MY TREK TO ROOPKUND
Roopkund-The name itself somewhere fascinated me and had been pinching me from within to go there and accomplish it. So this was my first high altitude trek in the mighty Himalayas and I swear I was so right in deciding to do this, it’s truly spectacular at its best. I had been to this place from Hyderabad with one of my best friends. This trek has everything from forests to unending meadows to hails to stormy winds to rain to snowfall to snow-capped mountains peaks to a FROZEN lake. Our Endeavour was with Trek the himalayas and I would proudly say the experience was spellbound and enchanting.
Day 1: Kathgodam to Loharjung ( *Drive 210 km (10 hrs drive) * Altitude 7,662 ft.)
We started our first day where we reached Kathgodam by train from Delhi where our group was picked by a minivan at around 6.30am and drove up to Loharjung (7600ft), which is a 10-hour drive through the foothills of the Himalayas amidst breath-taking views and treacherous roads past gushing streams, through valley clouds and on curvy roads.The first part of the journey was physically the most taxing for me due to motion sickness.We stopped at a local restaurant where we had our breakfast of Hot aloo parathas around 9.30am.We had a good rapo among our group and had enjoyed few beats of various singers and passed our time. We halted for lunch at another restaurant around 2.30pm where we had Dal fry and Jeera rice. Finally we reached the first base spot at round 6.00pm at Loharjung.We were all exhausted so immediately went for a hot water shower. We were then briefed by the trek leader Mr. Happy Singh about the itinerary and health precautions and other details later in the evening. Our briefing started with simple introductions and if anyone had any prior experience in trekking. In my case, I did a few local treks in the sahayadri ranges before this but I was assured that they hardly count in terms of difficulty level.Well,you know every trek on the Himalayan ranges is a different ball game altogether. During our briefing sessions TTH made sure they covered every aspect of the Trek, from terrain, day-wise weather, apparel to safety measures. In High Altitude Treks you have to make sure that you are covered in layers (clothing wise). Two layers are for reasonably cold weather and four to six layers are for extreme conditions. Our batch had Happy Sir as our Trek Leader, Suraj Sir and Sher Singh as our Trek Guides.
Few important points to note here. TTH made it very clear that if they found anyone smoking or drinking they will be asked to leave immediately.
We were advised not to take diamox which people generally tend to have to avoid AMS(Altitude mountain sickness) and were told to follow 5 main rules according to the fitness expert.1.To drink as much water as possible upto 5-6 litres every day 2.To go slow and not strain yourself 3.Never to sleep till late evening 4.Go for regular acclimatization in the evening every day 5. To have proper food. Hot dinner was served which consisted of Paneer, Rice and roti accompanied by a dessert. After a very short walk we came back, exhausted and tired and then retired and slept like a baby around 9.30pm till 5.30am in our rooms. Two people shared a room. Rooms were nice and cozy. Below are some pictures from our first day.
Day 2: Loharjung to Didna village (* Trek 6.5 km. * 7,662 to 8,045 ft.)
A tiny settlement that is sited at the edge of a mountain, Loharjung has a striking view of the basins of Nilganga. It offers a placid and private abode to travelers, most of who pass through here to go across to the other charms of the area. Few restaurants are available here and very few lodging facilities are present. This is where you can obtain permits for your trek and enjoy amidst the serenity of nature.
Didna – Situated in the mountain terrains of Chamoli District, Didna boasts of mixed forests and beautiful meadows. Silk Worm rearing is a famous occupation in this village while the villagers also engage in farming of potatoes in the cultivable land along with goat and cow rearing. If offers a picturesque beauty along the ridge of farms with small houses that are scattered randomly across the village. The village is surrounded by a dense green jungle. It has about a 30 households.
We got up at around 6.00am and as soon as I got up I got to witness the amazing beauty of the first morning view of the spectacular Himalayan ranges and after getting fresh we were served breakfast which consisted of cornflakes/milk/parathas/paav/aloo sabji.
Ok, here I go. At the beginning of the trek, as I knew it would get strenuous as it got, I did weigh my bag carefully before leaving my house. It was around 11Kgs and after adding 2 liters of water it touched about 13Kgs. Doesn’t sound much, but trust me it was killing me up there. So I had given my bag to the mule and carried just my day pack which had my hydration pack, snacks and few other handy things.
As our trek was going to commence from here which was our second day ,we all were exited and began our trek around 8am and after a short ascend later we had left the forest behind and had entered the village. Walking past few streams and coming face to face with high-flying birds, the group trekked its way up to Didna (8800ft).The meadows and the path was a treat to my eyes. The first day was a little difficult as our bodies just start adjusting and I would motivate first timers to go at their own speed, to keep themselves hydrated as much as possible, breathe rhythmically through the nose and to enjoy the beautiful scenery. On our way we had Maggi which was like a lavishing treat to our taste buds as I was literally starving. We reached Didna around 2pm and were served hot lunch which consisted of Rice/Roti/Bhindi sabji/Sweet.We all sat and chatted and around 4pm left for some acclimatization to an open field which was a few metres away. We all were made to stand in a circle by our trek leader,do a few exercises and made to meditate. The meditation really lifted my spirits. We were all then asked to collect few logs of wood from the adjourning areas for the campfire which we all did happily. We were then back around 6.30pm.The trek leader took our oxygen and pulse readings which were not supposed to drop below 80.We played Dum charades and had a very good laugh over few movie titles. Dinner was served around 7.45pm which was Roti/Rice/Fern sabji (Which our trek leaders collected it from the way down to Didna).We then lit the campfire and sang few songs and had a good time enjoying the beautiful wind and the sharp cold which had started turning up on us gradually. We then retired for the night around 10pm.Below are some pictures from the second day.
Day 3: Didna village to Ali Bugyal (* Trek 10.5 km. * 8,045 to 11,320 ft.)
Ali Bugyal – Located at a majestic height of 3400 m, Ali Bugyal lies atop a mountain while treading through thick vegetation of oak, rhododendron and birch trees. With beautiful grassy terrains and green stretches, Ali Bugyal offers an enchanting view with misty winds and colourful treats. Horses and cattle commonly graze the area while a view of the Trishul Peak and Mrigthuni Peak forms an amazing backdrop to this mesmerizing location.
I got up around 5.30am and was lucky enough to have my bed just near the window to have a fascinating view of the mountains ahead. After freshening myself we had breakfast around 7am which was Parathas.We were asked to give our lunch box and our lunch was packed which we had to carry along with us and have it on the way.
The trek began at 8, and we had trekked through muck, rock, oak forests and meadows. We passed miles and miles of grassy meadows till as far as the eyes could see.
The second dayfor me was the easiest climb as our bodies were continuously acclimatising and getting used to the increased regular physical demands. The trail was also very beautiful. We stopped in between the meadows for Maggi and then lunch where we had roti/egg bhurji which was a part of our packed lunch. It was not so good as it was cold so I had Maggi and Omlette which the local person in a tent prepared.(Maggi-30Rs,Omlette-50Rs). We then kept walking and after a few miles it was so relaxing where we could see our campsite from miles. Finally huffing and puffing we reached the ridge of the Mountain, where a Rhododendron Forest stood welcoming us. Stunning, mesmerizing and incredibly beautiful and I run out of words to describe Ali Bugyal. Vast lands with tiny grass carpeted over it, Ali Bugyal is an absolute beauty. Words just fail to describe what we saw there. When we stood at Ali’s doorstep all the pain and strain seem to vanish. This was the most beautiful place in my entire trek. Today we camped at Ali Bugyal.As soon as we reached we witnessed hail storms which was beautiful to watch as it was the first view of ice which many of us got to experience and feel. We were served hot khichdi and then were asked to set out for acclimatization which was a bit tough due to the bad weather. After reaching the top I was lucky as I was asked to make everyone perform a few exercises and stretches. Loved becoming the centre of attraction for a few minutes.Lol.Then we again started descending down .Wind was blowing really very hard that it could easily blow you away if you are not strong enough. We then came down, had hot soup and started playing few games in the common tent. We had dinner around 7.30pm which was hot rice/Dal/roti and beans aloo sabji.We then retired to our tents around 9.30pm.Below are pictures from our third day.
Day 4 :Ali Bugyal to Patar Nachauni via Bedni Bugyal and Ghora Lotani (* Trek 7 km. * 11,320 to 12,818 ft.)
After having our breakfast at the Camp at Ali Bugyal we started our trek towards Patar Nachauni. The breakfast was Upma/Cornflakes/Honey/Milk.We washed our lunch boxes of the previous day clicked few pictures and left this amazing beauty although my heart still goes back to this place.
It is a gradual trail giving enough time to click pictures and admire the terrain. From this day onwards you will feel a slight drop in oxygen level. AMS, Vomitting and headaches are a constant threat from this point on wards and the best way to counterattack these symptoms are to keep yourself hydrated. It was a day spent witnessing lush-green meadows and climbing some small hills while constantly moving towards Pathar Nachoni – the next stop at 13,000ft. It was always supposed to be foggy here, as the valley clouds obstructed the view of snow-capped peaks.
Me and my friends kept singing some songs to keep with the flow and then we finally reached Patar Nachauni around late afternoon. Pathar Nauchani is a small meadow situated below a ridge at an elevation of 3880 metres. This place has some wonderful views of the snow clad mountain right in front of you especially mt Maikpoli.
After having our lunch which was Lunch was Dal/Rice/Gavar sabji we occupied our tents and then later in the evening we trekked a little higher to acclimatize. Here we got signals so we communicated at our homes that we were hale and hearty. It started drizzling lighly again by 6:00 pm.After reaching our campsite we were served hot soup and soya chunks. Dinner was Chinese. The cold was clinching but eventually our bodies were so very tired that they gave up into a deep slumber. Here are some pictures from this day.
Day 5: Patar Nachauni to Bhagwabasa via Kalu Vinayak(* Trek 4 km. *12,818 to 14,117 ft.)
When we got up the next day the first thing which I felt on looking at the next higher peak was I wouldn’t be able to do it.Man,I am telling you it looked really steep and cold up there. Few members in our team who were not keeping well stayed here itself and did not proceed further. After having our breakfast which consisted of hot Pancakes/Pasta/Poha/cornflakes/milk we started for Bhagwabasa, our Summit Camp around 8:00 am. Within an hour of the trek you will fell a sharp drop in oxygen. Breathlessness and fatigue were the challenges for the day. The solution was constant hydration and taking baby steps. The trail starts to ascend as soon as you leave Pathar Nauchani. It gets steeper as you go higher. There are excellent views of the valley below as you walk up the zig zag trail. Each part of the trek here does surely test your endurance level.From here it was more of a mental game than a physical challenge. I learnt something new every day.That Life never stops giving you challenges!!!!
On the way our trek guide Suraj told us the story about Roopkund and Patar nachauni , and how these places got their names. He showed us a spot where supposedly three deep holes got implanted due to three dancers who were cursed by Lord Shiva.He also told us that there was a King and his group who had gone till the lake and his queen had given birth to a baby in the nearby place due to which they all got cursed by God as in those days women were not supposed to go near this place.
At the top of the ridge is called Kalu Vinayak. This place has a temple dedicated to lord Ganesha. The thought of climbing further literally took my breath away. We started off and after a point we had left the lovely meadows and now had reached an altitude where nothing grew or survived on the rough terrain. There was one incident that is imprinted in my mind which is when we were climbing and our guide reached the top and blew the conch (shankha) there was a sense of this beautiful positive energy that seemed to flow all around. There were other groups and trekkers who were resting here.We halted here for Maggi and were introduced to our technical team here who handed us over the crampons and made us wear it. Tough people they were, I was highly impressed by the way the team was helping us at this point. This place offers a magnificent view of the Mt Trishool massif. The climb to Bhagwawasa through snow, yeah real snow was next, through a zigzag trail (which makes one nostalgic very rapidly). Finally we all made it to Bhagwawasa (14,700ft)!
Bhagwawasa is a situated at an elevation of 4300 metres and has just enough to make up for a camping place. The place has lots of rocks around with patches of snow. I was spellbound by the snow around us and was in no other mood rather than just sitting on some rock nearby and getting lost in this awestruck place for hours together and kept talking to myself and God ,Hats off to you, you created a magical and heavenly place like this. Lunch was Rice/Dal/Roti.We were then briefed up about a few things starting from the acclimitisation.We were asked to ascend a place nearby where we did a few more exercises and I again took the lead in making everyone do it happily. We then played a game, clicked few pictures quickly as the weather was getting bad and it started pouring.
When we returned back, we started playing few games and were just rejuvenating ourselves and woah….We had a big surprise when we all were resting in the common tent which were SAMOSAS.My happiness had no boundaries here on seeing those hot samosas.I thanked the cook who made this possible for all of us.
After evening tea we were waiting in the dining tent for the usual evening Oxymeter readings by our trek lead, and against all odds it started raining and then snowing. The moment seemed spellbinding, experiencing the serendipity. It kept on raining for hours, hopes for trekking the next big day seemed grim. Our dreams of reaching the mystical lake hinged on the weather clearing by next morning. Then the briefing which followed was very crucial. Well you see once you are up at those heights, things can get unpredictable and in case of any unfortunate event, getting help takes time. Our Camp Leader made it very clear that this was point where one could back out. Making it till Bhagwabasa was an achievement in itself because now what follows is pretty much in the danger zone. We were then introduced to our technical team of six people who were going to guide us for our final summit climb tomorrow. We were given harness which is a safety belt in case you fall down into a cliff (I am not scaring you sorry) and were taught how to use them along with gaiters and crampons (Our main three gears). We were also warned against the odds of slowing down or taking pictures which weren’t allowed till they say so. After few minutes of practice of wearing gaiters we had dinner which was Rajma/Rice/Roti/Paneer/Gulab Jamoon(My fav). We then retired early with a plethora of thoughts in our head about the final summit climb. Oh yeah, during all this while it was still raining outside. The meeting was dismissed after few food items for the next day were handed over to us.
Below are some pictures from our fourth day.
Day 6 Bhagwasa to Roopkund – Patar nachauni (* Trek 10 km. * 14,117 to 15755 ft.)
Bhagwabasa – A noticeably isolated location is what stands at Bhagwabasa with stone blocks on all sides of the trail. An array of abandoned stone huts ranging in size can be seen here and were rented out to trekkers in the past. These huts now stand destroyed but yet offer a great view amidst the misty backdrops with abundant cloud cover. The peaks of Nanda Ghunti, Trishul and Kali Dak can be clearly sighted from here.
The history of Roopkund is absorbing. It is also called Riddles of the Dead or the Skeleton Lake. It houses about 200 human skeletons. So what happened to these 200 folks? Why all of them died at the same place? The skeletons were first found by a British forest guard in 1942. Initially, it was believed that the skeletons were those of the Japanese soldiers who had died while crossing this route during the World War II. However, Radiocarbon Dating has confirmed the skeletons are from the 9th Century (about 1200 years old). Researchers concluded that the death were due to fatal blows on the back of the head of these people. The blow was inflicted by big hail stones. These people were pilgrims. Along with the skeletons, wooden artifacts, iron spearheads, leather slippers, and rings were also found.
Bhagwabasa truly was the most beautiful and stunning campsite. It is absolutely magical.
The much awaited BIG ‘D’ day was here. After a quick cup of tea our team assembled. Breakfast was Maggi/cornflakes.We were handed over a packet of biscuit,a tetra pack of energy juice, an apple and a few chocolates the earlier night itself as I mentioned.
We were all up and about by 4 am packing and getting ready. After wearing our gears which no doubt had to be in place the camp broke by 5.00 am and we began our march to our dream destination.
Sub zero temperature, howling wind, steepest trail and several mental break points is what the trail throws at you today. Gripping fear of death and spikes of adrenaline is what it takes you to realize that Heaven is a myth but the Himalayas are for real. We started the ascend into the snow with our crampons and trekking poles which for me served as the basic amenities here without which you would not be able to step a foot forward. Then it got tougher and more exhausting as the air grew thinner, and Roopkund, which was right over there, seemed elusive. After climbing for few hours we finally reached the Lake. After a long grueling piece of trekking and a quick break of juice and water on the snow, we finally climbed the final mountain which served as a platform to soak in the views. We gasped at the ethereal beauty of famed Roopkund Lake, known for real human skeletons in its precincts. What we saw is beyond any words! Majestic partially snow flecked black mountains standing guard to sky blue round lake, playing hide and seek with flirtatious clouds. I stopped clicking pictures at one point as I realized my camera will never be able to capture what I was witnessing at that moment. The magnanimity of those mountains blankets one’s senses rendering them in an overwhelming state.
We actually made it guys, I am saying this because I at least did not expect we all would make it as the only reason, no other batch, team had made it to the summit this year in 2018.So voila,We just made it. Thanks to TTH.The Roopkund Lake has a very different vibe to herself. There she sat, a huge water body in a perfectly circular form and completely frozen. The silence of that lake is almost deafening. That day I understood the word “SUMMIT” in its entirety. After clicking pictures we sat for a few minutes trying to absorb the sight. We started our descent at sharp 8.45 a.m. because it gets treacherous once the snow starts melting because of the sun being overhead. Below are some pictures we took at the summit.
I almost fell Five to Six times thanks to the slippery patches on that glacier. During the last few meters one of my friend tripped and fell on me which made both of us fall and slip .It also made me skip my heartbeat for few seconds till two guys from the technical team was right on their toes and stopped both of us from going down into the snow with a polestick which they had. You do face a breakdown point because those few steps are truly a challenge over your fears over death. Thanks to them or else I wouldn’t be writing this and would have watched you guys from above. So Man we made it(12 of us including the trek leaders )-The first team to complete the summit in 2018 back to our Summit Camp safe and sound with the whole team accounted for. A lot of people had headache and other health issues due to which they had to return midway from the climb up towards the summit. After packing our bags and a quick lunch of Rice/Green moong dal we left for Patar Nachuani. Our trek leader congratulated us for our victory. We were back to the base camp at bhagwawasa at around 11.30am After walking for so many days and covering so many kilometers we finally did it. This happiness is much more beyond and which will remain in my heart and mind for years together for whatever I have written here, believe me you will feel the same when you actually finish the summit.
We then handed over our crampons and safety harness back to the team, thanked them for their overwhelming support and then started our descend to the previous base camp at patar nachauni. We spent some time listening to music and looking at the snow-capped mountains. We then continued our descent to Pathar Nachauni. On reaching Pathar Nachauni we continued listening to music and staring up at the beautiful clear skies and the mighty mountains we had just conquered.
While descending further I now took my own pace as I was a bit exhausted and so I descended it gradually stopping in between and enjoying my last part of the trek. The descent was a lifetime experience for me with some renewed confidence and self-belief. It gave me my own self time and space and left me wondering and thinking about various questions and aspects about life and this generation. This is a feeling which nothing else in the world can buy you. When we reached Patar Nachauni Snacks was French fries although I had maggi and omelette outside in a shop nearby. In the evening it suddenly started raining very badly and winds started blowing in a very bad state. We played a few games in our tents and I was very sleepy. It started raining very badly along with high winds. There was a point when amidst the heavy storm where I felt the tents collapsing, but the team continued cooking for us in another tent with few holding the tent up while 2 people cooked us hot dinner and that is what is commendable. Dinner was served around 8pm which was Momos/Dal makhani/Mushroom sabji/Soup. We then retired for the night.
What followed a few minutes later after that was a huge storm where we had to sit in our individual tents for hours trying to get some good sleep. There was a point where we were in our tent and our trek guide came running and told us not to come out come what may and that scared the hell out of me. Luckily nothing happened. Why I am mentioning this is because these winds here were something I had never experienced. I finally know how powerful a storm can be. Those sounds –Gosh I will never be able to forget those ever till I exist. A special shout out to the team at Trek the himalayas and the locals here. They were also keeping a watch on all our tents. The spirit of everyone working selflessly in that weather was commendable and something I will never forget. Thank you!!!!!!!!
Day 7 :Patar Nachauni to Lohajung via Bedni and Wan( * Trek 15 km.* 12,818 to 7,662 ft.)
Next morning we woke up to find clear weather and we continued with our descent after thanking everyone there. We had Maggi and omlette as I could not eat the breakfast served by them as it got cold(Pasta/Poha) I descended as slowly as possible not wanting to let go and not wanting this beautiful journey to end. Something amazing that I noticed was on the way down every child who I came across folded their hands and greeted us with a smile saying “Namaste-Kuch meetha dedo” which was such a treat. It literally filled my eyes with unconditional love for these children. I handed over them whatever I could to see those beautiful smiles.
Slowly as we descended we left the mountains behind and then the meadows and then the forests but we carried with ourselves renewed belief and memories we made and the lessons we learnt. This campsite taught us a lot where we faced some rough weather. Below are a few pictures we took during our descent.
The descend was through rocks and pebbles so my foot ache a lot. We crossed Bedni Bugyal bidding farewell to the most meadow in the world. We had our lunch at Neelganga river which was Lunch was Rice/Rajma along the stream which was breathtaking and where dipping my legs in the icy cold river was a different level of indulgence. On the way we passed over this beautiful bridge over the Neel Ganga. The climb through the forests was beautiful with very less sunlight streaming in through the dense canopy of Oak and rhododendron trees. We had a refreshing juice during our way down which was a juice extracted from the local flowers. We continued our walk to Wan, which had the highest point in the locality that had motor connectivity. As we walked, we noticed a variety of interesting Himalayan vegetation including Buras Flowers, a variety of wild berries, fruits and strange looking flowers. There were also some primitive looking Cyprus trees that had a huge trunk so thick that it would require about a 6 people holding hands to surround the base of the tree. I got to know that these trees were centuries old.
So finally Crossing Bedni Bugyal, Neel Ganga and Amaranth farms, the group reached Wan by late afternoon around 5pm, to be picked up for their long journey back to Loharjung.
We reached our final camp Lohajung by late evening. The ride from Wan to Lohajung was very bumpy. We crossed streams of flowing water, mitigated sharp curves. It was all coming to an end.When we reached it was raining.We got hot bhajias and tea and our debriefing started. We partied all night sharing our experiences and more importantly making plans for future treks. Dinner was Rice/Chicken/Panner. TTH gave us a Certificate of Accomplishment.(We were proud summiters) Although I did not want to go to sleep this last dayThough I wanted to go and sit outside in the darkness relishing the final minutes of the beauty of this place, my protesting body won over my mind, I turned in my bed, closed my eyes, smiled to no one and started dreaming of Roopkund lake all over again!
I have heard repeatedly about the beauty of this mysterious lake and it was like a dream come true for me when we made it possible.
The experience was invaluable. I would just like to just add on what Edmund Hillary once said by saying that we never really just conquer a mountain but we also conquer our fears, our apprehensions and everything else in life. We also start appreciating the small things in life and nothing seems impossible anymore. A big shoutout and a heartwarming gratitude to our trek lead, Happy our head guide, Suraj and Sher Singh and the Real Heroes – The technical team members …………………….who never left a trekker behind and made sure everyone was along with them, the whole team from lohajung to Bhagwabasa that helped us, motivated us ,took care of us no matter what the weather conditions and few trekmates whose guidance and tips were superb lifetime lessons and for teaching us many things in life. I would also like to thank the entire team behind Trek the Himalayas(Pooja) for the brilliant green initiative that is helping to keep our Himalayas clean and to donate the money to the villagers from the things we all brought from them(Will never lose the cap ,trekking pole and gaiters). To everyone out there who has never trekked before I hope this motivates them to do it once because you simply just take back so much but a fair warning that once you do go you will want to go back again and again and all over again!!!!!!!! I am signing off with this brilliant picture a friend of mine took during the trek. P.S. Nischay Mavani and Sumeet: This is one complete trek for any person who inspires to have the elements of Adventure, thrill, self discovery and endurance in one trail.
Day 8 :- Loharjung to Kathgodam
This was a drive back to kathgodam from where we got our train back to delhi.