Saturday, November 24, 2007

Snow Fields, Rockwalls and Riverine Vistas- Traversing Balipass in Winter

Standing in the middle of that 70 degree slope I dug deep again with the hiking staff. Loose earth and rubble sliding from under made it a giant effort to just hold on there. I looked up and saw Jaisingh almost overhead a hundred feet above, waving at me and saying something completely inaudible. Looking down I see Ritesh as a small speck several hundred feet down below, Rama and Pradeep resting on the rocks even further down. The little crew of porters were almost appearing as dots of ants moving on the vast snowfield down below about a kilometre away. All around us were little patches of melting snow bearing weird shapes and myriad rocks strewn everywhere. The eyes were still hurting from the snow- blindness that was beginning to develop. The saving grace was the bright blazing sun making it warm and not the freezing cold one experienced the same morning. I was on the last 100 ft...Literally a hundred tiny steps away from reaching the objective...Bali Pass.

With a gigantic effort of the mind I trudged on to the side and up, hoping the terra firma to be firmer, only to slip again. Even today its a blur as to how those hundred steps happened and the final step onto that little 6 ft depression on the ridgeline that for ages has been called the Bali Pass.

Indistinct and completely miss-able in that spread of the black ridge line dotted with brown and white, this was one of the ancient pathways to Gangotri from Yamunotri. Many a adventurous Sadhus, Seers and Pilgrims would have trudged the same path for several millennia. I soaked in and savoured the glory for a few seconds with Jaisingh pointing his fingers out to the valley beyond showing me the peaks of the Swargarohini Range and the deep valley underneath.

It was only a few minutes later that I realised, I had indeed reached the highest objective of the trek. Made a little mental note- 1442 Hrs 4895 Mtrs 29th of October 2007..set foot on Bali Pass. Ritesh joined in at 1450 hrs and Rama at 1512 Hrs.

The task achieved was indeed monumental!...a mixed bag of trekkers (me 38 years and 25 treks old, Ritesh 29 years and 10 treks old and Rama- 25 years and zero treks old) never having physically met in their lives till about 4 days before, toiling through 3 hard days of 2000 mtrs of climb , braving a whole day of 2 feet deep snow fields were standing atop Bali Pass on the last days of October..Almost welcoming November attempting it from the Yamunotri side. We had assembled the team from scratch from an “Orkut” forum on the internet, sought and heeded advice, researched, laughed at, argued and debated decisions, had members dropping out and joining in, postponed the plan by a day, prepared to the tee and finally had done it! A sweet moment of joyous victory!

Little did we know that the King of the mountains was laughing inwardly! The mighty Himalayas was going to add a spicy pinch to that experience in just about 2 hours time which we were going to remember much more vividly than those few minutes of glory of conquering the pass....a memory that would last beyond a lifetime!..


The thought germinated few months back in July when I posted a proposal for the trek in the community forum on the internet. The idea was to assemble a team of able and fit members willing to take up this snow challenge- of doing Bali Pass in Oct-Nov window from Yamunotri side. This was to bring in the uniqueness and the thrill factor....hardly any group tries the pass in this end part of the season from the Yamunotri side. Expert and critical opinion poured in from all sides about probable risks, weather window, team preparation and finally a debate on medically aided and unaided acclimatsation. After each debate few members would opt out. With the remaining final few, the team crystallised almost 10 days before and finalised about 2 days before the trek! Ritesh, Rama and I were the team and we were now going to brave out the entire route for 9 days.

Day 0 & 1- 25th and 26th October 2007

The day actually began the night before when Rama came and slept over at my place in order to start early next morning. We left home dutifully at 0430 Hrs and drove over to pick Ritesh on our way to Barkot. In the thinning darkness of 0500 hrs I met Ritesh for the first time in my life! Brief introduction and small talks later we drove almost continuously for 9 Hrs to reach Barkot. It was my second visit to that place in 6 years. The last time around we were on our way to Saptarishi Kund. On that occasion I had to leave my car at Barkot and take local transport to Hanumanchatti because of a major breach on the road caused by an angry Yamuna. Nothing of that sort happened this time. Chandan, Jaisingh and Rana were in the receiving party at GMVN Traveller's Lodge- Barkot.

After a light lunch and a brief introduction and briefing we were off in the newish looking BOLERO to Janakichatti. So many changes in a few years! On my previous visit to this part, I had a horror of night trek of 7 kilometers from Janakichatti to Hanuman Chatti with cramped muscles in both legs. But not any more! no treks till Janakichatti! There were Jeeps to motor you on. My contemplative journey was forced to a stop by the road block ahead.... a huge landslide was taking forever to clear and there was a traffic jam! So we decided to kickoff the trek there itself.

Off we went with the hiking staff. I decided to carry my rucksack as well. The 4Km walk was a good warm-up for the trek ahead. It was dark, by the time we reached “Arvind Annexe”..our place of stay for the night. We, as a team was still forming...still trying to know each other and wishing to relate with each other. We were eagerly seeking info on the trek, listening to stories of the accidents in the season, getting to know other team members in the support team etc. The dinner was sumptuous, ending with Pineapple in Sugar Syrup. ...the sleep was swifter and the day of the long drive was over.

Day 2- 27th October 2007

The morning was bright and suuny (as it was going to be for the next several days). After a quick breakfast we readied ourselves for the hike...putting on all paraphernalia for the expectedly strenuous day ahead. I was still trying to jog my memory of the last visit ...trying to compare everything that I was seeing with the memories several years back. Apparently nothing much had changed except for the fact that the road was much better paved and for some reason the river itself looked much less sinister. After the sharp elevation of about 900 ft from first river crossing we finally reached Devdekhni from where the Yamunotri temple is visible. Rama, Ritesh and I were already testing each other’s mettle by way of a mild competition to stay ahead.

After a quick Darshan at the temple it was time to set off for Lower Damni camp. The Yamunotri temple is unique in a way that, it has a very hot stone called “Divya Shila” which is the main object of worship. Just a few feet away is a tank full of very hot boiling water in which one can cook rice and Potato that is then offered as "Prasadam" to the deity. Some pretty magical stuff for the pilgrims of the yore!!! We were quick to seek some issue based blessings from the Goddess mother (going by my Gangotri experience- seeking protection from weather) which, as we would later discover, were probably promptly granted by the Mother.

Exactly at midday we set off for Lower Damni campsite...our destination for the day. The route to Damni camping area forks out from the Janakichatti- Yamunotri trail into the mountains to the left after Devdekhni. Thus we had to retrace back till that point from Yamunotri and took that trail up which was marked by a “Diversion” indicator board by PWD department.

After the half day walk on the Yamunotri trail, so very crowded by pilgrims, this trail felt eerily quiet. Suddenly we were all alone in that jungle that was deadly silent, all to our own thoughts contemplating the days ahead. The curious Ritesh was making enquiries about local flora and fauna and Jaisingh in his inimitable hindi replying. The trail was good and well marked and as usual undulating...sometimes going up and sometimes down....but generally up!

Almost suddenly we came to a open area just as the jungle was thinning out. We see a little dilapidated shed indicating a hint of camp site and Jaisingh standing there with a serious and brooding countenance. He was apparently making whistle calls to the porters who weren’t there although they were supposed to have been there. After an anxious hour the issue resolved itself when the first of the porters arrived. Apparently they started late and we had been a little too quick for their calculations.

There was a bit of a deliberation on whether we should camp there at Lower Damni or move on to the higher ground at Damni since we still had couple of hours of sunlight left. But apparently Damni at this time of year has no water, Jaisingh informed. We settled for camping there at lower Damni (3300 mtrs) under the Giant holy tree. This tree under which my tent was setup was a holy tree with Bangles, Combs and lots of one-rupee coins stuck to the trunk. Soon the camp was set-up, complete with the campfire. The tempereature around the campfire hovering around 2 degrees and otherwise at -3 deg at 1900 Hrs in the evening, made us shudder with the thought of what was in store for the 7 odd evenings ahead.

Day 3- 28th October 2007

The night was relatively cold, definitely colder than Janakichatti. Leaving camp site at 0830 I saw Jaisingh carrying a bundle of nylon ropes on his shoulder and knew that we are in for some action during the day. Upon my enquiry about what's in store for the day, Jaisingh came up with a vague nod.... For some reason we took some trail that ended up nowhere and we presently found ourselves struggling for our way in the midst of a thicket of bushes...thorns grazing on the Jackets . Half an hour of toil saw us thru the thicket and we were back on some reasonable trail heading up towards the brown-dried bugyal which we had seen from the campsite the earlier evening.

As the tree line thinned out and the vision of the horizon cleared up...we slowly found ourselves gaining the visuals of the little peaks of the hills around the Yamunotri valley. After some huffing and puffing of another hour we reached the Damni camping ground...directly opposite the base of Banderpunch massif that defines the skylines from the Yamunotri temple. The two ubiquitous hanging glaciers of the massif almost directly opposite us. The ridgeline was steadily heading up and towards the west and there it was.....a near vertical wall of brown rocks about 500 ft high standing tall on our supposed trail. This is where the fixed rope pitch for the day was going to be!!

Almost every hour we had been asking Jaisingh about the route ahead and every single time the answer would be a wave of the hand in the general direction of Northwest pointing up...not much help there!! Jaisingh would always be about 100 mtrs ahead of us and just now he was steadily climbing that near vertical wall...sometimes on those large rocks and sometimes going behind them. Its only when we reached the base of the rock face that we realised what a task it was to scale that up...the huge slope below the wall was leading to the base of the Yamuna valley in an acute angle and the obstacle-the steep rockface was almost standing vertical overhead. Basically a task that demanded extreme caution and grit on part of first time rope users like us.

Eventually we reached a point where one felt the thumping of the heart loud .. I was hanging onto some rocks and grass lumps looking occasionally down to that thousand feet of slope into the ravine below. Luckily Jaisingh materialised from nowhere having fixed one end of the rope. Dutifully he went about the task of harnessing and taking Rama up the 100 ft vertical followed by Ritesh...I was the last to go having successfully avoided two swishing rocks inches from my unshaven cheeks...even as my friends clambered up holding the ropes.

My first experience with fixed rope went off well. Finally after half an hour, around midday, we reached the flat ground on top of the wall, desparately panting for breath. Jaisingh was carrying the "lunch" of which we consumed only partially. Ritesh was in no mood for lunch since he was suffering from a bout of upset stomach and loose motions. We had to wait for an hour afterwards for the porters wondering all the while, how on earth were they going to make it through the fixed ropes and that vertical. They arrived an hour later having chosen to take an alternate path to the top...rope was not used for them. So far there had been no water source on the way and the poor porters were seen chomping away clumps of snow amidst puffs of Bidi smoke.

The trail, which had eased out now, headed in a North Westerly and Westerly bearing. We finally rose up along the ridgeline ahead and reached the Upper Damni camping ground at 1630 Hrs. The cairn indicating the camp site was visible from a Kilometer away.

Camp site at last!! And that too covered with a soft bed of snow. Altitude 4400 mtrs and temperature close to 3-4 degrees in the shade (at 1630 hr). Rama was overjoyed when he arrived. In moments one could see him rolling around the snow filmy style with some virtual heroine. The camp site had a small hut without a roof which was of little use. The most stunning part was the vista around. It was as if we were in the middle of a snow kingdom.

“What were you writing on that little notebook Lord Ritesh?”- I asked as we were preparing for the evening in the tents.

“ I was watching the eagle flying and soaring above and a thought came- ‘ For these winged creations of the Lord, all these charms and thrills and adventure of trekking the terrain has no meaning!’ How very different perspectives!”- observed Ritesh profoundly.
The night was going to be cold!! All woollens came out including my Down Jacket , the dinner ready by 2000 Hrs. Never knew when sleep came. Apart from few occasional sounds of wind lashing against the tent flaps and the midnight temperature dropping to -7 deg C, rest of the night was uneventful.

Day 4- 29th October 2007

Next day morning was full of activity at our campsite at Upper Damni. We had to cross Balipass and go down till Tange camp-Summit day for us. We had to start as early and camp as early as possible. Jaisingh was coiling the ropes again but wanted one of the porters to carry it. Pradeep and Jaisingh put on snowboots and my crampons and gaiters were packed into Jaisingh’s rucksack.

Seeing all the preparations, Rama, Ritesh and I were dying with curiousity.. What was in store today? Why all this preparation? None of them would open the cards...generally assuring us that this was all standard precaution since we were going to have to do some heavy snow traverse. The excitement in the camp was palpable.

The steady climb up the ridge landed us in a snowfield where Jaisingh pointed out a good many number of pug mark trails of some unseen bear. It was a weird mix of things...the monochrome of the snowfield, the tiring and careful walk, the ubiquitous signs of local fauna, the heated discussion amongst us as to how best to negotiate the snow, the increasing watering in my right eye (a sign of snow-blindness) and the incessant enquiry off Jaisingh as to where on earth was the pass? Presently we come across a flat patch that looked like a good camping ground – probably some people camped there recently. This was the campsite called Bali Pass Base. People who manage to move up beyond Upper Damni in one day do actually camp at this point apparently. At a distance we saw some variety of pheasants who were seen parading, as if aping a group of penguins.

The pass was still not visible and Jaisingh would vaguely point towards a brown gully leading heavenwards at a distance. For over two hours I was thinking that to be the terminal approach to the pass...till we reached there and discovered another huge snowfield ahead. We had to wait for the porters to arrive before we treaded the second snowfield beyond the gully.

This was decidedly, larger, whiter, and higher sorrounded by the peaks around - a large bowl set on the zenith of Yamuna valley. The snow was probably 2-3 feet and waist deep at places as we would discover later. This is where we put on the gaiters, gloves and the balaclavas hoping to brave the snow ahead with ease. But nothing would have prepared us for what was in store for us ahead.

One could see the valley ending at the ridgeline in the eastern horizon. Directly ahead north was a small peak and to its left was a small col which was the Bali Pass- Jaisingh announced. In the heights of Himalayas, often distances play games with visual perception. Though the distance here was a would appear as if one could reach out and touch the pass. One realised the illusion only when one saw Jaisingh cutting route through the snow in the distance looking like a little ant crawling!

After much struggle, slipping, wriggling, panting and resting one reached the base area of the pass from where a steep slope led onto the final climb after which the slope angled to a terrifying 70 degrees. Thats where I got stuck motionless for about 15 minutes...unable to move...scree and debris slipping from under my feet with every effort to climb and me mustering every bit of strength and courage within. Finally after almost half an hour of steady toil along the final slope we reached the top one by one between 1420 and 1520 Hrs. First Jaisingh, then me followed by Ritesh, Pradeep and Rama.

Bali Pass is a very small place up there, hardly enough place for three people to stand together at the top. Even as we waited there for the porters to arrive, sunlight was fading away. What we were seeing ahead of us was the Ruinsara valley bathed in the afternoon sun and directly below us the route of descent looking frightening at a near vertical 70-80 degrees angle. The snowfield below looked almost undisturbed...a quiet and solitary refuge of white..with rock features and crevasses ...some visible and some apparent. The thought of descent into that bowl of snow, the
possibility of cutting through that for another 2 kilometres and the steadily dropping temperature sent a shiver down my spine. Jaisingh however was forever reassuring, joking with one and all and pointing out the Swargarohini range for us to shoot pictures. We had to wait for another half an hour before the porters arrived and Deepak Thapa handed over the coil of ropes for Jaisingh to fix so that we could descend. It was 1600 Hrs already.

The rope wasn’t long enough to reach all the 500 ft down. We had to cover the descent in two pitches. All of us going to go midway in the first pitch and hang onto the slope somehow in a possible place after which the second pitch will be fixed to reach the bottom. In both cases I was to anchor the belay as the others went down.

Everything went as per plan till Ritesh went down on the second pitch. By then I was feeling numbness on my feet. I was so cold, it was hurting. It looked as if Pradeep, Rama and Ritesh were taking forever to go down!!! Finally my turn came and I requested someone else to anchor the ice axe by standing on it. When I rappelled down, I realised why they were taking so long! There were two vertical drops each of about 20 feet that landed us on a very steep slope. Even as I was leaving the rope and putting the axe in an arrest position, I slipped!! hurtling myself down at a great speed!! Flat ground was still some hundred feet below! Somehow I stopped; arresting my slip...I still don’t know how it happened. After stabilising a bit I realised that both Pradeep and Rama had similar experiences and now Ritesh was being extremely careful to negotiate the way down.

I was testing the depth of snow and generally exploring the field just to keep warm when there were some anxious shouts. Startked, I looked up to see the most horrifying scene in my trekking career. Deepak Thapa with my rucksack on his back was hurtling down the 40 ft vertical wall like a rag doll..tossing and tumbling. Those 4 seconds appeared like eternity as he finally stopped and lied still... still at a height above the flats below. We all thought for a moment that we lost a man. To our relief he stood up and trudged the way down after few

Porter Rajan Karki was already reached down.

“Saab, humen saaman yahan chhod ke field cross karna padega. Phir subah aake saaman le jayenge.”- said he.
“Kyon?”- I enquired.
“Aap ko lagta hai ki abhi full load ke saath andhere me 2 kilometer baraf cross kar payenge? Bahut mushkil hoga saab”- he was almost pleading and I could realise the logic as I felt the numbing freezing pain in my feet every moment.
We were cold, tired, exhausted, shocked, our loads were scattered, we had probably lost a good part of the rations and actually were “afraid” of the snow and the crevasses ahead.

The rest of the porters were already in panic and they started jettisoning loads in order to reduce risk of descent. Finally at 1730 we all assembled there at the foot of the pass, around a hastily put fire made of a broken plastic table, Deepak in
shock, blood blotches under his nose, the porters agitated and against the idea of a full crossing of the fields and the temperature already was -4 deg C and dropping ..freezing us further every single moment. We decided to bivouac there itself...a little away from the vertical slope and the sinister looking avalanche slab hung midway. There was no way we were going to cross 2 kilometers of powdery snow at that time, light and cold conditions.

The high camp was setup by 1815 at 4900 mtrs at the foot of Balipass... highest for me in terms of camping.After some quick donning of woollens, vigorous massaging by Jaisingh, brief primer on frostbites and some hot water, we felt a bit out of the woods. Till then it was sheer horror of cold, confusion, apprehension and fear. After some soup and minimal food in form of Maggi noodles we settled in for the night.

Temperature dropped to -15 at midnight, water bottles froze, wet-wipes became a lump of rock and galeforce winds, possibly in the range of 100 knots, lashed at the Tent outers through out the night. A thumping headache wouldn’t let me sleep probably because of the altitude till I popped couple of Dispirins.

The only piece of luck we had was that, the sky was still clear and dotted with those million stars. As I went out of the tent at midnight, it was as if I was in a different world. The sky, the peaks and the stars so beautifully unreal on the one hand and the galeforce wind over those miles of snow making it sinister and fearsome on the other. That picture was going to be eternally memorable.

Day 5- 30th October 2007

After the freezing night it was the desparate search for sunlight in the morning. Ritesh went out first reporting the advent of sunlight bulletined every 5 minutes. These are moments when one realises the power of nature..the force called Sun....against other powerful elements like snow and cold....desparately seeking the rejuvenating rays to warm, dry and pump life in. You are an immaterially small cog in the wheel in those interplays of the giant forces of nature.

I was thinking the strategy for the day. Should we start early and target reaching Ruinsara Taal camp to recover lost time and ration requirements or start late, recoup energy and supplies but target only a small distance?

I went into the kitchen tent to take stock of the situation. All eight of them had huddled together there the night before and were still half asleep. The ration situation was grim and the nearest supply point was Seema...25 Kilometers away. There was no way we were going to reach there before 48 hours and we needed food to keep us going.

We finally decided to dry, warm and recoup till midday after which we would start the days trek. Till then two porters would scavenge the slope for any ration that could be recovered. We shall start crossing only after we had strengthened ourselves, if that meant camping at Tange only 2 kilometers away out of the snowfield, so be it.

Thankfully by 1200 one bag of vegetables, sugar, tea and a packet of lentil was recovered from the slopes and the ration supplies situation looked brighter. With the bright sun overhead and copious help of the only working stove, our walking gear was dry and ready for use. We put on additional reinforcement in form of polythene packs over the woollen socks and set off for the day. Jaisingh by that time, was half a kilometre ahead cutting route thru the snowfield, appearing as if swimming on that snow field of waist deep powdery snow. Very often he would almost disappear and reappear again. My heart went out to him, praying fervently that everything be okay by the end of the day.

Half an hour later we crossed by a dreadful looking crevasse to our right around which Jaisingh had cut the route successfully. From that vantage point it became obvious what kind of a terrain we were going thru and what would we have done without the years of expertise of the Nepali expeditionary guide of ours. Yonder to our left was another set of crevasses equally frightening.

After 5 continuous hours of toil with very little water and food punctuated by brief stops to rest, shoot pics of the snow kingdom or to extricate ourselves from holes waist deep we finally sensed the snow thinning out under our feet. Jaisingh would proceed on forever imploring us to move forward. We were so exhausted, I would slip every 5 steps even after crossing the snow.

Finally in the midst of a large network of water streams, patches of snow and grass Jaisingh welcomed me to Upper Tange campsite with a raging camp fire set under a large rock overhang. At 3800 mtrs it was almost paradise for me. In an hour, the entire team would assemble by that welcome fire...joking animatedly, laughing, shouting and playing pranks with each other like a bunch of school kids. Nobody was saying it, but every one of us including Jaisingh was happy that we were out of the snow kingdom and had firewood at last!

Dinner was a much better affair but the camp fire was the best. More wood was procured from a campsite a kilometre below which made the fire last almost throughout the night. By morning most of our walking gear was dry even without the sun.

Ritesh and Rama had some problem with the wind coming into the tent- some problem with the main zipper. Finally peaceful, welcome sleep....that night we didn’t take diamox – we were on our way down here forth.

Day 6- 31st October 2007

Today was the day of the long march. We had been through the most difficult part and now we had to make up for lost time and rations by making one long dash for Seema. The earlier plans were to spend a day exploring the Kyarkoti and Supin glacier region camping at Ruinsara Taal. But that plan had to be modified now and we were to reach Seema from Upper Tange camp- walking a good 20 Kilometers.

Starting at 900 hrs we had to walk by a frozen river and then the sharp descent to the Tange camp area. Jaisingh led us up to a bugyal above so that we could have a view of the Ruinsara
Taal while rest of the team crossed the frozen river and took an easy path down to Tange.
Rama and Rajan Karki had shown mild signs of frostbite on the right toe on the feet, the night before. After administering first aid in the night, the toes had now developed blisters and was creating obvious discomfort for both of them. Somehow all of us reached down the valley all the way to the Ruinsara Gad. After some discussion we decided to cross the stream there itself where the volume of water was less and the speed of the current manageable. The porters decided to walk a mile below where they had heard of the existence of a bridge.

The walk from Ruinsara till Seema is a treat for the eyes. High peaks surround you snow clad and every half an hour one sees a place befitting a picture postcard or a desktop wallpaper. Numerous streams are to be crossed and very often the trail comes down to the level of the river Ruinsara Gad flowing nearby. After hitting the Har Ki Dun valley, the trail takes a turn to the south over the Supin bridge and then goes parallel to the Supin River which originates from the Har Ki Dun valley. After all the toil in the first few days, it was decidedly an easy day of trek but an exhausting one.

At 1730 we finally reached the GMVN guest house at Seema to some welcome hot tea at 2600 mtrs. The night was to be spent in the forest guest house there. A nice fire in the fireplace and frostbite treatment was first priority. Some recounting of the day’s experience later finally we hit bed after 4 days.

Day 7- 1st November 2007

Initially we were considering reaching Seema to Sankri directly in order to save a day as per our earlier plan. But the team voted me out overwhelmingly and we decided to camp at
Taluka. There are two routes that lead from Seema to Taluka. The upper route is longer through the burnt out village of Datmir whereas the lower route though broken is shorter which follows the river Supin through Gangad village. We decided to take the shorter route assuming the broken trail to be no more difficult than what we had handled so far.

We were all in a chirpy mood today. Compared to what we had been thru, it was a mere jungle walk. We plucked berries from trees, walked into village water mills, shot pictures with village children on the trail, chatted up couple of French tourists who were on their way to Seema, giggled mischievously amongst us like adolescent youngsters as we saw some pretty bong belles trekking up to Har-Ki-Dun, had lunch by the side of the raging Supin River and walked on the 14 Kms at gay leisurely pace.

The Seema –Taluka trail is equal if not better than the Ruinsara –Seema trail in terms of the natural vista that it has to offer. Taluka itself is just about couple of hundred meters lower than Seema but is as picturesque as Harshil is(in the Bhagirathi Valley). The Supin river lazily wounds itself in giant curves along pine jungles.

There were few anxious moments in couple of places where the route was severely broken. There was a place where one had to cross a thin ledge reinforced with slippery thin logs with water constantly dripping from a rock overhang. I had my heart in popping out in anxiety as I saw our team of brave porters crossing that place with all that load on their backs....each one of them carrying about 40 Kgs of load. Rama and Rajan Karki were in severe pain from the frostbite but went on trekking the whole day in stoic silence.

Finally the market place of Taluka beaconed us where we anxiously asked around for Desi Chicken....hoping to have a celebration dinner. We did have the necessary celebration ritual in form of some village kids sharing our campfire and singing the local Garhwali songs in sweet mellifluous chorus. Assisted by the potent local brew made of Mandwa we were all suitably regaled by the side of the lovely campfire. Surely an evening to remember!! Earlier in the evening, Ritesh spent the time exploring and shooting pics around. I noticed some village belles modelling out for him. He surely had loads of fun.

Stay was at GMVN dormitory on beds again...our tent days were over it seemed. Next day we had to reach Sankri, take a jeep to Barkot and hopefully have enough time to start back for Delhi.

Day 8 and 9- 2nd and 3rd November 2007

Early next morning we stopped by the local village school where all five classes in the primary school were lined up on mats at one single place in the open. One class sits on each mat 10 feet long, we were told. The senior classes
sit in front near the teacher and the Junior classes are arranged in order to the back. It was a paradigm shift!! All my life I had this picture of a class teacher teaching students in a class sitting in that configuration...and here we had an entire school sitting at one place!!! Some innovation for “Sarva Shiksha Aviyan” in high mountains. Unfortunately we could not interview the teacher who had not yet materialised probably due to the lack of Sunrays in the teaching area!!

A pretty woman with a load on her back joined us in with her brother to whom we provided company till half way, enjoying the easy jungle walk all the while listening to the banter going on between Old Jaisingh and that sharp boy Manoj.

The route from Taluka to Sankri is a Jeepable track where Jeeps used to ply till few years back when the road got washed away 3 Kilometers from Sankri by some flash flood. After crossing that patch we had our group photograph and customary “Bakshishing” for the entire support troop.

Soon enough we were at Sankri where Jaisingh was already striking a deal with a Jeepwallah to take us (Rama, Ritesh and I) till Barkot and them till Uttarkashi. They intended to reach Uttarkashi that night itself and it appeared we would have to spend the night at Barkot and start for Delhi early next day.

The drive from Sankri till Barkot was a pleasant revelation. I had never thought the route to be so very amazingly pretty and made a mental note to visit the place some other day in my Jeep.
Finally we managed to have our much coveted Desi Chicken dinner assisted by fine french wine which i had bothered to carry al the way from Delhi. Some more time spent in the evening looking for small provisions and making the customary calls back home that we would be late by a day. The team left for Uttarkashi at 2000 Hrs....must have reached by 2300.

The next day was a long ride back home for 10 hrs after getting my Jeep washed off the yellow Deodar pollens which had painted it yellow. I was told that the real Tilak is made out Deodar pollens and all the while that we were gone in the trek, my Scorpio was actually having a Tilak bath sitting pretty at Barkot guesthouse.

Ritesh got dropped at Dehradun to spend the weekend with his friend as I and Rama drove back to Delhi recounting the moments of glory, triumph, apprehension, anxiety and sheer moments of exhilarating joy!!!

I had completed the most arduous trek in my career and Rama had kicked off his trekking career getting baptized by fire!

(The team from L to R - BS Rathore, Rama, Jayendra Panwar, Pradeep, Deepak Thapa, Ritesh, Jaisingh, Rajan Karki, Chander Thapa, Vishnu Thapa, Ashutosh) _____________________________________________________________
Ritesh's account of the experience s narrated beautifully in his blogspace. I recommend a visit to

The interested might want to visit the complete captioned picture album and the google map page in the links below....

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Sunday, October 7, 2007

Balipass Trek - Itinerary and Preparation

Detailed Itinerary and Cost
Bali pass / Yamunotri pass H. 5236 Mtr.Best season 15th May to 15 Nov. (We are basically in the end window planning our trip from 25th Oct- 2nd Nov 2007)

Days 01
Delhi- Hanuman chatti – Janki chatti (Trekkers Team)/Uttarkashi –Hanuman Chatti – Janki chatti - (Support Team).
On arrival at Barkot Lunch at the Hotel after Lunch Short drive for Janki Chatti 02 hrs On arrival check in Hotel, Dinner & Night halt at Hotel.

Days 02
Janki chatti –Yamunotri –Lower Damni (h. 3300 mtr.)
Morning after breakfast start 05 km Steep up trek for Yamunotri in 02 hrs, Short visit Yamunotri temple , puja and Bath proceed your trek for Damni with picnic lunch , the trail steep climbing passing through green rich forest , alpine medows 05/06km 04 hrs, on arrival check camp Dinner & over night at camp.

Days 03
Lower Damni – Upper Damni. (H4300 Mtr. 08/ 09 kms 06 hrs.)
Breakfast at camp then start your trek for Upper Damni, the trail steep climbing 06 hrs. with picnic lunch , on arrival check camp dinner and over night at camp

Days 04
Upper Damni – Bali pass (Yamunotri pass H 4900 mtr.) – Tange Camp(3200 mtrs)
Morning breakfast camp then start your trek for Bali or Yamunotri pass steep up 01 an half hrs to reach the Top from the pass see beautifull Himalaya range Explore the Himalayas. After some rest proceed down trek for Tange Camp. 05/ hrs, on arrival check Camp dinner & Overnight at camp

Days 05
Tange – Kyarkoti - Ruinsyra Tal (H. 3350 mtr. (11 km, 06/07 hrs)
Morning breakfast at camp then start trek for Kyarkoti Explore the black peak, sopin Glacier 08 km with gradually down picnic lunch, after Kyarkoti short trek 03 km Down trek for Runsiyara Tal

Days 06
Ruinsera Tal - - Seema ( 11km )
Morning breakfast camp then start trek for Seema camp before 04 km from seema village, the trail through forest, river and Shepard Hut, gradually down, on arrival check in tent- Dinner & over night at camp.

Day 07
Seema -Taluka – Sankri (20Km)
After Morning breakfast camp then start your trek for Taluka 14km 04 hrs down trek Hot Lunch at Taluka , after lunch 6 km down trek to reach Sankri. On arrival check in Gmvn Tourist rest house, Dinner and over night at Hotel

Day 08
(Sankri – Barkot - Mussoorie - Delhi)- Our Team
(Sankri- Uttarkashi )- Crystal Team
After morning breakfast 05 hrs drive for Barkot. Lunch in Hotel at Barkot after Lunch Trek Tour service End.

The support services are provided by my long time acquitances at Crystal Nature at Uttarkashi. Here are the terms from them.

Service Features of the Support Group from Crystal Nature

  1. Transportation by Local Jeep/ Taxi, from Barkot to Barkot
  2. Accommodation in Tent Twins sharing on fallboard with sleeping bag and Mattress
  3. All meals Veg, cook Helper Kitchen attendant and Camp Assistance.
  4. Guide and, Portrage of 10Kg of member personal Baggage.
  5. Camping charge
  6. Cost Does Not Include:Any Items of personal nature e.g. insurance, medical, evacuation, and services in unforeseen circumstances and services other then listed above.
  7. Participant are requested to Bring own Trekking shoes, Warm cloth and Jacket- Riding ponies on the treks. (Our staff can help you arrange on the spot at the best prices)-
  8. Rates and terms valid for the Pilgrimage season for 2007 from May to November.
I think, ex delhi and back to delhi would have 2 components of cost

  • Cost from Barkot back to Barkot would be part of the service package from Crystal. The Support Team's service rates per person for the trip are Rs 13200 (1650X 8 days)-assuming we are a 4 person group Rs 11600 (1450X 8 days)- Assuming a >6 people group
  • Delhi-Barkot Delhi would be our cost. If the team size is not more than 5, people can hop into my Gadi which would mean travel (diesel) cost of about INR 800 per person. Lets budget about 500 Rs more for food and drink (of course it depends on what one eats and drinks.) So all that would be about Rs 1500 per person max. .....assuming we are a group of more than 6 peopleI am thinking ours will be a small group.
  • In any case the total cost Ex-Delhi back to Delhi...looks like maximum Rs 15000 per person.

Requesting all you guys coming in the Balipass trek.....kindly go through my Blog on preparing for high altitude in this blogspace- Particularly pay attention to the personal wares and medical kit section. Please do ask questions if any ...

"Regarding the exercise regimen I usually recommend a peak fitness level of 45 minutes of Brisk Walk ...gentle jog on the tread mill...for about 45 minutes daily. This obviously is to be achieved over a period of 3 not break into it in day 1. Such an exercise would be at a speed of approx...8-12 Kms per hour speed...if you are familiar with Treadmill. Do about 1000 steps on the "stepper" if you have a gym nearby. or something similar...say gentle steps leading to the nearby temple or something. Do not try anything drastic Anand....jogging in the park I find strenuous on the knees even for myself. I do recommend "Velcro Knee Supports" get those in any good chemist shop now-a-days for under 1000 rupees.Please check my article for preparation in - snowscapes.blogspot.comThere are approximately 2.5 porters per person if we are a team of 4 people including Anand, we shall expect about 9 /10 porters plus the cook and the guides. They usually carry the personal rucksack .....what you need to carry is the day pack, water and camera etc. I have 4 Nos of ski poles, and similar number of gaiters. We are told by the reccee team that we may not require snowboots but we shall surely require Gaiters to prevent snow from getting into the shoes. I have 3 pairs. I can buy some more. Emergency snowboots would ideally be arranged by "Crystal" guys.There would be horses available till Yamunotri. We shall be on our own after that. We shall take a call on speed of ascent and number of days of acclimatisation depending on the team health. We shall be on a Diamox regimen from Delhi onwards cause the same night we are camping at Yamunotri. I hope nobody in the team is a diabetic or has problems of high BP."

Pic reccee
Guys check out this pic...thats the gooogle earth layout for the trek area

Hi All thos going in the trekDeepak has done some nice homework and gathered some more details on Balipass trek. Definitely worth a look.

Risk Assessment
Yesterday we had a telecon with the owner of Crystal- Chandan Bisht, Rana- The Team Guide (also someone who has been in regular in my treks on high passes) with inputs from Dhani- (the seniormost porter in the team-55 years but has been in all my treks beyond 5000- a total of 25 years of trekking the Garhwal mountains). The following are the points. Kindly go through and opt for the trek if you feel comfortable with the idea.

Risk factors are Weather- getting hemmed in Snow, Acclimatisation- developing Altitude sickness and Snowcraft- negotiating a riskfree snow traverse.

  • Weather: The winter precipitation for last decade has been steadily delayed. One expects that extensive snow-wala season in December/January now-a-days. Even if there is a precipitation, its expected to result in snow cover only beyond 4700. Its not a regular bad window for storms. Bad weather windows are from September mid to October Mid. In fact first week of Oct is a worse time to try. Still we shall have to make last minute changes to itinerary depending on local weather pattern.The total exposure to snow is limited to the upper reaches of the pass which is max about 5/6 Kilometers. Apart from that rest of the route is rocky and barren.
  • Snow:Balipass is definitely less glaciated and snow bound as compared to Borasu and Dhumdharkandi- the other high passes in the area. Total exposure to snow traverse is less than 5/6 km. No problems of crevasses etc. Trekking boots and gaiters would be standard wear. High ankle- good quality snow and water proof -deep treaded Trekking boots are recommended. Hunter shoes will not suffice. Snow boots would be available with the team. Advanced party would be used to cut route in the snow if situation so warrants. Necessary equipment to navigate and manage affairs in snow would be available with the team. basic emergency material like ropes, carabiners would be available with the guide and deputy guide
  • Altitude:We shall be on a Diamox regime from Janakichatti onwards. Dosage will be Half pill morning and half pill evening. Please confirm before joining you do not have a problem of BP or Sugar. In case of diabetes we need to be mindful of the fact that Diamox takes longer to act.We shall in any case keep one extra day in hand for acclimatisation at Damni. It would depend on the prevailing weather, team mood and health whether we use that extra day or not.In any case, loosing altitude in case of an emergency is not a problem. The track is pretty steeply descending on both sides.Last but not the least, the pass has three crossover routes, one at 5100 approx, one at 4900 and one at 5200 approx. We shall choose the appropriate route depending on existing ground conditions.Also the Lead Guide Rana has done this 3 times, so has the porter Sirdar, the deputy guide, Dhani and the porter Sirdar. The inputs were based on their past experiences which was as recent as 2 years back.
  • Given all the above facts I wish to reiterate that my assessment of risk factors are the following for which we have to be prepared. (1) Development of mountain sickness by some members- easily tackled by taking an extra day to acclimatise. (2) Tireness in snow traverse, taking longer time than planned to cover the route- No shortcut to stamina building exercises. Please remember it would take a lot of toil to cover that 6 kilometer on the day of crossing the pass. I am budgeting 7 to 8 hours.Un-expected storm. Likelyhood is little but might delay us a bit. Avalanche conditions are not expected and neither are there crevasses. In any case we shall be watchful for weather after Damni, we need just two clear days which is highly likely during that part of the year.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Mysterious Pretty Lake of Doom- Roop Kund

8th Century AD:

(The mystery lake- Roopkund)

The Gods had been very angry for several days now. The snow fall would just not relent!!! There had been no sun for days ! The group of pilgrims was stuck in the middle of a tarn on a high mountain pass. Having taken refuge in the frozen tarn, the depression of the bowel shape providing some shield against the blinding blizzard- blowing few meters above on the pass. Weeks earlier they had taken this short route to reach the temple of Badrinath- newly renovated and established by the Great Seer- Adi Shankaracharya. But they hadn’t bargained for anything like this. The bitter cold, the wind and lack of sun for days together had started taking a toll on the women and children of the group. They were a fighter clan of pilgrims from West-Central India, now utterly lost in the middle of this freezing cold desolate pass which they so desperately wanted to cross over to safety!! The relentless display of the fury of nature had now put the entire entourage of servants, women, children and horses in mortal danger. Just as they were praying for safety a loud rumbling thunder roared from the heights up above and suddenly the air was thick with dusting snow as the avalanche came crashing down with large boulders. The melee of rolling boulders and the asphyxiating mass of snow lasted only a few interminable seconds. In a minute the silence was complete. The group of pilgrims were literally on the path to eternal salvation buried under those thick feets of snow, lost to the world forever.

June 5th 1999:

I wasn’t aware of this story when I was almost dying to get under a shelter to save myself from the blow of the cold wind and drizzling droplets of freezing rain. The throbbing headache and the 104 fever burning from inside was not helping matters. Up ahead was snowy haze and behind was no different. I was walking on a snowy mountain ridge where the white spread ahead was occasionally punctuated by the brown and black shades of rocks and boulders. Atop a 5000 mtrs mountainous ridge I was, getting sicker every moment with a medical condition called AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) even while the evening darkened, the frozen dew of the drizzle unrelenting. Fimally I spot the shelter and heave a sigh of relief. We had reached Baguwabasa- (4800 Mtrs),the highest I had done till then, but still a good 5 Kilometers away from Roopkund, the mystery lake. The lake which has intrigued many a minds, with those skeletons of horses and men, for at least last 70 years of recent public memory.

Day 0/1- Boarding Onwards- Delhi- Nainital- Gwaldam

(Terraced fields of Kosi enroute Gwaldam)

It was the 1st of June of 1999 when Bunty (My Brother) and I arrived at the Bus stand near
Kamla Market in front of Lal Quila. After some initial confusion we finally managed to board a bus that would take us till Nainital. We had prepared well for this trek. Trying the 5300 mtrs frozen lake mysteriously named and famed- Roopkund. It was early morning when one reached Naini Lake and we hired a taxi in a ziffy- it took us just about 5 minutes. Even as the last passenger was boarding down from the bus we were well on our way to Gwaldam via Bhowali, Almora and Kosi . After quick ablutions in the “Sulabh Sauchalaya” beyond Bhowali and breakfast the journey commenced. We had to reach the destination as quickly as possible and try to be at Lohajung by evening- the starting point of the trek.

(GMVN Gwaldam)

It was 1400 Hrs when we reached Gwaldam. The taxi driver was willing to take us to the nearest point tractable by a car for some additional payment. But we had to quickly find a Guide and proceed. The natural recourse was to visit the GMVN bungalow where we were promptly advised not to plan anything beyond Gwaldam as convenient transport links weren’t going to be available till Lohajung in the afternoon and in any case the guide will have to be found which will take time. The taxi from Nainital sent off, we checked into a room in the spacious and beautifully located GMVN bungalow. The trek would begin the next day.

(View towards Loha Jung from Gwaldam) 

Next hour was spent on finding out the young guide Harish Singh Bisht. Harish came strongly recommended from the GMVN staffers. So far unsure of the course ahead, things began to look up the moment we met Harish. He strongly recommended staying the night over at Gwaldam and prepare well on logistics. If we were lucky, we might just beat a potentially stormy weather. Harish was smelling trouble with the increasing changes in the skyline. Lohajung was easier reached in the morning with Jeeps over the newly constructed road. We could otherwise reach Lohajung with a 4 hour and 12 Km trek from Gwaldam, but would better advised to save the energy for the tough trek ahead, Harish opined.

He wouldn’t only double up as the guide, but as the cook and triple up as the porter as well. Harish sounded like the resident expert on Roopkund treks while he fluently enumerated the items of logistics and returned late in the evening with a load smartly tied onto his aluminum framed ruck-sack. This is where we had our first lesson on trek footwear. We had actually come armed for the Roopkund trek with pairs of Adidas sports shoes while aware that we shall be treading snow and mud. The problem was solved promptly by our guide come man-Friday for the next few days. He bought us a pair of hunter shoes. Though cheap and ill fitting, they had the necessary tread depth and ankle support.

He decided to stay over at the guest house for some team bonding probably. After spending the
evening high on rum and water we retired hoping to start early next morning.

Day 2- Gwaldam- Didna

(Loha Jung guest house)
The morning next, of 3rd June, was sunny as the Jeep we hitched into in the morning winded its way downwards to Tharali. There was another group heading our way led by an elderly man- possibly in his early fifties. I was surprised for a moment noticing the age factor. Little did I know how intense a passion the Himalayas can be for a man so inclined as I would myself realize years later. Changing Jeeps at Tharali we headed up the road crossing over the Pindar river. It must have been 11 when we reached the Lohajung guest house where it took us sometime to locate the Chowkidar and coax him into cooking a lunch for us. Brief rest after lunch and we were ready to start the trek at 1300 Hrs from Lohajung onto hour camping location for the night on the outskirts of a village called Didna, now looking like a small speck across the wide valley.

The usual route to Roopkund is Lohajung-Wan-Bedni Bugyal- Baguwabasa- Roopkund and back. But, the ever innovative Harish proposed a new way that could potentially save time and also show us some new Vista that the usual Roopkund trekker does not see- The Ali Bugyal. So we were to follow the route- Lohajung- Didna-Ali Bugyal-Bedni Bugyal- Baguwabasa- Roopkund and back.

As Harish pointed out the Didna village to us he also informed of the distance as 8 Kms and the altitude 2200 mtrs. We were probably little disappointed calculating the net gain in altitude after 8 Kms of toil- considering Lohajung already at 1900 Mtrs. Essentially we were to go down 800 mtrs into the valley and climb back more than a 1000 mtrs to reach Didna village, all this in 8 Kms. I calculated the climb back to Didna to be a steeper climb than Ghanghria-Hemkund stretch I had done earlier, 7 years back in 1992. What else did we expect? I mused- we were trekking a 5000er destination here.

Probably it was the anxiety accent which must have made us feel like that- but it was as if we were going down forever! The track to Didna leaves the normal route to Wan almost abruptly after the Lohajung village and winds steeply downwards. As one descends, the forest and the shade thicken every passing step down. Finally one comes to a clearing at the valley floor where horses are watered- conspicuous with the concrete drinking water tank and a water tap nearby- for humans. 

Well watered, washed off the trickling sweat and energy replenished with the chocolate bars, we set off for the climb ahead. Crossing over a Girder and Truss bridge that spans across a stormy and angry Nullah one sees the path ahead steeply winding up on the true right of the Nullah. This is where Harish introduced us to the word “Thokar”- otherwise meaning a “Hit”in Hindi….Harish-speak for a steep trek up. Trudging, panting and puffing, the mind strongly urging us on, we finally had to stop for a longish rest in the middle – about 400/500 mtrs up the valley. 
(Didna Camp at end of village)

The rains had finally caught up with us. Few Didna kids, some villager coming back from Mundoli and the three of us resting under the tree, seeing the valley awash with fresh monsoon rain had a different serenity to it all. No sound human or artificial, the smell of wet earth, the dripping rainlets and the gentle baying of the goats and sheep!! It was a different world.

Soon we were on the way up, the path now wet and flooded with rivulets and streams of storm water. Making sure we don’t try our luck further by wetting the new shoes, we made careful progress to destination. When we approached the village it was a place as if haunted. Not a soul in sight, we must have crossed the village totally unnoticed, the only indication of habitation being the occasional baying and mooing of livestock. The camping spot is about half a kilometer
from the end of the village on a trail that appears to be heading straight into the wall of a mountain behind. By the time we pitched the tent (an alpine 2 man tent- the capacity of which shall be a learning point soon) and had a cup of tea, it was darkness all around. Harish donned his cook avatar and hastily pulled off some nice tasting Maggie Noodles along with some Khichdi. Little postprandial talk- encouraging Harish to share some (real or imaginary) escapades with braving Firang lady trekkers and soon we drifted off to sleep.

Day 3 Didna- Ali Bugyal- Bedni Bugyal

It was only the sunny morning next of 4th of June 1999, when we simultaneously became aware of the pretty surrounding we were in and the impossible looking task ahead. We were to almost
repeat last evenings exercise up again. We were in fact to climb up the vertical steepness ahead all the way to the top and hit Ali Bugyal. The estimated climb up was 4 Kms and we were to gain close to 1000 mtrs again.

(Steep climb from Didna to Ali Bugyal)

With some quickly whipped up Maggi as breakfast we set off. The weather was pleasant and we made good progress before coming to the clearing in the middle of the vertical forest after about couple of Kilometers. Harish was usually ahead in spite of the heavy load, but whenever it was time to rest, one would find him perched high on some branch of tree smoking his bidi. A perplexed Bunty’s enquiry about the advisability on smoking while trekking would always invite a glittering and silent smile from Harish.

Finally the ordeal came to an end after about 4 hours as the steep track became gradual and the accompanying tree cover thinned out. Smell of livestock, dung and hoove marks clearly indicated grazing areas ahead. The track led over a bump and we suddenly found ourselves on the top- In the middle of nowhere -in Paradise. 
(Ali Bugyal meadows)

As one turned around a panaroma of green covered mountains and some distance up North the white clouds and snow indistinguishable, the green grassy meadow spreading ahead for miles…dotted with tiny colorful flowers announcing the advent of monsoons. That’s the first time ever that I saw a Bugyal- the gentle undulations, the feeling of endlessness, heights and distances shortened and illusionary, the paintings of millions of specks of colors on that huge green canvas, the gently blowing breeze and the partly clouded sun- it shall remain indelible, that first encounter with Bugyal- Ali Bugyal- 3200 mtrs.

After resting a while and shooting to our heart’s content, we had to start soon for Bedni Bugyal which was still 5 Kilometers away at 3300 mtrs. After the steep trek in the first session, the relatively gradual path was easy to negotiate- the only problem being keeping Harish in sight because any path was a path here in that huge expanse of the Bugyal. 
(Shepherd at Ali Bugyal)

This is where we met a shepherd tending to his herd of sheep, all lazily grazing and some baby-sheep cavorting around. After negotiating another small “Thokar” we finally came around the path that skirts the little mount on the Northern edge of the bugyal and finally unto another equally pretty vista that opened up- the more acclaimed twin sister of Ali, the Bedni Bugyal.

As we stood atop the high point from where the track descends down …the huge saucer of the green slope looked like that hidden jewel stashed away in that nook of the mighty mountains. Dotted variously with a little temple, a small pond of a water body, few forest huts and those zillion flower buds.

(Forest hut- Bedni Bugyal)
Legend has it that, this is the place the Queen of the king of Kanauj had labor pains (“Bedna”- Sanskrit- for Pain) when the King was on the way up with his entourage to visit the famous Homkund to pay homage to Goddess Nanda- several Kilometers beyond Roopkund. This king had also taken with him the court dancers and had a little party on his way up which famously invited the wrath of Goddess Nandadevi upon which the royal team perished to death at Roopkund- the locally believed alternate theory for the mysterious skeletons at Roopkund. Going by this legend, a festival (named as – Nandadevi Rajyat) happens every 12 years when a 4 Horned ram is led in a procession till Homkund and then left there to wander in the wild. The Nandadevi Rajyat is a significant religious activity in these parts, equally revered by Garhwalis and Kumaonis. Last time it happened was in the year 2000, due an year after our trek that year in 1999 and the preparations were underway to repair the tracks and bridle paths. During the Rajyat, pujas are offered in the temple at Bedni Bugyal and finally at Homkund.
(Weather turns for worse at Bedni)

The evening descended fast as we rushed to pitch the tent the skies looking ominous with gathering clouds. We had decided against taking shelter in the rest shed, considering the inches thick excrement of live stock who might have taken refuge in the place some days back. Just to be safe against wind storms we decided to pitch tent right next to the shed though. Harish – the chef prepared some “Atte” ki subzi that night along with Rice Khichdi. Retiring to the sleeping bags in the tent, we were certainly unaware of the hellish night that we were about to survive.

That’s the stormiest night I would have ever weathered in the mountains. The filmsy Alpine tent probably would have with stood winds above 100 Kms per hour that night, the flapping sound of the Outer combined with the screaming fury of the storm almost rendered us sleepless. The three of us huddled inside the 3 men tent with the intermittent sounds of heavy rain falling on top of us and the storm threatening to blow away our filmsy little tent at any moment, we weathered the night.

Day 4- Bedni Bugyal - Baguawabasa

(Trishul Massif from Bedni Bugyal)

The morning was clear allowing us to take some quick shots of the proud line of peaks at the distance. One can see a whole array of those majestic pinnacles including Chaukhamba and Neelkanth. Harish pointed out Mount Trishul towards whose base we were headed and the black looking ridge of Baguwabasa where we were to spend the night. I was somehow feeling glum and dis-spirited. The cloud that soon enveloped the entire valley did not help matters.

Skirting the Bedni Kund the trail rises up along a ridge and crosses over to the other side putting one in direct line of sight with the Black ridge. I had now a dull headache which seemed to be getting worse every moment. Up ahead was a stone overhang under which they waited for me- I was trailing behind. This stone overhang is the place called “Patar- Nachauni” – apparently the place where the king of Kanauj had drunken revelry with the courtesans. We had some candy bars there to revive energy and went ahead gaining altitude every moment. Finally the Big Thokar came into view that led us atop the Black ridge. Harish pointed out at the Cairn sort of a thing at the top of the pass which apparently
housed the idol of a Stone Ganesha- the place called Kaluwa Vinayak. Was there a linkage with that pilgrim theory here? Is that why the revered God of Maharashtra- Vinayaka (Ganesha) present here?

Onset of AMS
(The ghostly ridgewalk from Kalua Vinayak to Baguawasa)

I started off on that steep climb to Kaluwa Vinayak …the track visibly interspersed with small melting glaciers. After 5 minutes, each limb of my body protested. It was as if my mind had switched off. I had to take off the 20 Kg Ruck sack and called at Bunty. Bunty, was all spirited, puffing up as usual, competing with the experienced trekker in his elder brother was surprised at my sudden illness. I cant forget the gusto with which he offered to carry my sack up the zigzag slope as I painfully carried myself to the top. He obviously had to make several trips along the slope to ferry my load. Up there at Kaluwa Vinayak it was cold and like all passes, strong winds chilling the fingers numb.
(View of the closed weather from Baguawasa hut)

We offered obeisance to the Elephant God and proceeded now along the high ridge covered with the foggy haze, the track now denser with snow and melting glaciers. Bunty was prancing around merrily like a gay bird, singing aloud with the view of snow while I was fighting a battle within, painfully painting that smile on the face but praying fervently inwards for some approaching shelter.

It must have gone on for good half an hour when the shed of a shelter loomed into view along the path suddenly. We had reached Baguwabasa- 4600 mtrs and I was sicker than ever. The quick ascent in 2 days had taken its toll and I was down with Acute Mountain Sickness. Any adventurous pursuit up the heights at that moment would have surely stricken me down with HAPE, but thankfully my body and mind both vehemently resisted such an idea. Resting in the shed as I took my temperature I noticed I was running high fever- 104 deg F. Bunty went out for evening ablutions and proudly declared how he changed the color-scape of the virgin snow-whiteness and his experiment at washing with handful of numbing frost on the backside.
(Down with AMS at Baguawasa)

That evening I decided not to press on anymore and implored Bunty to go finish the objective. But Bunty, in ardent chivalry, decided to give me company and leave the battle for another day. Next day we were proceeding down after the momentary encounter with nature’s fury on that ridge that had perished the less fortunate pilgrims, centuries ago. Another group was also taking shelter in the same place. Harish arranged for some wood from somewhere and we had a nice fire burning. It was another night from hell.

Day 5: Baguawabasa- Bedni Bugyal

If anything, the next morning was worse. 6th of June 1999. The haze hung denser, the landscape whiter- probably with fresh snows in the night. Its later only that I realized that this is what was called an acute condition of white-out. White outs in high passes with snow on the ground can be fatal by way of making trekkers loose their way and sometimes falling off into invisible abyss. We were thanking our stars even as we started back from the violently eerie environs. The mysterious pond was hardly 5 Kilometers away but severely intractable and possibly fatal in those weather conditions. The other group would Bivouac there for another day to attempt reaching the lake- we had no such luxury of time and health.

(The scramble down to Bedni- the polythene parachute) 
The trek down was speedy to say the least. Surprisingly the fever went off in a ziffy and my spirit soared as I started loosing altitude. It’s only later that I realized that, this is the only cure of treating AMS or HAPE. Loosing altitude! The rain clouds had gathered momentum and so had the wind speeds. We put on the polythene covers and hooded up the jackets. We were in for stormy weather again. Bunty, who was always ahead on the way up was now strangely lagging behind. After an hour of silent walk, I and Harish reached “Patar Nachauni” water dripping all over, the rain gear thoroughly drenched.

Bunty’s Parachute

Bunty lumbered across the bend of the spur after 20 minutes, devoid of his polythene cover, unhooded and braving the rains as if he was enjoying it. As he drew near one could read cold fury on his face. Upon asking the reason, he let it all off on the poor “Polythene Cover”! Apparently as he turned one of the bends across the spurs a sudden gust of wind bellowed the Polythene cover into a parachute like contraption threatening to fly it off along with Bunty!! Poor Bunty had to scramble on all fours on the ground and let the polythene fly off to the valley below apparently thus saving his own skin. Since then he had been just weathering the rains in his elements for a good half an hour. With a hearty laughter, which I am sure Bunty wasn’t enjoying much, we treaded on to Bedni.
(Drying up stuff at Bedni Hut)

The skies were still furious when we scrambled into the shepherd hut at Bedni. Another group of Calcuttans had just arrived from Wan, reporting even heavier rains below. The evening was spent in lighting up a fire and drying up the socks, shoes, rain cover and all sundry items. The biggest problem was now drying- cause any wet cloths was only going to increase the weight and thus make the trek that much more difficult. After some partial success with the endeavour and a quick dinner of Noodles we retired for the night hoping that the next day would bring better tidings from weather gods.

Day 6: Bedni Bugyal- Mundoli

The next morning was dry but still not sunny. We had to make the best of the moods of the Rains since we planned to reach Lohajung that very evening. A total of 20 kms of trek down and up.

(saying bye bye to Bedni Bugyal)

The only thing that I remember of the trek back till mid point of Ali-Didna descent is the fact that, we were silent, we were frustrated with the incessant rains, we were thirsty in the middle of all that water and our feet were constantly slipping in the descents. The joyous-photo-shooting-self of the team was all but forgotten, the prime objective being to complete the day’s job. Bunty was having increasing difficulty on the way down, but he would compete with me forever. Finally when we reached the clearing in the mid point of the Ali-Didna stretch to have a breather, Bunty was nowhere in sight.

Bunty’s Mudslide – Fighting in the Middle of the Jungle

Finally Bunty arrived, eyes anxiously pinned to the ground, palms and bottom on the ground, legs stretched out in front sliding down with moderate speed from along the steep track that descended from the forests above. With streams of rainwater every where and the slippery mud, my tall brother was having a hard time even standing up!
I burst out laughing as he landed himself in the clearing where we were standing and he stood up and exploded. - Was it a time to have fun at his cost? Was I aware how many times he came crashing on the steep mud-slopes? How many times he thought he was in mortal danger? And how on earth can I, the big brother be laughing at his pain? – I guess this happens in all treks, the moment the stakes go up, so does the anxiety and the mental stress renders sentiments so fragile that any insinuation can assume quarrelsome proportions. Harish intervened, citing how we were like epitomes of fraternal harmony like Ram and Laxman and we cooled down quickly.

The Didna Goat Shed

(Waterfalls and engorged streams enroute Mundoli)

Soon we approached Didna under increasing intensity of Rains. Harish somehow managed to find a house with some signs of life and advised us to rest in the goat shed. Resting in that shed with goats, the smell of goat dung and goat feed strong on the nose, we were examining the feet which were now blistered badly and the shoes wet. We used the time to dry our soaking beings while Harish –the Chef was at work for preparing the lunch.
It must have been 1430 when we started off after lunch. The descent was uneventful, but we were dreading the ascent which we so easily came down through on our way up. I think, after the day’s experience we were thankfully numb to the ordeal awaiting at the last. Negotiating that steep way up we finally arrived at Lohajung around 1700 and proceeded forth to Mundoli – barely able to walk. It was darkness when we entered Mundoli and there was no question of us going further down.

Harish arranged for the night’s stay in what he called as the hotel, where our bed was promptly shared by the cat in the house. We planned the route to Delhi for the day next Via Karnaprayag and Rishikesh and retired. That must have been the longest sleep for a long time- 12 hours!

Day 7: Mundoli- Karnaprayag- Rishikesh- Delhi

Next morning we hurriedly got ready to hitch a ride in the village Jeep. Harish accompanied till Tharali where we made his final payment exchanged address and bade good bye. We hitched onto another Jeep for Karnaprayag.

Pindari Surprise!
(road broken by the furious Pindar Ganga)

Surprised awaited in the next corner when the Jeep wallah announced that the road is washed away ahead and traffic is blocked. The road from Gwaldam to Karnaprayag is a state highway- one that follows the true left of the meandering Pindar Ganga. With all that rain Pindar Ganga was in its furious-muddy-foaming-form and in the anger had eaten away a 200 mtrs portion of the state highway. That’s when I realized that the road straight back from Gwaldam actually leads one up in the direction of the Pindari Glacier trail.
(Changing transport en route Karnaprayag)

The way ahead needed us to board down, walk across the cracked topography threatened every moment by the gushing torrents of Pindar Ganga and board another Jeep on the other side. Surely this was nothing compared to what we had been through. In due course we reached Karnaprayag and then onwards in a bus to Rishikesh. The rest one got sitting in the bus was a welcome change after all those hours of toil. Reaching Rishikesh in the evening we promptly boarded the next bus to Delhi and slept off till we were woken up at ISBT around wee hours of the morning.

This was the trek that hooked Bunty to trekking for life and added significantly to the my singular passion. The Beauty of virgin Bugyals, The Serene peaks, The happy shepherd, the romantic tales of the Raja of Kanauj, the Gory deaths of the pilgrims, The Violent snow haze & white out, Harish Bisht and his Atte Ka Subzi, The fury of Himalayan Monsoons and my only brush with AMS that could have turned fatal !! How would one ever be able to forget till one lives?

The Mystery of the mystery lake has since been solved, after the National Geographic team, in 2005, carried out scientific tests and establised conclusively the dates of the skeletons in Roopkund to be from the 8th Century AD - around the same time when Hinduism was being revived and reformed by Adi Shankara. These dates are around the time when the 4 epitoms of Hindu pilgrimage was being re-established by Adi Shankara and his disciples which must have started the idea of intra state pilgrimage on the four corners of India. The skeletons were found to have remains of women, children and men from two distinct ethnic groups. Probably one were the masters and the other servants. The men were found to be of large stature with one extra bone in the skull. One of the reasons for death were ascertained to be impact of stones. Thus the theory of pilgrims from central India, caught in the mountain path and perishing under rock and snow avalanche conditins gained currency. The Legend of the King of Kanauj seems to have grown on folk lore but could not be proved scientifically. The other theory of the Nepalese General Zorawar Singh's army caught up in snow storm in the mountains also holds little credence now.

The interested might want to see the Captioned Album

Roopkund- June 1-8, 1999