Deoriatal to Chandrashila peak trek
There would be hardly anyone who would not be fascinated by the Himalayas. Within the Himalayas lies the mystic Garhwal region, the land of many forts. The land here narrates many stories about the mythical Deoria tal (lake) and the majestic Chaukhamba where reflection on the lake is one of the most mesmerizing sight in the Indian Himalaya. Very near to it lies the accessible Chandrashila Peak which offers 360 degree panaromic view of many peaks. The Chandrashila peak is the highest point on the way to Tunganath – highest Shiva temple in the world.
This trek is usually done in parts. Generally trekkers begin their trek by visiting Deoria tal via Ukhimath-Sari, come back and then visit Chopta for the Tunganath-Chandrashila climb. Both the places, Sari and Chopta, are connected by roads and buses/tempos are available from Haridwar/Rishikesh via Ukhimath and Rudraprayag. Many people visit Tunganath for pilgrimage as it is one of the “Panch Kedar” temples, moreover highest of them all.
Deoria tal and Chandrashila are connected via a ridge which passes through Khiridhar and Rohini Bugyal (high altitude meadow) which offers splendid views. The trail reaches Bhrujgali at the base of Tunganath. The trail which starts from Sari going to Deoria tal – Khiri dhar – Rohini Bugyal – Bhrujgali – Tunganath and Chandrashila encompasses everything necessary in a Himalayan trek from forests, lakes, peaks to panoramas, snow and culture.
I was excited to try this circuit which promises so much in a five to six day itinerary. Besides, there are a handful of treks in India which are accessible in the winters, especially when needed during the Christmas holidays. So, this Christmas, I decided to play a Santa and gift myself the mystic trek of Deoria tal – Chandrashila which can be done even in peak winter.
It was December and just a few days back the entire North India received its first filling share of cold wave from the arctic. This resulted in heavy snowfall in many regions of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. Somewhere down my heart I knew it would be difficult to complete the trek in such weather (fresh snow is not good for trekking). I was half way towards Haridwar from Pune when I learned that the full trek is now not possible and the original itinerary was modified. The conditions were not favourable for the entire trek but it was decided that instead of cancelling the whole trek we would camp at Deoria tal for an extended period of two nights and explore the region. The fourth and fifth day of the trek were kept unplanned, to be zeroed upon later depending on the situation of the weather and snow.
I reached early on a bone chilling morning of our heart city, Delhi. My train to Haridwar was later on the day in the afternoon. I went around the old Delhi area of Chandni Chowk to satisfy my appetite for street food. Before boarding the train to Haridwar, I visited the Jama Masjid. The serenity one finds at this place despite being in a bustling environment speaks volumes of its magnificence.
I reached Haridwar in the evening, rented the room for night and went to bed soon after dinner. The next morning got up at 5:30 after a good sleep and by 6:30 I was on the road to the base village for the trek – Sari. It was cold outside but the 3 layer clothing was enough to keep me comfortable (always layer up!). We went pass Rishikesh along the deep gorges made by the holiest river in India – The Ganges. Our first stop was Devprayag, which stands on the confluence of the two main tributaries of the Ganges: the white and milky coloured Bhagirathi and the smoky coloured Alaknanda blending but still keeping their identities distinct.
Further on the way to Sari we passed through Rudraprayag, Gupt-Kashi and Ukhimath. We reached Sari around 3 in the afternoon.
The small village Sari is equipped with several hotel rooms, electricity and some dhabas. It retains the idealistic charm which is typical of a Himalayan village. The Chandrashila peak is visible from everywhere in the village. With a pair of binoculars one can easily spot the Tunganath temple, just below the main peak of Chandrashila.
Other team members arrived later in the evening followed by which we had a team-briefing and introduction sometime around sunset. The weather was chilly and cloudy but the forecast mentioned that it was expected to clear up in a couple of days. Apart from the trekking route and our itinerary, team leader Shankaran discussed many points regarding the spirit of trekking and exploration, fitness and exercise and environment conservation. The initial disappointment of not being able to complete the full itinerary was diminishing slowly.
Since, the first day was a short hike to Deoria tal, we started around 10am gradually gearing up tuning our walking rhythm with the climb. We passed the village Shiva temple and met many locals enroute. Our first stop was a viewpoint which had comfortable benches where one could sit leisurely and enjoy the views of the valley below.
Since Deoria tal is easily accessible via paved trail and is situated at low enough altitude, there are couple of dhabas at the end of the trail near Deoriatal (away from the site of the lake). We reached the dhabas at around noon (in 2 hours). Just a few metres away across the sight of the trees lies the lake. We were taken aback by the sheer beauty of the place. The first thing you notice apart from the lake is the Choukhamba peak with its horn like features at a mere hand touch distance. Later when you go near the lake you notice the panorama of peaks reflecting in the waters which is truly a wonderful sight.
After spending some time at Deoria tal we headed towards the campsite which was a little away from Deoria tal overlooking the valley and the Chandrashila peak. We had lunch and some of the trekkers went for an excursion nearby. Some of us chose to stay back and we soaked in the wonderful views of the valley and the peaks from a nearby shelter known as sunset point, located just above the campsite.
The next day after breakfast we again went near the lake this time making a complete circle around it. Later we proceeded towards a nearby small hill called Rupini. The unexplored trail offered excellent views of the peaks and the valley below. All around the snow, we could identify the foot markings of animals like deer, leopards and bear. We reached the base of the hill after 2 hours of leisurely walk and had our packed lunch. Our TL Shankaran showed us some tricks of rock climbing and we tried them on a nearby rock patch. Apart from the beautiful views all round and the animal marks, we sighted a large population of Egyptian Vultures at Rupini.
While coming back we ascended the small hill. On the other side, while walking on the ridge facing the valley we saw a helicopter approaching us. It was an air force helicopter and it came as near as a few metres away from us. It halted mid-air for a few seconds and we could see the pilot in the cockpit, after exchanging pleasantries it flew away (see the video below). It was a thrilling experience and everyone was super excited.
On the way back we spent some more time photographing the reflections of the peaks at the Deoria tal in the golden sunlight of the evening. All that glitters is not gold but the view we saw was definitely more precious than gold!!
Later in the evening after witnessing a beautiful moonset (just couple of hours after the sunset) we played games around the camp fire and shared amusing stories before hitting the bed. The clear weather and ample of sunlight was a good sign, so we decided to go back to Sari village by a new route through the highest peak in the region called “Khiri dhar” and the next day we aimed to drive towards Chopta and attempt the climb towards Tunganath and Chandrashila.
Upkeeping the plan, we started around 9 from the campsite. It was a beautiful sunny day and we had a long walk ahead of us. We passed couple of small hills and reached the highest peak – Khiri Dhar in couple of hours. The view throughout and especially at the peak was breathtakingly beautiful. On one side was a deep valley overlooking Sari and Chandrashila peak and on the other side was the views of the mighty Chaukhamba peak. We spent some 20 mins at the peak and started our descend towards Sari.
The trail down Khiri dhar passed through dense forests and the nature of trail changed completely. After a long descend of more than 3 hours we reached Sari around 3 in the afternoon. We immediately went to our rooms for some rest and to re-energise for the long day tomorrow.
Later in the evening we re-accessed the situation for our climb to Tunganath. The trail was entirely covered with fresh snow. To our knowledge nobody had attempted to open the trail after the heavy snowfall. Opening the trail was a difficult job that involved effort and time. Besides vehicles were not going all the way to Chopta due to blockage of roads because of heavy snowfall. We decided to start early the next day and proceed by vehicle upto the point where vehicles can go and then proceed on foot.
The next day we started early morning at 6 am and reached upto Baniya Kund (3-4kms downhill to Chopta) around 7:30. We lost time because our vehicle was stuck in snow and we had to do perform a rescue to take it out.
After a 10mins of walking on the road we decided to take a shortcut up the hill towards Chopta to save time. After a tiring 1 hour climb we reached Chopta around 9.
Chopta was deserted like a ghost town. Not a single soul was seen, only locked shops and guest houses. Taking a brief stop at Chopta we started towards Tunganath, the trail was not marked, so we had to dig into snow and had to put in more effort. The soft snow and cold made the situation worse. Making slow progress, we reached the Bhrujgali campsite at the base of Tunganath around 10:30. Here we decided that the turning back point would be around 12-12:30. We would have to make a long walk back upto Baniya Kund or Dugalbetta (further down) to reach the road head, since the road leading to Chopta was blocked due to snow. A combination of cold, snow and fatigue due to constant trail breaking forced us to arrive at this decision.
Till Brujhgali the team leader Shankaran had led us, but after that looking at the constant effort the person leading has to put in to open the trail we all contributed in turns.
By 12:15 we were only able to climb on till Devi Darshini, Tunganath was still half a kilometre ahead of us. But fatigue and cold forced us to turn back. We were not much disappointed, the views throughout had compensated everything. Besides we were satisfied by the hard work we had put in as a team to open the trail so far.
After a brief stop at the top we started descending and had packed lunch near the Bhrujgali campsite. We reached the Baniya Kund by 3:30, but had to go further down to Dugalbetta for the vehicle. Finally we reached Sari by sunset. It was a special ride after a long hard day and the setting sun provided a perfect backdrop.
Later in the evening we had a small party celebrating the teams effort and the next proceeded towards Haridwar-Delhi. Inspite of the curtailed itinerary we were able to take out maximum from the trek. For more details about the trek read the trek guide on Deoriatal to Chandrashila Peak trek.