Our starting point... after a very cramped but fun train journey from Delhi (we were 2 seats short for a group of 9 people), we reached Kathgodam early morning. We had to wait at the station for a while since our pick up vehicle hadn't arrived yet, but we were off after some calls to the organisers. This was to be a loooong drive and we all settled in as comfortably as we could.
We reached Lohagunj around 6 pm and got busy settling in for the evening with some hot chai to boost our spirits. Shortly after, we were introduced to the rest of the group, a total of 22 trekkers. And of course, our trek leader, whom we shall refer to as C.T. We were given a very curt briefing, with an insistence on everyone standing in a semicircle.He informed us that we were to have "Oximeter" checks daily, to check our Oxygen levels. Any one with a reading of less than "80" would be sent back.What followed was a brief on the rules of the trek, as well as our plans for the next day.
Thereafter, we all had our dinner, and packed our bags in anticipation of the morrow. It was to be our first day of the trek!
Our day started early, everyone excited to get on with the trek.After a quick breakfast and some last minute luggage shuffling, we all set off to chants of "Har Har, Mahadev!" The route was scenic, but i fell to the back of the group. I had decided not to hire a mule, and soon realised that carrying my backpack myself would mean a compromise on my speed. We reached the village around 2 pm, and managed to have a hot lunch before the rains came down on us. But when we emerged from our rooms later, the scene outside was breathtaking. The sight of the clouds rising up between the hills was ethereal. The weather having cleared, our trek leader, C.T. decided that we should go on a small walk for "acclimatization" . After a few protests, we all grudgingly followed our guides. But all our complaints were hushed on seeing wispy clouds being whipped around by the wind, with the sun setting in the background. We all made our way back to camp quite content, and happy for having witnessed such beauty.
Oh, and did I mention we had our first Oximeter check here? We scored pretty good (90+ for the majority), but were again reminded that "Less than 80, and we descend".Duh.
The trek to Ali Bugyal was like walking through a dreamscape. The longest trail so far, it snaked through a beautiful wooded area, steep in some places, gentle in others. We stopped midway in a small clearing for lunch, with the forest behind us and a steep drop ahead. The only thing missing was a pinch of salt for my boiled egg lunch !
Moving on, the forest around us started thinning out, giving way to larger patches of grass and small shrubs. And then coming over a rise, we got our first glimpse of the Ali Bugyal meadows. Here, right in front of me, for as far as I could see, were lush green meadows. As we moved forward, we came across shepherds with their herds of sheep, and quite a few grazing horses and mules. My legs moved slower of their own accord, as if in a silent agreement with my heart, to savour this sight for a tiny while longer. As we moved on, we got a glimpse of our camp site. It would be our first night in tents, and they stood out a happy blue against all the green around them. Out here, in the middle of nowhere, was a Maggi point, serving , as the name suggests, piping hot maggi, and tea to those moving towards their camp. We too, took a small break here, sipping on chai, gobbling up Maggi, and making out shapes in the clouds (we unanimously decided it was a Pegasus)
Having gorged, we trudged to our camp, where we were told in our briefing that there would be a campfire that night, and we were to forage in the surrounding area for wood. Everyone threw themselves into the task happily, and in no time there was a bright bonfire burning, with the eventual Antakshari being played.
Here we got our first glimpse of the mountains, the Nandaghunti and the Chowkhamba range, playing hide-n-seek with us through the gathering clouds.
The rains came down suddenly, and everyone scuttled inside the communal dining tents for an early diner, playing dumb-charades while waiting for the rains to abate.
Eventually, the rains petered out, and we meekly entered our tents to surrender to the encroaching sandman.
We set off from Ali Bugyal towards Patar Nachauni, moving through the meadows of Bedni Bugyal. It was a short trek today, and people moved at a leisurely pace, no one in a hurry to reach camp. The rains came down an hour or so out of camp, and the ponchos came out. We reached the campsite with a vista of boiling clouds overhead. And guess what! There was an actual shop here, too.Right in the middle of our camp, selling the inevitable Maggi, chai and egg. We got down to enthusiastically demolishing some grub, still in our ponchos , unmindful of the rains around us.
Here too, we made an uphill walk when the rains ceased (C.T. was adamant on acclimatizing).On our way back, Prashant and I took a longer route, moving a little ahead of camp, and sat down to look at the mountains peeking out from behind the green hills. We waited for a while hoping to get one clear shot of the entire range, but the clouds kept dancing in front of us.
On reaching back, we went for the briefing, where C.T. admonished us for straying from camp and were again reminded of our Oximeter check and falling which, we would have to "descend".
We set off early, intent on reaching Bhagwabasa before the threatening rains hit us. We reached Kalu Vinayak with a few halts on the way.
The weather took a turn here, we had already moved above the snow line. It was windy with clouds enveloping us , not sure of what lay hidden behind them. The higher up we moved,clumps of old snow became more frequent on our path.
Here, we started coming across people returning from Bhagwabasa, with shouts of "Best of luck" and "Congrats" being exchanged freely. We entered camp still with the clouds around us, but everyone was reluctant to go inside their tents. It was the penultimate day of our summit!
Finally, the sun broke through the clouds, and everyone paused as the curtain was lifted slowly from the towering mountains around us.Nanda Ghunti and Trishul on one side, and Chowkhamba on the other. The route we would take to get to Roopkund was revealed, and excited conversations could be heard throughout the campsite.
We were in for another surprise - Samosas! Well, "Samosa" since we were strictly handed over just one piece each. But, after the mediocre fare that we were being served till now, this was truly welcome.
The samosas were followed by another briefing. We would have 3 Oximeter checks today, and we were taken through the events of our summit tomorrow. Crampons were handed to all of us (yay, crampons!!!) and we went outside to practice walking in them. Due warning was given not to wear them inside tents, so as not to tear holes in them. There were nearly 200 people who would attempt the summit the next day, which meant the lake would be crowded.We reached an understanding that our group would leave 15-20 mins earlier than scheduled, to get ahead of the other groups.
As the sun set behind a vast bank of grey clouds, people moved to their tents for an early night. Tomorrow would be a long day.
At 2:30 am calls rang out in our camp, waking us up from slumber. Today was the day! Reluctant to get out of our sleeping bags (despite the rocky surface our tent was pitched on) we groggily made our way out. Stepping out of the tent, the sky was free of clouds, and the entire Milkyway was visible, from on end to the other! I stood transfixed, regretting not having enough photography skills to capture this sight. Sigh!
But like with all good things, the clouds moved in again, and everything turned into a hazy blur, with jabs of torch light to guide us to the dining tent, where maggi and tea awaited us.
We all lined up dutifully, crampons on our feet, and trudged ahead in single file. The path was pitch dark as we started, all of us relying on our torches to guide us, walking in single file. However, in half an hour or so, the sky began to lighten, and the going got easier. We passed a lot of glaciers on the way and the path became steeper.A few members fell back, not wanting to hold up the group, but moving forward nonetheless.
The path was steep and our energy levels were declining. But our lovely helpers , in this case a special mention to Surinder , who kept egging us on, kept calling out to us to take " one step at a time" and his hilarious discounts on Roopkund , which got more fantastic as we got closer. Finally, eventually - we trudged to the rim of Roopkund. The sun was just beginning to rise, and everything was brilliantly highlighted! We were greeted by the small temple, and the pile of fabled human bones stacked in front of it.
Not wanting to waste our flimsy lead ahead of the other groups, we descended the short way down to the lake itself. It was frozen over, and our shouts to each other echoed back to us over and over again. I just sat on a rock, catching my breath, and realising I've accomplished what I had set out to do. The crowds descended soon, and the moment was gone. We made our way up to the rim, and looked hopefully to C.T to allow us to submit the Junargali peak.The weather was clear, and we had seen a couple of other trekkers making their way up.But C.T. refused, citing safety reasons.Ironically, that didn't stop him from making the trip up there himself. This left quite a few of us in a sour mood. A steaming bowl of daliya from our guides helped to restore the mood fractionally, and everyone got busy taking pictures in the limited time we had left.
Sure enough, we were gathered together in a couple of minutes and ushered back, making our descent.
The way down was quite uneventful, except, of course, where Shirley and me had to make a mad dash to a rocky outcrop to avoid our bladders bursting.
Back at base camp, we had an hour or so to rest, but not much place to rest in, since our lovely C.T. had ordered our tents to be dismantled. Don't you love him yet?
Once everyone was back and packed up, we set off again for Patar Nachauni. This time the order of greetings was reversed as we passed people going up. The descent was quick and we reached Kalu Vinayak in no time. However, the weather took a turn shortly after, and we found ourselves pelted by hail. Ponchos out again, we continued our descent in a sort of auto-mode.
It was still raining when we reached our camp, only to find that our tents hadn't reached yet. We waited around for another hour or so, until we got a go ahead to proceed.
Most of the male population got down to a messy round of cricket, while i settled in my tent with my book.There was nothing to hurry for now. Dinner was served, some very suspicious looking Chinese fare, but everyone ate heartily.
The temperature dropped and the wind picked up, but we were reluctant to retire to our tents just yet. We ended up raiding Ashish's tent in hopes of some fun and game. But when the conversation turned towards Uber and it's commercials, (yeah, way to go guys!) it was time to creep into my hole and sleep.
Our last day of trekking, took us from Patar Nachauni to Lohajung via the Wan village.We made good time till the Neel Ganga river, where the boys decided to bring out the soap and have a lovely bath. Us girls were limited to soaking our tired feet and washing our hair - with facewash. Feeling refreshed, we were ready to continue on our way, only to realise that it was going to be a steep uphill climb from now onwards. Whyyyyy!?!
So we trudged up, slowly, with the guides prodding us to pick up our pace, so we could reach the village before sunset. We passed some truly giant pines, their roots exposed, but still standing proud.
We reached Wan eventually, and piled into the waited vehicles for a final short ride till Lohajung. This night was for celebrations, with everyone being handed their "certificate of achievement" and everyone saying a few words. A final get-together was held in one of our rooms, which went on past midnight. We all wanted it to last just a little while longer, keep the end away for a while more. Eventually , sleep got the better of us, and we trickled away, to our warm beds.
With our best intentions of leaving at 6:30, we didn't budge till an hour or so later.Bags were packed and bundled into the vehicle.One last group pic, and we were on our way to civilization. A lot of hogging along the way, and a few well placed barbs at our "baba" and his magnificent beard, and we were at the entrance of the Kathgodam Railway Station. We dutifully took our place (again short of 2 seats) and the table (aka sheet) was set for a game of bluff. Yours truly, however, was already on her way to dreamland, having dozed with faithfull book in hand.
Night came all too soon, and it was finally time to say goodbye. Sleepy-eyed , we wished those awake a happy journey before we disembarked, with promises of another adventure in the making.