“Yes, you would be, if the weather is clear. The majestic Chaukhamba is right there near Madmaheshwar...”
The Chaukhamba is a seriously huge snow capped mountain with 4 peaks interconnected by ridges, the tallest of which stands 7138m.There are no mountains that stand taller than the Chaukhamba, anywhere outside the
Himalayas. The Gangotri glacier, which is the origin of river Bhagirathi( which later joins with Alaknanda river to form the Ganges) starts from the western slopes of the Chaukhamba. It was conquered first in 1958 by Swiss mountaineers Lucien George and Victor Russenberger, after attempts to conquer the mountain failed in 1938 and 1939
(Source -Wikipedia and Peakware)
Overcast skies ensured that we didn’t get even a glimpse of the Chaukhamba anytime during our trek towards Madmaheshwar, which is situated at around 3497 meters (11473 feet), some halfway up a hill situated at the foot of the Chaukhamba. It rained cats and dogs the first couple of days that we were holed up in our accommodation (a shack with three beds), waiting for the skies to clear up.
On the second half of our second day at Madmaheshwar, we ignored the weather and climbed to the top, where the Buddha Madmaheshwar -- the old temple -- is located. We looked around for Himalayan Monals and hoped to glimpse the Chaukhamba. Almost nothing remained of the roads leading uphill, as the incessant rains had washed everything away.
As luck would have it, all we could see were the shadowy shapes of a pair of Monals fluttering away into the mist with shrill cries, and a mist covered hilltop. As if to deter us from staying back any longer, it started raining. Visibility was near zero. Disappointed, we climbed down, constantly slipping on the muck.
|The Chaukhamba emerges from the mist|
As we climbed, I caught a glimpse of the Chaukhamba from behind a rocky peak that overlooked the Madmaheshwar temple. Boosted by adrenaline, my dragging ascent picked up pace as I climbed ahead of others much to my own amazement (considering I was last to reach the top the previous day). But once we were at the top, my excitement gave way to despair as clouds had completely covered the Chaukhamba, leaving no trace of the mighty mountain. We waited till noon, but with no luck…
Sahastra would later clarify: “The Chaukhamba is so huge and cold (thanks to the permanent layer of snow on it) that it influences the local weather around it, which explains the constant shroud of clouds around it.”
As we left Madmaheshwar for Gaundhar village the next day my heart was heavy, as neither the Monal nor the Chaukhamba had graced me with an appearance which was satisfying. The day was clear but beyond the green hills all we could see were wisps of white cloud. And then, unexpectedly, somewhere halfway to Gaundhar the Chaukhamba parted its veil of clouds and revealed itself to us in its full glory.
|The massive Chaukhamba is so named for its four "pillars"|
Our second peek at the peak came as we drove towards Rudraprayag from Paundhar village, having completed the trek. Someone shouted from the backseat – “Chaukhamba!”
We stopped the jeep and got down to see the huge mountain tower above the surroundings, as if it originated from the clouds.
|Our final glimpse before the disappearing act|
As we clicked away, black and white clouds started rolling slowly upwards, as if by magic. And within a couple of minutes Chaukhamba the magician played out a final disappearing act, vanishing without a trace in a puff of clouds.
By then we had had our hearts (and memory cards) filled…
Photos: Sandeep Somasekharan