This article is the 2nd part of Roopkund series. Roopkund series is going to have 8 articles in all
Briefing at Lohajung
So it was 29th May, Sunday and my sleep was broken as the so called fake private Volvo screeched right in front of a truck. I had boarded a bus on 28th May from ISBT Kashmere gate for Kathgodam. I quickly checked my phone and it was 5:45 AM and I could see a few people going for a jog as we passed through Haldwani. Haldwani is seems to be a commercial hub of this center and serves as a transit to Nainital and other nearby places. Kathgodam is just 5 kms away from Haldwani. Sharp by 6 AM my bus reached Kathgodam railway station.
Kathgodam Railways Station
So here I was at 6 AM, almost stranded at Kathgodam because I was the first one to reach (a rare instance) the meeting point. On enquiring with TTH (Trek the Himalayas) team about further plan of action, I was informed that Ranikhet express was 3 hours late and only once those people reach Kathgodam, the transport vehicles will head for Lohajung. I swiftly put my 10 kg backpack in one of the cars to do what all city people harp on doing as soon as they get a chance – charge their phones. I didn’t want to be on the other side of the law by entering a railway station without having a platform ticket in place, so I decided to buy one. I was pleasantly surprised by the cleanliness at Kathgodam railway station. It was so clean that I couldn’t resist tweeting this to Suresh Prabhu, credit where it’s due !
I strolled around after using railway premises to brush my teeth; started my day by having Masala Maggi at 7 AM (one ardent fan of Maggi, when they banned it I was almost under depression) and one Aloo Paratha. I met a few fellow trekkers but found out that they were a part of some trek near Nainital and were led by YHAI (Youth Hostels Association of India)
I finally got a chance to board a Bolero at 11AM. We were a group of 6 people. Kathgodam to Lohajung is one tiring drive of around 220 kms which takes anywhere between 9 hours to 10 hours depending on the length and the number of breaks you take. The drive is quite scenic as it passes through places like Bhimtal, Almora, Kasauni and Someshwar. If you love fruits, this is totally your kind of drive. We found peaches, cherries, litchis and bananas throughout our journey, though try not to get overwhelmed by seeing such amazing quality of fruits and gulp them down as you need to be mindful about the fact that you will be sitting in the car for a long time.
On our way to Lohajung
There are a lot of options that will come across for having breakfast and lunch, so just pullover where you think there some decent crowd. As we moved ahead, we passed through Kasauni which is a small time hillstation, we saw a lot of resorts and home stays around this area. Drivers in this region play their music through a pen drive and have diverse collection of songs, name them and you’ll have them. Half way through our journey it started raining heavily, the visibility was so low that someone sitting in fist seat had to actually wipe the glass continuously. Suddenly the temperature dropped and all of us had one more layer of clothing on us ! It would be a grave crime if we didn’t stop of masala chai in middle of such a mesmerising landscape, so our driver stopped in front of a dhaba where we had chai and ParleG.
Meanwhile the weather got worse and our driver got a call suggesting he should take a detour because the usual way was blocked due to rains, they have some really good network amongst themselves. After driving on nonexistent roads and giving mini heart attacks during steep bends, our driver finally managed to drop us at our TTH guesthouse in Loharjung.
This part of the trip is quite important because you will be briefed here about Acute Mountain Sickness (which can happen to anyone), clothing recommendation from head to toe, importance of drinking water and an introduction with your trek leader and your fellow trek mates. There were a few small talks during our first dinner together, small talks are actually good because they induce sleep faster than anything in this world !
Just before the weather became a drama queen
Hike to Didina Village
There was a window right in front of me where I was sleeping, first rays fell on my eyes at around 5:30 AM, tried real hard to ignore them but they kept on becoming more and more intense, had to finally succumb by waking up at 6:00 AM. It was also a call for Black Tea with some copious amount of sugar. We were served Aloo Paratha for breakfast at 7:00 am and BY 8:00 am we were supposed to make a move. This is a part of 678 rule that they say – 6 AM you get tea, 7 AM you get breakfast and by 8 AM the group makes a move, no matter what.
Amazing view from TTH Guesthouse in Lohajung
If you have missed out bringing any vital gear, you do have an option to buy it from a local market in Lohajung. Formation of any trek would be a team of 3 guides – One leader who ensures enthusiastic public is pacified and requested to maintain the pace with laggards, one who is at the tail who pulls and motivates back benchers to concentrate on way forward and a trek leader, who kind of shuffles through the head and the tail. Though in the case of TTH this was more of a protocol that wasn’t put in practice after a couple of days, there would be trekkers ahead of the leader and trekkers behind the tail – because rules are for fools.
As soon as we were all set to head for Didina Village from Loharjung, it started drizzling. We could not ignore this for long as the droplets became thicker and heavier, I was carrying a rain suit so I had to go through the pain of putting down my backpack, removing my shoes and socks, then removing the rain suit from my backpack and putting it on, then again wearing my shoes and taking out a rain cover and putting it on my backpack, again tying all the straps to ensure it was comfortable and this was almost like an early morning workout that would’ve easily cost me 50 calories in 3 minutes.
Elevation gain from Lohajung to Didina village is only 100m but not before descending 200m initially and then gaining 300m in the latter half of the trek and that’s what turns this first day trek into a tiring one. It was overall a 6.5km trek. There is alternative route from Lohajung through Kulling village which is supposed to be a relatively easier hike, but you would tend to miss out on some breathtaking views if you opt for the easier option. Lohajung to Didina trek would take around 5 hours from the base camp and you would reach Didina village anywhere between 1PM to 2PM
Our trail from Lohajung to Didna – before ascending
Initially the trek is quite easy going until you reach Ruan Bagad which is a bridge that you can’t miss, it overlooks river Neelganga, before this bridge, you will get ample options to refill your bottle with mineral rich water which is totally free. After Ruan Bagad it is a steep climb and that’s where it becomes challenging in rains. There was mud all around with damped leaves lying all around. This is where my Quechua Forclaz 500 shoes proved to be one of the best investments ever, every time I thought I would skid, they would provide a firm grip to regain my balance. Though I had carefully packed my stuff and tried to keep it minimum, I still think I could’ve been 2 shirts lighter.
Kit Kat Break (Picture by Kirneet)
This would be your first ascend so it’s natural to gasp and be out of breathe, proper breathing and timely breaks can ensure you stay out of trouble. The idea is to take smaller steps but keep walking (inspired by Johnnie Walker). You will observe a lot of trek leaders shouting ‘take baby steps’ to their group, also make sure you are sipping water at regular intervals otherwise you will start getting cramps in no time.
The Iron Bridge
After this gruelling 5 hour trek on the first day itself wherein I would’ve taken out my rain suit and wind cheater a few times because you start sweating a lot when you are on the move only to wear them again because it starts drizzling as you move ahead, we could see snow pellets lying down along with dead trodden leaves from yesterday’s hailstorm. It was a great feeling of relief when we had a glimpse of a few houses realising that we were home.
Keep calm and eat Rajma Chawal (Picture by Anil a.k.a Chota Rajan)
We lived with a local family and we had 3 huge rooms for ourselves. Our 2nd and final proper accommodation. From next day onwards we were going to be putting up in tents. There was Rajma Chawal for lunch which pretty much made up for the long walk we had this morning. I was putting up in a cosy room around the attic where we settled down to rest for a while. It is advisable not to sleep during the day time (no matter how tired you are) because it can lead to lack of sleep during the nights and even headache at times. As we whiled away our time chatting with local kids, offering them toffees and drying our wet clothes (futile attempt) – it was already evening.
Campfire plans went down the drain
Protector of the realm – Sheru
We had our dinner and everyone was excited for camp fire. Each one of us collected some wood when we went for our customary acclimatisation walk in the vicinity. Rain Gods had some other plans though, as the fire burnt quickly because of the twigs, it also fizzled out quickly because of the rains. All we could hope for was having next few days without rains, not sure if crossed fingers work on mountains but I did cross them and this was the place where I had rock solid sleep, post this day, sleep and I had a great time playing hide and seek.