Monday, October 20, 2008

Trek to Roopkund - June 2008


I was destined to do the Roopkund trek with my friend, K Srinivasan (KS). Exactly 20 year ago (June 1988), I would have done this trek with my office colleagues had I not dropped out at the last moment due to change in my job profile. Surprisingly, in my subsequent trekking schedules, Roopkund did not figure at all. In one of the Mumbai IM meet ups, KS indicated his intention of doing a combo trek of Roopkund and Kuari Pass. In spur of the moment, I said that if he plans only the Roopkund trek, I am willing to join him. Subsequently, KS told me that he will be glad if I join him for Roopkund trek and he may continue the solo trek of Kuari Pass if time permits.

There are occasions when we take the decision first and ponder over it later. That is what happened in my case. When I indicated to KS my willingness to join him for Roopkund trek, I never took into account the fact that I had not done any high altitude trek in the past 9 years and I had multiple fractures in my right leg above the knee in a car accident in 2001. I was, therefore, somewhat apprehensive about doing long treks. In the meanwhile, from a vagabond retiree for 15 months, I was again in the job as a full time Consultant with a major non-bank financial company and I was not sure as to how my employer will react if I said that I would be taking a two weeks’ off for a himalayan trek.

In the meanwhile, I had undergone my annual medical check-up based on which my family doctor has given me a 'go ahead’ signal with the trek. With this, I began the serious preparatory work for the trek. I also decided that I will tackle the leave part of the problem with my employer just a week ahead of the scheduled date of departure.

We were advised by many trekkers from Mumbai that the best period for undertaking Roopkund trek was the month of September when most of the snow would have melted beyond Baguabasa which is the critical part of the trek. Roopkund itself remains frozen on an average 340 days in a year and it is only in August-September when one can see some water in the lake. The flip side is that in September, the night in said to be extremely cold with temperature falling below the freezing point in Kalu Vinayak and beyond. Having gone through a number of blogs on Roopkund trek and based on the feedback received from the fellow IM members, we came to the conclusion that the weather plays a crucial role in success or failure of this trek irrespective of whether or not one undertakes this trek in June or September. In any case, both myself and KS were not sure of having free time to undertake this trek in September 2008. Finally, we decided to do the trek during June 17-24.

KS fixed up with Devendra Prasad (Debu), his trusted guide for Kumaon treks, for making arrangements for porters, cook, tents and sleeping bags etc. Debu was familiar with the Roopkund trek having gone a number of times with trekking groups. With this, we were all set for our belated Roopkund trek.

To Gwaldam/Deval

We took the afternoon flight from Mumbai for Delhi on June 14th which reached Delhi on time. We had about 5 hours of transit time in Delhi. The time was well spent in the company of Dilliwala who took us for dinner in one of the restaurants on Pandara Road. We had a good tete-a-tete on various subject including travels. Later he dropped us at Delhi railway station in time to catch the Ranikhet Express. The train reached Kathgodam about half-an-hour late. It was drrizzling when we came out of the station for hiring a cab. We reached Gwaldam by noon in heavy rains and foggy conditions. It seems to us like a dress rehearsals for the shape of the things to expect during the trek. We checked in GMVN and remained indoor until evening when rains subsided. Originally, our plan was to stay in Gwaldam for 2 days and on the second day, Debu and his team was to join us for making necessary preparatory arrangements for the trek. However, on the next day morning, Debu informed KS that he has already reached Deval. So Deval was to be our next destination.

Gwaldam


Although, there is a direct road from Gwaldam to Deval (11 kms), the road has not been operational as it was damaged in many places during the recent rains. Jeeps ply to Deval by a longer route via Tharali (36 kms). Due to poor passenger load, not many jeeps from Gwaldam taxi stand will be ready to go to Deval via Tharali. However, GMVN Manager could convince a Maxi driver to take us to Deval. The road from Tharali to Deval is in bad shape. We reached Deval in the afternoon in a sunny and warm weather and checked in GMVN which is located 1 km ahead of Deval market place. Debu met us in the afternoon to discuss the details of the trekking schedule and other related issues. Purchases of provisions, food items, kerosene etc were completed by evening. With good weather conditions, things looked pretty good for the last phase of our road journey to Wan on the next day. If it rains, the chances are that none of the jeeps in Deval will be willing take us beyond Mundoli as they do not want to take risk in a slushy road to Wan beyond Mundoli.

GMVN Rest House at Deval


Paddy fields at Deval

To Wan

We woke up to the rattling sound of our window curtains. It was gusty winds which let loose the window curtains. My watch showed that it was 5.15 a.m. Soon it started raining with high intensity which continued for over two hours. We had planned to go to the market place for our breakfast since Deval GMVN did not have the facilities to serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. But we were not in mood to go out for breakfast in heavy rains. We sat in the veranda, sipping our hot morning tea and waiting for the rain to subside. If rains continued for some more time, reaching Wan will be difficult. Nevertheless, the occasional spray of rains showered on us by the breeze blowing in to veranda made up partly for our gloom.We were surprised to see GMVN Manager (we forgot his name) bringing the breakfast of Alu Paratha with Omelette for us. The Manager has recently been transferred to Deval from Joshimath and he stayed in his quarters on the ground floor of GMVN. It transpired that while preparing breakfast for himself, he took care of our breakfast too. It was a nice gestures on his part to think about us. After some time, rains stopped and we could see sun rays peeping through the scattered clouds on the eastern horizon. With this, our rays of hopes for making it to Wan brightened. Debu came with his team to pick us up in the Maxi which he had booked in the previous evening.

The Road to Wan and Talkative Driver

We started our journey at 10.00 a.m. and passed through Deval market where taxi stand is located. A couple of basic hotels, a few grocery shops, dabhas and the State Bank of India branch is located in the market place. This is one of the last place to take provisions, kerosene, vegetables and other food items required for trekking. The road up to Lohajung is a metalled one but in bad shape. The road skirts through valley with Kali Ganga river flowing through it in some part until it joins Pindar river near Deval.

Mahesh Juval, the owner-driver of Maxi was the most talktative driver I ever came across. As soon as we commenced our journey from Deval, he said in his loud voice (which comes naturally to most of the mountain folks living in the remote villages)that he would not have ventured to Wan in the post-rainy conditions but for Debu who has been engaging his Maxi a number of times for taking his trekking groups. He was sure that none of the drivers in Deval taxi stand would have agreed to drive us to Wan in the present road conditions. He said that the most tricky part of the journey was a slushy patch with black soil about one km after Mundoli where many vehicles had got stuck during the last few days.

"Don’t worry sir. I will see that you reach Wan today. My Maxi never got stuck up in in this patch" he said in his reassuring voice. He enquired with a couple of jeep drivers coming from Lohajung about the conditions of the slushy patch in question. They said that the slushy patch was in bad condition but it was not difficult for drivers like Mahesh to cross.

"Sir, these drivers are flatering me but acutally they will be happy if I get stuck up there" he said with a sarcastic smile. Mahesh’s talkative nature reminded me of Basanti’s character in a scene from the 70’s Hindi film Sholey in which she is driving a horse-cart. What a co-incident! I saw KS dozing off; probably Mahesh’s way of chatting was not to his liking (a la Amitabh Bachhan in the same scene of the film).
We reached Mundoli and with this, we would be testing the skills of Mahesh’s driving in the next one km or so in that 'famous' slushy patch of the road. A Sumo with two occupants came from the opposite direction. Mahesh stopped him to enquired as to how he has crossed the slushy patch. Sumo driver said that in fact he also come from Deval and seeing the condition of the patch, he did not ventured in to crossing the point. Now the problem looked real to us.

Me at road to Kulling village Photo by K Srinivasan


"Don't worry sir. The Sumo driver is a city-bred fellow from Dehradun and he does not have experience of driving on the muddy and slushy roads like we have. I will cross this patch but all of you will have to get down from the Maxi. I don’t want to risk your lives" he said with his usual loud voice.

We got down from Maxi and walked on the road skirting the slushy part. Mahesh drove his Maxi in a steady speed taking it a bit right side to avoid the deep muddy cuts created by earlier vehicles. In no time, he has successfully crossed the patch. A sense of triumph was obvious on his face.From Lohaganj to Wan, it is all muddy road with protruding rocks and potholes. At some places, the road width is barely sufficient for vehicles like Maxi to pass through due to mud and rocky substance deposited by the landslides. It was a bumpy ride of 10 kms during which Mahesh had driven the Maxi in first or second gear only. This route is, however, very scenic with green valley, high mountains and some beautiful villages like Kulling. At this village, a trekking path bifurcates to the right to Didana village through the valley. About 2 kms before Wan, there are couple of hairpin bends which are difficult to negotiate in one turn. Mahesh, however, did so and said that he was the only driver in this route who could do so.

Kulling village


We reached Wan at around noon in a sunny and warm weather. Mahesh wished us good luck for our Roopkund trek and apologised for inconvenience caused to us for his loud chatting. He gave his mobile number and offered to pick us up in case we found it difficult to get any jeep at Lohajung for our return journey to Deval. We thanked him for bringing us safely to Wan and also for his offer. We started trekking 1 km climb to GMVN silently. For the first time, we realised that Mahesh was the most likeable and helpful character and we were longing for his loud voice.

Wan Ridge

We could reach the top of the ridge in less than half an hour and GMVN tourist bungalow was in front of us. The altimeter showed an altitude of 2540 mts with outside temperature of 24C. Our entry into tourist bungalow was unique. It did not have any entrance gate! We, therefore, climbed the boundary wall and jumped in to the compound. The bungalow is strategically located amidst tall cedar trees. On a clear day, Ali Bugyal slopes are visible on the eastern side from the lawn. While Debu and his team took charge of the kitchen, we got into the dormitory room. After finishing a good lunch, we went out for a stroll. The famous Latu devata temple, the Forest Rest House bungalow and a small camping site were all located in the vicinity of the tourist bungalow. In the evening, we paid a visit to Latu temple. We saw a tent pitched in the camp site. Later we came to know from Debu that a girl from Ukraine has trekked from Sitel to Wan via Kanol and she would be trekking to Bedni tomorrow for Roopkund.


Me and Srinivasan outside GMVN, Wan


Wan valley as seen from the ridge, looked like a bowl surrounded by high mountains. Houses with farms can be seen from the valley to the higher slopes of the mountains. A chat with an elderly villager, who was an army pensioner, revealed that all the houses in the valley as well as on the mountain slopes came under Wan village. He said that Wan village was one of the largest villages around Gwaldam in terms of area. It has about 200 houses with a population of around 1200. Almost all the houses are two storied with roof top made up of stone slabs and outer walls plastered. The family stays on the first floor while ground floor is mainly used as a stable for cattles and for storage space. The village does not have electricity or telecommunication facilities though one can see electric and telephone poles in some places. A few houses have installed solar panels which provide electricity for lighting for limited time. Agriculture and cattle rearing are the main ocupations. Some of the younger folks seem to be engaged in collecting medicinal herbs from the higher reaches of the mountains.


Approach to Wan village

Trek to Bedni Bugyal

The loud sound of rain droplets on the bungalow’s tin roof woke us from the sleep. The rain was heavy with valley covered with clouds and mist. Our planned was to reach Bedni Bugyal by 1.00 in the afternoon and porters were to reach ahead of us to prepare lunch for us. It now seemed that our scheduled departure for trek will be delayed if rain persisted. Nevertheless, we kept ourselves in readiness to depart after the breakfast.

On the way from Wan

By the time we finished our breakfast, rains have subsided. Without wasting time, we commenced our trek earlier than scheduled at around 6.30 a.m. The trek starts from the north-easten side of the ridge and goes through the sides of the fields in a narrow alley. After about 2 kms, trekking path turned to the left in a gentle descent till it reached a concrete bridge over a rivulet called Bedni Ganga. This place was in the lowest altitude of our trek.



Bedni Ganga stream half way from Wan to Bedni

After crossing the bridge, the trek became a steep climb through dense forest of oak and rhododendron. Half way through the distance, the forest opened up slighly and here we got the mobile connectivity on KS’s Cell One. We spoke to our family and indicated to them that we will be able to talk to them only after a week or so. Later, our guide told us that we may be able to get mobile connectivity in Bedni Bugyal if we climbed on the highest ridge facing Gwaldam.


At the mid point of the trek, it started raining again. We saw a concrete shelter and a house next to it with ’Gairoli Patal’ written over it. After taking a short break for putting on poncho and Debu and his team finishing puffs of the local bidis, we commenced the second stage of a steep climb. After about 2 kms, we reached a saddle where tree lines ended. From here, the straight path goes to Bedni while a right turn goes to Ali Bugyal through the dense forest. Later, Debu revealed that this was a short cut path to Ali Bugyal which was mainly used by the locals. We were now trekking, more or less, on a level path but Bedni Bugyal was not still visible from here until we reached a point from where we saw a shepherd’s hut. In 10 minutes, we were in one of the two Forest Department’s huts located on a elevation right of the trekking path. It was 2.00 in the afternoon. The altitude was 3470 mts with a temperature of 16C. We were partially drenched and the steep climb of about 8 kms made us weary. It was still raining when we reached Bedni and bugyals were covered with low clouds. So our excitement of reaching Bedni was subdued. We were waiting for hot cups of strong coffee from Mahendra Singh before doing 'reconnaissance’ of Bedni Bugyal and the resultant excitement!


First glimpse of Bedni Bugyal

After an hour or so, rain stopped for a while. Debu pitched the tent adjoining the hut. The tent was additionally covered with a tarpaulin to protect it from heavy rains. Having done so, we moved to the tent with our haversacks and sleeping bags and eagerly waited for Debu’s call for lunch which eventually came sooner than later. After finishing lunch, we came out from the hut to move to our tent when heavy rains once again started with very poor visibilty of bugyals. With weather in foul mood, it seemed we would not be able to see the bugyals and most importantly the views of Nanda Ghunti and Trishul today. With these thoughts, we enter the tents, moved in to the comfort of our sleeping bags and went in to slumber.

Bedni Bugyal

In the late evening, rains completely stopped. We came out of the tent and saw for the first time since our arival at Bedni the beautiful bugyals. A stream was flowing from the dam-like structure from the north-east which divided the main bugyal in to two parts. In the north-eastern side were the village council house, a dabha, a few tents and a shepherd’s hut. There was a concrete shelter presumbly meant for the pilgrims of Nanda Jat Yatra which was an eye sore in otherwise pristine setting. On the south-western side of the main bugyal was two huts of the Forest Department. Cattles, goats and horses were grazing in the far end of the bugyal.

Camp site at Bedni Bugyal


As soon as sun came out of the clouds, we could see many trekkers, who were so far holed up in their tents, out with their cameras, enjoying the weather and waiting for the cloud to unfold from the north-eastern horizon to have a glimpse of Trishul and Nanda Ghunti. While some of them were seen walking briskly to the eastern ridge to take the pictures of these peaks from vintage points, others were enjoying clear weather by strolling in the bugyals. Many sleeping bags and jackets came out of the tents to get them dried up. Finally, we could see only a partial glimpse of Trishul for a very brief period and Nanda Ghunti remained shrouded in the cloud. This brief interlude, however, created an optimism of a clear weather in the next morning to have a grand sun rise view of the himalayan peaks. But this was to be the wishful thinking.


Tent-bound in Bedni

The rain which once again started in the midnight continued unab ated. e uwkep Bhto the Bhupendra’s call of chai which he brought to our tent. I came out of the sleeping bag and noticed that rain water had seeped through from all the directions of the tent making its base damp. Fortunately, the carry mats spread on the tent floor prevented from our sleeping bags getting wet. It appeared that the rain water had spilled over the drainage dug around the tent and entered the tent’s base. Later, Debu made the drainage more wider and deeper to prevent the overflow of rain water into our tent. This was to be done quite frequently during the day as there was no let up in the rain. The intensity of rain increased from the midday and heavy to very heavy rain continued for about next three hours or so.

As per our day’s schedule, we were to trek to Ali Bugyal and back and thereafter to spend some time to explore Bedni Bugyal. Now, there was no point in trekking to Ali Bugyal in rain when clouds and mist would cover most of the bugyals as we had observed in Bedni. We went to Debu’s hut for breakfast and found that the guide of the Ukrainian girl trekker was present. We came to know from him that girl was determined to trek today to Roopkund despite heavy rains and planned to return to Bedni by evening.“So she is going to trek 30 kms in high altitude in heavy rains, chilly wind and in snow to reach Roopkund and back to Bedni by evening” I said to the guide more of a statement than a question. I was not sure whether her decision was a brave one or an act of sheer overconfidence.

We spent most of our time in tent - going through the reading material on Roopkund which I had carried from Mumbai, going through the map, solving Sudoku of various levels which KS had bought in Mumbai in a book form. Debu was organising tea/coffee and dry snacks for us from time to time. Whenever the intensity of rain got reduced, we would come out of the tent to take a short stroll around our tent to get our legs relaxed and take stock of the situation about the weather condition. At the far end of the bugyal, a flock of sheep was moving towards the ridge from their resting place which was water-logged due to rain water gushing from the high mountains.

Trishul at evening at Bedni


By 6.00 in the evening, the rains stopped completely. We came out of the tent and saw the transformation of the unsettled weather since midnight to a clear one within a period of half an hour. The grey clouds slowly disappeared from the sky followed by mist. Soon the diffused sun rays piercing through the cloud sparkled the bugyals. The blue sky was now visible. A long patch of cirrus cloud was about to unveil itself from Trishul and Nanda Ghunti. We took pictures of these two peaks. It was now completely sunny weather with hardly any cloud in the sky. For the first time, we could see the bugyals of Bedni in its full glory. It was green all around with snow clad peaks of Trishul and Nanda Ghunti on the north-east and a panorama of snow clad peaks like Bhagirathi, Thalya Sagar, Chaukhambha, Neelkant and many others on the north-west side which was a pleasant surprise for us as we never knew that these peaks were also visible from Bedni Bugyal. Chaukhambha looked majestic even in distance. It was an experience of a life time to see the fresh green bugyals in the foreground, the high mountains with dark green vegetation in the middle and the snow-capped peaks in the background. Neither the words nor the pictures can do full justice to the beauty of the Bedni Bugyal landscape. The photo session was going on all round with other trekkers running for taking the positions for better picture coverage. The porters/guides and other local shepherds also came out in the open to rejoice the occasion. Even horses seem to enjoy the sunny weather by galloping and running wildly from one end to the other end of the bugyal. In himalaya, fine weather brings enthusiasm, optimism and exuberance in everybody but incessant rains and snow conditions brings gloom, pessimism and inertia in the people.


Chaukhambha (left) and Neelkant (right) from Bedni


After enjoying a day of reckoning, we went to Debu’s hut for discussing the next day’s schedule and to have dinner thereafter. The guide of the Ukrainian girl trekker was already present in the hut which gave us an opportunity to get the first-end information of the weather condition in Baguabasa and beyond. He revealed that it was raining heavily throughout their trek. The Ukrainian girl could not withstand any more of the rains and the intense cold near Baguabasa. Hence, they returned from Begubasa to Bedni by evening. He said that they would be again trekking to Roopkund tomorrow.



Chaukhambha seen from Bedni


Having experienced a fine weather, we came out of the hut after finishing our dinner for a walk around our tent. The sky was clear and the full moon was visibile in the sky in the eastern horizon. Suddenly, I remembered observations of Maunish, an avid trekker himself, about the avoidance of full moon day/night on any high passes and high altitude open meadows. Now I knew why Bedni had experienced heavy rains during the last 24 hours and why the Ukrainian girl faced the chilly weather in Baguabasa. His further observation that generally weather remained fine in the next 2-3 days after the full moon day, however, gave us comfort.


Trek to Pathar Nachauni

KS got up at 5.00 in the morning and went out of the tent to have a look at the sky as had been his habit during the last couple of days. Suddenly, he woke me up and told me to come out with cameras. I came out of the tent and saw one of the most magnificent panorama of Himalayan peaks in the north-west with a faint of sunlight falling on Chaukhambha. Nanda Ghunti and Trishul were also clearly visible on the north-east side but since the sunlight did not fall on them, the glow which adds to the beauty of the peaks in the morning was missing.


Climb from Bedni Bugyal to Ghora Lotani

After breakfast, we started the trek at about 6.45 a.m. with the intention of reaching Baguabasa in the afternoon despite getting the feedback of adverse weather condition there in the previous day. The outside temperature was 15C. After making a steep climb of the bugyal, we reached the main trekking path below the ridge after which it was a gentle climb to the Ghora Lotani which is about 3 kms from Bedni. The weather was sunny with hardly any breeze. As we trekked, we could see both Nada Ghunti and Trishul from the nearer point. From here, Nanda Ghunti looked more magnificent than what we saw from the Bedni. I felt that towering Nanda Ghunti was more dominating peak than Trishul in this area.


Nanda Ghunti seen from Ghora Lotani

The view of the Bedni Bugyal from Ghora Lotani was awesome and was looking like a satellite picture. On the way, we met a solo trekker from Silchar (Assam) who was returning from Roopkund. He indicated to us that it was raining in the night in Baguabasa and the weather was extremely cold. It will not be possible to pitch the tent as the only camping site was full of muddy water. The stone hut was in bad condition as its ceiling was leaking and it did not afford much protection from the cold. He said that he started for Roopkund in the early morning but gave up the efforts just one km short of Roopkund as he found walking on the soft snow was becoming risky as he trekked further. At one place, his legs went knee deep in the snow and he could see the water flowing in the hole. It also started raining. At this point, he decided to abort the trek and return. When he left wishing us good luck, our immediate reaction was that the things may not be that bad as the weather has improved a lot since then.



Bedni Bugyal seen from Ghora Lotani


From Ghora Lotani, it was 2 kms, more or less, of level trek from where we could see a fresh sets of bugyals in the valley on the right side. These bugyals looked more beautiful than that of Bedni as these were virgin bugyals devoid of any structure except a couple of shepherds’ huts at the far end of the lowest slopes of the bugyal. We reached Pathar Lachauni by 10.00 a.m. Debu suggested that we pitch our tent in Pathar Lachauni for overnight halt as he got the information from the shepherds (or Keedha Gass collectors?) that the camping site in Baguabasa was in bad shape. We agreed to his suggestion with a counter suggestion that we should start from Patahr Nachauni for Baguabasa and to Roopkund by 4.30 in the next day morning. Our tent was pitched on the left of the trekking path about one km short of climb to Kalu Vinayak. There was a good water source down the bugyal on the right side of the path. We saw a tent already pitched on our right side in the bugyal. The altimeter showed 3810 mts. Weather continued to be sunny with outside temperature of 20 C. It was a perfect day for trekking.



Our camp at Pathar Nachauni

Pathar Nachauni - Kalu Vinayak Trek

In the last evening, the Ukrainian girl trekker, on her return from Roopkund had apprised us of the weather and snow condition on Baguabasa-Roopkund route. She told us that the weather was fine but the snow was soft. At few places after Baguabasa, she had to wade through the knee deep snow to cross the path. She gave up half way to Jiuari galli as it started raining. Her briefing gave us some comfort in that we could at least go up to Roopkund if weather was fine.



Pathar Nachauni Bugyal

It had already started raining when we got up at 4.00 in the morning. Debu suggested that it would be better to start the trek to Kalu Vinayak only after rains subsided. The rain continued for the next about two hours. Kalu Vinayak top which was visible from our tent last afternoon was now fully covered with clouds. It was only at aound 6.30 a.m. that there was some improvement in weather and the rain had subsided. We told Debu that we would start the trek to Kalu Vinayak immediately and he and Mahendra can start with packed breakfast/lunch when ready and also with ice-axe. Bhupendra was to remain in our tent at Pathar Nachuani.

We left our camp at 6.45 a.m. for Kalu Vinayak. After about half an hour of level walk, we reached a saddle from where the trek bifurcates on the left to Bhuna on way down to Ghat via Kanol and the climb seen on the right leads to Kalu Vinayak. Just on the right side of the trekking path are two vertical stones dug in a small meadow which is called Pathar Nachauni (dancing stones). This is the point from where about 3 kms of our steep climb to Kalu Vinayak began.


Pathar Nachauni

The trekking path was not more than about 2 feet wide in many places which was fully exposed to the steep slopes that ended in bugyals of Pathar Nachauni. The hill side of the path wss full of shrubs and weeds. From the base of the trekking path, it looked as if the Kalu Vinayak top was near but the actual distance was camouflaged by numerous hairpin bends that eventually lead to it. The rain had now completely stopped but the weather was cloudy. For the first time since the start of trek from Wan, we felt thinness of air as we gained distance and altitude. For such trekking situations, I have been following a standard walking procedure. I reduce my pace of walking to one normal step per second and walk 30 to 40 steps before I stop to take a deep breathing exercise for one minute. I have found this strategy to be immense help to me in reducing breathlessness and fatigue. The slow walks also helps in better acclimatisation at higher altitude.


Pathar Nachauni track seen from Kalu Vinayak


Somewhere in the mid-point of the climb, a young man who was also going towards Kalu Vinayak, met us . After exchanging pleasantries, he told us that he was from Wan village and was going to Baguabasa. The way he spoke in Hindi, I could guess he was a city-bred fellow. He had done graduation from a Chandigarh college and was employed there for about 2 years. His father was insisting that he should leave the job and come back to Wan to look after the house and agricultural farms. Otherwise he should sell their land in Wan and take them to Chandigarh for good. He left the job and came back to Wan. In summer and rainy season, he looks after the agricultural fields. Occasionally, he goes to Baguabasa and beyond to collect keedha gass which are in great demand as medicinal herb. His explanation about keedha gass using botanical and biological terminology gave us an indication that he was well informed not only about its commercial aspects but scientific aspects too. As soon as the young man moved ahead, I was debating myself as to what actually made him to come back to Wan when he had spend more than 5 years in a comfort of city life. Later on I came to know from KS that he being the only son of his parents, it was his duties to look after them in their old age and they would have been unhappy in adjusting in a big city like Chandigarh. So it was best for him to return to Wan.


Kalu Vinayak temple

Debu and Mahendra who followed us after some time, crossed us near Pathar Nachauni and moved towards the upper slopes of hills by the sides of the trekking path. First I thought that they were going by shorter route. Later I came to know that they were searching for some herbs including keedha gass to show to us as to how they looked . After some time I joined them in their search in the upper slopes. While, we could not get any of them, Debu came across a bird’s nest in the shrubs. We saw three eggs of grey colour with black spots. At first, I wondered as to how the nest survived the morning rains. After a closure look, we saw that the nest was perched on shrubs above the ground. Sensing that we must have disturbed the bird in the nest, we promptly moved out to the regular trekking path.

Meeting with the young local lad and our joining Debu and Mahendra in their search for herbs were good diversions for us on a difficult trek. For a moment, we forgot the fatigue and the breathing problem. We moved ahead and reached Kalu Vinayak top at 9.15 a.m. – about 2 hours from Pathar Nachauni. The altimeter showed an altitude of 4110 mts with a temperature of 12C. From this place, the trekking path from Ghora Lotani to Pathar Nachauni was looking like a line drawn by pencil on the green turf on which a big yellow dot in the mid point was our tent. Looking at the tent from Kalu Vinayak top, we felt that we were really staying in the wilderness.


Breakfast time at Kalu Vinayak top

Standing on the Kalu Vinayak top and looking towards Baguabasa, we could see Nanda Ghunti and Trishul partly visible through grey clouds. The path to Roopkund and Juiari Galli was, however, clearly visible. From here, the landscape changed from green meadows to the one full of stones and boulders devoid of any greenery. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the weather was not that cold as was often mentioned about this place. With fine weather, there was a surge of optimism to continue the trek to Baguabasa without losing much time. But we had to eat something to avoid nauseating feeling which generally occurs on high altitude.


Path to Baguabasa

Kalu Vinayak-Roopkund Trek

After Mahendra Singh performed a small puja at the Kalu Vinayak temple (locals call it Kaluwa Vinayak), we ate the packed breakfast and rested for sometime. At 9.30 a.m., we started the trek to Baguabasa which was of about 2 kms on a level path. On the way, we crossed the snow at two places with ease. We reached Baguabasa with in half an hour. After some photo session near the stone huts, we moved ahead on a loose stony path until we encountered the first snow path after Baguabasa. The snow was soft and the slope on the left was a bit scary. Debu and Mahendra helped us in crossing the snow path though at few places we had to wade through knee deep snow. This was to be the regular feature in all the snow paths that we crossed.


We in front of stone huts in Baguabasa
As we moved further, the trekking path turned into a gentle climb. We encountered bigger and deeper snow paths which were looking like glaciers. Debu looked a bit worried as he was not able to see the top of the snow line to watch out the possible stone-falls as swirling clouds and mists obfuscated it. Stone-falls and rubbles are common occurrences after rains as snow starts cracking up.


First patch of snow after Baguabasa Photo by K Srinivasan

After successfully crossing 15 snow paths/glaciers (Debu was keeping a count), we reached 16th one which looked quite longish. When we had crossed about three-fourth of the distance on this glacier, the remaining path on the snow looked dangerous. There was a deep gap of about one foot between the cliff and the snow path and of about 20 feet long until it abruptly ended below a crest. On the valley side, the snow slope was steep with space just sufficient to put one step at a time. We had to take the support of Debu and Mahendra on the valley side and hold the support of the cliff to walk in balance before we reached the end of the snow path. Here we faced a steep ‘U’ turn which was to take us to the crest but the space at the turn was just sufficient for one person to stand with Debu holding me from the valley side. Debu instructed Mahendra to hold on to KS until we climbed to the crest. After taking ‘U’ turn, we saw that there were very long make-shift steps made up of loose slate rocks of various sizes to reach the crest. We were required to clamber these steps as climbing was not possible. In the process, some loose rocks came tumbling down to the base of the ’U’ turn. Fortunately, KS and Mahendra had not yet reached the ‘U’ turn.


This one - the dangerous snow crossing just one km before Roopkund

Having successfully negotiated the most difficult of the glaciers so far, we were elated to see the ridge on the right side which looked very near to us. Roopkund was just 50 meters below this ridge. However, Juiari galli continued to be partly covered in cloud. After walking on loose and uneven stony path for about 5 minutes, we stopped at 17th glacier which came from the top snow line, covering about 50 meters of trekking path and went down to the base of the valley. This was not only the longest but also the deepest of the glaciers we had seen so far. A look at the surface of the snow with old foot marks in the vicinity of the trekking path indicated that the snow was very soft and crunchy. Probably the water which must have been flowing from the top of the mountain during the overnight rain made its surface even more soft. The glacier has a depth of about 5-6 feet. We could hear the loud sound of water flowing from the base of the glacier. We stopped here for some time to take a stock of the situation. The time was 11.45 a.m. and the altimeter showed an altitude of 4410 meters with a temperature of 12C. There was no problem from the weather front.


We abondoned the trek at this point - just 500m short of Roopkund

The stony trekking path, both at the start and the end of the glacier was visible. I was debating myself whether we could cross the glacier taking a judgement as to the likely direction of the stony path below the snow. But it was difficult to take such a call. Furthermore, the depth of snow on the stony trekking path was dependent upon its gradient. Also we could see ahead another two longish glaciers which needed to be crossed before embarking on the steep climb to the ridge. These factors and also taking into account the fact that our reflexes at 60+ age were not going to be fast enough in tackling the likely dangerous situations, I announced that we are not proceeding from this point. KS looked the problem in his usual practical approach. He said that there was no point in crossing dangerous looking glaciers if we are not going to see Trishul and Nanda Ghunti after reaching the top. This was true as we have not been able to view Trishul and Nanda Ghunti since we left Kalu Vinayak as both these peaks as well as Juiari galli were fully covered in clouds. Climbing Juiari galli in the current situaion was ruled out.

Debu tried his best to convince us that we were capable of crossing these glaciers and reaching Roopkund. In any case he was there to take safely to Roopkund and back. While we believed in Debu’s assessment, the moot point here was that the risk was to be commensurate with reward which was not there. While we were sad that we could not reach Roopkund even though we were within its striking distance of about 500 meters, there was no regret of our decision which we felt was a considered one. At 12noon, we started the return trek to Pathar Nachauni. We could see disappointment written all over Debu’s face as if his team has lost an important English Premier League match.

Roopkund-Pathar Nachauni Trek

Surprisingly, our return trek to Baguabasa was a non-stop one and we could cover the distance within one hour. Our foot-marks on the snow paths and glaciers during our onward trek to Roopkund helped us to navigate them easily. We were near Baguabasa when it started raining. We took shelter in one of the stone huts for some time. These stone huts have been constructed by local shepherds and they rented out to trekkers. However, the one in which we had taken shelter was in bad shape. It was leaking as stone slabs were not properly placed to cover the roof. It was not possible to spread the carry mats fully as there were some long perpendicular stones lying on the floor. In short, the stone hut was not fit enough for trekkers to stay overnight in rain and chilly wind conditions.

We stopped at Kalu Vinayak for a lunch break. Some local people were siting near the temple for rest before proceeding to their next destinations. The conversations between two local groups which KS told me after some time when they left, was an interesting one.“Where are you coming from?” enquired the first group.“Shail Samundra” replied the other group.“How many keedha gass (worm plant) you could get?” asked the first group.“Only a few” said the other group.

For the local people, visit to Roopkund and Shail Samundra was as routine an affair for earning money as for the city dwellers travelling to their work places for earning wages. The weather or snow conditions were not at all their prime concerns.

We started our march to Pathar Nachauni by descending from Kalu Vinayak in good weather condition. Nevertheless, the steep descent was putting pressure on our toes and knees. The rains would have made this trek dangerous as the path would have become slippery. We reached our tent at around 4.30 in the afternoon. Soon it started raining which lasted about an hour. The weather remained cloudy which sealed our fate of viewing Trishul here under setting sun. So we remained in tent updating our diary notes. For some time, Debu gave the company and explained the nuances of keedha gass . He said that these plants were found in the altitude of 10000 - 15000 feet in Pithoragarh, Bageshwar and Chamoli Districts in the months of May to July. Higher the altitude, higher will be the quality of these plants. The locals who collected the plants got about Rs.150/- per plant.

Pathar Nachauni – Bedni Bugyal – Ali Bugyal Trek

We started our return trek to Bedni early morning. Our plan was to take a break at Bedni for lunch and then to proceed to Ali Bugyal and back to Bedni for overnight stay. The sky was overcast but there was no chances of rain as mists were forming in the valley. We were half way to Ghora Lotani when sky started getting cleared and within few minutes, sun came out of the cloud. Now Trishul and other unnamed peaks were visible. The vast expanse of bugyals with sun rays penetrating through swirling clouds looked marvellous.



A different perspective of Trishul from Pathar Nachauni

After crossing the Ghora Lotani saddle, Debu and his team moved ahead of us to pitch the tent and to cook lunch for us. But soon we saw Debu coming back cautioning us about a herd of aggressive buffaloes moving towards us. We immediately climbed the hill side and waited for herd to pass. As the herd of buffaloes was passing in front of us, a buffalo who was leading the herd stopped and looked at us. For a moment I thought that she was telling us in her own way that the bugyal belonged to them and they have the first right of walking on the path. The buffalo having felt triumphant in making us stand on the upper slope of the hill side, turned her head and moved forward on the trekking path. We had often been cautioned by shepherds about the aggressiveness of cows and buffaloes moving on Wan-Bedni-Pathat Nachauni trekking route. Later, I came to know that in summer, the owners of non-lactating and old cows and buffaloes leave them to the care of the locals shepherds of Bedni and Pathar Nachauni and only the lactating cows and buffaloes are kept in the villages. Now I can undersand their aggressiveness.


Cattle grazing at Pathar Nachauni Bugyal slopes

Bedni Bugyal was partly covered in mists when we reached there around 10.00 in the morning. We took a round of walk in bugyal. Some parts of bugyal were covered with freshly bloomed flowers of many varieties. The main camping site was deserted as no new trekking groups had come. Some vultures were seen near an abandoned hut nearby.


Our tent at Bedni

Carpet of flowers at Bedni


Vultures at Bedni

Post lunch, we departed for Ali Bugyal. After climbing the bugyal, we came to the main trekking path which goes towards Wan. After about one km, a path on the left goes to Ali Bugyal. From here, it was a 3 kms of easy trek to reach the base of the Ali Bugyal. After about 200 meters of steep descent followed by a gentle climb of about one km, we reached the top of the Ali Bugyal only to notice that we had to walk further to reach the Zero Point. The last lap of the trek was done under 15 minutes of very heavy rains in which we got drenched despite putting on ponchos. We reached Zero Point when rain stopped and sun came out.



Ali Bugyal near Zero Point

Ali Bugyal is a unspoilt place as in the absence of water sources nearby, very few visitors camp here. The Zero Point bugyal was the longest one which was surrounded by smaller bugyals with tree lines. On the north-eastern side, Trishul and some unnamed peaks were partially visible. Ali Bugyal was definitely more beautiful than Bedni Bugyal. We noticed that mostly horses were grazing in the bugyals.


Ali Bugyal towards Wan side

After spending an hour or so in Ali Bugyal, we returned to Bedni for night halt. The sky was overcast with mists covering the valley. So there was no chance of viewing himalyan peaks. We finished our dinner early and retired in our tent praying for a clear weather on the next day.


A mini bugyal on a hill top seen from Ali Bugyal

Bedni - Wan Trek

We commenced our trek to Wan at 6.45 in the morning. The weather was fine which was a great news for us particularly when the day’s trek involved a steep descent of about 6 kms through forest. About half way through the trek, we met a family of 6 members – from young ones to middle aged – who were trekking to Bedni Bugyal. To me, they looked more like pilgrims than the trekkers. One of them told me that they were planning to trek up to Roopkund. Some of them looked very tired and I felt that they may not be able to proceed beyond Bedni. But looks can be deceptive. In himalaya, I have seen some trekkers who could reach the trekking destination by their sheer will power and determination.


Moving towards Wan in dense forest

We reached Wan by noon. Although it would have been possible for us to take share-jeep at Wan and reach Deval in the same evening, we decided to stay overnight in Wan as we liked the ambience around GMVN very much. We just sat in the veranda most of the time in the ‘company’ of high mountains and cedar trees, in a clear weather, munching dry snacks with chai. For a change, we would take a stroll around the tourist bungalow reliving our trek experiences. In the evening, Debu went to the taxi stand for booking jeep for the next day which usually departs at 7.00 in the morning. We were advised by the jeep driver to reach the taxi stand by 6.30 in the next morning.

Wan - Deval Jeep Journey

We finished our breakfast early and proceeded to the taxi stand. The jeep was already parked with driver honking the horn giving signal to the prospective passengers that his jeep was ready for departure. Debu and his team loaded the luggage on the carrier and driver gave us 2 front seats and 3 middle seats. In places like Wan and Deval, booking of jeep has different meaning than what we normally understand. In such places, booking of jeep actually means booking of the required number of seats. For 2 booked seats, the jeep driver will give front two seats and for 3 booked seats, 3middle seats would be given. In these booked seats, no other passengers are allowed to share the seats. The share jeep passengers will have to take only those seats which are not booked.


Bye bye Wan village

After first honking signal, many people came from the nearby houses. I was wondering as to how the driver will accommodate so many passengers in his jeep. After some time, when jeep driver gave the final honking, the passengers sat on the jeep. Now I realised that the departure of the jeep from Wan taxi stand was itself an occasion for villagers to meet people who are about to board the jeep. After checking that all passengers have taken their seats, the driver started the jeep for journey to Deval.

I was sitting on the front seat next to the driver. From his conversation with one of the passengers, I came to know that driver was to pick up a family on the way about one km ahead. He was sarcastically telling one of the passengers that ladies takes more time to get ready thus arriving late at the pick-up point. As the jeep reached the pick-up point, the family was nowhere to be seen. After a few seconds, the driver shouted in the direction of the house where the family stayed to say that the he was taking the jeep on the down road and they can catch the jeep by walking down from the slopes. When jeep reached the down road, the family was not yet in sight. After about 5minutes, the family consisting of 2 ladies, two gents and a child came running from the upper slopes of the road ready to embark on the jeep. I was wondering as to how 5 new passengers can be accommodated when the jeep was almost packed with passengers. In the meanwhile, one passenger from the back seat climbed the jeep to sit on the carrier. I was surprised that in this entire milleu, none of the local passengers or the driver requested us, even once, to accommodate one or two passengers on the middle seats.

We felt very sorry for the local passengers who were in difficult situation mainly because of our booked seats. It was good on the part of Debu and his team that they adjusted their seating and let the lady with a child and her brother sit next to them. So the old man and woman were not the traveller but came down to bid good-bye to their daughter and grand son. I guessed, the daughter must have come to stay with her parents for a few days. Her delayed arrival at the pick up point was now understandable. I could see the old woman waving her hand with moist eyes and a twist of wrinkles on her forehead as the driver started his jeep. She did not say a single word to daughter as a last minute advice but her graceful display of controlled emotions did speak a lot.

The rest of the jeep journey to Deval was uneventful. There was not much of a problem in crossing that famous black soil slushy point just before Mundoli as it was no longer slushy. Most of the passengers got down at Mundoli. We reached GMVN, Deval at 10.00 a.m.

Deval to Kausani

We were to pick up our suitcase which we had left at GMVN Manager’s house. The ever smiling Caretaker, an old but quite resourcefl woman, told us that the Manager had just gone out for some work. Realising that we would be delayed for our onward journey to Kausani, she sent her grandson to Deval market to get the key from the Manager. The Caretaker had gone through bad patches in her life. After her daughter-in-law had died of cancer, her only son remarried and shifted to a new place. It appeared that he was not taking care of his mother - the Caretaker - and his five children from his first wife. The Caretaker is now herself taking care of her eldest grandson.

Debu went to Deval market to get us a jeep to Kausani. The Caretaker’s grandson brought the key and we got our bag. Now we were waiting for Debu to come with a jeep for proceeding to Kausani what KS called it, for R&R (Rest and Recuperation).

We saw Debu coming with a Maxi which was parked outside the gate. The person who came out of the Maxi happened to be Mahesh, the talkative driver. After enquiring about our Roopkund trek, he told us that normally, taxis from Deval go up to Gwaldam from where local taxis will be available for Kausani or beyond. He promised to drop us to Kausani if we were unable to get a taxi from Gwaldam to Kausani.

We left Deval at 11.15 a.m. At Nandkesri, Mahesh showed his house which was near the bank of Pindar river, surrounded by paddy fields. At one place, he stopped his Maxi and told something loudly to a boy who was standing outside his house about 100 meters away from the road. He told me later that he had passed on the message to the boy that his daddy will return home only after 2 days as he had taken some tourists to Bageshwar area. And this was his beginning of his talk on the theme on the diverse roles the drivers perform in remote villages. He was proud of himself and other drivers of Deval who provide important link to villagers in the adjoining areas in meeting their day-to-day requirements such as communications, exchange of cooking gas cylinders (the gas agency is near Tharali), groceries and even the banking facilities. He said that there were many in Wan village who have pension accounts with State Bank of India, Deval which is 30 kms away. Some of these pensioners give their pass books to him and other drivers for getting them up to date and also the bearer cheques for withdrawing the cash from the pension accounts. In a lighter vein, Mahesh said that villagers could not afford to antagonise jeep drivers, for they provide these types of services to villagers free of charge.

We reached Gwaldam and had a quick lunch at one of the dabhas near taxi stand. Mahesh arranged a Bageshwar registered Maxi from here to take us to Kausani. After about 2 hours, we reached Kausani. We checked in KMVN and from here onwards, we were on R&R for two nights. The KMVN has the best location for viewing himalayan peaks and the beautiful and green Garud valley.

Next day, we paid a visit to Anasakti Ashram which is located about one km from KMVN. This a good place for spending an hour or so. There are also the staying arrangements in the Ashram at nominal donations but the guests will have to compulsorily attend the morning and evening prayers.At last, we were on our last lap of journey back to Mumbai. We spent one night at Almora on way to Kathgodam. As Uttaranchal Sampark Kranti Express was slowly moving towards Haldwani, mountains were giving way to hills. After Haldwani, hills were leaving us one by one as train moved past Lal Kuan. Suddenly, there were no more hills.

Our sojourn with mountains was over.
All photos by the author except those accredited to K Srinivasan.


9 comments:

KS said...

Read it again here; just to refresh my memory! you have added more pics. And several of me, thanks for the publicity! :-)

Jitesh said...

Dear Sir,
Myself Jitesh, recently completed my doctorate from Delhi. While at Delhi, me and my friends had gone on a few treks, which has made me a serious Hill-lover. I came across your page while hunting the Net for info on the Roopkund trek, which we plan to undertake next month. You've done all the treks that I'm just planning to do, and at the age of 60, your undertaking this trek has really boosted my awe for you and KS tremendously.
Sir, can you kindly give us the contact no. of Debu and the talkative Mahesh driver? I can be reached at jiteshiyer@gmail.com.
Thanks and wishing you many more great treks !
Jitesh

Sadanand Kamath said...

Dear Jitesh,
Thanks for the comments. I have sent you E-Mail giving the contact numbers of Debu and Mahesh.
Best wishes for your forthcoming trek.

Sadanand

Subbu said...

Dear Sir,
Excelleng blog. I am planning a trek in October first week. Can you please email me the contacts of your guide that you mention here? My mail id is subru@lycos.com

Thanks
Subramanya

vinay7867 said...

Dear Shri Kamat, Excellent writing of your treks. Read almost all of them. I did my first Himalayan trek last year with YHAI to kedarkanth and enjoyed it immensely. Just cant wait to go on other treks in the Himalayas again. Was thinking of going to Roopkund. When is the best time to go there? and can you suggest other places where I can go trekking. Are there any other organization like YHAI which does such treks? I am a Central Govt. employee and get spl. leave for such treks.
with best regards,
Vinay Bhonslay
TIFR, Mumbai 400 005

abhinav said...

Dear Sir,

I just went through your writeup and found it really amazing.I am planning to visit this trek with my friends.I visited Shrikhand Mahadev last year with my friends and it was awesome.Thanks for sharing your views and experience.

Regards

Adarsh Gupta K said...

Dear Sadanandji, Your trek experiences you elucidated were so realistic and were often more beautifying the places.. This is loads of information and guidance for anyone taking up Roopkund trek :)

Sadanand Kamath said...

Thanks Adarsh for your appreciation.

Shakti Raturi said...

Dear Sir,

I have read your wonderful blog and got more information from this.
So thanks for this nice writing.
I am planning for this trek.

Can you let me know about below point from your blog where I am feeling some doubt and want some clarity.

"I remembered observations of Maunish, an avid trekker himself, about the avoidance of full moon day/night on any high passes and high altitude open meadows. Now I knew why Bedni had experienced heavy rains during the last 24 hours and why the Ukrainian girl faced the chilly weather in Baguabasa."

You can write me on shaktipraturi@gmail.com