The Himalayan Quest 2005

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Day 12 (Trek Day 10)

Back to Bedni
At Bednikund on the way back to Wan.
(To be completed)

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Day 11 (Trek Day 9)

The bones
... and the half frozen Rupkund.
(To be completed)

Monday, August 29, 2005

Day 10 (Trek Day 8)

The Last Camp
The camp at Patar Nachaunia.
(To be completed)

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Day 9 (Trek Day 7)

We are six again
Near the GMVN Guest House at Wan.
(To be completed)

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Day 8 (Trek Day 6)

Beautiful Nandakini
Crystal clear waters of Nandakini River.
(To be completed)

Friday, August 26, 2005

Day 7 (Trek Day 5)

Dancing with the kids
A moment of exhilaration.
(To be completed)

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Day 6 (Trek Day 4)

The Bridge over Brithi Ganga
Between Pana and Jhenji villages.
The day started early as usual and I was determined not to lag behind. The route was to take us to take us to Jhenji village via Pana village.

Already we had descended much by this time. From a height of m. at Kuari Pass, we were at around 2500 m., by the time we reached Pana.

(To be completed)

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Day 5 (Trek Day 3)

At Kuari Pass
Disappointment at the high pass.

It was well and truly a disappointment. We reached the pass at about 10:30 AM. It was just a small ascent and a gradual descent to Kuari Pass from Gairgarh. We completed it in 2 hours.

But the pass, which is supposedly the most picturesque pass in the Himalaya was heavily clouded by mist. There was little or no visibility. We could hardly see ourselves, let alone the peaks.

According to Bill Aitken, the things that could be seen from Kuari Pass are, the old route to Nanda Devi Inner Sanctuary via Rishi Ganga gorge, several of the Sanctuary peaks and the Chaukhamba range to the North.

If it was not for Rupkund, our final destination, we would have been thoroughly disillusioned on our first foray to the Himalaya. After a half hour stay at the pass, with the mist showing no signs of clearing up, we decided to push on.

It was a steep descent for around 200 feet. The path was narrow and very slippery. One wrong step would have seen us right at the bottom. Slowly we moved on and reached Dakwani meadow. Instead of stopping at Dakwani, we decided to push on to Surtoli meadow, where we would pitch the camp for the day.

At Dakwani, we decided to split into two groups. The area ahead was dangerous according to Kaka. Human beings and not the wild animals were the ones to be afraid of. We were now descending on to the first of the high altitude villages and Kaka seemed tense. It was decided that Kaka and Bhagat would go ahead with the mules and Kannan, Chandan, Dada and Sreepad would accompany them (Team 1) while Dinesh, Sanjeev and I (Team 2) would bring up the rear. We would later meet at the proposed camp-site by sun-down.

It was a long walk. From Dakwani we descended to a small stream called Dombitta Nala. There was a log over it acting as a bridge. After crossing the same, there was a steep ascent.

By this time we had lost sight of the gang ahead. We were leisurely strolling, taking time to stop and breathe in the mountain air.

After one more ascent and descent, we caught sight of Team 1 on their way up the opposite peak. But Dada and Sreepad were not with them. When we completed the descent to the stream (this one we had to cross on bare foot, after taking off the shoes), we saw Sreepad and Dada getting ready to climb after their short rest.

Sanjeev, Dinesh and I decided to have our packed lunch at the stream. A short while later we started off again.

On the way, it started raining and we put on our plastic covers a.k.a. raincoats. It was really cumbersome with the back-pack but we managed to keep out most of the rain.

Around 4:30 PM, as we were treading along, suddenly I saw something white ahead. It was Sreepad sitting by a small stream. All three of us ran to him. He explained how his leg started paining and how he was not able to catch up with Dada. In his own words,

"When Dada and I reached the stream (where we met last), Kannan and Chandan were already much above. After sometime you reached there. Then Dada told me to come with you guys, since my knee was not all that well. But then, I told Dada "No" and then continued climbing with him. A little ahead, I knew that I could not keep pace with Dada. I was very slow. My knee was really acting up then. I told Dada to go ahead and waited for 15 minutes for you guys to catch up. But you guys were having lunch at the stream which I did not know. So I started again, slowly this time, thinking that you guys will soon catch up with me. Time was already 2 PM then. I walked and walked. I had a doubt whether I had lost my way, but I could still see the tracks left by the mules. Still there was no sign of you guys. In between I turned and called Sushen. There was no reply. I did not have water also with me. So when I saw a stream, I decided to sit and wait for you there. Around that time I saw a cow on the way and realized that the mule tracks I was following could just be cow tracks !!! I decided that I was lost and knew that if I did not turn up at the camp some of you will come looking for me. I decided to back track upto the stream where we last saw each other. Just then you guys turned up and saved me a long walk."

The funny thing was that, the place where Sreepad was sitting and waiting for us was just about half an hour behind Surtoli meadow, our camp for the night. If he had pushed on for just a little more, he could have waited for us along with the others, sipping coffee, instead of sweating it out in the thick jungle.

There were a few shepherd huts in Surtoli. Kaka tried to get some milk from them for making kheer but was unsuccessful. But the rotis Dinesh made were so good that the taste lingered in our mouths long after the sumptuous supper.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Day 4 (Trek Day 2)

Ready for the climb
The second day starts early.
We all woke up by 5:30 AM, partly because of the cold and partly because Sun had already risen !!!

That is how it is in the Himalaya. A long day and a short night. Upto 7:30 PM there would be light and then after a short night, the Sun would rise again by 5:30 AM. The wonders of the Himalaya never cease for novices like us.

An old man had come to the camp in the morning. He wanted medicines for fever. The people there know that the expedition parties generally take lots of medicines with them. We gave him some Paracetamol tablets.

After a light breakfast of dal-khichdi, Dinesh prepared lunch-packets of the same thing for all of us. We loaded the mules and set off by 9:00 AM.

Sanjeev and I were bringing up the rear. On the way, just above Gorson Top, we met the same old man who had taken the medicines from us. He surreptitiously tried to sell us a small ball of charas aka marijuana for Rs. 50/-. We declined and proceeded.

The mules were literally running up the slope. Kaka and Bhagat ran with them. It was obviously very difficult for our "plainsman legs" to keep pace with them. Nevertheless, Dada, Kannan and Chandan were doing an admirably good job. Most of the time they were only about 15-30 minutes behind them, while we were a good 1 hour behind. Dinesh was almost always with us.

After about an hour and a half we reached a point ahead of which the mules cannot pass. It was decided that Kaka and Bhagat would take the mules through the other side of the mountain, while we would brave the landscape and go along the shorter route. Since they had better pace than us, we would probably meet around the same time.

The route though shorter was very dangerous. It was a steep drop on the left side and vertical rock face on the right. The path itself was not more than 2 feet wide. There was no way, loaded mules could pass through.

Urged by Dinesh we clinged on to the rocks and slowly moved ahead in a single file. The path twisted and turned according to the contours of the mountain-side and was seemingly never-ending.

Finally after what seemed like ages, we reached the other side of the mountain. Kaka and Bhagat had not yet reached. So we sat and waited. Dinesh pointed out Chitrakanta, a meadow on top of the mountain ahead, our destination for the day.

Dinesh set out to look for Kaka and the mules. After about half an hour we could see all of them coming down the slope of a ridge.

We continued on and finally reached Chitrakanta by 1:25 PM. We finished our lunch packets there. Our supporting staff was amazed at our speed. They had counted on reaching Chitrakanta by 5:00 PM at the most. Since we were doing things double quick, we decided to proceed to Gairgarh.

This time the path was slightly better, though no less precarious. Thick mist acompanied us all the way. At one particularly narrow point, the pony Raja got wedged between the rocks. Kaka and Bhagat had to really labour hard to free him.

After crossing a major ridge, Kaka pointed out the Kuari Pass to us. It was atleast 8 days walk ahead. Our hearts sank when he pointed out Gairgarh. Just beneath Kuari Pass !!! Almost 6 hours walk.

Another ridge and already Kaka and gang was 2 hours ahead of us. They were literally running with the mules. Sometime later we could see the kitchen tent already up at Gairgarh. Kaka was doing things in style.

On the way we met a lone shepherd perched on a rock. He asked Sreepad to take a picture of him. Sreepad obliged. Dada stood next to him and a picture was taken. He then gave us his address and asked us to send it to him by mail !!!

By the time Sanjeev and I reached the camp, it was 5:30 PM. The tents were already pitched. Dinesh came running with hot tea. And we braced ourselves for a long cold night.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Day 3 (Trek Day 1)

On the trail
Kannan gazing at the horizon. Tired to the bone.
Today we hit the trail !!!

Taru and Dinesh came and woke us up early morning. We had a 1 hour jeep-ride in front of us. The mule trainer would be meeting us at Auli, the famous skiing resort. We would be starting the trek from there.

By 9:00 AM we got on to a Tata Sumo Victa, and started on our journey to Auli. We reached there by 10:00 AM.

As arranged, Surender Singh Martolia (Kaka) was ready with the mules. In fact, it was two mules and a horse. The horse owner, Bhagat Singh Kunwar, was also to accompany us on the journey.

After loading the mules and the horse, we set off by 10:30 AM. The trek had started !!!

Within minutes, we were gasping for breath. All those years of scant exercise and over eating were telling. We were like all those pilgrims who walk from Haridwar to Badrinath. Paying the penance for not having heard the call of the Mountain Goddess sooner.

After one hour, we reached the Hilltop Skiing resort. There was a small tea-shop there, which served us tea. This was also the last point of the rope-way which existed between Joshimath and Auli.

While we were resting we saw a group of foreigners led by some Indian guides come through the rope-way. They all were wearing the same kind of T-shirt, with the words "Spiritual Himalaya" written on it. Poor souls were probably being duped, in the name of spirituality and Himalaya. Sreepad claimed that most of the foreigners were Spanish. God knows how he figured that out, for he doesn't know a word of Spanish.

Soon, we entered the first forest section. It was not a very thick forest. We even found a small shepherd's temple in the middle of it.

As soon as we cleared the forest, we entered Gorson Bugyal, our camp-site for the day. It was only 1:00 PM. We had taken just 2.5 hours. Of course, the distance covered was small, being the first day and all. Also, according to our original plan, today we were supposed to be acclimatising at Auli. But Gorson Bugyal was a better place to acclimatise. Much closer to the nature than Auli.

Soon the kitchen tent was up and in another 5 minutes our sleeping tents were also up. Dinesh served us tea first and then set about preparing the lunch.

We lazed about in the bugyal. Sanjeev started sleeping, Sreepad started writing his diary and Kannan, Chandan and Dada set off for exploring the nearby hills.

The horse that we had with us proved incapable of carrying the load, compared to the sturdy mules. So, after lunch Kaka and Bhagat set off with it to Bhagat's home, to exchange it with another.

Kannan and team had not come back yet. I went to a nearby hillock to look for them. After about half an hour, I could see them coming. Seems they had gone far in search of the snow peaks.

After we came back from the hillocks, Sreepad and Sanjeev went up to take some photographs.

I had told Kaka the need for a stick, so that it becomes easier to trek, especially when going down the slopes. He said he would arrange one for each of us, but not from Gorson. Here the trees were sparse and the chances of finding a stick was low. Nevertheless, he managed to find one for me. Bhagat cut it neatly using my Victorinox Swiss Army Knife.

Supper was served early and then we all went to bed by 8:00 PM.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Day 2

Packing in Progress
Sreepad in Action.
By 4:00 AM in the morning we were up and ready. The barricades were down by then and we were able to start by 4:30 AM.

Daybreak in the Himalaya is always a wonderful sight. The day starts early here. As we were winding up the hilly road, suddenly we found the distant peaks taking on a golden hue. It was marvellous.

By 7:15 AM we were in Joshimath. I asked Govind Vaishnav to take the vehicle directly to Hotel Nanda Devi. I remembered reading about it in "The Nanda Devi Affair" by Bill Aitken. It is owned by an enterprising HAP called Yashu. We checked out the GMVN (Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam) guest houses before deciding on staying at Nanda Devi. The rooms were basic, but were decent enough for us.

The GMVN tourist information office was closed, being a Sunday. We tried enquiring with the caretaker of the GMVN Guest House, but instead of helping us he immediately gave the visiting card of a package tour company, saying that they are the best !!!

We then decided to approach "Grand Adventures", which had an office in Hotel Nanda Devi itself. There we met Tarender Singh Martolia (Taru) and Dinesh Singh Rana (Dhani). The best thing about them was that they let you do your own thing. They'll just arrange the mules, required permits from the forest office etc.

Dinesh agreed to come with us as the cook. There was an awkward moment when Kannan in his usual style asked him, whether he knows cooking !!!

The route that we had decided earlier was, Auli -> Chitrakanta -> Kuari Pass -> Dakwani -> Surtoli -> Jhenji -> Ramni -> Sutol -> Homkund -> Rupkund -> Bhugubhasa -> Bedni Bugyal -> Ali Bugyal -> Dedana -> Lohajang -> Mundoli. But there was a small hitch. The path from Sutol to Homkund was very narrow and the mules wouldn't be able to traverse it. Moreover, in that path we would have to cross Nandakini at a place where there is no bridge, and this being monsoon the river was at its furious best. Hence we decided on a slightly changed route, viz. , Auli -> Chitrakanta -> Kuari Pass -> Dakwani -> Surtoli -> Jhenji -> Ramni -> Sutol -> Kunol -> Wan -> Bedni Bugyal -> Bhugubhasa -> Rupkund -> Bhugubhasa -> Bedni Bugyal -> Ali Bugyal -> Dedana -> Lohajang -> Mundoli. Taru warned us that the route we were going to take would take us 15 days. But since we all had only limited leave, we had to complete it in 10 days. Again we decided to cross the "bridge" when we come to it.

Dinesh came with Sreepad, Dada and I to take the necessary permits from the forest office. Though it was a Sunday, the forest officer agreed to give us the permit.

The necessary food items were bought from the local market in Joshimath. We had thought of typical South Indian dishes like Upma etc. But since Dinesh did not know how to make it, we decided to leave the decision to him, as to what we should eat along the way.

We had initially ordered two mules, but even after repacking and chucking most of the unwanted things we had packed, the number of luggage pieces did not come down. We then decided to take an extra mule. After a marathon repacking we were ready to hit the trail the next day.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Day 1

On the way to Joshimath
Somewhere between Chamoli and Pipalkoti.
Got up at 4:30 AM and rushed off to the New Delhi railway station in two taxis that Dennis had booked the night before. The train was at 6:55 AM, the New Delhi - Dehradun Shatabdi Express.

Dennis came to the station to see us off. Just before the train left, Sanjeev came running. He also had not slept much. The quorum was now full and we set off towards Haridwar.

Unfamiliar landscapes rolled by and we slept off, tired from the previous days toils. Of course, we couldn't sleep very peacefully since in Shatabdi, they keep on giving you food until you are tired of eating.

By 11:30 AM we were in Haridwar. Since the stop was only for 2 minutes, we had to unload our luggages fast. Thankfully, we managed without any hiccups.

We now encountered the next big question. What next ? Until now, we had reservations in flight, train etc. and everything went like clockwork. Kannan had kept on asking what do we do when we get to Haridwar, and I had always answered, in a slightly enigmatic manner, "We will cross the bridge when we come to it" (a la Jim Corbett). Now we were at the bridge.

We had two choices, bus or jeep. Hiring the jeep would be costly, but would be less problematic as the luggage we had to tote was immense. (It was then that a nagging doubt started in my mind, "Were we over-prepared ?". This doubt remained for two days and then went off. By then, we knew that we were over-prepared !!!! ).

Everybody voted for the jeep. We checked out some Ambassador Taxis, some Tata Sumos and finally hired a Toyota Qualis. The driver was Govind Vaishnav. He promised that we would get to Joshimath by 9:30 PM the same day. We were very happy. I had planned the journey from Haridwar to Joshimath as two days. We would be saving a day like this.

We packed half the thing on top of the Qualis and the other half under the back seat. At 12:30 PM we set off from Haridwar.

Govind Vaishnav was a very decent chap. He explained the scenery while driving. He pointed out to us, the Mansa Devi temple, the Chandi Devi temple, Har-ki-Pauri snan ghat, the Govind National Park etc. on the way.

We stopped for lunch at a certain hotel called Sanjha Chulha Restaurant, about 15 km after we started the journey. This was before reaching Rishikesh. This restaurant spoiled all our plans. By the time we finished our lunch we had spent about 2 hours here.

Now we knew that we wouldn't be able to reach Joshimath the same day. In the ghat sections, which we were going to encounter soon after Rishikesh, the Police would bring down the barricades by 8:00 PM in the night, as night driving is very dangerous in these roads. The plan was to reach as far as possible by 8:00 PM and then stop for the night.

We were able to reach Nandaprayag by 8:30 PM. There we found the barricades down. We took rooms at a certain Devbhumi Rest House and stayed the night.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Day 0

Setting Off
Waiting at the B'lore Airport.
Sanjeev, Sreepad and I got out early from office at around 3:00 PM. The flight was at 8:55 PM. But we had some last minute packing to do.

Ranjith (Dada) came and then some repacking and double-checking etc. was done. A City Taxi was called to ferry us to the airport. The four of us set off at around 7:00 PM. Chandan was to meet us directly at the airport.

Rajesh (KP), Premkumar, Arun Babu and Shaji came to the airport to see us off. What a support !!! Thanks, Guys.

The 8:55 PM King Fisher Airlines flight was rescheduled to leave at 08:25 PM. 30 minutes early !!!! Chandan wasn't there yet. Since we had a lot of bags to be checked in, we decided to do the check in and then wait for her. The ticket clerk kept reminding us that, if the 5th passenger hasn't reached in 5 minutes, she will miss the flight. I kept telling her that if somebody had informed us of the rescheduling, the confusion itself would not have happened.

Finally Chandan reached and all of us boarded the craft and set course for New Delhi.

Kannan was to meet us at Delhi. He reached Delhi at 10:00 PM and went straight to the house of Dennis - Our batchmate from college. We were supposed to meet there.

We reached the Capital at about 11:15 PM. Sanjeev's friend Ajay Rathore had come to pick him up at the airport. He was to spend the night with him. Long lost friend etc. etc. The rest of us boarded a taxi and set off to Dennis's place near Gol Dak Khana.

Kannan had bought the tents and sleeping bags from USA. Now we had 3 tents and 6 sleeping bags to carry, in addition to the 7 big bags, 6 backpacks and two sets of sleeping mats. We knew it was going to be a nightmare.

We tied the 3 tents together. The total number of luggage pieces thus came to 22 including the sleeping bags !!!! The sleeping bags were to be carried separately by each person, in addition to his/her backpack, and one/two other luggage piece(s).

We had to get up at around 4:30 AM in order to catch the Shatabdi to Haridwar. Hence, we hurriedly did some packing and slept at around 3:00 AM.

Monday, August 15, 2005


Nanda Devi
The majestic beauty of the Goddess.
The preparations started almost 10 months back. The idea was proposed at a get-together of our old college alumni gang. Everybody vociferously voted yes at that time and then gradually everybody pulled out. By the end of December, 2004 it was just Sanjeev, Sreepad and I. We decided to press on, come what may.

The list of items to be carried, was prepared as early as April, 2005. The programme was tentatively fixed for August, 2005.

The route was decided by April end. We were to reach Joshimath via Delhi and Haridwar. From Joshimath we were to arrange the mules/pack-horses etc and were to proceed to Auli where we would start our trek. The third day would find us at Kuari Pass, one of the most picturesque of the high passes in the Indian Himalaya. From there we would go on to the village of Wan, through Dakwani Meadow, Surtoli Meadow and the villages of Pana, Jhenji, Ramni and Sutol. From Wan we were to take the steep path uphill to Bedni Bugyal. The ninth day would find us at Rupkund. From Rupkund we were to return back through Bedni and Ali bugyals to Mundoli. 10 days in total with a spare day in case of exigencies. We knew we were cutting it a little fine, since normally the route would take 15 days, including a day for acclimatisation.

By May, Ranjith jumped into the bandwagon. By June, Kannan and Chandan also joined in. We now had a team, 6 strong.

The dates were decided. We would start our journey on August 19th and would be back in Bangalore on September 4th.

Since Kannan was coming from USA, we decided to purchase our tents and sleeping bags from there. He was to meet us at Delhi on August 19th.

For the maps I checked out the Survey of India office at Koramangala, Bangalore. They had previously given us an excellent topographical map for a trek to Kudremukh. But unfortunately, this time they said that the detailed topographical maps of the area we were going to - Chamoli District, Uttaranchal - cannot be given since this area lies close to the China border and is hence sensitive. The maximum they could provide was a 1:1,000,000 Uttaranchal map and a 1:250,000 Badri-Kedar trekking map. Absolutely inadequate for our requirements.

We were frantic. It was already August 2nd. I immediately called up Kannan and asked him to buy some maps through the net. According to Lonely Planet "Trekking in the Indian Himalaya" by Gary Weare, the best maps were the Leoman Series and Swiss Foundation for Alpine Research (SFAR) series. Kannan immediately ordered the same. Cost quite a packet.

By 15th of August we had made ready almost everything in the list. Only thing missing was the food items, which we were to purchase from Joshimath.

Monday, August 01, 2005


The Mystery Lake.
Rupkund - The mysterious alpine lake in the heart of Himalaya. Where the wrath of Goddess Nanda Devi was unleashed 1200 years ago. Where the unfortunate many, lie dead and their bodies lie frozen. Where few tread fearlessly.

This is our destination. To pay homage to the 300 odd lying in an icy tarn, dead and forgotten. To stand in awe of the majestic peaks of Nanda Ghunti and Trisul, standing respectively to the North and East of Rupkund. To wonder as to what prompted a set of people, all those years back, to cross the icy reaches of the Himalaya. Where they fleeing ? Where they on a pilgrimage ? Or where they just sight-seeing ?

The planning started 10 months back. Initially it was just Sanjeev, Sreepad and I. Ranjith, Kannan and Chandan joined in and we finally had a team of 6.

One last word, before I start the travelogue. The lake Rupkund, and the skeletons lying in and around it, is an archeological treasure. But since the day in 1942, when it was first discovered, trophy hunters and pilferers have been pillaging through the skeletons. Most of the undamaged skulls are now gone. I do not know what the goverment can do in this regard, since it may be impractical to post a forest guard to look after the lake's well-being as the region is uninhabitable (All of 5000 metres above sea level. Not even grass grows here.). But, I sincerely implore all those would-be trekkers to Rupkund, please do not disturb the dead. By all means go and see. But carry back nothing but the memories.