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.
GMVN Rest House at Deval
Paddy fields at Deval
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 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.
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.
Trek to Bedni Bugyal
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.
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.
Trishul at evening at Bedni
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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 RoopkundHaving 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.
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
Moving towards Wan in dense forest
Bye bye Wan village