An Enigma called Roopkund

22nd Jun 2014
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The Himalayas have a reputation for putting the Human spirit to test. One moment you are exhilarated and ecstatic, the very next moment you could be dejected and crestfallen. Roopkund is a trek that takes you through a myriad of landscapes ranging from dense forests to lush meadows to snow-clad peaks. While the quiet of the mountains can make you look into the deepest recesses of your heart , it must also be borne in mind that living in such circumstances, the mind is preoccupied not with the complexities of human nature but ironically with basic things like where one might poop the following morning. For us – the city bred, living in such environs is challenging and it makes one realize that one can exist in surroundings far less comfortable than the ones we reside in. While I have learnt not to take the everyday comforts for granted, I quite enjoyed the human contact facilitated by the complete lack of cell phone coverage. Not every day is a fairy tale and there are days one wants to come home to family and a hot water bath. That does not take away the sense of euphoria on reaching the summit. That’s well- Beyond words J And the descend is bittersweet. A part of me is at Roopkund and my little tents at Bagwabasa , Patal nachauni and Bedni Bugyal

Trip Details:

Day 1: Kathgodam to Loharjung

This is a 10 hour drive and a lovely one at that. The perfectly chiseled white rocks are a rare sight and a prelude to the splendor that ensues. The ride was pleasant with bouts of nauseating curves, but then again which mountain has expressway roads. The highlight of the ride was the songs on the driver’s phone which were a mix of local numbers and remixes that might make our grandparents turn in their graves! We ate breakfast and lunch on our way and the delight of having vegetable maggi at any altitude above sea level is something almost every traveller can vouch for. Team that with the tales of horror and frolic that characterize the local region and one can expect an entertaining ride. Just when we were on the verge of boredom, three guys - all of whom we thought were crack heads asked us for a lift and much to our displeasure our driver agreed. No sooner had they entered our jeep than were we bombarded with questions. They were three of them – all seemingly novices and claimed to have no gear advised for the trek. I thought they were all jerks and I had made up my mind to keep my distance from them only to realize two of the three were our trek leaders fooling us and the third was the base camp manager. So quite an eventful journey it was! We spent the night at Loharjung in the Guest house . Here we received a list of do’s and don’ts from the trek leader and our Walking sticks which I thought was nothing more than a fashion accessory for a Himalayan trekker. I was far from being right about that though. Exhausted we slept in the sleeping bags to charge ourselves for the days to come

Day 2: Loharjung to Didina Village

On this day we began our trek. Armed with Walking sticks and our 70 L backpacks, we set foot on what was to be a remarkable journey. Little did we know that the enthusiasm would fade in less than a kilometer with all of us panting and halting to catch breath. The chirpy chant by our local guide”Maatu Maat, Pahaadan Paat” (Tread slowly on the mountains) egged us on. On this day we were confronted with the first Himalayan feature- the water. Within an hour , our water bottles were empty and we were brought to a water point and asked to refill our bottles. We did hesitate at first at the thought of drinking “unbottled” water, but there’s something magical about the cold water- the fatigue vanished and immersing our feet in that water was invigorating. With renewed energy we started walking further anticipating two things in particular-the next water point and the distance to the final campsite. Then again distance in the mountains is best measured in time rather than kilometers. We walked all of 5 kms on this day in 5 hours. A km in the mountain is 3kms in the plains and our trek leaders patiently took in our curses when we complained that the trail seemed endless. Finally we reached Didna Village. We were put up in a homestay and were greeted with neembu paani with all the qualities of the marvel called Himalayan Water. We had clear instructions from our trek leader that prohibited sleeping so that our bodies could get used to the altitude and weather. They called this the acclimatization process. As a part of this, we were required to collect firewood for the evening bonfire. That gave us a taste of the village life. The ewws and yikes were dismissed by the local guides and they made us slog to get the wood. Soon the disgust was replaced by the determination to collect as much wood as possible for the Bonfire. We had dinner in whatever little light there was and then gathered around the Bonfire to keep us warm and listen to legend about Goddess Parvati and Roopkund. To our dismay the local guide related no horror story but a tale of Goddess Parvati’s journey from Didna to Roopkund. We slept in the little wood house that was warm though it was pretty cold outside. Tired as we were, we slept almost instantaneously

Day 3: Didina Village to Bedni Bugyal

This was a long day with a 10 km trail and perhaps the most memorable day for reasons both sinister and good. After having trudged through forests for nearly three hours, we were above the tree line in lush meadows, with a breathtaking view. Its not for nothing that the Himalayas continue to enchant the most seasoned backpackers. We could see the sky above us in all its magnificence . The weather looked good and calm . But the local guide cautioned us jestfully “Mumbai da fashion aur pahaadan da mausam; dono da koi bharosa nahi” (The weather in the mountains is as unpredictable as the fashion in Mumbai). And the warning was soon going to be true. As we walked through the plateau , it started to rain followed by thunder and lightning and to our horror: hailstones. In an instant the landscape changed from muddy green to white and walking became difficult ! There wasn’t any tree cover and we saw a sheep being thrown about ten meters away from its path. The sound of Thunder in the city is not even close to its dreadfulness at an altitude of 3000 mtrs. The hailstones hurt and our hands were numb. That’s when we kind of lost nerve . It seemed like the wrath of mother Nature on mankind. My spirits were low , but the local guide warned against stopping in the open. That’s when our bodies were put to test. We have an amazing body that can acclimatize to adversity. We walked without stopping all the way to the campsite and ironically when we could barely feel our legs , we walked the fastest. The campsite was our haven and after warming ourselves from the kitchen stove, we changed into dry clothes and were still reeling from shock ! We were all grateful we were alive . Then after having a sumptuous hot lunch , we set for the firewood collection regime that now seemed like the only natural thing to do. But the Bonfire today was different. It was a shoe and clothes drying session and the attendance was 100%. For the complete 2 hours that the fire lasted we were chatting as we held our gear to the fire so that it would be dry for the next day. Needless to say we soon fell into deep sleep in our sleeping bags in tents which would have been a novelty but for the eventful day and the fact that we would live in tents seemed somewhat dull in comparison.

Day 3: Bedni Bugyal to Patal Nachauni

This is the easiest day of the trek and the walk is comfortable. We set foot on a 4 km trail in damp shoes but renewed vigour knowing we were inching closer to Roopkund with every passing day. The weather was pleasant with a little drizzle and we reached Patal Nachauni just in time for Lunch. After lunch , we spent time playing dumb-charades and chattering about the near death experience from the previous day. This campsite had a little store close to the place our tents were set up and guess what the store offered- maggi, egg bhurji and songs! We all gathered in the little makeshift room and the banter was on as ever. I call this day the Bonding day because we weren’t tired and acclimatized enough to worry about the discomfort caused by the weather. We slept that night feeling like a family determined to scale the heights we set out for.

Day 4: Patal Nachauni to Bagwabasa

This was a difficult day and we were to gain an altitude of 1000 mtrs! We left after breakfast and reached a little temple called Kalu Vinayak after a three hour trek. There is something serene about the mountain air and the sound of the conch at that altitude is beyond description. We stopped there for a short prayer before setting foot for our final campsite. We reached Bagwabasa by noon. After having had a sumptuous meal we retired to our tents to catch some sleep before we started for Roopkund at midnight. This place was colder than Bedni and therefore a we were a wee bit uncomfortable .Inside in our tents that were hoisted on a rocky patch, it was like falling down a step everytime we turned inside our sleeping bags. We woke up to the calm evening breeze in time for hot soup and final instructions before scaling the summit we set out for. We took in the instructions enthusiastically trying on the extra gear we would be given the following morning. We were given a pair of crampons and getters each . These were to ensure that we could walk comfortably on snow . We went back to our tents excited and had barely slept when we heard the whistle meaning it was time to march!

Day 5: Bagwabasa to Roopkund ; Roopkund to Patal Nachauni

This was perhaps the most taxing and rewarding day of the trek. Sweet is the fruit of labor. We started the climb at midnight in torch light. Walking in torch light on a rocky trail is no easy feat and understandably we stumbled quite a few times . We were bruised but consumed with a zeal to summit. By dawn, we could see gleaming patches of snow ahead of us and we all squealed with delight. This was when we strapped on our crampons and getters and continued onward. The crampons ensured our feet were firmly ground in snow and we did not slip. However one can only be so careful. Walking in snow is challenging to say the least and one wrong foot can set you down by hundreds of meters and do irreparable damage to one’s self confidence. A fellow trekker slipped on an icy patch and was saved just in the nick of time by an experienced Sherpa. The sight left us all flabbergasted and we weren’t sure if we wanted to go any further! We were caught between fear and expectation. The latter triumphed over our instinct to walk back to Bagwabasa and we set foot again for the final summit. At sunrise we witnessed the sight we had anticipated for months! Between the snow clad mountains was a pristine pond. There was something holy about it . An unruffled calm and serenity took over and for a while we stood mesmerized taking in the extraordinary beauty that stared us in the face. As we sat there absorbed in the ambience , our trek leader blew the whistle and it was time to return. That’s when I knew a part of me would be there forever staring at the pond! With a heavy heart , we started our descend . The sun was up and the snow had hardened. It required all the dexterity of a local to ensure we reached the base camp alive without injuries. We took about 3 hours to Bagwabasa camp . But this time we were all brooding and the lunch did not seem as inviting. We ate passively and trudged back to Patal Nachauni. The only thing that managed to uplift our mood was Maggi at the little store and songs there. We all cooped up around the stove and hung on to every word of the lyrics. The rest of the day passed without any event.

Day 6:Patal Nachauni to Wan , Wan to Loharjung

The descend is depressing said a doctor who was with us on the trek. I did not quite agree at the beginning, but soon I realized I did not want to go back to civilization. For the first time in my life did I think of ascetics as different from lunatics. This day we walked for 15 kms. It was descend and by this day the mountains ceased to fatigue us. We walked for 10 hours and stopped at a brook called Neelganga . The water here was cold and Himalayan in all its glory. This was our last halt before Wan. The sight of road after 5 days was a change- albeit not as welcome as we imagined it would be. A jeep waited here to take us back to our guest house in Loharjung. We reached the guest house by 7 pm. We were given certificates here and everyone was asked to share their experience. It was a nice little ceremony followed by a party which was a not so befitting end to the dream we lived that week- but then what could match the grandeur of the Himalayas !

Day 7: Loharjung to Kathgodam

All good things must come to an end. And we had 10 hours to absorb this fact. Even on our way back the picturesque Uttarakhand called us back for more. And resolute we were to come back to this heaven. We stopped twice for food and reached Kathgodam by 6 – back to where we came from – the sea of humans. And thus ended my week long Romance with the most exotic ranges of the world. I came home a wiser person- not knowing how and when I matured. There are journeys that stay with us and then there are ones like these that leave an indelible mark on one’s mind. I am glad I chose the Himalayas and the Himalayas chose me in turn. 

Until I find someplace where I can leave a part of me,