Monday, November 23, 2009

Trek to Roopkund

To my Dad.

Dream, dream, dream, dream ... All I have to do is dream.
When you want something badly, the Universe conspires to give it you. This rang absolutely true for me apropos the Roopkund trek. Though it looked like pure chance that I made it to the trek, I believe it was my destiny. So it was that I found in July that some colleagues were planning a trek to Roopkund. By the time I decided I would go, the team was complete. What the heck I thought, I would go to Ladakh or the Northeast. The plan never took off because of logistics issues in my group. There I was, back to square one, desperately seeking to travel but no clue where to. Then Ritu's IM came as a heaven-sent. Someone decided to drop out. Would I be interested? Interested?? I grabbed the opportunity! And this is how my first medium-difficult trek materialized. 

The destination, Roopkund Lake, also known as the Skeleton Lake, located at an altitude of 16,500 feet in Uttarkhand, and a part of the Greater Himalayan range, would be worth all the travails and the trek itself could be counted as one of a lifetime. With Lohargunj as the base camp, we would go up to Didna, Bedni, Pachar Lauchani (also called Ghora Lotani), Kalu Vinayak, Bagwabasa, Roopkund, and if possible, Junargali. All the while, we could gaze at the snow-clad peaks - Trishul and Nanda Ghunti - and see various types of landscapes. Tough yet appealing!

Pic: GPS trail of our trek -  Benny

Though I filled in the vacant trekker's slot, I could not sit and enjoy the adrenaline rush till I set off to board the flight to Delhi. The days before that were filled walking around with a printout of the things to pack, then ticking off items as they were dug out or bought in trips to the Hypercity, Chermas and Big Bazaar in Ameerpet, City Centre, Adidas showrooms, not in that order. Add to that, incessant rain and traffic jams, and you have a perfect recipe to want to scoot out of the city into the lap of Nature. Only envisioning the calm and quiet of the mountains sustained me through those days of non-stop shopping and mental note making, in addition to handling deliverables at work.

Now comes the most pertinent part of preparing for the trek - the mental preparedness for the difficulty of the trek and assessment of one’s physical fitness. When I browsed the discussions on the indiahikes forum, I had my moments of doubt. Here were guys preparing for the trek for around two months and still worried about their lung capacity. Where did I stand then? I slowly ticked off the checklist and rescued myself from a potential panic attack! One, I had been regularly working out in the gym. I could run 4 km in a little over the 30 minutes prescribed by the indiahikes team. Two, I was used to climbing the stairs at a good pace (also lugging the laptop bag along). The tricky part - could I climb up a 4-5 flights of stairs in 3 minutes or less, without getting breathless? And repeat the set, if possible, within the 3 minutes? With a pounding heart, I timed myself and to my satisfaction I was within the comfort range. Three, I was not worried about water my consumption. This, in turn, would take care of dehydration. Then the one thing that remained was AMS. This had to be left to itself. Que sera sera.

Pre-trek Day 1 - Hyderabd to Delhi to Kathgodam, 28th August 2009

Off I set then to catch a shuttle to the airport. Till then, the people I knew from work were Abhinav, Ritu, and Srini. Chatting with Abhinav in the bus helped fight the sudden overwhelming adrenaline rush. Met Srini, Ritu, Vikrant, Raghu, and Arthima at the airport. Ritu's narration of her experience of chasing the shuttle bus in a cab was hilarious. While the rest waited to board a flight one hour after ours, Srini and I boarded our flight. Though we were tired after the hurried packing the previous night, we both chatted away to glory, much to the discomfiture of our neighbors, I am sure. One thing which was pending for him was to get a bigger pair of shoes from a Woodland outlet in Delhi. What a pain to have big feet! ;-)  

I thoroughly enjoyed the view from the window seat and abandoned all plans of re-reading my colleague Sujata’s journal on the trek. After a couple of hours, as we approached the air land of Delhi, I was struck with an overwhelming sense of joy. Dilli meri jaan! There I was, about to step down to my city after a gap of four years. The joy was cut short with one gust of hot wind that blew across as I stepped down the plane. It was searing hot. And to think that Srini and others wanted to go around shopping and hanging around. I quietly stuck to the original plan of going to Ritu's place in Gurgaon. Ritu's parents came to pick us up. We loaded all the trek bags into the car and chugged away to Gurgaon. The wide roads, the greenery, and the general air of happening added to the sense of adventure looming on the horizon. Ritu and I then sub-consciously must have decided to not compare Delhi roads to Hyderabad or dwell on the traffic woes.

Ritu's flat on the tenth floor in the DLF 4 apartments was awesome. That I later climbed the ten-flight of stairs in the humid weather did away whatever little apprehension I had about my physical fitness. After a scrumptious meal, Ritu and I sat down to see if we could offload stuff from our trek bags or share common things. The exercise did not help much! And we had Ritu's sis Deepa and her mom first watch us amusedly and then leave us to our own predicament as we struggled to unburden the weight, in vain. Then we went off to the local market for some minor shopping. The evening was glorious with azure skies and the lushness of the DLF made it more pleasant. I could not dwell more on the sights and sounds because there were things to be bought, plans to be thought out and communicated. Deepa helped us with the shopping. After saying our adieus, we set off in a cab to the old Delhi railway station. The Ranikhet express was scheduled to depart at 10:30 and we started at 8:45. The cabbie turned out to be a nice old man who did not bother us much but took us via the Mehrauli-Gurgaon road, AIIMS, Lodi Road, and ITO. Ah the roads of Delhi, again! And the old melodies on FM made it a delightful drive. 
The others were already at the station. After coordinating for the point to meet at the station, when we finally arrived at the station, a hilarious conversation took place between Abhinav and me.

Abhinav: We are at the Comesum restaurant.
Me: We are at the Ticket counter, which is adjacent to Comesum. Come out of Comesum and to your left.
Abhinav: Ok, stand facing the station, now where is Comesum, to your left or right?

And they say women are bad at directions!

Met Ananth and his wife Thara. The train was delayed by half an hour or so. Was dead tired and slept, dreaming of the majestic and alluring mountains. At the Kathgodam station, the indiahikes team would arrange for cabs to take us to Nainital. We chose Nainital to acclimatize to the altitude and also to shop for small items, which we could not have done in the other stopover option, Kasauni.

Pre-trek Day 2 - Kathgodam to Nainital, 29th August 2009

Woke up to a green, cool morning. As we passed the Haldwani station, the mountain life unfolded in all its glory. It was a while since I had been to the hills. And the sight energized me instantly. Coming out of the Kathgodam station, we were welcomed by the sight of mountains looming large over, the grandeur never failing to inspire awe and respect. Nature has so much to teach. In its own silent way, it nurtures life and beautifies the world, repairs her ravages, and unleashes its power when we do not respect or acknowledge its power.

The first leg of the ride from Kathgodam to Nainital was spent in such soulful thoughts. In between I would be brought back to reality by music on Arthima or Thara's mobile phones. Or guffaws from Ananth, Srini, Abhinav, or the banter between Ananth and Thara. I was beginning to know the other trekkers a little. Ritu sat at the window, braced to experience and slay motion sickness.

Reached Nainital in about an hour and checked into the designated hotel. The hotel commanded a good view of the Naini Lake. One look inside our room and Ritu and I were not too happy with the musty interiors and dirty linen. Ritu was vocal about her dissatisfaction. Others only laughed it off saying that we need to be prepared for a rough trek. Roughing out on a trek is different but to rough it out in a musty hotel room is not prudence but self-inflicted punishment! Banishing all misgivings, we set out to the Mall road.

Had breakfast at a lakeside restaurant. Afterwards, while others decided to go for a drive up to the Lover's Point and the Himalaya Point, Ritu and I decided to stroll on the Mall road and soak in the sun. We checked out the fancy shops and bought stoles, monkey caps, gloves, and a coffee mug. This was followed by a boat ride in the Naini Lake with the rest of the gang , a visit to the Naini temple across the lake, a late lunch (of yummy momos, dal-roti, and jeera rice) in the Bhutia market, and shopping in the Bhutia market. Then Ritu and I set out to search for a photo studio to get our passport pictures. When we joined the others at the lakeside, it was a beautiful sight to behold - a huge expanse of the lake, reflecting lights of the city, blue skies above with low clouds blanketing the city. Brings out the eternal romantic in me!

Ananth and Thara had found a fleece shop selling four sweaters for 100. Ritu and I of course made a beeline to the shop. :-)
Now comes an interesting part. There was a huge fair nearby. I wanted to go around in the giant wheel and Raghu joined me. We enjoyed the first few rounds of the ride. Trouble started when Raghu yelled at the control man to take it faster. The result - we could not get down for the next 10 minutes. If I had got sick up there, Raghu would have had it! A field day for the mela men as they must have had a good laugh at 'these tourist folks!’.

Dinner at Nana Nani's restaurant was simple and tasty. Came back to the hotel, rearranged our trek bag contents and settled for the night. A slight glitch was how to let in fresh air into the room - we could not leave the French windows open and doze off, neither could we sleep in a closed room. And to top it, another door that opened out into a corridor, did not have a secure lock, just a thin latch. After barricading this door with my huge trek bag and a chair, I slept off, excited and nervous about the next leg of the journey, to the base camp at Lohargunj.

Pic: At the Naini Lake - Achin 


  1. Great start Srilakshmi :) I can almost relive the experience :))

  2. Thought of reading it later but couldn't stop myself :D ... so nice to live through the moments once again.. and am waiting for the rest! Btw.. did we really disturb fellow passengers on plane.. I thought we hardly had any neighbours! :)

  3. Wow...very nicely written and dear I am sure you will get many more such opportunities in future. Your Dad is watching from up there and making sure you live your dreams...the dreams will come true...touchwood :)

  4. This is a great post Laksh!! Looking forward to reading more on this page:-)

  5. Thank you everyone!!

    @Thara - I too have relived the trek every time I edited the content!!

    @Srini - Well, am sure we interrupted some siestas around ;-)

    @Debs - Yes, he is. And I promise that I will drag you to at least one trek. :-)

    @Priya - :-) More posts coming soon.

  6. Hello Sri!

    My name is Mats, from Sweden. Thanks for an inspirational blog! I'm doing the Roopkund trek this october. Would it be possible for you to share your GPS traces with me? If so, I would be extremely happy :)


  7. Hi Mats! I am glad you found this blog useful. :-)

    I will put you thru to the person who recorded our GPS trail. You could write

    I am sure you will have a wonderful trek! All the best!

    Do write to me if you need any info on the trek.


  8. Mats - The correct email is

  9. Sri,
    you have motivated me to do roopkund.



  10. Great to know this Nikhil! Hope you have a grt trek!! :-)