Roopkund Trek-Uttarakhand Sep 19, 2009- Sep 28, 2009

Sunday, October 18, 2009
Sep 18:  Chennai to Delhi to Kathgodam. (Friday)
It was time to go. Vinodha met Shiva and they went to the airport in a taxi. All others gathered there soon, we flew to Delhi and then drove through the crazy marketplace that resembled T nagar and reached the Railway station. Raghuvir, Sameer and Sridhar had gone out to buy food. We met Ritu and Melanie. I had 2 other companions – one with Bindhu and the other with Ritu. The train arrived and we had to get in – there was an ugly brawl on the platform before people could get into their compartments – made us wonder why people behave so crass. Praveen and Vinodha were in a different compartment from the rest – Raghuvir, Sridhar took their dinners to their berths and chatted for a while. Everybody settled in their berths and caught up with some sleep – as you know, I don’t need any.
Sep 19: Kathgodam to Wan (Saturday)
DSC01102 We got down at Kathgodam. The weather was pleasant – it looked like we were in Ooty. Tamal had hired 3 Jeeps. Sanjay was our main driver and was waiting for us outside. All the girls – Bindhu, Melanie, Ritu and Vinodha were in this one, along with Shiva, Kantesh, Gokul and Tamal. Vinodha entertained all with her Kodaikanal schooldays stories… We drove along the Gola river and crossed many towns / Villages like Almora and Garam Pani and had breakfast at …………….. Alu Paratha was yum – we took some pictures there and continued on. Some people had motion sickness problems and chugged along with trouble – Shiva topping the list. The group took a few pukey pictures just for fun and went on to Gwaldam for lunch. Tamal recommended Hill fish as a delicacy – anybody who tried it hated the curry but found that the fish itself tasted perfect. We drove on – the views were beautiful, I and my other 2 friends had a better view as we travelled on top. The whole area was so markedly religious Hindu – as Tamal remarked – the place is as Hindu as the Middle East is Muslim. We had our first glimpse of snow-capped mountaintops on the way to Loharjung – this creates a longing in everybody's hearts. Tamal wishes to get a puff of smoke up Ronti and everybody teases Bindhu that she may want to extract a tooth on top at Ronti. We met our local guide group at Loharjung and had tea, started the precarious drive towards Wan. Guess we all wanted the drive to stop as the road was treacherous. It was dark when we reached Wan – after a 15-minute climb, we got into the guesthouse. After lovely dinner and dessert, everybody was hanging out for acclimatization. The night was very clear, a perfect night to watch the starts; in fact some could even see the milky way… whereas others only managed to see electrical wires!
The girls tried out Bollywood dance and pseudo-butterfly-swimming to get used to the weather. It was time to go to bed and we had a lovely sleep, the last one for the next one week. Somebody asked Tamal: What is the back up plan in case one has to back out from Bedni or Wan itself? Guess the answer was reserved for the next day.
Sep 20: Wan to Bedni Bugyal. – 11km (Sunday)
DSC01160 3 km uphill – 1/2 km downhill – 8 km steep uphill  - We left the guesthouse in the morning. It is surprisingly warm and as we start the trek, people start peeling off layers of clothing. We take a small picture break. We keep climbing on a track that has lots of cattle climbing down. I try to protect Vinodha by keeping the buffaloes away and breathe a sigh of relief every time they cross without hurting her. Surprisingly she gets an Asthma attack – Tamal is ready with an inhaler in his medi-kit and that helps her move on. Siddharth and family was seen as usual playful with the picture act and grabbing posses with the huge dead hollow tree log. Few small groups of buffalos, cows, horses and mules greeted some of us with furious down climb. Near the small peak, the porters carry her backpack for a short distance. After a few minutes of rest there, we trek towards Bedni Bugyal with beautiful meadows on the way. Raghuvir gets sinusitis trouble and has problems climbing. People have tea in the stone huts up there, setup camp and decide against the Ali Bugyal trip. Acclimatization is the focus - everybody walks around the meadows, the girls try yoga in the meadows. Tamal and Melanie attempt a climbs up the surrounding mountains, but the more they hike the farther it seems, and they give up. A few others join them. The scenery is captivating, the blue lake is inviting and we get the first clear view of Trishul. We eat Hot Pakodas and have tea. Temperature drops and warm clothes adorn people once again. A goat gets slaughtered for dinner, after everyone enjoyed petting it and tacking pictures of it, how cute...! Dinner takes a long time to cook while the porters songs entertain us. The vegetarians get to eat first. Raghuvir doesn’t eat much despite warnings from many others. I get my little space outside the girls' tent and feel very proud – you see, Taffy is tough.. Tamal gets in to test out the Japanese heat patch Vinodha has and they decide it is slow to react. Everybody settles down in their tents. Tamal finds out later in the night that the heat patch does help. 
Sep 21: Bedni Bugyal to Bugwabhasa(14500 ft) 12km (Monday)
DSC01150 We wake up quite cheerful and have team. 'Morning glory' time, and the rocks help. Maggi Noodles are served for breakfast and we start the ascent from 12,000 ft to 14,000 feet towards Bugwabhasa. Raghuvir and Ashwin had skipped breakfast. Vinodha's breathing problem continues –she attempts full yogic breathing as a technique leaning on me and bends down to keep her back horizontal and has to do this about once in 20 to 25 steps to prevent blackouts and losing orientation. The landscape is awe inspiring, we walk towards the snow capped Trishul on a winding path along the mountains. Some porters working on government projects (tourism department) carry huge steel structures for construction. Kantesh exchanges his backpack with Raghuvir's to help him, and some envied Raghuvir, as all knew Kantesh’ bag was almost empty and very very light! We keep walking and reach the start of the ascent towards Kalu Vinayak. Vinodha and I fall behind. Raghuvir is in trouble and is behind us. Just before Kalu Vinayak, one of the porters gets Vinodha's backpack – and we experience a few drizzles. We quickly reach the top and Vinodha puts on her rain Poncho and the porters her to leave the backpack behind. Mahendar helps Raghuvir  and takes him into a shelter and Vinodha and I walk ahead by ourselves. The rain turns into a hailstorm. Little ice pellets that look like air gun bullets hit us with a force aided by gravity with minimum friction. Vinodha admires Brahma Kamal plants and strays off the trail going after the beautiful flowers and gets both of us onto slippery snow coated rocks. She tastes the pellets and gets excited. I lead her back to the trail and we continue walking and spot snow capped mountains with frozen streams in closer quarters – we worry thinking we may have missed the campsite – and within minutes feel very pleased with ourselves when we see the colourful tents. Tamal welcomes us into the campsite and hot tea is ready. People try to dry stuff but it gets foggier. I settle down in my usual place – in the luggage area of the girls tent while people move into their tents. It starts raining, and snowfall starts again. Hot dinner and later hot water gets served in the tents. Vinodha and Ritu stick heating pads on their socks for warmth. Excitement is in the air about the next day's climb to Roopkund and Ronti.
Sep 22: Bugwabhasa to Roopkund to Pathar Nachoni – 22km (Tuesday)
DSC01186 The morning was white outside. We had tea and breakfast and started the climb. The deal was that the porters would help us with our bags in the snow covered area and would help us up and down Roopkund. Vinodha and I walk alone most of the way. Raghuvir lags a lot and is in serious trouble. We move up and a porter gets the backpack. Shiva and Ananth return towards the bags after being hit by altitude sickness. One of the porters comes to Vinodha and says she has to turn back and go and she wont make it. She gets very upset by that statement and looks around and asks other porters to see who will be willing to take her up as she really wanted to make it. One fearless man (Birender Singh Bisht) steps up and says he can as it was her heart's desire to make it up there. One of the porters skids and falls off the mountain and luckily his life was spared with minor injuries. This also made another group of 3 fear for the climb. One decided to stay back but later on seeing us got courage and followed us. We see all others ahead, and go up in a slow and steady pace with Vinodha stopping to use her breathing technique to get blood flowing to her brain – she tells me that it is a 'Dead or alive' climb for her. The snow is deep – more than a meter deep in some places – I can’t hit the rock at the bottom at some places when she put me on the snow to get a hold. I get scared – I don’t want to let her down. We do make it to the top alive and exhilarated and join the rest of the group. 19 of the 22 trekkers make it up there – the normal success rate is about 50% say the guides. At the top, others are busy sliding down the hill on a plastic bag, making Ganesh snowman, enjoying snowfights and taking – many ! - group pictures, while the porters have addressed their prayers at the little temple nearby. Mahendar and Tamal explore and decide that taking the group up to Ronti would be difficult given the level of snow and pace – there wasn’t enough time for the porters to take us, their luggage and then our luggage across the snow to the other side and then follow that route. So we decide to spend the night in Pathar Nachani and take the alternate route plan.
DSC01220 On the way down Melanie happily slides down, scaring the porters. The porters help the girls have some fun sliding down – but stop the game at spots where it gets riskier. Ashwin and the crazy porter have a great ride down – in the end you don’t really know which one is helping the other out, nor which one is having more fun doing so ! We get down to the bottom, pick up the bags and start walking. Very soon, it is Vinodha and me walking alone, enjoying each others' company and then we catch up with Mahendar. It gets sunny for a while, but soon after it gets foggy again. We meet Tamal and a few others in the stone huts. We get a cup of hot maggi noodles. Raghuvir is in bad shape – apparently he was lying on the ground and was picked up by one of the porters and other groups. Tamal hires a mule for Raghuvir and we start walking with Tamal towards Kalu Vinayak. Raghuvir is unable to maintain his balance downhill and walks down from Kalu Vinayak. He cheers up a bit more. Tamal takes us through some interesting shortcuts and we enjoy the views. We come back to the trail, as it is sometimes faster. 500 meters before Pathar Nachani, porters get Vinodha's backpack and Tamal goes ahead. We meet Raghuvir and take him along and hit the campsite. That night, the girls go to the kitchen tent for dinner. It is nice and warm – more people come into it for dinner. It is time to go to bed and I settle down in my usual spot with my 2 other friends. It is a heating pad night again. Vinodha gets more breathing trouble in the night. Her sleeping bag gets wet and she is unable to lie down – and sits up for the night wishing for a recliner sofa.
Sep 23: Pathar Nachoni to Bhuna – 12 km (Wednesday)
DSC01169 The morning is not so cold. Raghuvir packs up to return to Wan through Bedni Bugyal along with an injured porter. Our journey for the day is from Pathar Nachani to Bhuna. We start with an uphill climb through a shortcut so that we get a good 360 degree view of the mountains. We move along – there are a few steep uphill stretches and flat walks apart from gradual downhill climbs. Vinodha feels low energy after 3 days of breathing problems and one night's sleep lost. We walk along and Tamal keeps us company and starts walking a bit ahead after some time. Surprisingly, Kantesh is walking very slow, and not craking crazy jokes… something’s wrong there ?! As we reach lower altitudes, we see villages at a distance. Prior to starting, the understanding with the porters was that we would stop for lunch around 1 pm.  At around 12 45 pm, Vinodha hears Bindhu's voice calling out for her from a small peak. She starts climbing to the peak and spots 2 backpacks on top. When we hit the top, there is nobody – it was an illusion caused by rocks on the top. We have lost the trail. She calls out and Tamal whistles back – what a pleasure it was to hear from the group! She traces the trail and reaches Tamal and then we keep walking. The breathing improves to 30 steps uphill and 60 downhill, but the giddiness persists. She picks me up and carries me horizontally whenever the walk is flat. There is a steep downhill climb and a stream with a mini waterfall – we break for lunch. Or kind of…one roti each… and none for some: it seems someone is trying to starve the group?!! Tamal takes a mini shower with Shampoo there! After lunch, Tamal requests Sridhar to accompany us. We continue walking towards Bhuna.
P1110041 The scenery starts looking different – we see fields, sheep appearing like white dots at a distance, taller trees etc. Sridhar keeps talking about various subjects and distracts Vinodha from the breathing problems. For the first time in her life, Vinodha carries Glucose water and sips it. We meet a couple of Villagers – they ask us for a description of Kalu Vinayak so that they could decide on whether to visit the place or not. Vinodha describes the Shrine to them and recommends a visit. In the last segment of the walk, the porters come up and get the backpacks. As we near Bhuna, we see the cultivated land and the landscape reveals dense forests and bushes. There was a tunnel of sorts that people were trying to photograph. We walk down and reach the campsite. In the girls tent, the mood was upbeat. Vinodha is surprised to see that the tent was actually a recliner sofa – sloping ground! She feels like hitting the bed and not leave the tent – Ritu convinces her to stay awake and go out as there was going to be a camp fire for the first time. The girls dress up and leave the tent and go to the fire. The porters sing and dance, and the team joins them. Most of the guys have gathered in one tent to listen to Mahabarata stories from Shiva, and it seems they’re all fascinated by his words. People sing in different languages and scream out choruses and we dance around the fire. Dinner includes yoghurt and everybody is thrilled– some porters had relatives in Bhuna and were able to get milk and yoghurt. Surprisingly again, Kantesh is not by the fire like the other days… which led someone to worry and tells Tamal that Kantesh had not eaten and was sleeping. He went into the tent and checked his temperature and found he had 103 degrees. He gets his medi-kit and gives him medicines for severe fever. Vinodha gets heating patches for him and gives him a massage. The kitchen crew prepare hot milk for him. Sridhar takes over Kantesh care and monitors his temperature, gives him the medicines etc.

Sep 24: Bhuna to Kanol - 6-7 km (over meadows and downhill climb) (Thursday)
We wake up in the morning in Bhuna – the sun comes up and a snow capped peak is visible. There is a spring in Vinodha's steps – the giddiness seems totally gone even though there is residual breathing trouble. The sick one is, even though feverish, smiling again and Tamal decides he’ll certainly make it if someone carries his bag pack – quite a relief, no need to rush to the hospital…! We start climbing from the campsite, reach a hilltop and Ritu and Mukund try to get a cell phone signal. A gang of people tease Mukund the bridegroom and threaten to spin stories for his would be wife and demand a treat from him in Haridwar. We walk along and find cows on top, we move in a slow pace with a lot of photographs being taken. Tamal runs barefoot on the lush green meadows, and urges everyone to enjoy that feeling. Soon few joined in the ectasy .Photographers practiced their action-jumpshots. 

IMG_3577 This day was the easiest of the walks and was very pleasant. Ritu had developed a lot of blisters on her feet and was struggling with them. Mukund had knee pain. A few others had a bit of trouble too Gokul and John experienced some sickness. But the beauty of the surroundings helped everyone overcome their pain. Surprisingly Kantesh seems to be getting better and seen being chased by Tamal after comments he wishes to be sick as he gets the massage from Vinodha and do not have to carry the back pack. Vinodha and Ritu plucked and ate some leaves that had a lemon like smell and thyme like appearance and were in a very giggly mood – probably due to the leaves. It started warming up as we started losing altitude quite fast. We stopped on the way and Mahendar and Tamal visited a demon shoo –away /removal ritual site. Tamal brought some poori and fresh liver of the sacrificial lamb with pickle spices and blood – some people tasted it, but the others were terrified. We kept moving down and reached Kanol. There was a mini-waterfall on the way. We hit the campsite and may came down for a mini- shower of sorts. The guys in the team could have quite a good bath even though the water was freezing cold. Everyone had clothes hanging out to dry, and Mukund told all about his new revolutionary technique to dry clothes – Mukund dryer ltd was born! A big group of kids gathered around the tents and started staring at everyone. People went to the village shops and made phone calls, bought candy and pens for the kids and some snacks for teatime. The scenery was beautiful and people settled down in groups. Sameer wanted to leave early in the morning the next day. 
Sep 25: Kanol to Sutol - 8 km (downhill climb through forest) (Friday)
Sameer woke up in the morning and wished everyone goodbye in their half sleep. Along with Narendra – second guide he lft for Sitel, which is like a short cut from Kunol. Today is was rather a lazy day to move on and many suggested to camp here for one more day. I pushed the guys to move on as the next village may be more spectacular than this. What followed was a trek through forest filled with snakes and no trail. The trek leads had missed the trail and had to make a new trail. Finally the colourful village was in sight and indeed more picturesque than the previous one. This campsite was below the main village along the huge river bridge, which connects to main Ganga. After all the push to move on had paid off. Vinodha made some French fries for the group – though one pretending he was sick ate most of it and other had to fight to get any (now you know who to blame!) The campfire was brighter and better. The “Boogie Boogie “song and numerous other song were on display. And luckily for all, that night no one heard the snores of the group leader, the noise being covered by the sound of the river! All were in high sprits and knowing that the next day was the last day of the trek.
Sep 26: Sutol – Sitel  - 10-14 km (over meadows and downhill climb) (Saturday )
Morning was witnessed by Sivakumar Kumar Yoga prayers. Even the villagers were curious and had many questions to ask us. Yes the final climb to Sitel: Was it easy? Ask the guys, hot & sweaty, people had to shred their clothes, Bindu & Vinodha had converted their trouser to mini shirts, and some started wondering if “low-altitude sickness” had hit the group! Temple bell rang in distance announcing that the steep climb was just over round the corner. Bloody it never ended though for a long time. Some skipped lunch, while others enjoyed – again – each one roti and the usual brinjal that was starting to haunt some of us in our dreams! Crossing pass the landside was another adventure just when we thought all was over. Thought run to the minds to imagine and identify the spot below the landslide if you just tripped and fall. Finally Sridhar and myself (Tamal) arrived at Sitel and had a early naked dip along with some firangs in the freezing river water. It was amazingly refreshing. Hot soups, pakoras, tea, cream rolls greeted us in the campsite in Sitel. Chang , Desi Chicken curry, kheer was in store on the last dinner . We danced, toasted with our porters , guides, cooks and served food to them in a gesture to say thank you. Sridhar celebrated the end of his 75th trek, and we all celebrated a wonderful roopkund trek! Few decided to spend some more time post dinner along the riverside, as this was the last camping site. The night crap and the fresh air sound alongside the river is still not forgotten.
Sep 27: Sitel – Ghat  - Karnaprayag – Nandaprayag – Rudraprayag – Rishikesh – Haridwar – By Sumo (Sunday) Haridwar – Delhi
A quick Maggie breakfast at Sitel local hotel and soon we realized all 20 of us were packed in two vehicles along with 20-30 more locals and were ready to leave. The treacherous journey ended after 90 minutes of drive to Ghat. A little confusion when we did not find the vehicles that were supposed to be arranged by the organizers. We hired three vehicles at Ghat and the continued our journey till Nandprayag. We had to change vehicle again at Nandprayag and further continue our journey to Haridwar. It was 8pm in the evening and hence missed the “Aarti” in Rishikesh. Since lunch was not comforting for most of us we ensured we went to a decent place to kill our gastronomic desires,  where Tamal overfed everyone, and for once we avoided any type of brinjal! Then we jumped into the train for a last night of travel. 
Sep 28  Delhi – Chennai  ( Monday) 
Back to the concrete jungle and soon most of us Checked into a local Hotel in Vasant Kunj-Delhi. All the girls took shelter at Ritu’s place. Mukund was the lucky one who was grandly welcomed in the station by his fiancĂ© but I guess the excitement and jubiliantion has him tripped over.
Lunch was at Cannaught Place were we all came together, had lunch and spend some time. Soon we were all headed to the airport and back to Chennai. We could see the strange feeling among all of us once we were in Chennai airport. As if we thought the togetherness, the bonding, the laughter, the warmth, the cold, the pain, the ecstasy, the pleasure of being self yet the joy of being in the lap of Himalayas would not come to and end so soon. It was definitely 10 days of shear blissful experience from all of us.
Gokul  Said : When I see the new Tata Safari ad it reminds me of this trek.
"If you looked back in your life What would you remember?  The corner office?  The VIP lounge? The corporate power plays?  Reclaim your life !"
This trek was a successful attempt at that and I’m sure it will remain in our memories forever!
Lugging an 11Kg backpack and climbing mountains is physically exhausting, nevertheless it is worth the pain when you are presented with breathtaking views of vast lush green meadows, snow-capped peaks & an experience of a lifetime.
Written by: Tamal Dey
Image Galleries: Tamal
Posted by: Karthick Sundararajan



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