Thursday, July 15, 2010

roopkund adventure

About five of us, wingmates from IIT Kanpur 2006. Abhinav, Amit, Rahul, Subhransu and myself Saurav. All of us had some previous experience in trekking but never for more then 3 days. This time we decided for something big, something more adventures, something we never did before. We decided to do roopkund, mostly because of the breathtaking views of the himalayas you get on the way, beautiful campsites and of course the mysterious Roopkund lake itself at the end.

Mystery of Roopkund: The location is uninhabited and is located at an altitude of about 5,029 meters(16,499 feet). The skeletons were discovered in 1942 by a park ranger. At that time, it was believed that the people died from an epidemic, landslide or blizzard. For more more details watch the National Geographic's take on Roopkund's mystery.

Trek Details : Distance 55kms, Altitude Gain 8,200 ft, Start Altitude 8,300ft (Lohajung), Max Alititude 16,500ft (Roopkund).

There are several adventure clubs in India which offer arranged treks to Roopkund but we decided that we would do this on our own. That meant we had to figure out the logistics; tents, sleeping bags, how to get to the trailhead, book train tickets, on what days to go and a countless other things. We found a lot of information on the web, blogs written by other people. Thanks to Gandhi who knew people who had done this before, he found out a lot of practical information about the trek. We exchanged more than a 100 emails to plan out the whole thing!

Day 1 (June 18, 2010): Bangalore (3000ft) – Delhi(780ft) – Haridwar - Rishikesh(964ft?)

Narrated by : Saurav Sao

Activity Details : Bangalore to Delhi via flight 3 of us. Other two Abhinav and Rahul joined in Delhi. At 10 PM same day took the train for Hardiwar . Our Experience: From Bangalore to Delhi. Temperature of Bangalore is about 22 that day and was like that for few weeks with occasional rains in between. We landed and 7:30PM in Delhi and flight polite announced that outside temperature was 37C . 37 at 7:30 what would have been the temp in the day time. We went outside it as like some put a hot air blower in front of your face. Anyways we had to quickly catch the train for Haridwar.
Haridwar stationTaxi stand at Rishikesh

Day 2: Haridwar (964ft) – Rishikesh – Devprayag - Srinagar - Rudraprayag- Karnaparyag - Lohajung (8,300ft)

Narrated by : Saurav Sao

Activity Details : Morning 9 AM took the train and reached Rishikesh. From there we took a cab/ Jeep. Because of accident of a heavy vehicle used for construction of DAM by NHPC there was big jam in the route. The driver told us we need to take a different route which will need us to travel extra 100 kms. Another problem is that, traveling in the night was not allowed in the route. We negotiated the cab for 5000 Rs. Actually the diver fooled us took us in the same route where there was the traffic jam. Within the 4 hrs of travel we hit the jam. All the credit goes to Amit for saving one day for us , he walked and found the new route. And policemen were allowing the vehicle from that route. By breaking the queue and we went ahead of so many vehicles and took the new route. After traveling another 2 hrs and reaching top we got perfect top view of the traffic jam (see pic) Finally in spite of the traffic and longer route we reached the Lohajung in the night at 11PM. It evident that there was a heavy rain in Lohajung that day and we were going to encounter some heavy rain during or trek. Monsoon was yet to reach around this area fully. Thanks to Pujariji who booked the hotel for us and we had a good rest before our memorable courageous trek started.

Our Experience: About the route , river side by side , fully greenery , very less population and nature at its best . The best thing about Himalaya from other hills is huge , and no matter how high you go there is always higher mountain above you . The temperature was on the higher side around 33 but reducing as the day progressed and we gained the height. Whenever you gain so much height in vehicle you will always feel the nausea , some of us also felt the same. In the night we took a dinner in a very small town , food was pathetic but it was the only option we had. The best thing was view out side. The open area without any artificial light , clear sky , full of starts and a beautiful moon shining , river and the big stones all around it , water was so clear , cool wind blowing passing through our skins , the sound of the river in the silence of the night everything was just perfect. We thought of what a great camping place this could be, but for some reason we decided not to camp there and follow the itinerary , we decided earlier. But I still think we should have camped there. With rain adding more uncertainty with all exiting that we read about the trek all of us went to sleep, hoping for a successful journey ahead.

Route from Rishikesh to Loharjung via Tharali. The red part of the road was blocked due to a traffic jam.

Traffic jam near Devprayag. Notice the white line of cars along the mountain on the other side. The detour via Pauri on the right saved us.Lovely views as we cross Devprayag.
Lohajung is a village right deep inside the mountains. The GMHC lodge in Lohajung.

Day 3: Lohajung(8,300ft) - Wan - Bhedni Bugyal (11,000ft)

Narrated by : Saurav Sao

Activity Details : The day we started the trek. We decided to hire two porters and a guide going forward. Actually you do not need a guide; as the trail is easy to follow and porter will be have enough knowledge of the route. Also, the guides usually won’t carry any luggage. We hired the guide for 400 and 300 for each porter. We also rented the trekking equipments like sleeping mat, tent s, ice Axe from Lohajung. We were carrying the cylinder with us as it’s difficult to get dry woods. We were only able to give all our food items and the tents to the porter. Each one us were carrying around 12 kgs of luggage. Our destination for the day was Bedni Bugyal. By the way Bugyal a grass land without any trees. Here wind velocity are usually very high and area is prone for rain. There are two routes to reach to the Bedni bugyal one via Ali bugyal and other is via Garoli Patal. The later is tougher as the altitude you have to gain is approx 1000 m. Usually it is recommended not to gain more than 500 m in a day while trekking in such a high altitude if you do not have prior experience, which was case for all of us but still we decide to go via this route as it was saving one day for us. So from Lohajung we took a jeep to reach Wan the starting point for trek to start the toughest part for our journey. At 10AM from Wan we started for the Bedni. The temperature and the breeze was ideal for trekking. Wan is the last village in this route after this there is very little human existence. On the way we reached the Neel Ganga river rested a bit, some of us had bath. Water in the river was cold, by feeling of it we thought colder than ice because it was flowing in high velocity. After the river the trail to Garoli Patal was very steep. With only one rest we reached the Garoli Patal in 3.5 hrs. It was Garoli Patal were issues realty high altitude especially the limited availability of oxygen started took complete effect for most of us. With a lot of difficulty and uneasiness we reached to the Bedni . In grass land of Bedni buggg we saw a big group of horses, also there was drizzle as we reached Bedni. There was a heavy rain in the Bedni in the night. Our Experience: After we started trekking initial half hours we met a lot of villagers all saying Namaste to us. The Neel Ganga river water was so pure, clear and especially very cold. Without any thoughts I went inside the river. Continuous trekking for 2 hrs and putting your feet inside very cold water( temp around 4C) and feeling after that was unexplainable. Despite of freezing temperature of the water some of us took the bath there. The feeling of putting the hold body inside that cold water and taking it out was amazing. After crossing the river, the trail was very steep until the very end without any flat area. We realized very early with our prior experience, the best way to trek especially in cold area is to keep on walking, because as you stop you lose warm up. Even if you drink cold water the body temperature goes down which makes going further difficult. It is also important not to rush, keep the heart beat at optimum level. The only type of rest we took was standing still for 5-10 sec. There are only few occasion in your life when you can truly understand the true meaning of will power. Trek after Garoli Patal was one of those moments for me. We realized why it is so difficult to trek in high altitude and why people say not to gain more that 500m in a single day. Most difficult options I needed to overcome was why should not we camp there only and why cannot we ask the porters to make a round trip and carry our entire luggage. These thoughts haunted me for 15-30 mins but after I decided I have to do this by my own. When we reached the top of the hill Bedni was clearly visible and how beautiful it was. The green grass land and big group of horses just like in posters. More beautiful scenery than anything I saw in any of the Hindi Movies. From Bedni one can see the Trishul peak , fully covered with snow. The night view was even better.
Panoramic view of the campsite at Bhedni Bugyal.

Day 4 : Bhedni Bugyal - Patal Nachauni - Kalu Vinayak - Bagubassa

Day 5 : Rest day at Bagubassa

Narrated by : Subhransu Maji

It rained all night. We were too tired and slept through the rhythmic sounds of the raindrops hitting the camp, the blowing winds, the sounds of a bell of an uncomfortable cow tied inside a stone hut nearby. But we woke up to a lovely morning. Out of the camp at 5am in the morning, the entire place looked surreal. The peaks of Trishul (7,120mt), Haathi Parvat (6,727mt), Nanda Ghunti (6,309mt) on one side, clouds covering the mountains far away surrounded by undulating grasslands as far as you could see. And there were horses grazing, running wildly. This was definitely one of the most beautiful parts of the trek. We went exploring around the campsite. On one side were the mountains, which I was tempted to climb for a better view of the surroundings. Halfway panting due to the lack of warm up and air, I decided to go down to where the horses were grazing. Amit and Sao went up all the way to the top. Manchu and Gandhi were headed down. A few hours of exploring the area and many pictures later, we had breakfast and were ready to leave the campsite at 9am.

The hike initially was quite easy but uphill all the way. The thinness of the air leaves you panting sooner than usual. On the way you get even better views of Bhedni. The weather was really unpredictable; Started out clear and sunny, but it suddenly got very cold and foggy. After hiking several hours we reached a point where it is downhill to patal nachauni. A hour or so later we reached patal nachauni. There were huts where we had our packed lunch. And then it started raining heavily. The route ahead was steep uphill but only 1.5 hours away if we could walk briskly. Everyone was really tired. I had a mild headache and a couple of us had similar symptoms because of the altitude. We waited for a while and were seriously considering spending the night there. But then it stopped raining and we took our chances. It turned out to be a bad idea as it started raining heavily with small hailstones. We quickly took out our raincoats and covered our backpacks. There was hardly any shelter on the trail and the rain, hail and the strong winds were taking a toll on us. After an hour we hadn't gotten too far and our shoes were wet. It was cold but we carried on. The whole thing got all our enthusiasm a bit down - there were not even the views now - just fog all around. The porters got to Bagubassa and came back and took some of our stuff making it easier for the really tired to get to the campsite. It was dark, cold and rainy when we got there. We settled in the green dome tents set up already. Several of us were really sick by now. I had a splitting headache and was feeling the effects of the high altitude. We were now at 14,000ft thereby climbing about 7,000ft in two days. At night the temperatures were close to freezing and with the rain and winds, we slept uncomfortably though the night.

To make it to Roopkund and back in time we had to leave before 6am in the morning. We didn't and decided to spend a day here to acclimatize. Our initial plan was to go to Roopkund and then climb down on the other side. A day of rest meant we had to change our plan and simply come back the same way we went up, possibly taking a few detours downhill.

Spending an entire day at the campsite can be boring. We played cards all day (was glad that I packed in a deck). During the brief moments when the sun came out we would try to dry our gear. The views from here were breathtaking. We looked and tried to map out the hike to roopkund the next day, but it was easily lost in the snow cover. It looked daunting, yet tantalizingly within reach. We slept that night feeling confident that we would climb to roopkund the next day. I felt better and adjusted to the altitude.

Panorama from Bhedni Bugyal

Panorama of the campgrounds at Baggubassa

Day 6 : Bagubassa(14,200 ft) - Roopkund(16,500 ft) - Bhedni Bugyal

I slept much better tonight. We woke up at 5am, had our breakfast of cereal w/ milk and were ready to leave at 6am. Gandhi started to feel worse since last evening and did not fell well at all in the morning. He still thought that he could make it till the lake. It would be too disappointing to come this far and not make the final leg. So we all, 5 of us, the guide and a porter started, walking slowly. We left our stuff at the campsite with another porter at Bagubassa. Gandhi was still struggling. Half an hour later he could not take it any further and had to turn back. It was heartbreaking for all of us. He was central to all the planning of this trek. But such are the mightly himalayas which make you feel so vulnerable.

We hit the snow soon and we had to be really careful not to slip. You want to reach the top before the sun comes out and the snow becomes soft. The route ahead was really steep and dangerous at a few places. There parts with rocks which have a layer of ice on them - hardly visible but very slippery. The guide made sure those were broken with the ice axe. Once in a while the clouds would clear and we would be blessed with beautiful views of the towering Mt. Trisul on one side and the valley from where we started. The trail was hardly visible. The last leg to Roopkund was a steep incline with the trail hardly visible (see picture below). Climbing that the lake comes to view. The lake itself is tiny, and had the Junargali peak on one side a few hundred meters higher. There is also a temple where we payed our tributes to the gods (chocolates and dry fruits!). We did it! we yelled and jumped and threw snowballs at one another. A sense of achievement indeed.

We skipped climbing to Junargali (a thing I regret now), as we had to go back all the way to Bhedni and were worried about Gandhi. The place was mesmeric and at 16500 ft you could really feel how thin the air was. The lake is known for its skeletons but it was mostly frozen on the surface so we could not see underneath. The guide dug around seemingly at random and found human bones!

Panorama at Roopkund lake

Day 7 : Bhedni Bugyal - Ali Bugyal - Wan - Lohajung

Plan for the day was to go to Ali-Bugyal. Ali-Buyal was just 5 km from Bedni. We hired two horses to go up to Ali-Bugyal. The horses here were little different from other places, a little smaller. Horse riding in this hilly area was quite an experience. You feel very unstable and the horse tend to walk at the edge of the trail to avoid the rocks, so you are exposed to the sheer drop on one side. Often the horse get distracted by a juicy patch of grass and reach across for a bite, while you hang on tight. It takes a while before you can fully trust the beast. This will be dream place for any horse, no trees and land full of grass and open areas all around. Ali-Bugyal was indeed better than Bedni, with wider stretches of green and stronger winds. There was a large group of sheep grazing made the view even better. After spending a hour we headed towards the last destination of our trek Lohajung. Downwards journey is always easier still more dangerous than uphill especially when there is slight rain. With few cramps, we safely reached Lohajung. A couple of herding dogs followed us right till the end.

Panorama at Ali bugyal

Horse ride to Ali BugyalTrishul Peak from Bhedni

Day 8 : Wan - Rishikesh - Haridwar - Delhi

We took off early next day in a local bus towards Rishikesh. The tiny bus navigating though the windy roads as the run rose was beautiful. We had to stop a couple of times waiting as men cleared landslides using their own hands and shovels. Hours later we were at Rishikesh. Another bus and we reached Delhi early next day. Exhausted, tired but coming back to civilization felt great.

1 comment:

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