India’s ever-soaring population was very evident in Old Delhi railway station. With only a few scratches on my tired face and arms, I triumphantly located my berth! Raniketh express was teeming with people like ants around a delicious carcass.
Roopkund, also known as Mystery Lake, is in Uttarakhand, a Himalayan state, located at an altitude of 5,029 mt/16,499 ft.
We travelled from Delhi to Kathgodam by train and Kathgodam to Lohajung in a jeep.
The road journey from Kathgodam to Lahorjung was akin to the journey of a soiled (in our case very tired) load of clothes in a semi-automatic washing machine. When the car eventually coughed us up at the lodge, we were like wet quilts; so shaken up that even if an earthquake passed us by, we wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. That was the state of the roads.
Roopkund trek in 7 days
Day 1: Lohajung
Lohajung is usually the trailhead for Roopkund trek. It’s a small town and has inexpensive lodges with essential amenities for trekkers.
First meeting with Ajeeth, our guide, happened over a very casual announcement of our lunch for the next six days:
Nuts, a cube of cheese, one small bar of dairy milk and toffees! It felt more like we were going to have a few ingredients of a full lunch. The look on my teammates’ faces was apocalyptic; as if Ajeeth just announced that, “henceforth, everybody on the team should live a life of celibacy.”
Day 2: Wan to Ali Bugiyal, 10km, 3350 mt/11000 ft
We drove up to a small and charming village called Wan from Lohajung and started our trek there. On the first days of my trekking expeditions, I feel like a just born elephant calf. I can’t so much as carry my own weight. It feels like I’m taking the weight of the world on my shoulders. I trudge up the hills like a wounded sloth. But this time it was different. Perhaps I got up on the right side of the sleeping bag. A seasoned Russian trekker bumped into me and gave me the following tips:
- Maintain pace.
- Maintain steady steps.
- Trek slower than what slow is for you.
- It worked like magic.
The first day at Ali Bugiyal was dedicated to acclimatisation.
Ali Bugiyal is incredibly spectacular. It was a steep climb through a forest brimming with towering trees. It is one of the best campsites on this trail. If you were on the path to renouncing worldly pleasure, this place with its magical splendour would make it utterly easy for you.
Imagine doing all your chores like brushing, pondering, reading, writing amidst never-ending tall pine and oak trees while identifying birds and birdcalls. It makes up for all the horrid sacrifices you had to do.
Day 3: Ali Bugyal – Bagubassa, 10km, 4100 mts/13450 ft
Bagua means flowery park and Basa means place. There was a lot of steep ascents and a little bit of decent to reach Bagubassa. We trekked in the snow, which was a unique experience. The campsite was rocky and gruesome, but the view was like nothing I’ve ever seen. You’ll spend the rest of the evening with Snow clad mountains at a stone’s throw away or at least that’s how it appears. It was one of the most challenging trails. The poky, protruding rocks you will sleep on inside a sleeping bag at -5 °C perhaps less, seems like a breeze as the view consumes you.
Day 4: Bhagwabasa to Roopkund. Further up to Junargali
Roopkund is the best and most awaited trail. At Roopkund with the rising sun, the snow becomes softer, and trekking becomes arduous, as your feet will sink in the snow. Therefore, we started our trek at 5 am with soup for breakfast. Roopkund is 5km from Bhagwabasa. It takes approximately 2.5hr. Roopkund is a massive snow clad cavity surround by snowcapped mountains telling you stories. The beauty of this place is beyond what words could express.
Roopkund is also famously known as skeleton lake. Several stories are floating around the skeleton lake. One such story is that during the 9th century a group of pilgrims heading toward Nanda Devi temple were hit by a hailstorm, and eventually they perished. And the skeletons, leather sandals, some metal are still visible around the lake.
Standing right in the middle of the lake gapping at the cold and mysterious mountains, picturing the plight of pilgrims stuck in a place like this with no help, sent shudders down my spine.
Most people quit at Bhagwabase or halfway to Roopkund. If you made it to Roopkund, climbing up to Junargali, which is around 500ft above Roopkund, is an absolute must. The view of Trisul from Junargali was spellbinding. I would give up everything to be in a place like this. All right, I’ll change that to “sometime” for it’s too cold.
The Himalayas, one of the most beautiful places on this planet, are synonymous to renouncing for a reason. When you are up there you are UP THERE, one of my friends said. Everything in life seems irrelevant.
When you trudge up the mighty Himalayas in the testing climate conditions, the transcendental stage is a very natural process just like the process of feeling hungry. Trying to work up a thought feels like a feat, besides you won’t have the stomach for it.
Day 5 & 6: Junargali back to Bhagwabasa and Bedni Bugyal
Bedni Bugyal is a gorgeous lush green meadow. When you turn to your left you’ll see snow clad mountains, to your right you’ll see perpetual lush green pastures. When you look up, you’ll see the vast expanse of clear blue sky, and finally, you look down, you’ll see your tiny skinny trembling feet amidst all the wonders, which brings a smile to your face.
The place we camped had Griffons and Lammergeier vultures by the dozen. We could study them close as they were feasting on cattle carcasses. We could also sight a myriad of other birds in the vicinity.
I spent the night with a triumphant ear to ear smile, looking at the moon, snow-capped mountain, horse grazing in the distance under the moonlit sky with its bell necklace playing soothing music and sound of a waterfall close by adding to the whole scene.
Day 7: Bedni Bugyal to Didna
Didna is a charming village, in Chamoli district located at the foothills of Himalayas. Houses in the village are mostly built of stones and mud with thatched roofs adding charm to the scenic town. Our Roopkund trail ended at Didna, It’s a perfect place to unwind and acclimatise, warming up to regular baths, changing clothes, people, noise, warm weather, fields of millets and corn as opposed to tall trees, meadows and snow we were used to.
Roopkund is one of the areas affected by the recent floods in Uttarakhand. Garwhali’s and Kumauni’s hospitality has overwhelmed many tourists and trekkers alike for a long time. The devastation to local inhabitants has been life-changing. Most houses and infrastructure has been swept away, and a lot of them are without a livelihood.
The key to Uttarakhand is tourism, and however much aid might help, the revival of tourism is the key to bring their lives back to normalcy.
To help locals improve their livelihood reviving tourism is one way.