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Published: June 19th 2015
is one of the very popular treks among the Greater Himalayan treks in India. After a long search for company and self confidence to do the trek, I finally got to do it this year. Oh boy was it worth it....
We were four from our office (actually 7 who had initially registered with IndiaHikes
and by the time the trek date approached we had become 4) and we reached Delhi on 29th May evening. We still had some time for our bus to Kathgodam and thus, went on a shopping trip to Palika Bazar to get some items we had missed. We wanted to buy a torch and after haggling with the prices and seeing the type of fancy torches available, we decided to skip buying them (Don't ever say ok to a price they say). For dinner we randomly entered a restaurant called "The Embassy". In our trekking avatar, we pretty much looked like jokers in a business meeting. But we didn't mind (maybe a bit after we saw the bill) and had a great dinner. We then caught the Kathgodham bus and reached the train station the next morning.
The base camp for the
trek is at a place called Lohajung which is at 7600 ft altitude. To reach there, a Bolero had been arranged by IndiaHikes
. The drive was about 10 - 11 hrs (about 220 kms) travel including all the breaks. That was easily the most irritating part of our whole journey as we felt the motion sickness in the travel over meandering roads. We got to share this with our new Bangalorean friends, Rashmi and Abhijeet. We left Kathgodam by 0600 hrs in the morning and reached Lohajung by 1700 hrs. The accommodations there was arranged by IndiaHikes
and we had our first briefing at 1930 hrs when we got to know our initial details for the trek and caught the first glimpses of our trek peers (the rest of the 21 in our group). We also met our trek leader, Shubham whom most of us initially didn't believe could be our trek leader (He was the youngest of us all but by the end of our trek he removed all our doubts from our mind). The dinner was filling and all of us jumped into our beds with full enthusiasm for the start of our adventure next day.
Alarms rang at 0530 hrs and we got ready quickly. We had our breakfast consisting of bread with mayo and poha and got into the Bolero again for an hour drive to the trek start point, Van. We were joined by our two local guides, Balvir bhayya and Dhani bhayya. Our trek started with Dhani bhayya leading at the front and Balvir bhayya ensuring no one gets left behind. Shubham kept moving from front to back as per the requirements.
We first passed through the fields and some buildings which was pretty easy going until we reached Neel Ganga river (about an hour). It is a pretty river whose water was cold and refreshing and all of us refilled our bottles there. Then came the steep ascent in the forest area for about 3 hrs. The forest consists of tall oak trees and beautiful rhododendron flowers. During ascent from Neel Ganga, we started to get to know the rest of the folks in our group. I am from Bangalore (working in Hyderabad) and to my joy, I found two more people from Bangalore (Shilpa and Madhukar) with whom I could converse in Kannada. Both of them had gone numerous
treks before and helped me add more treks to my checklist. I also noticed Sandeep who was racing onto the top hoping to reach Roopkund the same day. Ankur from Mumbai was in an attire which would make people in Antarctica feel exposed (We could barely see his face and the temperature was 25 deg C+).
We reached Ghairoli Patal (10,200 ft) in the afternoon just in time when rains set in. The rain continued for a while while we had our snacks and tea and got used to the tents for the first time. Then came Mafia time. Of late this game has taken over most of our free time be it in office, treks, trips, friend's house..... For people who do not know what it is, do look it up in Wikipedia. Though at first it seems a childish game, the strategies involved in the game are staggeringly intricate and its a great way to get to know people. My office colleague Vivek, was immediately flagged as a Mafia by his (dashing - his words) looks. Madhavan had to endure the Kali look from Aishwarya after he voted against her in a round. Most of us were
genuinely scared and decided to be careful when near her. Abhijit (Sr) played a tremendous game by making everyone believe he was a newbie all the while being a cunning mafia. I too played a devious game and fooled Madhavan into rooting for me. Overall we had great fun and most importantly got introduced to the whole group. Then dinner brought that day's proceedings to a close.
Next day started off pretty well with a good weather. We got boiled egg rations for travel and proceeded to our next destination, Bedhni Bughyal via Ali Bughyal. Our trek initially was through the woods again with a thick envelope of trees. Some adventurous trekkers (Vivek and Madhavan) tried tasting rhododendron flowers while the rest decided to observe the two for a while and enjoy any side effects if any. The trail was a pretty simple one for about 3 kms to reach Ali Bughyal. Ali Bughyal had a breathtaking view of lush green meadows all around with some peaks at the horizon. Just when we were about to start enjoying the place, it started raining (thanks to the fickle minded weather gods) dampening everyone's spirits. While no one was sure when
to head to our next camp, 4 of us (me, Nikhil, Amrita, Sandeep) decided to go out of the way to Ali's peak along with Balvir bhayya. We were about 10 mins from the Ali's peak, when the winds became heavier and the rain torrential. All of us were feeling pretty cold and wet and thus, decided to turn back. The others had already started for the next camp and the four of us followed the trail at our own pace. This path (about 2-3 kms) again was not very difficult and we caught up with the others by the end. With slight drizzle and the decreased temperature at Bedhni Bughyal camp due to increase in altitude, most of us settled in a shop near the camp and took our time warming our hands near fire. We then had lunch and were pondering what to do next when the skies opened up to our joy which put us in an athletic frame of mind. Starting with some simple football kicks, we moved on to Dodge ball where Abhijit (Jr and Sr), Madhavan showed their skills with some cool evasion tactics. The locals then joined us for a game of high
altitude cricket. Everyone gave their hearts out on the field and our own Sehwag (Vivek) blasted a few boundaries to give us a series win (2 of 3). Everyone enjoyed it immensely and in Ravi Shastri's words "In the end cricket was the winner".
It was time to explore Bedhni and all of us wandered off in various directions. We also got photographs in various innovative stances (to show off on fb). By then we heard it was pakoda time and by the time I and Madhavan got there it was almost over. We tried to salvage whatever small remains were left and joined the rest of the group. While thinking of how to pass time now, Madhu came up with a brilliant game called "Pink Pyjamas". The game is super simple and you just have to add the phrase "in my pink pyjamas" to the end of any movie name you think of (Just do it in your free time). The results of that game kept us laughing for at least 15 - 20 minutes more after which we decided to play Mafia again. I noticed the glowing horizon and took off to try out my photography skills
skipping the game. The sunset was truly magnificent and I did get pretty good snaps of it. I was awed by the place which had such beautiful surroundings and gave you a break from the daily hustle and bustle of the cities. It was coincidentally a full moon day that day and I got to see the biggest view of the moon with full glow. Seeing that made me realize why they call her the beautiful maiden. Vivek even came up with his own Roopkund trilogy with regard to the full moon but I'll leave that to him to publish (He might sue me otherwise). This clear skies even brought out the star gazers in us and few of us tried to find various constellations in the sky resulting in us finding the Ursa Major (We think we did).
The trek to Pathar Nachauni was supposed to be the easiest trail of the lot and that proved to be true. This overall was about 5-6 kms and involved an initial ascent to Ghora Lotani and a slight descent to our next base camp which was at 13500 ft altitude. At the start we passed Bedhni Kund, a lake which
was supposed to have formed during Goddess Durga's fight with an Asura Raktabeej. Just after passing the lake, it started snowing slightly which got me excited as it was the first time I had seen snowfall. The weather overall looked a bit stormy which led to doubts creeping into our minds as to if we would be able to summit Roopkund. The rest of the journey was pretty normal except for some distress caused among the trek leads due to Sandeep having run off somewhere. We found him later on our way and he had gone ahead of everyone. We reached the camp in about 4 hours overall and were told that we would have a demo on how to walk on snow an hour after our lunch. The demo started off with everyone nervously skidding and falling to all enjoying the snow. Vivek got so excited that he started sliding on the snow and had to be pulled off the snow to contain his enthusiasm. After snow walking was over, we had snacks and were discussing random topics when Vivek expressed his displeasure at the naming of Ghora Lotani. The name was supposedly coined because of King Yash Dhawan
when he passed with his horses through the point. But then why Ghora Lotani (which can be translated from hindi to "horses did not return"). Fine question to ponder over.... For the evening, we went to a slightly higher point about a km from our camp where we could get mobile network. By then the weather had changed from trek threatening to bright sunshine. This brightened us up too giving us hope as we had been told that the previous batch had gone up, come down because of bad weather then again gone back later. Once all the calls and photographs were done, we descended back to our camp and got ready for our final camp before the summit.
Before our ascent on the 4th day, we had a small surprise. It was Mandar's birthday and the cooks, Aishwarya and our master cake chef, Rashmi had prepared a cake using pilsbury chocolate cake mix, nutella (Pretty sure the sound of this has your mouth watering and it did taste as awesome as it sounds), walnuts and some other decorations. The celebrations were great considering we were at almost 14000 ft and ended with the regulatory birthday bumps. It was
then time to continue to achieve our main goal, Roopkund. Another trek lead, Nandhini had also joined us from Bedhni and with her, I and Vivek quickly reached Kalu Vinayak Temple after starting the trek at 0830, the next day. In between we got to hear the sad news that Nikhil had developed AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) symptoms and had to be taken back. We all felt sad and some doubt started to creep in as to whether we would reach the top. But we were determined and we kept moving on. Vivek kept our enthusiasm high throughout the steep climb by playing songs like Lakshya's title track. After resting a bit, we started to go further when we reached the snowy areas. We got out our microspikes (Accessory to the shoe which gives more grip on snow) and continued. About halfway we noticed a girl and a guy from another batch who had slipped and gone slightly down the hill. They were badly trying to come back up but to no avail. They guy tried to come up but then lost his footing and slid further down. The instructions given by Nandhini on how to climb up did not
help them. Then Nandhini with another guide, Chaman rescued them after displaying some nifty footwork on the ice. The remaining folks gave a huge round of applause and it was great to see them not bickering over the trekking group but helping out anyone in distress. After about another km walk, we reached our final base camp, Bhagwabhasa (14,100 ft). The camp site was a sight to behold with the white snow having our orange tents in between. We had lunch and decided to get some rest. The sun had come out with all its might and though we were at a place covered in snow, we felt the heat inside our tents. In the evening, we had our briefing for the most important morning of our trek. The rules were explained and punctuality was emphasized umpteen number of times. We were even told about a "Babaji ka Dhaba" which would provide us mouth watering Pav Bhaji once we reach the Roopkund lake. With great anticipation of the summit and apprehension of being left out if not ready on time the following morning, we slept after a great dinner consisting of Gulab Jamuns for dessert (Vivek filled his stomach with
the dessert only).
The next morning was complete chaos. Though we got up at 0230 hrs giving us about an hour and half to get ready, we missed our breakfast and had to line up by stuffing items into our bags at 0400 hrs. Madhavan forgot his goggles which is a very important item once the sun comes up on snow. We left at sharp 0400 and slowly trudged along with our old and new guides (Abhishek, Viven and gang). They made sure we kept our pace and some of them in front kept making paths so that we could easily step on the already made paths and proceed quickly. Aishwarya started lagging behind a bit and Abhishek joined her and let the rest of us move ahead. It was a pretty slow and tedious climb owing to the steep ascent. The height covered was about 1,700 ft. But we finally made it and after reaching realized that we had been the fastest team of the season. The view of the Roopkund lake with a mountain and blue skies as background was like a painting placed in a royal palace. On reaching the top we also realized the "Babaji
ka Dhaba" hoax which had kept us motivated throughout the climb with promises of delicious Parathas. Though the dhaba was a hoax, the organizing team had prepared us delicious Parathas which we devoured in a flash. We also listened to the stories of origins of the location names in our trek from the organizing team. The stay on top was pretty less for about 30 - 45 mins but the satisfaction and thrill had no limits.
During the descent all of us were so excited that we ran, jumped, slid ... on snow. We slid on the snow on our backs twice with me rotating 180 deg one of the time. Saurabh did a 360 twice in one of the slides and Aditya just missed taking down the organizers down the hill. It was an awesome experience and all of us did it without any care of the consequences. Those who were hesitant were pushed down and once completed were left wanting to redo it. Overall the mood had changed so drastically from resigned and tired to jovial, adventurous and excited. We returned back at around 0930 hrs and took a nap before starting back to Pathar Nachauni. We
thanked the organizing team for such a great experience and started back at around 1200 hrs. The trek back was pretty quick as it was a descent. Few of us slept once we were back and once back to our energized selves, had Chowmein for snacks. Then thanks to Aditya's great taste in movies and Amrita's extremely expressive acting skills, we had an unforgettable round Dumb Charades. In the midst of all this was the heart warming sunset where the orange rays of the sun fell on the white snow clad peaks of Trishul resulting in its golden glow. Then came the much awaited dinner where the dessert Gajar ka Halwa (Carrot halwa) got over in a flash leaving Shubham fuming and cribbing "Arrey yaaaaar! Log roti ke saath gajar halwa kha rahe hai" (Man ! People are eating Carrot halwa with rotis). Vivek our jugaad spoonwala was blamed to have had half of it with the rest of us having the other half.
The next morning, all of us got ready by 0800 and were excited to have Puris for breakfast. We all stuffed ourselves like we had never seen food before. The path we were following to
reach back was slightly different from the one we had come from. We were to follow the same path from Pathar Nachauni to Ghora Lotani to Bedhni Bughyal. But from there, we were to take a shorter path back to Ghairoli Patal. I had initially got two batteries for my camera fearing one might not be enough but I had been so conservative that even one of them had not fully discharged. So I decided to ensure they were put to full use and clicked lots of pictures on my way back. Now that the main trek was over, all of us descended back easily and few of us chatted about TV shows and movies all the way down to Bedhni Bughyal (You can guess which TV show would have GOT the most attention). Near the Bedhni Kund, we played a bit with a herd of sheep giving them some biscuits. We then proceeded to the camp at Bedhni to drink Rasna. We took a shortcut then which reduced our time to reach Ghairoli Patal by 2-3 hrs. On the way we saw an Eagle's nest with a few eagles soaring royally in the sky. At Ghairoli Patal we had
Maggi and moved on towards Neel Ganga. Sandeep, Raghav and Vivek initially ran in the front so that they could have a dip in the river. I and Dhani Bhayya also covered the ground pretty quick and reached Neel Ganga in a short time. As we had reached pretty fast, we took rest for quite a while there and I started to take photographs. I noticed a very cute angry bird like bird which I succeeded in capturing. We spent quite some time there with everyone washing their feet and enjoying the cold river water. All through the rest of the climb and descent, I spent most of my time trying to capture butterflies, birds and flowers. The whole path was a plethora of flora and fauna. Aishwarya was also doing the same and was trying to capture an eluding black bird with a yellow beak. Though we could not get that, we did get lucky and got a great snap of a tortoiseshell butterfly. We even found a few wild strawberry fruits which we ate and found to be very tasty. The trek down finally ended and we got back to our lodging point in a bolero.
back at the base camp, everyone were frantic to have a hot water bath only to realize that just one room was getting hot water and that too the geyser was working at a snail's pace. Shubham ran away to escape the wrath of Aishwarya after his promises of hot water. We also reunited with Nikhil who gave us his detailed story of the descent back to camp. He had felt tired and dizzy at Pathar Nachauni when we had started to Bhagwabhasa. So he had been given Dimox and kept for observation at Pathar Nachauni and when his state did not improve was taken to Bedhni Bhugyal. At Bedhni, suddenly at night, he had had a fit of cough because of which he had been forced to climb down to Lohajung at 2000 hrs. It had been pitch dark, and he had done the climb down with a guide and the ascent sitting on a mule. But once back, he had improved and had had no issues. It sure had been a crazy adventure for him.
For snacks, we got pakodas and during a discussion realized that Amruta had a treasure chest of food which she had made
the mules carry up and back down. It was unanimously decided that we could not let the mules' efforts go to waste and that we would empty the chest before nightfall. Another discussion revealed that there was another Kg of chocolaty (Snickers) treasure (this time it had been just left at the base camp itself) with Rashmi and Abhijeet. This time it was decided that we would make sandwiches out of them in the night to celebrate our safe and victorious return. One by one, we freshened up and slowly ate from Amruta's treasure chest. Shubham was now in his IIT Kanpur mood and just filled both his hands with all the food he could get. We then had our feedback session after which most of us bought a T-shirt to show off our high altitude trekking skills. The moon had assumed a blood red colour at the time (coincidentally the tshirt had the words bloody written on it). All of us then slept on a warm mattress with a warm quilt over us which felt great after 5 days of sleeping bags.
The next day was the ride back to Kathgodham and was filled with eating and tearful
goodbyes. With that came the end of one of the best treks I have ever been on.
I have to confess that reaching the Roopkund Lake at 15,750 ft was not the only part which made this trek amazing. No question that it was a beautiful sight which I am extremely proud to have seen, but the journey there with all my new and old friends, the masti, the jugaad, the serenity, the flora and fauna, the mafia, the high altitude cricket all made it extremely satisfying. Nothing else could have made me stay away from my phone and laptop for 7 days straight. This is a must for any trek enthusiast. You will face some problems in the way but all that is well worth it. This has peaked our interest so much that even by the time I am writing this blog post, we are already planning our next trek - Kashmir Great Lakes.
PS: Just wanted to add a few words on IndiaHikes
(I was not coerced by them in any manner to do this). This was my 2nd experience with them and I found it to be extremely satisfactory. The camps were very well maintained with good cooks, they had doctors stationed at some camps for emergencies and most importantly they never lost hope on anyone even if the person himself/herself felt they were incapable of doing something. If you are feeling inspired and are thinking of going through IndiaHikes
, do not fret but just do it 😊
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