Random Views

Happy 70th Birthday, India

At the stroke of midnight hour, when the world sleeps, (don’t worry, I am not going to rip off Jawaharlal Nehru’s ghost writer’s speech out here), India will turn 70. For a nation so diverse and gigantic like India, life begins at 70 !

We are actually more diverse than a few continents put together. It is a known fact that we’ve managed to put behind these differences and rose to the occasion multiple times when the nation needed us. There can’t be a better time to be India; I mean this without a shred of sarcasm in it. We are about to witness an inflexion point and our economy and power is going to be shifted to the next orbit. We have a strong government at our disposal who is trying its best to highlight our map across the globe with a permanent marker.

Socially, we are also going through a lean patch. Whether it’s the Kashmir issue, beef issue, moral policing, daily circus company that AAP is running, disgruntled DU students or media’s sheer insensitivity and immaturity on issues pertaining to national security just to gain more TRP; we have like a zillion problems to resolve, but Hey – Since when did we, as a nation, ran away from our problems ? Only financial inclusiveness is not enough, we need social inclusiveness more than ever. This is a tough phase but if we are able to iron out the reservation issues and a few other key challenges, we are about to witness a new India with our old and weary eyes; the India that we all deserve and the India for which a few (many) good men laid their lives.

Red Fort

Red Fort

Every country has naysayers and we aren’t spared or privileged enough not to have them, but it’s a good problem. They want us to prove a point and we will. So every time someone tells you that ‘Swachh Bharat’ campaign is a big flop, please show them the trash you’ve collected in your back pocket or your bag’s side pockets, because seeing is believing. We have a lot of limitations as a nation but as they say that a journey of a million steps begins with one, we all should collectively strive to improve our national infrastructure in whatever little way we can.

There is a change and it is visible. Suresh Prabhu is doing an amazing job with Railways; Railway ministry takes your tweets more seriously than Vodafone or Airtel takes it, isn’t this proof enough for us to realize that there is a change in the system in which a government organization is responding to your issues with real action ! Please connect with a few people who have been stranded abroad due to various reasons and they’ve managed to get a temporary visa just by tweeting about their issue to Sushma Swaraj. Please connect with those Indians who have been evacuated personally by General VK Singh during emergencies in other countries.

As a country, we have done tremendously well considering the fact that we’ve been blessed with such troublesome neighbors. We are inherently a peace loving nation but at the same time we are well equipped to protect our borders from our neighbors. We can just hope that if they can’t learn to ‘love thy neighbor’ they can at least learn how to ‘leave thy neighbor alone’ over a period of time. We have much graver issues to address like poverty and social inclusiveness.

Here’s to one more year of becoming wiser and older, one more year of a collective efforts to make this country a better place and one more year of peace and prosperity.

Happy Independence Day, India.

Jai Hind.

Share Button
Standard
Roopkund Series

Capturing Roopkund

If there was an Olympic medal for inconsistency, I’d probably win Gold. I know I was out of action since past 2 weeks and the blog was not updated as per commitment, but here is short one to make up for not writing on time.

Even though my entire body was wrapped in a cozy sleeping bag, there were instances when I would wake up and start shivering because the mercury was acting like a Pakistani cricketer, it kept on dropping. When I checked my mobile phone, the time read 2:30 AM, so here I was – wide awake before the wake up call of 3:00AM, in a rare instance I had beaten my alarm clock. I just lied in my bed staring at the tent as droplets kept on gliding through the sides of my tent material.

I almost sprang up in disbelief when a sudden coarse voice began to shout – ‘Chalo sab uth jao, 3 baj gaye hai’ (Everyone, get up, it’s already 3AM), it was so annoying that whatever little laziness was left in my body got dissolved in the cacophony. We were given an apple per head and some snacks to carry with us so that we can munch on our way to Roopkund. I checked my bag once again to confirm if I had packed the essentials – Rain jacket, cashews & almonds, water bottle, extra pair of shirt and a handful of anxiety.

Formation was very clear, girls would be leading the troop so all girls were called ahead, no one is supposed to overtake their peers until categorically asked by your technical leader. Your trek leaders will now be mere spectators as technical leaders take over the helm of ensuring you climb safe till the top and come back to the base camp in one piece.

Though the trek is no longer than 4kms, the elevation gain is huge. We will be climbing from an altitude of 4300m to an altitude of 4850m. The whole reason behind leaving early is that the snow is rock hard before the sunrise and won’t cause much trouble in climbing up, as the day progresses the snow tends to melt and can also seep in your shoes. The trek takes around 3.5 hours to reach Roopkund, so by 6:00 AM or 6:30 AM, you can expect yourself clicking pictures with the glacial lake full of skeletons.

We were wearing our crampons right from the beginning as snow was expected throughout, the crampons can be annoying when you are putting your feet on rocks but you don’t really have an option out here. Initial 2 kms are not so steep but you get tired really fast. Remember there is only 50% of oxygen out here compared to the oxygen content at sea level, so your body burns more energy even in walking short distances. We were expecting frequent breaks but to our surprise we started getting breaks of 60 seconds in which you have to drink water (a couple of sips) and take a leak if need be. We all had our torch lights on because it was pitch dark until 5AM, make sure you have a high intensity torch so that the visibility level is high, trust me you don’t want to trip down in this terrain at any cost.

Once you reach Chiria Nag after 1.5kms, the tough gets tougher. You will have a steep climb with rocky edges. The technical guides will be standing at these edges to protect you from falling down, which is very likely because the margin of error is very less. Once you reach a relatively flatter surface, you can easily spot the Roopkund edge but it doesn’t end here. You will now be walking on thick hardened snow, which will slow you down and you are already low on energy. This hike of last 20-25 minutes will be the toughest. You might have to take a break after every 5 minutes of walk. Remember the trail is already marked with previous trekkers, so there is not need to take a different route which might look shorter but would drain you down.

As the guides kept insisting it is almost there, I could see a few people making their way to a peak which looks distant from the place I was. I wanted to confirm if that’s where Roopkund was, I was going to skip going to Roopkund altogether. One of the guides then explained me that it was Junargali, the highest point of our Roopkund trek and it was 400m away from Roopkund, in short a good hike of 40-45 minutes. I barely walked 10 steps while having this conversation and this is what I saw –

Roopkund - The Glacial Lake

Roopkund – The Glacial Lake

The experience out here is surreal, we were only 3-4 people at this lake as our group was the first one to reach and a few of them had gone to Junargali. There were small birds chirping on the frozen lake and we were advised not to put our feet on the lake as the snow might not be thick at a few places. You will not be able to see the skeletons as the lake is frozen, though a few travelers have kept a few skeletons outside the lake so that one can take pictures and not feel cheated at the same time. I was trying to convince myself to take one bone along with me but then the sheer thought of being haunted by the spirit allowed to me to drop this plan as quickly as it came to my mind.

snow laden terrain

snow laden terrain

By the time we clicked pictures and went up the lake where a small temple is situated, our group members who had gone to Junargali were back. We were now ready for the breakfast, it was hot Daliya that was being served at 4850m, one can’t really attach a price tag to this experience. Make sure you are not removing your head gear even though you feel hot because the wind is not your best of friends in this terrain. We all clicked a group photograph and were soon asked to head down

The lone temple at 5000m

The lone temple at 5000m

(in)famous skeletons

(in)famous skeletons

Climbing down, as they say is always more difficult than climbing up. Make sure both your hands are empty as you climb down, your knees will be bearing all your weight so they are in for some treatment till your reach down. For the initial descend the technical guides will be there with you throughout because  it’s really steep and at times one might lose his/her balance. There is no question of overtaking out here. There was one guide who was actually climbing down without crampons, we have outliers everywhere I thought.

Amazing click of Roopkund lake from Junargali by Amit Chippa

Amazing click of Roopkund lake from Junargali by Amit Chippa

There was a certain sense of satisfaction as we descended. All the anxiety and excitement I had of making it to Roopkund was now lying somewhere near those skeletons. I was not in a hurry to reach anywhere at this point of time. You can remove your crampons after a couple of kilometers as there would be no snow beyond that point, though do consult your trek leader before doing so.

All Smiles

All Smiles

Our bags were already packed, we were now ready to head back to Patarnachauni from Bhagwabasa. We thanked the support staff and more importantly 4 technical guides out of which one guy’s nickname was ‘Technical’ because apparently he was so good at it. We were now on the other side of the table, wishing Good Luck to the group coming to Bhagwabasa who would be doing the summit today.

IMG_1251

There was a certain peaceful vibe about Roopkund even though so many people died due to various theories. There are around 4-5 different stories about how so many people died and you can choose the one that you find most fascinating ! That’s what we do, we end up choosing the story that makes least sense after all.

Share Button
Standard
Roopkund Series

Bhagwabasa : The teaser and the musings with Babaji

I could hear the droplets on my tent but I chose to ignore that for a while. Well, my sleep was now getting weaker and the dawn was taking over, there was also a certain anxiety at the back of mind about making it to Bhagwabasa. As I unzipped my tent, I could see yellowish droplets right on the tent material, shining in glory because of sunlight. Today’s black tea tasted a lot sweeter because the anxiety had already started creeping and I was psyched to catch a glimpse of Bagawabasa – one of the prettiest campsites ever. Generally it is snow clad with the fresh snow that would accumulate overnight, this campsite is quite small in area & just a stone’s throw away from Roopkund Summit (just kidding)

IMG_0455

 

IMG_0446

Trek from Patar Nachauni to Bagawabasa would be a smooth one because you would be looking forward to make it to your last camp and the excitement will keep you going. This trek is pretty much like you’ve been speaking to your crush over the phone and on Whatsapp since over a month and you’ve finally taken this bold step to ask her out for coffee over the weekend. So the date is fixed and depending on how it goes, it will decide the next course of action. Similarly, you will be reaching Bagawabasa by 11:30 AM (your date is fixed) and depending on weather conditions, your oxygen levels and your overall health, the summit may or may not happen. Just like how the world starts conspiring when you genuinely long for something, these trek leaders will ensure their best to get you up there !

IMG_2792

Enroute Bhagwabasa

Enroute Bhagwabasa

This is just a 4km trek with only 400m of elevation gain from 3900 meters to 4300 meters. The initial climb is steep till you reach a temple called ‘Kalu Vinayak’, after that it’s almost a well-marked trail and you will see a lot of trekkers coming down after they’ve finished their Roopkund summit. The name Kalu Vinayak comes from the fact that there is a black color idol of Lord Ganesha in this temple made up of stones. There are a lot of conch shells kept around, just in case after climbing in such thin oxygen levels, if you have any breathe left to please Lord Ganesha, go ahead and blow all you can. It was quite entertaining to see some of them blowing the conch in perfection, much like being blown before the beginning of a war in olden times.

 

Kalu Vinayak Temple

Kalu Vinayak Temple

 

Hey There, will you like to shake hands with me ?

Hey There, will you like to shake hands with me ?

At around 7 AM, I was waiting outside the kitchen tent for warm ginger water so that I can start knocking off my quota of 4-5L of water consumption day, I made sure that around 1.25L was consumed before we start trekking so that it keeps me hydrated on the way. Being a borderline OCDic in matters of cleanliness and hygiene, chilled water could not deter my thoughts of brushing my teeth and washing my face with a facewash. I had lost all control on my teeth and they would just not stop clenching. We had our breakfast in the fiber tent because the winds outside were quite harsh. We waved goodbye to our support staff before clicking a few pictures with them.

Washing utensils with cold water - Amazing guys !

Washing utensils with cold water – Amazing guys !

I was personally quite relieved with the fact that we were allowed to leave unwanted stuff at Patar Nachauni in a carry bag, this ensured that I was now trekking only with around 4kgs on my back – such a relief ! I had packed this polythene a night before and I stuffed all my used clothes and some extra food that weighed significantly high. It is advisable to carry a small day bag in your backpack as you will need this tonight when you head for Roopkund. So officially we were less than 24 hours away from the summit now.

The trail

The trail

First 2 kms were challenging, we tried our best to take baby steps and ensured we were moving, the speed didn’t matter now. As you climb up, the Patar Nachauni spot will come will come where you can spot those 3 stones, I skipped it in order to move ahead as there were far more interesting things coming up. Since the time we left, we had been hearing about Kalu Vinayak being they mid-point and we just couldn’t wait to reach there. You really understand the value of milestones out here.

IMAG1111

We reached Kalu Vinayank by around 10 AM and had a good break blowing conches, feeding dogs and clicking a few pictures here and there. The break was a long one, we sat here for like over half an hour. With rejuvenated energy, we began walking on relatively flatter trail. Now came the fun part, the folks who had already done their summit were descending and somehow it became a norm that these guys would wish us ‘All The Best’ and invariably we would go like ‘Thanks & Congratulations’. Now this became annoying after a while because we already have this norm at workplace when someone asks ‘How Are You’ and you go like ‘Fine’ rather than ”I had a terrible time waking up, went through hell in traffic and now I am here staring at your bald face only to be judged by the amount of coffee I am going to pour in my cup”. I thought we can at least be genuine on the hills, we didn’t need this formality out here at least. So I decided to give it a twist. There was a group of 4 guys coming down and before they could utter a word, I told them ‘All The Best’, so here I am wishing luck to the guys who have already done the difficult part. They all looked startled and stared at me in disbelief, 3 of them started walking after ignoring what I said, looks like one guy had some sense of humor, he stopped by, laughed at the joke and went ahead. This small thing was enough to keep me going for next 20 minutes when we reached Bagawabasa campsite.

 

Kit Kat Break

Kit Kat Break

Stone Huts

Stone Huts

Just before the campsite you will see a lot of abandoned stone huts, I tried checking signal on my phone here. I was successful in making a phone call back home. There are 2 Maggi shops out here which are open only during the camping seasons. These shops are quite cosy and most of the mule owners and Keeda Jadi worked rest here. Keed Jadi is an extremely rare things to find which is supposedly known to cure a lot of ailments and it is a rage amongst Chinese folks, they would pay around 8L – 10L for 1kg of this Keed Jadi. So basically there are a lot of families thriving on finding this Keeda Jadi. You need a very good eyesight to spot one, clearly not for the ones suffering from myopia since years.

Breathtaking view of our Bhagwabasa Campsite

Breathtaking view of our Bhagwabasa Campsite

It's not 7PM, it's just 2PM !

It’s not 7PM, it’s just 2PM !

It would have been around 12 noon and we all just couldn’t wait for the lunch to be served. While everyone was trying to settle in their tents I was waiting for warm ginger water to refill my bottle. There I spotted this Babaji standing by the fiber hut, whom we had spotted earlier at Didina Village and Ali Bugtyal. I hesitatingly started a conversation with Babaji on what exactly he was doing here, this question was enough to get him started. I observed a certain calmness on his face, his face reflected an aura of its own. He was calm and composed, he began with – ‘I am actually a recluse and I have been living in cave all by myself’, well I was more than impressed. He was doing this trek for the 2nd time because the trek leader requested Babaji to come with him. On asking his name he said he didn’t have one. While we are exchanging thoughts (mostly it was a one way traffic) about Karma, Moksha and other graver things in life, he asked me whether I was from Dahisar, I replied saying that I am from Bombay but not Dahisar precisely. I didn’t want to ruin the moment by asking him what prompted him to guess that but he came quite close considering the fact that we spoke for the first time. His Hindi had a tinge of Maharashtrain accent and later on I found him conversing in Kannada so my guess is that he is originally from Konkan-Maharasthra border. He was doing this camp only in his orange robe and one small backpack, this is the true essence of minimalism, I told myself.

Random musings with Roopkund Babaji

Random musings with Roopkund Babaji

We could barely see the Trishul Range and Roopkund dent form here because it was covered by dense clouds. Though if you want to click some amazing pictures, don’t go back to your tent, wait patiently for the cloud to get cleared and you can thank me later. We clicked a lot of group pictures, mountain pictures, group pictures with the mountains and individual pictures with a finger above the mountain !

The golden touch

The golden touch

The Dusk !

The Dusk !

IMG_1181

View of Trishul Range & the dent is Roopkund

View of Trishul Range & the dent is Roopkund

We were briefed on ‘How to wear crampons’ that will be needed when we head out at 3:30 AM. It rained profusely for half an hour and I looked at the sky requesting rain Gods to take a night off. We had dinner by 8PM and I was in my tent by 9PM, I had my day pack ready with the essential stuff like food, an extra shirt (in case if it rained), head torch, rain cover and glares. It was a futile to even try sleeping because the anxiety had taken over and the mind was overwhelmed with the thoughts of making it to Roopkund next morning by 6AM. I got some sleep in patches but mostly I was staring at the tent walls with eyes wide open.

IMG_0502

 

IMG_0501

 

 

Share Button
Standard
Random Views

Patarnachauni : Most happening campsite

We left Ali Bugtyal after having Daliya (porridge) for breakfast. Everything that doesn’t taste great is generally good for health and so is porridge. Today’s walk was only 5 kms in distance but the elevation gain in those 5 kms would be 500 meters. So we would be reaching a height of 3950m from the current level of 3450m. This trail is not at all difficult compared to what we’ve been going through since a past few days, it just gets a little steep in patches

Infinity & Beyond

Infinity & Beyond

If you are traveling with TTH, you will be putting up at Patar Nachauni twice, once while ascending and second time when you descend from Roopkund the very same day. So this is basically a campsite where people who’ve done their Roopkund summit and people who are yet to complete their Roopkund summit meet and discuss their experiences. This is quite contrasting in so many ways, when you are going to do the summit after a couple of days you are extremely excited and would want to know even the finest of details from the ones who’ve come down and when you are done with the summit, you just want to head down to the town, get connected and be a part of the busy city life.

 

Our trail

Our trail

IMAG1069

That’s IH camp of Bedni Bugyal

Coming back to the trek, there has been a lot of discussions going on online with respect to the route taken by different travel companies. The one through which we were coming was Ali Bugyal to Patar Nachauni via Bedni, the other group has an easy day for themselves as they had covered quite a bit of distance till Bedni via Gheoroli Patal. To each his own, is the appropriate answer to this online debate.

 

Aerial view of Bedni

Aerial view of Bedni

As per the fable, there was a king who was traveling with his troop on this route. He also had a lot of performers who would dance in order to entertain the battalion. The king was so immersed in the proceedings that he was cursed by Nanda Devi and all the performers turned into a stone. Apparently those 3 stones are still there and you can spot them on your way from Patar Nachauni to Bagawabasa, if you found this story even remotely interesting. It’s a solace that Nanda Devi doesn’t know much about Bombay otherwise most of the dance bars in Bombay would become stone quarries.

 

IMAG1055

 

IMG_2038

 

IMG_2774

You should reach Patar Nachauni in no more than 4 hours as the sky was clear and the trail was perfect. Last half an hour is only descend and you can choose your own trail during this time as there are a lot of options. Essentially, it’s a good 4.5km uphill trek and you get a breather for last 0.5km by virtue of a descend.

 

IMAG1077

 

IMG_2792

Patar Nachauni campsite is right on the cliff, winds tend to blow throughout the day, so much so that we’ve heard stories about tents flying up in the air. The funny part is you can’t even argue with nature out here. Even though it’s tough putting up here because of harsh winds that caress right through your body, this was also one of the most happening campsites. All agencies were camping here hence the support staff was in the tune of 20-25 people combined. When we reached the campsite, these folks were playing cricket with a makeshift stuffed ball covered by a cloth. The pitch was uneven, the stumps were imperfect, the bat was hardly curved but the spirits were unmatched. If you hit a shot on offside without a bounce, you are OUT because off side was a cliff, where ball would roll very quickly after gaining momentum and finding it would be a herculean task. I was out of breathe in bowling 3 balls !

 

Public playing cricket at 4000m

Public playing cricket at 4000m

There was also a small tea and Maggi stall which belonged to an ardent Bollywood fan. From Chittiya Kalaiyan to Honey Singh, he played it all. It took me a while to figure out who exactly was the owner of the stall because this fellow was actually playing cricket with us while someone else was taking care of his stall and serving his customers, so much for the brotherhood, Captain.

IMG_2094

 

 

 

IMG_2050

Maggi shop

 

Post lunch, it was time for our usual acclimatisation walk up the hill. The very idea of getting network, was enough of an incentive for people to line up on time and begin the walk. If you are not travelling with a group, there is a fibre shed out here where you can put up, there are also 3 big food stalls out here. I just made a call to my parents to inform them about my well-being. I swiftly brushed away the temptation to check MoneyControl.com and started walking down to the camp

IH Campsite

IH Campsite

We had our dinner and a failed campfire plan because this area was being closely monitored by forest department. The Bollywood songs continued on loud speakers and I was dead tried. Two most difficult things on hills are getting into your sleeping bag and getting out of it. For now it was the time for the former one. I was fast asleep in no time. I had seen a few pictures of how Bagawabasa looked, we all were excited to be surrounded by snowy peaks the next day !

Share Button
Standard
Roopkund Series

Ali Bugtyal – because staying at Bedni is too mainstream

The walk from Didina village to Ali Bugtyal is the longest of all ! This is a 10.5 km long walk which just refuses to end. Again, the hike is divided into two parts – A 5 km long ascend and a 5.5km long walk through the meadows. Having said that, it is quite grueling and it’s also the most scenic trail you will come across. We were the only ones to camp at Didina as most of the other groups preferred to take a different route wherein they camp overnight at Gheoroli Patal and head to Bedni Bugyal instead of Ali Bugyal. So here we were, all set to depart from Didina village sharp at 8:00 AM (in fact everyone was ready by 7:45 so a small group pushed off early) to reach Ali Bugtyal because staying Bedni Bugtyal is too mainstream.

IMG_0347

IMG_0336

Elevation gain at the end of this trek was around 1000 meters, we climbed from a height of 2450m to 3450m. If you successfully finish this day without being dead tired, don’t forget to give yourself a pat on your back before sleeping. Rain has been one of the most discussed topics since we all had some trouble walking through mud the other day. Everyone was allowed to be a weather reporter after having a nice look at the skies, though we relied on the intelligence of local folks as the accuracy level was much higher. It was a very important question – Will it rain ? We all wanted to hear a no, but the standard answer was – Pahado ka koi bharoasa nahi, khabhi bhi mausam kharab ho sakta hai (You can never be sure of weather when you are on the hills, the weather can change any time). Though the skies were clear and the sun was backing us up, we really hoped that rains would take a day off !

Breathtaking would be an understatement here

Breathtaking would be an understatement here

IMG_0373

We were also carrying our packed lunch, it was Aloo Subji and 3 Parathas along with one boiled egg or a boiled potato. Trust me, after walking for 5-6 hours on a trot, a boiled egg has never tasted so amazing. One bottle of water will not help because there was only point in between where you’d get fresh water – Tol Pani. We were advised to refill our bottles and drink wisely because we wouldn’t find any other option to refill on our way. Walking poles proved to be quite useful as the ascend was steep, though the good part was that the mud had almost dried and our way had very few damp patches, this made our life easier. Our ETA for Ali Bugtyal was 4 PM, the sheer thought of walking for 8 hours for someone who is really lazy is more dreadful than watching Conjuring alone.

Clicked during lunch break

Clicked during lunch break

Clicked by Pramodini

Clicked by Pramodini

By the time we reached Tol Pani, most of us were gasping, our bottles were almost empty and our energy levels needed a booster. We took a decent 10-15 minutes break out here, got ourselves recharged and started ascending. I’d been personally asking our guides to understand how long do we need to climb before we hit the meadows. We were told that once we hit the meadows the walk would become quite easy and because of the scenic landscape, we wouldn’t even realize by the time it ends. For now, we could just imagine !

We finally made it around 3PM. By the time we got settled in our tents and had our customary black tea, we were called in for a small walk towards the lone general store in the vicinity. We were told that this gentleman also prepares Maggi ! As much as I wanted to eat Maggi, I tried to refrain because it doesn’t digest easily, we were told that the water we had been consuming was quite rich in minerals which itself takes time to digest. With a heavy heart, I decided not to have Maggi. By the time I reached there, a lot of people gathered across an elevated platform made up with stones. There lied a huge stone (roughly around 30kgs or so). This was mountain’s own Make A Wish scheme wherein if you are successfully able to lift the stone, your wish comes true. It wasn’t that difficult provided you have the right grip, we carefully moved our feet away when we picked up the stone for obvious reasons. Well I did pick it up, but as far as asking for something was concerned, I didn’t want to overload the almighty with one more wish, he has a poor track record of delivering them anyway !

Campsite at Ali Bugyal

Campsite at Ali Bugyal

Make A Wish waala stone

Make A Wish waala stone

We came back by 6 PM and it would be pitch dark in next 40-45 minutes. Having a dismal campfire show last night, we wanted to ensure we have one today. Most of the public seemed disinterested in the process of collecting wood, however the enthusiasm level while being a part of the campfire was intact, quite a privilege up there. So it all boiled down to 4-5 of us in addition to Tara – our trek leader and Nitin – his sidekick. We went down the slope where there was enough wood for us to collect, only the number of hands were short. We somehow managed to gather quite some wood but now the question was – ‘How do we carry it’. Engineers come very handy during such situations, Sai – one of our co trekker from Bangalore suggested that we should take two long planks, carry them vertically from all four corners and the smaller logs to be placed horizontally on these planks. The only catch was synchronization between all 4 corners, we all took turns to hold the corners while we climbed up the slope. Trust me, every time I climbed a steep slope with something heavy either on my back or something like this, the only thing came in my mind was – ‘How much work would this translate into’ – the good old W = mgH formula. I would try to put in value of m and H and then give up because I should ideally be concentrating on the road ahead

IMG_0394

We finally had a sumptuous dinner with campfire that lasted more than an hour I suppose. We also had Chirag who was from Bangalore and a fabulous flute player who played a few songs and Raagas as the night progressed. The scene of someone playing a flute under a billion stars can hardly be explained in words in my opinion. Let me remind you we are now at a height of 3500m and things are just going to get colder and colder from here on. We had decent 5km trek in front of us next morning, peeping through the dark shadows of this star studded sky.

Share Button
Standard
Roopkund Series

Briefing at Lohajung and a hike to Didina village

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

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

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.

The Dusk

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

River Neelganga

River Neelganga

 

Keep calm and eat Rajma Chawal

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

Campfire plans went down the drain

 

Protector of the realm - Sheru

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.

Share Button
Standard
Roopkund Series

The Prelude

Choosing to go for Roopkund trek out of so many options available, was a sheer fluke. This was a trek that started with an Instagram picture that I saw before a year. If I had an option of spreading a DDoS attack by liking the same picture multiple times, I would’ve done that. As per the mythology, Lord Shiva & Parvati were traveling through this region and Parvati was thirsty, so Lord Shiva made a dent in the ice with his Trishul and then there was Roopkund. Incidentally, the range that overlooks Roopkund lake has a shape of Trishul and hence this range is named as Trishul range which forms an integral part of Chamoli region.

I intend to break this Roopkund travelogue into a day wise itinerary so that would be quite useful for relatively smaller groups who intend to travel by their own rather than going with a full-fledged travel company, mind you when I say travel by your own, you still need to hire a guide from Lohajung (Roopkund Base Camp)

I am a true believer of instinct but I also have immense faith in procrastination, hence when I saw the picture over a year back, I had put this plan in cold storage because of various issues. While I was traveling solo in Kasol in December 2015, I promised myself (one of the new year goals) that I will get myself a ticket to Delhi somewhere in mid 2016 and head for this amazing trek. I seldom disappoint myself you see !

I booked my tickets somewhere in April. I was traveling with this agency called ”Trek the Himalayas” because when I searched Roopkund on internet, their result came up first – so much for the SEO I tell you ! I will come to the much discussed and debated comparison between India Hikes and Trek the Himalayas later on, provided you have the patience to read some irrelevant attempts of humor combined with first hand vital information regarding this trek

A few key details

Where to start from :

Kathgodam / Haldwani is situated in Uttarakhand, it is well connected through road and rail

How to reach :

If you are fine with bus travel, you can check out Redbus.in or https://www.utconline.uk.gov.in/ (state transport of Uttarakhand Govt, I would give them a 20 on 10). I strongly recommend booking a ticket with UTC Govt because private bus transport owners have no idea about how to treat their customers. If you are a fan of Indian Railways, Ranikhet express is something that you should look at on IRCTC (provided the site is opens up)

I traveled from Mumbai to Delhi via an evening flight and caught a night bus from ISBT Kashmere Gate, it takes around 6-7 hours via road to reach Kathgodam.

Delhi to Haldwani is around 281 kms. Haldwani and Kathgodam are twin towns.

When to travel :

The trek is open only for 4 months so you don’t have many options. May, June, September & October. Locals claim that Roopkund is not frozen on September and October.

What to carry :

Refer this useful link, this made life very easy

Trek difficulty :

This trek has been rated as Moderate – Difficult by most of the travel groups. I met one of the guides from India Hikes and he claimed that it should only be rated as Moderate because there are a lot of treks which are more difficult than this. I personally found this challenging psychologically than physically tiring, there are occasional steep ascends and descends accompanied with harsh winds that tend to blow up tents.

If you work out regularly and haven’t allowed your body to rust over a period of time, it should be quite easy for you. Travel agencies recommend clocking 4.5 kms in 30 minutes on regular basis to ensure your fitness levels are intact.

My dates :

I traveled from 29th may to 6th August. This series will have a day by day itinerary in below format

  1. 29th & 30th May – Briefing at Lohajung and a hike to Didina village
  2. 31st May : Ali Bugtyal – because staying at Bedni is too mainstream
  3. 1st June : Patarnachauni : Highest Cricket Ground in the country
  4. 2nd June : Bagawabasa : The teaser and musings with Babaji
  5. 3rd June : Patarnachauni descend
  6. 4th June : A never-ending hike to Neel Ganga
  7. 5th June & 6th June : Back to Kathgodam & Back to the base

If you are looking at anything specific (though I am going to try to cover up the most minute details), this is time !

So pull up your woollen socks get ready for the virtual trek.

Cheers

Share Button
Standard