Saturday, 16 November 2013

Unforgettable Roopkund

I never believed in love at first sight till I actually felt it. The first trip to Himalayas ensured that I went back time and again and each time I came back dreamy eyed and more in love. No wonder people say once you go there, you will come back addicted.
This time the plan was to cover part of an ancient pilgrimage route up to a mystery lake. The lake is said to contain skeletons more that 500 years old which floats on water when the ice melts during the month of May.

After initial hiccups with Air India and the flights, finally the group had arrived at Kathgodam. A day long journey laid ahead of us. Not knowing what to expect I started off but was pleasantly surprised with the views I saw, pine forests/plantations covered in parthenium flowers, horse chesnut trees in bloom, the rainbows that appeared every time there was a light drizzle and sun, the small roadside restaurants over -looking the valley and the play of clouds on the mountains.

Every curve took my breath away but the snow capped mountains remained hidden. Finally just as the sun was going down we arrived at Lohajung our basecamp.  
Excited but tired from the day long journey I quickly managed to finish formalities and hit the bed, it felt damp and cold, sleep seemed far away. Much later in the trek I craved for this very same bed just so that I could get my 40 winks, but until then it wasn’t where I wanted to be.
The night seemed to have passed quickly and everyone was up before the morning bed tea call, finally Nanda Gunti was visible and as the sun rays changed colours the mountains followed the suit, the birds hopped around unmindful of the people watching them. A pair of Grey Tits hopped in the branched close by, a whistling thrush foraged at the garden. At a distance I could see warbler sized birds play. Given a choice, I would have stayed back just to keep watching them. But then time was at a premium and we had to leave.

The day one of the trek was to a village called Didina (8800 ft), it seemed far away when they pointed it out to us at Lohajung. The route to get there; simple down one hill and another hill and then climb up the next hill. So we started, the walk felt like my treks in Western Ghats, green trees everywhere, algae growing on them, waterfalls all along the way and leeches. 

The forest was alive with bird calls, not one I could identify, luckily some made brief appearances and I could catch a glimpse of them. The brown fronted woodpeckers seemed most common and kept company all along, Himalayan Griffon let us know he was there, some babbler played hide and seek in the bushes and birds similar to white eyes has me running around the trees. But rain ensured that cameras were all packed and I didn’t stop too many times to watch them. When I finally reached Didina, sitting inside a village home I was able to enjoy sights of these beauties again.  The peach trees were bearing fruits and the birds seem to have a feast there. It looked like it was the season for red millet, the farms all round had millet growing, they looked more like red flowers and for a long time I was wondering what they were. Inside the wooden walled house in Didina night passed rather slowly. While it was warm inside the house sleep evaded most of us for a long time, the pitter patter of rain outside did not give too much hope for the next day either. When I did manage to sleep it was time to trek again.

The next pit stop was at Ali Bugyal, the region is known for never ending meadows, but to get there one has to first climb a mountain. The rain forest feeling continue through most of the stretch, the mist ensure I could not see beyond 10 mtrs, the air had an eerie feeling, but for the chirping of birds at a distance the whole thing felt like scene from a horror movie.

Once in awhile when the God of winds decided to be kind we could see mountains around otherwise it was misty and wet. Some parts of the mountains had remnants of flowers that might have been in bloom few weeks back, I could only imagine how pretty it might have looked.

Since the route we were taking was not visible, the guides were constant asked how much further and they kept saying just after the next bend. After couple of bends we did final reach the camp.  The evening was spent exchanging stories from past treks and travels.

The walk to Patal Nachauni (12815ft) was one of the easier ones, while it was a long walk it was mostly walking through the meadows. Had it been a clear day it would have amazing to see miles and miles of green.

The highlight for the day was seeing the bearded vulture. As some of us walked in the mist we suddenly saw the bird fly past. After a short distance it turned and headed straight towards us, what a sight it was and what a pretty bird it was.

The excitement of seeing it kept me going for a long time. But for the weather this camp site would have been the most beautiful one.

When the clouds lifted for a brief moment it relieved rows and rows of mountains, and in the valleys one could see small hamlets.

Tailess rabbits (pika ), white wagtails, white capped redstart  and mountain pigeons kept me occupied in the evening. Music and camp fire kept the spirits high and we were just 2 days from the final destination.

The climb to Bagua Basa/ Bhagwabhasa  (14353 Ft) was a short one, but the gain of altitude and angle of climb makes it slightly tough.  We were advised to walk slowly as this was a sudden gain of altitude in a short time. The break at Kalu Vinayak (a small temple with Ganesh Idol made of Black stones) was a welcome one.

After a mandatory prayer to the deity the group set off to the campsite. At 14500 ft there were no trees or shrubs, but then I saw the famed Brahma Kamal. After all the years of hearing about it I finally saw it all along the path to Bagua Basa.

The other lifer for me was seeing a himalayan weasel, the fact that it was so well camouflaged made it difficult to spot initially. A highly active animal it navigated through the rocks and disappeared in 2 mins. At Bagua Basa the terrain was rockier and the weather changed within minutes. It was cloudy and suddenly there was a burst of hailstones and the next minute it was sunny and one could see rainbow.

At a distance layers of mist seemed to approach and in no time engulfed us. The play of wind and light had me spell bound, but changing weather also meant it got cold within minutes. It was the coldest I had ever felt. Thermal, gloves, thick jackets clothes layers were worn and still I was shivering in the night. When I woke up in the morning the ground was frozen, there were small ice formations on the plants and rocks.  
The day started early, the plan was to reach the lake and then return to the previous campsite on the same day. As I started to the climb to Roopkund (15750 ft) I could feel effect of high altitude, every step seemed like an effort especially at the last stretch, the 3 kms seemed like forever but finally I was there. A small walk on the snow and I had reached.

The sun god was kind it was a clear day.  The skeletons didn’t look as scary as I thought it would. While some of the fellow trekkers went ahead to a pass I stayed back.

Looking around I was surprised to find butterflies at 15750 ft. It had me wondering how they survived with all the snow/ice and heat.  Hot Maggie at the peak warmed my bones a bit and I was ready to head back. Descend was not as easy as I imagined it to be, I struggled through it. The stay at Patal Nachauni wasn’t pleasant, it rained through the night. By the end of it I was waiting to get back to base camp.
The trek back to basecamp was a long one, the plan was to walk till Wan (a small village) and then take the jeep back. While the walk downhill put pressure on the knees and toes I was happy to be leaving the meadows. At Bedni Kund, there was a small tea shop where I stopped for tea, first sign of civilization after days. After 5 kms of walking I was back in the woods, the birds were calling, I could hear water gushing and it lifted my spirit. 2 kms before Wan turned out to be a birder’s paradise. Babblers, warblers, flycatchers, woodpeckers, flinches didn’t seem to be bothered about human presence. They sometimes settled in bushes hardly 20 meters away.  While I cursed my luck for not having charge on my camera battery, I am still upset I didn’t have enough energy left to take noted of their features to identify them later.

Reaching Wan brought the trek to an end. Back at the base camp the mood was upbeat, a party was sponsored, promise to keep in touch were made and just like that the wonderful journey was over.
I did this trek with a group called Trek The Himalayas, it has been one of the best experiences so far with regards to organized treks. They ensured we were well looked after and all our needs were looked after. If ever I had to do a trek in this region again I would go back to them

Mythology and Folk Lore
The pilgrimage starts from a place called Nauti till Homekund and happens once in 12 years. The local folk lore has it that ages ago Goddess Parvati took this route to meet Lord Shiva. On the way she is said to have created the 4 vedas at Bedni Kund and then proceed further. The next stop for her is Patal Nachauni where is said to have left her dancing party. Since they insist on going with her, she makes them dance so much that they lose their sense and fall into a cave. She then closes the cave proceeds. Ganesh who was accompanying her felt tired and decided to stay put a Kalu Vinayak. At Bagua Basa she decides to leave her tiger and continue on foot hence the name.  At Roopkund she requests Lord Shiva to quench her thirst; Lord Shiva uses his Trishul to create Roopkund. When Parvati bends over to drink water she sees her reflection in the lake. Thus the name Roopkund is given. From here she proceeds to Homkund where the Rishi perform puja and then to Nanda Devi
The skeletal remains dating back to 12th Century. According to the locals the King of Kanuj was on his way to Homkund on a pilgrimage. In his trope along with his army and family he had dancers and entertainers.  Since it was pilgrimage, the fact that King didn’t follow the decorum made goddess Nanda Devi upset and she cursed the dancers to turn into stones. And when the king reached Roopkund there was a storm with huge hail stones that killed everyone.


  1. Wonderful write-up. Thoroughly enjoyed your experience. You've captured the essence of everything, even the tiniest flower. Lovely :)

  2. The pull of himalayas is strong, I some how resisted it for 6 years! Your post is inspiring me to do it soon! Rainbows and meadows looks awesome!

  3. I have been planning to go there for so long...your post is inspiring!

    And really beautiful shots...

  4. Nice post, Aishwarya. Rich detailing. Had heard the skeleton/skulls story in my college days a decade and a half back, but never got to go. Vicariously compensated now, thank you.