It was the December of 2015 when I gathered up the courage to venture out, just days from becoming a 19 year old, to trek with BIkat. It rained through the night, while I tried to get some sleep in the Volvo on the way to Manali for Beas Kund. I woke to a cold, Sun-less Manali morning, and after a brief introduction found that the weather had turned against us, deep snow lay before us we even reached our starting point. Being disappointingly told that my first trek is being called off was not something I was looking forward to. So we stayed the night, caught a bus for the next night and returned, a bit more optimistic, wiser and determined for the next trek. Which brings me to this post…
Trek Chosen: Roopkund Lake, Utrakhand
Difficulty level: Moderate to Difficult.
People in Batch:7 (less one) *Drama happened
Day 1 : The bus ride from Anand Vihar ISBT took around 7 hours to reach Haldwani. We reached at around 5 AM and had ginger tea, it gave us what we needed to wake up from a bumpy bus ride. We met with the rest of the fellow trekkers, gave and received an informal introduction. Sat in a Mahindra Maxx and a journey of 8-9 hours lay before us all the way to Dewal, where we met our trek guide, Mountaineering expert Wakeel Ahmed ji. A small town, where the dhabbas rule and the cucumber and onions were sweet and tasty to eat alone. So we stayed the night and started our journey for Lohajung in the morning where our trek was supposed to start. I slept late, for the excitement was getting to me.
Day 2: Waking up at 6 from the morning bird song of the mountains, I had little to complain about the lack of sleep. Another hour in the Maxx, reached Lohajung. Greeted with hot Purris and spicy aloo ki sabzi, packed bags, gleaning smiles and tightly-tied shoes, we were on the road to the glacial lake, where the skeletons lay
Initially downhill, it was easy, passing trees and trekkers of other companies, clean air had me all giddy. The forest phase of today was calming: bridges to cross, wet rock beneath us, the extra T-shirt in my rucksack felt like a load I could do without. As the incline started, my city lungs had to adjust and I had to set a patterned breathing, which my heart had to obey, akin to accepting the mountain both, inside & out. The first clearing that we encountered rests a little too close to my heart, the sheep and lambs grazing the green glistening grass with little pahadi kids selling straight, white wood sticks. A tree stood near the end of the clearing from where it kept it’s watch over the trekkers, the mountain, the pahadi residents selling rhododendron squash. We reach our first stop where we had our packed lunch, a banana, a Frooty juice box, and an aloo ka parantha rolled with spicy achar. We still had 2 kilometres at an incline to climb, again through a forest to our first camp at Tol Pani. Though the itinerary had a different first camp but we were assured by Wakeel ji that no one but us shall occupy the camp, music to our ears. Tol Pani a clearing where behind us lay 2 small huts, tall mountains and before us lay a vast jungle yonder lied mountain tops snow laden. We had pakoras and extra sweet chai for snacks, a hearty dinner plus fruit custard for dessert and slept into the night. The-usualy-lazy-Sunday-at-home ritual had been broken and I had trekked 9 kilometres, I rested easy at night. Day 3: In terms of distance, the second longest day but with 11 kilometres at incline out of a total of 13 kilometres, it was a challenge. Making matters worse, cold rain poured from the dark storm clouds just half an hour into the trek, changing quickly into our rain gear, the full swing of a trek in the Himalayas we felt on our faces, our hands and wet hair. Low fog clouds moving through the trees manifested a scene out of Sleepy Hollow, gladly I didn’t hear any horse hooves or any flying heads. Then, we reached a clearing where we were literally, on top of this mountain, as on either of us the land fell and we walked on the strait where trees failed to grow. The trek members whom were really into photographs asked each other to pose or to look in a certain direction, and each one returned the favour of a photograph with another. The rain still showered, we reach Ali bugyal, a vast green meadow with waves of land holding the mountain together, a site of such contouring land baffled me. The bugyal served not just the travellers but was a source of crisp grass for the majestic horses, white, black and all shades in between, sheep running across the meadow in the distance like a flock, a painting waiting to be painted. Tiny purple flowers growing in the grass, tall trees near the base of the hill, no foot prints behind me, a path before me, my trek leader. Near the end of the bugyal a small hut made of woven sticks and plastic sheltered the vessel preparing Maggie and chai. Arriving just behind Wakeel ji, we ordered egg Maggie and ate to our heart’s content with the rain still pouring outside, when it was brought to my concern that there were still six and a half kilometres still to go. We geared up, I tied my shoes tight and walked on. The winding trail , on the side contours of the unfolding mountains gave us hard rock, wet earth and wind to walk on & through. I find it difficult to articulate the feeling of the immense distance inclined that was at my feet. Behind each fold lay 3 more folds behind which lay 5. The rain had not stopped save a few minutes, but our feet had halted lesser times. After a few hours we reached the point where the trail shifts from one side to the other from over a mountain and the last two kilometres were left usually flat or declined. After another half an hour, we reached the camp site at Patar Nachauni. While rest of the company joined us in their own speed, we set up the common tent, changed into dry and warm clothes and played cards. Evening came, when one of the trekkers, a doctor, disscussed the different mountaineering hazards one could face, the natural and unnatural, with AMS occupying most of the disscussion. Ways to prevent it, such as climbing to a higher altitude then camping lower. Eating a lot, in the words of Wakeel ji, 'dabba ke khaana', also helps prevent AMS, not covering your ears, not sleeping immediately as you camp and a few others. Dinner time was followed by kheer, happy stomach, happy me. A windy night could do little to effect my sleep. Day 3 had ended, tomorrow was supposed to be easy, but snow was inevitable.
I really do believe in the fact that a good breakfast does lift up one’s spirits, combined with the Sun shining after almost a day, things were looking up. Scrumptious pancakes, honey and chai, were gobbled down and we were off to Bhaguabassa. Filling our water reserves for the day, we had a lot to keep our head high, after the first touchdown with snow, cold rock and earth formed most today’s terrain. A great sight for any city dweller to witness. The morning sun not just warming my spirit but the Trishul peaks sighted from Kalu Vinayak. The shunk covered in snow left at the feet of the idols, sounded like native calls of the mountains, the bells rang in repetitions scaring away the storm clouds saving the trekkers from rain and storm. A few photographs and poses later the most of our company had begun the rest of the distance to Bhaguabassa, the highest camp for the trek.
A few hundred metres behind Wakeel ji, I entered the hut he had taken shelter in, and asked us for two ande maggies, a treat after a trek. Specially shallow fried eggs with onions, and masala went perfect with the Maggie. The complete company arrived soon after, set up the fibre hut and chilled with a few games of cards.
*Drama: in short, when trekkers make unthoughtful and wrong decisions against the advice of the trek leader, the wrong doer is released from the trek, where the 7 in the company fell to an even 6.
We rested till dinner, had some Thai green curry, ate spoonfuls of halva with dry fruits and slept off a cold day to be woken to an extremely early morn at 4, for the day of our ascent to the Mystery Lake had arrived. Instructions about the gators was rolled out and the air blew softer than it did the previous night almost as if it were helping us get a good night’s sleep, for it knew the mountainous task tomorrow lay.
Day 5: We wake to shouts of other companies urging their trekkers to hurry up, it was still 3, we had planned to leave at 4. Little was left to be done after preparing our day packs, putting on our gators and gulping down the fresh porridge. With flash lights in your hands we set out to reach the Roopkund Lake. A crescent moon shown that early morning, just above one of the peaks. As we set out on the trail, first on stone and rock, piercing winds blew through us but our steps continued. A distance of 3 kilometres lay between Bhaguabassa and the lake, but near the last 500 metres did the climb get intense where focus and confidence were paramount. Those walking with sticks did have a certain comfort which the rest didn’t enjoy, we were left to balance ourselves by lowering our centre of gravity and using our hands to not fall. The final few metres is a flat walk, and the lake itself is down below to couple feet, which I advise no one to go too near to. A frozen water body, with edges of crisp ice bounded by snow, there it lied. The Junargali pass staring at us from above, it lay unconquered this season, just 250 feet away. We accepted the fact that we will not be able to go to the pass, for a safe descent mattered more. The sun now shone brightly on the mountainside and snow started giving way to water. In the very beginning of the descent I realised while ascent can be easily done with vigour and determination, a safe descent required experience and patience. We reached Bhaguabassa around 9, the headache I had developed was now pounding my ears, had a few cups of tea, had our breakfast and we were off to Bedni Bugyal. The long walk to the Bugyal had tired us despite taking shortcuts down, wherever we could. The bugyal was a magnificent formation of grass and mountain folds. Our campsite lay near the edge of a hill, from which the meadow fell to trees and yonder lied mountains. Soft cold breezes blew while we had pakoras and chai, it seemed the harsh wilderness too had its soft motherly nature. The evening there was mesmerising, with horses running, dogs playing and sheep off in the distance grazing, a perfect way to end our last camp. We slept comfortably and were told to be ready to leave by 8. A fine morning was upon us, we had slept well and an easy day lay before us. All of today being descent we had little to worry about and more to look forward to as we had a planned lunch on the Neel Ganga river. After about 3 hours we reached the river, where clean shiny rocks and cold water welcomed our over-worked feet. After frozen ice and unrelenting rain, it was a nice change of pace with comforting rocks underneath us and cold river water to do away with our fatigue. Paranthas and aloo ki sabzi, river side style and Frooty chilled in the river was our lunch. After the lunch lay an incline of about 20 minutes followed by another 2 kilometres of descent, after which we reached Wan and headed out for Lohajung.
Reaching Lohajung, we planned for a party, Wakeel ji got the cooks to make an excellent chicken, rotis and a spicy paneer sabji, the night ended on high note and the celebration went on into the night. We savoured the revelries and slept off, for the trek had ended.
Day 7: A bright sunny morning coupled with another breakfast of puri aloo, sat in the Mahindra Maxx and reached Haldwani by around 5, we sat in a café, exchanging stories, jokes and photographs. Near the end, we had little to regret, everything being bitter sweet, sweet for the accomplishment of the trek, bitter for our separation.
Not speaking for everyone, I had a great experience of, pushing myself, learning to let go and wandering without a cause to finding steps before me leading to place where I hadn’t been. While all words have but a way fading into one’s imagination, the sight of the mountains surely shall stay with me till ever.