Death is an ultimate destination. But I am in no hurry..!!
Few centuries back, a tragedy struck on a convoy of the King of Kannauj, Raja Jasdhaval, travelling with his pregnant wife, Rani Balampa, on the way to Nanda Devi shrine. The entourage faced a storm with large hailstones leading to the death of every single person. Their bodies remained buried under the snow for centuries.
Until 1942, when a British Forest Guard H K Madhwal fortuitously came across this skeletal lake in the upper ridges of the Garhwal Himalayas.
This discovery of the mass grave under a shallow lake at an altitude of 5029 meters above sea level, has attracted many scientists, historians and mountaineers for years. Advanced scientific techniques proved that the skeletons dates back to the 9th century. But still nobody knows whether it was royal pilgrimage or vanquished army. Some anthropologists suggests that it could be a mass ritualistic suicide.
But the puzzle remains unresolved..!!
Hence, this frozen lake which glorifies the beauty of the Himalayas with mystery attached to it, was a perfect destination for my First Himalayan trek.
Roopkund Trek was going to be my first Himalayan Expedition apart from riding motorcycle on the highest passes in the world. So, I did a careful research before enrolling with Crazy Peaks. Usually, the trekking will start in first week of May, when the snow begins to melt. I wanted to be in the first batch to experience this unspoiled snow trail to this mystic lake.
Starting from the Lohajung village at 3200 meters altitude, this trek will take at least 5 days to return from the Skeletal Lake situated in the Trishul massif at 5000 metres.
As a prerequisite, I had to do below things:
- Book a to and fro flights between Mumbai and Delhi
- Reserve train from Delhi to Kathgodam Station & return
- Gather necessary trekking & photography equipment which can fit into single rucksack
- Stay fit with regular exercise and get a medical fitness certificate
Just one month before, in March 2017, I met with an accident while rafting on ferocious Kali River in Dandeli forests of Karnataka. Fortunately, I was safe but my GoPro Hero 3+ Silver sank in the turbulent waters. So, I bought a latest Hero 5 Black. I was so excited to get my hands on this little amazing thing.
If it excites you and scares you at the same time, then you should definitely do it.
06 May, 2017
Before every adventure trip, I can sense a weird nervousness under my skin; a familiar feeling which used to appear just before the final exams back in school. These emotions originates from the uncertainty of well planned events. but I like it, when the reality unfolds the imagination.
The traffic was very less on the way to the Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport. Early morning drive was enjoyable on the smooth roads of the India’s financial capital. But soon, I was going to leave behind this luxury and wander into the wilderness.
Mumbai International Airport itself is a huge art gallery. I never get bored while waiting for the flights. As usual, Jet Airways flight to Delhi was delayed by two hours, which I spent in a lounge eating and talking to strangers.
After touched down at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport, one of my friend came to see me. It had been two years, since I met him back in Ladakh on my solo bike expedition. We spent a whole day in Delhi, talking about our lives and dreams. Later he dropped me to the Old Delhi Railway Station, a busiest railway station in India.
Ranikhet Express was also delayed by an hour. An overnight journey was going to take us to the Kathgodam, a small town situated at the foothills of Himalayas.
Mumbai is a city of dreams for many, but not me. My dreams are calling out to me from behind the last blue mountain.
07 May, 2017
Outside the Kathgodam Railway Station, I could see many trekkers with huge rucksacks on there back. But I was more focussed on the Momo’s and hot Chai until a phone call from Crazy Peaks team. Within few minutes, everyone was gathered around the two tempo travellers. It was nice to see people from different cultures & geographies with the same common goal.
All bags were tied at the top of vehicle. We were ready for the 200 kilometre drive deep into the Himalayan ranges. The spiral maze began at the very moment when engine started. The zigzag route made it difficult to get some sleep, so we just started playing some music. Occasionally the glimpses of remote villages and stepped paddy fields catches our attention.
The narrow road passes through some scenic places like Bhimtal and Almora. The vehicle was stopped few times for a breakfast, lunch & snacks en-route. Due to serpentine route, it was difficult to cover more distance in less time. I appreciated driver’s skill to get us all safe by the evening to Lohajung.
Lohajung was a quite small village, with few houses built on the slopes. In one of those stepped houses, we were going to spend a night. Again we were briefed by the trek leaders while having dinner. By that time, all of us got to know each other and already started developing a bond.
From the balcony, I can see the shadows of the gigantic mountains looming over the horizon in the dark.
Lohajung – 7700 Feet (2347 m)
08 May, 2017
I woke up early before sunrise, to capture the time-lapse. Also, I wanted to explore this little mountain village before leaving for the trek. My brother and a friend accompanied me for this short tour. The main motive was to get some good photographs for social network.
There was a school with little children playing around. We spent some amazing time with them, having a fun photo shoot. Then we visited a small temple of lord Shiva. In this remote village also, there was a local store where we can buy or rent trekking equipment. I bought a trekking pole which might be useful while walking on the snow.
Lohajung – the name comes from the war between goddess Parvati and demon Lohasur, as per the local legend goes. We climbed up the hill to get a better view of the Didina valley. The sight of the Mt. Nanda Ghunti in a distance, excited my adventure hungry soul.
We came back right on time when everyone was ready with their rucksacks. The breakfast was served with a hot cup of tea. All the instructions given yesterday were repeated again. Also, all the electronic devices were charged fully as there won’t be any electricity after this village.
These mountain people are lovely. May be because; the climate has been too harsh on them, to understand the value of LOVE.
Didna – 8530 Feet (2600 m)
With lot of excitement, the trek had begun from Lohajung to Didna village. We started walking on a serpentine tar road which contours the mountain curves. Very few vehicles passed us on this scenic road which goes ahead to Wan. After couple of kilometers, we reached a small village, from where we took a right on a path going down till Bedni river.
The steep descend over the paved pathway offers some amazing views while walking down with ease. Bedni river is considered as sacred among local community. At the bottom of a valley, the cold water was everything I needed to rehydrate my body.
After a short break, we started trekking on a steep climb through Oak and Bamboo forest. The legs were feeling the strain and body was demanding frequent halts. I was having chocolate bites and was sipping energy drinks along the way. Mules are very important mode of transport in such remote parts of Himalayas. While trekking on the narrow trails, most of the times, we need to step aside to give a way to the mules carrying heavy material on their back.
Finally, I was so happy to see some beautiful but lonely houses. I couldn’t wait to get into our comfortable homestay and just lie down for a moment. The shoulders carrying a heavy luggage were shouting for some rest.
Even though we were exhausted, we started playing Cricket post lunch until we lost the ball in the bushes. Then we began football for some time. Meanwhile, there was a strange movement in the sky. Dark clouds started gathering rapidly with lightning bolt flashing in between. We were lucky to come back from a stroll before thunderstorms hit this beautiful village.
Strangely, the Didna village will be deserted by the people in winters. They will return in summer to do farming and stuff.
Ali Bugyal – 11000 Feet (3350 m)
09 May, 2018
The sky became clear after the unexpected rainfall last night. Bright sun rays aroused from behind the mountain face. It was a time to leave the comfort of homestay.
Again, the rucksack was loaded, shoe laces were tied and trek started on a steep climb. The Oak and Rhododendron forest obstructed the surrounding views but the stoned pathway was guiding us through the deep woods. Everyone was walking silently. I could hear the heavy breaths and pounding hearts. It was necessary to take breaks in short intervals and keep drinking water along the way.
First short break was taken when we reached a clearing in forest. Those little huts in a farm were a good photo opportunity. The trek resumed on even more steep climb. Tall trees were guarding us from the harsh sun rays. But the increasing altitude was making it even more difficult to breathe. We took another short break after reaching another clearing where we could actually buy water and food items from a little tent. The owner was using solar energy to power his radio. Many other groups were taking rest there, some were doing warm up workouts.
The trail still passes through the woods, but as we move upwards, the forest becomes thinner. Suddenly, we came out of the Jungle and ended up on a huge green carpet. It was unreal, just like Windows XP wallpaper. I couldn’t believe, such meadow can exist on 10000+ feet altitude. This particular meadow was famously known as Ali Bugyal.
We had our lunch on a lush green lawn shining under the open sky. The fresh air took us the tiredness away. I had chocolates, energy drinks and eggs for lunch and then after eating, I slept on the grassland for a while.
These Bugyals, high altitude meadows, are the territories which trees can not conquer.
The Magical Stone..!!
I opened my eyes after hearing sound of a whistle, signalling to move ahead. The blazing sun was trying hard to heat up the cool breeze flowing around without any obstructions. An almost straight walk over the Ali Bugyal was a great relief for the muscles. And thus, we left behind the defeated army of trees while looking forward to embrace the snowy mountains peaks.
Little white dots on green canvas, was probably one of the most picturesque sights of this trek. These were the white ships and horses grazing quietly without any disturbances. No humans were to be found around except us. While enjoying the views, we stopped by a small temple.
And there was this magical stone..!!
They say, if you can lift the stone with ease, then you have a pure heart. I tried very hard to lift it halfway. May be my heart is not so pure, but I didn’t want to get over excited & exhausted. Still the Bedini campsite was not in a visual range. As far as I could see, the small pathway spiralling around the hills until the col, which can take couple of hours to reach.
With heavy luggage on my back, somehow I managed to come at the col from where I can see the campsite. The orange and yellow cluster of tents, dried bedini lake and few small temples were visible from this place. Capturing a time lapse was an excuse to take some rest before descending down.
From the Deep Woods to the Lofty Mountains peaks..!! The way passing through Ali Bugyal has given a better dekko of both the worlds..
Bedni Bugyal – 11519 Feet
10 May, 2018
A night before, I threw up whatever was left in my stomach. Also, I had an unbearable headache due to dehydration. But the craic with amazing people helped me to ease the pain and prepare mentally as well as physically for the next day. I swore to drink plenty of water then onwards.
At 5 o’clock in the morning, I came out of my tent by overcoming the struggle of getting out of the sleeping bag. It was cool but strangely, I was feeling more peaceful. My body stopped shivering and started feeling the cold breeze over the skin. My body and my mind was in sync with the nature. The restlessness was gone faraway.
Completing the early morning activities was a biggest challenge than climbing the mountains. I took advantage of the early morning darkness to finish the task. With a pleasant sun rise, everyone came out of their tents. We started playing with a ball for a while, when others were still packing for the trek. Today, we were going to step into the territory of snow and rocks.
The trail climbs out of the Bedni campsite in a gradual and easy meander. It took two hours to reach a point called Ghora Lotani, the last point from where horses return in summer. Beyond Ghora Lotani, the meadows merge into the Alpine. The view from the ridge was showing a stark contrast, from the lush green grasslands to the remnants of the snow on the mountain flanks.
Short break was over and we were descending down from the saddle facing strong headwinds. The Pathar Nachauni camp was in a visual range. We needed to leave the main trail, and hike downwards to the right side to reach the camp. Few minutes later, my hungry stomach started craving for the Rajma Chawal and hot cup of tea.
When you body & mind becomes in sync with the Nature, it allows you to scale the impossible heights.
I knew, it was only a matter of time before I would be walking on the snow. As usual, the weather started deteriorating, when we left Pathar Nachauni. Dark clouds engulfed the whole mountain ahead of us. Everyone was ready with their rain poncho to face any kind of weather. My jacket and rucksack was waterproof, so I didn’t bothered much about it.
Steep climb through the thick clouds was really tiresome. The visibility was poor and the narrow pathway had become slippery. Careful steps, one at a time was a key to climb up without getting exhausted. I could sense thin air due to sudden altitude gain in short span of time.
Eventually, we made it to the highest point of our day’s trek – Kalu Vinayak Temple situated at 14500 feet high. The stone shrine was partially visible through the thick fog. My body was not in a position to go over there to get the blessings of Lord Ganesha. I closed my eyes and prayed for the strength.
The trail from there was buried under the fresh snowfall. I was waiting for that moment actually, to walk over the snow clad terrain. The patch till Bhagwabasa was a gradual descent, we crossed it without crampons. Everyone went into their tents as the climate was getting even worse every minute, but I stayed back for a while.
I had my moment, when I was standing in a fresh snowfall, watching tiny snowflakes lightly landing on all over my body.
The White Night..!!
Fresh snowfall in the later afternoon kept us inside our tents. We woke up when the chef uncle brought us hot soup. It helped me to come out of my tent to enjoy the view outside. Everything was calm, as the sun was about to cross the horizon. The mountain peak behind me was shining by the golden sunlight. I was so engrossed to witness this magical moment, until someone called me to gather for the routine medical check up & briefing.
My oxygen level was dropped, due to dehydration. Off course, it was a horrible news for me, which could have stopped me from scaling the summit next morning. Only thing I knew was, to drink a lot of water until the time to keep oxygen level normal.
A stay at 14029 feet at Bhagwabasa, looks heavenly but trust me it turns out to be my worst nightmare. I stayed awake all night, taking sip of ice cold water in short intervals. It takes lot of courage to come out of the warm sleeping bag and go out for a pee. But at any cost, I needed to keep my body ready for the summit.
The struggle to breathe from inside the sleeping bag seemed unending. Every minute felt like a very long hour. Slowly my mind started detaching itself from any unwanted thoughts and flown into the depth of emptiness, until my alarm clock started beeping loudly at 5 o’clock.
The black canvas of the sky was adorned with the twinkling stars, calm moonlight and shining white mountains.
The Roopkund – 15750 Feet
11 May, 2017
Nervousness again found a place inside my head. With impatient heart, I came out of my tent. Everyone gathered at the free space near the canteen area. With the briefing, they had given us crampons to put on our shoes. We had a medical checkup again. I felt relieved that moment as my oxygen level came back to normal.
With the head torches on, we started our trek on the hard early morning snow. Out of four members of Crazy Peaks, one was leading the pack & others were evenly placed among us to assist in case of any problems. It was a silent expedition, except the noise of crampon teeth biting the cold ice below. The full moon was shining behind us.
Our team was the first batch of 2017 Roopkund Trek doing the summit. Hence, there was no trail, as the usual path had been buried under the deep snow. But our trek lead was making it easier with his experience & expertise.
The last patch was steeper. I was taking one step at a time and moving with my own pace. By that time, the sun came well above the mountains. The dazzling sunlight forced us to put on sunglasses. Slowly but steadily, we were about to reach our final destination.
And there I was – glaring at the glacial lake, still frozen..!!
The mystery lake was still frozen with hundreds of skeletons buried underneath.
& keeping the riddles of the dead unresolved..!!
Roopkund Lake was still in a frozen state, on which the dark shadow of the Junargali pass drew sharp lines. The breathtaking vistas of surrounding valley and mountain peak made our attempt worthwhile. I pulled out my digital SLR camera, which was reserved this special moment. Even though I didn’t spotted a single skeleton, I captured a lot of memories of this snow adventure.
There was a temple, made up of small stones, dedicated to lord of the Mountains – Shiva. I bowed my head in gratitude to give obeisance.
Before falling back, we gathered to take a group photograph. The Tricolor was unfurled and held in the middle proudly. Except few, we all managed to climb up there in such a short time. We were the first batch of 2017.
Descend went little hard on me, due to my tight shoes. My toes were trying to cope up with this extra force. But there was a patch where we can just slide down for a short distance. That little fun had reduced the considerable amount of time and pain on return.
In couple of hours, we were back at Bhagwabasa camp site. Empty stomach was looking for something to eat. The excitement was gone now and everybody wanted to go home as early as possible.
Unknown is always fascinating. Once we know that, we look for another unknown.. And it’s goes on and on..
Pathar Nachauni – 12200 Feet
As usual, the climate changed dramatically. Shining bright tents were engulfed by the fog. The warmth of the sunshine was overpowered by chilling cold. I knew that the time came to say goodbye to the Bhagwabasa campsite.
Again, we were tracing back the trail through thick fog and white snow. The visibility was so poor to care for the photographs. The bare stones started making appearance once more, which guided us till Kalu Vinayak temple. We stopped for a while to get the blessings of Lord Ganesha, the son of Mahadev.
The descent was difficult over the steep slope. The legs were carrying immense pressure while trying to slow down the gravitational effect. Soon, the rock patch was over and we were sitting on a grass now. The campsite was still a far away but within a visual range. Reaching there was a great comfort.
Due to bad weather, we stayed inside the tent for an entire evening. At night, we gathered for a food at temporary canteen. This was going to be our last night into the wilderness on the lap of the great Himalayas. I slept peacefully that night, a good night sleep after so many days.
I feel an emotional connect with these white mountains. I promised myself that I will keep on visiting this paradise very often.
Back to Civilization
12 May, 2017
The day has arrived, with a bright sun shining in deep blue sky. One last time, we were packing our rucksacks, folding our sleeping bags and getting ready for the final descent.
Ghora Lotani grassland was looking gorgeous in a distance. We started climbing upwards until the saddle, from where the vistas of Bedni Bugyal are visible. The strong winds made it difficult to move further. But we had no choice to push ourselves ahead. We took a steep shortcut to descend to Bedni Lake. The views of small temple shrines adorned with prayer flags were amazing. We took a little rest and some food at Bedni campsite.
Moving ahead, we reached an end point of Bedni Bugyal. A stoned temple marked the beginning of the jungle of Gharoli Patal. Again steep descends and frequent mule crossings was painful but the eagerness was enough to ignore the leg pain. In an hour, we reached to the Neel Ganga river bed where our lunch was planned. I went into the freshwater stream to quench my thirst and freshen up my soul.
Post lunch, I was not willing to move an inch but that was not possible. We all were too tired to climb again. Somehow we reached a small village Wan. It was nice to see some real homes, roads and vehicles. One of the car took us back to Lohajung. The first thing I did was, to take a hot water bath to remove the week long stink. Then we had a good food and nights sleep.
Like rewinding, the return journey had followed same pattern. A day long drive from Lohajung to Kathgodam followed by a night long train journey to reach Delhi. Then we booked Uber for the Airport, took a flight for Mumbai. Whole time I was thinking about the days I’ve spent in the Himalayas.
No matter how much heights we scale, we can not outgrow these mighty mountains.