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The Most Popular Trek of Them All
If you’re trekking in India, the Roopkund trek is a must-do! It’s got everything going for it. Deep virgin forests, gurgling brooks, breath-taking campsites, miles of undulating meadows, snow and ice and the taste of a great adventure as you climb from 8,000 ft to 16,000 ft in six days.
Roopkund, perhaps the most popular trek in India, is almost picture-perfect. The Roopkund trail climbs out of splendid dark forests suddenly bursting into Ali and Bedni Bugyal, arguably India’s most beautiful high altitude meadows. Out of the meadows, the trail quickly gets into terrific alpine stretches.
Climbing on snow to the Roopkund lake is a heart-pounding thrill. The beautiful Mt Trishul looms over the setting getting closer as you climb higher when at a ridge above Roopkund, only air separates the trekker from them and Trishul.
It is a 10-11 hour journey from Kathgodam to Lohajung. Read in detail about getting to Lohajung here. After a glimpse at Tharali, the sight of Mt Nanda Ghunti welcomes you to Lohajung. A village with wonderful views of Didina valley, Lohajung is a nerve centre of 12-15 villages.
The name, as the locals say, comes from the myth that Goddess Parvati had a war (Jung) with a demon Lohasur here. There is one local store where you can buy jackets, hand gloves, caps, shoes etc. if need be. However, it is advised that you carry all required things for the trek beforehand and not rely on this shop.
You will have a mobile network in most parts of this village. If you have a day to spare, you can go on a trek to Ajan Top. A sweeping bugyal with a temple perched on its top, Ajan Top makes for a perfect excursion. You get wonderful views of Maiktoli from here.
The trail begins to climb steeply into an oak and rhododendron forest. And after half an hour of ascending stoned steps, the trail opens up to a huge meadow. Take the trail to the right that will take you to Ali Bugyal.
The forest starts to thin after about 1½ hrs of climb (make it 2 if you are slow). Suddenly, abruptly, the oak and Rhododendrons fall behind you, and stretched in front of you is the largest, greenest rolling carpet ever laid out for you. You’ve arrived at Ali Bugyal.
All tiredness forgotten, soak in the mesmerising sight of the undulating meadows of Ali Bugyal. You are on the top of a ridge that spreads in every direction – acres and acres of green meadow scooped out of the mountainside.
Clouds drift in from below, glide over the ridge and slide down either side, all in a slow swift motion. You watch countless horses grazing on the bounty of nature. Foals tear themselves across the turf in an uninhibited abandon.
Leisurely make your way to Bedni Bugyal, 5 km away and a mildly descending trail initially. If you are tempted to take off your shoes and allow the feel of the carpet on your toes, just go ahead and do it! Towards the end of Ali Bugyal, there’s a short switchback climb of 20 minutes before the trail levels out to a gentle trail to Bedni Bugyal. It takes about an hour to get to Bedni Bugyal from this point.
Travel Not Applicable
Acclimatization day at Bedni Bugyal includes a stroll to Bedni top.
From here you get a bird’s eye view of the Bedni Bugyal campsite as well as Maiktoli, Neelkanth, Chaukhambha, and Mrigathuni.
The trail to Patar Nachauni climbs out of the Bedni campsite in a gradual, easy meander. From your Bedni campsite, you can follow it with your eye for 3 km before it disappears into a saddle in the mountain. When you cross the saddle, the trek exposes you to the other side of the ridge. The scenery is differently mesmerizing. For the first time, you also see remnants of the winter snow on the mountain flanks (on the other side).
It is still meadow country and below you are the meadows of Ghora Lotani, the last stop for the horses. Beyond Ghora Lotani the meadows merge into the mountainside.
There are two ways to catch the trail to Patar Nachauni and Bhagwabhasa beyond. The easier option is to retrace your steps of yesterday to the point where you left the main trail to get into the Bedni campsite enclave (5-7 mins walk backwards). Get on the Roopkund trail and carry on your hike up and above the Bedni campsite. Another option is to start from your campsite, skirt the Bedni Kund from the right, climb up the slope behind the Kund, and climb further up to the trail from any direction you deem fit. This will save you half an hour to 45 mins of trekking time but can leave you breathless.
Ghora Lotani makes an excellent campsite. An additional day spent at Ghora Lotani will help to acclimatise to the altitude, plus offer you great views. It offers as good views as Bedni and has the bonus of a strange sense of isolation. You can just about camp anywhere at Ghora Lotani, but ideally, look to camp near the end of the meadows. A clear stream spews out of the side of the slope and makes for a very good water source. Another place to camp is Patar Nachauni, where you head up a bit to the saddle and stay in the eco shelters. The view here is beautiful though a bit exposed to the winds. Here, on your left, you can see a trail that heads down to Bhuna and further on to Sitel and Suthol. There is a trail from here to Kuari Pass. Upwards is your climb to Kalu Vinayak. The saddle signals the end of the meadows.
Start from Wan, a village situated at an hour’s drive from Lohajung. The initial trail is cemented through a cluster of houses. 15 minutes into your trek, you will find a cluster of centuries-old Cypress trees. It would take four people to circumvent the tree! Try hugging it.
From here, there are two trails you can spot. One goes straight ahead to the ridge. The second one acts as a deviation from the Latu Devta temple. Latu Devta is a local deity, who is believed to protect the area. The mountain folk pay obeisance to him before ascending higher on the Nanda Devi Jat Yatra. Ring the temple bell here for a safe trek before going back to the ascending trail to the ridge – Ranaka Dhar. It takes 30-45 minutes to ascend from Wan to Ranaka Dhar. At Ranaka Dhar, take in the view of Lohajung, Wan and the valley below! The name Ranaka Dhar comes from the battle Parvati had with the demon Lohasur. Their battle, which started in Lohajung, culminated here. The name Ranaka Dhar means “flowing blood”.
From here, it is a short descent to the gurgling Neel Ganga. The bridge on Neel Ganga is an idyllic location to take a breather. Trees overhang the river and the water trips and fall over boulders in the shade. The water here is cool and refreshing. From here begins the beautiful ascent to the first campsite, Gehroli Patal. The trail now winds through Oak and Rhododendron forests and the path is strewn with dry leaves that crunch and crackle beneath your trekking shoes. There are walnut, pear, Himalayan roses and other flora you can find on this climb. You may even spot birds like a flycatcher, and magpies. Keep a lookout.
This is a trek of about 3 hours that brings you to a clearing with a green trekker’s hut and the welcome sight of Trishul. This is Gehroli Patal.
The climb to Kalu Vinayak is a steep zig-zag up the mountainside and will take you to 14,500 ft. The distance isn’t much, and the zig-zag trails make you gain height very rapidly. Climb this section very slowly. There is no hurry and even if you are the slowest on the team you can reach Bhagwabasa in a comfortable time. Take 10-minute breaks every 15 minutes. This is a crucial height where most trekkers feel the thinness in the air. You get breathless very soon and sometimes even feel dizzy. This would be okay if you did not have to do the Roopkund climb the next day. Most folks climb this section like any other climb and find it difficult to acclimatise to the Roopkund altitude later on.
Treat this section as the most crucial bit of your trek. In the climbing time, it takes around 1½ hrs to climb to Kalu Vinayak. Stretch it to 2½ hrs, even if you can climb quicker. By doing this, you’ll find your body adjusting to the increased height and the lack of oxygen. Climbing to Kalu Vinayak is a thrill and every time you look up and take a bend on the trail, the ridgeline gets closer, drawing you, inspiring you. Around you are the green, sheer mountainside. Below, you can follow the trail that you took from the first saddle over Ghora Lotani and finally to Kalu Vinayak.
Kalu Vinayak gets its name from the black Ganesh idol enclosed in a stone shrine just as you finish the climb from Ghora Lotani. Lots of temple bells and a large plate for you to donate. Everyone offers a prayer here for a safe pilgrimage to Roopkund. A donation of Rs 10/- is standard. Some offer biscuits instead. Choose! Beside the Kalu Vinayak shrine and right next to it, you hit your first patch of snow.
The trail from Kalu Vinayak to Bhagwabasa is easy and gently sloping downwards. Bhagwabasa is 2 km away and you can see the Bhagwabasa huts if you follow the trail with your eye. The trail meanders through snow patches. Be careful on these snow patches. In June, by mid-day, they get soft and you can find yourself sinking to your knees in them. Step gingerly, quickly and skip your way across them. Better still, skirt around them.
Bhagwabasa is a cluster of stone huts put up by enterprising locals. The charge is on a bed basis. It could be Rs 150 to Rs 200 per bed depending on the season. On lean seasons the rates could go down to Rs 50. If you are staying at Bhagwabasa the locals will also cook for you at an additional cost. Carry your sleeping bag – the nights are extremely cold.
If you are carrying tents, then don’t pitch camp at Bhagwabasa. Move ahead for another 5 minutes and you get a campsite on your left. This is Hunia Thal, a small clearing. There’s space enough for 4 tents and no more. The place is rocky, but you don’t have much of an option. If the sky is clear and the team is fit, it is a good idea to attempt Roopkund in the afternoon. The next day serves as an additional buffer.
At Bhagwabasa, nights turn extremely cold. Inside the tent, temperatures dip to 1°C. Outside measured at -2°C at 2.30 in the night. These are mid-summer temperatures. In September-October temperature will dip further to -5°C or -6°C. Bhagwabasa is windy too. In the wind chill the -2°C feels like -6°C. You need to put on all your warm clothing and then get inside your sleeping bag to brave the night.
You need to start your push to Roopkund at 4:00 am. The sooner the better. You need to climb up to Roopkund while the snow is still hard. In the mid-morning the snow becomes soft and your feet start sinking in. You want to avoid this. There’s plenty of snow even in the middle of summer.
From Bhagwabasa it is a 5 km gradually ascending walk to Roopkund. Towards the end, the trail climbs sharply through a series of switchbacks and a steep climb over a snowy flank to reach Roopkund. The stretch isn’t long, but the entire stretch is on snow patches. At some parts the slope is steep but most parts are easily trekkable. Those trekking alone needs to carry ice axes to cut steps on the snow. It takes about 2½ hrs to climb up to Roopkund. Ideally, if you have started at 5.00 am then you are going to get to Roopkund by 7.30 or 8.00 am. The climb is deliriously exhilarating. The last stretch of climbing over the snowy flank on the left requires the support of all four limbs but is over in 10 mins. Roopkund is right over the edge, two minutes away and yet you can’t see it unless you get there.
Roopkund is a crater on the mountain face, a dip at the cusp of the mountain. It is much bigger than what most internet pictures suggest. All around are snowy flanks of the mountain. You have to climb down 50 ft to reach the edge of the lake. GPS readings suggest that Roopkund is not more than 15,750 feet. Whatever the altitude, you will feel the thinness of the air. Climbing a few steps takes your breath away.
The Roopkund Mystery: The “Skeleton Lake” has intrigued anthropologists, scientists, historians and the local people ever since. Who were these people? What were they doing in the inhospitable regions of the Garhwal Himalayas? Local folklore has it that in medieval times, King Jasdhawal of Kanauj wanted to celebrate the birth of an heir by undertaking a pilgrimage to the Nanda Devi mountains in the Garhwal Himalaya. However, he disregarded the rules of pilgrimage by boisterous singing and dancing. The entourage earned the wrath of the local deity, Latu. They were caught in a terrible hailstorm and were thrown into the Roopkund lake!
Trekkers must attempt Junargali unless the weather does not permit it. From Roopkund, the sharp ridge line that towers above you is Junargali. It doesn’t take much time to get to Junargali. The route is over snow that gently inclines upwards until it reaches the face of the mountain. After which it is a steep clamber on the mountain face to reach Junargali. The climb isn’t for long; perhaps 250 ft. It gets over in perhaps 15-20 minutes. Care must be taken while you are climbing to Junargali. A rope with you is very handy.
The Return from Roopkund: Start your return by 9.30 am from Junargali, timing yourself such that you are back at Roopkund by 10.00 am and after a brief rest, you are on your way down. Trekkers often find getting down from Roopkund difficult. The snowy slope looks tricky and dangerously sloping. You may need to squat on all fours to negotiate the immediate flank of snow as you get off Roopkund. This is the difficult part but the lower you get, it gets easier progressively. Once out of the switchback descent, it is an easy walk back to Bhagwabasa. However, step carefully on the snow patches. By mid-morning, they are soft and slippery. Always trek down in small groups. You should reach Bhagwabasa within 2½ hours. There is a 5km descent from Bhagwabhasa to Patha Nachauni which you will cover in 3 hours. You can camp at Pathar Nachauni for the night.
There is a sense of elation as you return through Bedni. And the oak forest over Wan is just the icing on the cake that you want. Retrace your path to Bedni Bugyal. Pass the Bedni campsite and take the trail heading to the right and below. 20 minutes later, you get to the tree line and sharp descent that signals the end of the meadows. Watch for the descending trail on your right. The main trail moves ahead to Ali Bugyal.
Rundown into the oak and Rhododendron forest. Half an hour into your decent, you get to a clearing. The green trekker’s huts signals Gehroli Patal. On a clear day, you get astounding views of Mt Trishul commandeering over the area. Rest here and if your team is not in a hurry, step into the flat oak forest on your right. The setting is straight out of a movie set with beams of light streaming in from above and a crunchy cover of brown leaves below. Spend some time here at the wonder of nature and rejoin the trail.
It is a steep ridge descent to the Neel Ganga. Quicker trekkers reach the river in one and a half hours. The slower ones take two. Take your time because you will rarely see a more wondrous stretch of forest cover. The bridge on the Neel Ganga is an idyllic location to wash the dirt and grime of the week-long trek. Trees overhang the river and the water trips and fall over boulders in the shade. The water is cool and refreshing. From the river, it is a short half-hour climb to the ridge above Wan village.
After spending days in the wilderness, you finally come to a busy civilization. Some welcome it and some hate it. There are many routes to the bottom of the Wan village, and all roads eventually lead down to the road junction (Kasar Bagad) near the hydel project. It takes about an hour and a half to get down to Kasar Bagad. It is a steep descent. There is an alternative longer route to get down to Wan. From the ridge top of Wan, take the main trail that runs to the right. Follow the trail until it reaches the Cyprus trees at the lower Wan village. Spend time looking at the Cyprus trees because they are centuries old.
A short descent later you touch the road. You can ask your vehicle to meet you at this junction. From Kasar Bagad regular vehicles ply to Lohajung and you get a welcome cup of tea at Hari Singh Bugyali’s shop. By Jeep, it is an hour's drive to Lohajung over a road that bumps and rattles all the way. The thrill of the ride stays for many days to come.
Stay Not Applicable
Depart for Kathgodam. Expected to reach Kathgodam by 7.00 pm.
If you have an additional day in Lohajung before or after your trek, visit Ajan Top, an easy trek that you can do on your own.
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