The general idea of this trip was to spend some time relaxing around in Rishikesh and then travel to some small town or village up in the mountains for some more time.Weather in Rishikesh was not that hot after the pre-monsoon rains started, So even if we had to stay in Rishikesh only, we were happy with it. We took the bus and reached Rishikesh at around 7 am, 6 hours before checkin time and there was no room empty then. So we put our luggage in reception and had breakfast in the rooftop restaurant.
Rishikesh at night

Rishikesh at night

That hotel had some view of river Ganga and the mountains.  Not that great, but good enough. After breakfast, we walked out to the Lakshman Jhula area to wander around. Most of the markets were closed but there were a lot of pilgrims due to the pilgrimage season in progress. A riverside cafe was opening up for business and we found the spot with best view and settled in. Ordered some more food, tea etc and just lay there till afternoon. After lunch, we checked in to the hotel, had bath, a nap and went out again in the evening to another riverside cafe. Had dinner there and came back to hotel for sleep late night. Late in Rishikesh is around 10:30 pm. Hardly any shop stays open after 10.
River Ganga in Rishikesh

River Ganga in Rishikesh

 Our next day was quite similar and we spent most of our time in the cafes, on river bank and walking around on the Laksham Jhula road in both directions. We had seen most places of interest in the city already and the streets had too many pilgrims for us to bother with anything else.
For next 3-4 days, we wanted to do some hike but all hiking routes were closed in monsoon. So we decided to go up to Chakrata. Our plan was to start early morning but could start early afternoon due to traffic. Our driver had very little knowledge of routes in the area and we had to rely on Google Maps to find our way. It worked fairly well, much better than our Meghalaya trip in 2016. There is quite a bit of road upgradation work going on and we were slowed  down quite considerably due to it. On the way, we saw Yamuna river (and some of it’s tributaries) as it flows down from Yamunotri towards the plains. It is much different there than it is in rest of it’s journey elsewhere. Proper hilly area started once we passed Vikasnagar and there were only a few small villages on the way for rest of our journey. Due to rainy season, there were a few seasonal waterfalls on the hills visible every now and then.
Paddy fields

Paddy fields

We reached Chakrata town just as sun was setting. Upon reaching there, we came to know that the guesthouse we had booked was still some distance away. On the map, location was 1-2 km from the local landmark and tourist attraction Tiger waterfall, which was 27 km from the town. But in reality, it was around 9 km from the town. We had chosen that place because of it’s location outside the main town. There were some  moderately fancy hotels and some “camp sites” with permanent tents.
The hotel was  2 -2.5 km from the main road but we found it without much difficulty. It was a small 8-9 rooms property in a small village, maybe Sawara or something. I never asked. Hotel staff were some people from the houses downhill. The guesthouse had nothing in room except for a bed and a fake fireplace, but the place was clean. We had only a few snacks since morning and the staff bought us a bowl of noodles and tea. Meal options were limited to some simple local daal, roti, sabzi, chawal kind of stuff. It was not fancy but adequate. We walked around a little bit to stretch our legs and went to sleep after dinner.
Scenery on hiking trail

Scenery on hiking trail

Tiger waterfall was 45-50 minutes drive or 3 km hike. But the trail started from the main road 2.5 km from guesthouse. So we asked the driver to drop us at start of hiking trail and we started to walk from there. Sun was already up in the sky and there was little shade ever now and then. Most of the trail passed through farms and grazing area for animals, but there were very few people around. Everything was covered in beautiful greenery. Most of people there own cows and some goats. It was a bit surprising to see a big animal like a cow climbing on steep ledges. Not a quick and nimble as goats, but still different than what most people think of them.
There is a ticket counter, parking area and a rest stop about 1 km from the waterfall. We stopped there for some refreshment and resumed the walk. It is a wide paved path from there with easy stairs. But that somehow was more tiring for me than the rough trail we passed earlier.  There were a few houses on the way and the villagers were working in their paddy fields.  The waterfall itself was pretty nice and closed from all sides except one from where the water flowed out. I don’t know if there is a word for this thing.  It was named Tiger waterfall because some people think that it’s sound resembles roar of a tiger.  It was not anything like that but with more water in monsoons and echo from nearby stone walls, it probably lives up to the name.
 At that time, we really wanted to take a dip but hadn’t brought any spare clothing with us. It was hard enough to protect camera from the water spray as it was.
Saw it on the way back

Saw it on the way back

After spending some time there, we walked up to the parking area and had lunch of rajma chawal. Driver reached there to take us back to the hotel. On the way, some local village children were selling some pears and we bought a few. They were absolutely inedible though.
 We reached guest house at around 4 pm and were fairly tired after spending all day out in the sun. On this trip, we encountered rain everyday apart from our time out that day. Anyhow we started a small chat with 4 young men from Lucknow who had driven there and had been there before we arrived. They told us about another waterfall in opposite direction which they had visited in morning with a local and were pretty happy about it.  According to their directions, it was about 2 km walk/drive on road and then some difficult climb up the mountain through jungle. I was intrigued but too tired to consider going there. It was  too late anyway. Our original plan was to go back to New Delhi next day, but after hearing good words about the place from those Lakhnavis, we decided to stay one more day and visit the other waterfall .
New room mate. Quite large (7-8 cm) Pretty cool, ate most bugs

New room mate. Quite large (7-8 cm) Pretty cool, ate most bugs

I woke up a bit early and got ready with a rain jacket, water and camera. Wifey was not feeling good that morning and she stayed back reading a book.  I confirmed directions with hotel staff but they had a pretty different take on it. In short, there was a trail around 2 km from the guesthouse and waterfall was uphill from there. I asked the driver to drive me on whatever trail came up at 2 km. If lucky, I’d find waterfall by myself otherwise I’d enjoy a solo hike after a long time. I actually found a small trail going uphill at around 2 km mark and sent car back from there. It was OK for a few meters , then I realised that it was just a temporary trail passing through the wooded area. Someone was cutting trees, most probably illegally and their passage had probably made the marks. I was essentially climbing the hill without any path, whichever way I found easier.
View just after wooded area

View just after wooded area

On the way, I saw a leech and made a mental note to be careful. The wooded area ended rather suddenly after a ridge and there was a trail going on from there, I could see 2-3 people further up with their cows and goats out for grazing. On the way, one hailed me from across the ridge and asked me about my destination. When I told  that I was going to Indrani waterfall, he said that I was too far from there. It was raining slightly at the time and the wind made understanding each other over distance difficult. He asked me to wait and crossed the ridge by almost running over it in less than 2 minutes. It’d have taken me atleast 20 minutes to cover that kind of terrain. He turned out to be brother of one of the workers in guesthouse. We had heard him playing flute in his house downhill previous evening.  Anyhow, coming back to story, I was on wrong trail and I offered him some money to take me there to which he agreed. He left his cows, umbrella and flute there and started walking in front.  He asked me a if I was afraid of leeches and  added that there will be lot of them on the way. I didn’t pay it much attention. I was wearing ankle high hiking boots and my feet , legs were covered by socks and hiking trousers. He was wearing simple shoes and he kept on checking  his feet every now and then. I found it odd but didn’t take it very seriously
 For a few minutes we kept walking on trail, but then he left it completely and started walking through dense tree cover and bushes up and down the hill.
Climbing to top of Indrani waterfall

Climbing to top of Indrani waterfall

Some of the bushes had wild berries and looked like kind of berries I remember growing wild in Jammu hills and countryside. But these were sour and a bit bigger.  My guide for the day (let’s call him N) kept snacking on them every now and then. We came down to the road after some time. It was not exactly in good condition but not many vehicles use it anyway. Only vehicles I saw were small 3 Mahindra load carriers locals use as shared taxis and a 2 motor bikes. Indrani waterfall was about 200 m uphill from the main road. It was much smaller with less amount of water, but still nice. The water here flows down the rock face on a gradient instead of plunging straight down.
I like waterfalls, but I like seeing them from their top even more. So I asked N if it was possible to go up. So we went up and found another smaller waterfall which was not visible from below.
While coming back, there was another mountain stream joining the one we were at earlier. I walked a few minutes upstream along the trail running beside it and joined back N a few minutes later. He told me that the road led back to the guesthouse but there was another waterfall on the way which he could show me. So we left the road again and walked through some really dense undergrowth to see another small waterfall. He asked me o walk in front to avoid getting leeches but there was absolutely no trail and I wanted him to stay in front to show me the way. This waterfall was only 12-15 feet high but quite nice. There I found a leech on my boots and it flicked it off.
These leeches are hard to spot on ground unless they are moving

These leeches are hard to spot on ground unless they are moving

After that place, he took my leave and scampered up the hill back to his animals. I walked on the road for a while to reach guesthouse in time for lunch. It was only then I realised why N kept asking me to be careful of leeches. When I took off my boots, I found a fat leech happily sucking my blood. There were 7-8 bite marks on both legs and all of them were bleeding. Looked like a scene from a gore movie. My socks and trousers were soaked in blood too. I took a shower, cleaned off as much as possible but it kept bleeding. It didn’t hurt at all though. I put some turmeric powder and cotton swabs but these leeches have some really good anti-coagulants. There was a bit of bleeding for about 24 hours even after that whenever cotton was removed.  As I write this post after 11 days, there are only a few marks left. So that taught me to be careful about leeches atleast. There was also some severe itching like sensation on my wrist after I accidentally brushed it against a nettle plant in the jungle, which locals call Bichhoo Booti (scorpion herb), That too went away by itself next morning.
Would've been a decent picture if it stayed still for 1 more second

Would’ve been a decent picture if it stayed still for 1 more second

There’s nothing much to write after this. We started back early next morning, drove through fog /clouds for a while and encountered a large landslide which delayed us by 5 hours as we watched it being cleared.

Next morning, we got in to the car and drove for 10-15 minutes. It left us at some point, I don’t remember what it was called and we entered in to the jungle to start our trek to Deoria Taal. We found a trail and kept walking led by Pammi. The jungle itself was pretty beautiful with old trees all over. There were a few small trails here and there which are used by locals and lead to different

Starting the trek

Starting the trek

villages nearby. But we kept to the main trail which was pretty easy to walk upon till 35-40 minutes.On the way we came across a mountain stream and there was a small concrete bridge to cross it.

We rested there for a while. Water was ice cold as most of it was coming from melting snow high up in the mountains. After this point, the terrain got relatively difficult with many steep ridges on the way. But the weather was pleasant and walking was enjoyable except for a few difficult stretches. It did get a bit hot later on though. Our hike took us through some dense jungles with trees, wild flowers and grass all around. This area is habitat of a few wild animals like leopard, wolves and Himalayan bears, but we never saw anything.
On the way, we stopped in a grassy area, somewhat like a bugyal to rest. It looked like some place straight out of picture postcards. A few minutes later, a few young girls walked in with their buffaloes to add a local touch to it. Pammi told us that the villagers nearby will take their livestock to different grazing grounds when snow melts and those girls were probably doing the same thing.

Trek route through jungle

Trek route through jungle

After a few minutes of walk in grassy area, we entered jungle again, but by this time we had climbed down quite a bit and the trees were different. The path was covered with fallen leaves in most of places and was slippery. It was still beautiful and peaceful with many interesting sights on the way.

On our last stretch, we climbed a very steep incline and then walked on a ridge which had a rocky path and some kind of silly boundary wall on both sides. Saw some Himalayan Griffons and a kind of lizard which was fairly common in this area. Locals had a funny name for it, but I can’t remember it now.
We again entered a densely wooded area after this and then walked out of it to reach Deoria Taal lake. It’s a beautiful little lake with green wooded area on two sides and grassy on rest. It’s not too

Shepherd girls

Shepherd girls

big but too large to be called a pond. The water is a dark shade of green and apparently not safe to drink. Some workers were putting up stones on lake bank and some others were doing it on the path which connected lake to the village below. We stopped at a small eating joint for rest and to eat something. While we were there, Pammi had arranged for our tents to be pitched near the lake.

We were tired and just rested for a half hour before walking back towards lake. There was a path around the lake in between all the trees and a very small place of worship. Later on we came to know that the locals come here for some ceremony and pour milk in to the lake from that point. We spotted a few birds including a pair of magpies making quite a ruckus. The lake was full of frogs, dragon flies hovering all over and some strange fish like creatures which came to surface every now and then but moved too fast. We completed a walk around the lake and went to that small

Campsite Deoria Taal

Campsite Deoria Taal

eating joint for dinner. There a local guide from village down the hill joined us and started telling us some tales and legends associated with the place. According to him, this is the lake mentioned in Mahabharat where Pandavs were tested by a Yaksh and only Yudhisthir passed.

It had rained a bit after we reached Deoria Taal and the weather was a bit cold. After we had dinner, we went off to sleep. There isn’t much to add after that. We climbed down the mountain next morning in to a village from where we drove back to Rishikesh. Stayed there for 2 days instead of 1 planned earlier before going back to Delhi.

 

A dragonfly hovering over lake

A dragonfly hovering over lake

 

Path around the lake

Path around the lake

Himalayan Griffon

Himalayan Griffon

A mountain stream we crossed

A mountain stream we crossed

Next morning, we woke up just after sunrise to a very cold morning. A shepherd had brought his flock of sheep and goats downhill and was sitting outside dhaba waiting for a cup of tea. He had a few dogs with him, each one wearing a thick metal collar meant to protect it from attacks from leopards which live in forest. I have heard that these dogs are fiercely independent and not very friendly towards strangers. I had even experienced it first hand during my visit to Spiti. But these two were friendly and after we fed them some biscuits, wouldn’t leave our side. They did go off barking towards a heavily wooded area nearby to scare away some monkeys (I guess).
I walked on further before breakfast was ready and spotted a few birds and some pikas. Latter are sluggish in mornings and very active during day. After breakfast, we fed a few crows again and then started walking towards Tungnath Temple. A stone and cement track is what most pilgrims visiting temple usually take. There are a few

Mountain crows

Mountain crows

shortcuts, but owing to whatever I know about such “time savers” we preferred the longer route.
It was fairly easy but we flat footed city dwellers were out of breath in no time while Pammi walked on happily.
The view from the route was fairly interesting with number of trees all around. There were a few shops and grounds which are occupied only during summer season and lay vacant during winters. Trees in the area were covered with lichen and some kind of cotton thing.
After hiking for about 50-60 minutes, we found some snow lying here and there. But most of it was hard as ice. We could see Chandra Shila and it looked beautiful covered with snow. After a while, we probably crossed the tree line and from that point onwards, the vegetation was limited to small bushes, grass and a few wild flowers. It was sunny but a chilly wind was blowing.

Sunrise view of Himalayan mountains from campsite

Sunrise view of Himalayan mountains from campsite

After a hike of about 2 hours and 3-4 rest stops, we finally managed to reach temple area. There was a small dhaba where we had something to eat, don’t remember what. Or may be we ate after coming back.

The mountain from that point onwards was covered in ice and snow apart from the places where it was cleared by people and it was melting too. Water was every where and stone path was very slippery. We walked up carefully to reach the temple. A few workers were preparing for some religious ceremony of opening the temple for visitors, 1 or 2 days later. Tungnath Temple is the highest Shiva Temple in the world at 3860 metres.

View from trekking route

View from trekking route

But our destination was Chandra Shila, peak of the mountain at about 4000 meters. The small path was covered in water from snow melts every where and was a bit difficult to walk upon. Last stretch which was a climb of about 80-100 meters was steep and completely covered in 2-4 inches of hard snow. I followed Pammi’s lead as he hiked up but struggled to keep up. But after a while managed to reach the top. There was a small temple on top of the peak where a family was doing some kind of prayer ceremony. Another very small temple kind of place was built on other end. Didn’t expect that there. But considering the annoyingly prevalent religiosity of people, I should have expected that. As is the norm with all almost all religious people, the plastic bags and sweet boxes were chucked away casually down the hill after their apparently holy religious deed was done. When I asked the purpose, the guy answered that it was for the jungle goddess. Goddess which loves plastic bags and plastic lined cardboard boxes.

Chandra Shila

Chandra Shila

I walked a bit further and rested taking in the views. Chandra Shila is one of the highest peaks in the region and views were really great. Saw a few crows flying at even this altitude and a few pikas on ground. A very strong breeze was blowing at the peak which made even standing there a bit difficult.

After enjoying the views for 20-25 minutes, it was time to go back same way we had climbed up. But on the way, I slipped, landed on my ass and started sliding downwards. On the way, I crashed in to Pammi and he joined me in the impromptu snow slide ride. We managed to stop after a few meters. Nothing was hurt though except for a light snow burn and uncomfortable wet feeling.

On top of Chandra Shila

On top of Chandra Shila

Walk down the mountain was uneventful, except for the fact that we took a shortcut. It wasn’t all that bad since we were going down and reached our campsite in about 80-90 minutes. After a hot cup of tea and snacks and resting our limbs, we went on another walk up the road and came back just before dark. While we were in dhaba, an interesting incident happened. There were two foreigner hippy backpackers, by their attire and looks eating something. They were staying in one of other places up the road. After they paid the bill and left, one of them came back searching for his half full water bottle. He claimed that he had left it there. Dhaba owner, just gave him a funny look and handed him a new water bottle. Few minutes later, that man was back again apologising that he had found his original bottle and gave the new bottle back.
I wonder what would have happened in any other place.
Whenever I am in a place like this, away from city lights, I spend some time star gazing. But the night was cloudy with strong breeze. So I just crawled in to the tent to sleep. We had a longer trek to do next day.

Near Chandra shila

Near Chandra shila

Tungnath Temple

Tungnath Temple

Found this Pika on top

Found this Pika on top

Pammi just moments before I crashed into him

One Pika I found near campsite

One Pika I found near campsite

Next morning, we were supposed to leave at 4:30 am, but managed to do so by 6 am. We had a Tata Sumo driven by a driver named Rana and our guide was Pammi.

Rudraprayag, where Alaknanda & Mandakini combine to form Ganga

Rudraprayag, where Alaknanda & Mandakini combine to form Ganga

There are two ways to do this trek. One is to start hiking from Deoaria Taal towards Chopata till Chandrashila and the other is it’s opposite. We took the second option and drove directly towards Chopata. On the way, witnessed the destruction caused by floods last year. Workers were working almost all along the route to repair the damage but it was huge. Some villages were completely wiped out and vehicles, houses and even bridges were lying toppled over like toys. People are getting too greedy, destroying eco-system and constructed houses and shops wherever they wish without caring about stability of mountains and greenery. A lot of the destruction could have been avoided if the construction was planned properly.

A destroyed village on the way

A destroyed village on the way

After Ukhimath, the area was less populated, greener and cool. We could hear a lot of bird calls but were able to spot only 2-3 of them. Unlike the places which saw significant damage due to floods previous year, this area was spared any such thing. The roads were more or less OK but had a few bumpy stretches every now and then. We reached Chopata a few hours before sunrise and stopped at a two-storied dhaba kind of place run by a family. Pammi’s older brother was already there resting after finishing up a trek with some other trekkers who were relaxing nearby. Upper floor had kitchen and eating area and the lower floors had a couple of rooms with beds for guests. 3 foreigners were staying there already and had just finished Deoria Taal to Chandrashila trek. We had a late lunch and went on a walk down the road. Tungnath Temple was just on top of the mountains we were at but not visible. Entrance to the visitor’s route was half a km from our place and had a few shops. There were a few other dhabas and shops which were still not open for the season. We were lucky to have visited just 2-3 days the temple opened for visitors. Otherwise the place would have been swamped with pilgrims.

Near Chopata

Near Chopata

Here we saw a number of mountain crows which are fully black and bigger than what we have in plains. They seemed to be much less shy and came as close as 2-3 feet of people. I fed them some biscuits and in no time, a group of 8-9 were sitting around cawing for more.

We walked for a couple of kilometers beyond the entrance area down the road. A very strong wind was blowing at the  time and it was getting colder every minute. Almost all trees in the area lean towards a certain direction due to these wins.  Views of the valleys and forests were pretty nice even in low light. A lot of mountains at some distance were

A shepherd and his puppy

A shepherd and his puppy

covered with snow. After we reached back, we huddled around the fire. Even in Rishikesh it was near about 40 degrees, but Chopata was cold. By this time, Pammi and Rana had set up tents and dinner was ready. It was simple meal of daal, chawal etc. After dinner, we took out stuff we needed for next day and went to sleep.

I was supposed to write this travelogue last year, but due to work, laziness and website not working, I couldn’t. Now a year later, I don’t remember all the details. So this one will be according to best of my memory and what can I remember from the photos.

Early morning view of river Ganga from Laksham Jhula

Early morning view of river Ganga from Laksham Jhula

I had last visited Rishikesh around 16-17 years back and didn’t remember much of it or places nearby except Lakshman Jhoola and beach near river Ganga. So visiting the place again was almost like visiting it for the first time. To reach there, we took a bus from Delhi and reached Rishikesh at sunrise. We had booked a room in Shiv Shakti Guesthouse near Lakshman Jhula and hired an auto to take us there. It dropped us on other side of the river and we walked across the bridge. The whole thing shook whenever a two-wheeler drove across it just like I remembered. The town was still asleep except a few temple bells ringing. Reaching the hotel, we changed and had a short nap. We woke up hungry and asked owner of the place Nitin for some suggestions. He advised us to check out a few cafes on the street. Unlike restaurants in Delhi and most other cities, eating joints in such places are very relaxed and slow. Guests just relax in their seats, enjoying the view, reading a book, listening to music and their orders take a long time to be ready.Some places don’t have chairs and tables, just some cushions on the floor. With a nice view like river Ganga flowing by, it’s a pretty good way of spending some time relaxing which we did.

 There were many interesting people in such places from all over the world. One of them told us his life story about his life since he discovered India. He worked 4-5 months in Italy and spent rest of his time in India living off his savings.

The day outside was sunny and getting hot. We strolled through the market which is just like most other markets in a touristy place with shops selling silly touristy clothes, knick-knacks, signboards of massages, cooking classes, yoga and so on. In Rishikesh though, Yog and meditation classes outnumber everything else by a fair margin. We kept on walking till we reached Ram Jhula area. The ghat there (river bank) is fairly crowded all day long due to temples nearby. 2 restaurants with a man dressed like a cartoonish pandit sitting on a high chair are popular with vegetarian people.

Welcoming committee

Welcoming committee

We walked to the beach and spent some time there. Saw a lot of rafting boats floating by and people practising kayaking. Kids were making sand castles jumping in water. The river looked placid but the current was very strong. Rishikesh is the place where Ganga enters Indian plains for the first time. It felt nice to stay in the water with the hot sun just above our heads. We walked along the beach for a while and reached the streets just beyond the main road we had walked upon earlier. The area had a a number of small houses, ashrams kind of places and lots of greenery. After reaching back to our hotel for rest and washing up, we considered our options. We liked Rishikesh, but wanted something cooler for a while. Asked Nitin about it and he suggested that we do the 4-5 days Chopata Chandrashila trek. It seemed interesting and he made the arrangements for it for next morning. 

This being done, we walked across Lakshman Jhula to explore other half of the city. On the way, we saw a young white guy playing bagpipes. He lived on the money people gave away and selling some kind of herbal tea. I bought a pack and used it for a while. The herbs were from northern Europe and supposedly helpful with sleep. I’m not much of a connoisseur but it was good.

We found a dhaba kind of place and had dinner before walking back to get ready for next day.

The bagpiper

The bagpiper