Roopkund Chronicles – Day 6 Pathar Nachauni to Loharjung

Day 6: October 3

On May 12, 2005, high-altitude mountaineer Ed Viesturs reached the summit of Annapurna, the deadliest mountain in the world in terms of summit-to-kill ratio. In doing so, he became the first American and the sixth person ever to climb all 14 of the 8,000 m peaks without the use of supplemental oxygen.

Ed Viesturs [Photo Courtesy Pinterest, National Geographic]

Ed Viesturs [Photo Courtesy Pinterest, National Geographic]

He is famous for his conservative approach to climbing – he once turned around from a mere 300 feet from the summit of Mt. Everest!! He is also famous for a popular and inspirational mountain quote, “Getting to the top is optional, getting down is mandatory. A lot of people forget about that. “. He wrote this in his memoir – No Shortcuts to the Top.

This should be the philosophy that underlies all mountain treks. After all, it’s only if you get down safely that you get to go back another time.

Pathar Nachauni camp

Pathar Nachauni camp

We were to begin our long ‘mandatory’ journey back from Pathar Nachauni to the base camp, Loharjung, today.  For going up the 22 km from Loharjung to Pathar Nauchani we took around 17 hours, spread across four days. The return journey was to be completed in a single day. We were to walk for 16 km and we were bypassing Ali Bugyal and Didna village and taking a different route via Bedni Bugyal, Patal Ghaeroli and Wan. We would descend from 12700 ft to 8028 ft (3908 m to 2447 m) in a single day. Incidentally, our return route was also the alternate route from Wan village to Bedni Bugyal.

This was our last day on campground. These tents had been our homes for the past few days. Even though I had some trepidation about staying in a “tent”, I was wonderfully proven wrong.

Our march from Pathar Nachauni begins

Our march from Pathar Nachauni begins

We started from Pathar Nachauni at 08.30 am. The first couple of hours were easy. We were retracing the same steps we had taken a few days back. We passed through Ghoda Lautani and passed onto the other side of the mountain.

The journey back – somewhere between Pathar Nachauni and Ghoda Launtani

With the promise of a much easier day on the trail with plenty of downhill stretches as opposed to uphill slogs, we thought we’d just sing and walk – we were proved wrong in a couple of hours.

On our way we met a lot of people headed up to Roopkund. There were frequent exchanges of “congratulations” and “all the best” amongst us.  At around 10 am, we got our first glimpse of Bedni Kund.

First glimpse of Bedni Kund

We had to climb down a moderately steep path to reach Bedni valley. We remembered we had seen a few trekkers from another group climb that route on our way to Roopkund. And we thanked ourselves that we did not have to climb that way. Climbing down was not that difficult. We had stepped on to the green carpeted Bugyal lands and were leaving the snow behind us. We passed the colourful camps we had seen on our way up and reached the Kund. Near the Kund were a couple of stone temples.

Stone temple at Bedni

Stone temple at Bedni

By 10.45 am, we had left the grass lands of Bedni behind. From thereon, begins the steep descent to Neel Ganga. The path was paved with cut stone.

The descent from Bedni begins here

The descent from Bedni begins here

Raj Bhaaiyya asked us to lengthen our poles. Climbing down was harder than we thought as we had to concentrate more, and had to keep a constant vigil on where we placed our foot. Descending constantly is not easy; it takes every ounce of energy and breaks your knees down. I was already feeling a bit sore beneath my toes.


The forest was dark and once in a while the sunlight took a peak through the canopy. But walking within the silent woods gives one an enchanting feeling…. the dry leaves crumbling beneath your feet to indicate your beautiful journey across the forest trail.

Oak forests of  Ghaeroli Patal

By 11.20 am we reached the forest camp in Ghaeroli Patal and had our mid-meal. After a quick rest, we were moving again by 11.45 am.

FRH at Patal Ghaeroli

FRH at Ghaeroli Patal

It was a shortcut time for a few – they abandoned the stone trail and went on a sliding spree across the mud and roots.

And I guess the ‘short cutters’ gained a lot of distance as we could see them far away down in the valley.

Spot the trekkers

Spot the trekkers!

There were small openings in the forest, and as you climb down, you get a peek of the villages through these openings. By 12.45 we got our first glimpse of Wan village…though it looked quite far off.

By this time we could listen to the rushing waters of the Neel Ganga River. We reached the river by 1 pm and spent around 20 minutes resting and dipping our sore toes in the cold water.

At Neel Ganga

At Neel Ganga

From the Neel Ganga River, it took another 30 minutes to climb to a ridge above Wan village. From there began the long journey across Wan village to a place where a vehicle would be carrying us back to the Loharjung base camp, 15 km away.

Walking into Wan Village

Walking into Wan Village

The village of Wan, with its numerous chickens, fluffy dogs and beautiful children with cheeks worthy of biting into, looked like any other Uttaranchali village.

We found villagers going about their tasks; it was evening, so most of the women and men were returning home after their chores. Children hovered around greeting us with Namasthes and then asking for chocolates and pens. One smarty guy wanted my water bottle!

Kids at Wan vollage

Kids at Wan village

As we neared the road head, we met a couple of ladies. One of our team members struck a conversation with them and one turned out to be the ‘Pradhaan’ (chief) of 8 villages, Usha Devi. She offered us fresh produce, juicy cucumbers from her field and tea. A head strong lady, she talked a lot about her life in the village and how she had worked towards getting a road built to the village, stopped people cutting trees on the mountainside, travelled to Lucknow to get her voice heard and to Delhi to give a speech on environmental issues.

Smt Usha Devi (left)

Smt Usha Devi (on the left)

By 3.30 pm, we’d reached the road head and our jeeps were waiting for us. We reached our camp in Loharjung by 4 pm.

When I finally limped up the staircase of Patwal Lodge and flung my backpack onto a corner of the dormitory, the realization that I had actually completed the Roopkund trek dawned upon me. At once, I felt fully drained, yet totally alive.

There was a special dinner ordered for us and we were given our certificates of completion, besides being asked to speak about our experiences.

The next day our jeeps came early and we began our long journey back to Kathgodam and then Delhi and back to our respective homes.

The full team at Roopkund [Courtesy Shivam Singh]

The full team at Roopkund [Courtesy Shivam Singh]

For the next few days, I was wincing whenever I had to climb up or down a step, a deep tan had taken over my face and my hands, my lips were chapped, and I had blisters on all my toes. I had walked 53 km in 6 days over mud, rocks, ice, grass, snow and horse dung, at low oxygen levels, with bare minimum amenities, without taking a bath and yet when I closed my eyes, I felt a calmness and serenity within. At night (and sometimes during the day!), I often hallucinated that I was marooned in a deep sea of white clouds, looking out at endless vistas of mountains stretching as far as my eye could see.

Our guides (clockwise from L to R) Amar, Pushkar and Raj

Our guides (clockwise from L to R) Amar, Raj, and Pushkar

This journey would never have been completed without the help of the friendly support staff from TTH – be it our guides, kitchen staff, porters and even the mules. Last but not the least these adventures wouldn’t have been as fun as it had been without the awesome company we had!

Uma, Ammu, Nithin, Ani, Sabari, Sree  and us – let’s climb another mountain!!


Day 6 in a nutshell

  • Day 6: Pathar Nachauni to Loharjung
  • Distance:  16 km
  • Altitude: 12700 ft to 7575 ft
  • Terrain: Gradual descent from Pathar Nachauni till Bedni Bugyal. Steep to moderate descent from Bedni to Neel Ganga. From Neel Ganga to Wan gradual descent.
  • Difficulty: Easy to moderate
  • Time Taken: Around 7 hours


Roopkund Chronicles – Day 5: Summit Day

Day 5: October 2

What had become one of the longest days of my life would also become one of the most memorable days …. considering the way it all kicked off in the wee dark hours of a cold October morning. Today is the day we had been waiting for, preparing for, dreaming of, and believing in. Today is summit day.

Up and at it before 4 am, the nightmarish reality of having to deal with the cold weather, dark surroundings, slippery ground and the anxiety of the unknown became all too real. We had to start the trek to Roopkund early in the morning while the snow was still hard. As the sun comes out, by mid morning, the snow melts and becomes soft and your feet start sinking in. Also, as it gets warmer, the hard ice gets slippery and it slows you down.

The snowy trails

We got into our many layers of wool, gobbled down some breakfast, and strapped on our backpacks, head torches and crampons. We were not carrying much items today – just a few energy bars, an apple each and two bottles of water. By the time it was 5 am, there were already a number of groups ahead of us on the way to the mystery lake. From the camp till the Roopkund crater above, it’s a 3 km ascending hike through rock and snow.

It was scary in the beginning – it was dark and cold and we were not very sure of what lay on the path. We were advised to walk on the middle of the trail, and were told to try to step on the foot prints of the person in front which was difficult to find in the dark. The call “come on trekkers” from Raj Bhaiyya further boosted the confidence and determination to hit the target.

The first 1 km was a gradual ascent and not very difficult. As I turned back I could see a serpentine trail of head torches stretched across the line. As we trudged up, the altitude did hit us, and some of us were finding it a little difficult to take deep breaths. The wind picked up and we were thankful to have the extra layers as we staggered through the high mountain gusts. At a few places, the snow had become hard and was cut into steps. Every time I go on a trek, I find myself grateful to those who have gone before me and have smoothed a trail for me.

The only range that matters is the Himalayan range

It was past 6 when the sun came out and hit the mighty Himalayan range. As for the view, it was magnificent. We could not see the rising sun but the rays glistened off the snow capped mountains and they appeared to be on fire. The Chaukhamba and several other mountains regaled in the most beautiful morning sky I had ever seen. The colours were different than anything I had seen before. And the feeble warmth acted like a cosy layer.

Spot the trekkers

We had to climb through some tricky switch backs (the zig-zag line we had seen from the base camp), then a steep granite step surface, and a final steep climb over a snowy flank to reach Roopkund lake. There were times when unknown hands came to help. This is the kind of camaraderie we found throughout the trek. There were guides and support staff, even from other groups, who were always ready to lend a hand of help. On one stretch of vertical switchback I was literally dragged across by a guide from another group for 10 m – that actually translates to 100 m on plain ground.

The switchbacks on the way

The last stretch was exhausting and where we found our strength for that, I do not know. For the first time I learnt something very important; during mountain treks one faces danger, but dangers of a special kind – the dangers within oneself – vertigo, breathlessness, muscle fatigue and allowing ones nerves to get the better of one.

There were times when I wondered if this trek would ever end, but it did and the feeling of relief was fantastic. After the last scramble, the slope leveled out and we arrived on a ridge. And then the moment came when you find the geodetic marker, this time it read “Roopkund Lake 0 km” – that was the moment we were working toward for the past several hours. It was exactly 8 am.

Roopkund – 0 km

All of us stood there panting in the crisp Himalayan air. I don’t know what the others felt, but amidst the high fives, handshakes and group hugs, I was having a bout of emotions – relief, happiness, excitement, a bit of hunger, and so much pride. I’d reached what feels like the top of the world both physically and mentally and it’s now mine to enjoy. Not just me – we were a group of 26 trekkers and all of us reached the lake. At 15700, this ain’t no Everest but it still is a summit of reckoning – and one we were all proud of having climbed.

We spotted a skeletal remain on the ridge – a heap of bones placed on a rock. Raj bhaiyya said that both human and horse bones were found around the lake. On one side of the ridge was a small stone temple with figures of Nandadevi and Bholenath inside.

Climbing down to Roopkund

Ahead of us below in a snowy crater appeared a few clear splotches of water – the Roopkund Lake – or whatever remained of the lake that was now partially frozen and covered up in snow. In summers, the bones and skulls are exposed – as of now they remained buried in the snow.

Team at Roopkund

To reach the bottom of the crater we had to climb down 50 ft. The steep crater walls had inches of snow covering the surface which deprived us of any sightings of more skeletons. We did find one skull arranged in the typical skull and cross-bone symbol near the lake. After a few customary photos and groupies we decided to perambulate the lake.

The 500 odd skeletons were discovered way back in 1942 by a park ranger. All the corpses had similar blows to the head and shoulders – short deep cracks on the skull and shoulder bones as if the blows had all come from directly above. It was found that the skeletons belonged to two kinds of groups. So was it a war that happened in the high altitude battle field?

As it turns out, all the bodies dated to around 850 AD. And DNA evidence indicated that there were two distinct groups of people leading experts to believe that the group comprised of pilgrims heading through the valley with the help of the locals. According to local legend, the King of Kanauj, along with his wife, servants, dance troupe and many others went on a pilgrimage to Nanda Devi shrine. While crossing Roopkund during a raging hail storm, the entire party of pilgrims were killed. The remains lay in the lake for 1,200 years until their discovery.

View of Junargali from Roopkund lake

As we climbed up from the lake to the ridge, we found that the sun had fully risen and the glistening on the whiteness of peaks had reached all the way to the valley. Junargali was ruled out for us as we had reached late. We knew that getting to Roopkund is meaningless if you don’t climb up to Junargali. Two of our early arrivers climbed up to Junargali, accompanied by a guide. Junargali is a sharp ridge line that towers over Roopkund –  a 250 ft steep climb from where we were standing. From Junargali , at 16,000 feet, you get clear views of Trishul and the adjoining mountain peaks.

We sat by the stone temple and had our breakfast.

The return journey was not very easy as we had thought; the snow had started to melt, making the trail slippery at a few places. One should be very careful when stepping on hard ice as it tends to get slippery. The snowy gradient looked dangerously sloping from this height, and the thought of climbing down those switchbacks was scary.

At many places we had to negotiate the snow by squatting down on the ice. And while we were struggling to keep up with the slippery snow, we found Pushkar Bhaiyya sliding down the snow flanks on his back!!!. A few of our adventurous fellow trekkers tried the same; some managed to slide past without tumbling, a few took a few soft tumbles.


In broad daylight the vistas looked so different. Did we climb up along these trails just a few hours back?

Dangerous steps on the way

But after a few vertical slopes, we reached back on level ground. We could spot our camp in a distance.

Bhagwabasa camp

By 11.15 we walked into Bhagwabasa camp. Had a quick lunch, gathered our things and set out to Pathar Nachauni, our night camp, where we had stayed a night before. By 12.30 we had reached Kalu Vinayak and by 2 pm all the trekkers had reached home.

Most of the evening was spent at the dhabha in front of the camp, mulling over our accomplishment over endless cups of piping hot tea and plates of bread omelette.

That night, sleeping under the stars at Patharnachauni camp, I kept tossing and turning in my sleep bag. What an impressive physical, mental, and emotional accomplishment! Up there somewhere, Roopkund lake lay unmoved by our valiant effort of getting to her, a frozen little droplet surrounded by snow decked with the bones of a tragedy no one knew nothing much about. Click here for Day 6.

Day 5 in a nutshell

  • Day 5: Bhagwabasa to Roopkund to Pathar Nachauni
  • Distance:  11 km (Bhagwabasa to Roopkund and back: 6 km; Bhagwabasa to Pathar Nachauni: 5 km)
  • Altitude: 14350 ft to 15700 ft
  • Terrain: Steep ascent
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Time Taken: Around 3 hours from Bhagwabasa to Roopkund. Return took 2 hours. From Bhagwabasa to Pathar Nachauni it took 1.30 hours








Roopkund Chronicles – Day 4: Pathar Nachauni to Bhagwabasa

Morning at Pathar Nachauni

Mountain view from Pathar Nachauni

Day 4: October 1

Having slept like a log through the night, I woke to the unmistakable sound of light rain falling on the walls of the tent. Not exactly music to the ears knowing that the morning’s hike upwards was now going to be done in the wet and slush.

Morning rain at Pathar Nachauni camp

We instantly knew it was going to be a cold day. The rain had stopped by the time we stepped out of our tents but the remnants of the wet weather clung onto our tent tops and sides, adamantly. When you’re in the mountains, morning chores become a stunted version of the more luxurious ones you are used to at sea level. First, it takes immense courage to brush your teeth and wash your face in the icy cold water: alternative – center-fresh and wet-wipes.

Clouds everywhere @ Pathar Nachauni

The rain from last night had turned to snow and the hills around seemed to look even more impressive covered in a fluffy white covering. The frost on the meadows was twinkling like crystals clinging onto the ground. The valley was shrouded with a cloudy mist, rising up in swirls – the effect was positively ethereal.

We had a tough trek ahead and the air was getting thinner. So Raj Bhaiyya decided we should have a warm up session before breakfast. The fun exercise did take away a little of the chill we had around us.

Climbing up from Pathar Nachauni camp

We started our trek at  8.30 am. Trekking up from Pathar Nachauni till Kalu Vinayak would be on a very steep trail. And we would be climbing up from 12,770 feet to 14,550 feet in the next 2 km.

Huffing and puffing up

The initial climb was gradual. We were mostly clambering over small hills and taking short cuts over grass land. And then the actual climb began – steep and slow. For the first time, nobody was waiting for nobody. No one spoke and we were just walking in single file, following each others’ footsteps. All of us were engrossed in our own struggles – some were struggling with their legs, some with their breaths and a lot with their minds.

The mist had not lifted and during some stretches we could barely see the person in front of us. We kept resting after taking 10 steps, but Raj Bhaiyya kept pushing us from behind with his reassuring words “take deep breaths through your nose, drink water”. A few had already complained of headaches and nausea the previous night, however, none of us had any serious health issue till date.

The mist on the way to Kalu Vinayak

As we huffed and puffed our way towards the top, our band of ever-amazing porters and ever-jingling mules began to pass us along the trail with relative ease, pushing our luggage onto our next camp.

A sole trekker enroute to Kalu Vinayak

Even in this cold weather, we were drenched in sweat but the air was cool.  Whenever we stopped for a break, we would get a chill from the cold sweat so we just kept on chugging along. We had been cut-off from the rest of the world long back, however, it was during this stretch, for the first time, that I had that feeling of solitude among the mighty Himalayas.

Unending trails from Pathar Nachauni to Kalu Vinayak

Through the thin air we could listen to a distant sound of ringing bells. Was it the sound of the jingling bells from our mules? To our relief, it wasn’t. Kalu Vinayak was only a few steps ahead and it was the simultaneous ringing of scores of bells by our enthusiastic ‘fast trekkers’ who had reached way ahead of us.

By 10 am the difficult part was over and we had caught up with them. We had reached Kalu Vinayak temple. Kalu Vinayak temple has a a black Ganesh idol enclosed in a stone shrine. As in most of the Uttaranchali temples found in the Garwal and Kumaoni regions, a lot of bells are hung around the temple.

Kalu Vinayak Temple

The feeling of relief on reaching the top was immense. As we waited for the rest of our group to complete the killer final climb, we had the opportunity to sit down and take a well-deserved breather. From Kalu Vinayak, on a clear day, the trail to Roopkund is visible. And a clear view of the the mountain ranges – Nanda Ghunti, Kali Dak, Trishul, Chanyakot and Chaukhamba. The clouds obstructed our 180 degree view of the Himalayas, but it was still one of the most beautiful feelings.

Trekker jam at Kalu Vinayak

From Kalu Vinayak the trek to Bhagwabasa was a cake walk because of the gradual descent. The path was paved with rocks, cut into small slabs and there was occasional snow along the path.

Rock trail to Bhagwabasa

Our destination Bhagwabasa was less than 2 kms away from Kalu Vinayak. On the way there was a cluster of stone huts and we later learnt that, earlier, those huts were rented out to trekkers for the night. However, now most of them were in a dilapidated condition and abandoned.

Abandoned stone huts on the way to Bhagwabasa

By 12 pm we walked into Bhagwabasa (14350 ft). The background was amazing – Bhagwabasa is set in a valley against a row of snow capped mountains. The sky was a deep blue and the white peaks were reaching towards the billowing clouds.

Rustic beauty of Bhagwabasa

The earth is in her glory here – you get to see some of the most magnificent peaks – Trishul, Nanda Ghunti, Chaukhamba – and we suddenly felt so insignificant.  These mountains have lasted here for an eternity. They are the lords of the land and we were merely visitors.

Trishul rises @ Bhagwabasa

Trishul rises @ Bhagwabasa

The camping ground had several rocks that lay scattered all around. The whole area was uneven. There were around 20 tents, a couple of larger tents and a few fibre glass structures. Our tents were not ready as a few trekkers were yet to reach from Roopkund, and their luggage lay in the tents. By the time we had our lunch, the Roopkund-bound trekkers had returned and had vacated the tents.

Bhagwabasa camp

Bhagwabasa camp

By 2 pm the weather changed and it started to drizzle with small flakes of snow floating about. But not for long. Later, we were called into the mess tent and were given crampons – a plastic addon, with metallic spikes at the bottom, that would be providing us the much-needed grip while we trekked on the snow the next day. The trek leaders showed us how to attach the crampons onto our shoes.


Around 4.30, the clouds gathered again and snow began to fall, now with more force. The air was fresh and chill. Though, we were a bit worried about how this snow storm would affect the next day’s trek, we could not think of anything else except the present.

We had a little time pre-dinner to walk around the camp. The high clouds had already covered the tall peaks behind the Roopkund crater.


Bhagwabasa after the snow fall

Raj bhaiyya pointed out the trail going all the way up from Bhagwabasa to Roopkund Lake and further on to Junargali Pass. The trail was clear. We could even spot a zig-zag path that looked really scary from here. We were to cover this 3 km trail, early in the morning before the snow melted.

The path from Bhagwabasa to Roopkund and Junargali

The path from Bhagwabasa to Roopkund and Junargali

The setting sun was shining feebly across the frigid snowy landscapes far below and the expansive snow-capped mountains high above. The moon was slowly moving up now giving an almost blue-tinged tone to the snow.

Moonrise @ Bhagwabasa

Moonrise @ Bhagwabasa

The infectious support staff, with their friendly banter, helped to alleviate some of the aches and pains that were creeping into our limbs after a tough day’s climb.  Another great meal capped off a fantastic day on the trail en route to Roopkund.

Roopkund Lake lay only 3 km away from the camp. I still had to pinch myself knowing that I was just a night away from my dream encounter with the skeletons!!!! Tomorrow is summit day.

Day 4 in a nutshell

  • Day 4: Pathar Nachauni to Bhagwabasa via Kalu Vinayak
  • Distance: Around 5 kms
  • Altitude: 12700 ft to 14350 ft
  • Terrain: Steep ascent from Pathar Nachauni to Kalu Vinayak and downhill trek from Kalu Vinayak till Bhagwabasa.
  • Difficulty: Moderate to difficult
  • Time taken: Around 3.5 hours


Roopkund Chronicles – Day 3 – Ali Bugyal to Pathar Nachauni

Day 3: September 30

After a night of tossing and turning, we woke up at the crack of dawn.

Walk in the clouds

Walk in the clouds

Imagine waking up and rolling out of bed to be greeted by a misty mountain view, with the sun peeping out and pink skies above you. Well, in a tent you do not roll out, but crawl out. For the next few days we were to follow a few steps, or rather crawls and crouches, while getting in and out of a tent.

While getting out of a tent

  • Unzip your sleeping bag, which invariably gets stuck, the more you rush.
  • Sit in a crouching position.
  • Unzip the inner tent opening.
  • Crawl out till the inner tent opening, still struggling to free yourself from the clutches of your sleeping bag.
  • Now sit back down and stick your leg out so that you can put on your shoes.
  • Unzip the outer tent opening.
  • Lift yourself up still crouching and walk out of the tent.


While getting in

  • Open the outer zip.
  • Open the inner zip.
  • Have your back against the tent door and fall onto your rear (ouch!!!), your legs still jutting out of the tent.
  • Remove your shoes and crawl into the tent.

PS: And every time you remove/put on your shoes while you enter/exit the tent….arduous!

Armed with our tooth brushes we walked towards the fiberglass tents. Ali Bugyal camp did not have a running water source so we had to make do with the minimal water available which was stored in plastic containers. When you’re deep in the woods, miles away from the nearest restroom, it takes some extra effort to take care of your ‘business’ in a hygienic way. With generous dollops of hand sanitizer, tissue paper and wet wipes, keeping clean was often a struggle.  Without the modern conveniences we’ve become so accustomed to, keeping up with the bacteria, dirt, and grime was a constant challenge. At least, everyone smells equally bad on a high altitude trek. But it didn’t matter – we were all bundled up in many layers to smother the scent. And who actually cared – after all we were not there to take part in a beauty contest.

Misty morning at Ali Bugyal

In ten minutes we were holding onto our glasses of hot tea and taking in the vista in front of us. Green valleys spread out before us with a few clouds looming in the sky. A thick layer of fog hung throughout the valley, making it impossible to see what lay behind. Above the fog layer, the sky was a mixture of grey and pink.

Kalidak and Trishul [courtesy Ammu]

Kali Dak and Trishul from Ali Bugyal [courtesy Ammu]

The weather cleared slowly, the fog lifted and as the sun broke through the clouds, we could see the rim of the snow capped mountains, jutting out like vanilla cones sprinkled with dark chocolate – we were pointed out the Trishul peaks, Chaukhamba and Kali Dak.

Chaukhamba from Aki Bugyal [Courtesy Ammu]

Rolling mist and Chaukhamba from Ali Bugyal [Courtesy Ammu]

We spent some time on a vantage point taking snaps till the breakfast call came.

@ 12000 ft

Heights of posing @ 12000 ft, Ali Bugyal

By 8.30 our luggage was loaded onto the mules and the first set of trekkers were already on their way. We walked up from the camp, passed a stone temple and were now hiking on the huge Z mark we had seen the previous day. The hike was not tough as we were passing on plain trails.

Our next camp was Pathar Nachauni, 5 km away. The trail to Pathar Nachauni was along a mountain edge, a narrow path with mountains on one side and a sloping valley on the other side.

Traversing bugyal land

Traversing bugyal land

In half an hour we were walking by another Himalayan meadow – Bedni Bugyal. Bedni Bugyal lay down in the valley on our left. In the middle of the grass land there was a pond – Bedini Kund. Locals believe that Maharishi Ved Vyas compiled all the four Vedas in this valley. There were two small stone temples near the Bedini Kund. We could also see a camping site, complete with a dozen tents and a couple of fiberglass tents.

Bedni Kund [Courtesy Ani & Sabari]

Bedni Kund [Courtesy Ani & Sabari]

We would be cutting through the Bedni Kund on our way back. There are two approaches to the meadows of Bedni Bugyal from the plains, one from Loharjung via Didna, Tolpani and Ali Bugyal – which we had taken – and the other, a steep climb directly from Wan village. We ascended through the first and would descend the other way.

Near the Kund, we could see a line of trekkers from another group. They were struggling as they climbed from the valley along a steep zig zag path to reach the main mountain trail we were moving on. We did thank our stars that we did not have to go through that steep climb in the morning. On our way back we would be taking that path down.

Trekkers climbing up from Bedni Valley

Trekkers climbing up from Bedni Valley

The trek today would take us through Ghora Lautani before we reach our camp at Pathar Nachauni. Ghora Lotani stands at a height of 3945 m and is about 2.5 kms from Ali Bugyal. It gets such a name because horses would never go up from this place – the place from where the horses returned home.

@ Ghora Lautani

@ Ghora Lautani

By 11 we reached Ghora Lautani. As there was a chance of rain, we were instructed to get into our rain wear immediately. The clouds had started to build over the mountains and there was an occasional peal of lightning accompanied by a flat rolling roar. Till now the nature Gods were pleased with us and we had not faced any showers, hail or snow.

Never ending trail to Pathar Nachauni

After Ghora Lautani, we had now moved onto the other side of the mountain. There were signs of major landslides that looked really scary.

Landslides at Ghora Lautani

Landslides at Ghora Lautani

The valleys looked browner than green, a sign that we were gaining altitude. The valley was covered with clouds which shielded the white peaks of Trishul and Nanda Ghunti.

Brown valleys at Ghora Lautani

From Ghora Lautani to Pathar Nachauni (1.5 kms), the trek was easy, almost going downwards. After 30 minutes or so we could spot a campsite on the right side, which belonged to another trek company, amidst an extensive alpine meadow down in the valley. The camp looked colourful with a dozen yellow and orange tents. Our campsite was further up on a ridge on the left side of our trail. By 11.50 we trickled into Pathar Nachauni. We were now standing on ground that was 12766 ft (3900 m) above sea level.

Reaching Pathar Nachauni camp

The camp consisted of two rows of 16 tents, 8 on one side bang opposite to each other. There was a huge mess tent, a few fibre glass tents and a shed for the mules. The toilet tents were placed further away up on the ridge. There was a small dhaba right in front of the camp.

Pathar Nachauni Camp

Pathar Nachauni Camp

We had barely reached the camp and it started to rain.

Slushy camp @ Pathar Nachauni after the rains and hail storm

The food provided throughout the trek by TTH was of top quality. Our menu was never repeated, and we were served with a variety of dishes. After a sumptuous lunch we thought we’d explore the place with Raj Bhaiyya. The rain had stopped now, but the whizzing Himalayan icy winds were on the prowl. Pathar Nachauni is a brown meadow, sprinkled with rocks – small and large.

Rocks and meadows @ Pathar Nachauni

Raj bhaiyya told us story, a popular folklore associated with the name of this place. A local King, on a pilgrimage to Nanda Devi, stayed at this place. He was traveling with a large group which also included a few dancers. The King got so lost in their performance that he finally forgot about the pilgrimage. Nanda Devi cursed the King and turned all dancing girls into rocks – thus the name Pathar Nachauni. An interesting story indeed.

The trail from Pathar Nachauni to Kalu Vinayak

The path from our camp led up to a steep hill and we were to follow this winding path tomorrow. The small temple of Kalu Vinayak lay somewhere amidst the mountains ahead of us. The trail between Pathar Nachauni and Kalu Vinayak is considered as the most difficult stretch to cover, because of the steep climb and altitude gain.

Team @ Pathar Nachauni...and don't miss the pink gloves [courtesy Ani & Sabari]

Team @ Pathar Nachauni…and don’t miss the pink gloves [courtesy Ani & Sabari]

 Tomorrow we would be camping higher – at the highest camp of this trek – Bhagwabasa. And tomorrow we would also get the first glimpse of our destination – Roopkund lake – or at least the mountain where Roopkund lay hidden in a shallow crater. Tomorrow is always better than today.

Day 3 in a nutshell

  • Day 3: Ali Bugyal to Pathar Nachauni via Ghora Lautani
  • Distance: Around 5 kms
  • Altitude: 11520 ft to 12700 ft [3510 m to 3900 m]
  • Terrain: Gradual ascent from Ali Bugyal to Ghora Lautani and downhill trek from Ghora Lautani till Pathar Nachauni.
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Time taken: Around 3.5 hours



Roopkund Chronicles – Day 2 – Didna to Ali Bugyal

Room with a view

Room with a view

Day 2: September 29

We woke with the consciousness that we were into Day 2 of the trek. Though a bit chilly, we knew it was going to be a much warmer morning as compared to the ones we will wake up to in the next few days. There was yet another consolation in store – this was the last of the genuine (read non-pit) toilets for the week ahead – so there was quite a beeline for the toilets – both Indian and European for that matter –  already. By 7.30, we were all ready, breakfasted and even through with Raj Bhaiyya’s morning drill.

View from Didna

We set off at 7.45 am. There was a “slow trekkers” group formed on the basis of the performance that the guides made out on Day 1. They had already left about half an hour back and the rest of us also set out in trickles of small groups. We took our first unofficial stop in 10 minutes at a brook to top up our bottles. It was also the first time we were filling directly from a natural source – a sign that we were now high up and the water pure.

The climb, to begin with, was fairly steep and got our limbs working immediately. The ground was slushy, but navigable, and in no time our Quecha trekking shoes were smudged and dirty.

The entire walk is through a mixed forest covering the whole range of oaks, pines, deodars, and fir interspersed with broad leaved ferns and some brightly coloured mushrooms too. We must have ploughed on long enough to feel relieved at reaching a more level ground. As we walked out of the forest cover we spotted swirls of smoke – an evidence of inhabitation.

Walking into Tol Pani village

Walking into Tol Pani village

We had reached the small village of Tol Pani by 9 am, our first official stop for the morning. Though the trail was completely shaded we did feel thirsty after the steep climb. As we trudged through the village, we noticed the water source Raj Bhaiyya had mentioned during the morning drill. We were supposed to fill our bottles as this was the last water source before we reached our camp site, Ali Bugyal. The forest village comprised of a row of thatched houses interspersed with fields containing different crops. The forests provided not only fuel wood but also extensive grazing land for the livestock.

The beautiful forest village - Tol Pani

The beautiful forest village – Tol Pani

After Tol Pani, starts the almost vertical but zig-zag climb that passes through dense oak forests. We tried taking a few shortcuts, clambering across the tree roots, instead of walking along the well tread bridle path. But we realized that these shortcuts we took, shortened the journey, but the energy required was often greater than the time we saved.

We kept asking Raj Bhaaiya “How much more time?”, more due to our hunger than our tiredness. Whenever we asked our guides “How much further?” they would reply with, “Just half an hour more.” We would continue with renewed vigour and end up walking for more than 2 hours. Our incentive in the form of paranthas and boiled potatoes/eggs waited for us at Tol Top. There was just one agenda for us at the moment, to reach Tol Top and have our packed mid-meal.

By 10 am the difficult part was over and we reached a more level ground. The sun was barely trickling through the trees which had grown tall and bent over to form an extended arch. There’s nothing more enchanting than walking through a tree lined pathway carpeted with a permanent cover of moss and dry leaves, with the light spilling through the branches. For a few minutes we even forgot that we were at a height of more than 3000 m.

An archway of trees

An archway of trees

By 10.40 we emerged from the trees and walked onto a small ridge. We had reached Tol Top, the starting point of the famous Himalayan highland meadows. We flung our backpacks onto the grass and took in the views around. The faster trekkers had already munched onto their mid meals and were lazing around. From the ridge, the villages, houses, paths and fields appeared below. Everything looked so small from this height.

View of the villages and road from Tol Top

View of the villages and road from Tol Top

After all we had touched 3000 m. On a sunny day, you get clear views of Nanda Ghunti. Today was not our day; the mountains were hidden by a few low adamant clouds. Raj Bhaiyya pointed out a road in the distance – the road from Wan village which we would take back on our return journey.

 @ Tol Top with a furry friend

@ Tol Top with a furry friend [Courtesy Ani & Sabari]

We had lunch at the beautiful overlook, it just seemed like a good place to stop and eat.  After lunch, it seemed like too good a place to leave, but we had to move on.

Entering bugyal land [Courtesy Ani & Sabari]

This would be the last sign of forest cover we would see for the next few days. The bugyals spread out in front of us, strewn with tiny mountain flowers in all their beauty. We continued to walk through the charming meadows, for the next few hours, literally amazed by the beauty of this green expanse. The meadows were occasionally flanked by pine forests at the fringes. A line appeared to have been drawn by a ruler, separating the bugyals from the pine forests.

The clouds were dark grey with hints of a noon shower. It was a wonderful feeling, sauntering over the bugyals, running down a lot, clambering up a few, with only the grey misty skyline around.

The Ali Bugyal meadow stretched out far and wide ahead, but the camping areas are limited to the fringes of the bugyal, where there are sources of water.


By 1.00 pm we could spot our campsite in a distance. The campsite was located just on the side of a small mountain which had a huge ‘Z’ mark on it.


It took us another 20 minutes to reach the camp site – our first tented accommodation of the trip. We had walked for 10.5 kms today, climbed 1000 m and were now at an altitude of 11520 ft/3510 m. Our Ali Bugyal camp had 11 tents, 1 bigger mess tent, three fibre glass tents and a couple of toilet tents.

Further down, we could see a clutch of tents where a few Americans had parked themselves. By the time we had booked our tents by marking our territory with our back packs, we were called into the mess tent for a glass of warm lemon juice.

A lot of us wanted to sleep off our tiredness, but Raj Bhaiyya was not in favour of an afternoon siesta. Light exercises and activities during the day are better than sleeping because respiration decreases during sleep, exacerbating any altitude sickness symptoms. So to make us work out a bit, he decided to have a campfire that night. We would already cross the tree line by tomorrow and it would not be possible to find log and wood from next day onwards. Carrying those oak branches and wooden logs from a nearby forest was the acclimatization task for that day. We spent the evening playing games and singing around the bon fire.


The mountain views were still obscured by the clouds and mist. Somewhere in the distance Nanda Ghunti, Trishul, Kali Dak, Chaukhamba, and Neelkanth, were staring back at us.

It did get cold in the night, however, we all had our thick woolies on and sleeping bags. It was the first time for a lot of us – sleeping in a sleeping bag in a tent. It was easier said than done. But after a struggle, we could finally squeeze into the tiny space and lay down, two in a tent plus our 60 L back packs and 30 L day packs. We looked like a bunch of modern Egyptian mummies. The night went sleepless inside the tent, without being able to toss and turn. But just to realize that we were sleeping on a Himalayan meadow @ 11500 ft – priceless.

Tomorrow we would move to a higher camp, where the mountains are nearer, stars are clearer, air is thinner and the earth is colder. Tomorrow we move onto Day 3.

Day 2 in a nutshell

  • Day 2: Didna village to Ali Bugyal
  • Distance: Around 10.5 kms
  • Altitude: 8530 ft to 11520 ft [2600 m to 3510 m]
  • Terrain: Uphill trek from Didna via Tol Pani to Tol Top for the first three hours. Easy trek from Tol Top to Ali Bugyal for the last two hours.
  • Difficulty: Easy to moderate
  • Time taken: Around 6 hours including a mid-meal break


Roopkund Chronicles Day – 1 Loharjung to Didna


Nanda Ghunti glistens [Courtesy Ani & Sabari]

Day 1: September 28

Now, if you were to ask me just which were the most memorable moments of the whole Roopkund trek, I wouldn’t have to think too hard. Crawling out of the rajai on the first morning and staggering out on to the balcony in the morning chill to see the sun climb over the Nanda Ghunti peak is, chronologically, the first.

The second, obviously, has to be just after the last step up to the Roopkund lake and the first glimpse of the expanse of snow flecked by a tiny speck of water in the middle…dotted further by the clumsily trodding trekkers around it and, certainly not the least arresting, the sight of the bones propped up inelegantly here and there.

Finally, it would have to be the sight of the unsightly jeep that stood waiting for us as we completed the Roopkund trek and sauntered onto Wan village’s sparsely populated main market – signaling the end of the mission.

The team [Courtesy Ani & Sabari]

Repacked and breakfasted, everyone trooped out animatedly, on to the common area. The TTH poster on the balcony confirmed we were at a height of 7575 ft (2530 m). We stood in groups chatting, our backpacks sent away for loading on the ponies. Yes, we were part of the sub-group that opted to walk with only our day packs. There were moments in the trek when we, unconsciously, let it rankle us but I can assure you the occasions were few and far between as we negotiated steep ascents, thin air and tired limbs.

Soon, there was a staff member who thrust some chocolates, biscuits and bananas into each hand – fuel for the walk ahead. Finally, the time came when the trek leader, Raj Shahi, a handsome, affable and supremely fit Nepali mountaineer, sounded the whistle and, in a jiffy, had everyone’s attention.

After a show of raised arms and cries in solidarity and resolve, the group took to the path that marked the start of the Roopkund trek. It was 8.45 am. With our day packs on our back and the trekking poles pecking holes on the path, we were now on our way.

Starting point [Courtesy Ani & Sabari]

 Our lungs were full and our limbs strong and we walked in twos and threes and some in larger sets and some still solo. Some were chattering away, some cracking the one off remark and some still in total silence.

From the village we started by descending down a mountain track. There were loose rocks and small streams flowing across the trail. We got our first lessons on how to climb down a slippery trail. Stay completely focused on where you place your feet. Instead of pointing your feet straight downwards, point your feet sideways and edge down slowly. Lengthen your poles, if you are carrying hiking poles.

[Courtesy Ani & Sabari]

The down hill path [Courtesy Ani & Sabari]

We descended in a file, first with just a few steps separating each of us. In time, that was to yawn further and as we walked the trek, there were some way in front, most others filling the middle and a few that brought up the rear.

Countryside [Courtesy Ani & Sabari]

Trekking through the countryside [Courtesy Ani & Sabari]

Our three guides, including the trek leader Raj Shahi, spread themselves too – Pushkar, a cheery 40 something, stockily built Uttaranchali, was in charge of the front, Raj Bhaiyya with the larger lot in the middle and Amar, a young, lean local shepherding the tail.

The high of a trek had just begun and was working like a shot of energy drink and we did not quite require many a pit stop. We passed a stone bridge on the way, took a few snaps.

Stone bridge on the way [Courtesy Ani & Sabari]

Stone bridge on the way [Courtesy Ani & Sabari]

It was a sunny day, and the heat was already taking a toll when we did stop for our first break at 10 am. Off came a few layers. We had taken this break at a clearing as much to rest as to take a few burst of snaps. Around us were the tall mountains that were only going to get taller as we pressed on in the next few days.

[Courtsey Ani & Sabari]

Our first official pit stop [Courtesy Ani & Sabari]

An hour’s walk and we heard the gush of water. It was the Bedni Ganga. We hop scotched across a few rocks on the river bed to get to the other side.

Crossing Bedni Ganga [Courtesy Ani & Sabari]

Crossing Bedni Ganga [Courtesy Ani & Sabari]

Later we paused at the Raun Bagad bridge for a few snaps. We could also see a high water fall nearby.

Raun Bagad Bridge

Raun Bagad Bridge

From there on, things became more business-like and metamorphosed from a hike mode onto a trek. After crossing the bridge,  it’s a steep never ending uphill climb to Didna. This is physically one of the most challenging stretches in this route. The grueling trek up continued for another 1.5 kms.

Panting and puffing

Panting and puffing

At the end we had walked into the surroundings of our first night’s halt – Didna village. As we walked up the concrete pavement that led to the village, we found out that there were not too many people and houses around, but we spotted a shop selling basic stuff and a camp of another trek company.

Walking into Didna

Walking into Didna

Further up, a few hundred metres away, we trudged up to see a welcome sign, of our camp. It was 12.45 pm, exactly 4 hours after we had left our base camp. And we were @ 8530 ft/2600 m above sea level

Team at Didna [Courtesy Ani & Sabari]

Team at Didna [Courtesy Ani & Sabari]

The early arrivals were already catching their breath and the views around, chatting up and taking snaps.

Our camp @ Didna

Our camp @ Didna [Courtesy Ani & Sabari]

 Our camp was a typical Utharanchali stone building with two short storeys that had dormitory style accommodation waiting to be occupied.

And here comes our luggage

And here comes our luggage

We caught a bed each and rushed out to the lunch laid out on the table outside. Soon, the others too had trooped in and the whole team of 27 had reached ‘home’.

Beautiful Didna village

We spent the evening sauntering about, taking in the views of the hills around, walking around the village which had a dozen thatched houses and vast expanses of ‘Ramdana’ (a local crop) fields. The red sprawling Ramdana fields looked quite pretty from a distance. We also chatted up with Raj Bhaiyya about his exploits in the Himalayas, and, of course, the rest of the Roopkund trek.

In and around Didna

In and around Didna; Ramdana fields

Dinner was a happy affair – as much for its being a wholesome treat as also because we were happily hungry. Crawling into our cosy quilts, we could hear voices high and low, cracking jokes, talking of the experiences of the day and about what awaited us on the morrow. The best part about finishing the first day of any trek is the warm glow of having taken the initial step but also the delectable angst of what lay ahead. Go to Day 2

Day 1 in a nutshell

  • Day 1: Loharjang to Didna village
  • Distance: Around 6.5 kms
  • Altitude: Not much gain. 7575 ft to 8530 ft [2530 m to 2600 m]
  • Terrain: Downhill trek from Loharjung till Bedni Ganga for the first three hours. Steep uphill trek from Bedni Ganga to Didna for the last one hour.
  • Difficulty: Easy to moderate
  • Time taken: Around 4 hours
















Roopkund Chronicles – Day 0 Kathgodam to Loharjung

Most high altitude treks start with trepidation more than preparation, budgeting, finding the right operator and, no less, getting the right group of co-trekkers. Ours too was no different. The question we asked ourselves was not long and was a hard hitting two words? Could we?

But such is the lure of a trek like Roopkund that the answer is usually a conclusive Yes. And then the flurry of activity begins. We tossed a well-researched coin in and decided to go with Trek the Himalayas, a Delhi based adventure and outdoor company.

For three full months, the treadmill, the stairs, the open road and a lean diet was what we thought we should be doing. Which, of course, we did not always! But come midnight of 26th September, 2014, as we waited in the dirty, dingy platform of Old Delhi railway station for the Ranikhet Express, we were a much fitter pack than we were when we drooled over the snaps of Roopkund we saw on the internet months back.

Day 0: September 27

I have always loved the first step I take at Kathgodam station. It was less about love for the place, per se, as it was about the excitement of hitting the gateway to the magnificent Kumaon Himalayas. The drive further, wherever it led to, was always the stuff that sublime holidays stand for. And this one, we knew, would be another one of those!

Finding our Sumos was easy – they came tagged.

The 222 km drive up to Loharjung, our base camp, was gradually ensconcing the traveller into a world of mountains and high altitude. As our vehicles sped past the still waters of Bhimtal and the sleeping town of Bhowali, the day was still filtering through the thick blanketed early morning mist.

A heavy breakfast, bouts of vomiting and doses of Avomine later, our road worn Sumos passed the small hilly towns of Someshwar, Kausani, Baijnath, Gwaldham, and Dewal before swinging into the little base town of Loharjung.

At this stage, we felt light and our backpacks lighter. As we stood on the terrace of the Patwal Tourist Lodge & Holiday Home, TTH’s Loharjung Base Camp, there were stars in our eyes and a few in the dark but clear skies above us. Before us, the snow clad peaks of Nanda Ghunti glistened like a large and friendly apparition, beckoning us. We had dumped our bags inside the small rooms and an extra layer of woolens were as comforting as the dinner spread the TTH team had laid out for us.

But first, the rites of passage. The larger group of 26 had all regrouped on the verandah and stood chattering and rubbing our hands, more from the chill than just glee. And then the TTH team manager welcomed us and got each of us to introduce ourselves, talk a little about the previous treks we had done, if any, and then laid out the ground rules for the trek. Dinner over, we wriggled into our rajais and made peace with our new environment and the next week’s plans were as much a part of that night’s dreams as were the glimpses of the day’s journey till the base camp.

Tomorrow, the trek begins. Up there, where the earth and the sky meet lies Roopkund – amidst snow and scattered pieces of skeletons. Who knows what happened yesterday but today – tonight – we knew we would sleep tight…and tomorrow would be the beginning of an adventure…a great one! Go to Day 1

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