A journey from fear to discovery:
” One touch of nature makes the whole world kin ” ~Shakespeare
Amidst this overwhelming situation of a pandemic, going down the memory lane is the only option left for a travel-addict like me. And honestly, there’s a reminiscing romanticism in cherishing your past travel journeys. It’s like reliving every moment. Struggle and discomfort of yesterday create a memory album with flushing colors.
So here I am, again with a travel story. This is a story of last September(2019) when I embarked on my journey to Tunganath, the highest among the Panch Kedar. It started from Himalayan foothill Rishikesh to Chopta and finally to the majestic destinations Tunganath and Chandrashila. It might be a vacation of 5days, but I acquired a lifetime of experience. Even after traveling so many places in the Himalayas, it seems to unfold a whole new chapter with every new destination, and this journey also no different. So I’ve got a lot to tell.
In order to maintain the flavor of the story at its richest, I’ve divided this tale into two parts, and this time, I’m starting from the end. Part 1 is the story of Chandrashila, and the later one would be the story of Chopta and Tunganath, which I’ll publish next. Even both of the stories are from the same journey, yet they are different, unique, and beautiful in their own way. So, below is the story of Chandrashila.
Among all the places that I’ve traveled so far, the Chandrashila adventure is special for a whole new reason. It was my first encounter with a night-hiking. Star-studded sky with milky way is not an uncommon view at high altitude, but still, it seems new every time I experienced it. But walking through a rocky trail in a semi-lit up sky was a whole new experience for me. It was dangerous, beautiful, and highly adrenaline rushing. This piece of article is not a mere nature descriptive essay but a story. A story of hiking, reaching to the destination as well as it’s a story of a journey. A journey of overcoming fear and doubts and toward the own-self.
Chapter 1: Fear
A shivery chill bore down my spine, and I couldn’t remember the exact reason why I decided on night trek in the first place. Standing at the edge of the disappearing trail, I was blaming myself for never learning a lesson even after a few risky encounters before. Under the vast sky and amidst the rough, bumpy mountain trail we were lost and there was no way other than waiting for the next sun. Then we could return to the Tunganath guest house at least. So, is that it? All the stories of brimming beauty of Chandrashila sunrise that I heard of, would that remain story only? A story that I won’t ever be able to recreate. A gulp of emotions was flowing, and in that frosty cold, with my numb body condition, I was unable to recognise it properly…Was it a disappointment, was it sadness, or was it just fear or a mixture of all these? I would never know.
“Maybe there could be another way.” Vinod’s words lit our hope like a hint of fire from a matchstick that diminishes blinding darkness. He disappeared to the other direction for a while to check the further trace and came back to reassure his claim. Without wasting another second, Moumita and I started following him unquestionably. It was dark with no specific trail and stiff. Another blunder we did is that we didn’t bring any searchlight. The feeble beam of the mobile torches was our only hope, and it was extremely challenging to gauze the next step. One miss-step could land us to the bottomless chasm on the other side of the trail.
Chapter 2: The Walk
We kept walking through the rocky, rough, narrow mountain path with sporadic hints of thorny bushes. With upsurge, the stiffness was rising harshly and so our breadth. So, sometimes we chose to sit on a large rock to catch our breath. With each step, our adrenaline was skipping a beat high. Every step was unsure. Every second step was riskier. It seemed an endless journey, and then after quite a few minutes, the magic happened.
The hidden half-moon behind the trace of the clouds finally chose to show up, and the stars also started to unveil. After 45mins of the walk, at a rest point, I found myself amidst a barren realm under a billion stars. The deafening silence made us realize that we are amidst no-where, and the remoteness was scary and surreal at the same time. The isolation unfolded a new beauty! It’s like the universe was opening a new door that was closed to me till date. From regretting the decision to embark on this journey, I regretted why haven’t I done this before. Though we were in a mist of reaching to the top before sunrise, I chose to sat there for a couple of minutes longer to drink in the well of that half-lit emptiness. Cause again, it’s not always about the destination. It’s about the journey.
Chapter 3: New Dawn
Even the Mt. Everest climbers don’t celebrate as much as we did after reaching the Chandrashila top after an hour and a half hiking. It’s a narrow mountain top, mostly with the boulders and a small temple-like structure on it. The multiple layers that I was wearing continually in a war with the sub-zero temperature. Still, an hour left to sunrise. With my acclimating vision in the darkness, I was able to spot the hint of snow nearby in the faint light of the stars and the milky way above. Oh, wait!! That’s not the only one! The snowy peaks started to emblazon in-front of me slowly. The peaks were quite far away, yet the behemoth structures made me feel like I could touch those. The snowy mountains look like an ice cream frost under the dark blue night sky, and once again, it made me regret not having a good camera to capture the night sky.
The other two members of this hiking journey were also drinking the enormity of this beauty in silence. Even in that beautiful aura, I was desperately hoping for the first ray of the sun for compensating the biting cold.
Chapter 4: The Vermillion-Turquoise Game!
The first hint of vermilion emerged from beyond the snowcapped peak of ‘Nandadevi’ around 5.30 a.m. Soon the sky involved in a joyous game of colors. It kept changing from vermillion to orange to bright yellow. Step by step. One at a time. The stars became invisible under the ray of light, and the entire twisted knotty kingdom became more prominent to us. We were precisely at the center of the top, from where every major peak of Garhwal (Nandadevi, Trishul, Chaukhamba and others ) was visible. When we climbed, we climbed in a flow without thinking much, but now I realised how high we were from the sea level when I saw the feathery cloud hovering below, interrupted only by the lower height of mountain peaks. The significant peaks, to date, which I experienced only from far away valley, surrounding me like a zoomed in-camera lens. I was like experiencing a dream.
As the sun rose high, the sky was radiating turquoise hue from everywhere. In the recent past, I never have seen this much clear sky, the color of which is in-convincible. We were so spellbound by the awestruck beauty that we didn’t exchange a single word in the entire span of the sunrise. After getting our sense back, we clicked some pictures, though it’s nearly impossible to capture the exact experience. After spending some more quiet moments, we started to descend. I kept looking back to the brimming beauty as long as I could, but after few moments, it vanished behind the trails, and our journey continued to Tunganath with all its glory and a fully satisfied mind.
Chapter 5: Reflection
The sunrise at Chandrashila will always remain special to me for a very different reason apart from its translucent beauty. That day, when the first light appeared around the corner of the sky, I chose to sit in front of the temple, facing the sun-rising peak. I let the first ray of light to flood me. Like a thin beam of light that is able to vanish enormous darkness in a flick, the first touch of the sun on that cold dawn eradicated all the darkness in me. I was never a religious person, but always a spiritual one. The cold wind and the changing color of the sky were diminishing the rustling restlessness inside me, and I was sinking into a trance state with passing time. The magic of the mountain is, it makes you realize how small you are and even how smaller all of your problems could be! Maybe this is the reason why every time I lose to the desperate desire of coming back to the mountains even after some bitter-sweet experiences. It attracts me not only because of its natural beauty but because of its mirror-like nature. It’s where I reflect.