14th Oct 2019. I am deployed at Phata for operating the Kedarnath shuttles for pilgrims.
I had a morning shift this day which finished by 12.00 p.m. & I was back to my room in the next 25 mins.
A couple of days earlier my cab driver, a local, on hearing that I liked to trek had mentioned about a beautiful temple & a little lake up in the hills near Phata. He had even managed to find a local man from my company helipad itself who belonged to that particular area & knew the entire route. Since hearing about these I had been looking for an opportunity to explore these places & today seemed to be a good one!
We discussed & figured that it would take about an hour and a half for the climb & an hour to return. Add about 30 mins of loiter time to that & we estimated that 3 hrs would suffice for the hike. With winters approaching & the sun setting earlier, we didn’t want to be caught out in the dark in the jungle with leopards, black bears & wild boars for company! Thus, 3 p.m. seemed like a good time to start so as to return latest by 6.
I ordered lunch for 1.30 p.m. No, make it 1.15 p.m. went another order. Wait, o.k, get it by 1.00 p.m.! I thought catching up on an hour of sleep after lunch would be a good idea. After all I had been up since 5.30 a.m. for my morning shift of flying!
Lunch done, I forced myself into sleep till the alarm startled me out of bed at 2.40 p.m. O.k., think again, do you really want to go, I asked myself. The comfort of the bed & the warm quilt looked tempting & inviting. It took a flat 5 seconds to make a decision. I was on!
I & Prakash (our Mess incharge & my hike buddy for today) were out of the resort by 3 p.m. The vehicle was already waiting with Dharam Singh, our local guide for the adventure.
There are two ways to do this hike. You can take the narrow path In between the Phata helipad & the adjoining hotel which climbs up through the cultivated fields & joins the Maikhanda – Phata track at Bairangana & then proceed further. Alternatively, you can commence your climb from Maikhanda through the little gate on the main road, go past the Mahisasur Mardini temple & Dhar village, continue to Bairangana village & then take the track climbing up for Khariya village for Nantoli Devi. I have written about these places in a separate blog titled Gateway to Kedarnath
We decided in favour of the former to save some time. By 3.07 p.m. we reached the helipad & commenced our climb.
Within a few mins we were surrounded by a thick cultivation with the narrow track carving its way in between the crops & I stopped by to capture the picture.
Soon we joined the Maikhanda-Dhar track & then turned right. A 100 metres up the main track we turned left to take the flight of stairs that were to lead us to Khariya.
Passing Khariya, the track continued to wind its way through the jungle surrounded by thick bush on both sides & made for some very pretty pictures. While it was loose mud at some places, for most others, at least in the beginning, it had been paved with stones for ease of the villagers who took their sheep & cattle up in the mountain for grazing everyday.
The landscape was becoming increasingly beautiful with each step & we stopped to catch our breaths & take in the fresh mountain air.
By 3.30 p.m. we had crossed the first ridge line. We were keeping a good pace. But the jungle had now begun to get even thicker with our well marked route now reduced to a dirt track requiring us to duck our way under overhanging branches & around thorny shrubs.
A hut in the middle of the jungle looked inviting & tempting enough as a possible hideout in the wilderness for a couple of days, cut off from the world & all the worries!
A fallen tree presented another opportunity to pause & take a quick picture.
We pressed ahead. Our track was now barely visible in the thick undergrowth. We were now walking over a thick carpet of dried leaves & tree roots with each step making a crackling sound. Without our guide Dharam Singh we would surely have been lost not knowing which one of the hundreds such to take!
Nantoli Devi Temple
Dharam Singh was now being volleyed regularly with questions of ‘aur kitna reh gaya hai?’ (how much more left?) to which he would just reply calmly ‘bas thoda aur’ (just a bit). In the mountains you never know how much ‘just a bit’ really means!!
And then suddenly & without any preamble we came upon the big meadow (called a bugyal in local parlance) where the temple stood. The contrast of red & yellow against green all around had my eyes open wide in amazement at its beauty!
Here’s a video of the meadow & the temple.
A little gate with hanging bells gave me a good camera angle to frame the temple.
The temple stands at one corner of a large meadow. At the other end there is a statue of the Devi (Goddess), the presiding deity which kind of guards the meadow & the temple.
The pujari (keeper of the temple) was woken up from his afternoon siesta. He didn’t appear very happy at losing out on his sleep at the expense of some unexpected visitors at that time! The temple door was opened reluctantly & we were allowed a peek inside. I paid my obeisance to the Devi & prayed for the entire humanity. The pujari predicted great fame, fortune & promotions coming my way but sorry I wasn’t carrying any cash! Having thus antagonised the guardian, we commenced our further march to Naagtal.
Naagtal literally translates to ‘Serpent lake’. It had taken us almost 45 mins to reach Nantoli Devi & the time was now nearing 4 p.m. Our guide Dharam Singh informed us that we still had about half an hour of climb left to do. We had to hurry to keep pace with the diminishing sunlight. We were now passing through thick jungle & the tree canopy made it appear darker than it actually might have been.
The track, or whatever was remaining of it, had now vanished completely & we were totally at the mercy of our navigator.
We finally cleared the forest & came upon another bugyal which again looked inviting enough to sit down, rest & take in the surroundings. Dharam Singh pointed out the Mahisasur Mardini temple visible from here down in Maikhanda village. Having paused a bit, we continued our climb & soon hit Naagtal. Here’s the video of those moments.
Like excited kids we quickly descended towards the lake. It turned out to be bigger than I had imagined. The still waters at the centre betrayed a generous depth.
The lake appeared to be formed mostly of the catchment of rain water though Dharam Singh informed us that there also was a little mountain stream at the other end which emptied into the lake. A group photograph was in order.
The time now was 4.25 p.m. It had taken us an hour & 10 mins to reach Naagtal with a stopover at the temple. The return would also take us close to 45 mins or so. It was getting dark & the lake was surely a watering hole for the local wildlife. With this thought in mind we bid adieu to the lake & started our descent to Phata.
Back on the main track we chanced upon this bunch of little kids dancing, singing & making merry.
We were back in the warm comfort of the resort by 5.25 p.m. That rounded off my little hike to Nantoli Devi temple & Naagtal, an afternoon well spent doing what I liked best.
Nice you should try Pindari glacier it is out of this world you will love it . Very beautiful and you don’t need to carry camping gear guest houses all the way owned by KMVN.
Thanks Rajiv Sir 🙂
And a double thanks for the Pindari Glacier trek idea! Will start working on it soon.
Wow, That was a lovely account if a heavenly path treaded. Continue having fun and making us proud buddy.
Thanks a lot buddy 🙂
Superb narration. Can feel your excitement and exhilaration. Well presented with beautiful captures and videos. Such impromptu treks to quiet and unknown places always turn out to be the most memorable ones.
Thanks as always for your inspiration Archie:)
Yes it did turn out to be better than I had imagined..haha
Bhaiya… Love the content, narration and pics across all posts. 🤩
I just did the goa ride last week. I think we can now share notes on travel. 😉
Thanks Nitin 🙂
Oh yes I’d love to hear about your road trips! Have been planning one myself along the Konkan coast…let’s see when that happens!
Very well covered. Naagtal was awesome. Video Clips added grace to the trip. Keep it up.
Thanks a lot Mehta Sir 🙂
Amazing captures and beautifully expressed experience .I am so inspired to go trekking in these scenic locations .
Thank you so much Gunjan 🙂
Beautiful narration with Beautiful pictures and videos of the trek. You preferred trekking at the cost of afternoon siesta… really tells about your madness and enthusiasm. Keep it up.
All the best.
Thanks didi. Yes it does take a bit of madness to do such things but at the end it’s totally worth it 🙂