Brahmatal, The Himalayan Trek
Always remember: Nothing is certain during a pandemic. Plans change, strangers become family, memories run through the veins and the experience becomes the motivation for another trek. The adrenaline rush and mini heart attacks? Those are just cameos.
Brahmatal Trek Summit at 12000 Ft.
This being my debut blog, brace yourself for a long journey to 12,000ft above sea level. I assure you of your safety. Can you believe The Burj Khalifa is only 2,000ft high?
We started planning in late October and even after knowing the great lockdown, interstate travelling restrictions and non-functional public transport we still decided to go for the trek.
We then booked our trek with Trek the Himalayas group. After a lot of google searches and a hell lot of YouTube videos, I realised I need to get fit first and then started cycling, running and was not even close to the expected stamina for the trek but the workout helped me to keep my muscles loose.
We planned the whole trip, and along with the trek we were also covering Mukteshwar and Munsiyari in Uttarakhand. By road, we were travelling for more than 1300 Km and we didn’t even think once as we knew how heavenly the destination was going to be.
This was also the time when the Farmers’ Bill Bills were passed and the protest against these bills had started around Delhi. Along with this stress we also had to carry a COVID-19 negative report as the Uttarakhand government had mandated the negative report and e-pass to cross the border. 48 hours before the trip everyone had scheduled an RT-PCR COVID-19 test and that was one of the most stressful moments of the trip as even one positive would lead to the cancellation of the whole trip and in addition to that 10 days of quarantine. We needed 6 Negative results and also, we asked the driver to test so there was added pressure.
10th December 2020, was a Happy day as our Optimistic plan was working and we had the required documents, all negative reports, an E-Pass for Uttarakhand, and loads of courage and positivity.
We had communicated to the Trek the Himalayas (TTH) group that we will meet directly at the base camp. Lohajung was the base camp and it was 18 Hrs. drive from Delhi so we took one stop near Nainital and stayed there at night. We Reached Khurpatal at 11 pm, checked in at the hotel and had dinner after that. When I looked up at the sky it was clear and filled with stars. There were two photographer friends with me @shagunbathija and Kaustubh Nerurkar who have a great passion for Stargazing and they started to shoot the sky which looked amazing. This was the first time I had witnessed such a clear sky with thousands of stars.
On 11th December 2020, Early morning we woke up for our first sunrise in the Himalayas. It was the first sunrise of our trip and it was really beautiful. The temperature was around 12 to 15 degrees so a perfect hill station morning. Everyone got ready and did some photoshoots and we checked out from the hotel.
According to the plan, the destination for today was The Base camp, Lohajung. We left around 10 am and we had to cover more than 200km today, the maps estimated it was around 8 Hrs. drive but it took us almost 11 Hrs. to reach the base camp.
The road to Lohajung was not that straightforward as it’s a remote village and the road is also not well developed. Along with that we didn’t have a network and the forest was dense and we had to rely on offline maps. For the last 50 to 60 Km we had to travel in the dark and the roads were really bad. It was tiring but the amazing landscapes of the Himalayas and the beautiful sunset kept us going. We reached Trek the Himalayas base camp around 8 pm and the trek leader was there to welcome us and also sanitise us. The temperature was around 5 degrees and I was already in 4 layers and freezing.
Ours was the first batch after the lockdown and there were just 6 of us and the 2 trek leaders and some helpers for the entire trek. We got our rooms which were basic with just 4 walls and a mattress, later we realised that it is a luxury to get a bed and washroom at that altitude. We were welcomed with some spring rolls and hot chai followed by dinner. Post dinner we were given a summary of the plan for the next 3 days then we completed all the formalities and submitted the required forms and reports and went to sleep. We had to fill out a declaration form and also get one form filled out by a physician who needs to declare us fit for the trek. Read the disclaimer carefully, It’s scary!
12th December 2020, Trek Day 1 and we woke up between the great Himalayas to a heavenly sunrise. We woke up at 6 AM. It was really cold and that was the best view I had of my bed. We hadn’t seen the location as we had travelled in the dark and when we saw it in the morning we were stunned, I felt that the bad roads and no network is all for the good as it maintains the sanity and beauty of this place. The more it gets connected to the world, the more commercialised it will get.
We spent almost 2 hours doing a photoshoot, whereas we should have done some preparation and warm-up for the trek. We had to rent a couple of gears and also pack our offloading bags (bags which will be carried to the next base camp by mules, so you can just trek by yourself without carrying the heavy bag) and get ready by 9 AM, for which, we were of course late.
While we were having breakfast, we could sense the weather changing, the temperature was dipping and we could see the snow clouds moving towards us and it was the first snowfall of the winter and our excitement had no limit.
After breakfast, we ran to rent trek gear from the local store nearby. We rented Poncho, Gaiters, Trekking Pole, and Trekking fleece. The morning was full of a hassle as we had to pack the bags for 4 days and also pack the trekking gear and get ready by 9 AM. Our Trek leader started with the briefing and warned us to be on time as we cannot afford to be off the plane in the mountains.
Start of Trek Day 1, Mountains in the background covered with snow clouds
Six warriors and 2 trek leaders: nervous and unaware of what’s coming but ready for the adventure (as we only signed up for this ). 100M into the trail and the snowfall started, that was the first time I experienced a snowfall. Everyone was damn excited and everyone was screaming like babies and the ponchos were out. I didn’t plan my packing properly and had offloaded my poncho too. That was good learning as you should plan your packing properly, plan your layering for day/night/snowfall/rain and almost anything because as they say weather in mountains can change any moment.
We started with a brown trail and in 15-20 minutes it had turned into a white trail. The transition to the white trail was unreal and the snowfall was peaceful. I put my music on and I was just enjoying each step. I looked at my friend and we both had that relief in our eyes, all the efforts, all the planning and stress, everything felt less in front of this beauty. Everyone had prayed for a snow trek and the prayers worked out so much that we had to pray for the weather to clear up ASAP.
The snowfall hadn’t reached the mountains below yet. The first day was around 6 to 7 hours of trek and we were full of energy though our clothes were getting wet, some of the body parts were already frozen and the snowfall was increasing continuously. Our trek leaders were a little bit tense as it is not a good sign, if this goes on till the next day then Brahmatal lake will be covered with snow and the summit also cannot be done. Trek leaders were thinking of all the permutations and combinations of different trails we could follow and taking weather reports from the base camp.
I used to take small breaks while trekking and this gave me some time to enjoy the small flakes of snow falling on my face and also catch my breath. I could relate to the quote that the Journey is important and not the destination.
We looked really happy but honestly, we were wasted, we were walking for almost 6 hours and there were no signs of the campsite. The snowfall slightly became a pain in the ass and we couldn’t see a ray of sunlight the whole day. We climbed the last mountain and we could see the campsite beside a frozen lake and that was satisfying. The setup was unreal and felt like I was dreaming. Between some random forest in the Himalayas, a frozen lake, 4 tents one kitchen tent and complete silence.
Checked into our tents and there was snow all over our clothes, shoes, gloves and some forbidden places, which was making us very uncomfortable. We did our cool-down session and there was a small lecture on AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) and some knowledge about mountaineering. Trust me after the lecture you will feel like you have all the symptoms and you should return to the base camp but hold on to this thought, just sit and let it sink in, because this is what you came for and trust me, you’ll be fine in some time. After the lecture we had some snacks and tea and then at sunset we went to the Bekal Tal Lake which was around 500M away.
This Bekal Tal Lake for me was the best scene and it was no less than the scene from Game of Thrones. The temperature was dipping down more and it had crossed zero degrees, there were slight winds and we were standing beside the frozen lake and hearing the stories about the lake. Also, the trek leaders were sharing their experiences and stories about this trek. People get excited about ghost stories when they are on a trip, some locals and our trek Leader were sharing some stories about the Roopkund trek which has a similar lake and the stories are scary (Roopkund lake is filled with skeletons of extraordinary sizes which didn’t look like a normal human beings’ skeleton).
Post that we walked back to our campsite in the dark and the temperature was below zero degrees. There was a shop beside the campsite and it was a permanent shop which was run by a girl and her younger brother. Their customers were trekkers like us and I have no idea how they sustain in those conditions and survive on those earnings. Their parents work in the base camp and these guys run a shop at around 9700 Ft. that too without basic amenities. At that point, I realised how blessed we are and how small our problems are. We are voluntarily putting ourselves in such harsh conditions for fun and in a couple of days we will be back to our urban life with all the luxuries and they are working high in the mountains to make their daily living.
Post dinner we had our oximeter checkup, at sea level our oximeter reading should be around 95 or more and at that altitude the air is thin and there the oxygen level is not the same in the air so the normal level there is around 80. Everyone’s reading was around 85 to 92, and then guess what was my reading? It was 78 the trek leader looked concerned and I am pretty sure they were not prepared for this. Asked me to have more water and keep them informed if I had some breathing problems.
Then post that we had some fireside chats and then moved to our respective tents and started the real test of our physical and mental stability. The tents were on snow, the temperature was minus and we were really tired and feeling a little bit feverish too. Also the oximeter reading was there in the back of my mind which was haunting. These thoughts were going on in my mind about going back from the first campsite and not continuing ahead but somehow the night passed.
13th December 2020, Trek day 2. I woke up at 6 AM with around 2 to 3 hours of proper sleep and the sunrise was expected around 8 AM but the sky was clear and it was the best news for us. We did our morning routines; also, the first experience of dry toilets was not bad and it was not a big problem as we had bigger problems because everything was frozen. Packing the sleeping bag and packing our bags again and clearing the tent was a big task in the morning as your full body is cold and your hands are not moving and you are shivering and you have to get things done. We got our gaiters and mini spikes to walk on snow, we put them on and were ready for day 2. This was also going to be a long day as we had to trek for 6 to 7 hours, we had packed our lunches. 2 Hours to Jhandi top which was the first point where we could see Mount Trishul very closely and then from there it was 3 to 4 hours trek to Brahmatal Lake.
Once we reached Jhandi top I felt like my body was giving up slightly, the sun was out. I was in one layer but still felt my body was cold. My body felt fatigued as I couldn’t have good sleep and was having breathing issues and stamina issues while ascending. Somehow, I kept myself going and reached the Lunch point and my body severely needed rest. The photo below was the location where we stopped for lunch. I had no plans to eat so I just covered my face with a cap and rested. That was the best power nap I had as the sun was out after almost two days and the temperature was also pleasant and it was really necessary for me. After the nap, I had snacks, protein bars and dry fruits and my lunch was done.
I put my music on and I just enjoyed the location and grasped it all in. I realised that trekking is a bit like life, the journey only requires you to put one foot in front of the other … again and again and again. And if you allow yourself the opportunity to be present throughout the entirety of the trek, you will witness beauty every step of the way, and not just at the summit.
This was also a moment of gratitude where I was just thankful that I could witness this. We should be thankful for what we have; we will end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.
The power nap was really helpful and it gave me the strength to reach the next campsite which was a 2 hour trek from there. Slowly and steadily, we went ahead and as it is said the best view comes after the hardest climb, the second campsite was indeed the best.
We could see the Summit peak from our campsite and also there was no shop like the previous campsite which means no fire for rescue. We requested the trek leaders for a bonfire but it was not allowed by the forest authorities so we had no option left but to bear the cold and survive. The campsite was set up below the Summit mountain and it was 500m away from the Brahmatal Lake. It was an open area so the wind was strong and the temperature was around -5 degrees and the predicted temperature at night was around -10 degrees. Getting out of the tent and going to the kitchen and dining area was also very difficult. Our socks were wet due to the snow and our shoes were also frozen, I couldn’t feel my feet for like two straight days.
The tent had two areas, one where we used to sleep and the outer area to keep our shoes and trekking pole. We were given a sleeping fleece and a sleeping bag to sleep in the tent and there were two people in each tent. The first night we had gotten the orange campsite and it was a little bit small for two so we took the blue tent which was bigger and had a good balcony too.
The food from Trek the Himalayas was amazing, we used to get soup, Maggi chai and also in the second campsite we got Jalebi. After the sunset, we were having Maggi and chai in the dining area and everyone was shivering. The sky was clear as it was the meteor shower night and the temperature was dipping due to cold winds and it reached -10 degrees. Everyone had the same question: how will we survive this night? We had planned this trek for the meteor shower which was going to start around 11 PM and the peak of the meteor shower was around 3 AM. We finished the dinner by 8 PM and somehow went back to our camps to sleep early as we had to wake up at midnight, my campmate was feeling a little bit feverish and honestly, I too was not understanding what my body was going through as it was the extreme conditions. We decided to wake up around 2.30 AM and experience the Geminids meteor shower from the best place possible.
At 2.30 AM I somehow gathered the motivation and energy to come out of the warm sleeping bag and go out of the tent where the wind was strong and it was freezing but that is what I had to go through to witness the meteor shower. It was majestic and heavenly outside. I was speechless as there were millions of stars and every 5 to 10 sec, we could see a shooting star. We got whatever we asked for and we were more than content, all the hard work and stress and planning and efforts were worth it at that moment. That is me standing in the above picture with a torch in hand, the struggle was real to capture this as I had to walk 500m away from the campsite and stand there for 15 sec so that the DSLR camera could capture the beauty. I could see there were some footmarks of some animal and it was pin-drop silence out there. The Photographers kept their cameras out of the tent and we went back to sleep for 3-4 hours.
14th December 2020, Summit Day, Trek Day 3.
Again, we woke up around 6 AM and the plan was to do Summit in the morning and then start our descent towards the base camp and take a halt in another campsite which will be around 2 hours far from the base camp. Everyone was freezing and some of them in our group was feeling sick too so one of the brilliant minds in our group came up with a plan that if the basecamp is just 2 hours away from the last campsite then why can’t we directly descent to the base camp after the summit and skip one night in the campsite.
We confirmed this plan with our trek leaders and they were kind enough to consider the plan although they warned us that it’s gonna be a long day but can be done. So, the plan was now to Summit and then we will directly descend to basecamp on the same day. This was the advantage of trekking in small groups.
At 9 AM, we started the trek and it was again going to be a long day with 8 to 9 hours of trekking but we were determined to not think about it and just enjoy the last day in Heaven. We packed our bags, visited the Brahmatal lake and then started our Summit Day trek. We could see the summit from our campsite and it seemed to just rise high as we went closer to it. After almost 2 hours of ascent, we reached the summit which was around 12,000 Ft. We were closest to the great Mount Trishul and Nanda Ghunti and it was just magnificent. That was the highest altitude I have been in till now and was a proud moment for me. At that moment everything around me was calm and stable and it brought me calmness and satisfaction to myself.
Oh, how can I put into words, the scenes that delight the eyes, the blessed peace of mind, the sheer exuberance which fills your soul and the list goes on? As we were a small batch and the first batch after the lockdown there was no one out there. The silent forest, the calmness of mountains and the exhilaration of the summits is something which will stay with us forever. The plan was to spend around 15 Minutes on the Summit and then leave as we had to reach the base camp the same day. We spent more than 1 Hour clicking pictures and creating life memories and we still didn’t want to leave that place.
The two trek leaders from the Trek the Himalayas group and they were the sweetest trek leaders. Meenakshi was leading the group from the front and Aditya was there at the end making sure everyone was on track and doing fine. I was the last one trekking due to my extraordinary fitness and also I was enjoying the journey way too much. I bonded well with Aditya and the best thing about them is they don’t push you hard, they let you enjoy the scene to the fullest and click pictures and take videos as that is what we came for. They were always accommodating and welcoming about our problems and dynamic plans (which we were good at due to apparent situations ).
Everyone clicked their Summit photos and group photos as this would be cherished for a lifetime. I sat there for around 10 minutes and grasped all that was possible mentally and thanked god, thanked god for creating this and also that I was able to witness this. It was not an easy journey and that is the only reason why it was extra special. We had to start our descent and the destination was basecamp. Our bodies felt fresh and energised and all the problems vanished. We realised the real limits of our bodies when pushed hard. Two Nights in Mountains just made us stronger for life and prouder too. It gave us the confidence to survive anywhere and made us physically and mentally fit. Around 1 PM we started the descent. The previous trails were all covered with snow so we had to mark our trail and go ahead. The first stop was Jhandi Top than the other campsite where we were supposed to stay but we skipped that and went straight to basecamp. We reached base camp around 6.30 PM and it was dark by the time we reached, but we spent some extra time witnessing the beautiful sunset.
The last sunset we witnessed at Lohajung marked the end of our beautiful Himalayan journey — The Brahmatal (Snow) Trek! My friend and I couldn’t believe that it ended and now we had to go back to civilization. Due to all the stress before the trek and the freezing nights in tents we questioned ourselves why we came for this trek, all our friends questioned why to put so much effort and who tires themselves out on a vacation, but at that moment we had answers to all those questions and hopefully, I was able to explain it in this blog.
The happiness on our faces explains everything. It was a very proud moment that we summited our first Himalayan trek without any complications, also we completed a 4 days trek in 3 days.
As I said at the start I took you to the beautiful Himalayas at 12000 feet height and got you back safely (Please check yourself for any symptoms of AMS). And If you felt my journey through this blog, please like the post, drop a comment and share it (It will probably inspire me to book another deadly trek). Thanks for your time and adios.
Written By- Shreekara Udupa
Instagram Handle – shree_102