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Trek to Roopkund

By Anamika Mukherjee

There is an indescribable thrill about following the mellow tinkle of the bells of a pack of donkeys up a steep hill road going nowhere in particular. Not that we are going nowhere – our self-proclaimed destination is Roopkund, a lake at an altitude of roughly 16,000 feet in the Uttaranchal Himalayas. But, as with all treks, the destination is only a rough guide to our paths and it is the journey, rather than its end point, that has us enthralled.

Day 1

The first day of walking. Thus far, we had taken all manner of wheeled vehicles over surfaces that no one in their right minds would care to call motorable roads. From Haridwar to Karnaprayag, thence to Dewaal and finally to Loha Jung Pass we travelled over increasingly deteriorating roads, till we finally tumbled out of the jeep at Loha Jung on wobbly legs and our insides, which were all astir from the back breaking journey, began to settle themselves into roughly their proper order.

Yesterday evening was full of anticipation. The lodge at Loha Jung Pass accommodated our large party in three spacious rooms that were cramped when everyone was indoors. Live music and (dead) lamb curry were the main entertainers. The sun sportingly gave us a spectacular sunset, painting Nanda Ghunti in shades of gold. This morning, there was a hearty breakfast and then a leisurely departure around 8.30, once everyone had sorted out their stuff and decided how much would be loaded on to the donkeys that would accompany our group.

The first day's walk was easy going. We covered about 8 km from Loha Jung Pass to Didna. The first 4 km to Kuling was virtually flat walking, with good, clear views of Nanda Ghunti all along. Kuling is a hub of activity with potatoes strewn in every direction. If one were to pick up every unclaimed potato one came across, it would comfortably feed a family of four for a month. Needless to say, this is potato farming area and Kuling is the junction where donkeys and jeeps meet. We stopped for tea and then carried on.

A left fork from Kuling takes you to Wan (pronounced like something closer to Vun, the Hindi word for forest), and for Didna you must avoid the left and take, instead, the right and then go down, down, down and down some more to the valley floor. Then you cross two rivers, both of which have bridges. At the second crossing, a villager indicated that we should avoid the bridge and cross the water by stepping carefully over the stones that were just barely submerged. This we did, but it proved to be entirely unnecessary, as the bridge would have served just as well and a little better, being only a few steps downstream and a lot more reliable in avoiding an unintentional bath.

Then it was up, up, up and up some more. Finally, Didna! We approached over a stone wall, across a field and around a barking dog who seemed, strangely enough, disinclined to bite. Here, there was a two-storey stone hut, with a kitchen on one side and stable for the donkeys on the other on the ground floor, and three bedrooms on the first floor. Bathroom facilities were out in the open, which was not so easy because there was a small settlement here, so there were plenty of people around.

We reached Didna around 2 pm, had a late lunch around 3.30, then sat out the afternoon and stood around and stamped our feet in the evening till dinner time at 9. It was chilly by then and we were all quite happy to get into our sleeping bags and some even wished that the donkeys could join us, just to warm things up a little.

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Copyright 2008 Amit and Anamika Mukherjee. All rights reserved.