Roopkund Trek in Uttarakhand – Guest post by Ruta Chitale in Uttarakhand travel series
I think it was the 3rd day of our Roopkund trek in Uttarakhand … and there were 4 more days to go. I was walking, climbing, slipping, but the stick was helping me and so was my willpower. I remember it was a pretty steep climb and I was wondering, what am I doing here? Why am I making my body go through this rigorous climb? More than the exertion it was the fear of my body succumbing to the pressure of high altitude sickness that was getting to me. But something inside me said that “you need to do this! You CAN do this!”, and finally, I could get past that 3rd day and night.
Coz at the end, you won’t remember the time spent in the office or mowing your lawn. So, go, climb that damn mountain!
– Jack Kerouac
Roopkund trek in Uttarakhand – an adventure that changed my life
Before you read further you should know that it is no more possible to do the Roopkund trek due to the ban by the state government on camping in the meadows. Although there is no direct ban on the Roopkund trek, it is practically impossible to do the trek without proper acclimatization. Hence, many organizations have discontinued this trek.
Planning of Roopkund trek
It all started with the Facebook updates of my friends of the trek they had been to. I saw their enthusiastic snaps of the fun they had on the long exerting walks in the Himalayas. And I craved for such fun and tiny moments of peace when one finally reaches the destination. So, I longed to go on a similar trek. So, I got myself added to the WhatsApp group of Nagpur group of CA trekkers and it was decided to go to Roopkund. I searched the God of information ‘Google’ only to know that Roopkund is a ‘moderately difficult’ trek. Further research only added to my fears and it did not look ‘moderate’ by any stretch of the imagination and only seemed ‘difficult’ being more than 15750 ft. above sea-level.
The last time I had been anywhere above the sea-level was 14000 ft. at Kedarnath and I had had a very hard time. I was breathless and my lips were as blue as the sky can get. I could foresee not only the difficulty level I may be facing in the climb but also that of ‘convincing my mother’ that I can really do that. My husband is pretty much supportive of all my ventures and as such there was no difficulty there!!!! However, it was prudently decided by the Nagpur group to let a famous trekking company handle the trek. I made my mother check out the website to get the Green signal. So finally it was time to go on a trek – after 15 long years – once again!!!
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Preparation for the trek
Our trek leader Hemant Rajandekar kept the Roopkund trek Whatsapp group active sending us reminders for walking targets. For almost 4 months from February 2017, Venkatesh Chari Sir greeted us with a ‘Good morning’ message at around 5.30 a.m. to get us out of our beds for the morning exercise walk. As the start date loomed largely, the trekkers bombarded the group with screen freezes of their latest walking achievements. It was a frenzy, with people boasting their walking times on WhatsApp and Facebook and trying to get the other lazybones in the group into practice. I did manage a moderate time of 1.20 hours to walk the stipulated 5 km, though the target time was to be doing it in just 40 minutes. It was only possible after daily practice.
Before the start of the trek, we shopped for these trek essentials – trekking pants, windcheater, socks, and torch, etc. A small tip is to purchase the shoes well in advance so that you use them for practice and ‘break-in’ a couple of months before the trek. So the more you are acquainted with your shoes the easier it is, ultimately they are your true ‘sole’ mates (pun intended!!!) on the trek in Uttarakhand.
How to reach Roopkund, Uttarakhand?
Finally, it was 31st May 2017, and time to start on the 10 days trek. It was planned that our group of 3 from Pune would reach Delhi to the Nagpur team of 30 people. From here, we would all travel together to reach Haldwani. The trekking company had arranged for our transport from Haldwani to Wan which was the starting point of our trek or the base camp.
I was threatened that if I do not get Bakarwadi and Ambawadi from Chitale Bandhu then I would not be allowed on the trek. We met the Nagpurkars at Akshardham. The Bakarwadi/ Ambawadi vanished in no time after I handed them over.
We toured the Akshardham and had a sumptuous meal (without onion without garlic) there. We reached our decided spot at Old Delhi Station after much haggling with the cheating Autowala and later with the cheating porter. The train journey ended at Haldwani in Uttarakhand and finally, we reached our hotel for the night. In the morning it took us almost 11 hours to reach Wan, our base camp. Here was our first camping experience in ‘Tents’. Men had to stay on triple sharing but ladies got to stay in twin sharing. This tent became our home for the next 7 days of Roopkund trek adventure in Uttarakhand.
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Base camp at Wan
That night was our first encounter with ‘Ashish Chopra – our trek group leader. He carried the much dreaded ‘oximeter’. The oximeter had the sole power to decide whether we would be joining the group for the trek. Later like a ritual, he did the oximeter checking every morning-afternoon-evening and recorded the saturation in our oxygen levels on our medical chart. It is extremely important to remember that one has to be constantly vigilant of the changes in our body as we climb and reach higher altitudes. The same applies to our minds. Our mind can play dangerous games and we need to keep it focused always!
The second day morning was our first climb to Gherao Patali. That was the night when sitting in the tent, I suddenly thought, what if I get Altitude sickness? How will these people carry me back? The mind had started playing its games! I decided to ignore it before these turn to reality. Besides I was pining to see Bedni Bugyal and Ali Bugyal- the two largest meadows of Asia. It was an arduous climb the next day and what a climb it was!! Hemant had so kindly packed a groundnut chikki and he handed a pack for each day to each of us.
I remember sitting on the slopes of Bedni Bugyal and munching away on the chikki!
Some people managed to climb all the way to the Ali top while some lingered behind. The Gita-Babita of our group (so-called after the wrestler sisters of India) were engrossed in clicking photos all the time people took to Ali top and back. These two were inseparable from each other and also from the camera!!! It was amazing to see that despite being engrossed in the photoshoots, these two always managed to reach the destination before me.
Our night halt for the 2nd day of the Roopkund trek in Uttarakhand was at Bedni Bugyal. It was one of the most beautiful campsites I have ever seen. We celebrated the birthday of two of our team members – Jiten and Deepak. One can imagine the meager material available at campsites, but the chef at that site was truly a master chef – he had made them a cake!
Bedni Kund and Bedni top
In the evening we went for a walk to Bedni Kund. One of our guides, Heera, narrated us some amazing stories of the Kund (as in the lake) and the Goddess Parvati. I did not actually pay attention to the story as I was pretty much engrossed in the sight. May it be because of the coolness of the air or the sereneness of the atmosphere. It may have been the bonding in our group when we sat listening to the stories, or it was just because the sweetness of the cake had overtaken all my senses!!!! I was hooked on the beauty of the Uttarakhand mountains!
The next day we climbed to Bedni top. It was like a test. We had to climb almost 1100 ft. in height and climb down again. It was a test to understand whether we have been sufficiently and properly acclimatized. Around this time, one of our group members decided to go back.
We were all a bit anxious since the next day the difficult terrain was to start. The next destination was Pather Nachani. The description of the place said – the second leg of ‘Ghora Lotani’. It meant the place from which ‘Ghora’ i.e. the horses turn back ‘lotani’. In other words, even the horses would not be able to go up from there.
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From Pather Nachani we saw Mt. Trishul for the first time. It is amidst this mountain, that ‘The Roopkund’ reigns in its royal majestic manner. It was extremely windy and we all heard the astonishing stories of campers who blew away over the cliff by the mighty wind. We were all a bit scared and the toilets were so far off – so strategically located!! But we had no choice but to overcome our fears of reaching them unless we scared our fellow tent members.
Talking of toilets, it was a first-hand experience of what and how a dog carries out his morning routine. The toilets were four aluminum poles covered with plastic-coated cloth tents which flapped madly as the wind blew. Not only the occupier had to watch whether the toilet cover blew away but he also had an additional job of signaling the probable occupiers/seekers that he was still inside it. Due to water shortage, the person erased all the traces of his task by piling and pushing over the mound of dugout soil kept inside for cover-up!!!
Roopkund trek – preparation
The next two days were going to be extremely difficult, our group leader reminded us. We would be reaching Baghwabasa by later afternoon. Soon on reaching, our trek managers were going to show us how to climb on the snow. We planned to start our final climb to Roopkund at 3.30 am and return by 8.30 am. We reached Baghwabasa exactly as per schedule. And it started raining – very heavy and full of ice pellets. In fact, that was the first time we were chilled to the bone. We all were wondering how the climb the next day would be. Perhaps that was one of the nights when no one talked much and slept early. after having the regular dose of Ginger water and Diamox.
By the way, Diamox is a lifesaver in the case of High Altitudes and I would recommend all the beginners to high altitude treks to go on the treatment of Diamox. The only downside is one has to drink a lot of water and therefore has to make umpteen trips to toilets in the middle of the night. From my experience, I can tell you that these midnight toilet trips do reward you with some beautiful experiences.
No time before I have beholden a clear starry sky with a falling star and have felt that for once everything was right with the world!!
Final climb of Roopkund trek in Uttarakhand
The next day was the day of our final climb to Roopkund. And it was pretty much as we predicted. It was downright scary, full of snow, and winds made it even more difficult. It started snowing in the middle of the climb and we harangued our guide with constant questions as to how much more time to reach. His answer never once wavered. Every time someone asked the questions it was always ‘bas bees minute aur’. Finally, the 20 minutes ended, and we were right there – in front of the lake – The Roopkund.
Exactly 20 minutes later, we started our descent. Believe me, the climb up seemed much easier than the way down. One had to lose his footing only once if one wished to see the bottom of the mountain in no time at all. But no one wished so and we all reached safely down to the camp. The way down to the base camp was fun as we had just returned from one of the best adventures of our lives!!!
What did the Roopkund Trek in Uttarakhand give me? We had to answer this question when we returned back to base for our briefing. I think it gave me the confidence to work through a task, to believe in myself and my body. It gave me the courage to decide.
Agar kisi cheez ko tum dil se chaho toh poori kaynaat tumhe use milaane me juut jaati hai
I always had heard this sentence but it was this trek that made me believe that it’s true!!!
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