Kedarkantha: A Summit trek in the greater Himalayas

11th Mar 2023
Photo of Kedarkantha: A Summit trek in the greater Himalayas by Neelesh

When dopamine seems to be autopilot-ing your life, it's a good idea on those days to, once in a while go to the mountain jungles, where there is no electricity, no signal and you have all the time to yourselves, and surprisingly, the days start seeming longer somehow, and you have so much to do.

Other, less savoury aspect is of exposing your behind to freezing water at subzero temperatures. But there is a lot to learn from these experiences (as I have summarized at the end). Personally, I'll make it a rule to go on one such expedition every year. here goes.. (please don't skip after reading the first few paragraphs, there are some good photos too, go check them out)

This was my first long and proper snow trek and boy what an experience! Contrary to popular choice, I did the summit wearing jeans and sneakers. Also, whoever on google calls this an 'easy to moderate' trek should be made to sit on a cactus. Before I begin I'll just mention the quick details.

Day 1

The Views on the day 1 ride to Sankri

Photo of Uttarkashi, Uttarakhand, India by Neelesh

Kedarkantha trek is an alpine snow trek in the Greater Himalayas of Uttarakhand, and the summit is at 3810 m. The trek starts at a village Sankri, which is about 9-10 hours ride from Dehradun into the Hills. It is a 5-day affair, with the first day consumed in bus/car travel, and the 5th day, mostly occupied in motor travel again to Dehradun.

We had quite overreached ourselves when we planned for a Snow trek spanning 5 days, followed by a 10 day Kinnaur-Spiti plan (which included a 20 hour journey in the hills in a seater state transport bus, since no other options). And the latter part of the plan could not come to pass. The description that follows will make it clear as to why.

We Began as a planned group of 6, then One of us couldn't start because of sickness pertaining to the stomach, and god bless him because woe to him had he pushed it. 😨

I'll name my buddies: Apart from Me, it was Suraj, Shef, Tanay and Snu.

We began from Prince chowk, Dehradun on a happy note, with a service provider called adventurescape. A bolero took us all and slowly we rose above the valley and into the Mussoorie hills. The road to Mussoorie is excessively zig-zagged and puts your stomach into a tough situation, especially if you're prone to motion sickness. 40 kms from starting, Snu started to feel sick in the stomach, and had a bout of puking just as we stopped for breakfast at a nice hotel. Later, halfway through the journey, she'd have to board a return bus to journey for the same persisting reasons.

It started getting slightly cold, and Snu pointed out that my cheeks were starting to get red revealing the pahadi boi that I am. We started our silly, awkward and hysterical vlogging.

4 of us remaining, we went on. Here, I'd like to omit a few unpleasant details which involve a lot of vomiting further, suffice it to say, Suraj and I were the only two last unpuked people standing when the ride ended in the evening.

Sankri lies near the end of Uttarkashi district, near to the border of the state, on the other side of which lies Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh. On the way we were joined by the river Yamuna on our left. The river looked as clear and pristine as it gets, we also took a little break at its bank.

The Clear waters of Yamuna

Photo of Yamuna River, Uttarkashi, Uttarakhand by Neelesh
Photo of Yamuna River, Uttarkashi, Uttarakhand by Neelesh
Photo of Yamuna River, Uttarkashi, Uttarakhand by Neelesh
Photo of Yamuna River, Uttarkashi, Uttarakhand by Neelesh
Photo of Yamuna River, Uttarkashi, Uttarakhand by Neelesh
Photo of Yamuna River, Uttarkashi, Uttarakhand by Neelesh
Photo of Yamuna River, Uttarkashi, Uttarakhand by Neelesh
Photo of Yamuna River, Uttarkashi, Uttarakhand by Neelesh

Dreading the outcome, it was decided to not have food, since it would anyway come out and result in loss of capital 🤡. Shef meanwhile had some soft drink and chips, which she would get to meet again later 🤡, and which would haunt her till the mid of next day.

On the positive side, we witnessed some heavenly scenes of himalayan villages nestling in the lap of nature, thriving on step farming and the bounty of nature. Sheep and cows were also making cameo appearances.

Higher up, as we entered the settlements and villages, we could notice a total difference in how people looked, lived and wore clothes. Everyone, even the old folks were very fit with red cheeks, ladies covered their heads with scarfs and men with a variant of the Kullu topi. The hill features: small eyes, red sunburnt cheeks, fair skin and aquiline Indo-Aryan noses were clearly discernible (Unlike the small Sino-Tibetan noses in some other parts of Uttarakhand Himalayas).

We were lodged at a hotel 'Swargarohini' which shares its name with a peak visible from Kedarkantha top. The hotel rooms were fine and well equipped for that remote location, it was really cold there.

We were served evening snacks and briefed about the next day. Then we went off for a stroll around and took a nice look at the hills and mountains behind us. There were beautiful apricot and plum blossoms around the roads and in the clearings enabling us to take cringy pictures. A fire was burning somewhere but oh, we couldn't dare climb down there for the cold. We went to bed after a nice terrace buffet meal which wasn't fancy but was like homemade meal with a few flourishes like paneer and sweet.

Photo of Kedarkantha: A Summit trek in the greater Himalayas by Neelesh
Photo of Kedarkantha: A Summit trek in the greater Himalayas by Neelesh

At night, shef had some bad food poisoning (we assume) because she had some bad vomits and subsequent weakness. It was scary considering what we were in for. We rented a mule service so she wouldn't to carry, plus also gave her ORS tetrapacks.

After breakfast and bath, we left on our way. It was a batch of total 36. Incidentally, Shef was the only lady. She was helped by the trek leader's ORS mixture too. The trek was through coniferous pines overlooking awesome mountain tops and strewn with rhododendron flowers. At one point a dhaba owner played some soulful flute music to set the vibe, and it was a lot of fun with the dogs and horses on the way. It was all very easy on the eye ...

Photo of Kedarkantha: A Summit trek in the greater Himalayas by Neelesh
Day 2

Sheep Herders

Photo of Sankri, Uttarakhand, India by Neelesh

For the first resting point we reached a dhaba, where we had lemonade and tasty and warm Maggi. that did the trick for her somewhat, more mentally than physically. After a total of 4 hours of uphill trekking, you reach Juda ka Talaab, the first day's campsite. We had been using bamboo sticks as support which really does help a lot by acting as a third leg.

On the way we were followed by furry Himalayan sheepdogs and Tibetan mastiffs, locally called ' bhutia' dogs. As we found out, they would accompany us till the summit !

Photo of Kedarkantha: A Summit trek in the greater Himalayas by Neelesh
Photo of Juda Ka Talab, Supin Range, Uttarakhand by Neelesh

After reaching Juda ka Talab, we were made to stand in a circle and massage each others shoulders. After some light exercise, we sat and basked in the sun by the pond called as Juda ka talaab which has some back-story with Lord Shiva. We were given a big hut-shaped tent compared to others on account of us being 4, it was a storage tent which they called 'dining' and regardless of what they called it, we were really happy to have so much area.

After a hearty lunch, we went to sleep to shed our exhaustion, and remained that way until we were woken up for the snack and tea. It was a light drizzle outside, and getting even colder. They said it'll be bad for our heads if we keep sleeping for so long, and we did feel a light headache. Dinner was served before the sun went down for lack of any electricity. The meals had chapatis, rice, dal, salads, vegetable, as well as sweet, and looking at the lack of resources and remote location, I would say, were quite sumptuous.

The night sky was studded with stars, and we enjoyed some night photography before going inside our sleeping bags.

Photo of Juda Ka Talab, Supin Range, Uttarakhand by Neelesh

Next day we left at around 8:30 after having had a breakfast of poha, tea and pancake with honey. It was an ordeal to walk outside for food, but the bigger ordeal, of exposing your hindquarters to freezing water, and washing your hands with the said freezing water, was nothing short of torture. I had to bury my hands in bhooty's fur, as we had taken to calling the bhutia dog.

Ashamed to admit, I had brought a portable bidet along, and it did the job quite well. The toilets were dry and were a makeshift arrangement involving a small tent with wooden log seats over a ditch using sawdust after the deed was done. Pretty comfortable after what all we had imagined in our minds. But the water treatment was akin to ... sitting on a snowman. :((

The Day 3 was pretty easy and enjoyable. Meanwhile shef had recovered her health, and it was a 3 km upward trek. Today, snow made it's appearance on the path and it got slippery so we had to be very careful. People we falling and slipping on the way. The walk was over within 2.5 hours and we were at Kedarkantha base camp where it was all snow. Suraj saw snow for the first time in life and couldn't believe. I had devised some techniques for walking in snow, but nobody would adopt my best practices, which was hurtful 😦

Day 3
Photo of Juda Ka Talab, Supin Range, Uttarakhand by Neelesh
Photo of Juda Ka Talab, Supin Range, Uttarakhand by Neelesh
Photo of Kedarkantha Base Camp, Singtur Range, Uttarakhand, India by Neelesh

Having done the customary snow angel and Slo-mos falling on the snow and snow fall fighting, we proceeded to the customary snow-man making, except we called it a snow-woman ' Snowee Roy' in the memory of our departed friend.

The lunch was again good, and we got some good time bask on the rocks and fall asleep. I drew some, and wrote some in my travel notebook, and while I was doing it, it started to snow, first in the form of hail, and then, snowfall!

this time we had regular campsite tents and we had to huddle inside after a brief enjoying of snow. It snowed and rained for quite sometime, and the clouds cast a shadow on our summit plan. However, as fate would have it, we did end up going to the summit.

The dinner happened amid light snowfall, and a large group of Gujrati Medical Students were averse to stepping out in that weather. To pull them out, the pahadi sherpa-like trek leaders had to issue mating calls of ' kem chho..' and ' sanedo-sanedo'.

Photo of Kedarkantha Base Camp, Singtur Range, Uttarakhand, India by Neelesh

The Summit push started at 3 at night. We were woken up at 2:30, served Tea and food (we missed the food on account of us being late for it) and set out around 3:30 after getting ready. Our luggage was left in the tents.

This part of the journey was damn cold, and asked for continuous hydration. Additionally, we were given gaiters and crampons for firm grip because it was entirely snow ahead, several feet deep snow if you placed foot outside the made trail. Even after two layers of socks, our toes were freezing.

The contingent strode on, guided by the head-worn flashlights, and after two hours of walk, came at the maggi point, and we replenished ourselves with coffee and juice, and went further on.

On the way, there were huge footsteps as holes, of the size of elephants, and folks started to make up theories of yetis frequenting the mountain jungle. After trotting for an hour, the summit came in clear view it gave an illusion that we had reached, and we rejoiced. But the summit was still an hour away and the climb further was remarkably more steep, like a staircase, at around 60-70 degree inclination (or so I thought).

Day 4
Photo of Kedarkantha Peak, Singtur Range, Uttarakhand, India by Neelesh

In case any of us despaired, we cheered each other and offered water to hydrate. After an arduous climb during which we sat many times on the rocks, the summit was within grasp and we saw the magnificent sunrise atop the mountains. The sun came very quickly indeed, emerging from behind the ice capped tops faster than we thought it would move. The sky, meanwhile, had been reddening for about than an hour. At seven, we were at the summit, the topmost point and had to move only down now.

We stayed at the summit for around half hour, rejoicing on all the austerities that we had conquered, and looking at the peaks levelled with us. The contingents clicked photographs and some enthusiastic groups shouted their poems and war-cries. Then it was time for us to come down.

The coming down was by no means uneventful. From the top, we slid down the snow, skiing but on our bums. We slid a couple of slopes and covered quite some altitude this way. Further ahead was walk again, and we were pretty drained by the time we reached a dhaba, at the dhaba, we had our much required maggi, and juice, and then pushed for the last run, except, it wasn't the last after all.

Photo of Kedarkantha: A Summit trek in the greater Himalayas by Neelesh
Photo of Kedarkantha: A Summit trek in the greater Himalayas by Neelesh

Staggering and stumbling, we somehow reached the base camp, and fell into our tents. After having lunch we slept for a couple hours and then prepared to leave for Hargaon. Hargaon turned out to be pretty near and we reached in an hour and half. The way was slippery. Once in Hargaon, we again got the big storage tent, much to our joy.

The evening at Hargaon was spent joyfully, basking in the sun lying on the clearing, and recounting events from the trek over pasta and tea, much more carelessly since there wasn't another uphill climb to make any more.

For the dinner, there was a hearty meal including bhindi, along with jalebi for sweet. As a goodbye gesture, the conductors made a bonfire for us to warm ourselves. We warmed ourselves for a long time before going to bed, and then left early morning at 6:30 AM for the final descent to Sankri.

If we needed anything most after all these days, it was a shower, and that exactly is what we did first. At Sankri, we lodged in the hotel again, took shower with thankfully hot water, and had a very filling breakfast which felt like a return to normal life again. We were very very grateful. Shower, new clothes and food on chair-table.

Our day further was occupied by jeep travel back to Dehradun the way we had come, with abstinence from food. 🙂

Things that we learnt from the trip/ how this trip helped us:

(a) Adapting to difficult situations, w.r.t. accessibility, temperature, climate, provisions, facilities and networks (b) Spending time with ourselves and a much needed digital and dopamine detox in the absence of battery and network (c) Gratitude for the comforts we have been blessed with (d) Different climates, food, ways of life, flowers, animals, people and cultures (e) Fitness and stamina.

Photo of Himalayas by Neelesh