Tag Archives: Bhagwabasa

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.

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

Crampons

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

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

 


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