Tunganath, Garhwal Himalayas :
Tunganath and Chandrashila Travelogue on Garhwal Mountain range of the Himalayas: This is the first of a 3-part article on a hiking and trekking trip undertaken in 2001. Tunganath is a holy shrine as well as a peak of the Garhwal range of the Himalayas in India. It is also a place of remarkable beauty, spirituality and mystique. Let me begin by introducing you to the mythology associated with this shrine.
Mythology of the Hindus :
Hindu Mythology states that the five peaks of Kedarnath, Madmoheshwar, Tunganath, Rudranath and Kalpeshwar were built by the five brother of the Pandava clan from the Mahabharata, which is the longest epic of the world. The story goes on as : The five brothers were looking all over the Himalayas , searching for Shiva who is the chief God of the Hindu Trinity. Shiva engaged them in a cat-and-mouse chase, andhad by then had disguised himself into the avatar of a sheep. Ultimately when the brothers pounced on the avatar the body of the sheep disintegrated and fell into each of these five locations of the Garhwal Himalayas. The brothers then picked up a location each and built a Temple to please the Lord. Tunganath,as the legend goes, was built by Arjun, the third of the five Pandava brothers.
It was late in the sixteenth century that Adi Shankaracharya, (one of the most revered Brahmins and a religious sage and visionary of his times) came to know of these temples through a divine dream, and started searching for it. He was able to finally locate all the five temples and started worship of the deity inside these temples , each of which resembled a body part of a sheep and thus the holy sites were born.
Trek to Tunganath of the Garhwal Himalayas and Chandrashila
One of the Five Kedars or Panch Kedar as it is known in India (Click here for a video of Panch Kedar) , Tunganath, at a height of 3865 mts, nestled in the Garhwal range of the Himalayas, is the highest temple in the world. The Himalayas, the highest mountain range of the world, is dotted with temples and spiritual, religious and mythological stories all over, which belong to one of the oldest religions in the world: Hinduism. Fascinating, beautiful and mystic , and the Himalayas stand guard over these sacred places of the yogis.
Chandrasila, which is about a three kilometer trek upwards from Tunganath is about 3 metres higher. Legend says, is where Rama ( a Hindu God ) used to meditate here.
How to Reach: Tunganath Temple is situated in the Garhwal Mountain range of the Himalays. One can travel to Delhi, by air and then drive upto Rudraprayag which is about 380 kms and takes close to 9 hours by road. Kedar and Badri are connected by a route, which breaks off from Kund (in the Rudraprayag – Kedar route) and connects to Chamoli (in the Rudraprayag – Badri route) through Ukhimath, Chopta, Mandal and Gopeswar. About 70 kms from Kund is Chopta. The trek to Tunganath starts from here.
The Journey: Chopta is a small tourist spot, serene and green all around with the grey tarmac bus route dissecting it. Buses are few and far between. There are a few food shanties & accommodation adjacent to the bus stop. Chopta has sprawling valleys stretching a couple of kilometres.
It was very cold in the last week of October when we reached Chopta. We rested for that day, getting ourselves acclimatized with the conditions. We took our dinner around 8.30 pm and went back to our rooms to get a decent sleep under heavy quilts.
Next morning we awoke early, around 6.30 am, and packed up our belongings. There is a facility to leave your heavier luggage at the hotels here at Chopta, which regularly sees trekkers and climbers pass through it. We started on our trek around 7.30 in the morning after a breakfast of bread and butter and a boiling cup of tea with some biscuits. The skies were clear that day. There is a small gateway indicating the start of the trek at Chopta with a bell hanging from it and it is customary to ring the bell and let lord Shiva know of your imminent arrival. From here one starts the Trek to Tunganath of the Garhwal Himalayas .
Tunganath is a short trek of about 4 kms but a very steep one. What made it harder was the fact that our shows were really not fitted for this kind of mountain hiking and were ordinary city sneakers. The stretch had pools of thin ice in different sections and with the warming sun they had melted and were a constant cause of worry.
Hardly can one find a slope downwards. But what makes you forget the hardship is the sprawling bugyals and the white frozen snow peaks all through the way. There are a couple of tea stalls in the way, run by the local garhwalis, which also offer warm water and small titbits too. A small ganesh temple appears to the right of the path. Here we paid our respects to the deity and took a breather. The clouds were above us, it was still a clear day and the mountain top looked up in the heavens from here. There are places to rest on the way and we took our time to enjoy the valley. Our last rest was about a km away from Tunganath at the last wayside tea-stall.
Hands were feeling numb, faces were taught with the chill and noses were getting moist and running by then. I was getting out of breath every couple of minutes, and had to take a breather at every corner and turn. The legs felt the ache as it crunched up the muscles for another push at every step ….