A Rendezvous with Roopkund

15th Oct 2015
Photo of A Rendezvous with Roopkund 1/2 by Yeesha Prakash

A frozen lake shrouded in myth and mystic, as if a crowned jewel being watched over by gargantuan snow-clad mountains, preserving what lived a thousand years ago- Reason enough to endure through a rough climb? Definitely!

This isn’t even enough to summarise the romance of Roopkund, the experience you have on the way to this mysterious skeletal lake in the upper Himalayas is something words certainly can’t do justice to. Steep ascent through jumbo jungles, majestic mountains staring at you, never-ending greenery of the Bugyals (meadows), Yellow-orange autumn leaves striking a deep contrast to the sandy brown mountains, Sun-ignited snow peaks meditating over you- what else could a trekker ask for? Maybe, an eerie lake at an altitude of 16,499ft, haunted by warriors from the 9th century!

As soon as I had enough time to go for a long trek, I packed my rucksack and headed to Kathgodam with a friend via bus. It took 6 hours for us to get there from Delhi. From Kathgodam, we hired a cab till Loharjung, from where we directly headed for Wan village, which is where our trek starts. Alternately, one could reach Didina village from Loharjung and start the trek there.

Photo of A Rendezvous with Roopkund 2/2 by Yeesha Prakash
Aren't Himalayan kids just the cutest?

Ideally, trekkers should leave early morning every day, since the weather closes as early as 2 or 3 in the afternoon. Hence it is advisable to do so. We had a lot of time on hand, and the weather was not as harsh, we left at 10am for the first campsite – Gheoroli Patal.

The locals in Wan briefed us about the campsites and the necessary things we needed to carry. You can carry your own cooking material such as stoves but food is available at all the campsites, and climbing with weight on your back can be quite laborious , so we carried just the necessary equipment- tent, sleeping bags, water, some food for the way, inners, jackets etc. They were also helpful enough to show us how to set up a tent. The sky had the Sun shining bright when we left for Gehroli.

Photo of Wan, Uttarakhand, India by Yeesha Prakash

A long walk on a stone-made path through gorgeous, dense covers of Oak and Deodar trees with autumn leaves touching their extremities awaited us this day. A steep ascent welcomed us and after a little down trek we were greeted by Neel Ganga- the last river you’ll see on the way. Beyond Neel Ganga it was an arduous climb of about four hours through the compact jungles on what I would call a zig-zag path. After a while of struggling with breathing, I realised for beginners such as me, walking at a slow but constant speed is the best way to make it through the strenuous climb that it was.

The anticipation of camping for the first time multiplied each moment towards the end, and as some distant human voices and the ringing of cattle bells penetrated to us through the dense forests, I knew we had gloriously made it through the first stretch. We started looking for a nice spot for the tent even before taking off the bags. Some locals approached us as we started setting up the tent, and with their help, it was done in no time. My fingers hurt as I pinned stakes in the ground; it was too cold for 4 pm.

First campsite at Gehroli Patal.

Photo of Wan, Uttarakhand, India by Yeesha Prakash

We reached Roopkund finally, contemplated over the bones and th beauty, and returned to the camp at 1230. It was believed that the bones belonged to warriors from a forgotten era, but scientists have now confirmed that they are those of the pilgrims who perished in a hailstorm in 850AD.

Trail to Junargali.

Photo of Roopkund, Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India by Yeesha Prakash

A century old human foot with flesh still hanging off of it.

Photo of Roopkund, Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India by Yeesha Prakash

There it was, the Bugyal- a never ending uneven field covered with winter grass, ant-like creatures scattered on its crests and troughs, and gigantic mountains in the background. The meadow spread wider and wider as we approached it. It was not the kind of beauty that intimidates you, it was the kind that first mesmerises you and then welcomes you into its warm arms. And so we stepped off the rocky trail and walked past the grazing mules and smiling faces to the only shack in the area. The guy serving food there baffled me. First, he was walking around bare feet wearing only a t shirt and pair of jeans when I was covered in four layers, gloves, double socks, mountain shoes and what not. Second, his face struck an uncanny resemblance to Jimmy Page’s. Jimmy said he had one packet of Maggi left. Not noodles, Maggi. The evening couldn’t get any better.

Coolest crib.

Photo of Bedni bugyal, Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India by Yeesha Prakash

Bedni blessed by the last rays of Cosmos.

Photo of Bedni bugyal, Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India by Yeesha Prakash

The 5 km walk to Patar Nachauni turned out to be a pretty effortless one all thanks to Birbal, a local guide. He insisted that we let his mules carry our bags! Walking without all that weight on my back on a path hanging by the mountain side, that goes downhill after about an hour of uphill made me feel all the more energized by the time we reached Patar Nachauni. Sadly, Birbal had to stay back.

Birbal bhaiji(right) with Rahul.

Photo of Patar Nachauni, Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India by Yeesha Prakash

Rest of the evening was spent talking to the fellow travellers, having Maggi and chai every now and then from the only house cum shop there, chilling with the locals, smoking a few doobies and finally going to the tent. I tucked myself in my sleeping bag, wishing to wake up early morning when I realised my head, fingers, toes and almost whole of me was freezing. I tossed and turned for hours, shivering and hoping to not fall sick, and finally went to the sleep land when the Sun was planning its way out of it.

I opened my eyes, or rather my ears to the clacking of horses’ hooves against the ground. It seemed like they were all running towards our tent. It was warm inside the tent, and everything looked blue; I knew the Sun was shining with all its might. I stepped out and saw wild white and black horses run around freely on the grass. I stretched as I watched them and did not remember the last time I felt so much at peace. Turns out we relaxed a little too much, and it wasn’t until 2 pm that we left for the next campsite, Bedni Bugyal with our tummies and water bottles refilled.

First campsite, Gehroli Patal

Photo of A Rendezvous with Roopkund by Yeesha Prakash

This was an easy stretch of 2-3 km, well not so easy. The climb was still steep. We climbed enthusiastically for a while, hoping to reach in an hour because that is what the locals had informed. But believe me, these dudes have a different scale of distance and time all together. We slowed down after about an hour, and noticed the jungle wasn’t as dark and dense anymore. We could see something that seemed like the mountain top. After a rockier path than usual, we emerged into this area where there were no trees anymore. On the parallel mountains, the decline of the tree line was pretty sudden too. We relaxed at a tiny grassland we found by the trail for a while, watching the Sunlight filter through the clouds and fall on the mountains ahead of us. Thereafter, the trail goes by the edge of the mountain, the views are a pleasant deviation from the forests and it was a brisk walk of about ten minutes before we caught sight of our second campsite, and one of the most pleasant landscapes I had ever seen.

Divine intervention at Bedni.

Photo of A Rendezvous with Roopkund by Yeesha Prakash

We set up our tent facing Mount Trishul which was bathing in the last rays of Sun. They were light still being filtered by the clouds and mountain tops: Bedni was undoubtedly blessed. We stayed out not willing to let go of the last of twilight. The couple we had met the previous day was here with their guide setting up a fire. We joined them, listening to the stories the locals described, had dinner, listened to Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, and finally went to the tent with hopes to get sleep and wake up early the next dawn.

I slept surprisingly well that night, maybe I was getting used to the cold, or maybe it wasn’t that cold. The morning was beautiful. The sky was a thousand colors, Mt Trishul a shade of burning red. The place was surrounded by clouds hovered mountains everywhere I looked. I was also glad that we were up so early, we decided to not camp at the third campsite Patar Nachauni, and directly head for the fourth one, Bagwabhasa- which meant almost 11km.

Birbal bhaiji on the left.

Photo of A Rendezvous with Roopkund by Yeesha Prakash

I looked ahead to get a taste of what was yet to come, and I knew what we were in for- an almost vertical trail zig-zagging its way to as far as my eyes could reach. We took a short break of ten minutes, refilled our bottles, loaded our pockets with chocolates and immediately left for Bhagwabasa which the locals said was 3.5km away.

I stopped within the first three minutes or lesser and gasped for breath. I stuck to the slow but constantly walking rule but that did not work either. The winds were harsh; Walking was really difficult after a while of pushing through the winds. I would count ten steps in my head and then stop for some deep breathing. At times, I would stop before the count of ten. I didn’t even bother taking out my camera. We decided to chill on the grass by the trail for a bit but fell asleep soon lazing there under the mighty Sun. When we woke up, it was as if the Sun was never out at all. Clouds enveloped the whole place and dragged away all the warmth that was ever there. The view was overwhelming, white translucent sheets of clouds chasing each other, allowing glimpses of the valley and the mountains here and there.

The climb grew harder and harder with each step. Never are the inclination less than 50-60 degrees. I talked minimal, only when I asked for water or chocolates and focused just on walking. I was also proud of myself, as were the locals of us. Their mouth dropped every time they heard it was just the two of us trekking, with no guide or mules or a group. Their appraisal boosted my confidence more than anything else. After a point I think my legs became indifferent to the pain, I could no longer feel it or even think about it, and in that moment I knew that everything- including pain is just a state of mind.

Reaching Kalu Vinayak temple (14,100ft) was a victory in itself. The board said: Bhagwabasa- 3.5 km. (Well, what did I say about the difference in scales?). From here, the steep rocky path gives way to a pleasant walk leading to this colorful campsite sitting amidst the humongous brown mountains.

Bhagwabasa, the last campsite at 14,150 ft.

Photo of A Rendezvous with Roopkund by Yeesha Prakash

There were three green tin huts parallel to each other, two shacks, a few yellow tents awaiting the Indiahikes team, and a bathroom tent.

I heard some voices inside one of the tents and called out to them. One of them, the owner of the shack, replied and came out immediately. We asked them where we could put the tent, and before we knew it, a bunch of them were already putting it in place and again, it was done in no time. I tried pinning one of the stakes in the ground but my fingers hurt of the cold. In fact, they hurt without gloves anyway. It was too cold inside the tent as well, so the shack guy offered to put our tent in one of the green tin huts where it was considerably warm.

Most beautiful- not an overstatement.

Photo of A Rendezvous with Roopkund by Yeesha Prakash

I stepped out for some chai when I witnessed the most beautiful sunset I ever had. The sky was a sheet of blue and deep purple with a belt of bright orange hovering the horizon, as if crowning a range of mountains, cotton like clouds dispersed all the way to the zenith, beyond which the crescent moon smiled at all the beauty.

The locals invited us over to their tin hut for some aloo and roti. A bunch of us sat there talking for a couple of hours, sharing the food, smoking some local hashish, listening to songs, exchanging stories. They said there’s a less popular theory about how the human and horse bones came into existence. Roop (beauty) kund was a kund where members of royal families would go take a bath if they wanted to enhance their looks. But only if their hearts were in the right place, they would get what they wanted. Otherwise they perished and their bodies were never found. It is a local belief that such people are still suffering, their souls wandering around and their bones frozen in the snow.

They had advised us to leave by 6, but it wasn’t until 0930 that we left for the final destination- Roopkund, the next morning.

Photo of A Rendezvous with Roopkund by Yeesha Prakash

The trail offers a simple walk for about half an hour, giving way to a pretty exhausting one towards the end. But you’ll be okay as long as you remember to consciously breathe. The landscape here is different as well: Mountains reflecting off their sandy brown shades- base to the top, patches of snow here and there, a range of snow-covered peaks far away across the valley as you look behind, ghost-like shadows of clouds slithering on the mountains. The last 1km of the trek is really slippery and steep, one must be extremely careful.

Photo of A Rendezvous with Roopkund by Yeesha Prakash

We decided to chill with the locals that day and head back the next day.

Locals and Rahul (in the centre) in Bagwabasa.

Photo of A Rendezvous with Roopkund by Yeesha Prakash

The entire 26km downtrek till Wan village was completed within six hours the following day.

I was back to the world of cheap thrills and shallow pleasures in a hope to explore the vastness of nature, another day.