Saturday, November 30, 2013

Trip to Uttarakhand - Chopta, a mesmerizing beauty

This was a trip that I had somehow betrayed last year. A solo trip then, a solo trip now!
And what a trip! And what a place, what sceneries….slices of heaven!

Reaching Chopta

Last minute bookings landed me on the LTT HW AC SUP express to Haridwar. If anyone is taking this train, please be aware that there is no pantry and it stops at very few stations. So food is a major problem. I arrived at Haridwar at 2:00 pm. The good part about traveling in trains is that you spend considerable time in it and then…you strike conversations, with strangers, unknown faces and you realize how similar and how different the lives of others are. This time around I struck lots of such conversations and it was fun – right from the stories of the Pilsbury chef from Rishikesh to the loud mouth guy from Delhi!

If you are traveling to the mountains in Uttarakhand, you need to bear in mind that reaching them itself is an arduous task and you can spend your entire day just traveling to your destination. It is very important that you go as forward as you can on that single day so that you save time the next day for the rest of the travel. I wasted no time, had a quick bite of aloo parathas (which I was to regret extensively later) at a joint near to the Haridwar bus stand, and embarked on my journey to Rishikesh.  As the bus snaked out of Haridwar, I noticed that that the river bed where the great Ganges would have been flowing some months back was devoid of the holy water and all that was left over was countless white pebbles with children playing and others defecating. Not a drop of water considering the devastation the torrent had caused a few months back; destroying entire houses and families in the deluge.

From Rishikesh, I managed a bus only to Garhwal Srinagar and not Rudraprayag as I had wanted to and halted there for the night. A point to be made here is, if you can spend some extra moolah; please prefer jeeps than the state transport or private buses. The way they drive will get your innards jumping and you will feel pukish in no time. I too let out a torrent in no time. Even though the jeeps stuff you like chicken, yet better than the buses. The cold was catching up now.

Early morning I was out in the cold waiting to be taken to Rudraprayag. If you decide to travel in a jeep, rest assured to spend at least an hour waiting and consider that in your travel time because the vehicle will not leave until it is jam packed. You might have to wait for as long as 3 hrs sometimes as I did while returning back at Rudraprayag. Finally I traveled by bus. From Rudraprayag I went to Ukhimath in a jeep. Rudraprayag is a small town boasting the confluence of two huge rivers viz. the Alakananda and the Mandakini. It is a halt over destination for most travelers traveling to Kedarnath, Badrinath and other popular tourist and religious destinations in upper Uttarakhand. The drive from Rudraprayag to Ukhimath gave a glimpse of the devastation that had happened a few months back. In some places, the roads were completely missing, gone down, washed away by the flood. The makeshift roads were just spacious enough for one vehicle and if you saw a vehicle already entering that path, you had to patiently wait till he covered the entire stretch and crossed you. At some places, the roads were really dangerous, both due to the floods and due to the landslides. At places, there are chances of the vehicle toppling as it steers on the edges of the mountains. From Ukhimath to Chopta, where my camp was, the roads are very smooth. Driving through the jungle ghats with Garhwali music playing on the car stereo and tall forest trees lining the roads, we reached the Alpine Adventure Campsite in Chopta.

The campsite is strategically and scenically located 7 kms from Chopta in a place called Dugalbitta, in a meadow, a small valley with a panoramic view of the tall mountains. The view that lay in front of my tent was mind boggling. The snow clad peaks of Kedarnath, Mandani and Chaukhamba right before me eyes and the naked Chandrashila peak behind me was right out of a picture postcard. Looking at my Swiss tent brought a contentedness. It was big enough with a king size bed, a small table, 2 chairs, attached toilet and bathroom. Smoothened stones formed the flooring of the bathroom. Taking a quick hot bath, I sat for lunch facing the snow clad mountains and it couldn’t have been a better ambiance. Soaring eagles, chirping birds, magpies dragging their tails like gliding paper airplanes, the looming silence, the clear skies, a distinct cloud looking puny floating across a mountain; the food just felt like an excuse!

I sat out with my book for quite a while and then went for a walk with the camp owner Manoj Negi and his friend. He showed me the nearby bungalow built by the Britishers which had the privilege of having Mrs.Indira Gandhi as its guest. We walked till an opening which gave a clearer view of the mountains. Then we trekked for a few minutes to an opening in the middle of the forest which gave an even better panoramic view. As we walked back to our campsite, the sun was setting and the golden hue engulfing the mountains was unbelievable.

Another magical sight I saw at the camp was the rising of the moon exactly from the peak of Chandrashila; a full moon. It felt like an undeterred romance between the moon and the mountain, the silhouettes of the swaying trees in the dark like a performing choir, the gleaming snow on the slanting slopes blessing the couplet. If this was not a marriage made in heaven, then what was? The spreading light of the moon made the snow clad mountains look white washed.

As I crawled in the thick blankets donning my monkey cap and gloves, the temperature fell to just a little above zero degree Celsius. Ever tried turning pages wearing leather gloves? Quite a task, I must say, so I read only for some time and then pushed off early in anticipation of a great trek to Deoriatal the next morning.

Distances, time and modes of transport

Travel itinerary
Time required (may vary with traffic, land slides and road conditions)
Mode of Transport
Haridwar to Rishikesh
20 kms
1 – 1 ½ hrs
Bus, Sharing Jeep
INR 33 (Bus)

Rishikesh to Srinagar
106 kms
3 – 3 ½ hrs
Bus, Sharing Jeep
INR 140 (Bus), ~ INR 100 (
Sharing Jeep)

Srinagar to Rudraprayag
35 kms
1 hr
Bus, Sharing Jeep
INR 45 (Bus), ~ INR 100 (
Sharing Jeep)

Rudraprayag to Ukhimath
43 kms
2 – 3 hrs
Bus, Sharing Jeep
INR 80 (Sharing Jeep), ~ INR 80 (Bus)
Roads were in a bad shape when I visited
Ukhimath to Chopta
30 kms
40 mins – 1 hr
Car./Jeep Sharing jeeps don’t ply here and you need to book a vehicle. Buses used to go through this route but due to the recent disaster, that service has been discontinued until further notice. The frequency of buses anyway is poor.
INR 800 – 1200
The road conditions are very good

A misty morningin Garhwal Srinagar as I waited for the bus for Rudraprayag

The Malabar whistling thrush

My tent at Alpine Adventure Camp, Dugalbitta

View of the Kedarnath and Mandani peaks from the campsite

Alpine Adventure Camp

The range of snow clad mountains

Zoomed kedarnath peak


Ghar ka khaana

Picture perfect


The guest house built by the Britishers in 1925

Me and Manoj Negi

Chandrashila peak

Magpie Jungle Camp

Alpine Adventure Camp

Kitchen of Alpine Adventure Camp

What a view!