When I stood outside the ancient temple to find a mountain valley bathed in moonlight, and raised my head to find a crystal clear sky with galaxies of blinking stars, it seemed as if the entire night sky had been decorated for me in a glittering array of LED lights. I stood there, transfixed, standing alone on a mountain well past midnight.
I wondered to myself, “Where am I?”
As I looked back over my shoulder towards the temple of Lord Shiva a feeling of assurance came over me, knowing that I am safe in the abode of Tungnath ji.
Story behind Tungnath
Tungnath temple is the highest Lord Shiva Temple in the world at an altitude of 12,073 ft (3,680 m), and second in order amongst the Panch Kedar temples. Legend says that the origin of this temple is rooted in the Mahabharata age. It is believed that the temple was built by the third Pandava, Arjuna. The genesis of Tungnath is similar to the story of Kedarnath. Like hump in Kedarnath, Lord Shiva’s arm is worshiped here. Even the name Tungnath came from same root. In Sanskrit Tung means arm and Nath represents the owner means Lord Shiva.
Journey to Tungnath
Last year I started my journey to Tungnath from Kedarnath. I took a day off at Guptkashi and arrived at Chopta by a bus next morning. This entire route was unimaginably beautiful, with the bus weaving through endless forests for the entire journey.
Chopta is the base point of Tungnath trek. After a heavy breakfast from a nearby food stall, I started my trek.
I thought that it would be a small trek, as it was only 5 kilometers long. I started walking leisurely, savouring every sip of nature’s abundant beauty. It didn’t turn out to be a cakewalk though, especially with my heavy rucksack.
My perseverance paid off, as one after the other the meadows rolled by and I was got mesmerized by their beauty. I took numerous breaks before I stepped in to the temple.
The Tunganath temple is very similar to the Kedarnath temple. It is smaller in size compared to Kedarnath but not in beauty with a clear sky as a blank canvas. I was standing in front of this legendary temple at the height of 12,000 ft, with the Himalayan Mountains offering a majestic backdrop. I walked into the temple to be further spellbound by what lay inside.
Nandi, the holy bull and mount of Lord Shiva, is always placed outside most Shiva temples as gate keepers. Tungnath ji is also not an exception; a stone bull facing the temple was placed outside the gates. I entered the a small ante-chamber like Mandap (the first part of the temple), which led to the Gravagriha, the place where the lord’s arm is worshiped. Here the shape of the Shiva Linga was similar to the shape of a baahu (Arm). I bowed to the lord, spent some time in there, and came out.
I planned to stay here for a night, so I started looking for shelter. There was a small guesthouse maintained by the temple committee (probably the best place to stay here). Alas, it was full for the day. I came to a shop for tea, and after talking to the owner for a while, decided to stay there for a night. The shop owner Sanjiv, was a middle aged man and a brilliant cook. He made two scrumptious Aloo Parathas (which actually helped me to make the decision to stay with him the previous night) for my lunch the next day. He was from Mukkumath, the place where Tungnath ji worshiped during the winter.
Tungnath is now a popular trekking destination…
Like other Himalayan temples, the doors to the Tungnath temple remains close in the winter. This is the time that Sanjiv stays at home; otherwise he spends his six – eight months here at Tungnath. He narrated that from past few years tourist footfalls have increased drastically. People were not there because of religious reasons though; it was mostly to do with the unparalleled beauty of Tungnath and Chandrashila.
Chandrashila is the summit of Tungnath, and is located about a kilometer above the Tungnath temple. It offers great panoramic view of many famous Himalayan mountain ranges. I had read a lot about the glorious sunrise from Chandrashila. Sanjiv boosted my level of excitement. He shared that if my luck favoured me, I’d have a chance to witness one of the most beautiful sunrises of my life. He said that“many places are famous for sunrise but the beauty of Chandrashila is unmatched because of its legend and the 360 degrees panoramic view.”
He was right; Chandrashila, which literally means the moon rock, is also associated with legends. It is believed that King Ram meditated here after defeating the demon king Ravana. Some folklore also mentions that the moon god ‘Chandra dev’ spends a year here during his penance. Even the name Chandrashila is derived from that.
A splendid evening
In the evening I found a place and started relishing the beauty. I noticed there was a beautiful office like construction on the same valley. Later on I came to know that it was a research institute for high altitude flowers. I thought of how lucky would those scientists be, who regularly worked on the lap of Himalaya.
While travelling, I had experienced many sunsets but the sunset from Tungnath was really a memorable one. The sun retired for the day and slowly melted away into the bed of clouds, engulfing the entire valley into darkness. It was a spectacular view, and my only wish then was to live for hundred years and cherish these kinds of lovely moments every day.
I came to the temple compound for the evening aarti. During the day, I saw quite a good number of devotees but was surprised to find only a handful present for the evening aarti. One local fellow shared that 90% of the people normally returned after offering Puja to Tungnath ji, and only those who wanted to enjoy Chandrashila stayed back. How can you leave such a beautiful moment when you came so close to it? I had no clue.
An unforgettable night
After the aarti, as the surroundings went completely dark, I decided to come back to my shelter. I found that two other gentlemen had joined Sanjiv. They where Ankur Sati and Newton Purohit, both were professional astrologers from Dehradun. I started chatting with Ankur, and he really got me interested with his knowledge of science and its applications in Indian astrology. Indian astrology is an old science of predicting the future.
Modern science does not believe in it, but it was in our tradition for more than 5000 years and believed by many people across India. I got to know from Ankur that this old science is now being modernised, with apps and software helping astrologers. Newton mentioned that Ankur is also a very good singer. Basis on our request, he sang the complete Shiva Stotram, and believe me, it was magical.
After dinner, I took a stroll towards the temple. Outside it was cold and there was pin-drop silence. The sky was clear, and the moon was heading its team of glittering stars. I reached the temple area, with not a soul in sight. I stood outside the temple at a place with a spectacular view. The entire valley was wide open, and the mountains were now clear with the silvery moon light. Was it real or an illusion? I was oblivious for some time, but then checked my watch. It was midnight. Tomorrow morning, I have to wake up at 4 and trek to Chandrashila. I decided to walk back.….