Do not be satisfied with the story that comes before you, unfold your own myth” ~ Rumi
Har Ki Doon has been one such myth of my life that I wanted to write since ages. I had heard of it for the first time when one of my uncles who undertook it about 5 years ago from now. He completed a 16 days expedition, wherein he not only explored the Doon valley but also the Kedar Kantha side of the Himalayas. It was a precarious task but surely an inspiring one. By the time I got a chance to undertake this journey, it was minimized to only exploring the Doon Valley in about 9 days. I had waited a long time for this opportunity and undoubtedly it was worth the wait. From planning it to finally making it happen, there were mixed emotions of excitement, skepticism and nervousness, something that I feel each time I am about to witness the magic of Himalayas.
Packed bags, sleepless night and butterflies in the stomach, it was a positive start of the trip. The first day was more or less about dealing with the nitty gritties of the trek, we reached the reporting camp, submitted the essential documents, greeted the fellow trekkers in the group and with all the hope looked forward for yet another memorable one week.
The bus moved to Sankri, about 200 kilometers from Shahestradhara, our reporting camp. Arihant seemed to be the most excited of all. He told me constantly that he was happy, the feeling was just too new for him. He had only dreamt of it, it did become real. Puneet was just as happy too, his phone was to stop ringing very soon. Mountains, you see!
The mini bus started at 7.45 AM from Shahestradhara, carrying a group of 40 people packed in a mini bus.
A 9 hours journey to cover 230 Kilometers; the road is pretty much comfortable & smooth but in most places, it is a single road, hence, driver’s skill is a must. About 20 kilometers before Mori, we took a stopover in the countryside, under the shades with the sun rays penetrating through the leaves to touch base with the ground. We entered Govind National Park at around 3 PM from Naitwar, got our permits and within an hour reached our camp site at Sankri. On one side of the road, there are steps farms with potatoes planted in it and on the other side is a valley bearing the homes of Sankri village. There are small red cheeked little kids; so elated to see us that they welcome us with their broad smiles. As we settle down ourselves and our stuff into our tents, we sip onto the hot tea and let the mountains embrace us from everywhere.
It was a relaxed evening, we took a stroll till the nearest market, chilled with our group mates with a Bournvita and some regional songs being sung in the campfire.
Started at 5 in the morning; Arvind, our instructor and a graduate from NIM had a plan in place for our acclimatization. We ran through the curvy roads of Garhwal Himalayas, started from one end of Sankri village and ran till the other end. The sun was rising from behind the mountains. While we looked down in the valley, we could see the Sankri village besides some step farms and some tall trees. The place is known for the cultivation of apples and apricots. Sankri is a landslide prone region & people in some villages around Sankri have managed to make moveable houses. Jack technology helps them in shifting when the mountains are harsh on them. The point from where we could view this scenic beauty was our exercise spot. With open arms we welcomed the sun, breathed in some fresh air and I personally thanked God for the onset of the most beautiful next 7 days in the valley.
As we bid farewell to the group leaving for higher camp, we all also got into our shoes for some adventure. Arvind took us to a forest nearby for Rappelling. He gives instructions and makes sure that we are not nervous and can totally enjoy the free fall. The human brain however, not accustomed to such routines, still falls prey to some fear.
After this small stint with rappelling, some of us walked into the jungle and saw some ancient rocks being turned into temples of faith. During these walks, the most natural topic of discussion is the various peaks that we can see and the heights that we have already scaled in the Himalayan ranges. Experiences that are talked about in these forests inspire us for a very long time. After enjoying the Rappelling and our Rasna drinks, we moved back to tents, did a final packing to leave for higher camps the next morning.
This evening was reserved for hosting the campfire at the base camp. Shahrukh, a localite from Purola, was the star of the evening. With cuteness all over his face and the charm in his name, he simply stole the show. The confidence in his act brought the evening alive; not just girls but everyone went gaga over him.
Tuesday it was. There was some sort of sadistic pleasure playing in the mind, knowing the fact that you are not waking up to go to office. While the whole world is prepping up for the day’s activities, you are one of those few who is cut off from the materialistic world. You are here in the forest, seeking tranquility. It’s an unmatched pleasure, I tell you; only the forests can instigate it.
From Sankri we were deported to Taluka village by Jeep. A rough terrain to drive, it was 45 minutes of holding our breath as the driver almost paddled the jeep through some tall waterfalls in the forests. There was high pressure of water pushing the jeep into turbulent waters, only the real experts of driving should try their hands on driving here.
We covered almost 12 kilometers on the first day, a jungle walk for about 6 hours. On our way we collected toffee wrappers which were insensitively thrown by some fellow travelers, met some local villagers who still practice the Stone Age traditional ways of earning their bread and butter. Cows, Sheep and Mules are seen all through the way. While females take care of the cattle, men tag along the mules and make movement possible in this rough terrain. Some rare species of flora and fauna are also seen in Govind National Park but one has to be very alert and watchful of them. We reached our first higher camp, Seema, at about 3.45 PM. We had gained an altitude of about 3000 ft. when we reached Seema. We were now at an altitude of approx. 8000 ft. Left behind was Gangaad village and right there in front of our sight was Osla Village. Everything else around us was either a shade of green or grey. We were welcomed with tea and pakoras we sat on a big rock and it was the most perfect ambience for singing Kishore Da’s song. As the sun was setting, the cool breeze touched our face and we only let ourselves to be there in the moment. The first day of hiking was ending on a good note. But the best was yet to come.
A sip of the Bournvita, a hard rock mountain in the front view, an over the top view of zillion of stars and an unpredictably beautiful company of new people in a transition of becoming friends from strangers. Some of my favorite conversations in these mountains have happened over a cup of Bournvita. In some time, the night became gravely silent and we too turned ourselves into the tent.
Today was a bright shiny day. I woke up from my broken sleep, feeling excited about the heights that I was set to scale, at the same time a little taken aback thinking about the distance that I had to traverse to reach my final destination. From Seema Camp to Har Ki Doon Camp, it is a stretch of about 20 Kilometers. We cross three different mountains to get a glimpse of the Har Ki Doon Valley. There comes a point while walking, when we can turn around and see all these three mountains at different cuts. It is a long walk to do; the main issue that a lot of trekkers face on this route is that they cannot really take long breaks to absorb the natural beauty. There is a constant pressure to keep walking. Though the altitude of Har Ki Doon Valley is a little less than 12000 ft and there is no sickness felt as such but the distance in itself becomes challenging. From Seema Camp, we started our journey at 8 in the morning, reached the Osla Village cross over in about an hour and from there started the ascend. There are a very few and tiny villages in this terrain, Osla is a popular one. While the popular ‘Karan’ temple is situated in Naitwar, the famous Duryodhan temple is situated in Osla. The locals take offence about it, and maintain the tradition that there is only Someshwar Mahadev temple in the Osla village (As told by the guide). There are few other villages which one does not get to witness on the way but you may bump into the local residents of these villages, who are out in the Valley in search of some work from cattle grazing to selling the natural stuff of the mountains.
People are found in the valley too but only the peaceful ones. Even the residents of the valley skip a beat in their hearts while being in this Valley that holds together giant glaciers innumerous trees, the mammoth river and the shadow of the dark clouds. No less than shire, this look alike of the middle earth widens our horizon into something that we have been escaping all this while.
There are three major ascends that we do on the way, the first one is in loose soil & tends to be extremely slippery while already being extremely narrow. The next ascend is probably the most beautiful part of the whole walking that we do here. It is visible from far away distance. While we can see the start point of it, we can’t see the end point because that is where the mountain trail bends through its curve. At the first glance, this may appear to be scary, but in reality it is not. A tortoise walk, some baby step and your best friend on the trip walking behind you, pushing your limits beyond what you already knew about your walking; right here take a pause and turn back, mesmerized by the velvety green grassland sloping down, I assure you, your lost breath will be regained here at this moment.
And then when you too bend over that curve, it is a leveled walk for a very long distance. The joy becomes so great by this time that you may want to run there. But a good idea would be to keep hopping on this narrow trail, until you reach the lunch point which is right besides a pretty waterfall. The day was quite sunny by this time, we were already sweating and the cool breeze from near the waterfall was keeping the ambience perfect. My favorite dog, on this trek, Sheroo had already reached here and was peacefully resting under the shade of waterfall. We royally sat on a rock in the middle of the pool of the waterfall and enjoyed the gourmet meals of Maggi , eggs and our pack lunch. We tried dipping our bare feet into the pool, in an attempt to feel relaxed and attain Nirvana but the water was uncomfortably cold; with each passing microsecond, the feet became numb.
As we walked further into the woods, the clouds haunted us for a long time. But it was only a naughty dance between the sun and the clouds which is probably a regular scene in the evenings at HKD.
There was still a long way to go. We crossed many wooden bridges constructed over the molten snow, rested against the magnificent rocks that were carving the Supin River. In the natural shades of light, clicking a few selfies was not all that a bad idea. But it was still a long walk and after a while the road seemed never ending. Other private camps had already pitched their tents near the river and were munching the evening snacks & energy drinks. But the YHAI Camp was still out of sight. As we saw the banners of our camping site, we felt relieved that we were almost there. But in a nick of time we realized that the moments of relief are still distant. Our tents were pitched in the Har Ki Doon Valley. It is almost a 2 Kilometer descend to reach there; a very slippery & a rocky one indeed.
The view of the valley is vast from this point. The grasslands expand in all the directions till the eyes can see and beyond the cover of greens, there are whites, whites on the heights; the extraordinary Swargarohini Peak. It was almost 6 PM by the time we reached our camp. We were completely drained out of our energies and there was hardly any energy left to even pull out the jackets from our bag. With some more courage, we settled and unpacked. Hot tomato soup was the need of the hour and luckily we were served that. There was no mood to eat food but for the heck of acclimatizing to the harsh weather, we did feed ourselves. I was not surprised to see Gulab Jamuns on my plate post dinner. YHAI always serves the best desserts on their highest camp sites. In the biting cold, the sleep was definitely not sound; nevertheless we were tucked in our blankets for the night.
We woke up pretty early to witness the sun rise but the cold did not let us be there. There was some orange flare on the Swargarohini peak but we could not see the Sun God for the longest time. Day 6 was the day to relax and explore & admire the valley. The camp leader Deepjyoti Biswas is an interesting personality. He takes good care of the camp site and also gels well with the locals. In fact, he is the best repertoire of information about the Har Ki Doon valley in the valley.
The valley of the Mahadev, popular as Har Ki Doon valley, is located at 11,570 ft in the Garhwal Himalayan Ranges. It is a cradle shaped hanging valley with the presence of Pine trees, Iris flowers and Rhodendron flowers. As the myth says, if one witnesses a golden calf in this valley, he has witnessed the Mahadev himself.
Bhojpatra trees, also known as the Birch of the Himalayas, the barks of which were used in ancient times to write the lengthy manuscripts and lengthy texts in Sanskrit is abundantly found in this region. the specialty of this tree is that it grows only at an altitude of 10,000 ft and above.
The three major peaks of Western Himalayas – Kala Naag, Bandar Pooch and Swarg Rohini are visible in the Uttarkashi district. However the valley of Har Ki Doon serves as the starting point for only Swarg Rohini peak. Situated at an altitude of almost 20,500 ft, it essentially involves the climb of four peaks – Swarg Rohini 1, 2, 3 and 4. In the history of mankind, Swargrohini peak 3 and 4 have already been conquered, however 1 and 2 were untouched till about a few days ago. These peaks are an over-hang, they have an angle of more than 90 degrees, making it difficult for even peatons to hang in there. The soil in this terrain is so loose that even snow does not stick to it for long.
Legend also has it that Swarg Rohini Peak is the staircase to heaven, from where the humans can go to the Heaven in the form of Human Body itself. Yudhishthir is the only Pandava who took the staircase to heaven.
Apart from the Swarg Rohini peak, if we look around the valley, we would catch a glimpse of the Jaundar Glacier in the far sight, the snow covered peaks give an appearance of the Vanilla ice cream. Jaundar glacier is a source of Supin River, at an attitude of 13,000ft, a tributary of Yamuna which flows into Tibet. Another tributary, Tons river flows from Naitwar, and merges into Yamuna at Naogaon.
The major attractions to take note of in this valley are the Morinda Lake and the Jaundar Glaciers. Situated at a distance of about 6 kilometers in different directions, one can trek to any one of these spots and come back to the Har Ki Doon Camp. From up above the Morinda lake, is the Bharasu Paas, at an altitude of approx 19,000 ft. which is essentially the border with the state of Himachal Pradesh, opening into Chitkul.
I whiled away a lot of time that day with no concrete thoughts in any spur of the moment. A small rivulet was flowing somewhere behind the camp. When the sun came out, I went to touch the rivulet. It felt musical to stand next to it but it was still the most challenging bit to feel the water – not to forget, it was actually the snow from the Jaundar glaciers, melting from the heat of the sun.
The day went passed absorbing a lot of positivity from my vicinity. I focused a lot on my energy levels and set them high once again.
The night temperature dropped to minus 2 degrees but all the girls in my tent just kept cozy while they slept. The night sky once again dwindled with stars as we snoozed inside the sleeping bags.
Today was the day to go back to Seema Camp. Everyone felt a little more energetic than the previous days. It was still the same distance to be covered but we had now mastered the art of walking on the unleveled stony paths.
Sheroo, did not accompany us any further and he bid me goodbye with a lot of love. I felt sad, perhaps he too had traveler spirit and we were destined to be together only till that moment.
As we walked, we talked. And today, there were many chances to stop and breathe in the beauty of the valley. The eyesight went too far off; beyond the buggyals in the forests and those moments gushed in once again where it felt so fortunate to have a belonging to the Himalayas; the land of the Mahadev; the purity that you breathe in.
Meanwhile, we also interacted with the locals. They shared with us the experiences of the Valley. Gulab Singh wants to send his brother to Delhi, so that he studies well, make money and may be get married there one day.
Surinder Singh Rawat, the cutest guide, in the whole of Valley, he was so red and smiling all the time, how he loved getting a picture clicked with the girls, as if he was the Tom Cruise of the Valley, he indeed was. Random conversations with strangers have become a regular feature of my trek expeditions now. These are some of the beautiful memories that I take back with me. For the rest of the day, we walked pretty relaxed and paused on many spots. There was no hurry to reach Seema Camp and we ended up there before it turned dark.
There were mixed feelings already happening; Happy that we were getting a step closer to home and sad that there are no stars visible from where home is. This was probably my last night to gaze at the stars. Bournvita was a constant companion. After the minus two degrees cold wave at Har Ki Doon, Seema Camp only felt pleasant.
As we woke up and attended to our nature calls in the nature for last time, our porter Achpal had come with his mule to carry our rucksacks. We walked comfortably, whistling into the woods and once again got captured on those same bridges of wood planks with Osla village in the background. I met Archana at the lunch point; Archana my favorite buddy from the group. We sat there for a little while and this time we chilled over some Bob Marley Marijuana. As ‘Jammin’ played, we started getting high and it felt as if we were two silly butterflies flocking around the trees. The moment was seized perfectly into Paresh’s camera and became eternal for us. The walk was still long, the sun was bright too but just enough sunlight was penetrating through the shades of the tree that it called for one more photo session. We sat under the trees, we stood over the logs, we jumped over the rocks, and we did everything we could for today was our last day into the forests. As we approached Taluka, the village from where we started our journey, the clouds became happy and showered a bit of their love on us. From there, we were jeep transported to our base camp Sankri. We received a warm welcome at that point. We celebrated the achievement together, changed our clothes after almost 5 days, and still didn’t feel like taking bath, the water was terribly cold. Certificate ceremony, exchange of numbers and bidding final goodbyes to fellow travelers – common notions at the end of a trek. Some new bonds were formed into those distant lands which we only dream of visiting all through the year. These friends are our new hopes that we may meet them once again in their own lands and re-live the handful of memories that we had gathered in this one week