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My First Winter Trek Ever - Dodital-Darwa Pass

“Do you wanna build a snowman? It doesn't have to be a snowman.” (Sing it! J)
That's exactly how my first mail went out for the opening of this event. My wanting to experience snowfall reached its heights and so, I prepared to do a winter trek. Skeptical if I could bear severe cold, I chose to plan this at the start of winter and with a hope to see snow. Tickets were booked; the team of seven was all set.

Day 0:
We were a team of four girls and three guys. With all of us boarding different flights from Bangalore (except the seventh guy coming from Hyderabad), we decided to meet in Delhi. The meeting place turned out to be the Shivaji stadium metro station. Fun began right away, with us chit-chatting like old friends. Though most of them were meeting for the first time, there was no sign of it. With none of us keen to visit any particular place in Delhi, we decided to roam around with food on mind. We took a metro to Connaught place, had the best cardamom tea in earthen glass, and tasted street food. We had an early dinner at Saravana Bhavan and talked and laughed endlessly until we realized we might get kicked out of the hotel. Finally we left for Old Delhi from where we were to board our train to Dehradun.
Remember, the seventh guy hadn't joined us yet. We six had made ourselves comfortable sitting in a circle in the platform, playing Uno. Along with us even the crowd around us had fun watching the game. Then, the seventh guy called up and I duly instructed him on how to find us. Over the phone, he mentioned that he is wearing a green hoody and holding a pack of kurkure (for identification sake). The team screamed out immediately saying “Ask him not to eat the kurkure!” We were sitting there with a lookout for a guy wearing a green hoody and with a kurkure in hand (hopefully a full pack!). Finally we spotted him; thanks to kurkure as there was no sign of green anywhere in his attire! How did the colour come up? Well that's a different story for the seven of us to laugh about. Ravi, the seventh guy, was given gyan on the colour green all through trek. He can now ace the 'Shades of Green' test (If there was such a thing)! We played one more round of Uno before the train arrived and we all boarded and settled in our seats. After quite a long intro session, we retired for the day.

We were to reach Dehradun by 8:00 AM, but somebody reset the IST by an hour and we reached around 9:00. The guide and three other trekkers were waiting for us right outside the station. We quickly greeted each other and started our journey to Uttarkashi in two SUVs. Veena, Ravi and I took one vehicle and Narmadha, Shruthi, Karthik, and Mayank took the other. On the way, we stopped at a small hotel and had delicious parathas and hot chai for breakfast.
Point to Remember: Never eat stomach full when gaining altitude during travel. You will regurgitate for sure.
The temperature steadily decreased as we travelled. The view all through our journey was a treat to our eyes. The valleys were getting deeper and the mountains much closer to us. Our comfort drive to Uttarkashi ended by 5:00 in the evening. We checked into a cosy hotel and got two rooms each for girls and boys. Neil (our guide) gave us a brief of the whole trek. We then freshened up and took a stroll around the place. We were still adjusting to the biting cold night. It was a market place with all kinds of shops right from spices, dry fruits to woollen clothes, Quechua products and yummy street foods. After devouring some sweets and chats we went back to the hotel, had early dinner, and crashed for the day.
Point to Remember: Never shop during the trek. Trust me you don't want that extra load to carry.


There always are early birds in the group. Veena, Karthik, and I got ready first and decided to visit the temple. It was the biggest temple in Uttarkashi and was just a 15-min-walk from the hotel we stayed. The city was already getting busy with the kids heading out to school and the hotels starting their morning chores. It was a delight to have had a chat with the kids.
 The temple place is peaceful, a must visit to see the beauty of it. On returning, we found that the rest of the group had also left to the temple. It was past 8:00 AM when we settled down for breakfastaloo paratha with pickle and dollops of butter. None of us could finish one paratha, not even Karthik. We vacated the hotel and started our journey toward Sangamchatti, which is the base of our trek. The drive took less than two hours. There we were at the base of the trek greeted by a sheep herd! One mule was hired to carry some of our bags and the tents. By 11:00 AM we started our first day of the trek toward Agora. It was a 6-km trek uphill through the forest. The sun was shining bright; however the breeze was cold. Most of the path is a narrow muddy trail, steeper at places. We met a lady, native of Agora village, going down to the city to get her rations. After two and a half hours of trekking we finally reached the beautiful Agora village.

About the village—Agora
An arch indicates the start of the village, which has about 200 houses. The houses are all one storied with the whole of ground floor used for storage. The village has a school for the kids; however for a hospital or clinic, they will have to go down to the city. The women here wear saree draped in a much different fashion along with colorful beaded jewelry. They wrap a thick cloth around their waist, which apparently is for support as they carry heavy weights. The women take care of collecting hay and fodder, cultivation, and securing their harvest. The men are into construction work and some electrical errands. Some of them are guides for the trekkers. The kids are charming and love going to school.
 After a delicious Rajma rice for lunch, we rested for a while in our rooms. Once the sun started setting, we stepped out to have a look around the village. The village boys were playing cricket and we joined in for a while. The bat was homemade by the kids themselves and apparently had an excellent edge! After the game, we strolled around and spoke to some of the villagers. Life is not easy for them up here but they still are a happy lot. We were fortunate to visit a wedding house and meet the bride-to-be. It was the mehndi night and the house was brightly lit. When asked where the groom was from, they pointed out to the neighboring hill where his house was also decorated with lights and we could hear the music all the way till where we stood. We met the beautiful bride who was so shy that she hardly made an eye contact. After blessing her and thanking her family members for their hospitality, we returned to our guest house. The dinner was simple but delicious. With energy still in stock, we started a DJ night and danced for hours! Karthik was the only one who showed no signs of tiredness even after hours of dancing. We had to call it off as we had a longer, challenging day ahead. The music at the wedding house continued till dawn.

After a quick breakfast, we left our cozy stay place. Our first short break was at Dharkot around 11:00 AM. It's about 6 km from Agora. This stretch was mostly uphill with narrow paths. We stopped at a place called Kacheru for lunch. It's a place in the middle of the junglepeaceful and serene. There is no human habitation here and if you are lucky you may spot a wild creature. In another hour's trek, we reached Manjhi village. This happens to be the make-shift place for the villagers during monsoon. They move to higher grounds as the lower grounds gets flooded due to heavy rains. Manjhi village is extremely picturesque. With the sunrays cutting the fog, shining the huts present among the tall rhodendron trees, the place looked like a picture from a fairy tale book. There was a family of langur (long-tailed monkeys), which scooted on our arrival. After spending some time to soak in the beauty of the place, we moved on.
Life takes a turning point, you know . . . This is too dramatic, I know . . . But yeah! One particular turn in the stretch and what we saw made us all scream in joy! Our first snow patch! All of us were jumping with joy and clicking pics and the smile on our faces were stuck and never to leave. From this place on, there were snow patches all through. It was tough to get the group moving, which obviously wanted to click more pics and stay back at the snow patch.
We had to quicken our pace and reach the lake before dark. We reached a Shani temple ahead and Dodital is little more than a km from here. It was 4:15 in the evening when we finally reached Dodital. The 16-km stretch was no mean feat and the whole group did amazingly well encouraging and helping each other.

About Dodital Lake:
It is an extremely calm and serene place at an elevation of 3050 m. The lake is surrounded by oak woods, pine, and rhodendron forest. Bells are hung at the entrance of the lake area. There are a few guest rooms that are run by the government. One can camp in tents as well if they choose not to rent rooms. Campfire is not allowed here; however with permission from forest officials, it is allowed in winter. It is not that huge a lake as it used to be. The moraines are slowly covering it up. The still water reflects the forest hues like a mirror. Apparently no one knows how deep the lake is, and it is said that there is a huge temple buried in it. The small Ganesha temple here remains closed except during one festive season. Locals claim that the saints who live in the caves comes down during that time and perform penance. If lucky, you might spot wild animals coming at night to drink water. There in an excellent view of the Darwa pass peak from across the lake.

Hot tea and biscuits were tasting heavens in the cold. After resting for a while, we helped our trek lead to put up the tent. We also collected some wood for the campfire. The temperature was falling very quickly. One T2 and the 8 of us sat in it in a straight circle. We spent some time talking there while our rooms were getting cleaned. It was one huge room with beds 4 beds laid out in line and had an attached washroom. We were so thankful for this. Even with the floor carpeted we couldn't walk around without footwear. Once we freshened up we sat (yet again in a straight circle) in our room wrapped in thick blankets. The story time began with each of us sharing our life events. We laughed so hard that it hurt our stomach. We laughed so hard that we cried. This time spent here would be etched in us like words on stone. We reluctantly stepped out of our cozy room for dinner and had the most delicious food, thanks to our guides. We went back to our room, did a few stretching exercises, which worked like magic for our aching muscles, and then went to bed.

This was the day I surprised myself. Little did I know that this was to happen. We woke up early and packed our daypacks with water and some snacks. After a quick healthy breakfast, we started our trek towards Darwa pass. The weather had changed overnight with the water clouds increasing. With rain expected anytime, we had time constraint to complete our trek. The initial stretch had no trail path; it was just moraines. This would be filled with water in monsoon. Walking over moraines is quite challenging and you could easily slip. The entire route is steep; however we walked in an S-path, which helps, as there is less stress on the lungs. We gained altitude gradually and yet we went short of breath. This bunch of people are so amazing and positive that not once did I hear a complaint or sulking. With each person supporting the other in need of help and boosting them up with motivating words (yes, it matters a lot and works), we climbed higher. A particular small stretch was filled with snow and ice and needed extra effort crossing. We ate [JL2] and played with fresh snow with much delight. We reached a place from where the peak is about a kilometer away and it was already past 12. There were dark clouds coming closer to us and there was a cloud of thought in us whether we can reach the peak and get back safe and in time. Thanks to Manveer (one of our guides) who assured us that we can do it. With no further delay, we moved ahead. This part was the steepest of all and the terrain was of loose sand. Karthik, Ravi, and Manveer helped us cross the steep stretch and there we were—Darwa pass peak at 13,625 ft height!! The feeling of standing there at the peak, looking down at the path we travelled and the beautiful Himalayan range, made me fall in love with Mother Nature all over again! There is an excellent view of Kalanag and Banderpaunch peak from here.
To have achieved this feat with the most wonderful people that I met only a few days ago made me feel blessed. I was on Top of the World! It may not have been the highest peak but I sure was on cloud9. I have done a lot of treks before, including another Himalayan trek, but never had I felt so emotional. There I was standing at the peak with tears of joy! Yes, I cried hard and I didn't try to stop. How often does one cry out of sheer joy and content? I got the warmest hug from Veena and the group joined in. With lots of pictures taken, feeling extremely happy and elated, we reluctantly started getting down. We sat at a spot with amazing view of the Himalayan range for a few minutes in silence. We sat there looking at the stunning nature in front of us, absorbing all the goodness with our lungs filling up with the purest of the air and our ears listening only to the sound of wind. Even as I write this experience, I don't want to move away from this time. But time doesn't stand still and we had to start our journey back. Our journey down was faster than the climb. It was 3:20 PM when we reached back to the Dodital campsite. We were served hot tea, biscuits, and rice and dal. We sat together and ate and looked at each other with smiles stuck on our faces all the time. We had to pinch each other just to realise that it's all real and happening. We got comfortable again in our room, wrapped in blankets, and talked endlessly. We went out only for dinner and the night sky was brightly lit with stars. After dinner we lied down on ground enjoying the night sky for a while. With cold getting to our bones, we went back to our rooms and decided to sleep. A 16-km long trek awaits next day.

Did I mention that brushing here at this temperature was a challenge in itself? Nevertheless, we brushed and enjoyed hot adhrak chai with some biscuits. Veena and I took a stroll around the spectacular lake, walked the path full of snow, and stared at the glassy water, hoping to spot trout fishes but with no luck. The sun was playing peekaboo, giving us warmth on and off. It was time to pack our bags and leave. There was one thing that we wanted to do and was still pending—to build a snowman. We had even carried carrots for his nose. We got together and started working on the snowman, which turned out to be some snow guy with cool shades. Now I can still say “Been there, done that.
After some group photos, we started back to Agora a little after 10:00 AM. We only stopped at Dharkot at 2:00 PM for lunch. It was 4:45 in the evening when we reached Agora. We sat there looking at the beautiful sunset and tending to our sore feet. Veena's stretching exercises helped us a ton, yet again. After dinner, too many ghost stories were narrated (which freaked out Veena and myself). It was past 10:00 PM when we finally retired for the day.

The loud sound woke me up at wee hours in the morning. It was raining cats and dogs outside. I did not dare to open the room door as it was extremely cold. Sleep was long gone for me and I prayed that the rain would stop else our 6 km descend will be way challenging and spoil our plans. I had already thought of an alternate travel mode to reach Delhi in case we missed our trains. It was past 7:00 AM when all of them woke up and I stepped out. The view in front of my eyes made me freeze. It was snowing at the peak and all the mountain tops were now white.
The rains reduced to drizzle by the time we started our journey down to Sangamchatti. The path was not too wet and we reached the base at 11.10 AM. This is where we started four days ago with no clue of what the coming days had in store for us. With a lot of memories, we got into our SUVs and headed back to Uttarkashi. After having lunch at the same hotel where we had stayed, we continued our journey to Dehradhun station to catch our train to Delhi. Mayank surprised us all by narrating the whole of a Ski-fiction movie Interstellar and all of us could understand the story line at the first shot. This guy, for the love of physics, got to get into research and teaching (the students will be the blessed ones). This journey was an adventurous one with the weather getting worse. We were accompanied by rains and fog all through. We reached our station well in time. We bid goodbyes to our guides, hoping to meet again in another trek. After dinner at a hotel near the station, we boarded our train to Delhi. Looking back, I realize nature was only too kind to us to let us complete our trek in the best of the weather.
The train was promptly late yet again but we were in no hurry. We had a feedback session and the group was just being too nice to me!  We were already missing the mountains and started talking about where the next trek could be. On reaching the station, we bid our byes to Ravi as he had an early flight to catch. We freshened up in the retiring room of the station and headed off straight to Chandni Chowk. For someone who never fancies street food or chats I surprised myself, yet again. We went crazy trying every food that we could see. Hot jalebis with malai topping was a highlight! Also, we kept clicking and sending pics to Ravi so he doesn't miss out on what was happening. Some managed to shop a few things for themselves and their loved ones. We later took the metro to the airport. Veena, Shruthi and I were taking the same flight. Mayank, Karthik, and Narmadha were to take a different flight. Goodbyes are never easy to say. Carrying back with us the precious memories and learnings from our trek, we parted ways hoping to meet in another trek.

Written By        : Monisha
Organized By    : Monisha
Date of event    : 5th Dec, 2015
Members Count : 7
Place               : Dodital
Pictures           : BTC FB Album1 BTC FB Album2
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