By 1998, I had been to Kedarnath on four occasions and at each occasion a thought came to my mind that I should make my next visit to Kedarnath by trekking through the old pilgrimage route used in ancient times by pilgrims coming from Gangotri for Kedarnath when roads and vehicles did not exist. After visiting Gangotri temple, pilgrims will walk about 200 kms from Gangotri to Kedranath via Panwali Kantha – Trijuginarayan. With the advent of roads and vehicles, pilgrims have virtually discarded this route except a few (mostly sadhus) who still use this conventional route to Kedarnath. I was also impressed in those days by the beautiful pictures of Panwali bugyals adoring the most of the Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam’s (GMVN) brochures. So our group for four trekkers decided to replicate the old pilgrimage route to Kedarnath by doing this trek in October 1999. Autumn is the time when the chances of rains are less and one can get a clear sky most of the time. We did not encounter any rain throughout the trek and the climate was pleasant except at Panwali Kantha where it was very cold. Four more trekkers – all from our office also joined us for the trek at Uttarkashi as both groups travelled by different trains.
On Gandhi Jayanti day, we commenced our journey to Uttarkashi by trains to New Delhi-Haridwar followed by a bus journey and reached Uttarkashi the next day afternoon. We stayed in Birla Guest House where the other group of four trekkers were already checked in. By evening, we arranged two porters for taking our group’s haversacks and sleeping bags while the other group members personally carried their haversacks and sleeping bags. There was no need to carry tents and provisions for food as there were shelters available on the route by way of shepherds’ huts where simple lunch could also be arranged. As usual, we all had carried some emergency food items like cheese, biscuits, chocolates and dry fruits in our small haversacks which we personally carried.
Next day, after breakfast, we engaged a jeep from Uttarkashi for a 22 kms drive to Lata from where the trek to Belak, our first camp of the trek. Day-wise details of the trek are given below:
We took two porters from Uttarkashi who were familiar with this route to carry some of our luggage. Details of the trek done by us are as under:
Day 1 : Uattarkashi to Lata (1478m) 22km Jeep; Lata to Belak (2439m) 15km Trek
The trek was on a well marked path through forest after which there was a gradual climb through many grassy land to reach Belak. Stayed in a Shepherd's hut where we also had food.
Day 2 Belak to Budhakedar (1524m) 17km Trek
The trek was on a level ground upto Jhala after which there is a steep descend to Budhakedar. On the way, there are shepherds' huts where one can have tea/milk. Stayed in a lodge with very basic facilities. Food was available in some tea shops.
Day 3 : Budhakedar to Guttu (1590m) 16km Trek
Day 3 : Budhakedar to Guttu (1590m) 16km Trek
The trek was on a level ground up to Benekhal hamlet where there is a Shiva temple situated at the end of a large grassy land. There were a few shepherds’ huts around the temple where we had tea in one of these huts. It was a good place to rest before attempting a steep climb upto Bhaironchetti (2580m) followed by equally steep descend to Guttu (1590m). Guttu is a last road head for treks to Khatling Glacier, Sahastrtal, Masartal, Bhawani Bugyal and Kyarki Bugyal. Stayed in GMVN Rest House in Guttu. Food was available in some hotels
Day 4 : Guttu to Panwali Kantha (3960m) 18km Trek
The trek was a long one involving steep climbs on high mountains followed by walk on grassy lands punctuated by birch trees. But it was the most beautiful part of the trek with miles and miles of bugyals.. From the top of the Panwali Pass, we had very clear view Garhwal Himalayan peaks and bugyals located on the mountain tops. About 2kms down the Pass, there was a summer settlements of shepherds with about dozen huts and a Dharamshala where we stayed for overnight. We had dinner and breakfast in one of the shepherds’ huts. This is the only place where we used our sleeping bags as night was extremely cold. Since it was a long trek, it would have been better if we had planned for one day’s rest in Panwali as there was a lot to explore around Panwali. Also a day’s rest would have given us to recoup our stamina for the next day’s equally long trek to Trijuginarayan. By the way, between Ghuttu to 3 km before Panwali Kantha, there was not a single source of drinking water.
Day 5: Panwali to Trijuginarayan (1982m) 21km Trek
This is the longest stretch of trek for us as we decided not to stay overnight at Magguchetti as this village has been abondoned after pilgrims stopped coming through this route and staying here would require tents and food arrangements. The trek from Panwali to Kankhalikhal (11km) was more or less on a level walk on a high mountain ridge with high peaks on the northern side in view and the vast bugyals on the south of the ridge. Thereafter, a gradual descend from the ridge Magguchetti from the mountain tops and to and Trijuginarayan (10 kms). We stayed in a Dharamshala (probably Baba Kali Kamailwala). Food options in Trijuginarayan were relatively better, being a pilgrimage centre.
Days 6-7 : Trijuginarayan to Kedarnath via Gaurikund and back to Gaurikund
(14+14 kms Trek).
The trek could be terminated at Trijuginarayan and one can take a jeep to Guptakashi (38 km) from where buses were available to Rishikesh/Haridwar. But in our jest to replicate the old pilgrimage route to Kedarnath, we continued our trek to Kedarnath via Gaurikund.
As the trek ended at Gaurikund on our return from Kedarnath, we had trekked 115 kms.
There are two other options for this trek:
(i) Trijuginarayan-Magguchetti-Panwali Kantha-Ghuttu and
(ii) Ghuttu-Panwali Kantha-Magguchetti-Trijuginarayan.
In these two options though the number of trekking days are reduced, the flip side is that one may find it difficult to adjust to the high altitude in a single day. Moreover, in this route, tents and food arrangements may have to be made for stay at Magguchetti.
Some pictures of the trek below:
Start of the trek from Lata
Crossing the suspension bridge over Bhagirathi.
On way to Belak.
View of the valley from forest on way to Belak.
Rampant tree cutting on way to Belak.
First rest point on way to Belak.
First of a series of bugyals near Belak.
Pine tree forest on way to Budhakedar.
A temple somewhere berween Budhakedar and Ghuttu.
A close-up of Shiva temple.
Shepherds' hamlet near the temple.
A lone tree on a bugyal near Shiva temple.
One of many shepherds around the temple.
Tea break inside a shepherd's hut near temple
Terraced fields near Ghuttu.
Another meadow near Ghuttu.
Ghuttu valley with terraced fields seen on the way from Bhaironchetti to Ghuttu.
Horses make merry on the green bugyal one way to Panwali.
Two of our group walking towards a lone shepherd's hut.
Tree line in the middle of two bugyals with lone shepherd's hut.
The last patch of a steep climb to Panwali Kantha (Pass).
A close-up of the Panwali Kantha.
The sight of the first bugyal on the other side of Panwali Kantha.
Another bugyal after crossing Panwali.
Looking at a table top bughyal from Panwali.
A mountain top bugyal. Looks like there are bugyals not only all around but also in the sky!!
Shepherd's summer settlement at Panwali. The tin roof structure in the middle is a Dharamshala where we stayed overnight.
Walking towards the famous ridge for awsome views.
The famous ridge towards Kankhola Khal: The Himalayan peaks on the north side and vast bugyals on the south side.
Nanda Devi on the left.
Descending towards Magguchetti.
After a steep descend, some rest at the base on way to Magguchetti.