks. To me it seems the mountains themselves are speaking.
Heavily forested river valley below Chandrashila
The same pilgrim paths from where I could see the massive peak of Tunganath are lost to view from here. The enormity of the mountains of the Himalayas swallows up the trail to Kedarnath.
I sit still and look at this majestic scene, and my mind dances out of time. How can I describe the perfect silence of that height? A deep, pervasive sense of peace fills me.
Chandrashila is the best reward of the hard trail to Tunganath.