ROOPKUND: ONE MORE HIMALAYAN MYSTERYSpirit Bohemian
Love for trekking and mountaineering was undiscovered until I opted for an adventure course from Nehru Institute of Mountaineering, Uttarkaashi. Since then, I’ve known what I want.
Trekking through Sar Pass last year increased my love for mountains. I ascertained that my next trek would be tougher and at a higher altitude, which is why I finalised Roopkund. It also holds a skeletal mystery : Roopkund lake, which is situated at a good height of 16000 feet in Garwhal Himalayas of Uttarakhand, there are hundreds of human skeletons. According to a research, they are of people who died due to a heavy hail storm hundreds of years ago. A mere thought of witnessing this phenomenon at an elevation of more than 15000 feet kept me on toes.
(The base camp of Roopkund is Lohajung, a small and peaceful town in Uttarakhand connected by road via Kathgodam and Haldwani. From Kathgodam it is a ten hour ride to Lohajung. We were to leave for Lohajung at 6:30 in the morning and as people arrived, travellers and two taxis started their journey, Kathgodam was the last city in plains before the hilly terrain which starts there.)
Singing, playing Mafia, and trying local fruits and dishes along the way, we reached Kathgodam by 5:00 PM in evening. We were heartily welcomed by the guest house owner and all of us were allotted rooms and I was to share a room with an Uncle who was 70 years old! He stands against the paradigm of ‘no adventure’ after retirement! Then, after resting for a while everyone sat together at the patio and shared why they loved trekking, from where they were and how they prepared for the trek. Then we went out to rent gaiters, gloves, walking sticks and other essential things required for the trek. As Lohajung is the base for Brahmatal Trek and Ronti Saddle Trek, you will find almost everything you need for a trek.
On first day of the trek we had to move towards Didna village, covering a distance of 9 kms as first 3 kms on road next 3 kms of descend and last 6 kms as steep ascend, finally reaching a height of 8,800 feet from 7,710 feet. After covering the first three kms on road, we reached Kulling village from where the descend started. It was so steep and rocky that one might get his bone broken without good shoes and appropriate walking style. Descending greeted us with a river stream from where we filled our water bottles and rested for a while to start our journey ahead. Following the trail through the dense oak forests and trekking for 6 kms we reached Didna Village where we stayed at a really beautiful home stay. After lunch we played cricket and frisbee with villagers and came to know how they live at this altitude. One kid who I will never forget is Kamlesh, he is a sweet child of about 8 years, shouted at everyone with occasional ‘hatt be saale’, has cute red cheeks and played carrom like a pro.
The second day was the longest in terms of distance to be covered, a 12 km trek from Didna Village to Ali Bugyal attaining a height of 11,200 feet. Starting at 8 in the morning we again crossed dense forests with our trek leaders telling us about rare birds and plants on the route. It was a treat to the eyes looking at such beautiful birds. We also came across a fight of two wild mouflons, the fight was so intense that we could hear them hitting each other from quite a distance. Making our way through Tol Paani, falling in love with nature’s music, we entered the buygals with tree line stopping abruptly, a sign of reaching 11,000 feet. We were in Ali Bugyal, largest meadow in Asia covering an area of 28 square kms. Chilly winds had already begun to numb our heads. I had a hard time walking because of wind’s resistance. Our campsite could be seen from a distance and we reached there on time. The campsite was so windy our tents always felt like they were on the brink of disrupting. It had already started to rain, all 24 of us sat together in the dining hall shelter and played dumb charades whilst having soup. We went for an acclimatization walk late in the evening just to come back quickly due to ice cold winds.
Despite heavy winds that kept our tents on the verge of dismounting, morning in Ali Bugyal was a treat to the eyes. View of Mt. Trishul and Mt. Nanda Ghunti set everyone awestruck and sunrise made everyone feel blissful. We sat sipping tea and treating ourselves to mouth watering breakfast, getting ready for 3rd day’s trek to Patar Nachauni (12,818 feet). There weren’t any trees thereafter which meant lesser oxygen absorption, so we had to keep drinking water to avoid dizziness. First we crossed the Bugyals and after reaching Ghora Lotani, it was a gradual descend till our campsite. In Patar Nachauni, there were two batches, one was ours and one who came back from summit, so we asked them their experience and they seemed pretty satisfied which boosted our spirits. After drinking soup, we sat around and enjoyed the view of Mt. Kala Daak and if you go a bit down towards the valley you can hear a water stream from a distance which soothed the senses.
Day 4 is when we reach our base camp, the highest campsite Bhagwabasa situated at a height of 14,029 feet. As usual we started at 8 AM in the morning and made our way through a rocky trail. Just a few steps before Kalu Vinayak, we had a closer view of major Himalayan peaks. It was so beautiful that I could see the happiness, joy and satisfaction in everyone’s eyes. It is rightly said, ‘The best view comes after the hardest climb’, but the best views were yet to come. I just wanted to sit there, think how beautifully god has designed our world. After resting for 15 minutes we moved ahead towards our campsite.
It was set on a rocky terrain and covered in clouds for most part of the evening. We played antakshari during the evening and were given a demonstration by our technical guides about usage of micro spikes and harness. Later at night the sky cleared, and we could see the Venus , the Jupiter and countless number of stars in the sky. Occasional movement of satellite could also be seen once in a while.
On the awaited Summit day, I woke up at 1 A.M to see the amazing night sky with millions of stars shining and the moon looking beautiful as ever but there were clouds approaching the camp. Wake up call was about to be made and strong winds started blowing with heavy downpour. Everyone got disheartened thinking we might not be able to reach the summit. Trek leaders and technical guides discussed about it and said weather would be clear in some time. It is very well said, ‘you can climb only if the mountain wants.’ Fortunately, rain turned to drizzle favouring the climb. Everyone delighted, tightened their shoes, wore harness and had breakfast. All ready to climb at 3:30 A.M, we made our way through yet another rocky trail amidst dark and cloudy skies. Crossing steep snow and ice patches, hitting hard with micro spikes to get better grip on ice, motivating each other, we trekked for 4 hours. We reached at 7:30 A.M, climbing 70 degrees steep during the last 500 metres to be greeted with the mesmerising view of Mysterious Roopkund Lake.
We can’t stay at high altitude for long, so after capturing memories in our camera we started to descend, trickier than ascending as even a small mistake and wrong step could be fatal.
With help of technical guides all of us were able to safely reach Bhagwabasa where we had lunch and descended back to Patar Nachauni.
The weather on the way was really bad with strong winds and heavy rain and I could only see upto 50 meters. Struggling through the wind we finally reached the campsite and rested till the next morning.
Last day of the trek, we started descending, remembering everything and talking about the past 5 days. Reaching the guest house, we called our family after 5 days and had a refreshing bath. We talked and laughed all night as we would be on our different ways the next day.
“I now resolved to go to bed early, with a firm purpose of also rising early the next day to revisit this charming walk; for I thought to myself, I have now seen this temple of the modern world imperfectly; I have seen it only by moonlight.”
– Karl Philipp Moritz