Tuesday July 17, 2018

Chandrashila: Trek to the ‘moon rock’

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By Arundhati Roy

It seldom happens that a place initiates a new phase in someone’s life. It tends to inspire the person in a way that was previously unknown. A trek to Chandrashila summit raises questions in a person which can never be answered but only contemplated.

This trek takes you to the world’s highest Shiva temple situated in Tungnath which is one of the Panch Kedar temples, at a height of 12074 ft. The summit of Tungnath is Chandrashila Peak at an altitude of 13000 ft. above the sea level. This is an all season trek known for breath-taking landscapes and dense forests surrounded with excellent views of the peaks.

The trek begins from Deoriatal, amid nicely stretched greenery, which reminds us how vast and overpowering Mother Nature could be. The trail winds through five different varieties of forests; Oaks, Maple and Rhododendrons are the prominent variants that one would not miss to spot. The trek is full of sudden, uphill trails covered with wooded trees, and then within a blink of the eye, there is a moss-covered downhill trail through enveloping tunnels.

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This stupendous sight is followed by the trails that weave through clearings in the jungles in Rohini Bugyal. There are tall trees on the way which lay fallen on the ground with wild mushrooms growing on them. If one manages to see the entire scene from a distance, it would appear as if these beautiful elements of nature have been deliberately placed in order to create an awe-inspiring moment.

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If there’s a bird watchers’ trail, then it has to be Deoriatal. The Himalayan woodpecker and Verditer Flycatcther can be easily spotted here. It has more birds to show in one day than the entire Goechala trek. There is a waterfall on the way, which invites trekkers to bathe in it after the exhausting 12 hour trek to the village of Chopta.

The last stretch of the trek is from Chopta to Tungnath, and then to Chandrashila. It seems short when cited in terms of distance, i.e. 3 .5 kms, but the trail ascends sharply via a series of 11 scissor bends. The walk is made pleasant due to the magnificent view despite the continuous steep climb.

This trail passes through a section of Bhoj trees before the Tungnath temple, on a concrete and stone laden path. The entire route is surrounded by the Himalayan range of mountains. Every time one stops to catch a breath, the view doesn’t fail to amaze.

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Wide, lush, green meadows stretch for as far as the eyes can see, with the clouds continuously rolling in and relaying with sunshine. There comes a point where the excitement to reach the destination demands rest and makes one stop and think about where they are standing, with just a few souls scattered at a distance. If any elderly local passes by you nonchalantly, don’t be intimidated. They’re very friendly.

The trek from Tungnath to Chandrashila is an ascent of 600 feet and is even steeper than the previous one. It might just be of 1 km but the climb tends to be very hectic. A part of the trail presents a view from a cliff which looks over layers of mountains in the distance thinly veiled by clouds.

The trek is, literally, a walk through clouds and an extremely exhilarating experience. The steepness is scary but the thrill to reach the top with nothing to climb beyond it, keeps one motivated. Nothing can beat the view at the top of the summit, as it looks over parts of the Himalayan mountain range including Nanda Devi.

The altitude gain could hamper the breathing but it’s all forgiven, for the feeling of accomplishment cannot match anything.

To be able to spend some time at the tip on the Chandrashila summit can prove to be an once-in-a-lifetime experience. The mountains and the sun carry on in their usual ways, as if indifferent to anybody else’s presence. It is this moment when one gets to have that conversation with one’s self; the question of one’s minisculity in front of this gigantic world amid the colossal mountains layered one up on another.

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But then again, maybe that’s what mountains do to you. All that remains in our hands is how we wish to mould this experience and come back to the same peak again with more humility in ourselves because that’s all we can ever be… a little bit humbler, every single time.

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Why You Should Visit Spiti Valley?

It’s unlike all the travel destinations. Spiti is about happiness, beauty and peace. It’s about that retreat away from technology that you read in online posts.

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Here is why Spiti Valley is a must visit place for all. Wikimedia Commons

Enormous mountains, Spotless cold dessert valley, Intriguing culture, loving warmth, beauty sprouting from every quarter, experience a journey of a lifetime with a trip to Spiti valley. Spiti is a cold desert mountain valley – the middle land between India and Tibet. A place that was cut off from the outer world for 30 years has got to be special. The breath-taking views and the untouched natural beauty will make your visit lifetime memorable experience. A visit to Spiti valley is like time travel, you travel and shift to a time and a world unknown. It’s a place where Tibet and India blend beautifully. This protected civilisation had recently been transformed into one of the most relaxing and peaceful tourist destinations of India.

But why Spiti?

Here’s why:

Centres of the Buddhist pilgrimage – Monasteries

Spiti is home to many significant centres of the Buddhist pilgrimage. The fascinating part of Spiti is its Gompas and their unique location. Located high up in the mountains these monasteries are away from the civilisation, thus planting a new level of excitement for the tourists. Apart from the many village monasteries, there are 5 major monasteries in Spiti- Kye Monastery, Tangyud Monastery, Dhankar Monastery, Tabo Monastery and Kungri Monastery.

Tabo Monastery is one of the most famous monasteries.

Tabo Monastery

Tabo monastery is located in the Tabo village and is at a distance of nearly 46 km south-east from Kaza, Himachal Pradesh. Also called Tabo-Chos-Khor implying ‘doctrinal circle’ this monastery has 23 ‘chortens’, nine temples, an annexe containing the bedchamber of a nun and a monk’s chamber. Alluring wall paintings, similar to those of Ajanta-Ellora paintings and sculptures beautify the interiors of this monastery.

Dhankar Monastery

An 800-year-old monastery located in Dhankar village, 25 Km East of Kza, Himachal Pradesh. Buddhist scriptures and paintings embellish the walls of this monastery. The presiding deity of this monastery is the ‘Dhyaan Buddha’ who is also known as ‘Vairocana’.

Kye Monastery

Located at a summit of a hill at height of 4,166 metres, it is a Tibetan Buddhist Monastery. It is the largest monastery of Spiti valley.

TnagyudGompa

It is located in a Comic village in Spiti valley. This was constructed around the earlier 14th century and belongs to the sect of Sa-Kya-Pa. Tibetan scriptures having 87 volumes called ‘Tang-r-Gyud’ are available in this Gompa.

Also Read: Tirthan Valley: Himachal Pradesh’s Hidden Paradise

Kungri Monastery

It is the second oldest monastery located in Pin valley and was constructed in the 1300 AD. This monastery has evidence of Tantric effect and it belongs to the ‘Nyingma-pa Sect’.

These gompas provide the true essence of Buddhism in their thangkas, murals, scriptures, paintings and prayers of the red-robed lamas.

Send postcards from the Highest post office of the world

Isn’t the idea of sending yourself or others postcards from a height of 14,567 Feet fascinating and super-interesting?

Hikkim Post Office is the World’s highest post office.

The post office is located in Hikkim village, a 15 Km drive from Kaza village. The post office is run by Chinese, where for every postcard a price of 5 Yuan is charged. You can also get Base camp certificates here.

The post office is shut for almost half a year during snow. Monks in the area receive their postcards from this post office while the farmers maintain their savings account there.

You can reach the post office in two ways- first, hiring a taxi. The other is boarding a bus, but this bus runs twice a week, so check the schedule before you go.

Serene Beauties- The lakes of Spiti

There are many beautiful lakes in Spiti.

Adding embellishments to the crown of Spiti, these high-altitude lakes would provide you with an experience like never before. You have to trek your way to the lakes due to their high altitude. Chandrataal, Suraj Tal and Dhankar are the main lakes of Spiti but Chandratal is the shining star of Spiti.

Camping at Chandrataal under the star-studded sky might turn out to be one of the best experiences of your life. Chandrataal is loved by the tourists. The colours of the lake are best seen when the sun has risen. The valley that leads to the lake is full of flowers and peace. Just one sight at the lake will take away all the tiredness you gathered from the trekking.

The Surajtaallake is also a beautiful lake, not many people know of it. It’s the third highest lake in the country. It is a sacred water body and merges with Chandratal down the hill.

Drown in the culture with the Homestays in Spiti

Spiti Valley has a very rich culture.

Some Spitian families in the higher and remote villages like Komic, Langza, Kibber, Demul, Lhalung, Dhankar and Hikkim open up their hearts and homes to the travellers.

One can get to know so much about their culture just by living with a Spitian family. Homestays also let you understand the basic aspects of the life of a Spitian like the living conditions in a remote area, what do they eat, what do they do during the house arrest they have to face during the harsh winters. The houses are roomy and spacious with the balconies providing the view of the mighty Himalayas.

The people of Spiti believe in not wasting anything which is visible in their dry composting toilets. They generate their manure for the fields through this. But if you’d prefer cosy hotel rooms then yatra coupons would do you justice and get discount upto 40% on booking the hotels.

The fascinating mummy of Sangha Tenzin

Sangha Tenzin was a monk whose mummy was discovered after an earthquake.

Sounds scary? Well, it isn’t. In 1975, an earthquake in the Northern region opened a tomb containing the mummified body of a monk named Sangha Tenzin. The mummy was found inside a tomb at Ghuen village in the cold and remote Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh.

Though the mummy is 500 years old, it is well preserved with skin and the hair on the head intact. The surprising part is that the mummification of the monk’s body is completely natural and no chemicals were used He died with a rope tied around his neck and his legs, which is an esoteric practice recorded in a few Buddhist documentaries. It’s due to the rope that he was in the same position even after his death.

The mummy is on display in temple Gue, which is about 20 miles from where he was excavated, in the stae of Himachal Pradesh in India, bordering Tibet. The mummy rests in a concrete box, unlike the artificial mummification where several layers of glass are used to preserve the mummy. This is a natural wonder which everyone would love to see.

Along with these, Spiti valley provides you with a chance for the journey to the highest motorable village-Komic at 15,027 feet. Moreover, the trip would also provide you peace at the quaint villages of Spiti. They are refreshing and a lot more peaceful as compared to the noise and pollution we have to face in the cities. The view and location of each village is a sight to behold.

How to reach the Spiti valley?

  • There are two ways to reach this beautiful place, one via the Shimla route and the other via Manali route having two passes Kumuzum La and Rohtang.
  • Manali route is preferred more by the tourists as for starters, The Manali route is shorter (201 km) as compared to the Shimla route (450 Km).
  • Moreover, Spiti is more accessible from the Manali route as there are daily buses while from the Shimla route the buses run not so frequently and buying passes can be hectic as well.
  • If you are fascinated by travelling through high passes then the Manali route is the one for you. But the altitude escalates quickly in the Manali route and thus, you’d have less time to get settled and can suffer from AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness). The Shimla route gains altitude gradually giving you time to acclimatize.

Also Read: 9 Must-Know Facts About Indus Valley Civilization

However, both the routes are equally tiring as there are unpaved roads and roadblocks ahead.

For the Manali route:

  • it is advisable to take a break at Kullu, spend a day
  • then follow the road ahead.
  • As it is very difficult to get a seat on the bus to from Manali, it is advisable to board a shared cab to Kaza, though expensive but comfortable.

For the Shimla route,

  • it is advisable to board a bus from ReckongPeo to Kaza.
  • An early morning bus should be preferred. Make sure you stand in line early in the morning to avoid the hustle in the evening.

Spiti valley is more about the journey, it’s truly exciting.

Some tips for your visit to be hassle free

  1. There is no network connectivity in the Spiti valley, only BSNL postpaid cards work here. Sometimes Airtel too. It’s beneficial to download the map of Spiti valley beforehand.
  2. As Kaza is the headquarters of Spiti, it’s the only place that has fuel stations, cyber café and mobile networks. And it’s the only place you’ll find ATM. It is advisable to carry enough cash from Manali and keep this ATM as the last option. Also, the fuel station is only open till 5 PM.
  3. Foreign tourists need to register with ITBP prior to their visit.

Best time to visit Spiti valley

The best time to visit is during June-September when there are no frozen paths and it’s all beautiful and lovely.

Spiti is harsh during winters as the temperature drops to -30-degree Celcius. The roads start clearing up during May-June and according to the residents there, July-August is the best time to visit the beauty.

“A world within a world” is how Rudyard Kipling quoted Spiti valley.

It’s unlike all the travel destinations. Spiti is about happiness, beauty and peace. It’s about that retreat away from technology that you read in online posts, It’s an experience with raw life without the modern ease of access. It’s about quietness you can’t get in your city. So, in this year of long weekends, take some time for yourself, pack your bags, and go for a date with nature. I can assure you,you will not be disappointed!