For an exhilarating experience of the Himalayas and to feel the veneration of the panch kedars, a sojourn to Tunganath turns out an elevating affair to cherish lifetime. And then a short jaunt up leads you to Chandrashila Peak (4130m)?a rare vantage point to capture a panoramic vista of the entire Himalayan range spanning 180 degrees. If you start from Haridwar or Rishikesh around 3 or 4 AM, you can reach the summit the same day within 11-12 hrs provided your itinerary is well-planned. Almost the entire route is motorable except the last stretch of 3.5 km for the temple and another 2.5 km to bestraddle Chandrashila peak. On account of close proximity to Delhi, this place is a much sought after getaway by Delhiites.
The state of Uttarakhand is a hallowed tract of reverence. Tungnath temple is perched precariously upon a massif bluff at a daunting 3,660m considered the highest Shiva sanctum in the entire world. It is one of the panch kedars, the others being Kedarnath, Kalpeshwar, Madhyamaheshwar, and Rudranath notwithstanding the irony that it has the easiest accessibility of all the others.
Tungnath temple becomes visible after crossing Ravanshila
Various folklores have burgeoned over the ages on the existence of the temple. Padma Purana ascribes panch kedars to have received parts of Shiva'sbody when it surfaced on the earth from underground. Tungnath received the bahu or hand of Shiva'sbuffalo incarnation. Others maintain the temple to be swayambhu Linga that is, its inception happened on its own as a self-discretion of the lord. The garbha griha of the temple has many pictures of Adi Shankaracharya. So, many people attribute Adi Shankaracharya to have founded the temple. But it is conjectured that he found this sui generis site with the swayambhu linga already there and laid the foundation of a primitive temple just as in the case of Kedarnath. The present temple stands at 50 feet something high and is made up of stolid granite slabs. The stark austere outlook stands in consonance with Lord Shiva'sasceticism of abstemiousness and self-abnegation. The architecture of the temple has a close resemblance with the ancient Shiva temples of Bageshwar and Jageshwar. As customary, the entrance to the temple is guarded by Nandi, Shiva'sbull. The garbha griha, sanctum sanctorum has numerous images of Adi Shankaracharya and the Pandavas. Also, there are ashtadhatu images of Kal Bhairav and Ved Vyasa. Inside the premises are two smaller temples dedicated to Parvati and Vyas. The swayambhu Shiva lingam is a unique one. It'sleft-tilting lingam imputed to be Shiva'sarm sits bang in the middle of the one-foot lingam.
Tunganath falls in the newly carved district of Rudraprayag from earlier Chamoli in the state of Uttarakhand. Final motorable destination is Chopta. It lies at the crest of the road between Ukhimath and Mandal/Gopeshwar town. Beyond Rishikesh, be ready to anticipate a rigorous switchback hike. From Delhi to Rudrapryag takes around 12 hrs and from Haridwar to Rudraprayag is approx 164 km consuming 8 hrs. Thereafter from Rudraprayag to Okhimath, a distance of 45 km takes around 1.5-2 hrs. It takes another 30 km and 1-1.5 hrs to reach Chopta (3,000 m) via Dugalbitta (2,560m). There is yet another route. From Rudraprayag one can proceed to Gopeshwar (212 km from Rishikesh)/Mandal town via Karnaprayag that takes around 3 hrs, the distance being 74 km. From here a road goes to Chopta. In fact Rudrapryag-chopta-Gopeshwar is a detour for heading to Badrinath. But many people prefer this longer route on account of the surrounding enchanting wilderliness of the leering Rudraprayag forests. The last stretch of 3.5 km for the temple has to be trekked on foot from Chopta. This mountain is also called Chandranath Parvat. Horses and dandies are also available. One kilometer ahead of Tungnath temple comes Ravanshila, a massif bluff that holds away the temple'sview while coming up. Ravan is said to have meditated here and underwent deep penance.
During winter there'sno human living beyond Dugalbitta where you hardly encounter 3 or 4 people. During winter the entire hamlet of Chopta remains closed?from the next day of Deepavali till April last week when the kapat of the Tungnath opens. In the meanwhile all pujas are conducted at Mukumath, down in the valley.
The Unkimath Gopeshwar road flanked by forests remains under snow during winter months
Things to look out en route
Beyond Rishikesh you get to see the turbulent and cascading Ganges and its pristine beaches. Deoprayag, 70 km from Rishikesh is of immense religious significance. It is the confluence of Bhagirathi starting from Gaumukh and Alaknanda starting from Satopanth come together to form the sacred Ganges. Another 35 km and you reach Srinagar an ancient town now throbbing with urban ways and sophistication. Another 34 km takes you to Rudraprayag (140 km, north-east of Rishikesh) at the confluence of Mandakini from Kedarnath and Alaknanda from Badrinath. The ancient temple of Rudranathji and Chamunda Devi are situated here overlooking the confluence. The great irksome Narad Muni is said to have meditated here at Shri Rudranathji. The route falling under the entire stretch lying between Rudraprayag and Kund tortuously follows through the idyllic Mandakini gorge with its gurgling serpentine river casting a captivating effect. Remember all along your wayside you have GMVN (Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam) and FRH (Forest Rest House) to halt in the riparian glens where you can rip through nature and relish inside out. The next place of importance is Agahstyamuni, where the sage Agahstyamuni is said to have meditated. A temple marks the place. Then comes Kund where the road bifurcates?one going to Kedarnath and the other leading to Ukhimath.
At all places you find accommodation contraption from a dossing house to a guest house unless you detour from motorable path to some trekking trail. Several shacks have underbelly rooms alongside the motorable routes. GMVN and FRH guesthouses are dotted along tourist routes.
A few tips for novice trekkers
m Wild animals are plenty, wild pigs and the notorious Himalayan bears posing a menace. So its advised not to venture alone on trekking trails. Please bear in mind the entire area comes under forest one- protected area for wildlife, so any discriminatory action would warrant strict punitive measures.
m The nights are rather harsh at Tungnath even during summer. So carry proper woolen wear.
m Rains are a common occurrence in all seasons, so carry a mackintosh.
m During daytime, the valleys may be sizzling hot with a nearer sun searing you. Have sunglasses and caps.
This episode bears a sequel??Chandrashila Peak?the vantage peak amidst its fantabulous buguals?.
(The writer is a freelance journalist with varied interests, reachable at [email protected])