Inside Out

Notes on seeking wisdom and crafting software

Tungnath trek in monsoon

It’s raining incessantly in Ukhimath today morning. I get ready for the Tungnath trek. Unknown to me, the authorities have declared red alert in the Kedar valley with rain forecast. Kedarnath yatra is paused for the day.

The blue trekking shoes cannot stand this downpour. I decide to get my flip-flops for the trekking instead. We start from the lodge at 7.30 am. Little did I know about the adventure ahead.

The shared taxi to Chopta had few passengers short for the journey due to heavy downpour. Usually the taxis carry 10-13 people on a trip. Each persons share is 2000₹/N for N passengers. We decided to start with lesser passengers and split the difference in fare.

It was raining more in Chopta compared to Ukhimath. I appeased my hunger with two Aloo Parathas. There are sticks available for the journey at the start of trek. Deposit 50₹ and get 30₹ back when you return the stick. I grabbed mine and started climbing with a roar of Har Har Mahadev.

I had my rain wear on me. The flip-flops felt threatened by the slippery surface on the road. The danger was heightened by the patches of horse defecation. Nevertheless they were my best companions for todays trek and walked determined to reach the top. Fortunately, I didn’t have to worry about wet shoes/socks and could literally place my feet anywhere.

2023-06-tungnath-uphill (Going up in the rain)

Uphill climb slowly gave way to beautiful meadows teasing the eyes. Sky was filled with dark clouds and hid the views of snow ladden Himalayas up far. I found many fellow travelers trekking with bare foot. A few were trekking with their japa malas repeating the name of the lord.

There are many shortcuts to the paved trek road. You can climb the stones and skip a part of the road. I couldn’t gather the courage to pursue those with rain and my flip-flops. For a sunny day definitely these add an additional flavor to the adventure.

As we reached the top, visibility was almost zero. It’s an amazing experience to trust the two feet road you can see to lead you to the desired destination. Cold waves were the new thing. Shivering most of us entered the shrine.

2023-06-tungnath-temple (Temple in the rain)

Tungnath is the highest Shiva temple in the world. Travelers are allowed to carry pot of water and bathe the lord with their hands. The queue was small, we got to the inner sancto sancturum and literally touched the lords feet. What an eclectic feeling it is…

There was an ongoing Abhishekam in the temple. I overheard a conversation about this temples role through the four ages in Hindu history. In the Satya yuga, the moon god (Chandra) prayed here for getting cured of disease (kshyaya roga). In the Tretaya yuga, Ravan is said to have prayed here. And in the Dwapar yuga, the pandavas visited here, naming this as the third of the Panch Kedar temples in the valley.

The summit of this mountain, Chandrashila, is where the moon god had done his penance. It’s an hour trek from the temple. I started on the journey there. After fifty or so meters, my flip-flops didn’t agree to move further. Road was filled with stones and visibility was about a meter ahead. I decide to postpone this for another time.

2023-06-tungnath-bugyal-downhill (Bugyal downhill after sky clears a bit)

Trek downhill was equally adventurous. Huge rain had created streams of water running on the trek path. I had to walk through the water streams in freezing cold. My feet did feel exhilarated with numbness. Carefully me and the flip-flops started treading our path down. I met several travelers from UP, Gujrat and Telangana on my way down. Few were first time visitors to the Himalayas and we’re naturally spellbound by the beauty around. They were already planning their next trip 😄 Such is the magic here!

It took 4.5hrs for the 4km journey up and down (total 8km). It was 2 pm. We reached Ukhimath via shared taxi at 3 pm. I had some Maggi, sprayed the muscle spray and slept for a while.

It was 5:15 pm when I woke up. I wanted to visit the Omkareshwar temple in Ukhimath. Asking the locals, I started following the downhill route from the market. The temple is the winter seat of Kedarnath. The downhill road took me through local shops, houses, schools and a few govt offices. Google map doesn’t trace this route.

Temple is quite serene and was not crowded. After a quick darshan, I sat down on the premises enjoying the shows by monkeys. They’d tease the visitors and try to grab the prasadam trays. On being offered the sweet, they’d climb up the towers and they savour the treat.

While looking into the mountains and valleys afar I saw a place surrounded by flags of all colors. A kind temple employee explained that as the shrine of Ashta Bhairav and showed the way. I had nothing to do until the evening aarti time (around 7:30 pm). The way to Bhairav shrine is beautiful and goes through several small villages. Around the temple you can see the Guptkashi town on the mountain in front and the Ukhimath town below. I spent sometime and walked back to the Omkareshwar temple for evening aarti.

2023-06-view-of-ukhimath (View of Ukhimath from Ashta Bhairav temple)

There was a crew of senior citizens who were discussing various mythological topics in Hinduism. They started singing the lingashtakam hymn. It was such a treat to hear.

It turns out the current priest in Omkareshwar temple was earlier serving the Madmaheshwar temple. Aarti was an awesome experience. Other priests and temple employees joined the visitors. Everyone sang hymns to the lord Shiva in chorus. Om jai gangadhar har jai girijadhisha hymn reverberated through the temple.

I walked back to the real world. Tons of thoughts started creeping in. The most prominent one - where should I go next?

Well, first order of business was pet puja (dinner) at Mr Singh restaurant at Ukhimath market. A simple thali costs 120₹ with four Chapati, Rice, Dal and two curries. Warm chapatis taste heavenly in the cold.

I had three options for next journey. Goal is to relax and slow travel. Rishikesh is the natural first choice - beautiful ashrams and the serene Ganges. The weather app predicted rain in Rishikesh. Second, move up to Joshimath. Spend time at the Jyotirmath and if possible visit Badrinath shrine. Valley of flowers is not fully bloomed in June, there won’t be much there. Again rain is predicted in next few days. Final option is to venture towards the Kumaon region in Shivalik Himalayas. There is a beautiful Gandhi ashram in the Kasauni village. No rain predicted in next two days.

I couldn’t decide. There is just one way out of Ukhimath - catch the onward bus till Rishikesh. You have to get down at Rudraprayag for Joshimath or Kasauni.

I doze off postponing the decision for tomorrow morning.

This post is the part of a week long solo backpacking series. All posts are below: