FULL TEAM AT JUDA KA TALAB CAMPSITE
“Upar math dekho... neeche math dekho.. sirf raste ko dekho aur aage chal..”.
Perhaps the directive words from the guide Yash. And this is how my other trekking experience began. My second trek with this company called Himalayan Passion.
Kedarkantha - This was one of the treks that has been in my wish list for quite some time. It is a WINTER trek and so preparation has to begin well in advance.
As another year began, so did a new hope, a new happiness found place in the form of embarking on a Kedarkantha Trek. Kedarkantha is a trek located in the Uttarakhand State, a state referred to as the Land of Gods. Not to be confused with Kedarnath which is also in Uttarakhand and a part of Char dham yatra. Kedarkantha means the Throat of Kedar (Lord Shiva).
Why Kedarkantha? - Every trek in the Himalayas is known for its beauty. Surrounded by dense Maple, Pine and oak trees, this trek is considered the best Winter trek for both beginners and experienced. The winter trek is often referred to as the “Queen of Winter Treks”. Kedarkantha trek can be done during summer as well. The trek is fringed with trees and adorned with snow and will leave you with amazing memories.The wonderful picturesque views of the mighty mountain ranges will follow through the trail. It helps you view these scenes in its purest form.
When you are starting on an adventure trip, the least would you expect that you begin the adventure with an adventure.. Lol. 🙆♀️
I spoke to an auto man earlier (so that my check in to the city is safe) who told me he would pick me up from Jolly Grant airport, landed in trouble due to the Union issues at the Airport and asked me to walk 5 kilometers (whoa... trek begins from the airport) to the place where his auto was parked. After the initial fight between the union guys and the automan, he apologized and put me in a cab..
Grrr.😡 I finally reached the hotel located near the railway station. Perhaps the first person to reach Dehradun. 💃. After settling down in the hotel, I went down for a walk to the Main road to get some cookies 🍪 et al. Dr Tulika, a co-trekker, arrived by around 8 pm. We decided to make it a twin sharing room and we requested the hotel rep to change. After some time, another co-trekker from my previous trek, arrived from Delhi and the twin became a trio sharing.
What a perfect time.. I had ordered one extra food just in time for them. After the sumptuous dinner, we hit the bed... During late night a few other passengers checked into the same hotel as we were all getting ready to travel together.
It was a nice cold morning. If you wake up first - you will either be lucky with water or greatly unlucky. I took bath in lukewarm water and after that thankfully the geyser worked and others got ready. We were waiting for our vehicle in which we were scheduled to travel to Sankri, the last village in Uttarkashi district. Sankri is a small village with few families. I will write about Sankri when I get there... ( 😄 scroll down below one or two paras).
As we got inside the van after a small intro, the 12 of us evenly split 6 men and 6 women. We drove down and in about an hour, our driver stopped at this beautiful restaurant for breakfast and a cup of chai. The restaurant is on the right side en route to Sankri at Mussoorie which is called Rahul Restaurant. Pls give a try to their menu. Guess, the owner's name is Rajesh Singh. They do have rooms where you can take a room for rent and stay and then continue your journey.
Out of the world Aloo Paratha and Paneer Paratha with achar found the way to our tummies. The picturesque scenes begin here.
Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall and had a great fall. Wait. Did I say Humpty.. Err. It is me. I slipped and fell down to get my first small injury of the trek. Thank God, nothing major.
DELICIOUS PANEER PARATHA
We continued our journey on the Mussoorie Naugaon road. The cab driver played some Hindi songs which others were aware of (but not I). We briefly halted at around 3 pm for a quick lunch at Purola. It is a small restaurant where they had Roti, Maggi as options. One good thing at this place was it had a fairly neat and clean restroom. In between the cab driver stopped at a few places to pick up vegetables and other things that are required for the food for the next 4 - 5 days. 🤔
PUROLA (Uttarkashi District, Uttarkhand)
After you cross Purola, when you are approaching Mori, you can spot the Yamuna river flowing through with all her joy!. Mori kind of borders Himachal and Uttarakhand(UttarKashi District). This is also the route to many treks. We stopped by to see the magnificent Yamuna river flowing through Mori and oh yeah... Is it not time to take some selfies 🤳 .. Done.
We continued the van journey after a bit of Chai ☕️ (North India, Chai, Paratha, Roti Sabji - inseparable). Finally we landed in Sankri by around 730 PM. Whoa... A 10 hour journey with a good break.
Sankri is a small village and the starting village for many trekking routes. A scenic hamlet located in UttarKashi District perched at an altitude of 1950 meters ASL (6400 ft). It is 200 km from Dehradun and is the last road of Govind Pashu Vihar National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary. The sanctuary takes the name after the famous Home Minister, freedom fighter and first CM of UP, Govind Ballabh Pant. This village is the base camp for many other treks such as Har ki Dun, Kedarkantha, Bali Pass etc. If time permits, please make a visit to the market. You may get some good winter clothing. Some business to the local villagers. We must make sure the purity of the villagers and the village is kept intact.
It is a village to be explored. What more enticing than noticing snow in Sankri ( apparently it snows in Sankri during Jan - Feb). During our stay, it did not snow.
Coming back to my trekking experience, we got very good accommodation in Sankri and got into our winter clothes (depending on the temperature).
A sumptuous Roti, Paneer Mutter invited to be fed to our tummy for dinner. After a fulfilling meal, a bowl of fruit Custard was ready to be served.
The trek leader briefed us the Do-s and Don't-s of the trek and the procedure. He collected all the necessary documents that were to be provided to the forest officers to seek permission. It is important to note and follow what the leader says as Trekking is a group | team effort. One helps the other (does not matter whether you knew them early or not).
Roti and Matar Paneer
A long journey but worth the trip. As we woke up the next day and piping hot water to refresh ourselves, we decided to rent a few gears.
Renting is good for 2 reasons - you don't need to carry it from your source and next is they are there to serve. We can utilize and make them happy too!. Make sure you fill your bottle and stomach with adequate water and food respectively. The Mules were waiting to be loaded with our rucksack.
Tada... We start our journey here....10 30 AM. As we were trekking, a few minutes later, we spotted the Swargarohini, a mountain 🏔️ massif located in the Saraswathi Range of the Garhwal Himalaya. The name says "Way to heaven" and dates the story to Mahabharata period.
The trail is wide and one can hear the sounds of streams passing by. The unique sight truly mesmerized me.
Glimpse of Swargarohini from the trail
Like John Muir said, "You are not in the mountains. The mountains are in you". All it takes is to just keep appreciating and thanking and tread your path carefully. Watching the Himalaya range is a joy. Can you ever get bored of nature? Never. To be in the lap of nature is a feeling. As they accompanied your path, we found a place to rest for a while en route Juda ka Talab. There is a place called Chacha ka Dhaba and a few other places. En route, we filled water in a stream. Pristine water.
A small 10 year old boy named Avinash and his sister prepared lime juice and gave it to us. It tasted heaven!. The happiness in the children faces though they are selling gives us a reinforcement of lives. With minimal things in life and for their survival, they exude happiness and joy!. The difference between Pahadi-s and us!.
Some of the co-trekkers walked and made it one hour earlier along with Yash, our guide. Yash pal Panwar is a very soft spoken, multi tasking personality who was walking the entire trail without Microspikes or trekking poles. He cooked, he spoke to us, he helped when each struggled, he carried our luggages. Yet another very nice human I encountered.
Panoramic view of the Trekkers
As I was walking, suddenly I heard a Tamizh voice, “hey aunty is doing.. why can't you?” Hearing Tamil, I turned back to shout - I am not old (eventually I smiled at them only) to that set of Tamizh speaking guys who are in the field of Photography and Construction business in Coimbatore and others were trekking along with me. It was such a hearty feeling to see another fellow trekker who can speak your language. I gave my small dose of motivation - you guys can!... I met them after they came back from the summit.
Me on the way to Juda ka Talab
I was the penultimate trekker and tread my path slow, steady and took frequent breaks. I followed my leader but somewhere I was slow and reached the campsite one hour late. Lunch was served at around 4 pm (for me). Bwah.. We reached the first milestone - Juda ka talab, the first campsite after Sankri. Situated at a height of 9100 feet (2700 meters), it is a pristine lake surrounded by pine trees capped with snow.
Astonishing view of the mountains from an edge
It is winter time. What more than being in 5 - 10 degrees Celsius during the night. Coming from Chennai, I know how amazing this weather is. I savored it while I was feeling too cold and still decided to be in that moment.. Carpe diem!.
As we woke up with the sun kissing the tent, we resumed our journey for Day 3 crossing the frozen lake. Today's trek was comparatively a smaller one compared to Day 2. As we start approaching KBC.. no not Kaun Banega Crorepati... it is Kedarkantha Base Camp., en route, we see pearls of nature.... Remnants of the early dose of snowfall. ❄️When you look at snow, the joy knows no bounds.
Juda ka Talab, Campsite
We hiked in the middle of pine and oak forests, some portion covered with snow, a steady ascend but not difficult. The fascinating views of Bandarpoonch, Swargarohini,Kala Nag standing tall and adds joy to the trek.
After about a 3 hour walk, we reached the Kedarkantha Base camp at an altitude of 3430 meters (11253 feet). I'd like to recall a Ruskin Bond quote from his book Roads to Mussoorie.
“The adventure is not in getting somewhere, it's the on-the-way experience. It is not the expected; it's the surprise. Not the fulfillment of prophecy, but the providence of something better than that prophesied.” - How true it is. It has to be felt!
Snowcapped mountains to the far
A rich protein, carb mix of Rice and rajma with papad was served hot. No marks for finding who cooked the amazing food. Chilling (already chilling climate :D) there the first half of the evening.. A piping hot corn mattar soup was served. The soup was so tasty!. Thank you, Yashpal, Dhruv and Ramdev for that!. People were busy chatting and the leader and guide were busy making sure dinner was getting ready. We were getting to know each other. I will mention about each one down the lane. The evening sky with glittering stars and planets makes such mountain ranges a paradise to be in! Such types of views will stay etched and imprinted in our minds and hearts.
Rajma - Chawal
For a person like me who has not lived in the midst of snow ranges, seeing snow itself was a joy. Since snow’s presence in the ground is for a real limited period of time, living in that moment is most important. The leader took us for a quick walk and explained how to wear the Microspikes. Tried, tested and did a bit of walking in the snow.
Microspikes Demonstration on the Snow
As it was getting darker, I started being concerned about the climate (mercury levels). It is a must that you make sure you travel with 5 layers. Never go with a mind that I have lived in a cold climate, so I can manage. Because, we never know when the temperature can fall particularly in the mountain ranges. The mercury dropped to minus -5 to -7 degrees. We were asked to sleep as early as the next day ie. Day 4 is a long day and it will start as early as 230 am. I started to feel a nerve chilling cold.
Beautiful View of Sunset from Kedarkantha Base camp
I got into all my winter layers and feared if I would withstand the cold. My co-trekker, Lalitha passed on some baton of confidence. You can, but eliminate the fear and just go with the flow.
Early morning or late night - we all woke up and got ready... The leader was concerned and asked me - Hema, would you like to come or stay here?. I felt staying there can bring nightmares and opted to fight the temperature. The summit push began in the dark. With head torches leading and showing our path, it was extremely chill.
Our body is a wonderfully designed workshop. It automatically generates heat and keeps you warm as you move. I decided to go along with the team and I managed to cross Tea Point. I got a bit exhausted, but continued. The leader was quite concerned and told me to stay at the Tea point as there was still more way to reach the summit. I mustered some more courage and said no, I will attempt as much as I can and was able to go till 11,700 feet altitude ASL and then I gave up after I got a small episode of dizziness. My leader, Dhruv, took care of me so very well and stayed with me in the Tea Point. Even if I had attempted, it would have delayed the descend from the summit. If I had summited, it might have given me an unfathomable emotion, no doubt!!
Cloudy Sunrise from the last Dhaba, on the way to the Summit
My fellow trekkers completed the summit and waited there hoping I would make it. Sometimes, seeing others happy gives you happiness. They could not watch the Sunrise as it was cloudy. I drank Tea at tea point and slept in the midst of a cool breeze. My friends joined me slowly and whoa...There was a gentle breeze of snow... I was excited. We came back to the KBC camp and had a quick lunch and trekked all the way back to Juda ka Talab , our first base camp.
Oh yeah, during my wait at the Tea Point, I chanced to talk to some Tamil speaking trekkers who were sharing their experiences. Yes yes, the same guys. We took a groupie and started our path.
Somewhere, there was a small thread of disappointment 😒🙁 that I did not complete the path.
To the extreme right on the top is the Kedarkantha Summit from the Tea Point
On Day 4 evening as we all gathered inside the tent to chit chat as it was the last night at the tent, suddenly a bout of fresh snow dropped to fill my heart with happiness. “Idarku thaane aasaipattai Hema” (You longed for this, Hema?) 😍😅😀 styled snow. The moment we saw the snow, everyone of us were making sure we got our quota of snow sprays!. The leader sprung into quick action and advised all of us to get into the tent and keep clearing the snow from inside. None of us knew how long it would snow. The trek leader and guide did not have proper sleep as they were safe guarding us by clearing the snow sitting over the tent. If not, the tent will fall. They used a trowel to clear the snow closer to the pole where they had erected the tent.
Snowfall at night
The snowfall was there the entire night...As I woke up on Day 5, I was welcomed with red carpet..err white carpet at least 3-4 inches of snow. What more feeling do you need? Winter Trek mission accomplished. Words failed in front of snow. When I held the snow in my hand (for a few seconds), the snow did not melt.. I melted.
The last day of our trek!.
As I woke up in the morning, nature astonished us by painting the entire vicinity with fresh snow. The landscape became majestical overnight. The silvery snow settled in all the branches and trees and the tents to give a pristine white look till your eyes can see. Holding the fresh snow in the hand is a unique feeling. My shoes were clogged by snow. The light sound of you walking over the snow is inexplicable. The child in each one of us came out looking at the snow and as the breakfast was getting ready, I donned the role of photographer 📷 roaming to click people and snow.. :D. I have more of others' photos than mine 🤣🤣. Each one of us was admiring the snow in our own ways and spent quality time. A scenic beauty and the snow as an icing on the cake or cherry on the cake!. A trek experience that can never go away from our hearts!.
It was a Pudiya Vaanam Pudiya Bhoomi engum Pani mazhai pozhigiradhu.. loosely translated to "a New sky, a new earth (land) snowfall everywhere".
The white snowy Campsite
A group photo with the National Flag (an initiative by Swarnendu) as we were to celebrate Republic Day in 2 weeks from today.
Before we decided to leave the Juda Ka Talab camp site, a heartwarming gesture unfolded by the Assami Bengali couple. In Assamese culture, offering Gamosa (a GI tagged traditional red-white cloth) is a practice. It is a mark of respect, and a love to their near and dear ones. The leader, guide took good care of all of us and made sure the trail was smooth, stay was comfortable and food was satiating the souls. The couple offered a Gamosa to the leader and the guide. The happiness in their faces while offering and receiving can not be stated by mere words. A great gift to be treasured. Lovely thanks giving gesture by Bachaspati and Karishma..!.
Traditional Assamese Gamosa being offered to Dhruv and Yashpal
With a heavy heart, we descend from JKT to Sankri to pack our bags and get ready for a downhill journey to Dehradun. Many of us were playing in the snow. Some pelted snow at each other. As we (Manish, Sunil, Lalitha, self, the young couple) paused our journey for a cuppa coffee, there was a mellifluous flute played by a young guy called Rahul. Apparently, while ascending, his father played the flute. This place is called The Food Garage. Music has the power to heal. As the music was playing, we continued our journey and sad that the trail with snow ended there and it was rough patches from there on. Most of us reached the place by 1 PM and got ready for the next lap of journey. We had a quick lunch in the form of Dhal rice and some namkeen.
Amazing snowy descending trail
One of the co-trekker had an issue with her leg and could not walk to the pace and the leader was getting anxious both about her and he making it to the train that night from Dehradun as he had a long day journey the next day. She finally came and we started off from Sankri. Somehow we made it within 7 hours which otherwise is 8-9 hours.
I was a bit tensed if we would make it to the RS by at least 915 pm. Collective prayers were answered and they just got into the train 2 minutes before the departure time. A quite close call.
But then, all is well. We said bye and I walked back to the hotel where I initially stayed along with another trekker. I had a flight to catch the next day. I got ready and went for a mini shopping trip to Indra Market and Tibetan Market and to buy some sweets. Of course in search of a Pahadi / Garhwali topi, but unlucky.
Full Team, from Left (Karishma, Bachaspati, Sunil, Manish, Swarnendu, Lalitha, Hema Malini, Kankana, Tulika, Teena, Rahul & Dhruv, sitting infront).
A moment or two to introduce fellow trekkers:
Dhruv - Trek leader. What do I say about him? My Mentor and a Guide in a nutshell! . Trek with him and you will feel happy.
Yash - A happy smiling guide who was very helpful.
Rahul Jain and Teena Jain - a happy couple from Kota, Rajasthan who were initially silent but Teena was among the toppers who summited first.
Bachaspati and Karishma - A young couple from Kolkata, Karishma being from Assam, who were like God sent to me and helped me immensely wherever I slipped or walked slowly. Amazing people to be in company with.
Kankana Ghosh - Young, dynamic, Microbiologist who nursed my wound (recall my first fall) and helped me in treating it.
Manish and Sunil - I could not separate these two guys. Like twins, they were together and walked quite fast!
Swarnendu Das - The most silent in the group. He definitely needs a mention - He was the only trekker other than the Guide and Leader to have walked in the snow / ice without the help of microspikes and without Trekking poles. Amazing endurance and a positive attitude guy. Unfortunately, I could not spend more time. Maybe next time, Swarnendu.
Lalitha - My tentmate. The happy vibes we shared began with hugs and saying "Happy New Year" after she landed in Dehradun.
Tulika - A first time trekker from Bengaluru. Unfortunately, she had some leg injury that hampered her trekking experience.
Full team on last day with the National Flag
Uttarakhand is known as Dev Bhoomi, a land of Gods!. Traveling to Uttarakhand, seeing many places of religious and spiritual importance is in my next laundry list of travel. 😃
It takes huge effort in preparing yourself for a trek, and I would say Kedarkantha trek is a MUST DO trek for everyone!. An easy and a short route trek. What I could not achieve does not matter here. Everyone can achieve it!.
Me (HemaMalini Srinivasan)
Trekking is an adventurous activity. No doubt. It takes proper exercise, practice breathing techniques, procure right gears, layers of clothing. Time slows down when you are in the mountain ranges. As you will not have any electronic gadget to give you company other than the phone in offline mode (no signals), you start admiring nature, blend with them. There are no office calls to increase your stress levels, no honking sound, and over all no tension. When you spend 4 or 5 or 7 days in the wilderness, you will feel rejuvenated, happy and gives you time to introspect life as well. The mighty mountains teach you to stay humbled, kind and let you conquer them.
Trekking moves you out of your comfort zone. You won’t get bed coffee, you won’t have sophisticated Toilets, no RO water. It takes an effort to attempt to live the life of a Pahadi. They do not have anything that we enjoy. But they enjoy more than what we enjoy in life. The smiles are pure. The happiness is unadulterated.
And above all, trekking gives you peace. A calmness, a sojourn out of mundane hustles and bustles of life. Look out for dates, get your gears, get your health checked, prep well and embark on a wonderful tour to the Himalayas. Wishing Good luck only to all the readers.!
Theek cha😀! Until next time, take good care of yourselves! Ciao!