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Chopta

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Chopta is getting popular as a tourist destination since last few years. Situated in the Rudraprayag district of Uttarakhand state, Chopta is also known as mini Switzerland. Chopta is situated at an elevation of 2,600mts above sea level amidst dense forest. Enchanting views of the Himalayas is visible from Chopta. Chopta is the initiation point of the trek to famous Tungnath Mandir. The region is rich in varied flora and fauna. Rhododendron and deodar trees are found in abundant here. Chopta is well connected by motorable roads and it lies on the Ukhimath Ė Gopeshwar road. It is one of the most picturesque spot of Uttaranchal state as the natural splendours seen from here are very diverse. Chopta is an offbeat destination and it acts as an interesting tourist getaway for trekking enthusiasts and nature lovers. Chopta is situated on the Chandra Parbat and its most popular excursion are Tungnath Mandir and Chandrashila Peak. Tungnath Mandir is dedicated to Lord Shiva and Chandrashila is the highest point of the mountain on which Chopta is situated.Chopta

Chopta trekking has lot in its store for its trekkers. Watch the rising sun in its many hue, Grey first, it slowly transforms into orange from pale yellow. Itís time to wake up and so the bird king of the high Himalayas, Monaal, takes a swift flight from the rocky outcrop into the valley. While doing so, it greets its friends below with a continuos shrill call. and friends it has plenty Ė Musk deer, muntjac, gorals.

On another side of the mountain, a few cottages stand half immersed in snow. Chopta trekking during winter is experience in itself, one comes across magnificent sites of snow cottage, getting the warmth of the snow and soon the golden sun will melt the snow. Drop by drop, the water will trickle down from the green tin roofs of the cottage housing the forest department, to form beautiful icicles. Hidden under three feet of snow are thousands of grasses, shrubs and cold-blooded organisms. They will return to life once nature runs a soothing hand over them. But for now, itís the snow that shrouds the landscape.

Chopta Trekkign In Snow
Preparing for treks in the snow entails much more planning and foresight than for a normal trek. The biggest problem about trekking in the snow in Chopta is that you donít find human settlements en route. Villagers in high-altitude areas relocate to low-lying areas during the months of snowfall.

Not just that, hostile climatic conditions force even the army and forest department to temporarily move away from places of lesser strategic importance. Given the circumstances, once you leave your base camp, you realise that you are entirely on your own. Everything, right from matchsticks and candles to a pair of well-fitting shoes, has to be looked into. You have to carry alternate fuel, food and medicines. A small mistake or oversight when you plan can be fatal. In the areas where there is no electricity or means of communication, problems could intensify.

Caution
Chopta is just this kind of a place during the months of snowfall. There is no electricity, wireless or vehicle. One has to arrange for everything, from proper rations, kerosene, firewood (yes firewood also, because most of the firewood in the jungle is damp during this season, and gives off a lot of smoke, causing tears), batteries, clothing, bedding, to our heavy and cumbersome equipment. This apart, to be on the right side of caution, one has to carry an extra bit of everything during a trek in the snow. As a thumb rule, about 50-70% of extra rations and life-saving implements should be carried for snow treks.

Travelogue On Chopta Trekking
Chopta lies on the road head but it is not possible to drive on the snow from mid-November till the last week of March (road conditions may differ depending on the weather). You can take a four-by-four vehicle only up till the point where there is no snow. After this, only vehicles with chains on their tyres can conquer the terrain.

We hired an ordinary Mahindra Jeep, thinking that the driver would take us as far as possible. The forest department was supposed to help us during our visit and provided us with a forest guard and wildlife photographer, Darshan Singh Negi.
The road to Mandal passes through some of most picturesque villages of the region and a telephoto lens is a valuable asset if one wants to capture the snow-covered peaks.Snow Fall in Chopta

It is almost an hour to reach Mandal, which is the last village on the periphery of the Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary. It is also the last halt for motor-driven vehicles in winter. We could barely go 4kms after Mandal, and we chanced upon fresh snow, an indication that it was time to get down and start up your thrilling adventure trekking.

This part of the jungle is full of wildlife. The most commonly-found species are the musk deer, muntjac, or the barking deer, Himalayan black bear, the leopard and fox. These animals prefer to stay near the snow line in winter because it too cold up in the hills, and too risky down in the village.

We could see a large variety of lichens growing on the rocks, a few so thick and heavy that they were hanging like curtains from tree trunks. The snow on the road was uneven Ė a few centimeters to a few inches deep. This side of the mountain did not face the sun, which was probably why everything here was dark and slippery. It was around 3 p.m., and the warmth of the sun was forcing the snow of the previous night to slide down the pine leaves- the sound of which often sent shivers down our spines as it were so close to that of an animal creeping up on us, stealthily.

We were to trek at least three kilometers before we could make our first night halt, it was just a thrilling adventure trekking, our muscles were neither well-toned, nor ready for such exertion, and certainly not with heavy packs on our backs. While Negi, well-adapted and acclimatised to the heights, walked ahead, Amit and I trailed slowly after him. The amount of snow under our feet increased with each step, making the climb difficult. It was around this time there was a sudden change in the weather.

Excursions from Chopta

Tungnath Shiva Temple (3Km.)

Located at height of 3680m above sea level, the Tungnath Temple is the highest of the Panch Kedar.
Gopeshwar (39Km.)

The district headquarters of Chamoli, situated at an elevation of 1500 m above sea level is a picturesque place with salubrious climate. Ukhimath Tample
Kanchula Korak Musk Deer Sanctuary (7Km.)

On the Chopta-Gopeshwar road, Kanchula Korak Musk Deer Sanctuary is famous for breeding musk deers. This sanctuary covers an area of 5 sq. m and is an ideal place for tourists to view rare Himalayan wildlife. This place is also popular for its dense forests and aromatic flowers.
Ukhimath (31Km.)

This is the winter seat of lord Kedarnath and worship is done here during the winters when the temple of Kedarnath remains closed. The temples of Usha and Anirudh, Shiva and Parvati are worth a visit.