Roopukund is a high altitude glacial lake present in an uninhabited area of the Himalaya in Uttarakhand at an altitude of around 16,000 feet. A popular trekking destination of late, it is famous for mysterious human skeletons which are found at the edge of the lake.
I had the good fortune to be part of a trekking team of Canning Mountaineering Club, Kolkata that embarked on Roopkund trek in the month of September-October 2017. On 28th September we started our journey from Howrah railway station. On 30th September, our team alighted in Haldwani station, Uttarakhand in the afternoon. From there we moved to Gwaldam by car and stayed there for the night. Next morning we went to Lohajung by car. Here we stayed in Laksmi Tourist Lodge. This was the rest cum preparation day for we were to start trek from here on the next day.
Day 1: On 2nd October, we started our trek from Lohanjung at around 7:45 a.m. in the morning after breakfasting on last night’s kichdi.
We started from our lodge towards the way to Lohajung market. From that road, we took a turn and our trek began amidst forested lands. Initially, there was downward slope which was absolutely enjoyable. There was a clear route and we made our way following our guide’s direction. We came across a little time worn bridge that felt ancient and good.
There were small waterfalls and small streams of water with boulders on it. We crossed it by stepping on boulders.
Afterwards we started with the ascent. Scenery was green and beautiful. Since it was our first day of trek and our bodies just started the process of acclimatization, we took short and long breaks every now and then.
We came across Ram dana cultivation.
At around 1 p.m., we stopped at a makeshift eatery, and had a plate maggi and tea each. Members from other teams had stopped there for refreshment as well. We greeted each other and made small conversations. It is always good to know the likes of your kind.
We restarted our journey after an hour. Ascent continued. We kept climbing, taking short breaks in between.
After a day long trek we reached Didna village in the evening. This was our campsite. After pitching up tents, we walked around and explored our surroundings for a while. The village is a small settlement on meadow land with little houses of shepherds, porters and cultivators. Right in the lap of nature, surrounded by mountains all around, it looked beautiful. Our cook made tea in the kitchen tent and afterwards following dinner we retired early to our tents.
Day 2: Next day was a fresh start. We woke early, washed from a nearby stream of water and got ready for the day’s adventure. We set off for Bedini Bugyal after breakfast at 7:45 a.m in the morning.
Initially it started with a steep climb. Our body had acclimatized from the previous days’s trek to some extent but we were quickly gaining altitude. From forested land, we were making our way to meadow land. Landscape was about long stretches of grassland, fewer trees and the sky. Later it wasn’t that steep and we enjoyed the climb. Then we reached another maggi joint. After taking a tea break there, we continued with the climb.
Then we reached the beautiful Ali Bugyal, one of the highest and longest meadows of Asia. It seemed like Heaven on Earth ! I can not explain in words, the magic I felt in that spectacular meadow with smooth grassland, mist and mountain dogs.
Ali Bugyal was followed by Bedini Bugyal which was another longest, highest (and beautiful) meadows of Asia. By the time we are done with Ali Bugyal, our team was pretty much exhausted and hungry. The next 1.5 kilometers trek till our campsite seemed like a challenge.
Night fell by the time, all of our team members arrived in Bedinin Bugyal campsite. We had tea and hot dal with a dash of lemon. That seemed like an instant shot of energy. Many other trekking teams have set up their camps in Bedini Bugyal. Afterwards as the fog cleared, the sky looked splendid and starlit. We saw the snow white peak of Trisihul bathed in moon light. It was a breath taking experience.
Day 3: We had a late start next morning. The water was collected from distant stream. We started our trek to Pathur Nachuni at around 9:30 a.m. in the morning. It was the easiest trek since the terrain was quiet plain, route was short and our body was well acclimatized.
Bedini Bugyal to Pathur Nachuni has a narrow, beautiful route.
There was much fog and mist during the time we walked on this route. Though the fog reduced the visibility, it felt strangely beautiful and magical in a way.
We reached Pathur Nachuni after a short tea break in a makeshift eatery at around 1:45 pm.
After pitching up tents, I offloaded my backpack and walked around for a while. It was so soothing and refreshing. Afterwards as the night fell, we got inside one tent and had a gala time inside singing songs and discussing past mountain adventures.
Day 4 : Next day after breakfast, we prepared ourselves for the day’s trek to Baguya Basa. Baguya Basa is the final campsite at 14,000 feet. As we started, the weather was initially bright and sunny. After a steep ascent, the climb consisted of mostly narrow, rocky terrain. The views were getting better as we were climbing up higher and thus getting fuller views.
Sometimes we took a short cut which was considerable steeper and slightly riskier.
After about four hours of trekking, we reached Kaluwa Vinayak Ganesh temple at 14000 feet.
After offering prayer here, we had tea and refreshment from a maggi joint near the temple. The remaining trek of the day was smooth with an easy terrain. But it did get foggy and mystical. There were flat rocks and at times stepping needed a little caution.
We came across Sheep’s hut.
Finally we reached our camp Bagua Basa in late afternoon. It was wet, cold , foggy and magical.
After pitching tents, we sat outside taking in the beauty, discussing our ventures, and drinking tea. Water was not available near by and one needs to walk for around half an hour before coming across a half frozen stream of water.
A little while later, the fog cleared and we caught the magnificent view of the the Trishul mountain peak ! It felt exquisite.
Later, there was very slight hail rain for a few minutes. We had to put on our raincoats and ponchos. It was an enjoyable experience.
After a quick and hot dinner we retreated to our tents at around eight-thirty p.m. . Night was cold and next day, we were to start trek to Roopkund at three a.m. in the morning.
Day 5: We woke at around 2:15 a.m in the morning and started getting ready to set for the night trek. I had my camera bag, water bottle and head torch. We didn’t carry our rucksacks because we will be returning back at this camp on the same day.
Unfortunately I didn’t carry gloves for Roopkund ascent, hoping I would get warmed up during the climb. But I was mistaken for there’s no warming up in the absence of sun. I had a painful burning sensation in my hands through out the ascent to Roopkund.
The distance between Baguya Basa to Roopkund is three kilometres. However it is not an easy ascent due to the extreme cold weather, little amount of oxygen and darkness. Initially the route was not that steep and we progressed slowly.
The best part was the slow changing colors of the sky as dawn made it’s approach. By and by the route was getting lighted up. Sun rise was at around 5:30 a.m. in the morning.
The last half kilometer climb to Roopkund was the hardest part as it is a seventy degree ascent without any particular route and it is full of loose rocks. One needs to be very careful here as accidents are frequent in this area.
After the final thrilling climb, we made it to Roopkund. It was 6:15 a.m. in the morning. We were cold, happy and victorious.
Roopkund, the shallow lake of about two meters in depth was more than half frozen.
The most exciting part was the human skeletons that laid neatly gathered up in a place. The skeletons has dwindled in number. Earlier there were a copious amount, and trekkers previously used to carry them back home as souvenirs. That might be the cause for decrease in their number. Naturally however the presence of skeletons has stood the test of time. Courtsey, cold mountain climate.
The story behind the skeletons dates back to the nineth century. According to the local legend, Jasdhawal, a king from Kannauj, South of Gharwal Himalayas was on a pilgrimage to worship Goddess Nanda Devi. However despite the advice of his religious counsellors, the king took his pregnant queen , musicians and dancing girls along with him in the pilgrimage. On reaching Roopkund, the queen gave birth to her child in a near by cave. As per the local customs, musicians and dancing girls are prohibited in scared land. The New born and the mother are also considered unclean for a certain period of time. Child birth was the ultimatum that caused in unleashing the wrath of Goddess Nanda Devi. Thus Goddess sent a terrible hail storm as a result of which, all the pilgrimages died then and there. It is their skeletons that has remained till this day.
Roopkund, the lake is said to have erupted from the streams formed while Lord Shiva thrust his Trishul on the ground. Nanda Devi used to see her face in the lake, thus the name, Roopkund.
Roopkund lies in the lap of rocky mountain of Trishul range . The surrounding itself is a magnificent sight.
From Roopkund, a very steep route of around one kilometer leads to Junargali top. Junargoli offers exquisite paranoma view of mountain peaks. However due to certain unfortunate circumstance, we could not climb Junargali.
Our team started to descent. The immediate descent from Roopkund is dangerous and requires every bit of caution. The day was getting brighter. We met many trekkers who were climbing up to Roopkund. While they congratulated us, we wished them luck with the final ascent. We reached Bagua Basa camp after six hours of trek. We took tea and breakfast there. It was decided that we would climb down to Bedini Bugyal campsite in the same day.
For the day’s descent, we hired mules, offloaded our rucksacks and started with the down hill climb at around mid day. The route of our descent was different than that of our ascent.
We passed Pathur Nachuni. It got very misty by then.
Pathur (stones) and Nachuni (dance) owes it’s name due to the peculiar shapes of stones present in this place. From certain far away angles, stones looks like dancing women.
The presence of mist only mystifies the mystery.
After hours of trekking, we stopped at a maggi joint for a break in the afternoon.We had tea and shared plates of maggi. We came across some stunning view points every now and then. Stopping at times for pictures, we continued with our climb down.
We reached Bedini Bugyal after five p.m. in the evening. A strange feeling lingered as we made our way by the desolated forbidden boundary of the water body and temples, much of which were hidden in the mist.
The tents were pitched by the time I got in the camp site. We were extremely exhausted as we had climbed for more than thirteen hours. I crawled inside my tent and laid flat for a while, contemplating our success and failure at the same time. It was too cold and I felt too lazy. After a while, I got out and we snacked on noodles. In the late evening, there was a gala time as everybody squeezed in one tent. After that, I got back to my own tent and got inside my sleeping bag. I skipped dinner on that night for I had no remaining energy to move my limbs.
Day 6: It was the last day of the trek. We were to descend from Bedini Bugyal to Lohajung via Wan forest. We woke late at eight a.m. in the morning to make up for the last day’s exhaustion. We breakfasted on hot Puri sabji. We set off for our final descent at around ten a.m. in the morning.
Wan forest is quite steep. Fortunately we were descending which was comparatively less exhausting. The forest is deep and sun rays penetrates partially through blooming rhododendrons. I learned that turning body side wards and descending smooth, steep slopes is easy, safe and fun.
We spotted wild mushrooms in the forest.
And then Neel Ganga, a soulful mountain river. It had boulders against which water dashed and turned into white foam. The gurgling water was cold and refreshing. We sat on the rocks, submerging our feet in the water.
The wonderful break at Neel Ganga was followed by an ascent of twenty minutes. The sun shone brightly and it got hot enough to remind us of Kolkata’s heat ! Afterwards we stopped for a tea break. This was no make shift maggi joint but a well built eatery. We had elachi tea there and it was delicious.
This was followed by more of an hour’s walk in a relatively plain terrain followed by descent. Finally we reached Wan where two cars were waiting for us. We offloaded our rucksacks on the top of cars and road tripped back to Laksmi Hotel in Lohajung.
That physically marked the end of cozy campsites, breath taking meadows, starry nights, virgin forests, zig zag routes, icy cold winds and other worldly mysteries. But memories that remained are treasure troves of a lifetime.