I yearn for mountains, every day, every minute and every second I suppose. I’m still confused whether it’s this yearning or my empty pockets that I wear hiking boots even in Delhi summer. I was in the mountains only when I called Girish to plan an exploratory trek, I was craving for higher altitudes. It was April, Harsha had taken 2 weeks off from his job and I’m the one my friends reach out to when they want to want to go to the mountains. Last winter received relatively less snowfall, we knew we could do an altitude of 3000m in April which otherwise wouldn’t have been possible until May or sometimes even June. After a few phone calls with Girish and a little help from the internet, we finally settled upon the Ruinsara Tal (~3500m). This is going to be challenging and exciting, the snowfall was definitely less this winter, but in April it is still going to be a challenge with at least knee deep snow in last few kms. We were supposed to document the trek, map the trail using the GPS device, plan out an itinerary for Bikat Adventures, take lots of pictures and shoot some videos. Simple! And this job makes me the happiest man on the earth!
Trek starts from the village Taluka in Govind National Park. We left for Dehradun from Delhi on the night of April 20, followed by a 10-hour long journey in a private bus to Sankri. These buses and the bus rides, the only thing you do on the bus is to try to fit in whatever space you have. It’s never enough! We reached Sankri on the 21st evening, brought some food and other necessary items for the trek, and settled for the night with a big fat meal of pahaadi chicken. The night sky was mostly cloudy, almost full moon barely managing to peek through the clouds.
We started the next morning with a short drive to Taluka. Man! This was my third time on that road and it gets worse every time. To my surprise we didn’t see much rhododendrons on the way, must be the changing climate. This year, barely had any winter and summer came early, and the rhododendrons blossomed in February/March instead of April. Drive to Taluka is beautiful except for the road, lush green Oak, Pine and rhododendron forests with Supin river shimmering down the valley. We reached Taluka in around 1.5 hours, checked all our stuff (you won’t get much after this, just the basic food till Osla. Nothing after that!) and started walking the trail.
Oh, wait! I forgot to introduce the two most important members of the team, the Jeeja-Saala duo. Forty-year-old Vikram Singh Chauhan, the guide, and 19-year-old Ram Singh Chauhan, the porter, were two tough mountain children who joined us in Sankri for the support. I’m sure both of them were carrying at least 20-25 Kgs. each on their shoulders. We weren’t too behind either with roughly 15 Kgs with me and Harsha both.
Taluka(~1900m) to Chilud Dhar (~2400m), 12 Kms
This was the third time I was walking this trail, there’s something about coming back to such places. It felt as if the valley remembered me, I could hear the Supin flowing past the gorges in the distance, dogs, and people giving a familiar look and the soothing winds.
The trail starts right next to the Forest guest house in Taluka, takes you down to the river ground with the river on your left and a few houses on your right. This entire trail is an easy one, gradual climb with a few steep sections with mesmerizing views of the crystal clear Supin flowing through the narrow green valley. First 20-30 minutes of the trail is mostly downhill or level walk. You also have an option of not carrying any water on this trail, river is always on your left. Though fetching water from the river can be a bit tricky in few sections. There are plenty of small streams. Within an hour you’ll come across 4 such streams.
After around 30 minutes of the walk, you’ll come across a big cemented bridge over a small stream. Right after this bridge is a green patch of land which can be used as a camping spot, a little too early for that though, and on the right of the bridge is village Dhatmir, looks really tiny from here. Dhatmir is barely visible from here, make sure you look hard. It looks like a perfect Himalayan village.
After the green patch, there are two trails – one going to our destination and the second one to Dhatmir. Take the one taking you down! Trails are the best teacher. You can’t move ahead in life with ego, and on the trails too. You got to come down to climb up!
Another 10 minutes of walk and you come across a perfect setting in the dense forest. A tiny, shaky wooden bridge over Supin, often used by the shepherds. This is my favorite spot on this trail, the density of the forests and the music of Supin here are simply mesmerizing, it engulfs you into its charm.
Stay on the left of the trail and start climbing. Yes! The trail starts to gain some altitude from here in a zig-zag formation, but not for long. If you’re good 10 minutes of quick climb will again take you on almost level trail. After a few minutes of level walk, you’ll come across another stream on your right. Cross the stream and drink some tea, the first tea shop on the trail if you’re there in the best weather (April-June and October- December). Keep walking otherwise! :P
The trail picks up a little altitude from here and again takes you to the forest cover with a series of ascents and level walks. After 30-40 minutes of the walk, you’ll notice a typical Himalayan village on your left. This village is Gangahad, wooden houses, happy people and lots of children!
Another 20 minutes of the walk and you’re on the river bed again. Get some rest here and of course the tea as well, and maggi if you want. On your left is the village and straight ahead is where you’re supposed to go. Seema is roughly 3.5 kms from here, but we camped in between as Seema doesn’t have a good camping site. We camped at Chilud-dhar, proposed site for a mini powerhouse. Construction started some 10 years back. It was never finished, and has been abandoned since then.
Another couple of hours of walking, mostly steep with few level section where you can catch your breath. The surroundings change a lot by now, you’re no longer in the middle of a dense forest. The trail is mostly rocky, making it a little difficult to walk for the newbies. Look for the abandoned, partially completed cemented structure on your right, ground in front of it is your camping spot.
Both Harsha and I managed to cover it very easily and quickly. We were at Chilud Dhar in around 3 hours with plenty of tea and rest in between. We had plenty of time still left to spend for the day. Dang! It started raining soon after, we collected all the fallen wood we could grab before the rain spoiled it. Then the best thing happened, instead of cooking we partnered with a group of two boys from Delhi for the dinner. They were on a guided trek, had plenty of food and were kind enough to share that food with us.
Chilud Dhar to Ruinsara Tal(~3650m), 20 Kms.
This day was more difficult than I had anticipated. We started off around 8 in the morning and planned to reach Odari campsite by 4-5 in the evening. Odari campsite is few more Kms ahead of Ruinsara, the path doesn’t go through Ruinsara though. You cross the Supin river just 1-2 Km. before Ruinsara and take a different trail to reach Odari.
From Untigad to Seema is a gradual uphill trail, not much of an uphill, especially when you’re starting fresh in the morning. On your left across the river is the village Osla. Count the kids if you’ve time. I’d tried that the three times I’ve been to this village, could never finish the headcount. There are just too many. Cold and lack of entertainment alternatives it seems. 20 minutes of the walk at the normal pace and you’ll be in Seema. From here, trail bifurcates into two. One goes towards Har-Ki-Dun by crossing the bridge over Supin and the other one goes straight ahead towards Ruinsara/Bali Pass and numerous other treacherous passes and peaks. There is a forest guest house and a GMVN guest house too in Seema, along with few tea shops.
Stay on the right side of the bridge and take the trail going down towards the river. The trail ascends gradually from here with few sections where there’s barely any trail, landslide zones. Be careful in these sections as small streams make the loose sand very slippery sometimes. After a few minutes, the trail ascends sharply through a series of huge boulders and dense forest. Forests are mostly oak, white flower trees which look like rhododendrons (don’t eat the flower. It’s poisonous) with a few birch trees in between and a few other trees I don’t recognize. One of them is very good as fodder, especially in winters when there aren’t many options for the livestock. This is the steepest climb so far.
Catch your breath once you’re done with the climb and take the last glimpse of the village Osla as you enter the Ruinsara valley. From here the trail is almost level as you’re walking in the meadows of Devsu Thatch. At ~3050m, almost 2 Kms long and a perfect spot for camping. On a clear day one can see Black Peak (aka Kaalanag), Banderpunch from here and many other named and unnamed peaks.It took us 2 hours to reach Devsu thatch and the weather started changing. We could only get a glimpse of the two peaks I mentioned and within few seconds clouds were all over them.
From Devsu thatch, the trail descends sharply to the river again through one of the most dense forest I’ve ever seen. I love running down on such trails, was one hell of an adrenaline rush. 5 minutes and we lost around 150m in altitude. Cross the wooden bridge over gushing Supin and take the trail going inside the valley with the river on your right. The other trail on your left goes towards Har Ki Dun through another dense forest.
For next 30-40 minutes, the trail is almost level or ascends gradually over boulders and pastures along the river. Observe an open cemented shelter on the trail, we had our lunch here and by now the clouds had taken over the blue sky. By the time we left, it started raining and the temperature dropped rapidly. I was in shorts and T-shirt before this. When we started walking after lunch, I was in three layers and still cold. Rain and winds dropped the temperature rapidly.
Trail is more or less gradual ascent from here to Ruinsara with few steep sections. Around 30 minutes after lunch, temperature fell so much that water droplets were now snow flakes. We were hiking in the snow by then. Although I didn’t find the trail too steep, but it wasn’t easy to tread. Rain and snow made the ground really soft, that was making it difficult for us to walk. We had already covered 12 Kms by now and were at an altitude of 3100m only. Trail after the Debsu thatch turned out to be a pain in the ass. It would have been a lot easier, had it been steep.
In between it looks like as if the trail is drifting away from the river, but after few twists and turns it is again next to the river. There were few moderately steep sections in the middle, but I think both of us were too exhausted anyway. Winds were freezing us and snow flakes were no longer snow flakes, they were heavy snow balls. We were hiking in the snow from over 2 hours, sweating and shivering at the same time. I started the feeling the weight of rucksack on my shouders, Harsha was taking frequent breaks and falling behind.
If you’re here in April-May you’ll notice a lot of tiny white/light-pink colored flowers on the ground. These are locally known as Tinni flowers with a very pleasant odor. I happened to find out about the odor out of curiosity. Also, be careful on the trail. There are multiple landslide zones after that cemented shelter. There was barely any trail in certain sections, be very careful here as the ground is rocky and very loose.
I was no longer taking notes now, too much snow to take my phone out. Yes! I take notes of the trail, helps to write about it later. After couple of hours of mixed climb, and crossing many streams we finally reached the vast meadows with birch forests forming a very unreal background. This was an amazing sight. The forest looked so dead and live at the same time. There was barely a leaf on any tree, yet the presence of trees at such altitude was something I can’t explain. Everything around us had been painted by now, everything was either white or white overshadowing the brown of ground and trees. Best part was, we saw it being painted live. When you look around in heavy snow, color changes even with a blink of an eye.
Passing through the forest and last bit of climb which seemed very steep at that moment, we finally reached the Ruinsara Tal at 5:30 in the evening. I couldn’t figure out the last bit of trail because of the now, but it seemed like full of rocks and boulders. Harsha had fallen behind, he relied on the footsteps on the fresh snow. It was freezing by now, winds were breaking bones. Instead of pitching our tents outside we decided to pitch a kitchen tent inside the forest department hut, barely managing to stand, for all four of us.
No! It wasn’t a very good decision. That hut has no doors and it has open windows. It would have given us some protection from the wind, but then we decided to pitch a kitchen tent which wasn’t very wind proof. Anyway! We somehow managed to make that tent stand on a wooden floor. By now, all four of us were wearing all the layers we had, it was freezing.
I couldn’t even have a look around because of this hustle. But there is a thing about the Himalayas, you’re always happy there. They make you smile even when you want to cry. Landslides, rain, snow or cold, you always love them. Or maybe it’s just me.
Keeping ourselves warm was the primary concern at that time, we were shivering like crazy. Once everything was settled, Harsha decided to go inside the sleeping bag, Vikram and Ram took over the kitchen department and I decided to step out for a walk before it gets too dark. Lake is barely 150 meters away from the hut. It was too cold outside, I couldn’t stay out for long. I came back in around 30 minute. We had our dinner early & went to sleep.
Next morning we started our journey back. Took us 2 days to return to Dehradun by the same route.