Of Making Fun, Friends and Fire…Tales from Kedarkantha Trek in December

The possibility of this trek was hovering around for months as I discussed this trek with one of my oldest buddies from school. It just had to happen and the excitement was boundless for many a reason. This was my first trek in Uttarakhand Himalayas and that too with school friends. To top it up, nothing is cooler than any Himalayan trek in December! Literally!

Not having an option to trek independently, we booked our seats in a guided trek organization (about which I wish to write a separate blog discussing the pros and cons of guided trek organizers).

Day 1: Dehradun to Sankri

After reaching Dehradun on 15th December at 10 pm, we hurriedly took shelter in a Hotel near to the railway station as this was our pick up point next day. We started at around 8am in the morning and thus begun the journey with making new friends. We stopped at Kempty falls to break our fast with an amazing balcony view.

view from the balcony of breakfast point near kempty falls
view from the balcony of breakfast point near kempty falls

Sankri is almost 200km and the sleepiness and the beautiful mountains kept on playing a tug of war in side our minds. We did not really realize when we left the Yamuna valley and were moving along the beautiful Tons river.

Tons river on the way
Tons river on the way

Once again we stopped for lunch at Purola and reached Sankri just before sunset. Sankri is a small village on the outskirts of Govind Pashu Vihar National park and Wildlife Sanctuary. We could spot only two prominent hotels and some more dhabas and shops selling basic necessities. No mobile networks operate here except for BSNL. We were given accommodation in one of the hotels and soon were served tea and snacks followed by briefing on the trek by our trek leaders. Soon we were served delicious food, most unlikely of the kind that one supposed to get in a trek. By the taste of the food, we could not say whether we were on a trek or a luxurious vacation. And this continued till the end of our trek.

While we were savoring the delicious food, a very disturbing forest fire distant in the mountains was continuously spreading its hot breath. and just like this day, every next day while we enjoyed our exceptionally good food, or walked beneath dense forest, or tried hard to summit, somewhere there were always some horrible forest fire spreading its wings.

sunset at sankri
sunset at sankri
moonlit night at Sankri
moonlit night at Sankri
a distant forest fire seen from Sankri
a distant forest fire seen from Sankri

Day 2: Sankri (6400ft) to juda ka Talab (9100ft) – 4km

Next day, after tea-snacks and a multi-course breakfast (this makes eating in less quantity really difficult, but somehow we managed not to eat more as it would not be good for the steep climb), we started our trek by entering to the Govind Pashu Vihar National Park and Sanctuary. After a few meters walk over a paved path, we started climbing the mountains. Soon we came across a small bridge. Right after crossing this, the trail bifurcates. The left one leads to Juda ka Talab while the right one was coming from Hargaon. So we kept left. That time we did not have any idea that this steep climbing will have no end till we summit.

Inside Govind Pashu Vihar National Park and Sanctuary
Inside Govind Pashu Vihar National Park and Sanctuary
setting off for the trek at Sankri
setting off for the trek at Sankri
bifurcation on the road
bifurcation on the road

Gradually we all adjusted ourselves with the initial steepness. The trail offers breathtaking vies of Swargarohini group of peaks. After taking rests in two of the places, we reached Juda ka talab camp site before lunch. This was not at all a tough trek and we were not tired also. This made me wonder whether we can reach the base-camp, which is the next camp site at a place called Lahusu, on the same day. Along with us there was a group of exuberant engineering students from Gujarat. They were sort of the life line of the whole group. As soon as we reached the semi frozen lake, they started exploring the possibility of walking over it and so they mannaged in no time. I was still a bit dubious about the safety. But, now I know that I should not have been. The most unbelievable sight to witness was the night sky at Juda ka Talab. After Dinner it was time for some fun and everyone were playing some games inside our dining tents. When we came out of the tent, we were chilled to our bones not only by the cool breeze but more so by the innumerable stars, shooting stars and the milky way right above our head.

pine trees along the trail
pine trees along the trail
one of the resting places: we had maggi and tea
one of the resting places: we had maggi and tea
smoke coming out of a forest fire as seen from the trail
smoke coming out of a forest fire as seen from the trail
swargarohini massif as seen from the trail
swargarohini massif as seen from the trail
swargarohini peaks as seen from the trail to Juda ka talab
swargarohini peaks as seen from the trail to Juda ka talab
trail to Juda ka Talab
trail to Juda ka Talab
Semi frozen Juda ka talab
Semi frozen Juda ka talab
Juda ka talab camp site at night
Juda ka talab camp site at night
night sky at Juda ka talaab
night sky at Juda ka talaab

Day 3: Juda ka Talab (9100 ft) to Base camp at Lahusu (11250 ft) – 4 km

After reaching Juda ka Talab, we were told that the next days trek would be much more light and it was rightly so. Reaching base camp was merely two hours of trek and I was fully convinced that this place can very well be reached in a single day from Sankri. In fact, there is another base known as Base camp II, almost in a kilometer’s distance which can also be reached in a single day. The problem with the base camp II is scarcity of water. There is no water source nearby and only one dhaba was operating there with 60 lt of water only. Base camp location was truly magnificent. But the disturbing smokes coming out of many forest fires were constantly there.

this was a day of relaxing. Everyone was Sun-bathing after having lunch and we went for a short acclimatization walk. We could see the Kedarkantha peak from base camp and it did not seemed to be an easy hike. The purpose of the walk was to getting us acclimatize for the long hike to the summit.

Swargarohini peak from the trail to base camp
Swargarohini peak from the trail to base camp
kedarkantha peak from base camp
kedarkantha peak from base camp
approaching base camp
approaching base camp
panoramic view of the mountains from Base camp
panoramic view of the mountains from Base camp
smoke coming from forest fire
smoke coming from forest fire
view from base camp
view from base camp

Day 4: Base camp (11250 ft) to Kedarkantha summit (12500 ft) to Basecamp to Hargaon camp (8900 ft)-6km (but it seemed more than that)

This was the most important day of all and we were to start the trek sharp at 3 am. We got up at around 2-2.30 am but the morning rituals were the toughest in sub zero temperature. Some how we all managed and started the hike to the summit in a single file formation. The leaders and the guide were great in constantly encouraging us. Without their help this day could have very well resulted in utter disaster. We took 15 min break once we reached the base camp II but resting was even more impossible than to walk constantly over the steep slopes as the sub zero temperature was cutting down to our bones. We kept on walking or doing some kind of exercise to keep ourselves warm. We were again horrified by forest fires but the soothing dawn sky stole our minds from that. With a great team work and constant unimaginable support from the leaders and guide, we finally climbed to the summit.

Forest fire as seen from the trail to the summit
Forest fire as seen from the trail to the summit
Swargarohini peaks
Swargarohini peaks
Swargarohini peaks while the trek to summit
Swargarohini peaks while the trek to summit
silhouette against the beautiful morning sky
silhouette against the beautiful morning sky
silhouette against the beautiful morning sky
silhouette against the beautiful morning sky
near to the summit
near to the summit
panoramic view surrounding the summit
panoramic view surrounding the summit
cairns on the summit
cairns on the summit

The view from the summit was breathtaking. We were introduced to the major peaks seen from the summit by the trek leaders and were given 30 mins of time to roam around. There was a shrine on the summit. Surprisingly we got BSNL network up there!!! We clicked photos, Sat silently, ate some refreshments which we took while starting the hikes, sat silently again to appreciate the Almighty Himalayas and finally started the trek back to basecamp. By the time we reached base camp, next batch was already there and after the lunch we all took a quick nap inside the dining tent before setting off for the Hargaon camp, which again took only two hours or so.

Finally we reached the summit
Finally we reached the summit
bandarpunch as seen from summit
bandarpunch as seen from summit
Swargarohini as seen from summit
Swargarohini as seen from summit
Swargarohini peaks
Swargarohini peaks
the shrine on the summit
the shrine on the summit
layers of misty mountains as seen from the summit
layers of misty mountains as seen from the summit

After reaching Hargaon camp, we were informed of our complete independence. No acclimatization walk today, no rules and regulations, no nothing. So three of us decided to visit Juda ka Talab once more. From Hargaon camp site, Juda ka talab, according to our guide would take 30 mins or so for us. But we covered that in just about 15 mins. That time it was around 3 pm and the lake was again frozen. One of us being one of the perky college students, gave us courage to explore the frozen lake, and this time we did so. we walked over the frozen lake, sat on it, danced on it and cracked the ice a bit too. It was so much fun that i would have definitely regretted had i not done it. All thanks to the younger people for reminding us of our younger days. That moment was of wisdom and I learnt that I am never too old for stupid and innocent childishness.

Hargaon camp
Hargaon camp
Camp site location at Hargaon
Camp site location at Hargaon

The return journey from Juda ka talab to hargaon took only 7-8 mins. After reaching the camp site, we had delicious food as usual, and that night everyone started sharing some stories of their lives, had many giggles, made great fun and finally everybody slept in the dining tent only.

Day 5: Hargaon (8900 ft) to Sankri (6400 ft) – 6km

This was a steep descent and a tiring one, not for the lungs, but for our legs. We reached Sankri through some agricultural fields, villages overlooking “gorge-ous” valleys. While coming down, we posed for a final group photo with a backdrop of a cute village house.

on the way to Sankri from Hargaon
on the way to Sankri from Hargaon

all the team members
all the team members
view from the trail to Sankri
view from the trail to Sankri

The trail finally converged with the trail that we took 4 days ago right before the bridge. Finally we reached Sankri before lunch time. We were given accommodation in the same hotel but except for three of us, rest all left for rafting in Rishikesh.

Since we had lot of free times to explore, we decided to visit the village of Taluka which is also the starting point of Har ki Dun trek. We walked over the trail beside the river for 10 mins and decided up on our next trek. While coming back we witnessed the most horrible of all forest fires that we came across in these 5 days. The mere site of it was disturbing and horrifying to the core.

Through out the trek, we had no snow but all the places we camped had sub zero temperature!!! Soon we came from the trek, we had news of the season’s first snowfall on the mountains.

at taluka village
at taluka village
a horrible forest fire
a horrible forest fire

Day 6: Sankri to Dehradun (a 10 hours drive completed in 6 hours.)

My opinions about the trek:
1. One should not attempt this trek without a guide. Although there is proper trail in most of the times, having a guide serves good only specially when you are exploring the route for the first time.
2. The distance to base camp II can be covered in a single day, and Juda ka talab can be explored while coming down from Hargaon. but keeping in mind the steepness of the ascent, reaching the basecamp II in a single day could be tough if you are not properly acclimatized.
3. Base camp II has scarce water. So one has to be careful while choosing a campsite.
4. the trail seemed a lot cleaner than any other treks I have done. So please let us maintain it that way.

Kasol-Kheerganga Trek in Parvati Valley

15 after nakthan 5

The Parvati river valley is an ethereally beautiful treasure trove hidden between steep-sided mountains which runs eastwards from the town of Bhuntar, the place where Parvati pours into Beas. The valley is well reputed for its natural and cultivated growth of Cannabis which plays a major part in attracting travelers from all around the globe.  With beauties unparalleled to any other river valleys, this place is a host to some of the most welcoming and trippy villages in Himachal.

Day One: Kasol to Barshini (17km by car, via Manikaran)  to Kheerganga (14km trek)
Our journey started from Kasol, one of such villages. The plan was to do the Kheerganga trek. I was planning it for the last 3 years and never end up doing it. So, this time when we were talking about Kasol, I just could not hide my excitation as I knew we were going to the Hot spring of Kheerganga. We left Chandigarh in the evening and by dawn next day, we were in Kasol. Reaching Kasol so early in the morning did not seem to be a good idea as after the night-long parties every single person clearly seemed to be deep in sleep and least bothered about providing rooms.We could not spot even a single sober person who seemed interested in providing us accommodation. Luckily we got a room in one of the hostels and quickly retired to bed. Accommodation was pretty cheap compared to other hill stations keeping in mind the rush of tourists in this peak season. After a short nap followed by some “hash-tagged” breakfast, we started for Barshaini, the last road head. The construction of the Parvati river dam dominates the view there. Also the beautiful confluence of Parvati and Tosh can be seen.

Barshaini

construction site near Pulga

confluence of Parvati and Tosh near Barshini

The trek starts with a bridge crossing the Parvati river and follows a moderate steep trail through local wheat fields, villages cafes up to the spiritual place of Rudra-Nag. The initial steepness is a bit breath-taking but offers spectacular views of the Valley.

confluence of Parvati and Tosh near Barshini

firstst cafe after crossing the firsh bridge

first few steps on the trail

a distant waterfall seen from the trail

view from the trail going up

after some time, we came across a bifurcation on the trail. One went a little downhill and the other was a steep uphill. A small kid from some nearby local shop told us to take the lower trail but by seeing others taking the steep one, we followed. This trail took us to the village of Nakthan through some beautiful wheat-fields. Nakthan is a popular resting place for trekkers and offers good refreshments at various cafes.

bifurcation: take the upper trail

through the wheat fields

after the wheat fields

towards Nakthan

before nakthan

Nakthan cafes

Nakthan village

Nakthan

after nakthan

The month being June, the trail was extraordinarily green as it was raining almost everyday and the combination of blue sky, green mountains and distant white peaks was nothing but completely unearthly. There are many cafes along the way where one can sit and enjoy this majestic beauty. The trail is also decorated with many small springs. We did not know whether the water was drinkable but we did not care. We could not resist the taste of the cold crisp water and drank it to our fullest. All along the way, the river Parvati flows down the trail with a dangerously beautiful gurgling sound that seemed like a mountain lullaby. it was scary at times and yet so soothing.

cafe after nakthan

parvati river after nakthan 2

before rudrana

After a while, we reached the holy and spiritual place of Rudranag. A gorgeous water spring was coming through rocks with an apparent serpentine looks and hence the name. This place has a little bit clearing around it and some level ground to take a few moments rest before entering the deep pine forest after another river crossing.

 before rudranag

Rudranag

view from Rudranag

after a few steps, we came across a wooden bridge (while coming down the work of converting this wooden bridge into an iron one had already started), that took us on the other side of a raging Parvati cutting a deep gorge through ages old rocks. This place sure looked so ancient as if any time some prehistoric animal would come out of the forest. Lush green growth, big ferns, the muddy waterfall, the shaky bridge…ahh! a sight I would relish forever.

from the wooden bridge

the wooden bridge before rudranag

Crossing the wooden bridge was a thrilling experience. To cross a tremendousflow of raging white water all you have is a shaky bridge made up of wooden planks. Once we crossed the wooden bridge, the surroundings changed immediately. It was no longer going through wheat fields and villages, rather it was a thick pine forest and the trail followed a steep upwardly path. Through a couple of more water stream crossing and cafes, some tricky part on the trail, we finally got to the meadow of Kheerganga. The trail was so long and we all were so tired because of sleeplessness, that we literally felt each moments of this trek. And it seemed unending. Finally when we reached Kheerganga and get to behold the majestic huge mountains, our joy knew no bounds.

tricky trail

kheerganga

It was a tiring day, a really long trekking and that too a pretty steep one, but reaching there as usual we forgot the pain. the view was one of its kind. Huge mountains, waterfalls so high, as if coming from sky, the welcoming cafes and the river singing the mountain lullaby…never before I had witnessed such a place. to be very frank, it was a bit crowded at this time of the year and that is why I could not stop imagining how pristine this would look in off season times! Worth a try. And to add to all these, one of the cafes had hammocks hanging from a wooden beam, out in the open and just in front that huge mountain was standing like a sentinel guarding the sacred meadow.

cafes at kheerganga

a baba's hut at kheerganga

kheer ganga

kheerganga view

kheerganga view

kheerganga view

waterfalls from mountains kheerganga

view from kheerganga

We stayed there in a temporary wooden makeshift dorm for 150 per head per night. Tents were also available. Compared to the accommodation, the food although was not so cheap and that is quite understandable. But we ate like we never had food.

Day two: Back to Kasol via same route
Next morning, surprisingly all our body aches were gone and we decided to go to the hot-spring. That was yet another refreshing experience. The water was really really hot but once you give time some time, it is surprisingly bearable. And after a certain point, It is really fun! We stayed there for quite some time, came down, had breakfast and set off for the descending. While coming down, it rained heavily. Half wet, we took shelter in a cafe at Nakthan and again ate like mad people. We started coming down only after it stopped raining.

towards barshaini

trail ends, coming down

end trail, coming back

It was almost dark when we came to Barshaini. we took a cab for 1000 Rs from the drivers’ association office. We were told by the locals that they charge reasonably although that seemed a bit over the top. The cab dropped us down to Kasol in 45 mins to 1 hr. Quickly we visited the market and did some shopping. After another round of crazy dinner, we set off for the planes only to come back here again.

“Laal paharer deshe”… a jungle lore from the red-soiled hills of Bankura

Jpeg

A long vacation away from the mountains and friends was enough hardship for me only to be compensated by home made food. Apart from that, nothing was exciting when I decided to go for a trip to the jungles of south Bengal. These jungles once were deadly infamous as the main hub of Maoists’ operation. Merely 5 years ago people would think of you as a gone case had you been planning a trip that time. Although in recent times, their activities have been curbed down to a great extent but a few still believe of their existence deep in the wild.

There are more than one forest ranges in south Bengal, Sutan forest being one of them. this forest is essentially connected to a larger and wilder landscape of Dalma which extends towards Jharkhand. The whole region is also known as the elephant corridor.

Jhilimili is a famous tourist spot situated in Bankura near the border of Bankura, Purulia and Midnapore dist. At a distant of 78 km from Bankura town, the drive to Jhilimili offers a pleasant journey through picturesque landscape.

Jpeg

The time being just post-puja days, villagers from many villages clad in traditional tribal attire were performing some ritual dance on the roads, sometimes as a part of their celebration and sometimes to get some donations. On reaching Jhilimili, we came across a rain water filled lake surrounded by dense forest and lower hills. the road itself goes through a hilly terrain and offers a magnificent view of the valley below.

The road that leads to Jhilimili, at one place, bifurcates to Sutan forest. But one can take a more adventurous jungle trail from Jhilimili to Sutan as well. This road is chilling in every sense with no human habitat nearby, no mobile network and a dangerously beautiful forest wrapped all around you. We saw the remains of the buildings set by the military which was destroyed by bomb blasts by Maoists attacks. There was an old forest rest house as well. I wondered if it still was operational. The thought of spending a night there came to my mind with indescribable spine-chilling horror but what an out-of-this-worldly adventure that would have been. The watch tower just in front of the rest house also has gone through the rage of the Maoists.

Jpeg

After spending quite enough of spine-chilling time deep into the forest, we headed for Mukutmanipur, famous for its second biggest earth dam of India situated at the confluence of Kangshabati and Kumari. The landscape is beautiful here. Vast waterscpapes surrounded by an undulating hilly terrain attracts quite a few tourists through out the year.

The whole trip turned out to be quite an amazing one. We travel distant lands but often ignore the ones in front of our doorstep. There are many such spine-chilling forest experiences around this place which is often considered less attractive but actually is not experienced properly. These places offer not less to see, but definitely more to experience. The heat, the smell of raw red soil and green dense forest, the chirping of numerous birds and if you are lucky (or unlucky!) enough, you can also catch a glance of the elephants crossing the roads that goes through the forests.