If you are an avid trekker of the northern India circuit, the name Roopkund is sure to give you mixed feelings. A lot of trekkers aspire to do it but haven’t planned on it because they want more “practice”. Because for sure, Roopkund is steep. You may want to do Roopkund for a variety of reasons: A) the folklore associated with it is grand – it is said that Shiva and Parvati were on their way to Kailas (more scientifically Trishul I assume because google earth tells me it would be a waste of time, fuel and powers vested with Gods to take this aerial approach to Kailash-Mansarovar) when Parvati wanted to cool it a bit so Shiva struck his trident to make a small pond for her to sip some water and she found herself loving her reflection in the water, so the name “Roop”kund. B) The religious want to do it for the much famed (in these parts only) 12 yearly, highly ritualistic (you got it, T-Series who do religious videos sell CDs on it) Nanda Jaat, whereby thousands of barefooted devotees make this strenuous trek braving bad weather and high altitude sickness, to see off a ram with 4 horns towards Trishul, symbolically sending their daughter Goddess Nanda off to her husband Shiva’s abode. C) I personally know some creeps wanting to go to this mystical lake full of skeletons to get a skull back and put a bulb inside it to sit on their office desk. Don’t worry no one with me brought any back.
My reason was that it is a water body sitting at a height of more than 5000 meters (16,470feet) and it takes you right to the base of Trishul. Also the meter reading comes handy to boast ( what’s the highest you’ve gone, Rohtang? *smirk*)
The trek starts from Wan. Wan—10kms—Bedni Bugyal—10—-Baguabasa—-7—Roopkund.
The motor route follows the Rishikesh Badrinath highway NH58 till Karanprayag, after which you take the road for Gwaldom. From Tharali, the road to be taken is towards Debal- Lohajung. From Debal, ditch your vehicle and take a local cab, since the road requires a vehicle with good clearance from ground. If you are insane like us and did manage to drive till Lohajung with a lot of pre-inspection of the road and post inspection of your vehicle after crossing the muddy truck track hurdles, do drop it now and take a cab for 500 rupees for 12 kms to Wan where clearance only matters if skills are to match. At one point during the last stretch, the cab really got stuck in mud at a turn which had a steep fall on the driver’s side, tyres deep in 2 feet high slush and the Jeep was swerving unpredictably for us, thankfully the driver knew how much mud wrestling was good for his jeep. To add spice to the events there was a herd of wild boars crossing the road 10 yards in front of us. At Wan we met this interesting guy called Herasingh Bugyali , who introduced himself as an all-rounder. His all rounder definition comprised of being a shop-owner but also being able to lift heavy backpacks and doing roopkund and back in a day. That’s pretty much true about everybody there. So we got two such all rounders or porters and started the trek the next morning at 9, one hour behind fellow Noida trekkers from an IC chip design company. We caught them resting and sharing a cigarette within half a km of the trek. They reached Bedni Bugyal at 10 pm that day, while we had caught lunch at Bedni at 2 pm (such benchmarking always impresses me). If you are carrying your own backpacks don’t imagine to do this one in 5 hours as the climb is attrocious-level-7. Attrocious-level-9 is the final Baguabasa to Roopkund stretch. You might think is this a travelogue or what, a deter-ogue, but trekking here is not easy. Oh and I haven’t told you why not to go to Roopkund between June to September( inclusive). Coz it rains and there’s nothing to see except fog and clouds and all that Trishul jazz, thoughts of views of Nandaghunti and Trishul will tease you. See what I mean.
The Bugyal (grassland) at Bedni is superawesomefreakingreenheaven. There are two or three rooms for the sake of a forest guesthouse and a dhabba (restaurant) run by Khatri ji (the guesthouse caretaker) that serves khichdi (local rice-daal dish) and tea. Here we met some trekkers from Calcutta West bengal electricity board, who had ample vacation days and seemed not bothered with bad weather, willing to waste more days at the idyllic bugyal , waiting for the clouds to give way. They had plans to go till Ronty which is the base of Trishul and Nandaghunti.
There is another beautiful Bugyal here by name Ali Bugyal. For most trekkers , these two are the chief attraction of this trail. Infact Outlook’s Trekking guide features this trek only till Bedni Bugyal and gives a passing reference to Roopkund.
We stayed at bedni that night.From Bedni the trek goes to Patar Nachoni (stone dancers) which is easy, and then goes steeper and steeper to reach Kallu Vinayak. When you reach KV, you really feel you have arrived, the landscape is suddenly full of BrahmKamal (literally one of the hindu trinity Bramha’s lotus or could it mean illusion inducing lotus as brahm means illusion) , the state flower of uttranchal, which is a very rare sight because of its high altitude preference.
The worst part of today’s trekking is over. The worst part of today isn’t. We walk till Baguabasa all the while developing a crazy headache. It’s more like a spin and nausea than a headache. Also easy excitability-irritability has set in, like a tired zombie. To top it I had been sniffing Brahmkamals all along, it was intoxicating, I had never smelt anything like it before. And it was a very subtle diffuse smell, as though not coming from the flower but from the whole area. Unless you put the flower really in to your nose you wouldn’t believe it is the source. People say it gives you nasha (nausea). It has been raining and our porters didn’t have a tent. We put up this tent we had in within 15 seconds, the fastest so far, so that its dry , but we are not going in yet with everything wet. So we left it and went to a shelter made by some more bengalis at bagua basa. Thank you Mr. D C Thakur and Dr Miss Shobita Misr (age 75) for giving us your tarpolin. As they had been thru with their roopkund trip we bought the tarpolin from them wrapped it over a wet stone igloo, cut a piece for dry flooring and made a cosy home for four. Changed, had hot tea, maggi, got into the fleece and the sleeping bag, oh what a feeling. See it below to feel the smugness.
There is no dhabba at Baguabasa and you need to carry your own rations and stove to stay overnight. There is no water source either for 1 km. There is a small hole, like the size of your computer screen into which water enough for a bottle collects in 30 mins. So if you get thirsty and suffocated in the night, which you are bound to, and come out for water, rest assured animals would have already licked the water source dry. There was this small vent in the igloo where, by turns , Sundeep and me kept finding each other. Our bodies were under the illusion that there wasn’t enough air in the room, what we didn’t tell ourselves is there wasn’t enough oxygen in the not enough air in the igloo. We kept panting the whole night and couldn’t sleep properly. Baguabasa with all its atmosphere and then brahmkamals and other herbs is a freaky place. There were flowers that were supposed to paralyse a body and there were other poisonous flowers in blue. I am happy I could keep my usual yuppy-scientific-temperament airs at bay and go by what the guides told us not looking to prove anything. We gained more height the next morning for Roopkund and the mysterious headache disapeared as soon as the vegetation died. There was this barren mountain with no path and the incline was constantly around 60+ degrees.
Once at Roopkund, the first thing is a big relief after the climb. Then slowly as you are taken by the beauty of the place, the setting of the lake and the glacier feeding it, the whole skeleton chaos suddenly starts to sink in.
Bones with flesh still around them, skulls, dentures, sandals, like some massacre site. Atleast a thousand people were burried at that place. Legend has it that around 1150AD king Jasdhaval’s entourage made this pligrimage and might have got burried in an avalance. We didn’t take any souveniers since the place looked too sacred to be disturbed and we wanted to keep its heritage preserved. It is sad that people have been carrying away skulls and ornaments from here. Some were caught selling Roopkund bones’ powder as Ayurvedic medicine.
This day we travelled a total of 34 kms , 7 from Baguabasa to Roopkund and then 27 downhill to reach Wan by evening 6 pm. Going down the headache returned at Baguabasa and then vanished again at Kallu vinayak. I think it was the flowers. While going down it was mindblowing to feel how much distance and slope we had covered.
The road we took while returning to Delhi was thru Gwaldom-Garud-Kasauni-Baijnath -Almora-Haldwani-Moradabad. This Kumaon-connection I had never tried. It was best left untouched. Beautiful though it was, the road was washed away at 50 something places with huge streams, which needed rock fitting, water depth and volume inspection, tyre entry angle, optimum speed maintenance to keep the water off the exhaust, and other skills which come naturally to you if you own a low clearance car. Mostly Sundeep got the volume and depth analysis job which required folding up your jeans and walking thru icy cold waters hehe.
At Almora we had our lunch and did some goofing around (read beer hunting), took a short “long-drive” towards Kasar Devi -Binsar road, 12 kms off Almora. Returning back we took the Almora-Haldwani road which was smooth and the drive pleasant. When we hit Lalkuan -Bilaspur-Rampur-moradabad “road”, I had to listen to full blast hard rock to keep my mind off the non-existent road. I actually stopped at Bilaspur to ask a local hawker there what was the place called and why the road was like that, like he owned the road or something. In hundred years I am not driving on that road again.