A Challenging Ascent

Mighty Mountains
Last Updated 15 October 2010, 12:42 IST

After 2.5 hours of flight, travelling for seven hours by train and about nine by car, we had gently passed through the Kumaon region and reached a tiny hamlet in Gharwal by the name Lohajung. According to local legends, since the place has witnessed a lot of war, a lot of artillery fell here and hence the name Lohajung (Iron war). The first day we checked into a hotel and after a brief spell of rest, we headed out for shopping. We had to stock-up on material for the trek. After long negotiations, we zeroed in on Prithvi and Gopal as our porters for Rs 250 per head each day. Eventually, we hit our beds for a good night’s sleep for an early morning the next day.

Lush greenery

So we began our first day walking across various villages, through the terrace farms, across the mud houses, waving to little kids on the way and chewing on raw apples picked from the trees around. The first day climb drained us completely and by the end of the day, we literally crashed when we reached our campsite for the day — Didana. This site was a small plane portion on the hill covered with thick forests on all sides with a glorious view in front.

Next day’s climb was expected to be even steeper. In the morning, we quickly wrapped up and began to walk through the dense oak forests. With much struggle, we managed to climb across the forest and eventually came above the tree line for a very pleasant surprise. There were lush green meadows to as far as eyes could see and a bright blue sky to make it a picture perfect view.

Our packs dropped, mouths wide open and eyes just couldn’t stop staring at the beauty of this spot. The walk from here was across these meadows to another campsite by the name Bedni Bugyal (Ali Bugyal and Bedni Bugyal are known as the twin bugyals, Bugyal meaning meadow in the local language).

The next day was easy as we covered the required distance in a few hours. But, now in front of us was the peak Kalu Vinayak. It was already noon and it is not suggested to climb this peak after noon, but it looked so near that we moved on against all suggestions. The weather was quite clear till now. In fact, it was becoming a little warm.

All of a sudden clouds enveloped us and it started drizzling, drastically changing the weather. At one moment we were so despising the sun, now were so hoping for it. Kalu Vinayak, another name for Lord Ganesha should have been auspicious, but it turned out to be quite the contrary. In a few minutes the drizzle changed into heavy rain. With our rain protections we were still gradually continuing not wanting to give up halfway. We had reached quite close to the top, when the harsh droplets stopped. When I looked up, I saw the pristine white snowflakes gently floating through the air. I saw the others and there was a pleasant smile on everyone’s face.

Pathway to Roopkund

This was not to last long though. The floating snowflakes somehow gained weight and started to shoot down like bullets. This is when we spotted a small cave and decided to take shelter. Some locals were already there, but gladly offered us some space. This is where we heard about the Kida jadi (insect herb), which is supposed to be a very expensive herb found in this area. Locals camp here for months searching for this herb.

We were still positive about climbing Kalu Vinayak. When the weather didn’t clear even after an hour-and-a-half with bodies shivering and hands numb, we decided to climb down.

The next day, we climbed the peak with great speed. We were there much before noon. Rested a while and climbed down on the other side of Kalu Vinayak to a place called Baghubasa. This was our base for the final ascent to Roopkund. We were now walking in half a foot snow and soon reached the base. There are two cozy huts created for trekkers here. This place is quite rocky; hence pitching a tent is not a very wise idea. So, we decided to share the hut with another group for the night.

At the final stage of our climb, we had mixed reactions. We met two groups — one which was fully equipped, tired and couldn’t make it to the top while another ill-equipped group did. Therefore, the very next day we start our ascent to Roopkund. The first few steps were making little impressions on the snow, but gradually, our feet started to submerge in the foot-deep snow.

Eventually, the path we were walking on disappeared. Now, the guide in front would make steps in the snow for others to follow. Gradually the ascent became steeper. After about a three-hour struggle, we took the final bend in the hill to reach Roopkund, which was frozen and to top it all, there was fresh snow on the frozen lake.

Nonetheless, the view from there was stunning. At about an altitude of 5000 meters, we had now climbed higher than the clouds and could see them floating below us.

(Published 15 October 2010, 12:32 IST)

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