Beating the heat on the Deoriatal Chandrashila trek

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May 5th 2018
Published: May 17th 2018
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It had been stressful at work over the last few weeks and the temperature had soared to around 40 deg Celsius in Hyderabad. Staying at home getting fried did not seem enticing given the heat. As it had been a while since I had been to any trek, I thought what better way to chill than at the Himalayas. I looked for a few options in my bucket list but most of them were more than 7 days and I was not in a position to take such a long vacation. As I was browsing through Indiahikes, I saw Deoriatal Chandrashila trek as one of the options since it was of 5 days duration and was supposed to have beautiful views. The trek was also popular for the wildlife especially the variety of birds along the way. Then I started asking a few friends as to who would be interested in joining me. I pestered my colleague, Mayank Taneja into joining me for the trek and we made the necessary arrangements. I had also asked my school friend, Umesh if he would join since he had indicated previously that he would like to try trekking. He had never traveled above Pune in India
Confluence of Rivers at DevaprayagConfluence of Rivers at DevaprayagConfluence of Rivers at Devaprayag

Alakananda and Bhagirathi join to form Ganga
(even that was on a trip with school friends) and this was a great opportunity to not only travel north but even view the mighty Himalayas. So we were three in number finally and all of us waited excitedly for the day to arrive. Not much preparation was required for Mayank and me since we had been on treks previously but Umesh had a host of items to purchase or hire, it being his first high altitude trek. In fact he had to make a last day trip to Decathlon to get trekking bag and a few other things since all other avenues to obtain some of the trekking gear had failed (Decathlon sure are enjoying the trekking boom in India).

All the three of us reached Delhi separately with Mayank having reached early in order to attend a friend's wedding while Umesh and I flew from Bangalore and Hyderabad respectively. We both met at the airport and took the metro to the railway station. Mayank was waiting there for us and after a quick set of introductions, we started making plans for dinner. The first restaurant we visited near the railway station proved to be too clean for our liking with them even allowing rats to enjoy their food. That more or less made the decision for us that visiting Connaught place would be a wise decision. Haldirams was the place decided and a warmup walk to the place got us there within half an hour. After a satisfying dinner there, it was time to catch the train. Unfortunately, we had two seats in one bogie and one in another. Mayank decided to go and sleep there since we would only have a short rest of about 3 hours. It was a good decision since there were a few irritating Bengalis beside our berth who kept shouting even with others admonishing them. As we got down at Haridwar we got to the waiting room and freshened ourselves and all our gadgets.

At around 6 am, Shruti came to the waiting room and informed us that the van for our travel was already waiting in the parking lot. We then packed everything in the next 20 mins and went to the van where a few other people were already present. Within another half hour, the van started out towards Sari. It was sunny and Umesh having stepped into the North for the first time kept asking a lot of questions. The first stop for breakfast was at the same place where I had had my breakfast even during the Valley of flowers trek. The paratha had been memorable there and most of us went with the same. Shruti having overestimated her eating prowess ordered so many variety of parathas that she had to finally ask everyone else on the table to help her out. I went out and took a very similar photo of a small brick hut with the Ganga in bright aquamarine color in the background which I had taken in my previous visit here. From there, it was mostly an uneventful drive through Rishikesh, Devaprayag and Rudraprayag. In Devaprayag, we witnessed the beautiful view of the confluence of rivers Alakananda and Bhagirathi to form Ganga. In between the van stopped for a quick lunch as Mayank kept typing away furiously on his mobile providing constant updates to .... By the time we reached Sari, the weather had considerably cooled down with the increase in altitude. All of us took our rooms (3 in a room) for the night in the lodges organized by Indiahikes. Snacks was served for which our lunch box and tumbler had to be removed (and washed later too). Akshay, our trek lead met us there and started giving guidance to the folks on the rental trek gear and stuff. We also caught a glimpse of the Chandrashila peak which was far away but seemed to have snow on top. Then came the standard pre-trek lecture along with the introductions. We were 18 in number - Moses, Prajeeth, Sai and Shruti from Chennai, Aditi and Janhavi from Mumbai, Ashish, Madhur and Anjana from Delhi, Diksha, Koushik, Rama, Shruti and Saraswati from Bangalore and Rohit from Dehradun. We had a variety of folks with a few who had been to treks and a few who were first timers. After the details on how to behave on the trek along with the details on the health concerns (AMS), Akshay told us that the next day would be an easy day with just around 3 kms trek. By the time he was done, the dinner was ready with hot Jalebis as dessert. Mayank, Umesh and I then went for a small walk in the town post dinner which turned out to be really refreshing and helped in meeting my step goal for the day. Then before going to sleep Mayank went on a marathon call (lasted for about 1 and a half to 2 hours) which had put doubts of whether he had gotten lost or fallen into a ditch into our minds.

Waking up to a beautiful scenery of hills in the background with yellow-green grass and huts in the vicinity is something I would love to get used to. A number of birds were also enjoying a morning flight and chirping everywhere. I got my camera out and tried to get a few shots. Then it was time to get ready and the breakfast was set. There was a delicious spread of idly, sambar, steamed potato, boiled egg and hot tea. Umesh learnt for the first time how to have hot beverages courtesy of Mayank. Everyone was set and all the folks who had offloaded dropped off their bags. I too had offloaded this time since I have been increasingly finding it difficult to manage my camera gear which has been gaining weight (Would love to hear from anyone who has managed to balance the weights of both camera bag and the trekking backpack without any hindrance to getting good shots during a long trek). At the start Akshay explained details of how to use trekking pole, how to carry the backpacks etc which are extremely important during the trek. Kuldeepji and Ashutoshji were to be our local guides for the trek. Kuldeepji announced at the start itself that though his face and tone seem very serious, he was a very jolly man. We started off on a road and took a detour to start ascending on a rocky path. With a lot of time to kill no one was in a hurry and everyone kept stopping at regular intervals. Near a local temple we stopped for a while where we were given some details of the place. Kuldeepji started off with a few riddles followed by the explanation of the peaks which we could now clearly see. The himalayas till 9000 ft in Uttarakhand are called Shivalik ranges. The peaks of Kala parbat, Ramshila, Chandrashila and Ravanshila loomed directly in front of us. A number of birds which included the Himalayan Bulbul and the Grey Bushchat were enjoying their time in the sun. The rest of the trek was mostly uneventful and we reached our campsite easily at around noon. The camp was right next to Deoriatal lake which was gleaming in the bright sun with Chaukamba just above it. After a bit of stretching, we were given rasna for refreshment and then given a demo on how to pitch a tent and other details regarding the camp etiquette. Mayank, Umesh and I climbed up to sit on a few benches which had been placed opposite to the lake to enjoy the views where Ashish, Madhur and Anjana joined us. Madhur was super excited when he learnt that a few of us knew mafia and wanted to convince others to play it. By then lunch was ready and all of us moved to the dinner tent. I accidentally mistook a chili to be one of the milder varieties and ate a whole of it. After a few seconds, I had to gulp in a lot of water in spite of which I could not stop tears streaming down my face for a while. Moral: Do consult the cooks about chilis and do not assume anything. As a tidbit Moses told us that there exists a chili by the name Bhut Jolokia found in Assam which is supposed to be one of the hottest chilis in the world. Post the ordeal few of us sat down in the shade of a tree and started discussing random topics. From psychology to TV shows, we discussed quite a variety of subjects. Of course when one talks of TV shows, "the" TV show has to be a part of it i.e. GOT. The immediate judgemental tone of Ashish saying "How can you not have watched it ?" when Janhavi said that she has not watched the show was priceless. During this time few folks went for a small hike to discover the area while a few took rest in their tents. At around 3 pm just before the snacks, we played a bit of frisbee by calling out the person we were throwing the frisbee to which in turn helped us remember the fellow trekker's names. Then slowly as more people joined in we again had a name intro round followed by a very interesting game called "Mamaji ke Dhoti main". The game was simple where Akshay initially just told us to tell our favorite movie. After that he asked us to tell the same with the prefix "Mamaji ke Dhoti main". Anyone who understands Hindi can imagine the laughs it generated with movies like "Swades", "Jigardandaa", "Dark Knight" etc. We played a few other group games including 7 up (a person starts counting and the person with the number 7 has to point to a direction), Dishoom (when a person's name is called out, he/she needs to duck immediately and the two on either side need to shoot and the fastest to shoot saying dishoom stays) and finally Mafia. As always Mafia had its share of fun and fights and it was time for snacks before we were able to finish one game properly. Post snacks we climbed up a path above the lake to catch the sunset from a view point. It was not that great a view point since the lake was not clearly visible due to a covering of bushes. A herd of mountain goats passed us enjoying the sunset and having their share of leaves. Once we were back Shruti was adamant that we should play mafia since she had missed the previous game. We obliged and had another round of mafia. By the time this was done, dinner was ready where we were told of the next day's plans. Kuldeepji also told us the story of how Deoriatal lake was created as we were having our food. The story was as follows. After the defeat at the hands of Krishna, the Nag Devata reached Sari to settle. But the resident Devata asked him to leave and told him he could head towards Deoriatal's location (the lake did not exist at that time) and sent a guide there. When the Nag Devata reached there before he could setup everything, the guide told that he had to head back to Sari. The Nag Devata told him that as a return gift as long as he did not turn back he would get a cow when he reached Sari. But if he turned back, then the cow would not be there with him. The guide could not contain his curiosity and turned before reaching Sari and did not get the cow. When he went back to talk to the Nag Devata, the lake had been created and he headed back empty handed as the Nag Devata had gone into the lake. Ever since the local folk also have a celebration every year and supposedly two dancers always used to welcome the Nag Devata during the celebration when he used to visit them by coming out. After a while they became arrogant and decided that they would not dance one year. When the Nag Devata came and saw that they were not dancing, they were pulled into the lake and it is said that their skulls reached one of the streams that flows near a town some distance ahead. The lake was also the one where the Pandavas faced the Yaksha Prashna. This was all very exciting to hear and all of us enjoyed the narration. It was then time to call it a day. Before we went to sleep, Mayank and I had a very philosophical and deep conversation with Umesh with him revealing his state of mind after some of his experiences. Mayank asked Umesh such deep questions that even now Umesh is thinking of his life and what it holds in store for him.

The next morning we got up to see the sun starting to brighten the Himalayan peaks. I quickly freshened up and rushed to the other side of the lake so that I could get the reflections of the peaks on the lake along with the golden glow. Another advantage of going to that location was that there were a number of birds which seemed to be enjoying the views too. I got a few beautiful shots and called Mayank to join me. As we went back to the camp, everyone was getting ready. I had a chat with Akshay about photography and its intricacies for a while as we enjoyed the environment. After having breakfast and packing the lunch (it was going to be a long day), I went to explore the back of our camp which seemed to have a lot of birds chirping on the dense tall trees. I was rewarded with the sight of Rufous Sibia enjoying its morning snacks on a tree. Our whole group then started off in fairly good spirits and got to see a few more birds on our way up the slope beside the lake. The path from there was a continuous ascent for a while on a rocky terrain. At the top was a flag post and further ahead we could see a number of rhododendron trees with a few of them flowering. It was along this path and further through a forest of maple trees that we got to hear the spectacular story of Moses' college life which if a director or producer had heard would have definitely made a movie out of. It had all the drama, fighting and action scenes typical to a South Indian movie. As the discussions continued the topics kept changing from the culture of people in medical colleges, harassment in colleges and even the medicines and how people misuse them leading to evolution of the bacteria with better potency. Not to mention, Moses was also a treasure trove of dairy milk and kept offering it to everyone at every stop we took. All along the way the peaks kept peeking at us at times and we again got a beautiful view of Chaukamba at Rohini Bugyal. It was a very spacious meadow and was perfect spot for a picnic with a number of butterflies darting from one small flower to the next. Aditi was a store of hide and seek and peanuts and we enjoyed them in between one of the breaks. Even then we were feeling hungry and took out our sandwiches since Akshay told us that we would stop for lunch only after about an hour or more. It took us quite some time to reach the stream where we stopped for lunch. Everyone was exhausted by then and we had our lunch listening to the music on the speakers from Madhur. We also found a huge stash of plastic which Akshay carried onward to make sure we reduce the pollution along the trekking path. After the prolonged stop, it was time to head back to the route towards Chopta. Shurti and Aditi in full flow were walking ahead of Kuldeepji in the wrong direction when we alerted them to it. Kuldeepji had wanted us to let them go ahead for a while and make the long walk back. As the path wound and kept going, a lot of folks kept pestering Kuldeepji with questions like "when will reach Chopta ?", "how far is our camp ?" and so on. At one point Akshay got a bit irritated and told everyone that once one comes to trek, they should be ready and not care about the distance or time since there are easier ways to get to the place
Beauty of the mountainsBeauty of the mountainsBeauty of the mountains

At Rohini Bugyal
if one did not want to trek. Over the treks I have also learnt to just move along enjoying the views and talking to new folks along the way. You get used to a pace and stop worrying about how long it is going to take. You get to hear amazing stories sometimes like the ones from Moses and also get to know your group better. As I spoke to Diksha along the way, it was the first time I got to know she could actually talk in sentences. Till then I had barely heard her speak. All through Saraswati was trekking slowly but steadily staying in front and moving at a good pace. Finally we reached the road to Chopta. From there it took us about 45 minutes or so to reach our camp. Few of us quickly did our stretches and waited for the rest to arrive. Pasta was served for snacks and the temperature had gone down here by then since we had now reached an altitude of about 8,800 ft. In the evening we sat outside to view the sunset. It was beautiful with the orange sun going down in the horizon. Mayank got his sweet box from the marriage out since he had received the bag he had put in the cloak room. Along with the talks on the fiercest military factions of India, Rahul Gandhi (he always pops up at some time or the other), Pakistan etc, we also enjoyed the milk sweet and moong dal sweet thanks to Mayank. Rama and Saraswati on the other hand went up to the Tungnath Dwaar in the evening to recon the prospective route we were about to take the next day. As we spent some time in the dinner tent during the evening, we got to know that Aditi and Shruti sing really well and coerced them into singing a few songs. Both of them sang melodiously and took us to a different world. Aditi had been learning Hindustani music from when she was kid and Shruti was mastering Carnatic music. During dinner we got the plan for the next day that we would start by 3 am since it hadn't rained heavily that day. So we had to go to sleep early and as we left the dinner tent, the sky was clear and full of stars. The constellations Orion and the Ursa Major were clearly visible and a few more were found out thanks to the SkyView app. There was also some unfortunate news where Prajeeth and Sai would not trek with us the next day since Prajeeth had injured his knee while Sai was not feeling well. Indiahikes policy in such cases is laudable since they allow you do redo the trek for free. This applies even to folks who have completed the trek once. In our tent the usual banter continued before sleep and we got to know that Mayank had somehow taken Umesh's gloves the previous night though Umesh claimed that he was wearing it while Mayank claimed that it was not the case. It was a mystery as to what had happened the previous night.

Normally getting up at 3 am on a chilly morning is not something one would be excited about. But with the Milky Way proudly having its band over our head in the clear skies helped my case as I got up with enthusiasm to get a shot. I had to do it quickly since we had to start trekking in a while. Fortunately thanks to the experience in KGL, I was better
The Himalayan RangesThe Himalayan RangesThe Himalayan Ranges

Gangotri, Kedar, Kedar Dome during sunrise
aware of the controls and managed to get a decent shot quickly. All of us then had Poha and Daliya for breakfast and collected the Chana and apple for the trek. With reduced weight, people were in good spirits and Akshay further got people to open their eyes with a quick stretch involving jumping, rotating our hips and shouting jacuzzza. With headlamps and flashlights we set out towards the Chandrashila peak at around 4 am. The initial ascent was slow due to the lack of light though the path was a well defined cemented path after the initial climb to the Dwaar. As the sunrise slowly started, the white peaks started to become more and more visible. Madhur was on high speed click mode and was clicking pics every 2 or 3 steps. The golden glow of the sunrise on the mountains was a spectacle as the light enveloped Chaukamba, Kedar dome and Gangotri. As we proceeded further, Janhavi started experiencing a headache and further up we also got to know that Rama and Kaushik had gone back to Chopta. But Janhavi continued up after taking a dimox tablet. As we were able to see the Chandrashila peak, the national bird of Uttarakhand, the Himalayan monal also decided to make itself visible to us. It is very colourful and unique giving competition to our national bird the Peacock in terms of beauty. Further up we reached Tungnath but did not spend much time there since we wanted to summit first. As the temperature was lower further up, the roads had some ice sheets which were extremely slippery. Thankfully, they did not cover the path and we had ample space to navigate without stepping on them. Rohit and Moses slowly went on having a static pace deciding not to stop till the summit. The rest of us took a shortcut which was steeper and after a winding climb, we finally made it to the top. To celebrate Moses opened his treasure pack while I got a protein bar out since we were famished. Initially we sat at the front of a small shrine at the top enjoying the same view we had been seeing as we trekked up. But once we realized there was another view behind, we scrambled back to see the beautiful extension of the Himalayan ranges. It was surely an envious view which was totally worth the effort. Everyone then started taking photos there with Shruti making full use of the portrait mode of her IPhone X. We even had the Indiahikes banner with which we took the group photo. Kuldeepji explained us the whole set of ranges which went as follows. To the left was the Gangotri Glacier followed by the Draupadi Dome, Kirti Stamb, Mandarponch, Thalai Sagar and Rock tower. After that was the Kedarnath, Kedar Dome which one could clearly make out because of a wide snow filled shape, Meru, Sumeru, Mahalay, Mandani, Kala Nag, Hanuman Mukut, Jankut and Chaukamba having four pillar like structures. Then came the Swarg Rohini, Nilkanth, Hathi Ghoda, the famous Badrinath, Garuda Parbat, Dronagiri, Chank bank, Shiv Parvati, the highest peak completely in India - Nanda Devi standing at an elevation of 7,816 m (25,643 ft), Nanda Gumti, Trishul which is prominently visible from the Roopkund lake and Junargali to where people trek to during the Roopkund lake trek. It took some time digesting this list and I had to ask the names and point at the peaks to confirm which of them were which numerous times. Kuldeepji was patient enough to answer everyone's queries satisfactorily. We spent quite some time there and I got to see the Himalayan Griffon soaring in the sky. As we again reached the front of the shrine, Kaushik walked up which surprised us totally. Behind him was Rama and all of us were happy to see that they had come back and made the summit at a pretty good time. While descending, we reached the Tungnath and spent a small amount of time there. The temple was closed at the time and kids were enjoying with the snow there. As we got back on track, an over enthusiastic Madhur ran down to reach a dhaba and twisted his ankle a bit. It was a long boring walk and by the time we reached the Dwaar, Aditi was doubting whether we had taken the right route thought there was only one concrete path to take. As everyone reached the campsite slowly, it was time to decide who all would head back the same day and who all would spend a night at the camp. The Bangalore group and Delhi group along with Moses and Prajeeth decided to head back the same day while the rest of us stayed back. We had our lunch and lazily spend the rest of the day while bidding farewell to the group who left. Then we spent most of our time in the dinner tent discussing topics ranging from English artists, favourite songs, Aditi singing songs, the dangers and craziness of mountaineering and the folks who do it, Akshay's experience doing the Basic Mountaineering course etc. The snacks consisted of popcorn which was gobbled up by all. The dinner was special that night with the dessert being Gulab Jamun. Shruti was on a roll having the quota of all the missing folks while Umesh also contributed to some extent in emptying the vessel containing it.

As all of us got ready to say goodbye to Akshay and the Indiahikes staff, we got to know that a lady from the next batch and her kids would join us back to Rishikesh. They had been unable to do the trek that day and hence, had decided to head back to warmer climates at Rishikesh. So we trekked up for the last time to catch the van near the Dwaar. It was again a long drive and we reached our hotel at around 4 pm. Hill Top Swiss Cottage was
Been there. Done that.Been there. Done that.Been there. Done that.

Our group photo post summit
located in some corner and reaching that itself was a small trek. After freshening up, we headed to Laxman Jhula to explore the city. It was full of Yoga centres and foreign tourists since its considered the Yoga capital of the world. We had dinner in a restaurant called Soul Kitchen which served a very healthy menu. For the next day, we booked the rafting from our hotel itself and hoped that it would be as good as the hype.

The rafting guide loaded the rafts from his warehouse while taking us to the Shivpuri route starting point. As we reached the point, he fitted us with the safety jackets while the video guy tried to convince us to avail of his services to capture the photos and videos while rafting. We relented and shared the expenses with another group who were with us. We then reached the river to start our adventure. Our guide gave us the safety instructions and got us trained to his commands and asked us to ensure that we do the right command at the right time so that the raft does not topple. The water level was decent and we started off with a few warmup rapids which were not very tough though enjoyable. At one point, he asked us to get down into the water and enjoy since it was a calm place. The water was cold and was fun to wade through in the heat. As we got back, we hit some of the tougher rapids with the major one being Roller Coaster and Golf course. It was a really exhilarating experience and we saw one of the folks from another group fall into the water while navigating one of the rapids. On a smaller rapid, we were asked to jump into the water so that we could hold onto the side of the raft and enjoy the ebbs of the rapid. Only caveat was that we had to close our mouths at the right time. That was a totally new and unforgettable experience. There were 3 more folks with us who had got fireworks which emit coloured smoke and they lit it during one of the rapids. After that was a long stretch of calm river and finally we alighted at the end point. The guide showed off his skills on the raft while waiting for the jeep
The Himalayan RangesThe Himalayan RangesThe Himalayan Ranges

This side includes Nanda Devi - the highest peak completely in India along with Trishul and Junargali
to arrive. This is one experience one should at least try once during their lifetime. We had lunch at a place called Bistro Nirvana near our hotel. The place and the food was really good. Then we spent the next few hours in our room to escape the afternoon heat but our hotel guys had some electricity maintenance work going on and to our irritation it took them a very long time to finish it. In the evening we visited the Ram Jhula, had some chat at the famous Chotiwala's and tried to convert Umesh into a modern Yogi giving him the yellow shirt with Om written on it, beads and a western sounding Shiva song as his goto track to impress folks. As we returned back, we were a bit late which was worsened by the delay of the hotel staff. After all the experiences there, Hill Top Swiss Cottage is not a hotel I would recommend to others. But we reached the bus stand on time and caught the bus to Delhi. It was a volvo and easily the worst bus I have ever traveled in. People always kept shouting throughout the night and we could not get decent sleep even for a while. We breathed a sigh of relief when we reached Delhi and quickly caught a cab to the airport.

So ended another wonderful experience with old and new friends. Chandrashila trek delivered pretty much what it promised with a good variety of wildlife and some stunning views throughout the trek. I had recently got a mail from Indiahikes where they had said that people tend to just try go higher and higher in altitude once they do a high altitude trek because of which they miss some great treks which might not be that challenging but no less impressive. I completely agree with that after this trek and feel that once in a while you should also enjoy other treks at lower altitudes too because they provide a different experience altogether. I also cannot stress more on how much I love the Green trails initiative by Indiahikes which does so much to reduce the plastic footprint on the trekking routes. People love complaining but do not do enough to actually do anything while this is an example where one can actually do sometime for the environment. With all the treks I have been on, I had never experience the view I got to see at the top of Chandrashila. The whole vast view of the range was something else. The Rishikesh rafting was an icing on the cake in the end. The fellow trekkers were also a great bunch not to mention the staff and our trek lead Akshay. Him being a Kannadiga was a pleasant surprise since its not very common to find people from the south there being trek leads. An experience which will surely remain in my memory for a long time.


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