रूपकुंड की यात्रा Roopkund Trek – १

In June 2008, I went for the Roopkund (रूपकुंड)) trek which is supposed to be a moderate to difficult trek. Roopkund is located at the base of Trishul mountain in the Uttaranchal Himalays and falls at the border of Kumaun and Garhwal. It is known for some mystery associated with the human remains of about 600 yrs old which are still found there. It can be reached easily both from Haridwar as well as Lal Kuan or Haldwani. Moreover, this year, the weather was bad due to early arrival of Monsoon so many people discouraged me to make this trip. To make the matters worse, I could not find any of my friends to accompany. However, these did not dampen my spirits and finally I could make it to Roopkund. Here I am sharing my experience of the whole trek..

I am putting some pictures in between paragraphs. However, if you want to see all picture, please visit  http://photos.ibibo.com/album/79615/1/trek-to-roopkund.

Day 1: Kanpur to Lal Kuan (4.00 pm – 8.00 am), Train [कानपुर से लालकुआं, रेलगाड़ी]

I started 18th June from Kanpur. I left IIT Kanpur at about 4.00 pm and reached Lucknow at about 7 pm which was 2 hours before departure of the Aishbagh Express from Aishbagh station, Lucknow to Lal Kuan in Kumaun region of Uttaranchal from where the route to mountains starts. Finally I reached Lal Kuan at about 8 am in the morning. Lal Kuan is a chaotic station, like many Indian stations, and here also taxi drivers and the coolies trouble one quite a bit. Once you are out of station at the taxi stand, similar chaos persist. Rain also did its own bit as the station was quite dirty. Anyways, a jeep was ready to go to hills but I had to wait for another hour since Jeep driver (Chandan Singh, from mountains) wanted to fill the jeep in.

Day 2: Lal Kuan लालकुआं to Gwaldam ग्वालदाम (~190-200 km, 9.00 am – 5.00 pm), Jeep

Route: Lal Kuan (लाल कुआं) – Haldwani (हल्द्वानी) – Bhawali (भवाली) – Almora (अल्मोडा) – Garud (गरुड़) – Gwaldam (ग्वालदाम या ग्वालदम)

We finally left Lal Kuan station at about 9.00 am and then passed Haldwani which is the last stop before hills start. Once the Hills start, the view becomes fantastic as curvy mountainous roads, green tops with Teak or Sagaun trees, valleys, water falls and their fantastic sounds overcome all the tiredness of the journey.

After about 2 hours and ~60 km, first stop during this journey was Bhawali which is small town located at a height of about 1750 m. It is nice small town and is a junction from where one can go to Nainital, Ramgarh and Bhimtal. Bhawali has a nice fruit market and I bought some nice Khubanis and dry almonds which were quite useful during my journey as I didn’t have time to have lunch. From this place onwards, the Pine or Cheed trees could be viewed on the mountains which are beautiful grand trees. During our journey, there was some problem in the disk brakes of the jeep so we had to stop for about 30 min at Garam Pani, a small village on the way where I had some tea. From there via Khiarna and along the banks of Kosi river, I reached Almora at about 2.00 pm, after about 5 hours from the start and about 53 km away from Bhawali. I did not stop at Almora and since it was raining quite a bit, the jeep driver also did not stop to take more passengers. The driver told me that Almora was famous for three things: the beautiful girls (in his words “Maal”, ladies please don’t take offence), pathaal and Baal (a sweet). Almora is a nice and picturesque city located at a height of about 1650m. It is one of the hill stations developed by British for their summer holidays, although villages near Almora go long back in the history. Now it is one of the most common tourist spots in summer and can be quite crowded during peak season in May.

From Almora, we proceeded towards Garud (a place just before Baijnath). On the way, we went through Someshwar and Kausani. One could buy juice of Buransh, a mountain tree, at shop on the way to Someshwar from Almora, and is supposed to be good for heart. Kausani is one of the very pretty places in Uttarakhand. Kausani is located at the height of about 1900 m and offers a very nice view of many snow-capped mountains of Kumaun and Garhwal. However, when I reached Kausani, the place was full of clouds with intermittent rain and I did not make a stop there, partly because of weather and partly because I wanted to reach Gwaldom before dark. From Kausani, we reached Garud which is way down in the valley, may be about 500 m (doubtful). I reached Garud at about 3.30-3.45 pm. The total fare from Lal Kuan to Garud was Rs 200/- which is pretty cheap for a 140-150 km drive on hills. Without wasting anytime there, I proceeded to Gwaldam in a shared taxi which was damn full but was ready to leave. Taxi driver asked for Rs. 50/- which I agreed to and soon I was on my way to Gwaldom, ~25 km from Garud. The driver did not put any cover on top which was bit annoying as rains could come anytime and could wet my rucksack. Anyways, I was on the way to Gwaldam in this jeep with more than 12 people. The road to Gwaldam was bad and it was a quite steep uphill drive making matters more difficult. I could see why drivers from plains often meet fatal accidents on these difficult places. In fact, I was told that a day before a Jeep from Delhi fell from the road in to the valley and one person was killed instantaneously and 5 were critically injured (still a good escape). I reached Gwaldam at about 5.00 pm. Gwaldam is a very small but pretty town located at about 1850 m in Garhwal Region with population of about 2000. The bus/jeep stand on the main road is chaotic and a little dirty as most places in India but since, it is not populated, it is tolerable. After getting down at the stand, I went to the GMVN guest house from where I called my guide Mahnedra Martoliya, arranged by his brother Naveen Martoliya who is an official guide with GMVN. Mahendra came there in a short while.

Earlier I thought that I should be leaving for Wan immediately but as I was told by locals that it would not be a good idea in the bad weather so I decided to spend the night in Gwaldam. The accommodation at the GMVN rest house was full but Mahendra arranged a room for me in a hotel right in front which was quite good (with attached toilet and bathroom) for Rs 150/- for a night. It is very important to go with an experienced guide who knows the mountains and who does not misguide you and Mahendra turned out to be a very good guide. Mahendra told me that he would come with a porter for the trek and we would start next day early morning to reach Wan before next day evening. We purchase some ration and essential food items, candies, chocolates etc for the trek. The guides also take their tents, sleeping bags and ruck sacks with themselves so that was good. One has to pay the guide and porter fee from the start until the end and their travel and other small expenses on the way. They cook the food for the tourist and carry most of the stuff. Mahendra showed me around in Gwaldam a bit in whatever time we have before dark. Weather permitting, one can see peaks to Nandaghungti and Trishul from Gwaldam. The weather was little cloudy with night temperatures around 10-15 C. The hills in Gwaldam are decorated with magnificent and very tall Devdaar Trees which appear like kissing the clouds. After having dinner and a few sips of Dark Rum, I soon went off for sleep.

A view of far off snow-capped mountains from Forest Rest House in Gwaldam (ग्वालदम )

A view of Nanda Ghunti (नंदा -घुंटी ) and Trishul (त्रिशूल ) range from Gwaldam

Day 3: Gwaldam (ग्वालदम) -Wan (वाण) (75-80 km, 9.00 am – 7.00 pm), by Jeep

Gwaldam (ग्वालदम) -Tharali (थराली) -Debal (देबाल) -Mundoli (मुंदोली) -Lohajung (लोहाजंग) – Wan (वाण)
In the morning after having breakfast, we met at around 8.00 am at the jeep stand where there was Jeep ready to go to Tharali, a place about 21 km away in the valley at an altitude of ~400m. I also met my porter Sudrendra for the first time and he also turned out to be a very nice chap and hard-working. We boarded into the Jeep but the driver again wasted an hour to fill the jeep. The way to Tharali is very scenic with magnificent flora, Devdaar tress, and many water falls. The road was not so good but ok. We reached Tharali after about 45 minutes drive. The driver left us on the main road from where was had to go down in the valley on foot. I paid Rs 30 per person for this journey. This was the first trekking experience of this trip, going through the hills with rucksack on back to the valley. The valley was hot making all of us sweat profusely, even after about 500 m down hill trek to the road to catch the jeep to Debal. Again, we got a Jeep to take us to Debal but he charged us extra for one more seat for the luggage as he did not have luggage carrier on top. To save time, I agreed and we started for Debal at around 11.00 am. Debal is a place located at height of ~1220 m and is about 20 km from Tharali and the route is pretty scenic with many pine trees on the way. The road was also good so we reached Debal at around 11.00 am. Upon reaching Debal, we were surrounded by many drivers to take us to Wan but we finally settled in a Jeep which was surely going to Wan. The catch there is that many drivers will say that they would go to Wan but would stop at Lohajung and then would ask for more money to go to Wan and that could be a rip-off. Here again, we had to wait for quite long for more passenger to fill the jeep. In the meantime, I took some pictures of the surrounding hills, tress and the Pinder river, coming to Pindari glacier. Finally we left at around 12.00 noon for Wan.

Kosi (कोसी ) River flowing through Debal (देबाल ) and on the back is a Pine clad hill

Pine (चीड़) trees, found abundantly at lower altitudes, below 1500-2000m

 

The journey to Wan was going to be an uphill drive all the way to Wan. The road was again very pretty good, decorated on both sides either on the mountains or in the valley with Pine trees, waterfalls falling through hills into Pinder river. First stop on the way as a waterfall where driver clean his jeep glass and we drank water straight from the waterfall. I have to say that the water was very clean and the tasted good. Next we stopped at Mundoli, about 8 km from Debal at a height of 2135 m to drop some passengers and without wasting much time pushed off to Lohajung, another 22 km away.

 

Picture of the valley from Mundoli (मुन्दोली) . One sees similar landscapes all through the journey on mountains

 

The way to Lohajung again was good with good driving conditions. We reached Lohaung at about 1.30 pm where most passengers got down and we also had our lunch. Lohajung is again a small place located at 2135 m with small population but has a small tourist rest house of GMVN and has bus service up to Rishikesh once a day. Here, dal-rice is the most commonly served food but I settled for bread-Omlette as anyway, next few days were going to be on rice-dal. One more thing, Lohajung is the last stop where one can use his cell phone as after that point, none of the networks work. Finally we left Lohajung at about 2.15 pm after persuading the driver Chandar Singh.

 

Landscape as seen from Lohajung (लोहाजंग), simply beautiful!

 

The road to Wan from Lohajung is barely 14 km but is barely motorable and needs a very skilled driver which our driver was. The driver who was taking us is the only one who shuttles between two places once a day. The scenery was getting better on the way we moved up with Surahi trees taking over pine trees. The air was very clean and clouds were playing games with us. On the way, we stopped at a small village called Kuling, situated at about 2400m. There some people again boarded the jeep. Stopping at some more places, we finally reached Wan at about 3.45 pm. However, we had to get down about 2 km before the GMVN rest house because of bad road condition as driver preferred to mend the road than driving (understandable as it would affect him later and there is no government help available). So we had to trek upwards for about 1 km to reach GMVN guest house. Wan is a beautiful small village located at 2450 m surrounded by hills covered with about 50 m tall massive yet magnificent Surahi trees. It has a small population of about 2000 with a primary school and a couple of grocery shops. People are nice and friendly. The water is clean, air is clear and greenery and flora is forceful enough one to thin of this place as home. The guest house is also reasonably good with some cots for sleeping, kitchen for cooking, and a small toilet. The place had no electricity although wires were visible. Those who had money had installed solar panels to make up for lack of electricity. At the end of a long day I was tired but thrilled and was enjoying the every moment of it. So far, I was feeling alright and did not have any symptoms of altitude related problems. The attendant at the guest house was a man named “Negi”, a common mountain surname. He charged me Rs 100/- for overnight stay. My guide and porter started making preparations for dinner, our first of such kind before the trek. We went down in the village for purchasing some stuff and met some villages at the shop who sounded quite friendly. Again, the to and fro journey of 2 km was strenuous, especially after a tiring day.

 

Wan (वाण) village situated at 2510 m

 

View of the Wan village from the rest house

 

Massive Surahi (सुराही ) trees among the clouds

 

Rest house with a temple on the back and a few Surahi trees
Here at the guest house, I met a tourist from Assam who returned from the trek on the in the afternoon. He was an experienced trekker and went on the trek to Roopkund. He told me that because of bad weather and sinking in a glacier about 300-400m before Roopkund, he could not make it to the destination and had to come back. But we had a good chat and exchanged our details so that we could possibly co-ordinate something together. Since, it as already almost dark we reached Wan, there was not much to see so we soon crashed into our beds to start early morning next day for real trek. I also removed some extra stuff to leave at Wan. It is always better to trek light but make sure that you don’t fall sick or die there because of lack of certain things, so one needs to optimize the stuff one carries (see below).
One thing which was noticeable was that the dresses, especially of ladies, were getting more and more traditional as we moved up. While up to Debal, ladies mainly wore salwar-kameez, at higher altitudes, it converted into long skirts tied at the waist with a cloth, a top, and a head scarf. Although traditional dress of men is a tight pajama with a shortish kurta and a cap, many wore trousers and t-shirts. Another point was women appeared more hard-working than men, as most of the house-hold work and field work was done by women.

women carrying stuff in traditional baskets

Men on the other hand engaged in gossiping, playing cards, tobacco, drinking etc. But overall, people seemed happy with their life style and had plenty of time for each other. They did not have modern gadgets but had many more things which we don’t have and we in plains and in cities don’t really appreciate this. People at mountains live a tough life but they are content with it and live in consonance with nature, although plastic litter has started to make its way even at these heights. Governments and NGOs need to make efforts to educate people to keep the environment clean, to use toilets than defecating in open air etc.
Part – II  and III (Next part of the trek to Bedini Bugyal, Baguabasha and Roopkund and return)

7 Comments

  • Mahesh Semwal says:

    Enjoyed your post !!

    Pictures are beautiful , I wish it could be bigger in size.

    Looking forward to your next post.

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  • ashok sharma says:

    good pics,could have been better.
    places you visited, seem to be really great.

  • vandana paranjape,nashik says:

    bahut khub Aashish ye trek ekbar tvper dekha tha ok aage padhati hun.

  • Nandan says:

    I am not sure I am yet up to take this trek but can one drive to Wan , stay there for a day or two, do some long walks and be back. Does this make sense at all ?

    If one can do it then I think Haldwani-Wan is a day long drive, assuming that if one is driving himself.

    I read that you had to trek down to valley to take the next connection, at Tharali I believe. Is there no direct road, there must be one for those jeeps to reach there.

    Also, you de-boarded at Lalkuan, does the train not go all the way to Kathgodam ?

    So many questions :-). Respond as you get time. On to part 2 now.

  • Ashish says:

    @Nandan: Theoretically, yes, you can go to Wan by road all the way but the road from Loharjung to Wan is really bad and a normal well maintained or even tourist vehicle may be in serious trouble. There is only vehicle which commutes between the two places which is old style Mahindra jeep driven by a Wan resident and only two times a day. Inexperienced drivers may also topple or skid the vehicle as driving is mostly on stones and boulders. However, if I was you, I would drive upto Loharjung and then walk upto Wan, about 10-15 km trek with lovely views.

  • Nandan says:

    Thanks for the tip Ashish.

    Would there be a ‘stay’ option at Loharjung ?

    Can one reach ‘Lohargunj’ in 8 hours from Haldwani ?

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