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The Skeleton Lake

“I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy -  I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it” – Art Williams

The trek had all its participants in a trance for days!!! Well almost…even a week after the trek, all that we discussed about on returning was what were we doing a week back at that particular moment. I think the Himalayas have this power to cast a spell on all their visitors. And our trek was an even special one, being to the mystery lake Roopkund, nestled at 15,700 ft in the Himalayas. Why was it so special you may ask? Well, of course the skeletons! To know what made it all the more memorable, read on ahead.

May 2016:
Surprise!!! Gaurav and Monisha are organizing a trek to Roopkund. After some initial apprehension about the difficulty level of the trek, I registered for it. And for days after registration, I pestered Gaurav to mail the final list of participants. After booking the tickets for Delhi, the wait for D – day began.

June – September 2016:
The preparations began, slowly but surely. We received instructions to prepare ourselves physically for the trek. Jogging, swimming, Yoga…everything was recommended. I somehow managed to include one of these in my schedule hoping it will be enough to get me back alive from the trek! With the backpacks, poles, thermals, jackets, shoes and all ready, we were set to put on our sunglasses and set off for the trek.

September 30th: Delhi
The meeting point for all participants was Old Delhi railway station. While Keerthi, Ram and Mamtha had arrived a day before and were enjoying the Delhi heat, the rest of us arrived in batches on 30th.  We visited the Bangla Sahib Gurudwara, soaked in the peace there for some time, had dinner in the langar and left for the station. As if this was the silence before the storm, we were all rushing to the station at the last moment. The train was not missed and we soon were happily snoring the night away.

 October 1st: Kathgodam - Lohajung
The train reached Kathgodam before time, even while some of us were still brushing our teeth at the wash basin. Thankfully that was the last station! Our vehicle was waiting at the station ready to take us to our base camp at Lohajung. The journey seemed to go on and on as the vehicle took sharp twists and turns that ended up making some of us sick. We reached Lohajung after sunset and could soon feel the chill in the air. Here we were received by our guides Mr. Dinesh and Mr. Chandar who gave us a briefing about the trek schedule and the dos and don’ts for the trek. This was the last camp where we could bathe for the entire duration of the trek. After a Rs.30 hot water bath and a hearty meal, we snuggled into our blankets dreaming about the days to follow.
October 2nd: Lohajung – Didna (8km)
The day started with a warm up session by Gaurav. The group warm up sessions were supposed to be a part of every day’s trek but with each passing day, the scene turned out to be totally different :P. This was followed by a hot breakfast of puris and chole. With our backpacks ready for loading on to the mules’ back (with a few exceptions) and day packs for loading on our back, we marched on with Chandarji leading us and Alamji trailing us. The initial path ran along the edge of a mountain and we soon entered the forest where we walked along the huge old trees. But we had to focus on our footings to avoid slipping down the wet, smooth stones and rocks. While I was the first entry into the “slipping” category, Ram was the second and thankfully the last. We met streams, Rajgir fields, stone houses which looked abandoned, sheeps, goats, cows and shepherds along the trail. On the way was the tall Sona waterfall meeting the Neelganga river. Hereafter, the path was zigzag leading to Didna village.
The sun was now out making it difficult to walk and the next tree shade lured us to take some more steps every time. Suddenly after a turn, we had reached Didna village! We were greeted by a beautiful stone house which looked straight out of a photo. The sun rays surprisingly felt nice on our faces. The lunch had never felt so tasty and well deserved. 
Since we all shared a big room here, the gossip session lasted longer than usual. At night, with limited light source in the vicinity, the Milky Way was visible clearly. Never had I seen so many stars before! Looking at the bigger picture, at that moment, we were nothing but a mass of dust about to climb a bigger mass of dust…

October 3rd: Didna – Bedni Bugyal (12km)
Today was supposed to be the longest trek…12km through some dense forest and then through Asia’s largest meadows, Ali Bugyal and Bedni Bugyal. The trees ended suddenly at the edge of the forest with not a single tree thereafter in the rest of the trek for all the remaining days to Roopkund. Here on it was a walk directly under the sky. Today was also the highest height gain, almost 4000 feet. With images of steaming hot maggie in our heads (for Vaishnavi especially), we finally reached the Bedni Bugyal camp site dotted with colourful tents.
It was at Bedni Bugyal that we really got an idea about the cold weather that was to follow. And surprise…we were to wash our dishes in the cold, thin stream of water! Brrrrrrrr…thinking of it makes my hands numb!!! But what is it that a fun game of Uno cannot cure!  The twists and turns in the game turned up the heat for a while. Early to bed and early to rise was what we followed through the trek. Anyway we could not wait to get into our tents and sleeping bags for some warmth.
October 4th: Bedni Bugyal – Pather Nachuni (5km)
Few minutes away from the campsite and we reached the lake at Bedni Bugyal. According to local folklore, it was where Shiva and Parvati got married. There were also temples of Parvati and her brother and guide to Kailash, Latu Devta, related to each other by a very interesting story. Just as we were walking, we came across a herd of sheep trying to cross the lake wall. While the older ones just jumped across, the younger ones were left behind “baaing” away. Looking at the small sheep with tiny pink noses, instigated our sheep personality too as we “baaaaed” with them :D…lovely experience!
The trek today was an easy one. Through the first half of the trek, mist surrounded us and made it cooler. After some scolding from Alamji, we pulled on our jackets and head scarves. Soon we reached Ghora Lautani, literally meaning place for the horses to turn back, but that was not the case. Hereafter the weather remained clear and as we walked, we could see rolling green mountains below us, reminding us of Kudremukh. The mist was here again, in the midst of which we could spot our campsite! Such a relief! But little did we know this will be the windiest and foggiest of all the camp sites to be. 70% of the time we spent there was in mist, especially at night when nothing was visible a few feet away. Hot lemon tea and hot bhajjis cheered us up in the evening. Dinner meanwhile was with torchlight while cramping in a tent to keep warm. And then was the hand numbing dishwashing part! Oh, how I love the taps at my place now!!!
October 5th: Pather Nachuni – Bhagwabasa (5km)
The trail today was a little difficult in terms of elevation. The path zigzagged with a constant elevation. The motto for the day was slow and steady. Veena, dressed in her pink jacket, was an inspiration for others to keep walking. The climb lasted till the Kalu Vinayaka temple. Even before we reached the temple, one could hear the conch shell and its echo. 
The destination didn’t seem far anymore. A Maggie and photo break later, we started the descent to Bhagwabasa. The terrain around now was very different. The landscape was strewn with huge flat rocks and very little greenery. Amidst light rain, we hopped across the rocks to reach our last campsite at Bhagwabasa. Cold reached another level here. Even at 2 in the afternoon, we were shivering. The sun blessed us for few minutes when we could see Mt. Trishul and Roopkund located in the rocky mountains. The trek was to start at 3.30am. Fingers crossed!
October 6th: Bhagwabasa – Roopkund – Junargali – Bhagwabasa – Bedni Bugyal (~18km)
2.30am: Heavy rains. Everyone in their tents
3am: Some crazy person is out in this weather and shouting for others to come out as well. It turned out to be Monisha! Well it has to be something really out of this world to have this effect on Monisha :P. SNOW!!! Clean white snow on the ground! Immediately others were out as well enjoying the snowfall.
4am: It has stopped snowing. Finally we could start for the summit.
The trail was covered in snow. The darkness and the snow made us focus even more on our footing. As it started getting a little light around, the snow looked more beautiful, glowing white. The last 500m to Roopkund is supposed to be difficult. The snow added to it as we took duck steps to avoid slipping. What had appeared black and brown the evening before had changed overnight into pristine white.
Our wait of 5 months was finally over as we reached Roopkund at 15,700 ft!  Everyone was in their Roopkund T-shirt, ready for photos, but our guide advised us not to act like ‘Bhai’ (you know who :P)  to remove our jacket and show off our T-shirts in that freezing cold. There was very little water in the lake, covered in snow. The area around was completely under snow. Some of the famous skeletons had been kept on display for the visitors. Skull, jaw, bones of hands and legs were lying in a heap on a rock as the other guides picked them up and showed them around.
Junargali at 16,100 ft was our next target. It is a steep climb but ensures a rewarding experience. The area at the top is limited where one cannot run around. The view around was mesmerizing. Mt. Trishul, Mt. Tribhuj and Mt. Nanda Ghomti appeared majestic with their snow capped peaks. And they seemed so close to us! As the rising sun casted a golden hue on the snow, the white slopes appeared even more magical. 
On the other side was the valley, with the zigzag trail we had trekked. But the sun now added to our apprehension about climbing down in snow. Surely, climbing down the snow (now melting) covered trail was taxing for everyone, not only physically but also mentally. The guides were a huge help. The trail seemed long as we reached the Bhagwabasa campsite, drained of our energy. A short rest later, we were back on the trail to cover the 10km distance to Bedni Bugyal. Summit day was over as we reached Bedni Bugyal campsite. The sense of achievement gave us new highs. Everyone was relaxed but the day had been a very long one.
October 7th: Bedni Bugyal – Wan (10km) - Lohajung
It was a clear, sunny morning with all the peaks around visible as we started from the campsite on our final trek day. It was a continuous descent through forests and we reached Neelganga River. The water here was ice cold. Hats off to people who tried pushups in the water here! The ascent hereafter was a welcome change.
Once again, we were surrounded by the green mountains and the rocky, snow clad mountains seemed far away. It was difficult to imagine that just the previous day we were so much higher up in a completely different environment. The path now passed through small houses and fields. We were back to civilization after 4 days but it seemed longer! On the way we visited the Latu Devta’s temple (remember Parvati’s brother???). 
The distance from Wan to Lohajung was covered in a vehicle. As the vehicle navigated the twists and turns, we could see the trails in a distance with which we had begun this epic trek. And we were back a full circle to Lohajung.
As we received our certificates from the guides and other team members, it was a gentle reminder of the achievement which seemed unreal and so far away now.
A hot, refreshing bath and warm cosy beds awaited us after 5 days of living on basics.
October 8th: Lohajung – Kathgodam
It was a smooth drive back to Kathgodam. On the way, we came across several pine cones strewn across the road. Like madmen, we scrambled across the road collecting almost all of them for memories. Rajalakshmi probably had around 15 of them! I hope Vaishnavi got her pine cone chutney with Idlis for breakfast :P.
“Ab Dilli dur nahi!” Next morning was Delhi.

October 9th: Delhi – Bangalore
Early morning metro took us back to the crowd and grim of city life. At the airport, all we did was stand in long queues and thereafter, hog on food! Pizzas, burgers, subs, coffee, pasteries...indulged in all kinds of junk food, without a care in the world (especially Gaurav and his diet plans :P).
Soon after, we were back to Bangalore and the routine life.

This is where the trance started. No one seemed to get over the fact of what we had achieved. Trekking several kilometers in a far off land, in the midst of nowhere, in cold, walking through snow, away from all comforts, we had experienced life to the tiniest details. All of us learnt to appreciate commodities we otherwise didn’t give a second thought to. The path and the surrounding changed each day throughout the trek. The trek might not have been a very difficult one but the experience it offered, etched a very strong memory in our minds. During this one week, nature tested us just as we tested ourselves and pushed our limits to the best we could.  The journey to Roopkund and Junargali offered a sense of pride and humility as we experienced the charisma of nature and its beauty in her comfort zone.

Written By      : Nasreen Choudhury
Organized By  : Gaurav and Monisha
Date of event : September 30, 2016
Place               : Western Himalayas
Pictures          : BTC FB Page

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