Saturday, December 7, 2013

Tungnath - To the worlds highest Shiva temple - In Gods' land

Tungnath - To the worlds highest Shiva temple - In Gods' land (18th Nov 2013)
Tungnath temple - one of the Panch Kedars

Another chilly winter morning in Dugalbitta, Chopta! Through blurry sleepy eyes, the snow clad mountains were still as beautiful as I had seen them a couple of days back. The scenery of the immediate valley with singular houses and narrow walking paths, the dense forest to the right and the towering Chandrashila peak behind was the same, as incredible as ever. The moon refused to disappear even though the sun had risen. Time seemed to be still here.

Experiencing the quietness is a meditation in itself. Today was the last day I would be spending here and I wanted to take in as much as I could of the clean crisp air; but it is never enough. Away from the incorrigible personality of the city’s speedy bustle, a thought lingered whether I could spend the rest of my life here, would I be able to cope with the slowness, with the hard grounded stability, with the heaviness of nothing much to do. Did I have the guts to live without a clogged mind, would I always be left wanting for more? Could these mountains, this clean air, the chirping birds, these swaying trees, these green meadows, these snow clad peaks, the incredible layers of varying hues be able to hold an undying interest, would they satiate me to the extent that I look no further? As I nurtured these thoughts while warming my hands in the wood fire in the kitchen, I looked at the cook and imagined his life and the life of the nepali old guy who they call ‘Mistri’ who has no family and has just chanced to wander and end up here. Tea is done in five minutes, lunch and dinner in about an hour and the rest of the day is just spent warming themselves by the fire chatting and smoking their beedis or just walking around. This is their life every single day and some day they will merge into oblivion having done nothing else.

And what is this nothing else? Isn't this nothing else created by us, imposed by the mad world around us? We have become so acclimatized with this nothing else that if it were to be removed from our lives, we would urgently go limp in the brain, into a coma, into the dead end of blankness!

because in spite of all this thoughts

After a few hours gleefully spent bird watching (and I did see some interesting birds including what seems to be the resident bird, the yellow billed blue magpie), I was on the back seat of my guide’s pulsar off to Tungnath in Chopta. Tungnath is the highest Shiva temple in the world and stands at an altitude of 3680 metres. It is one of the Panch Kedars, the others being Kedarnath, Rudranath, Madhyameshwar and Kalpeshwar. The trek base was around 7 kms away from the campsite i.e. Dugalbitta. I got a glimpse of the pleasure lying ahead as could see bushes of snow on the way to the trek base. The path to Tungnath is in the midst of a wildlife sanctuary and you need to pay for entering it. The path, similar to the one to Deorital is a cemented ‘6 footiya’. The initial part of the trek is through dense forest and at the beginning of the trek there is a Shani Devta temple.

Small bridges here and there, painted in green give a pretty outlook to the trek. In the very beginning of the trek itself, we were awarded by a posing Monal. The Monal is the state bird of Uttarakhand. It is said to have 9 colours as compared to 7 colors of the peacock (as told to me by my guide). Though less ostentatious than the glory of a dancing peacock, the colors of the fluffy Monal ooze out a beautiful radiance. This trek is less steep than the trek to Deoria Tal, but longer. It is a moderate trek with certain sections being steeper. What started as a glimpse of snow became more and more permanent as the trek progressed. Lazily spread bugyals (meadows) beautified the green pastures among the snow. The snow sloping in parts on the mountain looked like a giant scoop of vanilla ice cream with chocolate flakes in between. As we left the forest behind, the scenery opened up to the mountains and what a sight. I would tire myself describing the beauty of it so I leave it to the photographs that I clicked. A little away from the summit is a peak overlooking a deep gorge where Ravana is said to have meditated. Sri Ram is said to have meditated on the Chandrashila peak which stands majestically above the Tungnath temple and is at a further trekking distance of 2 kms.

We trekked to the Tungnath temple between slates of slippery snow turned to ice. The temple is closed during winter as the symbolic image of the deity is moved to Mukunath. There was not a soul except for a scampering jungle hare. The architecture of the temple reminded me of the temple of Kedarnath, made of stone slates. There are other smaller shrines outside the temple. There are a few shops and guest houses lining the temple and would be a busy affair during the pilgrimage season. During the season, horses are available to transport pilgrims, tourists who are not too inclined to use their feet at a cost of INR 400-600.. Don’t miss walking to the ridge ahead of the temple. The sights you will see will set your eyes racing. From here you can see the path to Chandrashila peak. I was so mesmerized by what I saw that I just sat there for a very long time just surrendering myself to the canvas of which I was now a part of. The charisma caused by the stupendous spectacle brought forth a soft ache deep inside, a feeling that can be experienced only by a heart in love. Before me, as far as my eyes could see, lay forth dunes of at least 30 mountains artistically shaded in different hues of blue extending to the azure sky. It felt as if the waves of the ocean had come alive in the midst of the skies.

          In the summers, the meadows are covered with various colored Rhododendrons and is a sight to see. Shades of pink, red and white emerge among the green bugyals. Every season renders a different look to this place. Oh forgot to mention, on the way up, we saw pug marks of a leopard. A feeling of fear as well as amazement took over wondering whether the shy and elegant mammal would be watching us, evaluating us from a distance, hidden at a distance, camouflaged with the bushes, with the snow.

          The descent was quick and we took some shortcuts looking out for more Monals as the eagles towered us in concentric circles. There is a hotel bang opposite from where the trek starts where we had tasty local saag and daal and rice. I sort of dissolved into a melancholy state as I returned back to the camp thinking that I would see the concrete jungle after a few days and not the majestic mountains. I skipped dinner and slept!

Good bye blue skies!
The scenery I saw will remain imbibed in my memory FOREVER!
Jai Tungnathji!
Om Namah Shivay!

Some facts: 
  • Tungnath is the highest Shiva temple at an altitude of 3680 metres
  • The Chandrashila peak is a further trek of 2 kms from the temple and from there one can see the Bandar Poonch range and the Nada Devi range
  • The trek is a moderate one for 4 kms and could roughly take between 3-4 hrs
  • In the winters, the snow is as thick as 5-6  feet.
  • Tunganth is in a wild life sanctuary. Entry ticket for wildlife sanctuary - INR 150
  • Horses available at season time – INR 400-600
  • From the mountain, you can see a tin roofed research centre which researches on the various medicinal herbs found on the slopes. 
  • Being  a wild life sanctuary, don't be surprised if you spot a leopard. the locals claimed to have seen the spotted animal.

Legend of Tungnath
          Legend is that the Pandavas, on the advise of sage Vyas Rishi, wanted to approach Lord Shiva to get their sins atoned since they had slayed their own relatives in the Mahabharata battle. Lord Shiva, well aware of their wrong doings, wanted to avoid them and hence took the form of a bull and went underground in Guptkashi, where the Pandavas chased him. Later , Lord Shivas' body parts in the form aof a bull materialized at 5 different locations that represent the Panch Kedar. The Pandavas built temples at each of these 5 locations as penitence for their sins, seeking his pardon. The hands were seen at Tungnath, hump at Kedarnath, head at Rudranath, his navel surfaced at Madhyameshwar and his locks (jata) at Kalpeshwar.
Jai Tungnathji...entrance to the Tungnath sanctuary and beginning of the trek

Trekking path through the jungle

Monal - State bird of Uttarakhand

Colorful Monal



Leopard pug marks

Monal ke bacche

Monal ke baccho ki maa

Tired in paradise

Living on the edge

This is where Ravan meditated to Lord Shiva

A small temple en route

A leopard was here

Tungnath temple

Tungnath temple

Sheet of snow

Tungnath temple

Celebrating a victory

My drawing room

Basking in the rays of the sun

Soumen baba

A beautiful valley

The trekking path to Chandrashila

Chandrashila peak

What a view



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Jungli khargosh

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