During a chat with a friend, the topic of trekking came up and he started describing to me how he would go for treks when he was in Nepal. He told me about how he and his friends would just gather their backpacks and head out. Being a big fan of the outdoors, the moment I heard that story, I knew I was going on a trek and soon. Pretty soon I started the search for a trek.
Over the next few months I searched the internet for options and landed on a website that offered exactly what I was looking for. Within a few days I had booked my first trek and was soon to be on my way for the Roopkund trek. Since the trek was still a few weeks away I set about gathering the kit I would need and at the end of October 2013 I was at the airport with my backpack ready to make my way to my first official high altitude trek.
As I left for the trek, I had a few objectives in mind. The first was to have a great time, the second was to experience snowfall and the third was to play in the snow. While the second and third objectives were really up to the weather to sort out, the first was still under my control. So with a firm resolve to have a good time I got into the cab and was off to the airport.
The trek I had booked was called the Roopkund Trek. There are a couple of routes you can use to do this trek but the company I was going with was going to follow this itinerary.
- Kathgodam to Loharjung (approx 7,000 ft)
- Loharjung to Didna (approx 8,500 ft)
- Didna to Ali Bugyal (approx 10,000 ft)
- Ali Bugyal to Patar Nachauni (approx 12,000 ft)
- Patar Nachauni to Bhagwabasa (approx 14,000 ft)
- Bhagwabasa to Roopkund (approx 16,000 ft) then back down to Bedni Bugyal (approx 11,000 ft)
- Bedni Bugyal to Loharjung
- Loharjung to Kathgodam
Getting to Day 1
I reached Delhi as planned and visited with my brother. After having spent the day with him, I went to the bus stop to catch my bus to Kathgodam which is an overnight journey. At the bus stop I spotted a young chap with a backpack the same as mine and decided to say hello. 4 or 5 questions later I realised, much to my pleasure, that he was going to be a on the same trek that I was going for; what’s more, he was part of my batch. We quickly got friendly and realised that the two of us were booked on the same bus. Things were beginning to look good already, especially after the wild ride I had just had in the cab that got me there.
We got onto our bus and a short while later were on our way to Kathgodam where all trekkers were to meet up. Early the next morning we reached Kathgodam and asked around to find my hotel. Some of the locals told us that it was about a kilometre or so up the road and told us that we could take an auto to it. We decided that since we were there for a trek, we might as well get a head start on the exercise and walk it.
We checked into the hotel and decided to catch up for lunch once we had freshened up. After lunch my new friend and I decided to go down to the banks of the river Gaula which flows through the city. We explored the riverbanks for a while till we were tired, at which time we decided to return to the hotel. After a quick dinner we retired for the night awaiting the interesting days ahead to start.
The Trek (Day 1 to the return)
The plan was that all the trekkers would meet up at the Kathgodam railway station at about 6 in the morning. From there we were to be driven over 200 km to the village of Loharjung, which would serve as the start point of the actual trek. The early morning assembly had been requested so that we could reach Loharjung with plenty of time to spare for briefings and paperwork. As it turned out, it would be well past noon before we set off as a result of one of the trekkers trains coming in rather late.
After a long ride through the mountains, past Ranikhet and Almoda, we reached our destination. It was the village of Loharjung which sat at an altitude of 7,000 ft. The organisers had booked a guest house for us which they seemed to use regularly since it bore the trekking company’s logo on its wall. The accommodation was rather basic but, in a way, perfect for what we were about to do. Since we had been delayed in our departure from Kathgodam, our arrival in Loharjung came past sundown. We were told to sort ourselves out in the rooms and assemble for a briefing.
At the briefing we were told about what we could expect in the days to come and also schooled in some basics of safety in the mountains. We were also reminded that no alcohol or smoking was allowed and that anyone caught indulging in either of the two would be sent right back. Having been briefed we had dinner and retired for the night, all excited to get going.
To my relief, our group was not a big one. Along with me was my new friend from the bus stop at Delhi, a couple from Andhra Pradesh, 5 old mates from Bangalore, the trek leader along with his sister and brother in law and another chap who had come from Chennai. We were supported by 7 people who were the porters and the cooks. All together there were 20 of us there and it was this group that would set off the following morning.
The first day was supposed to be an early start but as is the case with EVERY journey EVER made, we were delayed by about an hour or so. We had to submit our medical forms and some people needed to get walking sticks since they had neglected to carry their own. Luckily the trekking company kept a few handy for just such a situation and finally after much organising, we were off.
This, the first day, at least for me, was the single toughest day of the trek since on this day we were supposed to head down the mountain we were on and climb the one opposite us to reach the first campsite. Therefore after much huffing and puffing we reached our next campsite; the village of Didna, 8,500 ft.
We were to stay in the village for the night and head out the next morning. As it happened, the day we reached Didna was Diwali and a celebration was obviously in order. Much to our surprise the trek leader had come prepared with some crackers. When he announced it, he also announced, much to my relief, that no noisy crackers would be used in order to maintain the peace and quiet of the mountains. We had a small celebration after which we all got into the houses and went off to sleep.
The next day we packed up and started our climb to our next campsite at Ali Bugyal, 10,000 ft. We reached the site around midday and settled in for some roaming around. We soon discovered that ours was the only trekking group on the trail and that just added to the fun I was having on my first trek. We were told that since the site had huts provided by the forest department (3 Nissan huts), tents were optional. One hut was taken over by the staff and served as our kitchen and the other was open to the trekkers.
I decided that I will not sleep in a hut if I can help it and asked for a tent to be pitched for me (this being my first trek, I didn’t really know how to pitch the tent). 4 of us decided to use the tents so 2 tents were set up for us. After a late evening photography and a scrumptious dinner we settled in for the night to rest up for the next day.
The next morning some of us were looking fresher than the others. I found out later in the day that one of the trekkers, who had chosen to stay in the hut, had snored so loudly throughout the night that no one in the hut was able to get any sleep what so ever.
I myself had had a rough night because the spot I chose for my tent was on a bit of slope. This meant that I spend most of the night sliding to one end of the tent and then wriggling my way back up like a worm in a sleeping bag. And when you exercise like so at the altitude we were at… trust me it’s not a restful night.
Once everyone was awake enough to not stumble around we packed up once again and headed to our next campsite at a place called Patar Nachauni which was at an altitude of 12,000 ft. The day was a bit painful for me because, unbeknownst to me, the straps on my backpack had slipped out of alignment and all 18kgs of the weight was slung unevenly on my back. By the time I reached Patar Nachauni, my left shoulder was killing me.
At the campsite, once I had dumped my stuff in my tent, and applied some medicine on my sore shoulder, I put on my warm clothes and joined the other for a short hike up an adjacent hill. We were about 60 ft above the campsite and that is where we decided to relax. We stayed on that hill till the sun started going down. In the night, we gathered around a campfire and the usual revelries of singing and casual banter began. After a while soup was served and then dinner following which we all retired to our tents.
The next morning we were to head out for our highest campsite yet, Bhagwabasa, at 14,000 ft. From here we were to make the attempt to reach the Roopkund Lake early the next day. This campsite was in stark contrast to all other because till now we had high altitude pastures surrounding us but now it was just mountains covered in bare stones.
Shortly after had set up camp at Bhagwabasa, a nasty wind picked up and was to stay with us till we left the campsite the next day. It was so strong that it broke one of the poles in my tent and almost made off with our poop tent (while someone was in it!!). It was only thanks to the efforts of the unhappy camper trying to protect his modesty that the poop tent was saved. We didn’t roam around much at this site because the wind made it difficult and it was too cold to move around much (also the ramifications of poor gear selection were beginning to dawn on me and they also served to keep me in my sleeping bag where it was nice and warm).
I felt that the temperature, with the wind chill factor, must have been at least -24 degrees Celsius but my trek leader assured me that it was only about -15 degrees.
That night we were served dinner very early because we were to wake up at 4 am and make our attempt to reach Roopkund. The next morning, at 4 am, we were woken up with a glass of nice hot tea. It was still dark outside and the plan was to head for the lake and reach it before sunrise. We got ready and, with the wind still blowing strong, headed out. Everyone was struggling against the nasty wind which had become a bit fiercer.
Because of the early hour and the prevailing darkness, we were told not to lose sight of the person ahead of us. All we could do was to make sure that we could see their heels in our torch light. After a slow climb that took us a few hours, we reached the top and were greeted to a grand old sunrise over the mountains. The view was stunning as the sun rose over the mountains and you got a glimpse of the endless valleys below. Even though it was bitterly cold, it was not cold enough to ruin such an extraordinary sight. Some of the braver of us descended into the basin of the lake, which was covered in snow, while the rest of us sat near the lip of the mountain.
The journey back
The plan was that we were to have our breakfast at the summit and then return to the camp site, pack up and move down to the campsite at Patar Nachauni but because of the wind, which was getting worse, we decided to just head back down. After less than a couple of hours of walking we were back at the campsite where it was decided that the weather had worsened enough to prompt a quick exit from that place.
The only change in plans was that instead of going down to Patar Nachauni, we would head further down to Bedni Bugyal at 11,000 ft. The reasoning was that at 12,000 ft the weather would catch up with us in no time and going down to Bedni Bugyal, we could add one more campsite to the trek.
We all put on our backpacks and started walking but this was easier said than done because the nasty wind from before had now become downright scary.
The path that we were on had the mountain on our left and a fall (coupled with broken bones) to our right. As we walked, there were instances when the wind, now against us, would be so strong that no matter how hard you tried, you would be held in place. As if that was not bad enough, soon we started getting gusts of wind coming down the mountain slope to our left. These gusts were so strong that if you didn’t stop and anchor yourself in some way, to the mountain, it would blow you clean off the mountain.
Mercifully as we reached the top of the decent to Patar Nachauni, the wind gave up some of its viciousness and we headed down. A few hours of walking brought us to this massive plateau that was Bedni Bugyal. It had a small temple on it with a pond in front of it, all of which was encased in a small wall made of stones. Further down the plateau were more Nissan huts and it is here that we were going to stay for our last night outdoors.
Since it was the last night out in the wilderness, I went the option to stay in a tent while everyone else chose to stay in the huts. That night we gathered around a campfire and the trek leader told us that the mythological story of the trek we had just done. He also told us the story of how it relates to Shiva and Parvathi and also about the great pilgrimage that takes place along the same route once every 12 years. Once we were done with dinner we all retired but the next day had a few surprises for us.
The end of the trek
The last morning of the trek was the most magical yet. I was awoken by one of my fellow trekkers shouting my name and telling me that I had to come out and see something. Groggily I got up, put on my glasses and opened my tent flap. I could scarcely believe what I was seeing. What had been a flat green and brown grassland just the day before had been turned into a winter wonderland. Better yet, IT WAS STILL SNOWING!!
It was a most pleasant surprise because I had all but given up on hopes of seeing snowfall. It seemed that the trek was going to be just perfect because I was about to tick off all three objectives that I started with. I had a great time on the trek, I got to see and play in the snow at Bhagwabasa (before the wind picked up) and now I was experiencing snowfall. Things could get any better could they? Well for one person in the group they were about to get better.
The friend I had made in Delhi was celebrating his birthday on the last day of our trek, a fact that did not slip by our trek leader. He took me aside and told me to keep my friend busy for a while. I didn’t know what was up but sensing that it was something nice, I complied and took my friend about a 100m away from the huts. After half an hour he signalled me to get him to the huts and there waiting for him was a small birthday cake that had been made by our cooks. It was not really a cake since it was a square preparing of suji halwa but I can bet it tasted better than any cake!
After my friend had cut his cake, we all got busy with breakfast and snowball fights. Shortly after that we were told to pack up and move out. We were leaving the wilderness behind and heading to the village of Wan, a few thousand feet below us. From these we were to take a jeep back to Loharjung where the trek would officially conclude.
The walk to Wan was uneventful but it did go through some lovely oak forest. A short jeep ride later we were back at the same guesthouse we had departed from a few days ago. That night we had a small celebration at the guesthouse where the cooks made us a bit of a fancy dinner. There was a bit of alcohol to go around and we were all handed out certificates marking our successful completion of the trek.
The next morning our minibus was back, ready to take us back to Kathgodam. As is always the case with me, the excitement had been replaced by a slight sadness that we were leaving. After a long and mostly quiet ride, we reached Kathgodam around 8pm. The group headed out to get some dinner (read pizza) and then we all headed our own way. Some of us were going onto Act 2 of their vacations while other, like me, headed for the bus stop to catch the bus back to Delhi and the flight back to Bangalore.
Reflecting on the trek
If I were to look back at the trek there are a few things that do stand out in my memory. The first thing was that it was the first trek that I ever did and one to a reasonably high altitude. I learned a lot about the gear and gear selection because some of the kit I had with me was woefully inadequate and it made sure I knew it.
But, while all these are lessons learned, the one thing that will stay with me forever is that the mountains seemed to have given me a proper welcome and a grand goodbye because not only did I manage to leave with a promise to return as often as I could, the mountains also seemed to conspire to fulfil all the goals I had set out with in the first place. I had a great time, I got to see snow and, best of all, and I got to see snowfall which came on the last day that we were out in the wilderness!
What did all this cost me?
So how much does the Roopkund trek cost? Well the trek itself isn’t too expensive. Now a day’s it’s just about Rs. 13,000 for the trek. When I went, it cost me a hell of lot more even though I went when it cost just about Rs. 9,000. The reason for that was the preparations and miscellaneous costs. Apart from the cost of the trek, I had to book flight tickets to Delhi and back and bus tickets from Delhi to Kathgodam and back.
Then came the single biggest expense; that of the kit. Since I was not going to rent or borrow anything I needed, I ended up buying an entire kit which cost me a pretty penny, upwards of Rs. 25,000 as I recall. This is nothing to worry about because if you are going to be doing this more, the money invested in a kit will be money well spent.
With Roopkund behind me, I set my eyes to my next trek and a short year later I was back for the Goechala Trek. This would be a trek that would give me one of my best photographs till date!