Trip Report: Garhwal

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#1 Jan 10th, 2017, 20:05
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#1
Prologue : The age old tradition of aimless travelling , where there is no pressure of the itinerary has always fascinated me. A window of opportunity came my way during the last week of December owing to shut downs at my workplace and an extended weekend after that. I thought of doing few short treks in Garhwal, Uttrakhand & after discussions in IM forums, a rough itinerary was prepared – for this I immensely thank Dilliwalaji for sharing accurate local information.
After a gap of many years, I would be travelling solo , so my main motto was to take local transport and cut down on cost as much as possible.

Day 0 : Night Train to Haridwar

As the last working day of 2016 was coming to an end , I was impatient and hoped that nothing urgent comes my way. But just my bad luck , a meeting was scheduled after the working hours and as per norm it started late. I spent the entire discussion looking at my wrist watch , finally I had to declare that I have a train to catch . These brought some urgency among the arguing parties and the meeting wrapped up just in time for me to reach home and do my final packing.
I previously asked my friend to drop me at the station and together we drove to the station.
Over a smoke while we were waiting, he winked at me sheepishly and asked me “ Or ..kaha ja raha hai ? Koi or toh nehi hai ” ( Finally ..where are you going? Is there anyone else- means female?) .

Since the time I have broken this news of me planning a solo trip , I have become the butt of all jokes and office gossip. If you are a couple- married or otherwise, it must be considered one of the deadly sins to travel solo for pleasure. It was not a cakewalk at home either , my argument was I can’t stay idle at home for 9 days going nowhere , so finally a truce was reached to reach home by new years’ eve.


I brushed aside his question and asked a counter question – “ Tu chalega?” ( Will you come?”)
- Nehi yaar , biwi nehi ane degi ? ( No mate , my wife will not let me go .)

I have gone through these conversations multiple times in last week , so I reminded him of the Tagore’s famous song “ Ekla Cholo” & we both laughed.

Meanwhile , my train arrived 10 mins before time , it was a pretty surprise as due to fog all the trains were running late.

I reached my upper berth seat and prepared for sleep , but being a light sleeper hardly got any sleep . The Kathgodam express reaches Haridwar at a very odd time, so the train attendant gives a call to the passengers. As the train approached Haridwar , I got ready with my bags and stood at the door.
The attendant came to me and smiled : “ Sir, kuch chai pani” ( He was asking for tips) .
I asked him “ Kiss baat ki ?” ( For what?”)
- Sir, jagaya hai aapko ( I woke you up)
- Jo soya hi nehi , usse kaise jagoage ( Why will you wake someone , who hasn’t slept?)

On second thought , I handed him 20 bucks and he left happily for other unsuspecting sleeping beauties.

The train chugged in at Haridwar bang on time- 2: 45 am and damn first time in my life I had wished the train would reach late , so that I could get a little sleep. But if wishes were horses...you know the rest.

With my backpack and camera bag in hand I loitered the railway station for a while and asked for direction to the bus stand. The bus station is hardly 5 mins walk, I walked around the bus station, there were no bus leaving for either Rudraprayag or Ukimath at that time. Disappointed , I walked out of the bus stand , on the other side of the road few Tata Sumos were waiting. Someone shouted “ Rudraprayag, Rudraprayag!”-it caught my attention and I walked in that direction .
- “Are you going to Rudraprayag?” I asked the man who seemed to be the driver of the cab
- “Yes , yes, give me your bag and sit inside”- He directed me towards the back seat of the sumo.
- “I want a front seat”- I refused , as the front seats are more convenient to seat.
- “The front seats are all booked, you sit for now , if the person doesnot come I will adjust you later “- He assured me.

So, I took my sit at the back in utter darkness along with 3 other fellow travelers. I looked around , everyone was overly dressed with layers of jacket, mufflers , caps- it was hardly feasible to figure out anyone’s face. We sat like that for 40 more mins, our driver, Mr. Tyagi was still scouting for passengers. People inside the cab became impatient ,the old ones started to cough ,babies began to cry , women began to beat their head and, so finally I went upto Mr Tyagi and asked ,
” Bhaiyaji chale?” ( Brother, lets go)
- “ Haan challenge, bass do seat or” ( Wait I have 2 more seats )
- “ Abhi toh ek hi seat hai” ( But you have only 1 seat left)
- “ Uski ek hi toh kamai hai” ( Oh , that 1 seat is only my profit)

Finally , after 10 mins wait, we got all the seats filled. When he gave the last passenger the front seat , I was annoyed and protested “ You said the front seats were booked and you would adjust me at the front” . He replied “ If you seat at the front , we have to wait another 30 mins for next passenger, what is your gain?” Well, with that logic, I had to bow before Mr. Tyagi’s decision.By that time, I would have taken my seat on the roof of the cab for him to start. Lesson one learnt, the front row seats are used by drivers as a bargaining chip.
With the hope of sitting upright gone in thin air, I clutched the middle seat back rest while Mr. Tyagi pressed the accelerator to make up for the lost time.
Meanwhile , 2 of my backseat co-passengers declared their affinity for motion sickness and as we gained altitude , it was getting terrible at the back seats . I myself feel little tipsy on my first day at hilly terrain before the body acclimatizes, so I tried hard to keep my mind away from the mayhem at the back seat to the unknown Garhwali tunes churned out in full volume by Mr. Tyagi. Thankfully, the Garhwali numbers saved my day and I was standing at the Rudraprayag taxi stand at 9-15 AM .

Rudraprayag- while inhaling some fresh air- documentary shot from my mobile camera :

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Last edited by sindabad; Jan 11th, 2017 at 00:31..
#2 Jan 10th, 2017, 20:19
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#2
"As the last working day of 2016 was coming to an end , I was impatient and hoped that nothing urgent comes my way. But just my bad luck , a meeting was scheduled after the working hours and as per norm it started late."
You must be working in engineering related organization...it's a common syndrome there.
"Since the time I have broken this news of me planning a solo trip , I have become the butt of all jokes and office gossip."... Another typical engineering organization symptom!!
#3 Jan 10th, 2017, 20:47
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#3
yes you are correct brother ,guess you are also in the same boat as me -only an engineer can understand another's pain
#4 Jan 10th, 2017, 23:31
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Day 1: Reaching Saari and Trek to Deoritaal.

The Ukimath taxis are available just across the street , Mr. Tyagi pointed me to a waiting sumo and I walked towards it. The driver waved at me and shouted “ Saari! Saari!”
I thought I heard him wrong , I reconfirmed “ Saari or Ukimath?” . With the same hand and head gesture , he cried “ Saari! Saari!” , so I gladly handed him over my backpack and hoped inside the sumo- back seat ofcourse.
Apparently, a group of 7 (seven samurais, maybe) have booked the sumo upto Saari and the driver is scouting for the remaining seats-my lucky day I thought , as shared cabs from ukimath to Saari are hard to get.

It took another half an hour to fill the sumo to its brink-4 on each side of the back seat.
I was amused, asked the driver “ Haridwar se toh teen hi bathe the ?” ( we were only 3 at the back seat from Haridwar)
- “ Yaha karne ko kuch or hai nehi , yahi se humari kamai hai,adjust kijiye “-( Here there is nothing else to do , we are unemployed so this is our only source of income, please adjust)

So we had to adjust four on a seat , so much that my oranges got squeezed- don’t get me wrong , I had bought a bag of locally available oranges –called Malta , one co-passenger sat on it while trying to close the door. But it was fun sitting air tight adjusting the knees and elbows- " How much land a man needs- actually lesser space then Tolstoy would have imagined" and as we reached Ukimath , the scenery got better. By about noon, we reached Saari.

Well, this is Malta:

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I was famished by then, hardly ate anything the whole morning . There are a few tea stalls lined up by the road side. These tea stalls serve- tea ofcourse, universal fast food of the Himalayas-Maggie, eggs, parathas or even simple veg lunch . I ordered Maggie, scrambled eggs and while refueling myself gauged the task at hand. As it was the Christmas eve, there were a lot of scattered group of trekkers at Saari.

Finally after much delving, I got ready for the climb , there were a series of steps at first, the ascent seemed quite steep and soon I was out of breath. As I had no more train to catch for the day, I took it slow , took as many breaks as I need . The trekking path itself has no risk but the climb has no level walking , my 15kg backpack seemed heavier now. During my ascent I encountered trekkers at various levels of pain, while the younger ones zoomed past me chit chatting like they were walking in the park.

Start of the trek :

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Finally , after 2.5hrs of pain , I reached the summit, which was actually a Dhaba run by Dharam singh Negi, I was directed to meet him by Kunwar Singh , the owner of Reflection Resort, where I wanted to put myself up for the night.

All this while , I was dreaming of a proper hotel- a smiling receptionist, hot bath & a soft bed but all my dreams went kaput when Mr. Dharam Singh handed me over the keys of the hotel and pointed me towards a small house at a stiff edge of the mountain-it meant more climbing. That was the breaking point for me, I threw my bag on his makeshift bed and sat dejected.

He comforted me , “ You keep your bags here , go , have a look at the house , you can take your bags later at night “ With his words of wisdom and a sip from the magic potion -Adrak wali chai ( Ginger tea ) I grew in strength and walked to the house. After a steep walk , the house appears to be built on a level ground and the path is hidden in bushes and trees. I had the key to the main gate and there were 4 double bedded rooms in total . As I was the only tenant, I could choose any of the rooms. There were piles of pillows and blankets in each room . I chose the front room , it was considerably clean, though I was not sure who does the housekeeping there. The washroom had 2 buckets of ice cold water which was filled 2 days ago and Mr Dharam singh was not too keen to refill it fresh. In fact, it seemed he was just doing a favor to Kunwar singh , the owner & even tried to accommodate me to one of his tents. I told him I would check both facilities and then decide.

After that , I went to check the Lake Deoritaal - panacea of all my pain. Just at the gate of the lake, is the Forest check point, where one needs to buy tickets to move any further or pitch a tent. The area comes under Kedarnath Wild life zone and the tickets are valid for Tunganath as well.

The rate chart for entry and camping :

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I strolled around the beautiful green lake but then a dreadful thing happened –my camera was not autofocusing-it must have taken a hit while I dropped my bag during the trek. I had no other option but to click using manual focus only. I was getting ready for the evening show when the Choukhamba would illuminate in a reddish glow at sunset but unfortunately it was a cloudy day & Choukhamba eluded me. I waited till the last light of the day and salvaged whatever I could manage.

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It was quite a crowd at the lake side, so I informed Dharam singh that I would stay at the hotel room. After a simple veg dinner, I had to carry my bags to the hotel rooms, it was pitch dark , luckily I had the torch . My torch was the only source of light there, I had kept the keys with me , I unlocked the door and it opened with a creaking noise-perfect setting for a horror movie or for secluded lovers.

The temperature was plummeting so I put on additional layers, lighted up a cigarette and slipped under the blanket. It was completely peaceful – only sound I heard was of my own breathing. But I couldn’t sleep long enough, it was a new moon night and the sky was full of stars , the whole house glowed under their twinkle. I knew what I had to do , soon I was setting my camera for night shots.

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Meanwhile , another group of trekkers arrived , they soon joined me and we were chit chatting . It was so amazing , how easy it is to get connected to people while travelling. We exchanged nos , while they went for a drink , I went to rest my tired body.
#5 Jan 10th, 2017, 23:44
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#5
It's like a flashback for me...same conditions, guidance from dilliwala-ji, arriving at haridwar, early morning shared jeep, tight packed journey, skipping breakfast, lunch...chareibeti, chareibeti!!!
#6 Jan 10th, 2017, 23:49
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Day 2 : Day for Reflections and snowy Christmas:
I slept really well , the cold didn’t bother me at all until I woke up at 4 AM, then again at 5 AM and finally I left my room at 6 AM. My main purpose for this trek was photographing morning reflections of Chaukhamba & other peaks on the still water of Deoritaal , so I reached the lake side and positioned myself for a good composition. But the whole morning , the sky remained overcast. Though, Chaukhamba disappointed me once again but the amazing reflections of Deoritaal cheered up my dipping mood.

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After morning breakfast , I bade goodbye to my co tenants , paid the bills and started descending. It took me almost an hour with ample photo breaks to come back to Saari village.
Lesson two learned- “ The Harder it is to climb a mountain (rise in life) , the easier it is to come down (fall)”.- More such wise cracks to follow.
#7 Jan 11th, 2017, 11:55
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Hey sindabad - lovely report. keep going!

Could you also add the cost details - as in how much did you shell out for the rides, the rooms n all?
#8 Jan 11th, 2017, 12:18
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Hi kapil , thanks for liking the report ..i was planning to add the cost part at the end , so you have to bear with my bad narration till the end or I can add the cost details in between.
#9 Jan 11th, 2017, 12:37
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I'll bear with your 'bad' narration then ...
#10 Jan 11th, 2017, 14:06
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Good stuff.

But, Kathgodam Express to Haridwar?
#11 Jan 11th, 2017, 15:13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dilliwala View Post Good stuff.

But, Kathgodam Express to Haridwar?
Thanks... yes i started from rudrapur , Kathgodam dehradun express.
#12 Jan 11th, 2017, 19:01
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Ah, makes sense now. For some reason I thought you're in Kolkata. Now I recall you mentioned in the past that you're in Rudrapur.
#13 Jan 11th, 2017, 19:08
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A few more photographs from the Beautiful lake :

Reflection of camps

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Reflection from the other end of the lake:

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The Blue hour :

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Day 2 :Contd. ( From Saari To Baniakund)

I came to Saari and put my bags at the same tea shop where I had snacks yesterday, the owner recognized me and greeted me warmly . We were chatting, he told me to help his son with a job as I currently worked in Uttrakhand. I had tea at his place , when I went to pay the bill , he refused to accept money from me. No amount of cajoling would deter him .
- “Arre aap toh apne hi admi ho “- He simply nodded (You are one of our own).

I was touched by his gesture and promised to help his son in my capacity.

Meanwhile , I was searching for a shared cab for a drop to Baniakund . But shared cabs are hard to find at Saari and trekkers in bigger groups have advantage of better bargaining power. I talked to the seven samurai group I encountered yesterday , they were also having tea at the same stall as me. But it seemed , three others had already talked to them for sharing upto Chopta , so I became the eleventh man in the group. But there was some confusion as their cab didn’t arrive even after 1.5-2 hrs wait.

The sky was gloomy from morning and sad clouds covered the mountains but suddenly it began to rain or I should rephrase- it started to snow, light snow flakes flew from the sky above and fell on trees, roofs and ground. This was the first snow of the season and it sent joyous wave among all.
The snow made me take a rash decision as well ( which I regretted later) , I no longer wanted to wait at Saari , so I spoke to a few drivers for exclusive booking and drop to Baniakund . After much haggling , the rate was fixed at 700/- for a one way drop . But the moment , I stepped into the Alto , the shared cab drove in and I was pulling my hair in frustration.
#14 Jan 11th, 2017, 19:14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dilliwala View Post Ah, makes sense now. For some reason I thought you're in Kolkata. Now I recall you mentioned in the past that you're in Rudrapur.
..your suggestions as always were a great help , hope you will like the TR
#15 Jan 11th, 2017, 20:13
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Baniakund, a slice of paradise:

Few weeks ago , I had no idea where Baniakund existed , all thanks to the well written blog by Himadrikar in IM for putting it in my itinerary. For my stay at Baniakund, I spoke to Mr. Subodh ( Their family runs the Neelkanth GH at Chopta) , they have started swiss camps at Baniakund from last year ( Actually it is located 300 mtr before Baniakund on the dugalbitta -chopta road) . They offered me tents for 1000/- ( including fooding and lodging).

It took us approx 40 mins to drive from Saari to Baniakund . I was happy to see the vast expanse of the camp site and the deep forest on all 3 sides. After alighting , I paid him 700/- and he asked me for another 100/- bucks . I was taken aback and told him we agreed for 700/- . But he insisted he quoted 800/- and he brought forth all the kasams (swearing) .. God kasam, Maa Kasam. His act would put a daily soap actress to shame . So , just to stop him from any further kasam , I paid him 100/- rupee more and my regret grew worse than before.

After the customary checking in- means putting my bags inside the tent, I went for a stroll towards Baniakund . The region is known for its avian population and popular among birding enthusiasts. But for serious birding a guide is a must . I had no money to splurge, so I trusted my own luck & eyes.
At Baniakund , I stepped inside a teashop as the temperature plunged and I was feeling frosty. I was casually asking the shop owner about any possibility of bird sighting then a youth asked me if I am interested in birding. He introduced himself as Mr. Dinesh Negi a budding bird guide . He had a camera with him and showed me various bird photographs – photo of a male & female Monal in a single frame caught my eye. He told me because of the cold the birds had moved to the lower reaches , he also informed he had spotted a leopard kill at Mukumath that morning and Griffon vultures would be there at the carcass. I liked the chap , he charges approx 1500-2000/- for a whole day birding group . I have his contact nos , I will share at the end of my post.

I walked to a valley where a few other tents were pitched, Dinesh had pointed me to that direction as there were animal carcasses thrown by villagers .It started snowing once more , I walked in the snow enjoying the velvety touch. But it soon started to have heavy snowfall and I had to take shelter at a tea stall. I waited there for almost half an hour watching the green fields, roads , houses all turn white. As snowfall had no sign of stopping , I decided to walk back to my camp.
By this time , entire Baniakund turned snow white and seemed like a dreamland to me.
At the camp, we sat around the kitchen fire , the cook ( Forgot his name) and the helper boy – Dinesh were both happy and told my arrival had brought snowfall. Finally, I revealed myself to be the weather fairy .

Snow fall while walking to Baniakund: A snowy Christmas!

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Path to my tent:
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Lucky, the dog- Guarding the Himalays!

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Lucky loves snow- period!

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View from my tent :

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After the snowfall, look who showed up:

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The entire afternoon was spent watching the snow fall , taking intermittent walks in the snow, taking photographs and videos. At night , I met the other two Maithani brothers ( owners’ of the resort) , the cook had prepared chicken for all of us , so, we gathered around the kitchen fire , the drinks were out and had fun gossiping with them and cracking jokes. I went to sleep at 10 PM but the laughters & the Garwali tunes continued to come from the kitchen till late at night.
Last edited by sindabad; Jan 11th, 2017 at 21:22..
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