Photo gallery and Travelogue
Duration: May 09 2005 – May 28 2005
About the place: I went on a trek to Har Ki Doon (Valley of Lord Shiva) organized by Youth Hostels Association, India. The trek was 11 day long and drawn out through obscure mountains, forbidden forests and snow clad peaks. The Government of Uttaranchal has granted exclusive permission to YHAI for the route, which passes through Juda Talao, Kedar Kantha peak, Talhouti, Lekhathach, Seema and other villages. Sankri is the base camp.
Other Places Covered: I also traveled (alone) to Delhi, Haridwar, Hrishikesh, Dehradoon, Mussoorie and Agra on my way to and from the trek.
Warning: Long article. Be patient while it loads! [3,568 words, 217 photos]
Bombay to Delhi :: 09, 10 May
I reached Delhi after an exhausting journey. Exhausting, due to many reasons. One, My train (Mumbai – Delhi Holiday Special) was scheduled to leave Bombay Central at 04:30 (10May), so I had to start from Dombivli at 23:30 previous night (9May) and spend the night at the shabby waiting room. Reason two: I did not have a confirmed ticket, but a RAC (Reservation against cancellation), hence had to share my seat. Half the compartment was filled with Gujarati Jains going on a pilgrimage and the other half by barely educated Muslims, who were unclean, and constantly praying or doing something. I was sittling in a corner with my bag and book (Isaac Asimov), fortunately I did get berth to sleep after 22:15, but was extremely exhausted by then.
Delhi City :: 11 May
I reached Delhi at 05:00, unlike Mumbai, that’s pretty early by Delhi standards. And btw, Dehli chaiwaalas do not understand what ‘cutting’ means! (half-cup of tea). From Hazrat Nizamuddin train station I went to Shivaji Stadium, Cannaught place by Auto Rickshaw (Rs35) After strolling around Cannaught Place, Hanuman Mandir and the arterial roads for about 3 hours, I booked the Delhi City tour by Delhi Tourism Corporation (A/C Bus, Rs195), ate some breakfast – chhole puri and browsed through the flower market. Got cleaned up and took this great (first) picture. Places I visited were: Jantar Mantar, India Gate (there is a picture of a foreigner and a snake charmer), The Bahai (Lotus) temple, Red Fort, Rajghat (Mahatma Gandhi’s Samadhi) and Humayun’s Tomb
In the evening, I enjoyed the aggressive marketing at Palika Bazaar and window shopping elsewhere at Cannaught Circus. Then I went to Chandani chowk in a Trax, (they call it ‘phat-phat seva‘, RS6), had a lovely snack and some juice on the food lanes and proceeded to the stinking Old Delhi Railway station for my train to Haridwar at 22:20.
Haridwar and Rishikesh :: 12 May
I wanted to visit these religious places at least once in my lifetime, and got the opportunity to do so. Haridwar is a deeply religious place, not as unclean as I imagined. Although I didn’t take a dip in the holy Ganga, or visit any temple (out of the hundreds), I could appreciate people’s faith attached to this sacred place.
I had a row with a South Indian guy (from Andhra Pradesh) in the train over seating. The train was late by an hour, but eventually reached Haridwar station, from where I took a cycle rikshaw straight to Har-ki-paudi (Rs10). I dipped my hand in the peacefully flowing holy Ganges river to pray for a moment. After a very long walk across and along the river up to the gigantic statue of Lord Shiva and further across Bhimroda Barriage, I was pretty exhausted, so took some rest under a tree.
From there, you get local transport (aka Vikram) to Rishikesh (Rs7). Raam Jhoola and Lakshman Jhoola are no more than suspended bridges really, but there is so much importance attached to them. You can cross over to the other side and take a look at various aashrams, Hindu temples and foreigners who are basically fascinated by anything they see. Atmosphere is entirely religious and very soothing. People of this region are extremely friendly (as opposed to Delhi) and are eager to help you. I had my lunch on the opposite bank of the mighty river at Rishikesh.
Dehradoon – Mussoorie :: 12, 13 May
From Rishikesh, I reached Dehradoon in the evening by crowded bus and rented a room in central area. Dehradoon is a silent town, and since I had practically nothing to do, I decided to watch a movie – Kya kool hain hum. Movie was good, movie hall was ancient. No seat numbers, no screen alignment, and hawkers in the hall. Imagine! By the time the movie ended, it was 22:30 and the town was asleep already. Fortunately, I remember directions and maps rather well, so could navigate to my hotel thru dark (and scary) roads.
Next day early morning (13May) I left for Mussoorie. The buses are typically packed up to 150% capacity and the roads are narrow and full of sharp turns. I must have remembered hundreds of Gods well, for I reached the hill station safely, at 06:00. Yippie! I was traveling with a single large backpack, the only luggage I had, and people were very helpful. I was hungry already and found my favorite breakfast- Bread and Omlette with hot chai (tea).
I remembered dad telling me about Laal Tibba once. Asking for directions, I started walking. After climbing for over two hours, I reached the spot- highest point of Mussoorie. There was a ‘restricted’ bungalow which attracted my attention, and although I tried to suppress the urge, I went ahead and broke the rules anyway. The view from inside was marvelous and the flower gardens were splendid. Mussoorie is spread across several hilltops and unfortunately, there is rampant construction happening there. I relished some hot parathas and chatted with the school kids. I have to say that everyone was smiling and greeting, it felt lovely! After relaxing, I started the descent, which was much more enjoyable and I kept walking thru the town (Mall Road;-) eh) and then walking down the Dehradoon road and still walking down the gradient, until my legs were so heavy, they refused to move. Youth hostel finally came into sight and I took more pictures of me (last three) 1n the YHAI reception area.
I exerted myself too much that day, and felt slightly feverish. Then I used my mom’s miraculous medicine to recover myself- long sleep. heh!
Mussoorie to Sankri Base Camp :: 14 May
We reported to Mussoorie on 13May as scheduled. Our batch HD13 had only 4 members. We were shocked to learn this and decided to take the matter to the trek director at Sankri and request him to merge us with the previous batch. There was no way we were doing this trek in a tiny batch of four. No fun.
Next day morning, the four of us (participants) and four camp leaders (!) left for Sankri, base camp at 5800ft. On the way was the Kempti Water Fall, and split stream of river Ganga, called Gangani dhara. The road goes along the Yamuna river, taking extremely sharp turns. This journey of about 180km takes approx 8 hours. (Same distance Mumbai Pune Expressway 2.5 hours). The twists and turns are so acute that the driver is forced to halt the vehicle every ninety minutes so that everybody gets out of the bus and stabilizes.
Day 1 :: Sankri to Juda Talao (from 5,800 ft to 8,000 ft)
The original schedule said that we need to stay another day at Sankri to acclimatize ourselves to the height, climate and air density. We skipped that (precious) day and started the trek right away. The trek director agreed to merge our batch of four with HD12 (previous batch). Total strength of our (new) batch was twenty eight now. Much better!
On this day we gained a height up to 8000ft. The climb seemed never ending, but the beauty of the final camp site was mesmerizing. Along the lakeside, surrounded by tall trees, our colorful tents looked pretty.
Day 2 :: Juda Talao to Kedar Kantha (from 8,000 ft to 10,000 ft)
This was equally slow and long walk. We gained height up to 10000ft. It was a sharp gradient. At the fields where we relaxed for snacks, the villager invited us to smoke some ganja. There was no filter except green grass!. I thought it was okay to try it once… hehe!
In the background you can see the Kedar Kantha peak, and our camp was below the peak. We had a glimpse of the snow before lunch point and after lunch, we walked thru little zones of accumulated snow. This was unbelievable; I was seeing snow for the first time! By the time we reached the camp, it grew dark, and we had some rain and hail, and at the camp it was full fledged snowfall. The sky did clear up to some extent eventually and the view looked promising. Sunrays piercing through sheets of cloud. Thank God that photo came up good ! There are a couple of panoramic shots at end.
Day 3 :: Kedar Kantha to Dhundha (from 10,000 ft to 12,500 ft to 10,500 ft)
After day one and two, this seemed the toughest. Kedar Kantha peak was visible from our base camp and it never looked so high. In spite of walking continuously, we took about three hours to reach the peak, about 12500ft. There are temples of Lord Shiva, but visibility was low due to foggy climate and strong chilly winds. It was raining and snowing a lot, so I was unable to take many pictures.
After lunch, the trek continued over mountain ridges. As you can see, the valleys are steep on either sides and the walk is never ending. We did see the YHAI banner, but the actual camp site was much away.
Dhundha camp site is partially covered in snow (10500ft). The location is obscure and this was one of the best sites in my opinion.
Day 4 :: Dhundha to Talhouti (from 10,500 ft to 11,500 ft)
Having trekked thru intermittent patches of snow, we thought this was the maximum we would get. However, day four was unforgettable. We started with snowfall and by the end of the day, everyone had seen so much snow, that many was swearing never to see it again. Before lunch, we had to walk thru huge deposits of snow, at times your feet sunk thigh-deep into it without warning, and at times you slip from the path and try to catch up in panic. Photography was out of question. Post lunch we were assisted by ropes and carabineer, which aided more psychologically.
Climate changes abruptly in Himalayas. When the sky is clear, it feels hot during the day even while walking on the snow. The moment the sun is covered by a tiny cloud, winds turn chilly. Snowfall is preferable, but not the chilly winds. They have excessive chill factor!
All day we were walking through shades of grey and bright snow. It was seven kilometer exhausting walk in snow, and four more over mountain ridges. At the end, some of us enjoyed sliding in the snow. My pants got soaked and the destination was still an hour away. This day was the cruelest yet most enjoyable.
Day 5 :: Talhouti to Lekhatatch (from 11,500 ft to 9,000 ft)
Descent from 11500ft to 9000ft through forests was long. In total contrast to previous day, there was absolutely no trace of snow, but below the snowline, the forest grew dense. This camp was situated over the Datmir village and the region was revered by locals.
You can see a completely hollow tree, which is burnt from inside yet bears green branches. There are innumerable waterfalls and streams, all of them look inviting, but the water is ice cold. The red flowers seen in the picture are crushed and the liquid is diluted with water resulting in a refreshing drink. The last pictures show the neatly arranged Datmir village.
Day 6 :: Lekhatatch to Seema (from 9,000 ft to 8,500 ft)
This was another twelve km walk over flat terrain with several minor ups and downs. We passed thru the Datmir village in the morning. After over a week we were seeing people other than fellow trekkers, and it was such a pleasure!! You can see a school, where children from class 1 to class 5 sit one behind the other and classes are conducted together. The girls of this region are pretty, and some of them agreed to be photographed.
This village, among twenty-two others in the region is home to temple of Duryodhana. People here consider themselves as descendents of Kauravas, hence worship them. During this season, the idol is taken to other village, hence the temple is closed. The river Rupan is seen flowing calmly. The village is currently populated only by women, children and the old. Men go to nearby Taluka village where they have their farms and homes. I had the chance to see a house from inside. It consists of four storeys, with lowermost housing animals and intermediate kitchen and storage. Heat is thus completely conserved and people survive even during heavy snowfalls.
As you trek along the village paths, little boys and girls will follow you and ask for sweets. Everyone generously gave away all candies and chocolates they had. People are fascinated to see you, their life is very simple but living in the mountains is tough!
Day 7 :: Seema to Har-ki-doon (from 8,500 ft to 11,500 ft)
This is a fourteen km long walk along the Rupen river and then turning towards the Swargarohini mountains. The final destination looked like a scene right out of some artists’ collection. A river and a plain valley surrounded on three sides by snow clad bright peaks. These were the same peaks which looked tiny from our basecamp. It was unimaginable that we could reach so close to them.
As soon as we reached the campsite, the weather turned stormy and there was heavy snowfall. We were confined strictly to our tents and even the tea was served inside. The campsite is surrounded by mountains that looked like black and white monsters. You can see my avataar on this day… lol! Unfortunately I was not able to click many pictures of this amazing location.. There are few panoramic views.
Day 8 :: Har-ki-doon to Seema (from 11,500 ft to 8,500 ft)
This was again on the same path as previous day, but major descends which hurt the knee hampering my speed. It is difficult to climb down a slope compared to climbing up a hill. At Osla village, we had some lovely parathas with pickle. Once we reached Seema, the joy was limitless. Trek completed successfully!
Day 9 :: Seema to Sankri (from 8,500 ft to 5,800 ft)
We fast trekked 14 km from Seema to Tahluka Village (7,500 ft). Some of us reached there early and relished the rural lunch. It was a treat for our empty stomachs and a welcome change of taste after typical camp food. Then we were transported to Sankri base camp by jeep which navigated through roads so narrow that kept everyone praying!
In the evening, we had camp fire and some fun. I shaved after ages and took long bath with warm water. Felt so good. Then we had little talk with the batch who were leaving for Juda Talao the next day.
Sankri to Mussoorie, Dehradoon and Agra :: 24 May
The HD12+13 batch was back to Mussoorie from Sankri by bus at around 3 pm. It was a bit sad environment as everyone going to separate. Names and addresses were exchanged. The event was a lovely gathering of participants from all states, languages and age groups. Sleeping in tents and cleaning them in morning, jokes and camp fires were contributing to strong team spirit.
After cleaning up and packing, I immediately left with a friend from Nagpur, Shriram Joshi to go to Agra. We got into a UP Government Deluxe Bus and started our overnight journey to Agra.
Agra :: 25, 26 May
We reached Agra early in the morning. It was as dirty as Delhi or some North Indian city – unclean, unfriendly looking people and paan stains all over. It was difficult to believe how a city proud of having a wonder could be so chaotic and underdeveloped. We were flocked by Auto drivers and we paid one guy hundred bucks each to hire his vehicle for a day and take a tour around the town. After getting cleaned up at a hotel, we went for a tour of Agra Fort, Moti Nehru Garden, Meena Bazar and finally the Taj Mahal. It was very hot, especially since only 3 days back we were playing in snow;). The fort is maintained quite good (I guess because it is not managed by UP government) and the view of Taj Mahal from the Red Fort looks stunning. We enjoyed the beauty of the Taj as much as possible by staying there for over five hours. (we had nothing else to do other than watching Taj and the visitors!)
In the evening we went to some shopping blocks (could afford window shopping only) and eatouts. My friend departed the same day, but I stayed in Agra Youth Hostel for another day (26May). I had planned to visit Fatehpur Sikri, but I felt very tired. So I shopped for some petha and spent the day reading books and relaxing. Rent was damn cheap – Rs35.
Journey back home :: 27, 28 May
At night I took a train to Delhi at 02:00 (bribed the TC and got a berth to sleep) and boarded my train to home on the next day. Reaching Mumbai on 28th morning felt so nice – the crowds, local trains and humidity (elegant word for ‘sweat’). Everything was so homely!
On the way back, you tend to start thinking of the stuff back at home, office, friends etc. I suddenly started wondering about emails sms and whom to call. Something which was totally cut off for 20 days. I was filled with thrill and elated self confidence after doing the journey alone. I would await my next escape!
Rs. 2,600 :: Youth Hostel Trek (includes food, camping)
Rs. 500 :: Misc Expenses for trek
Rs. 1,300 :: Railway, Bus and Local Transport
Rs. 500 :: Delhi, Agra sightseeing
Rs. 700 :: Accomodation (non-trek locations)
Rs. 800 :: Food (non-trek locations)
Rs. 500 :: Shopping and miscellaneous
Rs. 3,000 :: Contingency
Accommodation costs were saved by traveling during nights. I used public transport wherever possible and drank only bottled water.
Feel free to ask any questions. Various means to contact me are listed here.