We were at 13,000ft above sea level. Below us, shrouding the valleys and hills, were dense clouds. In front of us was the temple of Shiva that made Tunganath one of the Panch Kedar, the five Kedars, and arguably one of the highest temples in the world.
Worn out by our trek, we had slept late into the evening and had arrived just after the last aarti of the day. The solitary priest had just locked up the doors, leaving one oil lamp flickering in the dark, throwing a little light on the idols. Just then, the clouds parted, revealing stars brighter than any we had ever seen before. There was almost no moon, but the Milky Way stretched right across the sky—steady and defined. It was freezing cold. There wasn’t another soul around, just the two of us, and it didn’t feel cheesy—just so right to accept each other as life partners with vows that came straight from our hearts.
There were no lights, no lehngas, no shehnai and no sherwanis . Both of us had gone down that route earlier, and we were certain that they didn’t bring anything to a wedding. In its essence, a marriage is about two individuals. While most people appreciate that sentiment, few act on it. We did.
There was something about that spiritual moment that made it seem fated. Maybe it was the clouds parting when they did. Or in Snigdha spotting a shooting star as we stood in silence after the vows. Or even in the whirlwind courtship back in Bangalore, many miles away from the mystical mountains.
We met at the end of July, drawn together by a common passion for photography. The connection deepened over the next few days—over film screenings, a Jagjit Singh concert and a Kerala trip, always in the company of friends. I was coming out of a divorce, Snigdha was seeing someone else. In the midst of our awareness of our growing feelings for each other was born this outrageous plan to trek to Tunganath.
Snigdha, as member of a backpackers’ club, was very familiar with the mountains. I, Kolkata-born and a resident of Bangalore for 11 years, had never been to the Himalayas. This trek was her way of introducing me to the hills.
Everything was done on the spur of the moment—from getting the air tickets to a mad early morning rickshaw ride to the New Delhi railway station to catch the train to Haridwar. We took a taxi to Ukhimath and spent the night there and, the next morning, drove to Chopta.
I had been apprehensive about the trekking, largely because, though the distance is only 5km, the oxygen levels are quite low so far up. Since we had had very little time to acclimatize, we didn’t push ourselves on the trek, covering the distance from Chopta to Tunganath in 6 hours. We set out on the conventional route, but soon got bored and began off-roading across steep inclines and pathways, with one egging the other on. Suddenly, the journey became more fun: One of our most memorable discoveries was a rock jutting out over a steep drop. We could hear a river or a waterfall somewhere but couldn’t see it because of the mists and clouds. Once the mist lifted, we could see a herd of sheep and a shepherd and a vibrant valley of flowers.
Despite being one of the Panch Kedars, Tunganath is probably among the least commercialized pilgrimage spots in India. Accommodation is basic, food and loo facilities even more so. What it lacks in sophistication, though, it makes up for with mesmerizing views and a pristine silence.
But, as the evening deepened, so did our conviction that we were doing the right thing. After a magical night, we came back to our regular lives. Because of legal and family reasons, we had an Arya Samaj wedding three months down the line, in December. But there is no doubt that we will always celebrate a September anniversary.
As told to Sumana Mukherjee.
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