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Roopkund - Our Trek to the Elusive Himalayan Lake

Having read and researched so much about this unique Roopkund trek over the last couple of years, for me it was like I’m actually trekking along on a pre-destined mental map carved out deep within my inner mind.

snow 2 °C

The welcoming fragrance of the lush pine grooves, the enchanting narrow trail through the oak & deodar forest from Lohajung onwards, the elusive Neel Ganga, the blooming rhododendrons in pinkish-white and blood-red, the occasional bird-call breaking the absolute silence of the mountains, the miles-long green alpine meadows of Ali & Bedni Bugiyals, the bleating sheep herds in their hundreds always on the run in search of the next pasture, the lonesome wild stallion grazing along, the omnipresent Trishul peak, the shy Nandaghunti, the whizzing Himalayan icy winds brushing across our faces, the stone-shrine of the revered Kalu Vinayak amidst a carpet of snow - an amphitheatre to view countless snow-peaks up close and personal, were all part of my imagination, which, did come true as we trekked our way into this awesome Himalayan trail also known as the “Curzon Trail” seeking to view that jinxed high-altitude Roopkund Lake.

Since, it is here, within and alongside the Roopkund Lake, you would find remnants of a Himalayan tragedy that had happened perhaps millennium ago – well preserved human bones and skeletons scattered all around - a mystery still today as to who these people were, why had they come here and what caused their deaths. Welcome to Roopkund, the mysterious skeletal lake situated over 16000 feet above sea-level amidst the High Himalayans interiors of Chamoli District of Uttarakhand…

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Himalayan Panorama

Saturday, May 5th – Excited as we were, we started off on yet another unique Himalayan odyssey. The hired Meru cab took us from our Mumbai residence at 10.45 am towards the airport. Reaching the airport we checked our baggage and straightaway went for our security check only to face an unforeseen fiasco. As our hand baggage came out of the roller of the x-ray machine, the mandatory stamping on the hand-baggage tag was missed out. This, I did not notice and casually picked up the bag and approached the wide sitting lounge waiting for Mitali, my wife to come about with the camera bag post her security check.

As I waited for her, I happened to check the hand-baggage tag and surprisingly noticed that the necessary stamping was not done. I went back to the security counter and informed one of the security personnel that they have perhaps missed stamping the baggage tag. To my surprise he informed that my baggage has to be frisked, since it contains certain items not meant to be carried in the hand-baggage. To our distaste and embarrassment, he soon opened the zipper and tossed around the contents of the bag and out popped a few cans of Tuna and Chicken Sausages. The personnel initially could not identify what it was; till another colleague informed him that “it is meat….meat” at the top of his voice.

“Sir, we’ll not allow you to carry these cans, have to confiscate them,” the security personnel informed to my utter disgruntlement. “Why would you confiscate them, these are mere food items?” I insisted angrily. “But Sir, there is water inside them and as per our rules we cannot allow them,” he coolly replied.

I countered, “We are going on a Himalayan trek and nothing much is available in those Himalayan interiors other than potatoes, rice and pulses, we need them for extra energy in that utterly cold environment.” He insisted, “Please put them in your main baggage, in that case.” “But, you are well aware that our main baggage has already been checked-in, how can that be possible,” I argued. “In that case Sir, I’m sorry,” he casually replied and as if adding salt to my injury, he commented, for his other colleagues to giggle, “it is not that cold in the Himalayas as you presume” to my helplessness.

In another security counter nearby, I saw a CISF Officer and decided to approach him. I explained to him that by mistake we have placed these cans in our hand-baggage and these are ‘mere harmless food items’, and added that we would really need them to give us that extra boost on our proposed Himalayan trek. After quite some coxing and cajoling, somehow managed to convince the officer and thankfully he allowed us to carry the almost confiscated “banned” protein supplements. Mr Mallik, CISF officer, Airport Security, “Thank you Sir, the tuna and sausages kept us boosted and warm in the Himalayas.”

We thought what a bumpy start to our journey as we boarded the flight walking through the final security gate. In about 2 hours, our Indigo flight was hovering above the New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport. The Captain of the flight informed that there would be some delay as there is traffic in the airport and our flight kept hovering around at a low height causing the usual pain in the eardrums. Finally, after about 25 minutes of aimless hovering, the flight landed safely.

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Friends of Donkey Years

As scheduled, my friend of ‘donkey years’, Biplob was there along with his wife Urvi to receive us and soon we made our way to his South Delhi residence. Caught up with them both and chatted a lot over a cup of tea. Late afternoon, we decided to venture out and visited the Delhi Haat. We loitered around visiting the various colorful stalls of various states of India – a vivid representation of a mini-India. Our bags were already full and Mitali’s wish to go on a shopping spree had to be sadly curtailed. Finally, we visited the Nagaland Food stall and savored some delicious pork and chicken dim-sums and a dish of roasted Pork ribs with “bhoot jolokia” (world’s hottest chilly) chutney. Post our early dinner we aimlessly drove around the smooth roads of Delhi till Biplob sweetly dropped us at the Old Delhi Railway Station. Bidding bye to them and thanking them, we boarded the Ranikhet Express chugging its way to our destination Kathgodam scheduled to reach early next morning.

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Kathgodam Railway Station

Sunday, May 6 – Woke up very early at about 4.30 am excited. Dawn was slowly breaking up, as I stood alongside the door of the moving train; the fresh Himalayan wind bracing across my face was so welcoming. Holy Himalayas, here we come back yet again to bow at footsteps. The train chugged to a stop around 5.30 am at the Kathgodam Railway Station. As planned, Pandeji, the representative of our contact was there outside the station and soon the vehicle to drive us out arrived. Saw a group of 5 boys sitting in another vehicle adjacent also heading in our direction.

Boarding our Max 4x4 vehicle we soon made our way other of Kathgodam at about 6.30 am. Our destination was the Roopkund Base Camp at Lohajung, approximately 300 odd kms away. It was a long lonesome drive that would take us deep into the Himalayan interiors. Our driver Bishen Singh Bhist was an experienced mountain rider and he skillfully steered through the Himalayan High roads.

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Scenic Bhimtal

Soon the serpentine climb started as we passed by the scenic Bhimtal Lake and thereafter Bhowali. As requested by us, Bhist stopped by at Khairani where we munched the tasty Bun-Mukhan. Each time we visit this blessed land this is a never-to-be-missed item. Having had our fill we continued ahead through the Pine forested road.

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Green Tea Carpet - Serene Kausani

It was a sunny day but a gust of cool wind brushing past the rolled down windows kept us comfortable. We stopped at a road-side hotel in serene Almora and had a cup of tea and its famous sweet Bal-Mithai. Around noon we reached green Kausani carpeted by tea estates all around. We stopped by for some time and sipped a cup of herbal tea. Continuing ahead, we passed by Baijnath, famous for its ancient group of stone temple situated by the side of the Gomti river amidst the Gauda Valley. As we passed by this revered site we recalled our visit last year to this holy shrine.

Early afternoon we reached Gwaldham but the views of the Himalayan peaks were missing. Clouds and fog on the northern horizon blocked the magnificent views of the Himalayan peaks that we recall soaking ourselves from Gwaldham, the last time we were around this part of the country in December 2010. Road condition till Gwaldham was smooth except a few bumps on and off. Continuing ahead we passed by Tharali. From here on the condition of the road started crumbling gradually.

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Artwork of Terraces

The terraces alongside the mountain slopes with abundance of ripened wheat crops were a sight to behold. All around was a golden hue of stepped up cultivation with certain patches of un-ripened green crops, an absolute visual treat to our eyes. Soon, we reached Deval – the confluence point of the Neel Ganga and the Pindari River. We stopped by our vehicle owner Raju Shah’s shop situated in the main market road and discussed with him conditions of Roopkund as well as our onward journey next after the Roopkund trek where we plan to go towards Gangotri. Raju assured that during that journey his vehicle would be there to pick us up from Haridwar.

Finalizing our vehicle hire charges, we bid him bye and continued ahead. The gravel road soon disappeared and it was more or less a narrow dirt track as we approached Lohajung. Trudging along the bumpy road we finally reached Lohajung at 4.10 pm. Debu, our eternal guide of the Himalayas was there as planned to receive us and soon we checked into the Zilla Parishad Guest House. The day long road trip was tiring indeed but the very thought of walking along the unexplored trail from tomorrow onwards wished away any the fatigue that may otherwise have seeped in.

After some rest, I ventured out and visited the Patwal Lodge and was fortunate to interact with its owner Retired Subedar Major Patwal, with whom I had spoken umpteen times over the phone from Mumbai inquiring about snow conditions around Roopkund. Finally, I met him in person. A gentleman in himself, he offered me some tea and pakoras as we discussed about a freak accident that happened a couple of days earlier, when lightning strike claimed the life of an unfortunate trekker in Ali Bugiyal.

It was being said that he was trying to make a mobile call when this happened. We all come to these Himalayan interiors to be away from civilization and it is perhaps a mistake till your trek is over to try connecting with the world outside. It is more beneficial perhaps to connect ourselves to the higher self. I heard about this at Kathgodam Railway Station itself from Pandeji but I did not mention it to Mitali to cause un-necessary anxiety and worry.

A Himalayan lesson learnt – switch off your mobile when you are walking in the High Himalayas. For me of course, thanks to ‘superior’ Reliance network, the signal simply does not stay once you are a little away from civilization. I simply love it, since there would not be any office calls to attend to nor any unsolicited calls to receive as well.

Late evening we chatted with Debu and Trilok Singh Rana, the caretaker of the guest house over a couple of drinks till a hot dinner was served by Khilaf, Debu’s son, who was also there with us during our last trek to Pindari & Kafni Glacier . The Himalayan wind was blowing in full gust and we too retired to the comforts of the beds.

Monday, May 7 – It was the starting day of our trek. Excited we woke up early but as we observed this ‘waking up early’ syndrome perhaps happen naturally when-so-ever we are in the Himalayas. Our eyes would pop open by 5 am and would simply fail to remain shut. Energetic and ever smiling Anand, our cook, in his early 20s, who too hails from Debu’s village of Khati, soon offered us a hot refreshing cup of tea. Behind Anan’s smiling face however lay a tragedy that happened as recently as a week back. He lost his sister who had gone to collect fodder in the nearby forest of their village Khati, when she accidently slipped and fell into the Pindar river. As she was alone, no help came by and she unfortunately drowned in the swift currents of the Pindari. Later, Anand was narrating how they went about that night searching for her sisters with lanterns and how finally they managed to salvage her body.

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Shy Nandaghunti - up in the Horizon

Realized how much sadness Anand must be going through behind his ever smiling face. Sipping the tea I thought about Anand’s tragedy as I watched the sun pouring its first rays into the Nandaghunti peak making it dazzle like gold. After a quick freshen up (our last proper bath till the trek ends) we visited the nearby Raja Rajeshwari temple and prayed the Mother for a safe and successful trek ahead. Nearby, I also witness how a middle school classes were being conducted out in the open, which started off with a round of drill.

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Mountain Drill

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Breakfast - Out in the Open

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Contemplation

Post our breakfast of the usual Aloo Parathas, our horse ‘Hira’ too arrived with its owner Gopal, to carry our rations and tents.

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Distances

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Starting Off

Soon, we boarded a jeep to take us around 7 kms ahead till the Kulling village. Further ahead on the road lay the last village Wan, en-route the Roopkund trail. But while approaching, we decided we’ll not take the ‘Curzon Trail' which starts from Wan but instead start from Kulling and make our first halt at Didna Village. Meanwhile, Khilaf, Anand and Gopal with the horse would take a different route from Lohajung and join us at Didna. The road from Lohajung was pathetic and we swayed ourselves as per the movement of the jeep, it took us about 40 minutes to reach Kulling. All around the bumpy trail was a carpet of forest – fresh and green. Finally, we were dropped at Kulling and we could see a narrow trail going down-hill. It was 8.45 am.

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Directions - Kulling Village - the starting point of our trek

Securing our back-packs we took the first steps of our trek. There were a few cultivation patches towards our right while towards our left the thick vegetation of the forest.

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Serene Kulling

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As I waited

Slowly, we adjusted our limbs and made our way down-hill till we reached the Neel Ganga 2 kms way below in about an hour. We crossed over a huge iron bridge, below which the blue waters of the Neel Ganga flowed over many a rocks and boulders. We halted and captured a few scenic moments. From here it was a climb all the way up to Didna. We soon entered the steep trail through the forest of oak and deodars and continued ahead. The silence of forest was a sheer bliss. Occasionally, the eerie silence was broken by the some bird-call. It was steep climb ahead and we went about at our own pace.

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Bridge over the Neel Ganga

Debu was ahead while Mitali followed slowly. The sun rays penetrating through the thick foliage of the dark green forest in certain patches naturally made a light-n-shade effect. The fallen leaves of the oak trees on the ground of the trail provided a natural cushion as we trudged through. We halted often to catch our breath and also to soak in all the solitude possible. Soon to our pleasure we witnessed plentiful of rhododendron bloom in pinkish-white and blood-red.

Midway through, as we were taking a break we could see the entourage of Khilaf, Anand, and Gopal along with the horse ‘Hira’ way below over the opposite bank of the Neel Ganga trudging along in full speed. Didn’t realize that they would soon catch up on us, they continuously walk, without much rest unlike us.

Inquired with Debu what all animals abound these forests to be informed that deer, bara singha, wild pigs, bear, leopard, langurs, jackals, fox, monkeys, and a plethora of bird life flourish here. In fact, soon we heard barks emanating out from the distance at a consistent interval. “There you are Sir, it is the distress call of the barking deer, and probably a leopard is on the prowl,” Debu mentioned as we paused to gauge from which direction it was coming.

Suddenly, out of the blues there was a flutter and just 5-10 meters ahead we saw a few colorful jungle fowls disappearing amidst the thick foliage, so fast enough that I could hardly capture them in the lens. Thereafter, we continued ahead soon to hear tingling sound of horses approaching us from behind. It was the horses of another group of trekkers guided by Mohan Singh Bhist of Wan village. The trekkers were way behind as we spoke to Mohan who informed us that they too would be halting at Didna for the night and their targeted destination too being Roopkund.

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Shelter - the lodge where we stayed at Didna Village

Our crew meanwhile also reached and joining the other group they continued ahead of us. Meanwhile, gradually scaling ahead the steep inclining path we soon reached a clearing and could see a few houses ahead of us. “We have reach Didna,” uttered Debu and soon we walked by the narrow village path and checked ourselves in a wooden lodge. It was a very basic lodge with the long room on the ground floor serving as a dorm and slightly raised upper floor having two rooms. We were allotted a room on the upper floor. We noticed that our adjacent room having a common entrance was used as a store room. Besides our accommodation block was another small block which served as a kitchen as well as the retiring room for the guides & porters. A few meters away were three toilets and a small bath room, very basic but clean.

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Didna Lodge - inside out

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Sleepy Didna

Didna was a sleepy old village with terraces all around. But we notices that the village was pretty much empty only to be informed that during the winter the villagers move down to avoid the snows and around May mid-week slowly return back to resume their cultivation of potatoes, millet, wheat etc.

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Garden Fresh

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Wild & Free

Soon we were served with a simple lunch of rice, dal, papadam and pickles. As we were resting our heels after the nutritious lunch, the other trekkers arrived. There were a mixed group of 5 friends from Bangalore, Kanpur and Hyderabad, all form the IT industry. They were placed in the dorm of the ground floor. In fact they were the same guys whom we first saw at Kathgodam Railway Station.

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Serene Didna

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Old Man of the Mountains
This 93-year old gentleman narrated to us how he use to go herding his sheep up in the alpine meadows. He is still raring to go but his family members do not allow him to venture out into the high Himalayas because of his failing eyes.

Late afternoon I ventured out of our lodge and walked to the edge of the almost empty village and soaked in the silence. Mitali kept indoor engrossed reading Orhan Pamuk’s Snow. After witnessing a beautiful sunset, chatted with Debu for some time and soon it was time for dinner by 8.20 pm. The age-old adage “early to bed early to rise makes a man healthy wealthy and wise” is at best followed in these Himalayan interiors.

Undoubtedly, there are lesser diseases among these hardy mountain folks. Soon, it started pouring steadily. With the sound of the rain drops falling over the tin roof of our lodge we tucked ourselves into the bed for the last time, since from tomorrow, there would be no more beds, it would be sleeping bag all the way across till our trek ends.

Tuesday, May 8 – Woke up early to be treated by a hot glass of tea by Anand, which I sipped sitting outside and showed Mitali the glimpses of Ali Bugiyal high high into the sky over the mountains. The very look of how high we’ll have to climb made Mitali think if she would be able to make it up. I reassured her not to worry and to keep surging at a steady pace and I’m sure she would make it with some bit of effort.

Quickly freshening up we had a breakfast of hot noodles and started off at 7.05 am with Debu leading the way. The rest of the members of our crew would start later and we were sure that would catch up with us in no time.

Soon we again started following the zigzag trail path through the oak forest. We spotted many a Whistling Thrush, Monal, Blue Magpie, Bulbuls, and many other species of the avian flock which we fail to recognize. It was an awesome environment to walk though this birding paradise. The climb was however was much steeper compared to the previous day and we had to stop many a times to rest. The climb simply went up, up, and further up; no even path to our ease. We were also gaining height and hence less oxygen reaching our lungs.

As a golden rule which I follow during my treks, I always make small distance targets and keep pushing ahead, say I’ll make up in my mind I’ll take hundred steps without stopping and surge ahead. Invariably, I had to stop after 50-60 steps to catch my breath. After some deep breathing when I feel my lungs are full I again continue ahead in a similar manner. Ultimately, it is more of a mental endurance game rather than brute physical strength.

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Resting a While - our guide Debu

I was trekking along pretty much comfortably at a steady pace but I could see Mitali lagging initially. At one pit stop, as I sat with Debu chatting, I could see Mitali reaching after quite an up-hill climb to simply blurting out “this is the last trek for me,” to me as Debu looked dumbfounded. I comforted her saying that we are almost half-way through and we would soon be reaching Ali Bugiyal, “just think how beautiful a feeling it would be to watch the Himalayan peaks from Ali Bugiyal.”

Soon the rest of our crew too arrived and they too encouraged Mitali that she was pretty much trekking nicely. After the break we continued the surge. By 10.30 am we were almost above the tree-line, the dwarfed rhododendrons too were giving away and we could almost see the humped alpine meadows at a distance. Each turn through the trail we would think that this was the last one but yet the trail seems to continue ahead.

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Rhododendron Bloom

We plucked some rhododendron flowers which we contemplated to offer in the stone shrine of the Mother at Bedni Bugiyal.

By now the other group of trekkers too reached and we trekked ahead together till we reached the very edge of the mesmerizing Ali Bugiyal. Wow what a sight, miles-upon of undulated alpine meadows. Our climb however did not end, we had to climb another half a kilometer further to reach the high point of the Ali Bugiyal from where it was an almost straight path going towards Bedni Bugiyal – our destination for the day. Debu and Anand had already reached there and were signaling us to push ahead.

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Leaving the Treeline behind as we approached Ali Bugiyal

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Simply Awesome

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Over the Mesmerizing Meadows

Finally, in another 15-20 minutes we were at the high point of the Ali Bugiyal from where the trail more or less evens out. We were speechless to witness the out of the world beauty. As far as our eyes could see it was a green carpet all around, without a single tree. We clicked; I do not recall how may pictures to capture its beauty in our cameras as well treasuring it deep within our inner mind. We recollected our trek from Munsiyari to Khalia Top, couple of years back, where too we were amazed by the beauty of the alpine meadows but the Khalia meadows were much smaller in size compared to these magnificent gigantic meadows in front of us.

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Snow-Clad Peak Awaits Us

It was a sunny day but some passing clouds were blocking the views of the lines of peaks - Nandaghunti, Trishul, on the north and towards the north-west Chaukhamba, Hati Parvat, etc. these lofty peaks were partially visible not in absolute crystal clear visibility though, because of the clouds. Despite this we were completely bowled over by the beauty of Ali Bugiyal. The tiredness that we had felt till some moments ago while climbing continuously up-hill for the last almost 4 hours simply vanished and there was a constant smile on Mitali’s face.

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Soaking A While

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Miles-Upon-Miles

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Lonesome Meadows - connecting to your higher self

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Awesome Ali Bugiyal

After soaking in all the scenic attributes for about an hour we moved ahead towards Bedni Bugiyal. Walking through the carpet of green meadows was an awesome feeling as we followed the marked trail slowly. We had to again trek a bit up-hill through the awesome meadows till finally we could see way below our red tent pitched in the midst of the Bedni Bugiyal. We still had to go down-hill for about 500 meters till we reach our camp site. A little ahead of our camp site was the Bedni Kund, with no water however, it seem to have dried up. We were told that after the monsoon this kund becomes full to the brim. Adjacent to it was the cute stone temple, laid out by slates, which we saw as we glided down-hill through the meadows.

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Carpet of Grass

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The Trek Continues...

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Our Campsite of Bedni Comes to View

Finally, we reached our camp after a total 7 hours of trekking. Our limbs were tired and we opened our shoes for the needed relieve. But the chill factor was there, it was gradually getting cloudy as we placed our bags inside our tent and got inside our feather-lined sleeping bags to get the desired warmth. Soon Anand offer us some hot tomato soup as icy winds blew across our tent. We could feel and hear the velocity of the wind by the vibration it was causing to the outer cover of our secured tent.

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Our Tent Simply Stood Out

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Snowflakes outside our tent

Soon, lunch followed consisting of the usual rice, dal. But for a change to our taste buds, I helped Khilaf fry some Tuna flakes with onion and chilies. After that sumptuous lunch we zipped our tent and dozed off for some time inside our sleeping bags. Late afternoon, it started snowing, we simply were overjoyed to touch and feel the soft snow flakes that seem to be melting in our hands. After sometime the weather somewhat cleared as I went our exploring nearby.

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Stone Shrine of Bedni in the eveing light

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Awesome Settings

Met another trekker form Kolkata, who informed that they too had planned to go to Roopkund but had to abandon the plan since one of their team member developed signs of AMS (Altitude Mountain Sickness). They left him behind at Wan and would be back after exploring till Ghora Lotani the next day. Really thanked the Lord that till now in any of our Himalayan treks, either of us have not developed AMS. But as a precaution I do carry Diamox tablets just in case it is needed. Since up in these mountains, you are your own friend, philosopher and guide in the literal sense. But till now in any of our treks the need to use them did not arise.

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Kitchen Mess - the stove gave our Khilaf & team a tough time as they set repairing it inside the hut, however dinner was served on time

As dusk set in I entered next door the hut which served as our kitchen as well as living quarters of our guide and porters and chatted with them all, till an early dinner was ready to be served hot consisting of palak paneer, began aloo and chapatti. Outside the Himalayan winds were howling along and soon we tucked ourselves inside our tent. In the middle of the night, it started pouring and snowing again, leading to further drop of temperature. It was bone-chilling cold that night as we curled up tight inside our sleeping bags.

Wednesday, May 9 – Woke up early at 5.30 am. Opening the zipper of our tent I was greeted to the dazzling peak of the Nandaghunti basking in the first rays of the warm sun. The weather had cleared and it was a spotless blue sky with some clouds however in the north-western horizon but still could view the Chaukhamba peak clearly.

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Morning Dawns

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Our Scenic Campsite

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Nature's Call - our blue toilet tent simply stood out amidst the greens

After a quick freshen up, thanks that we did not had to take the nature’s call out in the open. In fact, I had specifically asked Debu to carry a toilet tent, which gave us the needed privacy. Thereafter, we visited the nearby stone shrine of Bedni and prayed for a safe trek ahead, since, from today onwards, we mainly have to do major snow trekking all the way ahead. With loads of anticipation we had a quick breakfast of Gobi Paratha and started off around 8 am – our destination of the day Pathar Nachuni. Though a distance of 6 kms, it was going to be a tough way up-hill amidst all snow.

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Team Work - Hira & Gopal - getting ready to move

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Holy Shrine - the stone shrine of Bedni where we bowed our heads for a successful and safe trek

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Oh so Beautiful

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Holy Communion

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Breakfast - out in the Open

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Pack Up - both Khilaf and Anand wraps up as we get ready to move out

The other trekker group with whom I had interacted the previous day too joined us and we started trekking up-hill through the meadows to reach the trail path – a climb of over 500 meters. Slowly and gradually we reached the trail. We were fully padded in our layers yet we could feel the icy wind brushing across our bare faces.

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Dried Out - the Bedni Kund can be seen in a dried out state, we were told that after monsoon this lake it full to its brim

From here, the trail path is laden with snow and we had to carefully step ahead. It was slippery at times and the trail path at certain section was not visible at all. We had to make our way across carefully, one step at a time, balancing our way with our walking sticks. The snow was soft and our whole legs would go inside as we took each step. One section it was a straight slide down and if we miss a step or slip we were sure to slide down over 500 meter down-hill. Carefully, one by one we crossed that treacherous patch to finally lay our feet on some firm ground.

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Snowland Ahead - the trail can be clearly seen as we started our trek from Bedni

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Free as a Bird

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Watch Your Step

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Resting a While

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The Way Ahead

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Looking Back, Going Forward

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On your Edge - a slip here would be fatal as you would slide down over thousands of feet

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A Slip here, a Miss there

As we took the last bend, approaching Ghora Lotani, we were simply bowled out of the views. The entire Trishul peak along with lines of other Himalayan peaks including the Nandaghunti, and the Tent peak, were all as if in hand reach distance. We sat besides the stone shrine of Ghora Lotani and simply soaked in all the views possible. It was an awesome experience. We shared some chocolates and biscuits along with the other group and the sweet trekker conveyed his best wishes to us for a successful trek ahead as we bid farewell to them since they would depart back and camp towards Ali Bugiyal.

After about 30 minutes of this Himalayan gazing, we moved along. The meadows were slowly giving way to rock and ice. We continued following the trail path. Meanwhile the rest of our group member along with our horse “Hira” overtook us and they continued ahead. Trekking across a few more snow patches we could finally at one turn of the trail see the camp site of Pathar Nachuni. The red tent and and the other blue tent of our crew was already pitched and as we reached Khilaf offered us some hot chicken soup.

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Steps on the Snow

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Pathar Nachuni - camp site so beautiful

We simply sipped the soup and were amazed at our scenic camp site, the prettiest one till date undoubtedly. All around was snow-capped mountains, and, towards the east was a deep valley of a green meadow.

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Killer Views - from within our tent

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Fiber Huts at Pathar Nachuni

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Speechless

Soon lunch of some tasty khidiri followed which we had it inside our tent. The other group of 5 trekkers whom we had met at Didna earlier was camped in one of the two green fiber huts of Pathar Nachuni. We rested till late afternoon as the weather meanwhile too turned gloomy. I strolled outside.

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Just Awesome

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How high is High

All around were snow peaks and the Tent peak stood out majestically amidst the passing clouds. Soon I could see some dark grey clouds building up and soon started snowing. We stayed inside our tents as Anand provided us some hot pakoras and tea. Munching along we simply stated indoor. The icy wind was speeding up as dusk set in. We thought it was yet another passing cloud but it failed to relent.

The mild snowfall soon turned into an out-right blizzard. The heavens were rumbling aloud and 'by God' we started feeling scared. The snow stated falling in sheets and the wind too becoming stronger by the minute. We worried that the gusty Himalayan wind might blow our tent away. The outer covering of our tent was shaking violently. It was dark as we huddled inside our tent praying to the Gods for the Himalayan hurricane to calm down.

Suddenly, we could hear a thud and realized the outer covering of the crew tent blew away. Soon, Debu hurriedly came by to our tent and said we have to be evacuated immediately and moved to the fiber hut. As I pulled down the zipper, we could feel the intensity of howling Himalayan wind. In an instant, we packed our stuff and moved across to the fiber hut some 100 meters away. Anand and Khilaf helped us carry our back packs and soon we were placed inside the warmth of the fiber hut. The fellow trekkers too were worried for us that our tent might be swept across.

Around 8.30 pm, in the midst of the storm Khilaf, sweetly brought in our dinner (hats off to their professionalism, they perhaps deserve a far better fee than we trekkers usually offer) and gulping it fast, we tucked ourselves inside the sleeping bags as the howling blizzard continued outside accompanied by thunders and lightning.

Thursday, May 10 – The effect of the previous day’s Himalayan blizzard was visible for us all to see as we peeked outside the fiber hut early in the morning at 4.30 am. Dawn was slowly breaking up and it was a white mantle all around. The weather was cloudy and gloomy but fortunately there were no rain, snow or wind. Moved to the next Fiber hut where Debu and the other guide Mohan Singh was to inquire about our next plan. We all realized that there would be heaps of snow ahead in the path as our target was to at least reach Kallu Vinayak, the destination next.

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White Out

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No Words to Say

Two other trekkers joined in and we all debated the pros and cons of the trek ahead. The previous night snow has made matter worse since it would be a dangerous way up cutting our way over knee deep snow, through a height gain of over 1000-1500 meters. Some were of the opinion that we abandon and return back but a few other including Debu suggested that we wait for a couple of hours to see how the weather fairs, if it clears a bit we’ll go ahead but in case the weather worsens, we would not have much option, since it would be too dangerous to move ahead.

Sipping many rounds of hot tea we waited and watch the situation also we could clearly see our day’s route ahead – a zigzag white trail going steeply up-hill. Around 7 am, as the weather remained calm and perhaps the Gods relented to our prayers. Suddenly there were activities all around. It was decided that we quickly give it a try to scale towards Kallu Vinayak. Gearing up fast after a breakfast of Sujee we were soon up the trail at 7.30 am. The initial patch had some few inches of snow but as we started following the trail we soon realized that it would be a total snowy affair all the way up 4 kms. It was tiring since as we have gained substantial height gain, the oxygen level too was low. We had to halt at every 20-30 steps. It was a sheer test of endurance, pushing to its limits.

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Path-full of Snow

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Entering the Snowscape

Debu with his expertise and 26-years old hands on experience, lead the way and we all realized how important is the role of a good guide. He quickly and swiftly was cutting the steps through the 2/3 feet deep snow with his Ice-Axe making way for us to follow one step at a time. The snow was soft but certain section it was hard and slippery. Debu informed us that the soft snow is never dangerous but it is the hard snow where the danger lay, since it would be slippery and if you happen to slip it will be fatal. Also there are the chances of an unexpected avalanche.

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Ice-Axe - Debu uses it with awesome ease - cuts his way across the snow

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Vantage Point - both Debu and me sat at a vantage point waiting for the others to scale through

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Surging On...

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Endurance - testing of your mental strength

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Catch Your Breath - at a height of over 15500 feet, oxygen supply to your lungs is LOW

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Pushing your Limits

Another thing we realized how important a good pair of the shoes is for this sort of trek and I was happy at our decision to buy the Forclaz Quecha 500 shoes. As I had read its review it kept our feet very warm and dry despite the continuous walk amidst all snow.

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Life in the Himalayas - a rare sighting of a endangered Tragopan

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Introspect - Anand perhaps was thinking of his sister he lost just a few weeks back

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The Final Steps

Finally, after an arduous exhaustive climb of over 2 hours we reached the shrine of Kallu Vinayak. The last step as one takes and reaches the ridge of Kallu Vinakay; it is a speechless sight beyond. Despite there being clouds, it was a sight seen to be believed. We bowed our heads in the holy shrine of Kallu Vinayak, offering a coconut carried by Debu and some chocolates. We prayed for the safe passage by lighting some incense sticks.

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Kallu Vinayak Shrine - paying our obeisance & thanking the Lord

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Absolute White-out

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In All Smiles - after a hard and enduring climb

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Finally, a dream come true

We were totally spellbound by the vistas in front of us. The clouds were covering the peak of Trishul and Nandaghunti but below we could see the fiber huts amidst the bowl of Bhugwabasa and further ahead the snaking trail going through the ridge of Roopkund and Junnargali beyond can be clearly seen. We sat in top of the ridge of Kallu Vinayak, by walking across a snow patch and simply gazed in silence. We prayed for the clouds to move away to be able to view even better the Trishul and Nandaghunti. Our prayers were partially answered as the clouds gave way and we could see the bowl of Roopkund, the point from where one can see the mystic Roopkund Lake.

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So Near Yet So Far - Roopkund Crater - the Roopkund lake lay within it

I asked Debu “can we venture ahead towards Bhugwabasa and further towards Roopkund,” knowing well that the answer would be negative since we could all see for ourselves that there were no trail path visible towards Bhugwabasa, it was all covered in 10-15 feet of snow. No way could we have moved further. Our desire to see this elusive lake remained un-fulfilled, it was indeed a case of so near yet so far - a mere short distance of 4-5 kms that eluded our final destination – the mystical Roopkund lake.

“No Sir, this is the wish of the Mother, perhaps she’ll call you both back again, the Big Jath is there in 2013, probably she wants you to go beyond Roopkund to Homkund, where the main “hom”(sacrificial fire) would be held’” Debu mentioned to our dejected faces.

Meanwhile, the other group of 5 trekkers stated making their way back as we continued sitting at the ridge and absorbing as much as possible. It was by now 11.30 am and Anand soon pulled out the hot-case and offered us some puris, which was still hot as we munched with some pickles. After spending about an hour, we could see dark clouds circling around and we decided to trek back to Pathar Nachuni before further snowfall happens.

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Himalayan Gossip

Slowly we started trudging down-hill through the snow. By now the snow was melting a bit and it was getting a bit slippery. On one occasion I nearly slipped through a precipitous drop but thanks to my walking stick I could halt my slide somehow. Thereafter, we again carefully continued descending. It was though a wonderful experience walking through the heaps of snow. Mitali was thoroughly enjoying the snow walk. We halted midway for some time before continuing ahead. By 1 pm we reached back our camp site at Pathar Nachuni.

Khilaf was ready with some chicken soup and soon lunch followed. The sun was meanwhile out for sometime as we dried our somewhat wet attire and basked in its warmth. The other group of trekkers meanwhile decided to move further down till Bedni and soon they moved out.

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Back to our Green Fiber Hut

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Landscape so Scenic

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Lady-o-Lady

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Mesmerizing

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Fully Padded - with the icy wind blowing across I climbed up a ledge and watched a heavenly Himalayan sunset

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Sunset - high in the Himalayas

Thankfully we had the whole fiber hut to ourselves as we rested. Late afternoon, I ventured out and sat on a rocky ledge some hundred meters away from our camp site and watched a heavenly sun-set. As dusk set in we celebrated our partial success by toasting some rum amidst the icy Himalayan wind gain starting to gain speed. Thankfully, it neither rained nor snowed. Having our dinner of roti and ready to eat butter chicken we called it a night.

Friday, May 11 – It was bright morning as we pulled ourselves from the sleeping bags. The sun was out and the weather was very clear. We took it a bit easy today since from now on it was all the way a down-hill trek. The snow peaks were all shining in glory particularly the Tent peak. Having our breakfast of stuffed Aloo paratha basking in the morning sun, we started off at 8.30 am. It was a wonderful walk through the green meadows in the backdrop of a deep blue sky. Patches of clouds were there towards the northern horizon but it was it was in no way blocking the magnificent views.

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Tent peak in the Morning Light

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Soaking in all the Possible Solitude

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Breakfast - Under the Warm Morning Sun

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The Trail back to Bedni

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Team Spirit

On the way near Hunia Thal we met Debu’s old acquaintance Kunwar Singh of Wan, whose horses usually Debu hires during his treks to Roopkund. We noticed that this time around also, similar to our last trek towards Pindari & Kafni, hoards to young villages camping amidst the meadows.

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Catching Up - Debu and Kunwar Singh's friendship goes back many year

Every year once the snow melts, they make a beeline line to the alpine meadows – in their quest to gather the valued “khida ghas”, a supposedly aphrodisiac used in oriental Chinese medicine. It is basically an insect sort of organism resembling a needle like grass stem considered of very high value. These villagers scour the meadows day-in-day-out and gather as many of them as possible, which we were informed were sold at big time prices. They consider it a gift of the Himalayas to them.

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Prized Item - khida ghas

Sweet Khilaf, in fact, the previous day, devoted over two hours searching for this elusive “khida ghas” and presented me one of the highly prized item. We continued ahead at a leisurely pace and stopped by Ghora Lotani to be rewarded with some awesome views of the peaks, which while coming we could not view clearly because of the clouds. But today they were all standing tall, the Trishul, Nandaghunti, Tharkot, Tent and line of other Himalayan peaks. Mitali captured some panoramic shots of these amazing visuals with the help of the tripod.

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Identifying the Peaks

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Walking Stick - trekker's best Assistant

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Just Beautiful

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Walking through Awesome Views

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The Walk is on...

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Shy Nandaghunti - within hand reach

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Up Close & Personal - the majestic Trishul peak

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Awesome Bugiyals

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Another Close Shot of Trishul

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Debu at Ghora Lotani

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Scenic Ghora Lotani

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Are we ready?

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Mindblowing

After soaking in for over half an hour we continued ahead, soon to enter the awesome meadows of Bedni. We continued down-hill till we reached the forest beat office quarters of Bedni located near our camp site where we had stayed while coming. We cooled our heels and relished a cup of hot black coffee.

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Trekking for Livelihood - we came across this group of locals heading beyond Roopkund in search of the prized Khida Ghas

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Halting a While amidst scenic landscapes

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The Trail Path Behind

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Take Your Time

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Bedni Kund Comes to View

Thankfully, mobile phones still did not worked but we did tried calling form the WLL phone at Bedni to inform everyone back home that we were safe but failed to get the line. Thereafter, we started moving ahead and soon passed by the Fiber Huts of Bedni. Noticed a new group of trekkers camped out there who were enthused to inquire from us the snow conditions beyond Pathar Nachuni. After a short conversation we continued ahead.

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Up or Down - our trek continues

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Load of a Firewood

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Wild Horses Grazing Along

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Campsite of Ghairoli Patal

We took a different route while going back instead of going back via Ali Bugiyal. Soon, we touched the tree line. We had to go down-hill through the Birch forest into a deep green valley. The walk was lovely as we encountered many a rhododendron bloom. It was a quite walk through the lush forest trail. After about half an hour we saw a flat opening in the midst of forest, wherein lay two cute Fiber huts. Yes, we have reached the destination of the day – Ghairoli Patal. As we were approaching the last few meters it stated pouring. Its intensity increased as we placed ourselves inside the Fiber Huts. Soon, it turned into a big hail fall. In no time the entire green carpet of the forest clearing wherein our camp was located turned white with the falling hails continuing.

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Shepherd and his Lambs

It finally subsided and the weather thereafter cleared. We felt this camp site truly was yet another pretty one. Its serenity was felt by us. Surrounded by huge deodars, pine, oak and birch trees it also was birding paradise. Colourful birds abound its vicinity and we were treated to a cacophony of bird calls. We spotted many a woodpeckers, Himalayan bulbuls, and countless other species of birds which we failed to recognize.

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Campfire - igniting our body & souls

Khilaf and Anand meanwhile went into the forest and brought along lots of fire wood. Seeing the pile of woods we realized our camp fire would be huge tonight. Meanwhile, a huge flock of sheep passed by making the setting even more scenic. Soon our lunch too was ready and
we all had it in the other fiber hut which served as our kitchen, dining hall cum living quarters of our crew. We rest till late afternoon and soon Debu lighted our camp fire. We all joined in and it went on till late into the night as we heard from Debu his numerous trekking tales all across the Himalayas.

Saturday, May 12 – We woke up early as usual but we did have to hurry today since it was the last day of our trek. Yet by 8.30 am we were all set to move out post our breakfast of noodles. The Trishul looked just amazing in the morning light. We bid bye to the scenic camp site and started off going down-hill through the forest. It was a quite walk through the silent forest. A stopped a couple of times to enjoy the serenity of the forest for the one last time. After trekking for over an hour and half we reach the Neel Ganga. We filled our water bottles with the crystal clear azure waters of the Neel Ganga and drank it to glory. Crossing over the Neel Ganga, we had to climb again.

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Trishul dazzles in the morning light

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Pretty Campsite of Ghairoli Patal

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All set to Move Out - the last day of our trek

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Forest Walk - as we moved out from Ghairoli patal

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Walk a Mile - Soak a While

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Quietly Flows the Neel Ganga

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Free Flight

The trail was not that steep compared to the Didna trail earlier and we comfortably scaled ahead. By now our legs too were totally tuned up and soon we reached the top point of Rann Ki Dhur. We interacted with some local ladies who were basking in the sun. Thereafter, we continued ahead another 2 kms till we could see the cute sleepy village of Wan – the last village that one can reach while approaching Roopkund from this side. We walked through huge deodars and soon up ahead we saw the GMVN Tourist rest house of Wan.

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Back to Civilization

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Approaching Wan

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Lush Cultivation near Wan

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Reached Wan

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Tourist Guest House - Wan

We rested in the lawn as Debu got connected to arrange the vehicle to drop us back at Lohajung. There were a huge group of foreign students who too were out on a trek. We interacted with them for some time, as they enquired about the snow conditions. Thereafter, we visited the revered ancient Ladu Devta Mandir. Thanking him for a safe trek we sought his blessing for our journey ahead.

Subsequently, we spend some time inside the premises of the Wan GMVN Tourist rest House till Debu informed us that the vehicle would soon reach and we had to walk down to the Wan village square from where the road-head starts. After a wait of over an hour our Max vehicle finally arrived and soon we started off our way back towards civilization.

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Road to Civilization

In about 45 minutes after driving through the broken dirt track, passing by Kulling Village, the starting point of our trek, we reached Lohajung. We could almost feel warm here literally; after all, we have come down over 7000 feet from the over 15000 feet that we had climbed over till Kallu Vinayak. Lohajung stood at approx 8300 feet.

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That's Lohajung

Trilok Singh Rana welcomed us back, as we checked in the guest house and had a bath after 6 long days. Despite the fact that we did not have proper bath for the last six days, we did not feel any dirty since up in the pristine Himalayas there is no pollution unlike our dirty cities. We decided to celebrate that night with a grand dinner.

Asked Debu to inquire and get some chicken. He returned after some time and informed that there were no broiler chicken available currently at Lohajung and a local chicken would cost a bomb - Rs 500-Rs 600 a piece, which he’ll have to get it from someone’s home. We wondered the ones who’ll be selling the chicken were they also counting the eggs that the chicken would lay in future considering the price quoted. Finally, Debu managed to get 2 chickens for Rs 800 and Khilaf cooked it in typical Kumaoni style – hot and spicy. Slumber eluded me that night since my body perhaps was getting used to the sleeping bag rather than the ‘comfortable bed’.

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Moving on, with promises to be back again

With mixed thoughts of achievement yet delusion, we started off the subsequent morning for next leg of our journey towards Gangotri, promising ourselves however to be back yet again to see for ourselves the elusive Roopkund lake that eluded us this time around.

Posted by sabyasachi 08:21 Archived in India Tagged trek_ roopkund roopkund_lake_trek lohajung ali_bugiyal bedni_bugiyal pathar_nachuni didna_village ghora_lotani trishul_peak nandaghunti_peak ghairoli_patal bhugawabasa junargali_roopkund homkund_roopkund skeletal_lake_roopkund skeletons_of_roopkund roopkund_trek kalu_vinayak_roopkund roopkund_nanda_jath_2013 Comments (10)

A Trek to Pindari Glacier & Kafni Glacier - Part I

Sacred Rivers, Serene Mountains & Sheer Bliss - Trekking in Absolute Solitude through Mountain Forests & Snow-clad Himalayas

overcast 12 °C

Imagine a tranquil paradise - serene, grandeur and breathtakingly scenic. Soaring snow-clad peaks playing hide-and-seek with each passing clouds, gushing streams, cascading waterfalls, colorful butterflies, chirping birds, green meadows, turquoise-blue waters of the sacred Pindari & Kafni rivers were all part of my imagination. It was as if I could smell in the aromas and soak in the captivating views, as I was researching this trek.

True to my imagination, I can now recall with satisfaction, the amount of enquiry, browsing, interaction and contemplation, were worth all its effort, as we prepared ourselves for this unique approximately 90 km, 8 days long (June 5 till June 12th, 2011), Pindari & Kafni Glacier wilderness trek - to witness Mother Nature's exquisite artworks, painted out beautifully in the broad canvas of the Holy Himalayas.

Our guide-cum-porter, 42-years-old Devendra Singh, better known as Debu, was an avid trekker himself, having a rich trekking experience of 26 years. With Debu's in-depth knowledge of various trek & trails all around the Kumaon and Garhwal Himalayas, with an ever-lively spirit, we felt totally secured in his company. His sleepy village Khati - the last habitation en-route - is about 50 kms from the temple town of Bageswar, situated in the enchanting Kumaon Himalayas of the beautiful Indian state of Uttaranchal.

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A Long Way Up
Picture of the Pindari, Kafni Trekking Route Map

Day 1 & Day 2

Distance Travelled : 1750 kms
Route: Mumbai-New Delhi-Lal Kuan

Winding up a hectic day at work, both Mitali and myself, boarded the Special Rajdhani Express that fateful Friday evening from Mumbai Central Station. Chugging though the night and the entire next day, we reached the New Delhi Railway Station at 6.10 pm. Our connecting train to Kathgodam - the last railhead of Uttaranchal - was at 10.40 pm from the Old Delhi Railway Station.

We got out of the station and made our way to Old Delhi Railway Station. Finally we reached the station at 8 pm. But our worries were yet to be over. The status of our 1st Class AC tickets in the Ranikhet Express was still showing Waiting List 1 & 2.

We just hoped that it would get confirmed. On checking the status again at the enquiry counter, discovered that one of our tickets got confirmed while the other one was still in Waiting List 1. The final ticket chart had been prepared and our only hope was to convince the Railway Ticket Checker. After some anxious moments, the Ticket Checker obliged to our relief that we both would be accommodated.

Day 3

Distance Travelled by Vehicle: 250 kms
Route: Lal Kuan-Kathgodam-Bhimtal-Bhowali-Almora-Bagesawar-Barari-Loherkhet-Chaurasta-Rethi-Karmi-Dhur-Kurkia-DauVillage

Distance Trekked : 3 kms
Trek Route: Kurkia-Dau Village

Chugging through the night in the luxurious 1st Class AC coup, we reached Lal Kuan at 5.10 am - the penultimate station before Kathgodam. As we were making our way outside the station, we were greeted by a person inquiring where we were heading. Answered him that we were on our way to Bageswar and we plan to take a share taxi. To our utter delight he informed that he is taking some people in his Trevera vehicle beyond Bageswar and has 2 unoccupied seats.

He agreed to drop us at Bageswar. We thought it was an auspicious beginning to start with and by noon we would be at Bageswar. Soon, we passed by the plains of Haldwani and Kathgodam. We had a quick bite en-route at Kainchi and made our way uphill via Bhimtal, Bhowali and finally Almora. The winding road as we soared up was very welcoming as we could feel the fresh mountain breeze across our faces.

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Mountain Roads - Here we come again

As decided upon earlier, we boarded down at Siddharth Hotel in Bageswar at 12.10 pm to be greeted by smiling Debu. He had kept a room ready for us to freshen up as I discussed the finer trek details and handed over 50% advance of our agreed amount, enabling him purchases the necessary rations for our 8 days trek.

Debu informed us that we would be able to by-pass the traditional trek route to Dhakuri-Khati via Loherkhet, saving us 1 day since we could drive directly till Kurkia, which is 4 kms before the Khati village, from where the trek would start. Additionally, it would also save us from trekking 11 kms uphill till Dhakuri via Dhakuri Top and 8 kms downhill till Khati.

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Serpentine Path
We moved ahead through the serpentine dirt road

By 1 pm we were all set to move out. We boarded a Max Jeep that Debu had hired and made our way to Kurkia, the last road head. We reached Barari at 3 pm, the last small town en-route, where we had a quick lunch of rice and chicken.

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Pathetic Driveway

From Barari onwards, the road condition was sheer pathetic. The single track winding gravel road was full of mud and slush and we had to get down and give our jeep a push on 4 occasions as it got stuck badly.

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Men, Machine and Slush

Monsoon was yet to set in but the pre-monsoon showers have already done enough damage. Later, we were informed that we were the last to make it to Kurkia. After that day jeeps stopped plying on this route as the weather turned worse.

We passed by the hamlets of Loherkhet, Chaurasta, Rethi, Karmi and Dhur. Finally, by 5.20 pm we reached Kurkia.

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The 1st Snow View
The 1st snow-clad mountains appears ahead of us neutralizing all pains of the long journey till then

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Nature Nurtures
A lone innocent child in the back drop of mesmerizing views

At Kurkia, we were warmly greeted by Khilaf, Debu's 21-years-old son and out trek soon started after a hot cup of tea. Our destination was Khati village - a trek of 4 kms. But Debu suggested that instead of staying the night at Khati, we stay at Dau village, 1 km before Khati, from where we would get an amazing view of the Maiktoli peak.

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The Trek Commences...
From Kurkia our trek to Pindari & Kafni commenced, seen in the picture is Khilaf guiding me through

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Walking Along
Mitali trekking along Khilaf as we made our way to Dau Village

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Looking Back, Going Forward

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Smoke in the Mountains
Smoke seen rising through the layers upon layers of terraced fields

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Stone Path, Lone path
In the fading light of dusk we walked through the lone stone path with mesmerizing views in the horizon

We followed a narrow trail and trekked for 3 kms through lush vegetation to reach the sleepy village of Dau. We were thrilled to see clear views of the Maiktoli along with the other snow-clad Himalayas. We checked ourselves in the lone village guest house dead tired. A hot bath soothed us both.

Thereafter, we chatted with Lakshman Singh, the owner-cum-cook of the guest house as he prepared a delicious dinner of chhapati, vegetable curry and scrambled eggs over his open fire-place kitchen. Stomach satisfied we called it a night.

Day 4

Distance Trekked : 12 kms
Trek Route: Dau Village-Khati Village- Malla Dhaur-Dwali

At 5 am Lakshman knocked at our door greeting us with some hot tea. He informed that the view of Maiktoli peak would be a treat to watch at sunrise. Indeed it was sight to behold. Sipping the cup of tea I walked down the open staircase as the first rays of the sun was hitting the snow-clad peak of Maiktoli. It was creating a dazzling effect. I just stood there amazed.

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Maiktoli Peak dazzles as the 1st sun-rays strike

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Khati Village gets lighted up

On the right was the cute Khati village, at a height of 7250 feet, as if hanging delicately above terraced fields of potato and wheat plantations. By 7.30 am Debu arrived and invited us to his home for breakfast. It was a gesture quite unseen and unheard of in our parts of the "busy city life".

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Khati - the last Village enroute

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Civilization amidst Cultivation

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Walking through the last Village

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With Debu's happy family

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Beauty by the Window

How generous and big-hearty these mountain people are, was all we could ponder and trekked a little over 1 kms to his home at Khati village. We were greeted by his wife, his 2 daughter-in-laws and son Khilaf. In fact, Khilaf helped his mom cook us a nice breakfast of puri, scrambled eggs fried with onion accompanied by home-made ghee, pickles along with some ‘not so palatable’ butter milk.

After that sumptuous homely breakfast, we thanked Debu's wife and started our trek at 9 am. Khilaf accompanied us carrying our rucksack and informed us that Debu would join us later ahead. Our target for the day was to reach Dwali - 11 kms away. Khilaf guided us through their village short-cut and initially we followed a very narrow half-a-feet cemented path winding through potato cultivation. The misty cloud cover made our trek comfortable.

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Leaving Khati our Trek Started

Initially, we trekked downhill till we reached the Pindari river roaring aside. Khilaf informed that we would follow the river all the way through the trek till the Pindari Glacier. The route laid with loads of rocks, was slippery and we had to be carefully at each step.

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1st view of the majestic Pindari River

Thereon, it was a steep uphill climb as we slowly made our way ahead. We walked past the lush forest path mostly uphill, sometime downhill and occasionally even. To our left was the Pindari river gushing downstream with its bluish waters. All around us was a thick wooded forest of pine, oak and maple trees. The steep climb uphill at times was taxing and we had to wait countless times to catch our breath.

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Steep Climb Uphill

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Lush Ferns

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Abandoned Tea house

Slowly and gradually we moved ahead soaking in the varied sights unfolding, both in our minds as well in the camera. Meanwhile, Debu overtook us and kept pushing ahead with our fully loaded ration rucksack pretty comfortably. After about an hour into the trek we reached a clearing and could see Debu resting outside a cute shepherd hut. We too rested there for some time. A slight drizzle started but thankfully it did not turn into a downpour.

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Resting A While

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Aqua Pure
Countless streams of spring water gushes by

The silence of the forest was occasionally broken by some bird calls. The only constant sound accompanying us was the raging waters of the Pindari river.

We continued to trot ahead and were surprised not to see any other fellow trekkers. Suddenly, we heard some voices coming down. It was of an Australian couple who was coming back from Dwali. We greeted and spoke a couple of minutes. They informed us that they could not make it to Kafni Glacier despite trying 2 days, as it was raining - "cloudy, no views buddy" was all they said. This made us apprehensive whether we would be able to view both the glaciers.

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Wooden Bridge at Malla Dhaur

By 11.30 am, we approached another clearing ahead, it was Malla Dhaur. We have trekked 6 kms uphill till now. Malla Dhaur, situated at a scenic setting besides the Pindari river had a few shepherd huts and a lone tea house. We rested for half-an-hour in the tea house and had some tea and hot maggie noodles.

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A Load of Bamboo
At Malla Dhaur a lady carries a load of thin wild bamboos, which is stocked and dried to be weaved into fine bamboo sheets

We also met two other trekker at the tea house. Both were doctors from Delhi and were on their way back. They informed that though it was cloudy the last couple of day, and the climb to Pindari quite tough, but it was a well-deserved effort. They were lucky to get clear views at Pindari Zero Point. It was in their words, "out of the world".

After some amusing chit-chat with them both they bid us adieu. We too, after resting our heels started off our next leg. Mitali was experiencing a slight pain in her right knee but was otherwise fine. We crossed a wooden bridge at Malla Dhaur and thereon the Pindari river that was to our left, moved to our right side.

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Lofty Waterfall

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Water of Life
Just could not resist to drink pure mineral water straight form the source

The whitish-bluish water of the fast flowing Pindari was a treat to our eyes. We continued the steep climb through the forest path frequently resting, chatting or simply soaking in the views silently. After another hour-an-half or so we were out of the forest and could see huge barren mountains to our left side.

We followed the narrow trail through a ridge and soon we could see some habitation ahead of us. Khilaf informed that it was Dwali – the confluence the Pindari and Kafni river, situated at a height of 8650 feet.

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Habitation Ahead
We could see the PWD & KMVN Trekkers huts of Dwali up ahead

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Thats Dwali

We were getting a bit exhausted but seeing the PWD Guest House and the KMVN Trekker Hut ahead gave us renewed energy to surge the final half-a-kilometer. We crossed a wooden bridge and below we could see the holy confluence of of the bluish Pindari and the turquoise Kafni waters coming in from two different directions.

A few meters ahead we crossed another bridge over the Pindari river and took the steep short-cut uphill to the KMVN Trekkers hut. It was 3.30 pm. Our legs were tired. It was cold at Dwali and the weather soon turned gloomy and started pouring heavily. We rested till late afternoon and chatted with Debu in the evening over some rum. Dinner consisted of some rice, dal and vegetable curry. Alongside, I stir-fried some tuna flakes with chopped onion, tomatoes and chilies making the dinner delicious.

Day 5

Distance Trekked : 5 kms
Trek Route: Dwali-Phurkiya

We took it little easy today. Khilaf woke us up at 6.30 am with some hot tea. It was cold yet sunny. Freshening up we sat outside in the warm sun and had our breakfast of tasty stuffed potatoes' parathas and pickles. The landscape around Dwali was utterly scenic as we gazed at Pindari and Kafni river meandering through.

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Out in the Sun

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Warming up

Our destination for the day was Phurkiya - 5 kms ahead. Assuming the short distance we were under the impression that we would be able to wrap this distance on the fly. How wrong we were. We started off at 9 am dumping a few more attire at the store room of the Dwali Trekkers Hut.

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The Walk Begins

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Massive Trunk on the Trail Path

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Rest a while

We trekked through the steep forest trail and it was very tiring. Our legs pained and Mitali was having problems. Slowly and gradually we moved ahead resting awhile every few meters. Each step we were gaining height as the thin air was gradually making breathing difficult. Debu as usual started late but soon overtook us and kept moving at ease. I continued encouraging Mitali to keep it going.

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Cascading Down

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1 down 4 to go

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Serene Waterfalls

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Marching Ahead

Soon we were out of the forest and were above the tree-line. Patches of snow lay scattered in all directions. Thereafter, we crossed a frozen stream. Strange as it seemed, water was flowing underneath the thick snow layer as we crossed it carefully. All around us were majestic nameless snow-clad mountains.

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Frozen Stream

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Watch Your Step

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Waterfalls over Waterfalls

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Pindari Flows Majestically

The Pindari river flowed below us and at one point Khilaf pointed us towards the river and we saw a big heard of Himalayan Tahr. They were moving through the rocks by the bank of the Pindari river. I was delighted to capture a few shots of these rare majestic animals in the camera. The last point before reaching Phurkiya was a green open meadow. Slowly, we had to climb through the steep zig-zag trail through the meadows.

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Rare Sighting - a herd of Himalayan Tahr

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Open Meadows

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Utterly Scenic

Countless streams of melting ice-water crossed our paths as we made our way ahead. We were by now far above the tree line. The only trees that grew here were dwarfed rhododendron and few other shrubs. Pink and white rhododendron flowers blooming in all directions were a treat to our eyes. Unlike our last year's trek to Khalia Top near Munsiyari, there were no red variety of rhododendron flowers to be seen here.

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Rhododendron Blooms

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Phurkiya up Ahead

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Finally, Phurkiya...

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Distances in Kilometers

Finally, after an arduous climb of over four-and-a-half hours we saw ahead to our relief the PWD guest house and KMVN Trekkers Hut of Phurkiya, at a height of 10,600 feet. It was 1.30 pm. It was cold in Phurkiya. Icy winds were blowing across our faces. Debu had already arrived and by the time we reached Phurkiya hot lunch was served to warm us up. The weather was turning gloomy. Clouds were moving in from all directions and soon it was a total whiteout.

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Shepherd Hut in Awesome Setting

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Serenity & Solitude

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PWD Guest House Phurkiya

Visibility fell low and we were as if in the midst of clouds. We rested our heels till late afternoon. Before dusk set in I moved out alone and explored the misty surroundings. Suddenly, out in the horizon, the cloud cover gave way and in front of me was the mesmerizing view the Nanda Khat peak. However, it stayed clear only for a few minutes.

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Total White-out

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Warm by the Fire

As evening set in I had a hot bath and along with Debu, we carried out a small puja for a successful trek to Pindari Glacier the next day. We had an early dinner and called it a night since tomorrow we plan to start as early as 4.30 am.

Day 6

Distance Trekked : 14 kms
Trek Route: Phurkiya-Pindari Glacier Zero Point-Phurkiya

After a toss and turn night, excited as I was, contemplating whether we would be lucky to view the Pindari Glacier, the caretaker of the KMVN Trekkers' Hut woke us up with some tea at 4 am. Freshening up quickly in the darkness, we set out on our final leg to the Pindari Glacier at 4.30 am. Mind it there is no electricity after Khati village in the entire route. Even in Khati, limited electricity runs through solar power.

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Started off to Pindari in the darkness

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Trekking Along a Frozen Pathway

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Dawn Slowly Breaking Through

Slowly, we could see the first light of the dawn breaking through. The steep initial climb made us exhausted quickly as the oxygen level was getting low as we were gaining height at every step. By 5 am it started getting brighter but some hovering clouds kept us apprehensive but we kept pushing ahead.

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Majestic Pindari - Following her to its Origin

Soon, one by one the majestic peaks became visible, Baljouri, Panjoli, Changuch and Nanda Kot - all as if within hand-reach distance. We walked past many a green meadows and ice-melt streams.

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Snow-Clad Peaks - amidst the Clouds

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Waterfalls atop a Frozen Stream

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Asolutely Serene

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Grassland so Alien

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Misty Mountains

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Simply Amazing

After covering about 2 kms I realized Mitali was lagging behind. Returning back some distance, I saw her sitting in a rock and was in tears. Her right knee again was hurting badly and I applied some relieving ointment and messaged her knee. Thankfully her pain subsided and we slowly continued ahead.

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Sheeps Grazing Along the open Meadows

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Pinkish rhododendron - a treat to our eyes

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3 kms More

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Pindari Glacier - the 1st view
At a distance of 3 kms from the Pindari Glacier, we saw her at her majestic best. Felt goose-bumps all over.

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A Wild Horse grazing Along

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Standing Tall

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Panjouli Group of Peaks

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Amidst mighty Peaks All Around

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Misty

Exhaustion was setting in but I kept encouraging her. The thin air was making breathing tough. Finally, by 7.30 am we were at the door steps of Dharmanda Giri Baba's Nanda Shiv Shaktipith Ashram. Babaji greeted us and we moved inside his wood and stone abode and bowed our heads at his temple of Nanda Devi Mata.

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Dharmananda Giri Baba's Ashram comes into view

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View from Baba's Ashram

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Alongside Baba

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Pindari Glacier - as seen from Baba's Ashram

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Majestic Changuch - Standing So Near

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Speechless we gazed at the Pindari Glacier

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Pindari Glacier smoothly sliding down

Babaji prepared some tea which warmed us up as it was getting very cold. We were amazed to see Babaji moving around barefoot carrying out his daily chores. The views from the ashram were awesome. It was like an amphitheater in front of which lies the panoramic views of the Himalayan range.

Clouds continued moving in from the south and the snow-clad peaks were getting partially covered. At about 9 am, after our exhaustion subsided, we decided to make the final walk to the Pindari Zero Point. From this point the Pindari Glacier could be viewed in its totality.

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The Final Leg

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Estatic, scared, fulfilled, happy - mixed feelings to see Pindari Glacier up so close

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Sweet Success - with Debu in Zero Point, Pindari Glacier

It was again another steep climb of about 2 kms. Debu with his Ice Axe lead the way and we slowly followed being totally bowled out at the views. The majestic Changuch stood out tall in front of us totally covered in white snow. Besides it on the right side the peak of Nanda Kot was also visible. As we trotted ahead, Mitali's pain was getting worse and I literally had to cajole her to complete the last half kms till Zero Point. I encouraged her to take her own time and keep coming as I moved forward.

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Mixed Emotions Engulfs Me - oh what a sight

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Changuch at touching distance

As I moved through the last steep climb, over ridge I could see the mouth of the Pindari Glacier. Tears just came to my eyes. I just shut off and kept gazing at its sheer 'out of the world' beauty. To me it resembled a living organism, a living force that lived through time immemorial. Huge crevasses were visible with the ice color ranging from blue to sapphire.

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Out of the World

Down below the white glacier, I could see the humble origin of the Pindari river trickling out of the snow-melt as a very small stream, in contrast to the raging Pindari that we followed all the way from Khati village. It surely was a humbling experience.

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Origin of the Pindari Ganga

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A Picture to Treasure

Mitali meanwhile reached the Zero Point and we captured as many photographs possible. We thanked Debu and prayed from the depth of our hearts, thanking Pindari for the holy darshan and sought her blessings as well. The height of Pindari Glacier Zero Point stood approximately at 3280 meters.

After spending about half an hour in celestial bliss we made our way back to Babaji's ashram. It started pouring after we entered Babaji's ashram. We thought how lucky we were to be able to get a darshan before the landscape got all covered with clouds.

Babaji was supervising some renovation work of his abode but in a whiff he cooked a hearty meal of rice, dal, fried potato balls, which he treated us inside his low roofed kitchen. Babaji has been residing in this paradise since the last 22 years, going down only for 2 months in winters when his ashram gets buried in 5-6 feet of snow.

Saw his compassion as we noticed that anyone who came to his ashram was offered free food and tea. As a gratitude for his hospitality, we inserted some money into his donation box after our prayers in his shrine. He does not ask for anything and it is up to you whether or not you donate anything. I had carried a copy of Yogananda's Autobiography of a Yogi, which he gracefully accepted.

The drizzle outside continued as we bid a gracious adieu to Babaji and made our way back to Phurkiya at 1 pm.

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Back towards Phurkia

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Walking back in a total white-out

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Misty All the Way

We slowly trotted back in a total misty white-out state contemplating whether or not the Kafni trek would also be a success. We reached back Phurkiya at 3.30 totally chilled yet thrilled. Debu as an effective organizer moved us to the adjourning PWD guest house from the damp KMVN Trekers hut.

The PWD guest house had a cozy fire place in our allotted room. By the time we reached Phurkiya, the fireplace was already lighted and our room was warm. Changing our wet cloths we just sat by the fireplace satisfied.

As dusk set in chatted with Debu and heard his various memorable treks over the past 26 years and how he is worried for employment of his 4 sons. His elder son Khilaf and Anand is already following his father's footsteps guiding people to various treks. His younger two sons are studying, one in school and the other in Inter-mediate. He wants them to continue education and seek jobs outside. In his words, he enjoys each day of his job but he adds "it's taxing at times".

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By the Warm Fire Place

Late evening we had a light dinner. We realized that we were losing appetite perhaps due to altitude. Continued sitting near the fireplace till I ran out of firewood. I did not have the energy to go out in the cold seeking more firewood.

Next - A Trek to Pindari Glacier & Kafni Glacier - Part II

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Posted by sabyasachi 09:42 Archived in India Tagged trek_to_pindari_and kafni_glacier trekking_in_himalaya pindari_trek kafni_trek pindari_glacier_trek pindari_glacier_trekking kafni_glacier_trek kafni_glacier_trekking bageshwar barari khati_village dhakuri dwali purkhia khatia pindari_zero_point swamy_dharmananda_giri_ashram nanda_shiv_shaktipith confluence_of_pindari_and_kafni walliagar mouth_of_kafni_glacier uttaranchal_treks uttaranchal_trekking maiktoli_peak biljouri_peak nanda_khat nanda_kot changuch open_green_ meadows_of_kafni_trek trek_to_pindari trek_to_pindari_glacier trek_to_kafni trek_ to_kafni_glacier _to_pindari_glacier pindari_kafni_trek Comments (33)

Munsiyari: Hidden Gem in Kumaon Himalayas

Lush Alpine Meadows amidst snow-capped Panchuli Himalayas as we trekked to the Khalia Peak situated in the tri-borders of India, Nepal & Tibet...

semi-overcast 11 °C

This article below was published in India's leading newspaper Hindustan Times.

To view the published article online click this link:

http://travel.hindustantimes.com/travel-stories/kumaon.php

With the sizzling summer heat raging through, we (me & my wife) thought, the best way to escape it – though momentarily – would be to move closer to the “perennially-cool” Himalayas. Our intention clearly was to trudge on a road far less travelled by mundane tourists. Carrying some online research, a secluded, not so often heard before name - Munsiyari - struck me hard.

Tucked away hidden, amidst the snow-capped Kumaon Himalayas, Munsiyari is a sleepy little town in the eastern-most district of Uttrakhand - Pithoragarh, at an altitude of 2, 200 meters. Strategically located near the tri-borders of India, Tibet and Nepal, this exotic destination was until recently restricted to tourists.

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Standing Tall

Our 10-day-long sojourn took us criss-crossing the entire Kumaon region. We started off to Munsiyari that quiet morning after a night halt at Birthi, famous for the lofty Birthi Falls. As we gradually scaled up the high mountain road the landscape too kept evolving.

Just as we were approaching the highest point en-route – Kala Muni Top – at 2700 meters, a herd of Alpine goats in the backdrop of the majestic Panchuli Peaks caught our eyes. Icy winds were blowing as we stopped for a refreshing cup of tea to warm us up.

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Alpine Goats

As we glided down, from Kala Muni, it was as if entering a fairyland, as we saw Munsiyari at a distance. The name 'Munsiyari' denotes a “place with snow”. We straightaway drove to the Wayfarer Resort, to be bowled out at the setting of this resort. In a line, one besides the other, were six thatched-roofed traditionally-styled cozy Kumauni huts.

The view from the huts was mesmerizing – the entire Panchuli Peaks stood out majestically in front of us. Relaxing in this serene environment we just lazed around. Late afternoon, we ventured out to visit the Tribal Museum. Items ranging form fossils to smoking pipes to wooden utensils to tribal attire, this museum surely is a treasure trove depicting vividly the tribal lifestyle. Thereafter, we loitered in the tiny local market and tasted of some delicious mutton momos.

We woke up very early next morning, anticipating a nice sunrise. Gearing up with our camera, we enthusiastically waited. As the yellowish-golden sunrays struck the Panchuli Peaks from behind, the silhouette effect it created was way too heavenly to describe in mere words.

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Picture Perfect

Post breakfast we ventured out, to be dropped for trekking trail to the alpine lake Mesar Kund. As we hiked through the virgin forest, it surely was tiring but the views were equally rewarding. After an hour’s trekking the forest opened up into a grassland and at the edge was the azure Mesar Lake. We sat by in silence with the rich avian life in company ranging from woodpeckers to crested-robins to red-billed blue magpies. After soaking ourselves thoroughly we trekked back.

In the evening, we met Mr Brindra Brijwal, popularly known as Beeru, the owner of the Nanda Devi Tours & Treks to finalize our proposed Khalia Top trek, the highest peak around Munsiyari. Jovial Beeru, an avid mountaineer himself, gave us details of the trek and organized everything.

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Contemplation

Accompanied by our guide Lalu, along with our porter-cum-cook Mohan aka Sarkari, we started off next morning. The steep 10 km trail passed through a thick rhododendron forest in full bloom. The climb was exhausting and every 15-20 minutes, we had to stop and catch our breath.

Finally, as we climbed above the tree-line, we had our first glimpses of the lush green alpine meadows in the backdrop the snow-clad Himalayan peaks. We decided to stop by to have our packed lunch in these mesmerizing surroundings.

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Wide Angle

The weather was turning cloudy, as we started trekking again through the meadows accompanied by a light drizzle. After hiking for about a kilometer we stopped at an idyllic location to set up camp.

Soon, our two tents were mounted. The drizzle however turned into a downpour and continued for about two hour making us worried. Mentally, we were making ourselves prepared to “survive the night” on biscuits and chocolates.

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Solitude

As we were losing hope, the Mountain Gods smiled and strong winds blew away the clouds. Sarkari and Lalu already had collected firewood and our chullha (fireplace to cook) was soon alighted. It was getting very cold and sitting by the warm fire, we cooked our dinner of spicy chicken and hot rotis.

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Shelter

Having our stomach full we got inside our tent and called it a night. However as each hour passed the wind outside grew fiercer till I heard a commotion in the middle of the night. I pulled out my head, zipping out my tent, to hear Lalu saying that their tent has blown away but they managed to salvage it. Fortunately for us, our tent stood the ground. We could only pray and after about an hour, the howling Himalayan wind calmed.

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Me and My Dog named Boo

Early morning just as dawn was cracking I pulled out and sat on a rock to witness an amazing sunrise sipping a hot cup of tea. Soon, we started to towards the Khalia Peak, visible to us about a kilometer up-hill amidst the carpet of green lush meadows.

An amazing riot of colours was spread all across in the backdrop of the snow-clad peaks and big herds of grazing alpine goats. Resting awhile watching the never-seen-before surroundings, we finally made our final push to the Khalia Peak. Soon, we were at the top, at a height about 11,000 feet.

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Pinnacle

Squatting down at the peak for about half and hour was a humbling experience and thereafter reluctantly we made our way down.

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Soaring Higher

As we reached back our camp, Sarkari was ready with hot parathas which we shared with a shepherd who happened to pass by. Understood from him how hard and harsh life is in the mountains. Their search for greener pastures has to continue…

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Sharing

Thereafter, dismantling our tents we made our way downhill and trekking down for about 3 hours we reached the road head. Picking up our bags form the Wayfarer Resort, we started for our next destination Dharchula, situated in the Indo-Nepal border, by banks of the Kali Ganga – the base camp of the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra.

Fact File

How to Reach

By road Munsiyari is situated at a distance of about 612 kms from New Delhi. By train one can travel by the Raniketh Express to Kathgodam, the last railhead. From Kathgodam one has to travel by road via Bhimtal, Bhowali, Almora, Binsar, Takula, Bageshwar, Vijaypur, Chaukhori, Thal, Birthi and finally Munsiyari. The distance between Kathgodam to Munsiyari is about 261 kms. One can break the journey with a night halt at Binsar, Vijaypur or Chaukori.
Vehicle-hire charges: Usually Rs 1600-Rs 2000 for Alto/Santro/WagonR to Rs 2200-Rs2500 for Innova/Qualis per day from Kathgodam

Where to Stay

There are many options available for stay ranging from luxurious to budget hotels/resorts.

Posted by sabyasachi 01:46 Archived in India Tagged khalia trek_ khalia_ peak_trek khalia_munsiyai munsiyari_uttarakhand Comments (0)

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