Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Roopkund Trek,Uttarakhand. Day 2 (Didana to Bedni Bugyal)

Day 2

In Brief
Distance to be covered today- (~12km)
Change in Elevation-from Didana(2600MSL) to Bedni Bugyal(3354MSL)
Scenery-Through Oak forests and later through grasslands
Duration- Around 4-6 hours depending on your speed
Difficulty- more difficult than the first day

In Detail
Today was to be the day we would be seeing the famed Bugyals. Mr Durga upped the excitement by claiming that we would forget everything when we will lay our eyes on the bugyals.This declaration speeded up our preparation in the cold morning and we started off by 8am.Today we were to gain a height of around 750MSL.The path was steep right form the beginning.We walked among tall trees surrounding us from all sides.Today angkan was leading the group behind Mr Durga as he had no bag to carry with him.Abhishek and arun were also much more relaxed and sprightly today as they too had given their bags to be carried by the donkeys.Only nitesh,satya,bhanu and myself were carrying our bags.The path was steep for a while and eased out gradually.
      We reached a place called Tol Pani after an hour.It was a quaint village glowing in the morning sunshine.There were a few villages scattered around a beautiful field.This was to the last water source for the day till we reach bedni bugyal.That means a total of around 4 hours without water.We passed by this place and from here another steep ascent started.
      After another stretch of walking through the oak forests we reached tol top after an hour.Here the whole group sat down.Today all of us were walking with not much distance between us.As some of us were without bags we all could keep pace with each other.This stretch was very exhausting for us who were carrying bags.We had some chocolates here and took ample rest.The trees above offered us nice shade from the bright sun above.Here and there the leaves parted to create spectacular images of the Tyndall effect.
    We started after everyone had rested to their heart's content.The trail passed through the forests for a while then slowly the forest spread began to recede and grasslands started.To our right were the forests and we were walking on the grass.We walked on this pleasing spread of grass for sometime and then took a break again.We took some pics here meanwhile Mr Durga and satya went in search of some water.They came back with bottles of brownish water citing this was the best they could do as filling water from the water source was very tricky as well as risky.
   After another stretch of walking we found ourselves amidst the Ali Bugyal.The sight which lay before me was one of the most stunning landscapes I ever saw in my life.An exquisite carpet of green grass was spread all over the place.There were gentle hills sloping up and down.The snow clad peaks in the background completed the whole picture.I was speechless for a while.This is what drives me on treks.This is why I trek.The happiness that I got there on seeing the beauty of nature in front of me was unmatched.I just wanted to lay down there on that welcoming grass,close my eyes and think of nothing.But that was not possible.Not with the group that there was with me.Not without some wisecrack coming my way.I thought better not risk it and moved on.
     Once again we sat down amidst this wallpaper perfect place.To me this reminded me of Windows XP default wallpaper.After we had our fill of the place's beauty we started off for Bedni Bugyal.It was hard, not the walk,but leaving Ali bugyal.I wanted to camp there itself.But there was no water for miles around this place and camping here would be foolish. Bedni bugyal was not far away.The walk till there produced some more stunning views.We could see the path zig zag on the hills before us.All this while we could see Mt Trishul towering over us.As the time passed I grew more and more tired.A slight headache began to start.Over time it grew and by the time we reached Bedni Bugyal I had a raging headache.It could have been because of the Altitude or it could have been my Migraine acting up.
       At around 2 pm I saw a faint greenish colour ahead of us on a edge of a hill sloping down.This was our second campsite Bedni Bugyal.I was relieved beyond words.Somehow this view reminded me of the Tintin books that I used to read during my childhood.The location of the campsite was,once again excellent.We had superb views all round us.On reaching the campsite we threw our bags on the ground and dashed to the dining tent where hot soup was served to us.After the soup I had only one thing in mind.I went to my tent,took a paracetamol tablet(Dolo 650) and tried to catch some sleep.Wind started blowing outside and it was very cold.I had already changed into 4 layers of clothing.This kept me warm.With the sound of the wind,the shaking of the tent and the voices of the group drifting in and out in the background I slept very uneasily.Now and then I woke up with a start when a particular sound increased.Somehow by 8 pm I was sound asleep when a voice calling out my name woke me up.It was Mr Durga inquiring about my health.He told me to getup and get some dinner in the kitchen area.I woke up with foggy eyes but surprisingly my headache had subsided.I ambled towards the kitchen where I was given some hot soup.I told Mr Durga that I was Ok and maybe it was the altitude that caused the headache,He agreed and as a precaution gave me lasoon(garlic) to eat.The guides and the locals believe that lasoon is the best remedy for any altitude related problem.I had the soup and a little bit of rice and dal. That was enough for me and I declined to eat any more.I wandered off to the kitchen area where everyone else were having their dinner.As my headache had subsided I was back in form and joined in the banter that usually accompanies a dinner.
          After dinner we all strode to abhishek's tent and crammed ourselves inside.Yes thats 7 people inside a 3 man tent. Abhishek took out a bottle from his bag which he had dearly carried right from delhi.It was a bottle of Jack Daniels.As satya and myself were the only teetotalers we had a pack of frooti with us. Abhishek poured everyone a small glass of the famed whiskey and everyone drank it heartily.It was very limited as alcohol tends to amplify the sickness associated with Altitude. After this session was over we all withdrew to our tents to tucked in for the night.There was to be no bonfire that night as a cold wind was blowing and we were in no mood to spend any time out in the open.During the whole night the wind howled and shrieked.It shook our tent now and then.The ground was also uneven and I had a quite restless sleep.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Roopkund Trek,Uttarakhand. Day 1 (from Lohajung to Didana)

In Brief
Distance to be covered today- (~10km)
Change in Elevation-from Lohajung(2530MSL) to Didana(2600MSL)
Scenery-Through Rhododendron forests
Duration- Around 4-6 hours depending on your speed
A picturesque village

The agency
We trekked with GIO Adventures with Mr Durga and Mr Aman as our guides.There were four other people who doubled up as cooks and porters.There were also three donkeys.

The Team
Our team comprised of a total of 7 trekkers. Bhanu,Abhishek and Satya were my childhood friends.Then there was bhanu's friend Angkan.Abhisek's friend Arun and  Nitesh who had signed up independently. Only bhanu,nitesh and myself had any previous trekking experience.

Detailed account
                I woke up in the morning all excited for the day ahead.As I stepped outside of the room leaving the warm and cozy blankets, a sense of excitement grew in me as I saw the exquisite view in front of the hotel.I stood there,in the fresh morning mountain breeze and mulled about the days ahead.The thought of being in the midst of those mountains lying in front of me filled me with joy and eagerness.Whatever tiredness and sleep that I had vanished at those thoughts.I went back inside my room and got ready.Slowly one by one everyone came out of their rooms and by 8 am we all were ready.We were full of enthusiasm for the day ahead and couldn't wait to start for the trek.By 8:30 am we finished our breakfast and started off with Mr Durga in the lead.
                Today's trek was to be relatively easy compared to the days ahead.We would be covering a distance of roughly 10 km and would be gaining a height of only 70MSL. I was carrying my trusty Quechua 60L rucksack with me.I had packed it,with a lot of deliberations spanning over a period of 2 months.I had originally bought the bag 2 years back keeping in mind the Roopkund trek and used it in my Nag Tibba trek too.It was quite heavy and like it happened on my first trek( Nag tibba) I was feeling breathless after only 30 mins.We uttered a cry of relief when Mr Durga called a halt near a small stream and we sat down to calm our hearts which were working overtime.After everyone was satisfied we started off and soon we found a rhythm which was with us for the rest of the day.
                We walked among rhododendron forests and there were no views of any peaks today as we were surrounded by tall trees.As we trudged through the trail our feet made a squishing sound as we stepped on the leaves littered all over the path.Soon the sun was making its presence felt.Perspiration began to form on my face and it snaked on my skin making its journey downwards passing on my neck and onto my torso.Whenever a cool breeze blew it bought both relief and uneasiness as the sweat was evaporating making the skin cool.After an hour's walk we came across a beautiful stream.There was a bridge built across it.The water,as it fell and jumped over the boulders made a sweet sound.The kind of sound that lulls you to sleep or for the artistic kind inspire them to create a masterpiece.We stopped here for a while,took a few pics.This place was called Raun bagad Bridge.Here another group of trekkers were already taking rest when we reached.They were from 'Trek the Himalayas' agency.We had a few conversations with them.We kept running into them for the next three days.
               As bhanu,abhishek and satya were my childhood fiends I was all comfortable with them and initially talked mostly with them.But as the day wore off,I became comfortable with angkan, arun and nitesh.Angkan was also a fellow blogger and we found out we had quite a few things in common chief  among them being our love for travel and supernatural stories. Arun was of the quiet kind and didn't talk much.Once in a while he would say something funny in his distinctive style of Hindi and we all would have a hearty laugh. Nitesh was the oldest in the group but did not look the part.We all gauged his age around 10 years less than his actual age.He had done 2 treks before and looked like a 'North face' fan as everything from the cap on his head to his shoes were of  'North Face' brand.He gave us some insights about his previous treks.We had a nice variety to our group as well.Two worked in Power Plants,two in coal mining and the rest were in IT.We had good topics to talk about and this kept the trek interesting.
A small village we came across
                In the initial part of the trek we descended and after Raun bagad bridge we started our ascent.Basically we had descended to come to the foot of one hill and then climbed the second hill reaching almost the same height from where started.Now and then the forests cleared and offered some views of the adjoining hills.As the day wore on the group got divided into two parts.The front end comprised of satya,nitesh,bhanu and myself.The rear end comprised of angkan,arun and abhishek.As time passed the gap between the two grew.By 1pm the front end saw the first dwelling of the Didana village.We stopped by a small shop were we bought a few chocolates(munch) and sat down to rest.
                The rear end arrived a full 30minutes later.To our surprise they were not carrying their rucksacks.On inquiry they said that they were so tired they gave it to the porters who loaded them on the donkeys.After all were assembled here we started walking again.The camping site was still 30 minutes away after we spotted the first dwelling.When we reached the campsite we forgot all our tiredness.The location was breathtaking.Our camps were being set up at the edge of the hill with the hill gently sloping away.We went over to the site,threw our rucksacks on the ground and sat down.Some of us took off our shoes and sat barefoot on the ground.After we took rest to our hearts content we started exploring the site.Mr Durga and Mr Aman gave us a brief demonstration on how to set up a tent.One was set up by them and the other three we set up by ourselves with some help from them.We then had some delicious lunch prepared by the wonderful cook of the group. The rest of the day was spent in visiting a stream nearby and talking.In the night after a heavy downpour we had our dinner in the dining tent after which a bonfire was setup where angkan told some scary stories.The rest of the group lost interest after sometime and some retired for the night.But angkan and myself kept going for a long time.We shared some stories and by 10pm we decided to turn in for the night.Little did we know that this was to be the last comfortable night out we would have.
The view from my tent

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Everything that you should know about Roopkund Trek,Uttarakhand

Roopkund Trek,it is said, is one of India's best treks.

And I did it last month.

For those of you who have zero idea about it let me point out a few things about Roopkund Trek.

First off this is a Himalayan trek which starts from Lohajung in Uttarakhand.The goal of this trek is to reach the Roopkund lake situated at a height of 4500MSL. The lake has mythological significance and for all thrillseekers,some mystery to it too.In 1942 a park ranger found mounds of human skeletons here.Since then a lot of theories have been floated about their presence much to the delight of the conspiracy theorists but recently National Geographic put in the theory that they may have been hit by a huge hailstorm.This theory is consistent with the found evidence of cracked skulls.
And to the delight of some and dismay of others there are no haunting stories associated with this macabre presence.

Claim to Fame- Three things
1.Human Skeletons
2.Breathtaking views.There are three different landscapes on offer here.Forests,Meadows and snow.Also it presents views of peaks like Mt Trishul(7120MSL) and Nanda Ghunti(6309MSL)
3.Many websites rate Roopkund as one of the top three treks in India.

Region- This trek starts in the Kumaon region and goes into the Garhwal region.

Best time to do it- There are two windows for this trek.
1.May-June. This is for the snow.You will find lots of snow but no skeletons as they lie covered by snow.
2.September.This is for the skeletons.
I will be talking everything related to the May-June window in this blog post.

Duration-The whole trek starting from Lohajung village and ending at Wan village typically takes 5 days.It can be done leisurely in 6 or 7 days too.

Grade-The grade is Moderate+ which means get ready to do some exhausting physical work.
It is said that this can be done by fit first timers.I strongly suggest you do some physical exercises before undertaking this trek.I trained for this trek by trying to achieve Indiahikes's formula of being able to run 5km in 30 mins.I achieved my personal best of 5km in 36min in 10 days.

Medicines-Altitude Sickness plays a factor in this trek.So be prepared with medicines.AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) differs from person to person.Some may get affected by while some may remain completely free from it.I strongly advise everyone to carry a set of medicines with you.While Diamox is the medicine for AMS,the various trekking agencies have differing opinions about it,Some suggest taking it may cause more harm than good.The locals prefer taking roasted garlic for every problem.
Even if you are the sort of person who despises taking tablets I suggest you carry a strip of Paracetamol with you.Dolo 650 is a good option.Make sure it is pure paracetamol.It shouldn't be added with any other compound.You never know what side effects it may cause.

Equipment- This is the kind of trek where if you forget even one key item from your gear you may have to stop your trek midway.Take very seriously whatever your trek agency suggests you to pack.
I am the kind of man who packs everything with emergencies in mind.99% of the time you may not need them but I prepare for that 1%.Sometimes when I get carried away I prepare a back up for my back up.
My top 5 must have items apart from the usual sweaters,jackets,raincoats and rain pants are
1.Sunglasses (on the day that you push for the summit you have to pass through snow everywhere.And with the sun shining above everything will be bright white.For people like me who have migraine problem this is a nightmare as bright light triggers an attack.I don't usually have the habit of wearing sunglasses as I wear prescription glasses but for this trek I packed in a pair of sunglasses which was sent by my brother who bought it from the Decathlon store in Hyderabad.
So I repeat if you forget your sunglasses you may have to stay back at the base camp.
2.Torch( A torch is essential for movement in the night.Also on the day you try to summit you may have to start at 3am in the night depending on where you camp for the night.Don't forget to pack in an extra pair of batteries)
3.Waterproof Gloves(Believe me with the amount of cold and the snow on the penultimate day you will be saved a lot of pain with a pair of good relaible pair of waterproof gloves.)
4.Atleast 5 pair of socks (I carried 9 pairs with one woolen pair included.I did not regret.4 pairs got wet on the last day of the trek.Woolen pair was for the night.
5.Garbage bags (Do not underestimate the worth of garbage bags.They have a number of uses.They can be used to store wet clothes,your chappals,sometimes shoes,your valuables in case of a rain.I even wore them over a pair of socks on which I wore another pair of socks on the summit day.Protected my feet from getting wet as I was not wearing waterproof shoes.)

And finally the Trek Agency.

Choosing a trek agency is very critical.Remember the following points when choosing an agency
1.They are responsible for your fooding and lodging all throughout the trek.You don't have other options once you start the trek.You solely depend on the agency
2.They are responsible for your safety. The competency of your guide and his team is vital.Good guides are certified First Aiders and have undergone proper mountaineering courses
3.You get to use their gear.Good agencies use good gear.Simple really.
4.Go with agencies that do treks with small groups.Easy to manage and ensures proper safety of all.
5.Choose established agencies as they have local contacts in the villagers and can be of huge help in case of emergencies.

We did this trek with GIO Adventures.They met all the above criteria and were excellent in their service.Our guide Mr Durga Singh Banta and his deputy,the sprightly Mr Aman Chouhan ensured our stay was comfortable.And on a lighter note you don't have to wash your own plates with the freezing cold water if you are with GIO. Apparently some agencies have this policy.
Over the next few days I will present a day to day account of the whole trek.