Touching Trishul - An Independent Trek to Roopkund

Tripoto
2nd Oct 2017

Mt. Trishul & Mt. Nandaghunti as seen from Bedni Bugyal

Photo of Touching Trishul - An Independent Trek to Roopkund by Rohan Bhasin

The Roopkund Trek is arguably one of the most complete treks that our beautiful country has to offer. Nestled, quite literally, in the front yard of Mt. Trishul, in the Chamoli district of Garhwal Uttarakhand, it is a paradise for all trekkers - seasoned or novice. I refer to it as a complete trek since it offers one the opportunity to trek across several distinct terrains. Starting from dense forest, you make your way through beautiful green meadows, climb through alpine grounds & finally into the very rocky summit of Roopkund Lake itself.

This October, I along with two friends, successfully completed an independent trek to the Skeletal Lake. It was a challenging but ultimately a very rewarding experience that will stay with us for the rest of our days. Below is a travelogue of this journey which I hope will help people when they are researching for this trek.

Day 1

We started the journey from my hometown Almora, on the 2nd of October. Post breakfast we pushed for Lohargunj, the base camp, at 1:30 pm. It was a 5 hour journey of roughly 140 km & since we were driving ourselves, we were able to visit the Baijnath Temple that is on the way to Lohargunj. It is a magnificent 800 year old temple complex that gives you a taste of the ancient stone architecture of Kumaon & is reminiscent of the Jageshwar temple complex. An artificial lake constructed in the early 2000's adds to the quaint nature of the temple. A dip into the waters and post a quick homemade lunch we drove further to our destination Lohargunj. Post sundown at around 7 pm, we reached Lohargunj & got a place t0 stay at a lodge close to the Forest bungalow. At the cost of around 250 per bed the accommodation was clean & adequate. After dinner we decided to repack our bags for the actual trek that was to begin tomorrow. Now, since we were doing the trek independently without a guide or cook, we had quite a bit of equipment, including, but not limited to - sleeping bags, tent, stove, cutlery, food packets, inflatable mattresses, clothes, cameras, water bladders, compass, head lamps, medicine box etc. Since I had picked up a weighing scale from home we were able to determine the weight we were carrying quite accurately. Our bags weighed 22 kg per person - which we realized later is not the most intelligent weight to be lugging around on a trek. Nonetheless, we were unfazed & extremely excited for the coming adventure.

Baijnath Temple Complex.

Photo of Almora, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin

The artificial lake at Baijnath Temple Complex.

Photo of Almora, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin

All my bags are packed I'm ready to go....

Photo of Almora, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin
Day 2

The following morning we were greeted by a cup of black tea & the sight of the serene Mt. Nandaghunti. The sight of this beautiful snow clad peak energizes you for the coming day. We left Lohargunj at 12:30 pm & took a taxi to Kulling village which is at a distance of 5 km & this is the point from where the trek actually began for us. Having filled up our water bladders at Lohargunj we were packed & pumped to begin. The destination for today was Didna village which is roughly 5 km from Kulling. You descend downhill on a zig-zag path for roughly a km till you reach a small stream. This is the point where we took a wrong turn & trekked an additional 2 km in the wrong direction back to Lohargunj. Thankfully, we met another group on the way who made us realize we had gone astray. The actual path is to the left of the river which is hidden by thick bushes which makes it difficult to spot. Taking that path we reached a bridge & post this point began a steep climb to the village of Didna.

The climb up to Didna is through a forest & doesn't offer much in terms of sights except for the red farmlands of Kulling covered with Ram dana. Ram dana is a indigenous plant from which a local savory churan named Ram Ladoo is made. Its a must try for all visitors & is readily available across Uttarakhand especially in popular tourist destinations like Nainital.

After trekking uphill for 4 odd hours we finally reached the village of Didna at around 6 pm. With barely half hour of day light left we found an open grass land & hurriedly pitched our tent. After changing into dry warm clothing we unpacked our stove & cutlery, put on our headlamps & made way to a small tea shop. Once there we found a bench & started preparing for dinner which consisted of tomato soup, sausages & rajma rice. After a sumptuous & well deserved dinner we went about engaging with the locals. Here is when we met Raghu, a local guide who himself was taking a group of around 30 people to Roopkund. Raghu also happened to be an ice climber and an alumni of the national mountaineering institute in Uttarkashi. Meeting him was a blessing for us as he helped us tremendously in the coming days. While climbing up we had realized that carrying our heavy backpacks would keep up from really enjoying the trek & hence we decided to hire a mule & Raghu was kind enough to arrange that for us. He was able to help us dump two of our bags on a mule that he had hired for his trek group. After wishing goodnight to Raghu we headed back to our tent. Once we were comfortably in our sleeping bags, we had a little Rum to celebrate the end to the first day & went off to sleep around 10 pm.

Mt. Nandaghunti as seen from Loharjung.

Photo of Lohajung, Kuling Road, Mundoli, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin

Ramdana plantation at Kulling village.

Photo of Lohajung, Kuling Road, Mundoli, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin

The sun about to set as we climb up to Didna Village.

Photo of Lohajung, Kuling Road, Mundoli, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin

Our campsite at Didna Village.

Photo of Lohajung, Kuling Road, Mundoli, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin

Dinner after a long tedious day.

Photo of Lohajung, Kuling Road, Mundoli, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin
Day 3

We woke up at 6 am the following morning & began what was to become a morning ritual. Starting with freshening up & brushing our teeth, we packed our sleeping bags, tent & re-packed our backpacks. This was followed by preparing 2 day packs for our essentials, namely, rain gear, food packets, utensils, medicine box, water bladders, compass, sunglasses, sunscreen, stove etc.

Post this we moved to the same tea shop from last evening & had a hot cup of tea along with our ready to eat breakfast. Meanwhile we met Raghu & loaded two backpacks on two different mules after long negotiations with the mule owner. We paid 300 per bag for the 12 km journey ahead. The mules left before us & we took sometime to warm ourselves in the sun. Now, Didna is at a height of 8,400 ft & today our destination was Bedni Bugyal which is a 12 km trek & lies at a height of 11,100 ft. The morning gave us a great opportunity to truly see how beautiful the village of Didna is. With its farmlands & cosy home stays, it offers trekkers one last opportunity of comfort before the wild starts. The locals are very friendly & more than willing to help. Interacting with locals I realized how tough life really gets in these places in the interiors, especially in the winters. Also, another realization that hit me looking at these people was that abundance is not a necessary condition for happiness. The blushing smile of an old cook I met here was so infectious that I couldn't help but kick myself for all the times I have complained about my life.

After bidding farewell to our local hosts we started from Didna at 9:15 am & trekked on a steep muddy path to Tolpani which is 2 km away. Once in Tolpani we realized we were almost above the tree line & got our first taste of the bugyals. We stopped at the only hut at Tolpani for tea & some sunshine. From Tolpani we were to make our way to Ali Bugyal which by our calculation was another 6 kms away. Once we left Tolpani the weather changed & the sky was covered with fog & the sunlight left us for good. This is the exact weather we experienced for the remainder of our days on the trail. Bright sunshine till 12 noon & foggy weather but no rain after that.

We must have reached Ali Bugyal by 3: 30 pm. The sight of the endless Bugyals is surreal. I had never seen meadows this vast ever before. There was just green all around us as far as the eye could see. Here we met another local guide who was the trek leader for Trek The Himalayas. The man was very encouraging towards us & appreciative of the fact that we had chosen to take the journey without a guide & were cooking our own food too. He helped us figure out the route ahead since his team was camping at Ali Bugyal itself.

This day was was one of the most enjoyable & easy parts of the trek. The terrain is exquisite, more or less straight & a treat to your senses. We kept walking, talking & laughing & didn't realize when we reached Bedni Bugyal our campsite for today. The time was 4:30 pm & we started looking for the mules that were carrying our bags. Both bags were safely parked in a tea shop where we sat and enjoyed tea and a plate of pakoras. Nothing beats the combination of tea & fritters in cold weather. Bedni turned out to be the most gorgeous campsite of the trek, though the fog prohibited us from seeing why. It was a fairly busy campsite with numerous commercial trek operators camping here. Nonetheless, we found a quiet spot & two of us started pitching our tent while the third made soup.

After unpacking & a brief rest we headed to the tea shop & prepared our dinner while curious passersby observed us with great interest. Menu for the night was chicken soup, sausages, shahi paneer & rice. After dinner we had our customary glass of Rum while sitting under the moonlight & reminiscing of the times we three has spent in a boarding school in Nainital. After a trip down memory lane we turned in for the night with smiles on our faces for having spent a beautiful day in nature's lap.

A rustic house in Didna Village .

Photo of Didna, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin

The solitary tea shop at Tolpani.

Photo of Didna, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin

En route Bedni Bugyal.

Photo of Didna, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin

Camping at Bedni Bugyal.

Photo of Didna, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin
Day 4

The day started at 5:30 am. We began our morning routine of packing & getting ready. The sun slowly came up & the clouds gave way to one of the most beautiful sights I have seen till date - the mighty Mt. Trishul peeking out from the layers of mountains & Mt. Nandaghunti standing besides it. The sun rays hit the two peaks & we saw the Himalayan giants shining in all their glory. No picture does this sight any justice, you have to experience it yourself because waking up to this picturesque frame hits you like a wave of hope & exuberance. It takes you a minute to take in the magnitude of the moment all the while realizing how insignificant you are in front of nature. As we turned left we were greeted by more peaks - the Neelkanth & the Chaukhamba. Chaukhmba happens to be a collection of 4 peaks as the name suggests & interesting enough is visible from my home in Almora on a clear day.

So, after a brief existential crisis we headed to the tea shop to begin the negotiations for the mule for the coming day. We spent close to an hour finding the man for the job & then we finally did. We paid 900 for all three bags today.

While having our ready to eat breakfast we talked about the coming journey. The destination today was Bhagubasa. A 12 km trek which would take us to a height of 14500 ft. The first 6 km till Patar Nachuni was a straight path but after that it was a steep 5 km hike to Kalu Vinayaka & then an eventual straight road to Bhagubasa.

We started at 8:15 am today. We needed to climb up for roughly 400 mts & then we would hit the straight path. We crossed Bednikund which is a small pond right outside the Bedni campsite. You can see the reflection of Mt. Trishul & Nandaghunti in the kund & it is a sight to behold. The 400 mt climb proved to be challenge in itself. Once we hit the straight road I started feeling the effects of altitude as breathing became a problem. I stopped after a few kms and consulted a local guide. Just by looking at me he concluded that I wasn't drinking sufficient water & suggested consuming at least 5 liters a day which is problematic since water is not abundant on this trek. He also got Raghu to check our oxygen levels with an oximeter & clearly told us if our oxygen saturation was below 75 we would have to head back down. We waited for a very tensed minute to get the result & thanked our lucky stars that it was around 85 for all three of us. Another piece of advise he gave me was to stay away from any medication & let the body adjust on its own. Lastly, his final advise I think saved me from facing AMS (acute mountain sickness). He advised me to breath deeply, inhaling from the nose & exhaling through the mouth & I kid you not, I did that for the next two days without break & I really think that helped my body tremendously to adjust to the environment. After trekking a few hours we reached Patar Nachuni & had the first item of food that we hadn't cooked ourselves - bun omelette. It was like having a food orgasm. Here we braced ourselves for the steep climb. We started again & as we gained altitude it got colder & colder. We left the alpine grounds behind & the rocky path started. Past Kalu Vinayaka it was simple enough walk to Bhagubasa which is covered in rocks. Here it was a task to find a non rocky surface to camp but finally we managed to find one. We reached Bhagubasa at 2:30 & at 3:30 just when we were setting up the tent it stared hailing. We channeled our inner Speedy Gonzalez & pitched the tent in flat 5 minutes, an activity that usually took us 15 minutes, at least, under normal conditions. We got into the tent and warmed ourselves. Bhagubasa was a tough campsite as the temperature dipped down to single digits & the lack of oxygen made us lethargic. My mates dozed off as did I. I woke up after an hour & got a chance to catch a glimpse of Trishul & Nandaghunti since they were covered under fog till then. The sight was quite short as the sun quickly went down. I headed to the tea stall & had bun butter which turned out to be the dinner for the day as we were in no shape to cook. I went back to the tent & dozed off while my mates headed for the shop for their dinner. We all slept pretty early as we were to wake up at 3:00 am the next morning for the actual summit. No Rum tonight.

The sun rays kissing Mt. Trishul.

Photo of Bedni bugyal, Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin

The mighty Mt. Trishul as seen from Bedni Bugyal.

Photo of Bedni bugyal, Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin

Mt. Trishul & Mt. Nandaghunti as reflected in the waters of Bednikund.

Photo of Bedni bugyal, Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin

The beautiful Bedni Bugyal campsite with Bednikund in the foreground.

Photo of Bedni bugyal, Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin

The giants - Mt. Nandaghunti on the left & Mt. Trishul on the right.

Photo of Bedni bugyal, Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin

The way leading to Bhaubasa campsite.

Photo of Bedni bugyal, Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin

Sundown at Bhagubasa.

Photo of Bedni bugyal, Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin
Day 5

The next morning started at 3:15 am. We woke up, it was pitch dark & freezing outside. We had no intention of brushing or grooming today. We left our tent as is. Packed two day bags, filled the water bladders, put on the gloves & went into the tea shop. We met Raghu again & as per usual understood the route from him. After a cup of coffee we began the summit at 4:30 am sharp. It was a 3 km trek to Roopkund lake & another 500 mts to Junargali which is the highest point of the trail at 16500 ft/5100 mts.

It was an unforgettable experience trekking in the dark with just the headlamp's light. We could see the serpent like formation of headlamps up ahead of us. We went slow & steady. The weather was below zero now. Slowly does it. Gradually we overtook almost everyone who had headed out before us. It were these little achievements that saw us through, especially the last km or so. We finally reached Roopkund at 7:30 am. It was in all honesty a disappointment as the lake was almost dry. The bones were very intriguing though, as was the little temple there. Nonetheless, we didn't waste any time & started to walk towards Junargali. Again, this is a steep climb but totally worth it. The view from Junargali is, for the lack of a better word, otherworldly. I was almost in tears since it seemed I could almost touch Trishul as it was really that close. This view is worth every discomfort you face on your way up. It is everything a perfect ending is made of. We just stood their, freezing to our bones just staring at Trishul. You can feel Shiva looking at you. You really can.

We trekked back down & stopped as we crossed a little stream. It was shining brightly & taking a closer look we saw it was frozen. We walked further & stopped again to take in much needed sunlight. After about 20 minutes of sunbathing we started again & reached Bhagubasa at 9:30 am. We had trekked 7 km so far. Here we chilled for the next 3 hours. Sunbathed, made pasta, had tea, packed our gear, arranged for a mule. Paid the mule 900 bucks for the 12 km trek down to Bedni Bugyal. At 12:30 pm we started for Bedni Bugyal. We had another 12 km to cover but we were pumped after the summit. We literally ran down the mountain. There were short cuts that cut through the usual zig zag & took you down in a straight line instead. We took these & ran down without a break. We reached Bedni in 3 hours, the fastest bit of our journey. Here we sat at the Bednikund for almost an hour. It was so beautiful, the lake, a small temple & the grasslands, the endless grasslands.

Finally, we made a move & pitched our tent. We found our bags in the same tea shop. The tea shop owner became a friend as we had interacted with him quite a bit when we had camped here a day back. He informed us that he would prepare lamb curry if we'd like. We were ecstatic to hear this & the plan was made. We would get the rum & once he had finished feeding everyone, all of us would sit together & eat. After making this grand plan we got back to our tent & started with our little party. We had a little rum & just had a ball. We were overjoyed with what we had achieved & were on a high. Later that night we got to the tea shop. The rum was distributed & we all sat together as one happy family & enjoyed Pahadi lamb curry. It was delectable & a perfect end to our adventure. We shared stories & laughs while taking in the beauty of the place.

Moon set as we summit Roopkund. The colors took a psychedelic turn.

Photo of Roopkund Lake, Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin

The skeletal remains at Roopkund.

Photo of Roopkund Lake, Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin

Mt. Trishul as seen from Junargali.

Photo of Roopkund Lake, Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin

Mt. Nandaghunti as seen from Junargali.

Photo of Roopkund Lake, Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin

The view from Junargali.

Photo of Roopkund Lake, Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin

A closer shot of Mt. Nandaghunti.

Photo of Roopkund Lake, Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin

Sunbathing on the way down from the summit. Chaukhamba is visible ithe background.

Photo of Roopkund Lake, Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin

Back to Bhagubasa campsite.

Photo of Roopkund Lake, Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin

The small temple near Bednikund.

Photo of Roopkund Lake, Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin

Last evening at Bedni Bugyal.

Photo of Roopkund Lake, Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin
Day 6

The next morning started at 6 am. It was the final day of our adventure & after this it was back to the mundane. The route today was a 12 km mostly downhill trek to Wan village, from where we would take a taxi to Lohargunj & then drive back home.

Again, I cant say this enough, Bedni Bugyal is probably one of the best campsites in the world. The 180 degree view & it is all covered with Himalayan peaks. Its a sight to behold.

We did everything very slowly, savoring every minute of it. Another hour of negotiation for the mule, we paid 800 today, was followed by a breakfast of aloo puri. It was heaven.

At 10:30 am we started the trek down. It was all downhill till Neel Ganga river. We ran down the slopes again. We ditched the usual pathway & just took every short cut that came our way. It was exhilarating racing down the mountains. This continued for an hour or so till we hit Neel Ganga. Here we spent an hour in the water just relaxing & playing around. From Neel Ganga it was almost a straight path to Wan village. Wan is a very blessed village I think. It has abundant water resources & ample farmlands. Its beauty makes you want to settle right there in one of the tiny stone houses, but sadly realty beckons...

We managed to reach Wan around 3:30 pm. From there it was taxi ride to Lohargunj which is roughly 15 km away. When we reached Lohargunj we were told there was no accommodation available so we decided to drive to Gwaldam which was around 50 km away.

We reached Gwaldam by 7 pm & checked into a decent hotel with a TV since it was India's T20 match today. After checking in we headed straight to a local dhaba that served us delicious mutton curry, chicken curry & really crispy tandoori rotis. All of us overate that night. We got back to our hotel & took our first bath in almost a week. We saw the match & then dozed off.

Mt. Trishul at sunrise as seen from Bedni Bugyal.

Photo of Wan, Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin

Chaukhamba & Neelkanth at sunrise as seen from Bedni Bugyal.

Photo of Wan, Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin

Feeding my vanity.

Photo of Wan, Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin

The final glimpse of Mt. Trishul as we head down to Wan.

Photo of Wan, Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin

The little house on the prairie. En route Wan.

Photo of Wan, Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin

The gigantic & ancient Surai trees at Wan.

Photo of Wan, Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin

The Wan valley.

Photo of Wan, Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin
Day 7

The next morning we had a quick breakfast & left for Almora at 9:30 am. The ride was beautiful with the sun stroked pine trees & the Kosi river popping up at several places.

We reached Almora by 1:30 pm & thus concluded our week long adventure to Roopkund & back. Words & pictures cant describe what it means. I urge you all to go and see it for yourself. If you need any more information feel free to hit me in the comments section.

The Pindar River near Gwaldam.

Photo of Almora, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin

The old forgotten bridge at River Pindar.

Photo of Almora, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin
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