Friday, June 15, 2012

Rupin Pass Trek: A week with Nature

Our troupe with Chain Singh ji in the middle

After our plans to go to ROOPKUND were jeopardized by poor weather conditions, we decided to trek to Rupin Pass. This trek was similar to Roopkund in terms of altitude and length of the trek. Better part was that you don't retrace your path in case of Rupin Pass as one starts to trek from Dhaula in Uttarakhand and the trek ends in Sangla in Himachal.
First view of the valley
Unable to get reservation in a train, I scrambled on google and called a number of taxi providers. Finally, I managed to find a driver who needed to get back to Dehradun and would charge us only for the one way journey instead of the default return journey charges that most of them asked for. Having left Delhi around 11 pm, we reached Dehradun early morning around 7. Instead of taking a break there, we decided to continuosly travel to Sankri, a sleepy hamlet 8 hours journey further from Dehradun.
Enroute to Sankri, we had the pleasure of seeing a clean Yamuna river for the first time in our life. We took a short dip into its icy waters too. Also, there was a good amount of history in that part of Uttarakhand. Supposedly, Pandavas lived there during Agyaat Vaas and there are also remains of LakshaGraha where Kauravas tried to burn them. Interestingly, there are some villages in this area where Kauravas are worshipped too!!!
Finally, we reached Sankri around 5 pm after travelling for 10 hours. The road to Sankri is in good condition for the most part except for last 40 kilometres where we were moving on a narrow mud patch. At Sankri, we were received by Chain Singh ji, our trek organizer. After some tea and a short walk around, he introduced us to our Guide Kamlesh and the rest of the guys who were to go with us for this trek. Tired of the long journey, we slept early after a simple dinner.

Day 1:

Temple at Sewa
We woke up at 5:30 in the morning and readied ourselves for a brilliant but physically excruciating trek of over 60 kms. A filling breakfast, and we took our seat in Mahindra Maxx for a 1 hour ride to Dhaula, starting point of the trek. We were already running late when we saw a bulldozer in the middle of the road with a few workers cutting rocks to make way for the road. A contractor was standing besides is Alto closeby. We requested him to give us way, but he had to finish the job quickly because some surveyor was going to come in a couple of hours. Thus, we ended up waiting there for an hour and reached Dhaula around 10 am. At 1900 meters above sea level, Dhaula wasn't particularly cold and the bright sun ensured that we will tire our untrained legs quickly. Hardly a few 100 meters, and we were already panting. Thankfully, soon our breathing gained rhythm and we were able to walk without much trouble. We had the beautiful Rupin Valley to keep us company until Dantadhar, where we move inside from a cliff and the view of the valley is replaced by pine forests. We also ate our packed lunch at Dantadhar at a Dhaba and straightened our tired legs on the benches.
First Campsite

After Dantadhar, we moved under shade mostly until we reached Sewa village. There was a temple in the village which had trophies and shields hung over its entrance and the door was locked. Talking to the local villagers, we learnt that the trophies were won by the village teams in various inter village tournaments. Also, the temple was locked because the Idol was common among twelve villages, and it keeps moving among temples of those villages each month.
Beautifully presented Salad
Then, we started descending towards the river for 1.5 kms. Finally, we saw our campsite on opposite side of the river right next to a wooden bridge. The river acted as a border between Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. At an altitude of just over 2000 m, the place was made cold by the chilly winds only. Upon reaching campsite, we were served Tang followed by chai and pakoras. After some rest, we decided to wash off our sweaty bodies with a dip into the Rupin river. Getting into the river was frightening not just because of the violent flow but also because that the water was icy cold. Our porters managed to get us some kacchi sharab from the village which we didn't like so gifted it to the porters only. A brilliantly presented dinner followed at 7 pm and we squeezed into the warmth of our sleeping bags immediately after that.

Day 2: 
The Landslide point
We woke up around 5 am today to avoid walking under the scorching sun. After a short walk along the rocky river bed, we reached Gosangu from where we had to walk around 6 kms over a dirt road. We were told that this road will be ready for vehicles in a couple of months. We saw a couple of cows dead on side of the road with their eyes scorched out. We were told that this was done to prevent them from scavenging birds. Other than two small waterfalls this stretch of the trek was pretty uneventful until we reached a spot where we were told to go back about 1 km to cross the river and move on the other side. This was due to loose rocks being pushed down there so that they don't fall down when least expected. We decided to wait for the rocks to come down instead of retracing our steps. After about 30 mins, a huge rock over 10 feets in diameter came thundering down the hill. That rock seemed to shake the entire mountain. After that, the workers there asked us to quickly cross that spot. We ran for our lives and stopped only after reaching far ahead of that point. A few small stones did continue to come down while we ran. After that point, started a steep incline for about 1.5 kms and we tired quickly under the sun shining brightly.
Pine forests gave way to the mighty Deodars
By 11, I stopped our group for lunch as I was too hungry to walk anymore. Our support staff couldn't do much about the lunch being cold as it was cooked in the morning but they ensured that they keep us happy by providing fruits, chocolates etc that kept our taste-buds satisfied.
After lunch, the steep climb continued for some more time until we reached Jiskoon village. This was one of the bigger villages on our way with over 100 houses. After Jiskoon, the climb wasn't there but the trail was so uneven that the rocks start to hurt our feet. The scenery also changed as Pine trees gave way to Deodars that flourish on higher altitudes. A short descent to cross the river followed. However, the toughest part of the day came after we crossed the bridge. Then started the climb to Jhaka village with a trail mostly made of steps for over 4 kilometers continuously where we gained about 400 meters in altitude. Imagine climbing over 80 floors after already having walked close to 9 kms!!!
Jhaka, the hanging village
Finally we saw a village that seemed to hang on a cliff. This was Jhaka, our night halt at an altitude of 2800 meters. Thankfully, we didn't have to stay in tent tonight as the locals here rent out rooms in their houses to trekkers. After some rest and refreshments, I took a walk around the village. It had rained and the place had the place seemed pristine and beautiful. I also saw lightening strike a tree during the rain. The tree seemed to vanish in thin air only to leave a plume of smoke. After two nights, we slept in a bed tonight with a blanket to cover us and I can't put in words how thankful we were!!!

Day 3:
Yesterday, our path was blocked by 30 strong group of trekkers from Indiahikes, so we decided to leave real early today so as to avoid getting caught between them. Woke up early and left the house around 6 am. Jhaka was the last village on our trail and the only humans we expected from now on were to be either shepherds or fellow trekkers. There was too much loose dirt on our path in last two days, but from today the trek would become more scenic and loose dirt would be hard to find. We saw a lot of apple, walnut and apricot trees here. Also, we saw a Maple tree with its pentagonal leaves glistening in the early light of sun.
Soon, we met a shepherd who was from Kwar village. Surprisingly, he was searching for his 800 strong herd as he wasn't sure of the direction they have moved. Intuitively, he was moving toward higher altitude as sheeps tend to move to higher altitudes in summers and come down to low lying grasslands in winters.
Bras Kandi
After about an hour or two, we reached our first snowbridge. The ice was about 2 feet thick and the river was gushing underneath it. The river would melt the entire ice-sheet in one month. Excited we ran over the snowbridge and crossed the river.
The trek today seemed easier as there wasn't any long incline to climb and we were excited by all the patches of ice that were coming our way. We didn't find it easy to find grip on them but an occasional slip here wasn't dangerous enough apart from a few scratches.
After about 4 hours of trekking for the day, we reached Bras Kandi. Kandi is a point where treeline ends. Here we walked through a lot of colorful Rhododendrons until we reached a vast riverbed where we had our lunch of fried rice. Lunch was followed by a bit of lazying around in the beautiful valley and then we were ready for a one hour walk to our campsite at Saruwas Thatch. On our way, were a few benign glacial crossings which were crossed with ease.
Camp at Saruwas Thatch
Finally we climbed a small hump and saw our blue tent pitched in a grassland between the river and a few small patches of snow. A small waterfall was coming down right next to the campsite and we also had a good view of our target for the next day from here, the vociferous Upper Waterfall!! That seemed like the perfect location for campingat an altitude of 3500 meters.
Today was probably the least tiring day till now and we had enough energy for some snowslides on the small snow mounts around. The normal routine of refreshments and dinner had a welcome addition of a Bonfire tonight. Thanks to a couple of porter guys with a singing talent, the night was enjoyed to the fullest.

Day 4:
Near Dhanteras thatch
Avalanche from last night
As the possibility of an Avalanche increases as the day progresses, we started even earlier today. We were also excited as majority of our trek today would be on snow/ice. In an hour, we reached Dhanteras Thatch after crossing a huge snowbridge. The ice today was clean and beautiful compared to yesterday's ice patches where it was mixed with dirt. Dhanteras Thatch was again a beautiful high altitude meadow bigger in size and more even than Saruwas Thatch. Moving ahead from Dhanteras,  we saw remains of an earlier Avalanche with huge boulders of ice strewn all around. At this point, the river was only visible in patches and was mostly covered by ice.
Our route for the day marked with the red line
Just a few meters before Lower Waterfall, our guide told us to start climbing on a steep patch of snow/ice atleast 100 meters high. This seemed our first real test on snow as we couldn't even rest midway for fear of an avalanche due to ice melting from the cliff on top of us. A slip here wasn't life threatening as such but the very thought of climbing back the distance slipped ensured that we didn't want to slip at all. Upon reaching midway, we saw 5 cows stranded in the ice unable to believe that they can climb down. Our guide guided them down to ensure that they don't die from the possible avalanche in noon. We finally managed to reach the top with nostrils flaring for air as the thin air ensured that we tire more than we otherwise would have.
View from Lower Waterfall
After a good rest here on top of Lower Waterfall, we crossed the glacial patch between Upper & Lower Waterfall. A slip here would have ensured that we go down along the waterfall but the good snow conditions provided us grip and made our task less threatening.
Glacier between lower and Upper Waterfall
We made a countless number of glacial crossings between Lower Waterfall and our campsite above Upper Waterfall. After each successful crossing, we prayed that there would be no more ice to walk on. Finally we reached our campsite to find that we would be walking on ice even to reach kitchen tent from our tent as our tent was pitched on a very small patch of grass surrounded by ice from all directions. The wind here was so strong that we afraid of our tent getting blown down the waterfall with it. Today we didn't carry packed lunch as its not recommended to climb at such altitudes with a full stomach. Thus, after some rest and a brilliant lunch of pasta and mangoes, I walked around the place. On one side, I could see the entire valley till Saruwas with the river meandering through it but on any other side, I could only see ice and ice. Even the river was finding it tough to slow through the thick sheets of ice. Considering that we were at an altitude of 4200 meters, the strong winds made it really cold for us and we put on whatever warm clothes we carried.
Upper Waterfall
Rupin river meandering its way through ice 
A shepherd who met us just before the Pass
Day 5: 
Hats off to these guys. they lifted 25-30 kgs
of weight and still walked faster than us 
Our campsite
Today we were to cross the pass which was 3.5 kms away and then trek for over 9 kms to reach our campsite at Sangla Kandi on the other side of the pass. As yesterday, most of the trek would be on snow at altitudes around 4500 meters so we were expected to tire more easily than ever. Also, the trend of each new day starting even earlier than the last day continued as we left our campsite by 5 am. The lack of sun for over 10 hours had resulted in thin layers of water freezing into ice which was quite dangerous as they weren't clearly visible and were a lot slippery. Also, our steep climbing ensured that each slip could cost us more than a few bruises. Thankfully we were expertly guided by Kamlesh who managed to safely take us past atleast 8-10 glacial inclines. A few of them seemed bottomless as the ice seemed to go over the cliff. After a lot of these glacial crossings, we finally reached what seemed like a valley of ice. There were no cliffs, no steep edges, only ice as far as your eye can see. Here we also finally saw our target, RUPIN PASS, which was a narrow alley of ice between two mountain ranges. However, it wasn't as close as it seemed as we had to walk on snow at an altitude of 4500 meters in thin air. I stopped for breath after almost every ten steps.
Bhed Chaal
We finally saw a frozen RUPIN river just before the pass. Our attempts to walk on it were halted when we realized that the ice sheet was thin and it cracked at places.
Final Climb at the Pass
A really really steep incline of around 200 meters was our last hurdle to the pass. We felt confident after having done the climb at lower waterfall but this was double its height. Also, the altitude and the shadow of the mountain made it really cold there. As before, we couldn't rest much in the way for a different reason though. It was just to steep an incline to stand comfortably and there was no rock to support our bottom without freezing!!!
View from the Pass
Only way to go down
After about half an hour of really tough and tiring work, I reached the top of the pass, found myself the only rock devoid of ice and lay there until I had my breath back to normal. It was only when it did that I opened my eyes to the view that was there to be appreciated. Thankfully the sky was clear and we could see the Dhauladhar Range and the Kinner Kailash range from there. Other than the very peaks, the only other color visible was the WHITE of ice/snow.
Campsite at Sangla Kandi
After about 45 mins of rest + photography on the top, we started proceeding downwards. I had wondered earlier that when Rupin pass is closer from Sangla, why don't people climb it from this side. I got my answer as soon as I saw my way down: It was just too steep an incline!!! It was just impossible to walk your way down. The only way downwards is to sit on your bottom and SLIDE. We did exactly that and were enjoying sliding downwards until we realized that we were gaining too much speed and were not able to stop. It was dangerous because you might end up banging on a rock if you don't stop before that. Sadly, we realized this from personal experience.
Ronti Gad
Finally, the ice ended at Ronti Gad, which was a nice big bugyal.  We had our lunch there and reached our camp at Sangla Kandi at 5 pm after a trek of over 11 hours.

Day 6:
Sangla Finally
 Today we were not worried about getting up early, so we slept till 6 am only to be woken up by sound of rain. Upon unzipping our tent, we were pleasantly surprised to see flakes of snow coming down with the rain. That was my first experience with snowfall!!!
It seemed to have rained all night long, as the mountain near our campsite was shining with fresh ice in early morning sun. We started our trek around 8 when the rains subsided and reached Sangla  around 12 as I had a bad pull in my knee and ended up trekking in severe pain for over 2 hours.
Nag Devta Mandir at Sangla

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Mukteshwar: A quaint getaway from city chaos

I decided to go to Mukteshwar just a day before I was about to leave from Delhi for a weekend trip during first weekend of May, 2012.
We did some quick research on the route and place to stay there. After reading a few reviews on Tripadvisor, we decided to stay at Resort Sequester in Peora Village. This village is about 18 kms away from Mukteshwar town but you can take a different route while driving from Delhi to ensure that you don't have to travel away from Mukteshwar.
As for route, we drove via Moradabad-Rampur-Bhimtal until a place called Talla Ramgarh where we took a left turn.
Our room at Sequester
Peora Village has just about 50 odd houses and a couple of resorts to stay at. Resort Sequester is just a 2 storeyed building with 4 rooms for guests. Each room has a 360 degree view with glass and wood taking place of concrete walls. The rooms have a double bed, sofa cum bed, dining table, refrigerator, television and a microwave oven. The rooms are quite spacious including the kitchen and bathroom and are attended to by a caretaker named Bhaskar who is performing his role perfectly. He takes care of all that you need. We even asked him to bring us a comb and he obliged!!!
View from Van Vilas in Bhimtal
We left Delhi around 11 in the night and after negotiating 3 toll booths and a traffic jam because of road widening work reached Mukteshwar around 9 am. On our way, we had breakfast at Van Vilas in Bhimtal. However, they weren't ready to serve us at 6am and took some time in providing us with some paranthas and sandwiches. The food seemed stale and the place had enough spider webs to make us leave that place sooner than we wished. Though, there location was quite good right next to Bhimtal Lake.
View from our room. Sky god wasn't favorable though
As soon as we reached Resort Sequester, Bhaskar came down to take our luggage to our room on the second floor and the three of us jumped onto the double bed without even talking to him. We even filled the check-in register after waking up for lunch!!! He was kind enough to not disturb us in the meantime. Meals provided here had the taste of homemade food which was perfect for me. For anyone wanting to stay there, I would suggest taking a room on the 2nd floor as you get a better view of Trishul and NandaDevi peaks from there on a clear day!!!
Woods between Peora and Mukteshwar
After lazying around in the room whole day, we left for Mukteshwar town the next day. The drive to Mukteshwar from Peora is quite scenic as it passes through dense woods of a protected forest area. Once in town, we went to the temple and Chauli ki Jaali behind the temple. At Chauli ki Jaali, we saw some school kids doing rappelling and mountain climbing. I have done these in school, so immediately decided to rappel down the cliff. As 85 feet rappelling site was occupied by the school kids, we did 300 feet rappelling which seemed frightening to look down from. However, the site was brilliant with just a couple of overhangs and all three of us did that quite easily.

 Then we drove back to Gurgaon stopping for Lunch at Italiano before Bhimtal. For anyone familiar with the name, I would like to warn that the quality of pizza served here isn't the same that you get at Italiano in Gurgaon. Else driving back was easy as there was minimal traffic towards Delhi on a Sunday evening and we reached back in just about 8-9 hours.