The next morning we got up early to catch the 7:30 bus to Chopta. This is the only bus to Chopta for the entire day so if you miss this, you have to shell out 2 grand as taxi fare to reach Chopta. The bus stops right outside GMVN and you can actually see it climbing laboriously from the other side of the valley. Chopta is an assortment of shops and lodges that serve as the base for the trek to Tunganath, the highest Shiva temple in the world. The ride between Ukhimath and Chopta has to be one of the best rides in india. The road was freshly tarred and tall pine trees stood in majestic silence en route. It felt like one long journey through never ending forest. There is little traffic and if you can haul a cycle up there somehow, this ride is highly recommended.
Tunganath at 12,000 feet is just 4 km from Chopta. You will be entertained with amazing vistas of the Himalayas en route on a clear day. It is the easiest temple access wise on the Panch Kedar circuit. Since we had munched on our quota of aloo parota at GMVN we just had tea at one of the numerous dhabas and headed out. After an exhilarating climb made more fun by running up ‘short cuts’ we reached Tunganath in quick time.
The accommodation in Tunganath is mostly dormitory. The Kedarnath Badrinath Mandir samithi has nice rooms but they are usually ‘booked by a party from Delhi’ who always fail to show up. We were holed up in Hotel Soorya (in reality a shack!) , a double room with attached toilet, a luxury, for a princely sum of 500/-. As usual we were strongly persuaded to purchase thalis to please Tungnathji. The thalis contain assorted bizarre items to ‘please the lord’ and a priest chants mantras to make sure that your son/daughter/parents/neighbours are all ‘taken care of’. These offerings contains plastic as well which are dumped just outside the temple . Sad !
|Waste outside the temple|
We declined this opportunity to please the lord and instead tried to sit inside for sometime. Luckily for us it was a quiet period during the day and for a couple of hours we just sat there enjoying the silence. Where there are devotees in large numbers, there are Pandas or priests whose sole aim in life is the money in your wallet. I’ve heard that Tunganath had just one priest not so long ago but now to cope with increasing tourist footfall ,there are at least half a dozen. They are all very keen that you buy the‘thali meals’. A shame coz this is a place of meditation, contemplation and silence. The pandas yap away when they are not busy looting devotees so you need to be a good meditator to shut out the noise and focus on the divine vibes. Unfortunately this problem is not exclusive to Tungnath, it’s there in every big popular temple in the Himalayan region. If only these guys devoted some time to their personal sadhana they would see at what a special place they are privileged to stay at.
|Sunset at Tungnath|
|R is certainly feeling the chill factor !|
The evening aarti was simple and by six the sun had set in a blaze of glory. The chill was setting in and like all self respecting yogis we dived under the rajais (thick quilts). We had dinner later at night and washed our hands with ice. It felt that way, whenever contact with water was made.
The cold felt so bad that we continued with the rajai sadhana and opted to miss out on the morning trek to Chandrashila, a nearby peak, for viewing sunrise. We started our journey back to Chopta early as we had to catch the only bus to Mandal that would leave at 9. We visited the temple for a final darshan and meditation. I took an instant liking to a panda who had come running to the temple in the morning as soon as the doors were opened. My eyes filled up as I thanked God for showing me at least one sincere priest. All was not lost in this kali yug after all ! However when I went inside the temple I realized that Mr. Panda had rushed there because his devotees had already arrived with the thalis. He was all smiles screaming Sanskrit mumbo jumbo and invoking the God’s blessings. One could literally see Rupee signs in his eyes like they show in cartoons ! Later I saw Mr. Panda celebrating his latest conquest with a beedi in one of the adjoining dhabas.
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Read the first part here