Midway through my most tiring May of all time, I found myself in the most enchanting of villages in Uttarakhand, Mandal. Mandal felt like a short sunny break you get after incessant monsoon rains in the North East. After almost three weeks of bad roads and tiring treks, I got myself a break, and I had been enjoying that break since the last two days.
Stationed at Jai Hotel in Mandal, we were a team of 18 trekkers, from all walks of life - teenagers, travellers, working class, retired and an equally matched enthusiasm. We had been trekking through different easy and intermediate parts of Uttarakhand and the weather was good most of the time. The next trek was towards Rudranath, a very well known temple, part of the Panch Kedar Temples. Rudranath is at a height of 11800ft /3600 msl. One of the must trek places in the Himalayas, Rudranath is no less than a heavenly abode for many. We had to trek up from Sagar village which is about 40 minutes away from our hotel at Mandal.
At 5 am, all of us were in our hired bus, most of us tired from all the previous treks and a few in the team even decided to skip this one due to ailments. Nevertheless we reached Sagar at 5:38am, and started the trek from Sagar at around 5:45am . There were concrete steps and a pathway in between small crops grown on either side of the slopes upto ChandKot, which was the last habitable village in the route, as per the guide. We passed the village in an hour due to the gradual pace of the team. ChandKot is situated 320 msl more than Sagar, so that was one escalated climb. We walked through the shade of smaller trees, and very soon reached a tea shop, which served tea and also buransh juice(rhododendrons). After a few minutes of tea and buransh, we decided to split up the team as we're quite a large group and trekking together would make us slower.
Four teams were formed and the first team was already on their way as they were to make sure of our breakfast and arrangements as they proceeded uphill. The mules carrying the tents and the guide and his support team went along with them. Three teams followed not too far behind.
The incline kept getting worse and within an hour or so, we were really tired and all that was in our stomach was the tea, buransh and a few biscuits for namesake. We were in dense forest cover by now, and there was enough undergrowth to cover up the tracks making it easy for one to lose his way in the forest.
We kept climbing and reached Pung Bugyal which is a meadow in between the thick forests on the hills. There were sheep grazing nearby and dogs with steel collars on overwatch accompanying them. We went into the nearby tea shop, time for some more tea and appetisers. We lay in the meadow for about half an hour due to the fatigue courtesy of sudden inclines, and started off to our next stop, Mauli Karak, where breakfast was waiting for us- hot aloo parathas we presumed.
The incline was now going crazy, zig zag and rocky, the dense forest cover hovering above us giving enough shade to keep us active. We came across a stream that was just about the size of a pipe leak in your garden, a small stream with crystal clear waters of the Himalayas. We took our fill and were soon on our way, having filled all the bottles to the brim. Fresh water in the hills, is elixir, I must say. Nothing soothes me more during treks. Moreover there wasn't another water source for 6 kilometres from there.
Another 30 minutes of trekking and lo, breakfast is served, we reached Mauli Karak.
I couldn't wait too long for the parathas and pounced upon the first one served, selfish I know but hunger brings out the worst in us.
Another half hour at the shop and we started off on the incline which seemed steeper now.
The next stop - Litti Bugyal. Another meadow and the second last one in the trek, where would reach probably by lunchtime, we assumed.
The trek was already tiring, and we were becoming slower and slower, frequent stops in between, water breaks and we had to stretch ourselves quite a lot. We climbed up the incline gradually and now the forest cover was no more, just some small trees and huge rocks covered by blades of golden grass. The sun was directly above us and time was flying.
We reached Litti Bugyal at about 1:30 pm and almost all were out of energy, breath and confidence. We took enough rest at the Bugyal in the shades nearby and had our lunch. This time it took us almost an hour to recover. We filled water from the tap nearby and started on our upward trek, now the incline seemed more gentle. The breeze was cold and soothing, reducing the afternoon sun's effect on us. We reached our destination for the day, Panar Bugyal, the last meadow enroute Rudranath.
Panar seemed to me like the Swiss farms overlooking ice capped peaks, the view was overwhelming and breathtaking. Sheep were astray and I just walked a bit into the meadow and saw the first team and the guide setting up our tents for the night. They had reached well before noon and were working on the tents after an hour of sleep. I didn't go up to them, instead I lay down on the grass, feeling the sun on my face, breathing heavily after what seemed like a never ending climb upto the meadow till now. I dozed off lying on the grass, only to be woken up by the noise made by the team that was behind us when they finally got a glimpse of the impending view everyone had talked about the other day.
The tents were ready, and hot noodles served from the shelter nearby. We couldnt take the risk of not taking tents along with us, the shelter could not accommodate the large team. If one wanted to sleep outside the shelter on the grass, the fate would be a freezing night or a frightening one, depending on the weather and the animals in the nearby forest cover. It took another two hours for the last team to reach Panar and they were dead tired. Thankfully vegetable soup was just ready when they reached upto the tents. I went towards the edge of the meadow and sat in silence, greedily watching everything I could see in my eye, the view, the forests, the snow in the mountains that seemed an arms reach away. Soon my team joined me and felt the same thing I was enjoying - ultimate peace.
One hour at the edge staring into the silence and I felt I should get some sleep. My friend ran upto us and showed a picture which he had captured during the last part of the trek, I was shocked; there was a wild cat, which seemed like a snow leopard cub to me. We showed the guide and he confirmed it was one. The last team saw the cub at a distance and didn't bother it in anyway. They just knew there was a mother leopard nearby and it was in their best interests to keep moving forward. Astonished by the picture and saddened by the fact I couldn't see a snow leopard I went into my tent and my sleeping bag and the next thing I know I'm dead asleep. Waking up at 8 30pm to see a sky so full of stars, I really felt I could pluck them out of it. Never had I seen a wonderful sky as lit as that, I laid down on the now moist grass, due to a light shower that had gone by hours before during my sleep. I gazed so cluelessly into the night sky, lost in thoughts.
Dinner was ready and it was a hot bowl of rice with some pickle and dal. In a 3°C night with a view to die for, the rice and dal went into my stomach in huge amounts. Tired and amazed, I decided to call it a day. We decided to start at 5 in the morning after tea, hoping to reach Rudranath by 8 or 9 in the morning. A cold chilly night it was,literally a good night.
NB : Day 2 of the trek will be put up soon, and excuse the quality of the pictures. 😊
Do give me a feedback and all the suggestions you can, thank you. Forgive for any mistakes made, couldn't re read and edit, cones straight from my memory of the trip not from any notes. 😁