As I occasionally go through our somewhat faded pictures of our October 1998 trek, I ponder as to why we could not decide on any regular trekking destination and instead chose some assorted treks. A couple of possible reasons : First, we could not meet and decide on our trekking destination for 1998 probably due to some more pressing family commitments. Second, the August 1998 massive landslides – both in Garhwal and Kumaon may have put a dampener on our trekking plan. But the mountain bugs in each of us compelled to plan at least some short treks. With each of us having our own preferred short treks in mind, we decided to meet everyone’s aspirations by planning some short treks around Kedarnath route. This time, we did not draw a detailed itinerary of treks as we usually do but kept it flexible except that Mumbai-Delhi-Mumbai train tickets were booked with couple of extra days to take care of our flexible schedule..
I was keen on visiting Kalimath this time as in 1992, I had missed it while trekking to Madmaheshwar as part of our Panch-Kedar trek. The Head Priest of Ukhimath had then convinced me to trek to Ransi on way to Madmaheshwar via Mansuna as it was connected by a mud road where share-jeeps plied. Krishnamurthy was keen on Kedarnath as he had not yet visited the place. Jambukeswaran had no particular preference except that he was keen to visit the Himalaya. Deshpande could not join us for the trek for some personal reason and instead Jumbukeswaran’s office collegue ( co-incidentally he was also a Deshpande) joined us. It was his first trek.
On a warm and humid October night, we boarded Golden Temple Mail from Borivali and reached New Delhi the next day late evening. On the same night, we took Mussoorie Express which left about 2 hous late from Delhi Jn. We reached Haridwar at 8.30 a.m. A bus from the Haridwar station took us to Rishikesh in about an hour. We stayed at a hotel close to the GMOA bus station. An early morning GMOA bus to Gaurikund dropped us at Guptakashi around 12.00 noon. We checked into a newly opened Hotel Shubham Basera near the bus stand. Obviously, the room was neat; the bed sheets, pillows and blankets were fresh and the toilet was clean too and all these at good bargain price of Rs.200/- for a four-bedded room.
Guptakashi temple. Water flowing from Gaumukhs on either side of the platform is believed to be from Ganga and Yamuna rivers.
Guptakashi-Kalimath-Guptakashi (6+6 Kms trek)
After a light breakfast, we left our hotel room by 7.00 a.m. We had already decided that we would trek to Kalimath instead of taking share jeep. Incidentally, we did not find any jeep going to Kaliimath probably the road damaged by the massive landslides two months back was not yet ready for vehicular traffic. After descending from the road side, the trek was mostly through forest. After crossing a narrow iron bridge, we reached to a cluster of houses on an open place and at this point we witnessed the damages caused to almost all terraced farms which were totally covered with rocks and rubbles without leaving any trace of a farm land. It was unbelievable to see a big hillock sitting pretty on a farm which, at first, we thought that it was really a hill in its natural setting. It was only when a villager told us that the hillock had slid from the top during cloud burst and settled on this farm that we got to know of the reality.
Trekking route to Kalimath passes through forests.
At the starting point of the trekking path to Kalimath.
Me on a damaged bridge over a stream on to Kalimath.
Since it was an easy walk, we could reach Kalimath village by 9.30 a.m. We went straight to the bank of Kaliganga. Though the water in the river was cold, the strong sun made the bath refreshing. After a few climbs, we reached the Kali temple. There were no visitors in the temple complex when we were there for about an hour or so. The priest did some pujas ( or some rituals?) for us. The Kali temple did not have any idol but Kali in the form of a Yantra was worshipped. On either sides of the Kali temple were Laxmi and Sarswati temples. It was amazing to note that while we had witnessed the extensive damages in areas very close to Kalimath, the temple complex was spared from the damages except a partly collapsed residential house.
Kalimath village on the bank of Kali Ganga river. In the background is Kedarnath peak (faintly visible).
Kali temple complex. The temple complex was saved from a series of massive landslides in Kalimath-Kotma areas, about two months before our visit. A part of a house on the left was, however, destroyed by the landslides.
We left Kalimath at 12.00 noon. While passing through the same open place where landslides had inflicted maximum damages to farm land, a villager came running and told us of his woes about his farm being destroyed by landslides and his banker, State Bank of India at Guptkashi insisting on repayment of loan instalments. It appeared to me that he had taken a short term loan for raising rainy season crops and the loan was to be repaid after harvesting the crops. Since his entire crops were damaged and he was not in position to repay the loan, he was in a quandary as to how he could come out of this situation. Furthermore, he was not in a position to raise winter crops and repay loan though belated as his farm was damaged beyond redemption. From what I could also guess from his talk, he seemed to be disturbed by the frequent visits by the bank official to his house for recovery of the loan.
Kali temple complex seen from Ransi road. In the foreground is Kali Ganga river.
A school around Kali temple complex.
After listening to his predicament, I suggested him to write a letter to the branch manager giving the circumstances under which he was not in a position to repay the loan in time and request him to convert his short-term loan to medium term loan as has been practice when there is a natural calamity such as drought or flood. As none of us carried any blank paper or note book, the poor farmer had to rush back to his house and bring the paper to write the application. I wrote the application for him on the lines suggested to him earlier and told him to sign the application and give it to SBI after taking a copy of the same. I hoped that the SBI branch manager would not create any further problem for this farmer after submission of application it was a reasonable request. But I was really dismayed by the branch manager’s attitude toward this farmer in the background of a natural calamity. In fact, he should have proactively guided this farmer about the alternative options. Most of the small farmers are simple and honest and in normal circumstances, they will be eager to repay the loan as early as possible as they feel that their honour in the society is at stake when the bank official visits their house for recovery of loans.
Ukhimath temple complex.
We reached Guptkashi around 3.00 p.m. as almost one hour was taken for dealing with the farmer’s problem. After taking a tea break at the bus stand, we took a share jeep for a 14 kms drive to Ukhimath as Krishnamurthy was keen to visit the temple. We return to Guptkashi by evening. After fixing with the share jeep for the next day’s early morning journey to Gaurikund, we returned to our hotel.
We stayed for two days at Maharashtra Mandal in Kedarnath.
Guptkashi-Gauikund-Kedarnath ( 31 kms by share jeep and 14 kms by trek)
The share jeep left at 5.30 a.m. and reached Gaurikund at 7.00 a.m. After a hurried breakfast, we commenced trekking to Kedarnath. There were not many pilgrims on the route so the mule nuisance was minimal. The weather was pleasant throughout the trek. After a lunch break at Rambara, we reached Kedarnath at 2.00 p.m. We got accommodation at Maharashtra Mandal. I had stayed here on two earlier occasions.
The Maharashtra Mandal guest house was planned by one Karnataki ( surname in Maharashtra though surname gives an impression that the person is from Karanatak) a businessman from Yeola ( Nashik district) when he first visited Kedarnath in early 1900 when he noticed that there were not many shelters for pilgrims. Later, he set up a make-shift house to accommodate pilgrims. Over a period of time, the NextGen of Karanataki family who had made Guptakashi as their permanent residence, improved the quality of accommodation which was possible by donations received, mostly from Maharashtra. When I last stayed in September 1999, it was managed by 3rd generation Karnataki brothers who were finding difficult to speak Marathi.
We could see from our room the path to Vasuki Tal. With our flexible schedule, this was our chance to do this trek as it has been eluding me despite the fact that this was my fourth trip to Kedarnath. When I talked to Satish Karantaki of Maharashtra Mandal about the feasibility of doing a day trek to Vasuki Tal the next day, he said that it was possible to this trek in a day to return to Kedarnath. He then arranged a guide for us. Satisfied with this development, we went out for a stroll around Kedarnath. As we were near the temple, a light shower with strong cold breeze forced us to take a shelter in a shop just adjunct to the temple complex. It was after a while when we decided to rush to temple as it was getting dark. There was not much rush inside the temple and we could sit very close to the ling for sometime. Krishnamurthy was overwhelmed by such a nice darshan of Kedarnath.
On to Vasuki Tal. After a steep climb across Mandakini river, some rest on the top. Kedarnath peak and Kedar Dome in the background.
Rustic landscape on way to Vasuki Tal.
After a short easy walk, the path became stony as can be seen on the curve.
Kedarnath-Vasuki Tal-Kedarnath (6+6 kms)
We had a quick breakfast at a make-shift dabha in front of Maharashtra Mandal and had also arranged for pack lunch of alu paratha from the same place. It was 7.30 a.m., when we left the place for Vasuki Tal. After crossing river Mandakini, we were on a steep climb of about 1 km after which we reached on a hill top. From here, we get good views of Kedarnath temple below and peaks around the temple. From here onwards, the landscape changes from greenery to barren mountains with stones and rocks strewn all over the place. It was in this context that a guide was necessary as at many places there was no way to know where the path will lead.. The rocky and boulder ridden path with climbs and descents with lack of oxygen on such a high altitude made the progress very slow as we had to take frequent rests. The last one km to the lake was a steep descent in a relatively better path.
Some rest on the rocky climbs.
Way down to Vasuki Tal.
Some isolated patches of snow as we descent to Vasuki Tal.
At last emerald green Vasuki Tal.
We with Vasuki Tal in the background.
The emerald green Vasuki Tal lies as a bowl surrounded by stone-filled banks with snow-clad mountains as backdrop. But clouds and mists deprived us of the pleasure of enjoying what could be beautiful scenery. We spent about 30 minutes near the lake. After finishing our packed lunch, we started the return trek at 1.30 p.m. by which time the weather had turned cloudy. Luckily, it did not rain as we reached Kedarnath by 5.30 p.m.
Kedarnath-Gaurikund-Guptakashi (14kms by trek, 31 kms by share jeep)
We started leisurely from Kedarnath at 10.15 a.m. reached Gaurikund comfortably by 3.00 p.m. After taking a lunch break, we got a share jeep for Guptkashi. With previous day’s tough trek still giving some discomfort, it was decided to take rest at our familiar hotel at Guptkashi instead of moving to Chopta, our next destination.
Guptakashi-Chopta-Tungnath-Chandrashila-Chopta (44 kms by bus, 5+5 kms by trek)
We got 6.45 a.m. Bhookh Hartal bus at Guptkashi and reached Chopta at 9.15 a.m. After taking breakfast at a dabha located at the starting point of Tungnath trek, we proceeded for Tungnath. After a gradual climb on a stone-paved path, the climb became steeper. On the right side of the slope was Chopta bugyal with some shepherds’ huts. Other than handful of pilgrims, the trek path was almost deserted. We reached Tungnath at 12.00 noon. By this time, the clouds and mists had already covered the peaks.
Chopta bugyal on way to Tungnath.
Shepherds' huts at Chopta bugyal.
Climb to Tungnath.
Tea break on way to Tungnath.
A research centre seen from Tungnath.
Stone idol of Ganesh outside Tungnath temple.
Tungnath temple viewed from an adjoining hillock.
After taking a round of the temple, we met a Sadhu who was resting in an open place in the sun near the priest’s residence. He stayed in a cave about one km from the temple. When I asked him as to how he managed to stay in a extreme winter, expecting that he would give me the familiar reply of sadhus’ control over their nerves and senses, I was pleasantly surprised to get a rationale answer to my query. He said that the slope above the cave’s entrance was very steep making it impossible for snow to get accumulated. The South facing entrance in winter will ensure that during sunny days, sun rays will fall on the cave almost throughout the day due to sun moving in southern solstice, making the cave relatively warm.
A Sadhu in pranayam pose. He said that he stayed around Tungnath temple all through the year.
On the Chandrashila peak.
Weather turned foggy and windy when we started return journey from Chandrashila.
Tungnath temple seen from the way to Chandrashila peak.
As we proceeded to Chandrashila peak, there was a light drizzle on the way but it was manageable. There were some scary moments when thick mist covered the trek path making it invisible. At the peak, there was a small stone temple which acted as the final point on Chandrashila peak. It was apparent from the beginning itself that we would not be able to get any view of the peaks as they were already covered by clouds. We returned to Chopta via Tungnath by 4.30 p.m. We stayed in a dabha for the night.
GMVN Rest House, Chopta with peaks in the background. At left is Ukhimath-Gopeshwar Road.
Peak view from Chopta.
Chopta-Joshimath (90 kms by bus)
We were to get the same Bhookh Hartal bus to Joshimath which dropped us at Chopta the previous day. We could see the bus coming from Kund about 30 minutes before it reached Chopta at 9.30 a.m. Being the only bus connecting Gaurikund with Badrinath on Ukhimath-Chamoli road, this bus was full of mostly local villagers to whom this bus was a lifeline. So we had to travel standing up to Gopeshwar after which we got the seats. The bus reached Joshimath at 3.30 p.m. We stayed in GMVN.
Joshimath-Auli-Joshimath (14 kms by share jeep, returned by trek, 6 kms)
Although, I had passed through Joshimath four times for Badrinath, I had never been to Auli. In fact none of us had ever visited Auli. With our flexible schedule, it was possible to fit in Auli while going to Badrinath. We got a share jeep at 8.30 a.m. for Auli and reached Auli at 9.30 a.m. We got into a Cable Chair Car and got down at Tower No.8 for grand views of peaks such as Hathi, Ghori, Nanda Devi, Dunagiri, Trishul. We walked on a vast expanse of bugyal which within a couple of months would turn into one of a skiing slope. We ended our walk at a place from where the trek to Gorson started. On our return to the road head at Auli, we visited an impressive looking Hanuman temple located on a small hillock.
Chairlift for Tower-10 in Auli.
Cows grazing in Auli bugyal with Himalayan peaks in the background.
Ghori and Hathi parvats seen from Auli.
Nanda Devi from Auli.
From left to right : Dunagiri, Nanda Devi and Trishul.
Nanda Devi and Trishul from Auli.
After a light refreshment at the GMVN restaurant, we came to the road for trying our luck in getting a share jeep to Joshimath. On a second thought, we decided to trek down to Joshimath as we were not sure of getting share jeep. We got down from the road and walked through the forest. Thereafter it was downhill cutting across Auli-Joshimath road at many places. The last one km was a descent through cemented path which ended at Malari end of Joshimath. It took us one hour to reach Joshimath from Auli – the same time which the share jeep took to drop us to Auli from Joshimath. In the evening, we visited Jyothirmath and Narsinha Temple Complex.
A priest inside Hanuman temple, Auli.
Auli bugyal with Hathi and Ghori parvats in the background.
Our trip concluded with a visit to Badrinath the next day.