Updated: Jul 18, 2018
Chopta - Tungnath is said to be one of the easier treks in India, well, maybe in summers but in January it was nowhere close to easy. For a first time trekker like me, it was a challenging one. Many have called me crazy to have taken a winter trek for the first time.
But I wasn't made for easy!!!!!
So today I thought I will share my crazy still amazing first time trekking experience and relive those moments along with it.
And then the preparations began with regular fitness routines, exercises, dos, and don't on what to pack and how to pack by reading about the experience of others.
I was excited more so as I was going to spend my birthday on the hills. Nervous and full of doubts about whether I will make it to the top, will I enjoy it away from all the comforts or will I bring down my team. What if something happens and I get lost!!! To be honest, I was afraid what if I wasn't strong enough coz sure enough I didn't want to be a burden on the team.
I guess these are common thoughts, and it's OK to feel like that.
One day before the trek, after packing and checking my trekking gears, I finally slept for about an hour or so waiting anxiously for the things that were to unfold. Shweta, my partner in all adventures, and I started from Jaipur to Delhi with no tickets, on my first local train experience and I couldn't have been more fussy. I am terrified of overcrowded places but somehow I survived because something amazing was waiting for me.
From Delhi to Haridwar was another 5 hours journey in the bus and we took our night halt at the Haridwar Jain temple. Next day we were to meet our trek leader in Rishikesh at 8 in the morning and so we left early. It was a small group of 5 people and we were happy thinking that now it would be easy to ask for breaks, decide what to cook or even where to put our tent for the night! Well, it was a hope that didn't last long and little did we know that its the mountains that make the plans and sometimes the trek leaders! Luckily we had amazing trek leaders Archit and Bianca, who not only guided us but kept us involved with many many stories.
After breakfast and exchanging our experiences, fears and what to expect we started our drive to Sari village on the Ukhimath Chopta road which is around 8 hours drive from Rishikesh. The road took us through some of the most beautiful scenic views of Uttarakhand. After dinner in Sari, we walked around the village, wondering why the name Sari. The best we came to was that a ghost in white sari must have been seen around walking this village and so the name. We dared not to ask the local villagers...what if it was true!!!
Later, we learned how to make out tents and use our sleeping bags, it was one hell of a task to use it for the first time especially for someone like me who sleeps like a starfish on comfy soft beds and suddenly it felt like a coffin box.
Feeling strong and after a heavy breakfast the next day we began our climb at around 8 or 8.30 a.m. to Deorital lake. Legend has it that this lake is home to many gods. This wasn't my first experience with snow but camping in the snow was a different experience altogether. As soon as we reached Deorital, Archit asked us to make our tents, but we wanted to run wild, explore the place, dive into the lake. But like sincere students we did what was asked of us and was rewarded with a cup of tea. What more one can ask for, lakeside camp surrounded by snow peaked mountains, beautiful company, no office, no pollution, no crowd, amazingly cold weather and TEA. Oh, let me tell you I am a hardcore tea lover!!!
In the evening we collected woods and dry tree to build a campfire for the night. It was no easy task, but it kept us active and acclimatized us with the altitude while exploring the place. We also had our share of fun slipping down the slopes, throwing snowballs at each other and laughing our hearts out. For Shweta, it was her first time in snow so she was excited like a kid let loose in a toy store. For me, I was happy and free!
The next day, with the heavy bags on our backs, we left for Duggalbitta which took us about 7 hours. It started as a cakewalk, with beautiful views, spotting forest birds, eating energy bars, taking pictures, singing songs, stopping after every few minutes to catch a breath.
With the slow walks and the mesmerizing views the journey became pleasant. We passed through the ridges, enchanted forest, village, peaks, plucked oranges on the way and sharing our life stories.
Duggalbitta was like a scene from the movie Frozen. Not a single person around and we had the whole place to ourselves. All the abandoned tea stall, guesthouses, dhabas covered in snow like no one has ever lived here in a long time.
I couldn't wait to take photographs and explore the place. But soon had to get into more layers, find a warm place realizing how cold it was. All I wanted was a cup of hot steaming tea and to never let this day end.
I had never seen a sunset so beautiful, peaceful and colorful. It was surreal. In that moment I wished I had my tools to draw. I fell in love with sunsets all over again.
We played a few drinking games like fuzzy duck by the fire in the bone-chilling evening but of course without any alcohol (though I would have loved a glass of wine), while our snow-filled wet shoes and socks were getting thawed for the next walk. Nothing was so comforting than the warmth of the fire.
Even with layers of clothing, uncomfortable bedding, sore muscles and freezing temperature, I slept like a baby.
4 in the morning, I was awake and ready. Let me tell you, the biggest task in the morning was to do your morning business in 3 feet snow and when you know there are jackals around. When you see their footprints from the night before you have to look for the right place, out of the sight, away from water and life. Dreadful!!! But after few treks, you become kind of pooping expert.
It was an exciting day, though I knew it was a 6 hours long treacherous journey and then coming back the same day. But by now I was ready and not afraid. It started uphill and took everything of me. After an hour I was absolutely getting out of breath and it seemed that it would be impossible for me to go any further. It was an effort to even take a single step, my heart was racing and my lungs screaming "It's so tiring, why did you come here!!! But I am not going to give up, not now. Just 10 more minutes and I will be on the top", at least that's what I kept telling myself.
“When everything feels like an uphill struggle, Just think of the view from the top.” - Anonymous
After one good hour, we found an abandoned hut and I really wanted to take a break. It looked like a small cozy tea stall and it was the perfect place to stop for a while. Bianca was kind enough to make us some tea and share energy bars. Soon I regained some of my energy and was good to go. The wind was getting very cold and sharp as we were gaining height and with that, the view was getting more and more beautiful. With that, I realized I had left my gloves in that hut and now my hands were freezing and becoming numb. It didn't matter what the temperature was, it was icy hell!!! But thank god, my leg warmers came to the rescue, don't know how I would have survived without them.
Every time I exposed my face to drink some water, I could feel the wind on my face, pinching and stabbing me.
The snow was fresh, deep and untouched. It took all my efforts to do that last climb, and finally, we reached Tungnath completely exhausted after what felt like ages.
It was onein the afternoon, I was standing at the highest Shiva temple in the world, Tungnath. Dressed like an onion, with my monkey cap, balaclava, and leg warmers as gloves.
I needed a few moments, just me, taking in everything, realizing why all the efforts were made. Everyone just stood there smiling, our eyes met a few times and we knew what the other was feeling, Wow - this is the most beautiful view I have seen in nature.
The whole place as far as I saw looked like a thick carpet of snow. The temple was almost covered in snow, the sky was clear blue like the one in postcards. I remember telling Shweta this is what one should take efforts for, nothing else matters if you can achieve this peace. And she laughed it off saying "Swati Baba ki Jai!!"
On the top at 3100 meters, our cold mitten hands wrapped around maggie and tea was something to give us warmth for the cold day and nothing could beat that.
We started descending or rather sliding on the slopes with our butts freezing. But it was so much fun that we couldn't stop ourselves to act like kids once again. Though Shweta lost her shoe in the snow while coming down on the slope and she had to bear the cold for half an hour while we all dug and searched for her lost shoe. This could have been risky, but all turned out well. The rest of the walk down was easy and we reached back to our destination completely tired though content and happy.
It took us around 2 and a half hours to reach Duggabitta where we had some cookies and soup and started descending again to Chopta which was another 3 hours or so. This time we walked on our own being alone with nature. There is no better feeling than enjoying a beautiful view while walking through nature. I was thinking "This is it and back to office in two days". But it was the best part of the journey for me. I knew I will be coming back for more!
Back at Chopta, we made out tents close to the snow and slept early after dinner. At around midnight, I heard some noises. I thought it was someone out to pee or something. But soon Shweta woke me up and asked me to check outside if anything is wrong. I was half sleepy and half willing to step outside in that super cold weather and to my surprise, I opened my tent and there was everyone from the group with a cake. UNBELIEVABLE!!! I was super happy and never expected such a beautiful surprise in a place like heaven. I totally loved that day! I wish it never ended and I wasn't getting any older. I can't imagine the energy and efforts put in that cold to make a cake specially for me, but I loved it!! Who wouldn't!!
I can't stress enough how amazing the group was.
After filling ourselves with the most delicious cake we went back to sleep as we had a long drive the next day to Rishikesh which ended my trek with beautiful memories.
This was my first trekking experience—magical, intoxicating, breaking me free and giving me a trekking bug for life!
Photo Credits: Shweta Sukhani and Swati Gupta