An escape to the 'Mini Switzerland of India'
With the arrival of my favourite month – October, I always remain desperate to step out of my house and visit the Himalayas. Every year, during this month, I try to take at least one trip to the mountains. There are several reasons why I prefer travelling during this month. One of them is that during October, the weather remains pleasant and clear, offering the best views of the snow-capped peaks. The sky remains blue, the greenery is vibrant and the cool breeze freshens up your mood.
So, like every year, this year also I decided to visit the mountains and this time it was a wonderful trip to Deoria (Devariya) Tal, Tungnath and Chandrashila. Again, it was a sudden and unplanned trip. Just a day before, I was looking for the nearest places to visit from my hometown Dehradun and randomly landed up finalizing these destinations which are merely within 240 km from my place of residence.
Deoria or Devariya Tal is a high-altitude beautiful lake located at a height of 2450 mts above sea level. It is believed that to quench his thirst, Bheem, one of the strongest among the Pandavas, created this lake. Tungnath, on the other hand, is the high-altitude temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. It is the world’s highest Shiva temple situated at a height of 3570 mts. One can reach there by trekking around 3.5 km from Chopta, which is another one among the beautiful places to visit in India. Chopta is naturally adorned with green grassland meadows due to which it has gained so much popularity in less time and is often called “The Mini Switzerland of India”. The summit of the Tungnath trek, i.e., Chandrashila is worth visiting on this whole trip as it has something best to offer.
How many days are required to visit Deoria Tal, Chopta and Tungnath?
Well, it depends on which part of the country you are travelling from. Considering Delhi as the starting and ending point, it would take around 4-6 days to cover all the sightseeing spots. Within these number of days, you will be able to visit Deoria Tal, Chopta, Tungnath and Chandrashila.
How to reach?
From Delhi, there are a few trains till Haridwar and several buses to Rishikesh. You can book your train ticket till Haridwar from where you will get a direct bus to Ukhimath. Or, if you wish to travel by bus to Rishikesh, you can board any from ISBT Kashmere Gate terminal in Delhi. There is a direct state government bus from Delhi to Guptkashi in which you can travel till Kund (8 km from Ukhimath). From Kund, you will get a shared jeep or a bus to Ukhimath. You can reach Ukhimath easily by using public transport as it is a major town and there are many buses and shared jeeps that ply on this route.
From Ukhimath onwards, you may face a bit problem as on Chopta and Saari (for Deoria Tal) route there is no or very little frequency of public transport available. For Chopta, most of the jeeps go on booking from Ukhimath and if you are 2-3 travellers and would like to share it with other passengers then you may have to wait until the driver gets the required number of passengers (8-10 pax). It would cost you around Rs. 200-250 per head for 30 km. There is a bus also between Ukhimath and Gopeshwar route via Chopta but during my visit in October 2021, it was not being operated due to Covid protocols.
For Saari, there is a daily bus service from Ukhimath but that is in the evening at around 5 pm. The fare in this bus is around Rs. 30 per person. Between Chopta and Saari, you will have to book a taxi as there is no bus or shared jeep service on this route. It is better to find some fellow passengers and share the cost of the vehicle. Or, if you are good at hitchhiking, you can try to find some option to reach Chopta.
How to get accommodation?
If you are travelling in a peak season (Apr-Jun / Mid Dec-Mid Jan), it’s better to call the hotel and make a booking in advance. If you would like to take a night halt in Rishikesh, you will get many hotels and guest houses in this city within the price range of Rs. 500-600 per room per night. In Ukhimath, there are 2-3 hotels/lodges in the main market where you can take a room under Rs. 700-1000 per night. Or, you can walk down towards Omkareshwar temple where you will find a few more nearby stay options within Rs. 800-1000 per night.
In Saari village, there are a limited number of hotels/lodges where you can get a room within Rs. 800-1000 (depends on the season). However, in Chopta there are many camps, cottages and lodges where you can find accommodation for you in around Rs. 1500 per person that includes your breakfast and dinner as well.
Well, food is not a problem at all when you are on this trip. However, when you are on a trekking trail and would like to have your snacks/meals on the way, you may have to pay an extra amount due to the obvious reason of the dhabawalas/restaurant vendors who carry the raw materials and supplements at such a height to provide food to the travellers like us.
In Ukhimath, apart from the hotel where you are staying, you will get a few more options in the main market area, to have your meals. In Saari and Chopta, you will have to order food from the same place where you are staying.
Best time to visit
This could be a bit controversial as different travellers have their own choices and preferences when it comes to travelling. Some love to visit a hilly region during winters when they can enjoy the snowfall, some prefer to visit during autumn and spring when the weather is pleasant and the views are clear. While some wish to visit during summers to escape from the scorching heat of the plains. But one should always avoid visiting the Himalayan regions during the monsoons (Mid-June to Mid-Sept) as there is always a risk of landslides, road blockages, cloud bursts and floods during the rainy season. In the past few years, we have seen many natural calamities that occurred in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh during the monsoon season.
Deoria Tal, Chopta, Tungnath and Chandrashila, all these places are close and can be visited by tourists during any time of the year. However, the portals of the Tungnath temple open in May and then close at the end of October. So, you may not be able to do darshan other than these months but the trek remains open throughout the year.
I like the months of October and March to visit any hill destination. This is so because the weather is pleasant during this time and the far-sighted views are simply amazing. Also, if you visit in March, you will find the beautiful Rhododendron flowers scattered in the Chopta valley.
After the monsoon showers, the weather in October 2021 started getting clear and I was just wondering that where should I visit this time in the Himalayas that is also not too far. I always take at least one solo trip in a year, especially during October. There is something special about this month that lures me to take a trip to the mountains.
It was a Tuesday evening and while sipping a cup of tea, I decided that tomorrow I am leaving for Deoria Tal and Tungnath trek. Yes, most of my trips are planned like this only, a day before the commencement of my tours. So, I started packing my stuff and by the night, I was ready with my bag.
The next day in the morning, I woke up early at 5 am and after getting ready, at 6:30 am, I left my home for the bus stand to catch the bus for Ukhimath. There is a direct Uttarakhand state government’s roadways bus from Dehradun to Ukhimath that leaves daily at 7:30 am. So, I boarded this bus and the journey began. Passing through the winding, scenic roads and crossing the city of Rishikesh, after 3 hours, the bus reached Teen Dhara, a popular place in Garhwal, where the majority of vehicles stop for breakfast, lunch and tea breaks. So, I had my breakfast here, where they served 2 aloo paranthas, curd, chutney and a cup of tea at just Rs. 60. Isn’t it cheap in today’s time of inflation?
After the break, the journey resumed towards Ukhimath. Crossing the renowned towns of Devprayag, Srinagar Garhwal, Rudraprayag and Augustyamuni, the bus reached Ukhimath at around 4:30 pm. First, I was planning to take a night halt in a hotel at Ukhimath but, as soon as I got down from the bus, I found a local bus at Ukhimath market that was going to Saari village. As I was aware of the scarcity of public transport beyond Ukhimath so, without giving a second thought, I quickly boarded this bus and after an hour reached Saari village.
On reaching Saari, I started looking for accommodation and came across a stay option at Rakesh Tourist Lodge, a decent property with a limited number of rooms. The owner Mr Rakesh and his wife are very humble and generous. They served me healthy and fresh boiled corn from their farm. Oh… It was so yummy! Their room tariffs are also very reasonable, around Rs. 500-700 per room per night (rate depends on the season you are travelling). Although, it’s a basic accommodation but was neat and clean. For dinner, you can have it in the same place or can also have it in a few restaurants nearby but it’s prepared on an order basis. So, after having my meal, I went to good sleep.
The next morning, after getting ready, I started with my trek to Deoria Tal at 6:30 am. As there were very few tourists at Saari on that day, so, I was all alone on this trekking trail at this time. Although, there are a few dhabas/tea shops on the way to Deoria Tal, in the early morning hours there was only one food joint that was opened where I had my breakfast. Otherwise, most of them were closed and the path seems to be deserted. In between, there is a small forest patch also that may be a bit scary for some solo travellers during the lean season. Rest, the whole trail is very scenic where you get a chance to see some beautiful green patches and far-sighted mountain peaks.
So, after hiking for around 2.5 km, I reached the most awaited Deoria Tal. The first glimpse of the place leaves you astounding and you utter only one word – WOW! The eye-catching sight of the lake along with a clear and close view of Chaukhamba peak will mesmerize you. The sprawling green bugyals (meadows), beautiful lake, blue skies and the white snow-capped peaks will freshen up your mood. You will feel like sitting there for a long time and gazing the nature’s beauty. The cool breeze, fresh oxygen and the bright sun are just enough to rejuvenate your mind, body and soul.
There is an entrance fee charged by the forest department at Deoria Tal for maintaining this nature’s gift to mankind. It’s Rs. 150 for Indian nationals and Rs. 600 for foreigners. Apart from that if someone wants to use digital cameras then he/she has to pay an additional amount.
After spending more than an hour near the scenic Deoria Tal, I started my trekking journey back to Saari village. So, by 11 am I reached back to the road head to Saari. Now, as I had an almost full day left in hand so, I decided to go to Tungnath on the same day. However, it is not advisable to trek both the destinations on the same day as it may be very tiring for a few trekkers. But as I started early and had plenty of time so I decided to proceed for Tungnath on that day itself.
Now, the real hurdle comes here for solo travellers who wish to travel from Saari to Chopta. There is no public transportation available on this route and maximum people book a jeep for which they have to pay Rs. 1500 for just 22 km. As I was travelling solo and spending Rs. 1500 for a short distance doesn’t seem to be a good decision, so I did it differently. There is a place called Mastura that is on Ukhimath – Chopta road and is also the diversion point for Saari village. From Saari, I hitchhiked to Mastura (4 km) on a bike. The guy riding the bike was a local person and was very polite and friendly. I thanked him for his help and then on reaching Mastura, waited for a taxi or car going towards Chopta.
After waiting for half an hour, a shared jeep stopped in which there were already 9 passengers who were also travelling to Chopta on sharing basis (Rs. 200 each). There was only 1 seat left in it. Maybe God left that seat for me! So, I immediately stepped inside the jeep and after 45 minutes reached Chopta.
Chopta is a scenic place adorned with green bugyals offering an enthralling view of the Himalayas as well. There are several camps, cottages and tourist guest houses available in Chopta. Almost every tourist takes a night halt at Chopta and does an excursion of Tungnath and Chandrashila from here. But I had a different plan! I wanted to witness the sunrise from Chandrashila peak and for that, I was supposed to reach the summit earliest by 6:15 am on next day. So, straight away I started trekking to Tungnath.
Although it’s only a 3.5 km trek from Chopta to Tungnath, but as I already did a 5 km trek (up and down) to Deoria Tal on that same day, so it was a bit tiring for me. But when you are in mountains and the more and more you ascend, your mood gets fresh with the captivating views. The same thing happened to me. I was a bit tired but the heights kept on rejuvenating me and by afternoon 3 pm, I reached Tungnath.
On reaching, first I looked for a room where I could stay at night. I found one in a lodge that was full of dampness. The reasons are obvious that these lodges remain covered with snow during winters and open only for 5-6 months in a year when the portals of the Tungnath temple remains open. Please be informed that all the stay options available at Tungnath are very basic with no amenities. They are just an option to take rest at night. Also, there is no electricity supply at such a height and bulbs are lit using the solar plates so, try to have your dinner as early as possible and get into your beds. The temperature at night remains 0 to 2 degrees from April till October.
After keeping my bag in the room and taking an hour rest, I walked around the area and had a chit chat with the locals there. In the evening, I went to the Tungnath temple and spent more than an hour gazing at the amazing architecture of this ancient temple. I also got an opportunity to witness the aarti (evening prayers) that is so soothing and relaxing. One can feel the echoes of mantras chanted by the priests and the temple bells that are blown during the aarti ceremony.
So, after having a relaxing and good time in the evening, I came back to my lodge, had my dinner and went to my bed.
The next day, I woke up early at 5 am and by 5:30, I started with the further trek to the summit – Chandrashila peak that is 1 km up from Tungnath. Although it’s just a km but due to low oxygen level, you get tired and feel breathlessness after walking only 8-10 steps. The best way while climbing at such a height is to take small steps with small breaks in between.
By 6:15 am I reached Chandrashila peak and the first view that I got from there was just incredible and memorable. The 180 degrees view of the snow-capped Himalayan peaks and the lower mountains on the opposite side make you feel on top of the world. I quickly took out my smartphone from my pocket and started taking pictures of nature’s beauty. After 5-10 minutes, the sun raised above from behind the Nanda Devi peak and sooner the rays started kissing the other mountain peaks as well. Within 10-15 minutes all the mountains became yellow and red. Believe me, it was a lifetime experience to witness such a remarkable sunrise.
At Chandrashila peak, the cool winds blow continuously so you must be packed with good woollen clothes and a jacket. There is a small temple also named “Ganga Dham” where you can offer prayers. After spending an hour at the peak, I took a last glimpse of the mountain peaks from Chandrashila and then started trekking down towards Tungnath. So, after half an hour, I reached Tungnath and had my breakfast with a cup of hot tea. Thereafter, I continued my trek back to the road head to Chopta.
On reaching Chopta, again the main challenge was to get a shared jeep. So, after waiting for almost an hour, I got a shared jeep for Ukhimath.
That day I reached Ukhimath and took a hotel room for my night stay. The tariff of the room was Rs. 500. In the evening, I also explored Omkareshwar Temple in Ukhimath that is dedicated to Lord Shiva. This temple is also the winter abode of God Kedarnath. After the darshan, I went for a walk around at the Ukhimath market. Later, post dinner, I went to sleep early as the other day, I had to catch the bus for my hometown Dehradun.
My visit to Deoria Tal, Chopta, Tungnath and Chandrashila was one of the most amazing trips where I had many good experiences and enjoyed each moment of it. If you haven’t visited any of these places yet, you must visit there once in your lifetime.
My Total Expense:
- Bus from Dehradun to Ukhimath and vice-versa – Rs. 415 x 2 = Rs. 830
- Bus from Ukhimath to Saari Village – Rs. 30
- Shared jeep from Mastura to Chopta – Rs. 200
- Shared cab from Chopta to Ukhimath – Rs. 250
- Night stay at Saari, Tungnath and Ukhimath – Rs. 500 x 3 = Rs. 1500
- Meals and snacks for 4 days – Rs. 1100
- Entrance fee at Deoria Tal – Rs. 150
TOTAL EXPENDITURE – Rs. 4060