Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Trek To Vasudhara Falls – Badrinath Revisited

The Himalayan shrine of Badrinath will rank as the most visited among all the shrines and temples in Garhwal Himalayas. The temple gates opening around first week of May, will see pilgrims in buses, minibuses and cars line up on the steep hill road from Joshimath. Generally Do Dham Yatra consisting Badri – kedar are most popular, followed by Char Dham Yatra namely Badri – Kedar, Yamunotri – Gangotri  

Any travel operator offering ‘Do Dham Yatra’ or ‘Char Dham Yatra’, will land the visitors to Badrinath Dham around noon time. The visitors after checking in hotel, guest houses or dharamshalas, having lunch, will have a sightseeing visit to Mana village about 2 km away, mostly in shared jeeps. Evening will be spent around Badrianth temple complex, having darshan and offering  puja. There are special programs like ‘Vishnu Sahasra Naam’ among many others, which I attended, for which there is advance booking at a special counter behind the temple. The pilgrims leave the temple town in the next morning to another destination as per their itinerary.

Badrinath Temple
 On one of my visits to Garhwal Himalayas, for visiting Hemkund and Valley of Flowers; the Hemkund trek was aborted with an accident enroute Hemkund trek route, where a glacier collapsed and blocked the road. We lost the opportunity to visit Hemkund that year but got an additional day at Badrinath as a bargain; hence my Vasudhara Falls trek was an accident and not as planned. The following sketch shows the route from New Delhi to Badrinath and onwards to Mana Village and Vasudhara Falls

As is customary during all our trek tours, we woke up at the crack of a dawn and our Qualis loaded with tourists were on their way to Mana Village at a distance of 2 km. Reaching Mana village, having breakfast and tea, half the group went for visiting Vyas Gumfa and the other half including me were on our cherished goal of Vasudhara Falls. On the way we found a Sadhu Baba covered with ashes seated in one of the caves. Further down we arrive at Bhimpul - as per legend, was built by Bhim for the Pandavas to cross from one hill to another, by placing a big boulder. The Saraswati river with all its aquatic fury was flowing below the boulders  and rushing  to mingle with river Alaknanda and in unison pass through Badrinath town just ahead of the temple. 

The gentle uphill road to Vasudhara Falls was fairly straight unlike the winding ones we face on most of the trek related to Himalayan shrines. As we looked behind on a lovely landscape, a beautiful looking temple, the sleepy looking village at a distance, the road leading from Badrinath to Mana and the clouds clinging to the mountains in the backdrop, made a perfect picture.

Landscape on way to Vasudhara
As we pushed ahead, both sides of the trek route were covered with agricultural plots. A mongoloid featured woman was doing the de-weeding of her plot. Mana happens to be located very close to Indo – China border, It was revealed by our vehicle driver that the villagers of this place are of Chinese origin, having migrated as shepherds many decades back, even before Indo – China war, and settled down because of rich pastureland for their livestock. Presently they are into livestock rearing and farming.

As we pushed along, the cloudy weather was a huge respite, not taxing us too much. The lush green Bhugyal on slopes was inviting for brief breather, with a cave temple nearby. 

Cave Temple
We got a distant view of a pyramid shaped glacier at the base of Vasudhara Falls. The backdrop was grayish looking foggy appearance with mass of water vapour and water droplets.

Glacier in front of Vasudhara
The final stretch of trek landed us to a flat portion of land adjacent to a pyramid shaped glacier. The Vasudhara Falls water mass coming out of a funnel shaped opening at the hill top was crashing on craggy mountain surface, breaking into a large number of smaller waterfalls and finally landing behind the glacier. 

The glacier in front of the Vasudhara was beehive of activity. At least 10 visitors including men women and children, were walking on the snow mass, some were even bare footed. With my experience of walking on glacier on way to Gandhi Sarovar at Kedarnath, I controlled myself; instead shot a video to capture the mood of the place
Behind the flat land, on the left hand side, down the slope, the grayish looking place was absolutely barren with mud and pebbles on a dried river bed. A serpentine narrow steam was running downhill. That area leads to some hardcore trekking expeditions to Satopanth – Swargarohini. 

Cloud veils Himalayas
As we retreated from Vasudhara, the cloud veil was lifting and as if by magic, Himalayan panorama was revealing itself with all its glory. On a clear day, this place will look stunningly beautiful.
Cloud Veil Lifts
Important Info for Trekkers:
1) One can plan the trek after the Badrinath temple kapat opens in early summer around first week of May. Exact date of temple opening may be available from website 

2) It is better to carry water bottle and some packed food stuff on Vasudhara Falls trek, if one has not taken any brakfast. No eateries were observed on this 5 km trek route. There are no ponies or palkis available for this journey,

3) One can use any footwear one is comfortable with. Be it a sports shoe or floaters. There are some small region on trek route, where the water coming down the hills flows over the road and goes downhill. Water will be ankle deep but with some stones placed at strategic locations, one can hop over and cross the stream comfortably. I had worn an all weather floater, which proved to be quite useful. The sports shoe if it gets wet may be a nuisance.

4) Trekkers can venture beyond Vasundhara Falls for trek to Satopanth – Swargarohini with the services of an experienced guide.

5) Photographers may note that the hill cradling the Vasudhara, falls in the shadow zone, in the morning, with the sun behind the hills. This coupled with glacier in the front of the water fall, the still photo or video exposure will be tricky, necessitating additional aperture opening. 

* Author has the pleasure of presenting a video on Vasudhara Falls recorded during the trek, which can be accessed by taking following link:

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Trek to Gandhi Sarovar – The Glacial Grandeur

The holy shrine of Kedarnath is visited by a large number of pilgrims and nature lovers from early summer after the temple re-opens around first week of May. The itineraries offered by most of the travel operators allow a full day’s trek from Gaurikund to Kedarnath. The following morning, some time is allotted to yatris for a darshan at the temple and the return trek to Gaurikund starts immediately thereafter. The buses or vehicles pick up the yatris by 2 pm and travel to the next night halt. Yet, if one is a careful observer, he will not miss a signboard near the steel bridge, near the temple indicating various sightseeing places around Kedarnath,

The map depicted in the signboard is awfully out of scale and will leave one with a lot of confusion. To make the matters simple the following list of important destinations and distances will make it lot easier for yaris to comprehend.
1. Sankaracharya Yog Samadhi : 200 m walkable
2. Bhairabnath Mandir : 1 km trek uphill
3. Gandhi Sarovar : 4 km trek uphill
4. Vasuki Tal : 8 km trek uphill

In my three visits to Kedarnath since 1984, only in the year 2007, I could have a itinerary, which allowed me to grab three hours in the early morning for a trek to Gandhi Sarovar ( also called Chorabari Tal at the snout of Chorabari glacier ) and back. Seemingly to make my task easier, there was a signboard near the temple, with a prominent looking arrow indicating the route to Gandhi Sarovar and mentioning distance of 3.5 km trek behind  the temple . A recce of the trek route in the evening, walking behind the temple took us to the a broken steel bridge over river Mandakini. The furious looking Mandakini whose source is the Chorabari glacier, looked difficult to cross by hopping across the rocks; the trek route looked as good as closed. We were back near the temple to make further enquiries with the local habitants. One Garhwali villager pointed to  us an alternative route over the hill on left hand side while facing the Kedar temple, which looked a bit longer but doable. The following sketch prepared by me based on my experience and some aerial shots from hill top, shows both the routes to Gandhi Sarovar.

We woke up much before dawn and got dressed in all our woolens, to undertake the trek, about which we had no idea, we did not have a guide either. Three of us trekkers veered to the left side, much ahead of the temple, walked on the steel bridge over river Mandakini and took to the stone paved trekking route, on a gentle upward gradient. It was easy going for at least two km before a huge glacier made its appearance. The glacier sloping from hill top about 40’ wide, totally covered the walking track, that was something we did not bargain for. For me, it was first of a Himalayan trek, where I came across such a situation. We had some kind of a conference and psyched ourselves and decided to cut across the white snow mass. There were a few foot marks of some adventurous guys, who preceded us along the same route probably yesterday. It was a very slow but cautious progress carefully tiptoeing on snow, with walking stick offering some kind of a support. After crossing the obstacle we coasted along for some 15 minutes then we encountered the next glacier. Exasperated we crossed four glaciers and continued walking up to a point where the trail seemed to disappear completely. Once again we were in a dilemma, whether to continue with our expedition; one of us volunteering to do a recce by further climbing up the hill along the mud track. After nearly ten minutes, the guy waved from top signaling that he has reached the goal! We took our time to clamber up and to reach a snow filled bowl shaped valley with a glacial lake Gandhi Sarovar in the centre. The Himalayan peak of Kedar Dome appeared gigantic and majestic in a cloudless blue sky. 
Kedarnath Peak
The glacial lake reflected the snow peaks in water which was frozen.  The snow mass in vicinity of the lake is the danger zone as it gets piled up on top of frozen water layer. A few days back there was a heavy snowfall, which made all the difference. 
Gandhi Sarovar
As I took my position on top of the hill recording still and movies, my two trek mates were adventurous enough to go down the slope of soft snow upto their calves to venture as close to Gandhi Sarovar ( earlier referred to as Chorabari Tal ) as possible. The pair looked so miniscule and insignificant engulfed by the nature’s largesse. Beyond the mass of snow in the valley appeared the base of Kedar Dome, called  Chorabari glacier. I was totally in tune with nature, soaking into its grandeur; the time lost its dimension thereafter. My thoughts process were interrupted as my trek mates made their appearance wadding through the white soft snow to the place where I was standing.

Climbing up the gradient in snow
With a sense of reluctance in our heart, we commenced our return journey from this heavenly place, as one does not get an opportunity of witnessing the Himalayan glacial glory from close proximity often in their life time. A few memory photo shoots later we were in a hurry to reach Kedarnath as early as possible to enable us to commence our trek from Kedarnath to Gaurikund and reach there by 4 pm, One of our trek mates took the short cut route, by going downhill along a steep goat track, crossing  the river Mandakini by stepping on boulders, reaching Kedarnath from behind the temple to Bharat Sevashram guest house. We two, however, decided to retrace along the same route crossing four glaciers. This time around negotiating glacier proved to be a more difficult proposition. The sun rising and with its warmth melting the top layer of hardened snow made it slippery. It was as if we were walking over a slab of ice; in spite of being careful, I slipped a few times, but no damage was done.
Crossing Glacier Enroute
The view of Kedarnath taken from top as a bird’s eye view shot was gorgeous. Finally we were on the way along the gentle downward slope. The wild flowers of yellow and violet variety made its appearance at periodic intervals. 

Kedarnath - A Bird's View
We reached Kedarnath around 8.30 am and after a brief rest and a hearty breakfast of Samosas and jalebis at Kedar Mishtan restaurant, commenced our return trek taking with us all the wonderful, exciting and adventurous memories. For interesting visuals try following captioned link. 
Gandhi Sarovar As I Recorded It 
Important Info for trekkers:
1)  The early summer trek to Gandhi Sarovar in first fortnight of May, could mean crossing a few glaciers. Since the sunrays heats up the top layer of ice and melts it, rendering it slippery, it is better to commence the trek at the crack of dawn.
2) June / July months may cause the melt down of all the glaciers enroute, hence the trekking will be easy.
3) It is better to hire a guide for this trek; one can do the recce of both the routes ( shown in the diagram above ) in previous evening, so as to be assured that the bridges over river Mandakini are intact.
5) It is understood from some of the photographs seen by me in net,  atleast part of the Gandhi Sarovar trek is through a cement track going up the hill. I presume the route is from behind the temple.
4) The trek to Vasuki Tal at a distance of 7 km is doable after the snow melts, in which case, one needs an additional night’s stay at Kedarnath.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Gaurikund to Kedarnath Trek In Garhwal Himalayas

The State of Uttarakhand was carved out of a very large State of Uttar Pradesh in the year November 2000. The region consists of seven districts of Garhwal and six districts from Kumaon. Garhwal region or better known as Garhwal Himalayas is endowed with a very large number of important religious shrines, smaller temples and Gurudwaras. The region is reverently called as Devbhoomi, amidst the proximity of mighty snow clad Himalayan peaks, the snow melted rivers and streams and is visited by huge number of pilgrims and tourists. The temples and Gurudwaras offer a constant flow of tourists in summer season after the snow melts. The most known and aspired for destinations in Rudraprayag district of Garhwal Himalayas happen to be Kedarnath and Badrinath. Haridwar and Rishikesh situated at a distance of 220 km and 244 km respectively from New Delhi, is the gateway to Garhwal destinations. The tourist traffic picks up from first week of May and continues till end September. There is no dearth of package tours being organized by plethora of transport operators from New Delhi, Haridwar and Rishikesh. Even Uttarakhand Govt. enterprise Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam Limited ( gmvnl ) has been bery active in this field and has been operating travel packages since as early as nineteen eighties, Online booking facility offered by gmvnl has made life easier for tourists. One can also book travel packages from their liaison offices all around the country. Yet a laymen just arriving at Rishikesh sans any kind of reservation or otherwise, where ever they put up, will not find it difficult to catch hold of one of the tour operators to get seats. With some kind of a home work and working out itineraries of their own, tourists they can plan their itinerary and hire a vehicle small or big from Haridwar or rishikesh.
Our focus on this blog will be on trek trip to Kedarnath; the following sketch offers an idea of the route starting from New Delhi through Haridwar, Rishikesh on the way to Kedarnath.

We pick up the threads somewhere near Gaurikund, which is the starting point of Kedarnath trek. There are four over night options to stay while going towards Gaurikund. One can stay at Gaurikund itself. The other three options are Rampur, Soneprayag and Chandrapuri. In my three treks to Kedarnath, I had the pleasure of staying at Gaurikund in year 1984, Chandrapuri in the year 2006 and at Rampur in the year 2007. There are a number of private gust houses and gmvnl guest houses at all the places mentioned which will be dealt at the end.

Gaurikund will rank as one of the most chaotic places I have seen at Garhwal region. There is a circular plot of land at entry to the town, where the vehicles drop the pilgrims and tourists as fast as they can and rush off to park the vehicle at a place half a km away. The tourists having made it to this place in the morning, amidst the traffic jam that one encounters at the entry point will breathe a sigh of relief. Devouts have a bath at the holy tank at Gaurikund, known by the same name, prior to undertaking the Kedarnat journey. The dwelling with a lone narrow lane, having shops on both sides, sell all kind of items for the yatris undertaking 14 km trek. There are bamboo walking sticks, ponchos - use and throw away raincoats, woolens, shoes, caps and whatever one can think of. The food is best taken at gmvnl guest house located at a slightly higher elevation along the same lane; one has to climb some steep steps to arrive at the restaurant. The food is generally good vegetarian stuff;  aloo parathas and maggie noodle is a preferred breakfast for most. It is some what time consuming to wait for your bite to arrive. Outside across the railings, looking down, one sees the sea of humanity, like a mountain stream flowing by.  
Gaurikund Melee
After a breakfast under their belt the yatris get ready for some trying time. Those who need ponies or palkies ( palanquins carried on shoulder by four persons ) will have their plates full, often haggling with the ponywallas and palkiwallas to fix their prices, although there is a signboard indicating rates displayed by Uttarakhand Govt. There are ‘pittoos’ or porters who carry the luggage or children below twelve or old women in their baskets. The trekkers get an early respite after coming out of the melee from a narrow road funneling into a stone paved track going up the hill. The distress at this point will be smell of horse dung pervading in the air, as the pony camp is a little further off. Once the pony camp is crossed, suddenly the air will seem sweet and fresh and one is aware of the roaring river Mandakini flowing by the side of deep gorge.

The initial few kilometers are the most difficult period for the lay trekkers, till the body system is getting accustomed to the effort in negotiating the steep gradient. The ponywallas at this point of time play a psychological game of getting you to hire a pony at albeit higher rates. Understandably the rates increases as one travels more distance – a demand and supply situation one may say. There are some toilets at the initial stages, although not very clean one may say. There are no derath of shops selling mineral water, frutie, Maggie noodles, aloo parathas on the roadside eateries. The chatties as they are called help one to get a much needed rest to get his breath back. After trekking 7 km roughly halfway mark, one reaches Ramwada (also called Rambara), a dwelling with a lot of chatties and river flowing very close proximity. It is a scenic place. The first sign of alpine grandeur is visible here. There is a small gmvnl guest house here right on the river bank; hardly anybody stays here. 
Ramwada Landscape
Everybody wants to by-pass Ramwada and complete the 14 km trek by late afternoon. One is warned of possibility of rains in afternoon creating difficulties. In my three treks to Kedarnath so far, only difficulty I faced was remaining alert so as not be nudged by ponies carrying the pilgrims. Beyond Ramwada, the gradient is little more steep. The stone paved track with has bend almost every 50 ft. I normally had a small breather after negotiating each gradient at the point of bend. Once loses the count of number of bends one negotiates for atleast five kilometers, till he reaches Garudchatti. The final two kilometers is fairly comfortable almost flat stretch. In early summer a lot of snow will be visible on the hills around. The river Mandakini keeps a constant company and plays hide and seek with melting snow around it.
Ramwada Landscape
My first trip to Kedarnath in the summer of 1984 evoked a feeling of divine presence after reaching the Kedarnath valley. May be it had some thing to do with the sanctity of the place or having a sense of fulfillment after having completed the arduous trek. The Kedar valley is endowed with green meadows all around, some wild flowers in bloom and a chill in air as one has reaches altitude higher than 11,000’. Finding an accommodation  is not a very difficult proposition on arrival, There are plenty to chose from. The best accommodation here would be gmvnl guest house, which is difficult to book online during season as the gmvnl package tours get top priority. For my three trips, twice I stayed at gmvnl guest house and once at Bharat Savashram Sangha guest house, very near to temple. A leisurely walk around the valley, after a brief rest at lodge and tea and snacks to recoup the burnt out calories, is a pleasant experience. Some of the scenic beauty is breathtaking picture post card like. 
Kedarnath Landscape
Following day in the early morning is best for Kedarnath Temple visit. In 1984 during my first visit, we hardly had twenty people in the queue; these days devotees will be in hundreds. The return trek to Gaurikund generally takes 4 to 6 hours. Going down hill one comfortablely makes it by early afternoon.

Kedarnath Trek As I Recorded It 

Important Info for trekkers :

1) Destinations for overnight stay before starting Kedarnath trek:
a) Gaurikund : There is a gmvnl guest house, which can be booked online:
Staying right at the point of starting the journey is the best option.  However driving around noon time in this town is a difficult proposition, as most of the traffic flow is in the reverse direction.  This town as such is overcrowded, not so clean and hence does not really appeal.
b)  Soneprayag :  Budget hotels will be available near the place of confluence of rivers  Vasuki and Mandakini. The distance from Gaurikund is only 6 kms. No gmvnl  guest house is available , hence one has to check in a hotel on arrival.
c)  Chandrapuri:  Reasonably good guest house maintained by gmvnl, where we stayed in the year 2006. This place is one of the hidden gems in Garhwal not visited by many, right on the bank of river Mandakini and offers good Himalayan view. The road distance to Gaurikund is 60 km.
d) Rampur:  One of the best guest houses maintained by gmvnl, clean and tidy. The place offers a good view of  Himalayan peaks, nice cool and calm surroundings. Most of the accommodation rooms are in minus floors. Stayed here in 2007 and traveled 16 km  to Gaurikund very early in the next morning.
2) The condition of trek path : The entire route from Gaurikund and Garudchatti is stone paved. There after it is a mud track. There are plenty of roadside eateries or dhaba along the route, selling mineral water, soft drinks, amul flavoured milk, biscuits. The lunch is generally aloo parathas or Maggie noodles, The road has been widened over the years, yet one has to be careful about passing ponies, lest they nudge you.
3) The climate : Kedarnath is situated above 11,000’ altitude hence the morning and late evenings are quite chilly. One needs adequate woolens like thermals, jackets, caps, woolen socks, windcheaters etc. 
4) Trekking shoes: One can wear trekking shoes, sports shoes or floaters, which ever one is comfortable with. It is better to carry minimum stuff for overnight stay.
5) The temple opens in early summer around first week of May. Exact date may be available from website
6) The temple closes around October before Diwali. The closing date again can be got from above website.
7) The road and trek route is shown in the diagram above.
8) Trekkers interested in staying additional day or two at Kedarnath can trek to Gandhi Sarovar ( Chorbari Tal ) at a distance of  3.5 km and Vasuki Tal around 7 km.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Trekking in Indian Himalayas – An Overview

India is endowed with the largest tract of Himalayan ranges extending from states of Jammu and Kashmir through Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, West Bengal, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. Well known and famous destinations in Indian Himalayas are visited by a large section of inland as well as overseas tourists. A discerning tourist would however like to set his foot on the solid ground at an high altitude trail and chug along the serpentine stone paved or mud track to visit destinations which are exciting, adventurous and educative.

Layman, who endeavors of venturing out for a Himalayan trek, will be a confused man if he scours the net, where a plethora of web sites will be vying with each other for his attention. A standard laid out package of throw-the-money-and-be-tension-free kind of holiday will bring him a temporary solace. Barring a few, most of the packages hide more than they reveal. The itinerary is generally cramped, with distance and travel time mentioned, which are sometimes far from reality. The luxury accommodations stated in those write-ups are not always available. Having done the standard package a few times, knowing the pros and cons, I had no hesitation in charting out my own course. The results have been astounding. Does it mean that you will not go through the itinerary of your desired destination offered by some of those travel web sites? The answer is no. It does help you to go through those travel sites and gain some preliminary knowledge and insight to your destinations in order to plan your own itinerary. A lone traveler may not have much of a choice rather than availing of the packages. 

My visit to  Himalayas began as early as in the year 1984, with a trip to Uttar Pradesh ( presently Uttarakhand ) visiting the religious shrines of Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri and Yamunotri in Garhwal Himalayas. The destinations of Kedarnath and Badrinath, gave me the pleasure of watching the glorious and mighty snow capped hills and be in tune with the virgin nature. Subsequent years saw me visiting other trekking destinations in Garhwal Himalayas, like Gangotri, Gaumukh,Yamunotri, Tunganth, Kalpeshwar, Hemkund, Valley of flowers, Gorsan, Deoria Tal, Vasudhara Falls, Gandhi Sarovar ( Chorbari Tal ), Madmaheshwar, Rudranth, Kalpashwar and the list goes on.

Trekking is often misunderstood as mountaineering - which is a different ball game all together. A trekker treads on the stone paved or mud track at height generally ranging from 6,000’ to higher. All he needs to carry is his body weight and a small back pack containing a camera, a water bottle and a few tid bits at the most. For the first timers to Indian Himalayas with trekking as his priority, there are several one day treks to contend with. Uttarakhand with a lot of religious shrines doting all across the state, many of them situated above 10,000’ altitude are ideal to begin with. The advantage of such destinations is reasonably good accommodations, well laid track through the hills, eateries on the trail and clean water pipeline jutting along the trek path. On the other hand the multi-days trekking tours require extensive preparations, require porters and guides, with accommodation facilities very basic or a camping site in tents.

The trekking season begins from Mid May lasting up to end September. Early summer is a preferred time when snow starts melting, the tracks clear up and the weather is mostly sunny; however occasional light shower cannot be ruled out. The higher reaches above 10,000’ may see some snow fall as well. The late summer with rain fall intensity increasing the snow completely melts and wild flowers bloom in profusion. This time of the year notably in July/August, the landslides and rock slides are very common. Past few years have seen floods in some regions. Ideally one needs to have an extra day or two thrown in while planning the itinerary. By September, the rains relent and the snow melts completely in some of the Himalayan peaks. This time is ideal for high altitude trekking at 15,000’ and above.