Six of us had decided on doing something different. Instead of going through organisers, we had decided to organise a trek in the mighty Himalayas, ourselves. We didn’t want a very tough trek as we were two women in a group of six people. We zeroed down on Dayara Bugyal, in the Uttarkashi district of Garhwal, which is considered to be a great trek for first timers too.
But to add a little twist to the excitement, we had decided to trek in the winter; when temperatures touch minus 15. The ‘normal’ touristy crowd trek in the summers as Dayara Bugyal is a famed tourist spot for meadows It is lush green in the summer season and covered with snow, in the winters. Trekkers hike in Summers to enjoy the meadows and catch the snow peaked mountains in the distance.
We had hired tents and other paraphernalia to be used on the mountains, from Delhi itself. It in-cluded 3 tents, 6 warm sleeping bags, 6 fleece blankets, 1 toilet tent, shovel, torches with brand new batteries, helmet torches, medicine kit, trekking sticks, trekking shoes (These are available commonly in Decathlon stores for Rs. 2500 or so) and as much ‘snackies’ as we could. We had packed our warmest clothes but on retrospect, they were just not enough on those cold mountains.
We were already shivering in Delhi itself, as winters were at its peak in the first week of January, when we boarded the Nanda Devi Express near midnight, for Dehradun, the interim capital city of Uttarakhand. An Innova was pre-booked for Rs. 4000 (USD $61) from the Dehradun station to the base camp, Barsu, 8 hours drive away. Barsu is a small village in Uttarkashi, from where the trek to Dayara Bugyal starts.
Dehradun is hardly a ‘hill-station’ any more. Commercialisation has taken its toll on this once beautiful city. It now simply serves as a gateway to other more ‘touristy’ destinations, such as, Mussoorie.
It was 5.30 AM and the roads were deserted. We soaked in the packed city buildings as the Innova sped; heading towards the open roads of the hills. We stopped for a simple but wholesome breakfast of paranthas and curd at Suwakholi.
Taking the Mussoorie by pass, we reached Barsu by 2 PM. No vehicles go beyond this point. One of our ‘hike mates’ had already spoken to a guide named Kamal, living in Uttarkashi, who doubles as a cook on such hikes. He had brought four porters along with him who would be lugging our camping stuff for the hike. Kamal joined us at Barsu.
Barsu – The Tiny Village (The trek starts from Barsu)
There were a few sheds of locals here, which were neat and clean with an Indian toilet. We paid Rs. 300 to use the facility to freshen up, add a few more layers of warm clothing on us and change into hiking shoes.
Pointing to a few buildings under construction, Kamal told us that seeing the growing popularity of the hikes into the Himalayas, the Government started making resorts here and they would soon be completed.
Kamal and the four porters divided our hiking backpacks between them. They were already carrying the food supplies which included kerosene, soup packets, eggs, bread, Maggi, rice, pulses, spices, custard powder, milk powder and even, (hold your breath), chicken! Along with utensils to prepare the meal and plates to eat in. The cook charged us Rs. 13,000 for providing hot breakfast, lunch and dinner for three days, which included the porting charges.
Using our hiking sticks, we started the climb after crossing a gate. The cold wind blew gently at our faces while we walked along a trail formed between dense Oak and Maple forests in the mountains, by the trekkers. The forest is so dense that it was difficult for sunlight to reach the ground.
Since there is only one source of water on the trail; we went easy on our cache.
The seasoned trekkers climb all the way up to Dayara Bugyal and pitch their tents there. But our group had two women and we had decided to halt for the night at Barnala. After a climb of four hours, we reached Barnala by 6-6.30 PM. There was no snow till Barnala.
On the down side, had we booked through organisers, we would have the tents pitched up and the food ready, by the time we reached Barnala. But the porters and the cook were hiking alongside us. It was bitterly cold by the time we reached Barnala (Temperature must be minus 4 or 5). We were exhausted as we had not eaten anything since breakfast. I had a massive headache, thanks to the cold and an empty stomach. I could see my camaraderie slipping. The thought of waiting for the tent to be pitched and a hot meal to be cooked was somehow annoying.
The men quickly got together and pitched up the tents, including the toilet tent.
A word about the call of nature when you are in the wild.
The toilet tent is nothing but a tent put up over a hole dug in the ground. This is used only for the big job. The other call of nature is taken care of, behind trees and bushes. When the group consists only of men, they don’t bother with the toilet tents. One simply shovels some mud and allows nature to do the rest. First timers; do be prepared for this.
Totally worn out, I crawled into our tent and without bothering to wait to eat, knocked off to sleep. Bad decision; because I was up in the middle of the night shivering with the cold, inspite of four layers of clothing and… very very hungry.
Meanwhile, the others had had a hearty dinner of hot soup, lentil, cauliflower and flat bread. Meals are cooked with the help of dry sticks and not on a stove. For water, they melted ice on the fire. We too, were offered this water for drinking. The porters use solar lights when it gets dark. You wanted to get a nomadic feel?….well, you got it !
There were two dirty sheds here, where the porters and cook slept, to escape the bitter cold of the night. These sheds are used to herd in the goats and sheep that are brought here in the summer to graze on the meadows.
Although we were all alone on the mountains, and it does get pitch dark after the sun sets, we were never scared on any of the nights.
Day 2: Dayara Bugyal – Heart of the Himalayas
I always say everything looks wonderful in the morning and this is an understatement when you are on the mountains; surrounded by the most wonderful panoramic sight. As far as the eye could see, there was pristine beauty in the untouched nature.
Hot water was waiting for us at sharp 7 AM. After a quick wash (Just face and hands-nobody bathes when you are in the mountains at that temperature), we had our morning hot cuppa and a breakfast of eggs and toast. Meanwhile the porters packed our tents and we were all set for the next stage of hiking.
The trail ascends all the way up and we reached Dayara Bugyal at noon. It had taken us 4 hours to reach the height of 11,700 feet. There was snow scattered between the tress and on the mountain ranges, for as far as the eye could see.
There is a permanent camp here set up by the India Hike organisers, which has a dining room, bathrooms, etc as they bring in groups of 60-70 hikers all through the year. It was deserted at this time and we were all alone on the mountains. I felt like Anthony Hopkins in ‘The Edge’.
Do remember that the hills may have ears but they abhor the net signals. So, don’t expect to stay connected with home through your mobiles. Although, to be honest, we did get signal from Airtel at some points on the mountains, sometimes.
The porters pitched up our tents on a spot where there was no snow, while we tried to soak up the magnanimity of the mountainous beauty around us. We ate a hearty lunch consisting of dry vegetable, lentil and rice.
All of us spread our sleeping bags out in the sun and I don’t think I could have ever slept better in my life. It was a blissful 3 hours – of silence, of unpolluted air and just the right amount of sun on our faces!
The mountains in the range, lit up in hues of yellow and orange as the sun set behind them, kissing them good night.
The moment the sun went down, it took the temperature along with it. We made a bonfire and huddled around it. We had our tea, soup and a wonderful dinner of chicken and flat bread. The sky looked amazing in the night, with so many bright stars. You simply wanted to reach out and pluck them and imagine them twinkling in your cupped palms!
By 8.30 PM, there was no question of even sitting around the bonfire, as it was extremely cold. We crawled into our tents and retired for the night. The temperature plummeted to minus 14 in the night. When we woke up in the morning, my bottle of water had frozen and I could see a thin layer of ice on everything inside the tent – torches, shoes, stick…
Day 3 – Trail towards Dayara Top
After a breakfast of boiled eggs, bread pakoras and French toast, we set off for Dayara Top (around 13,500 feet) at 8 AM. In winters, there was soft snow everywhere, which otherwise is green meadows in summer.
One always comes across some friendly dogs on hikes. We too, were befriended by one who didn’t leave our side till we camped in Dayara Bugyal.
We soon realised that for miles around, there was nobody but us six and the dog, walking on a trail between the soft snow. We noticed that the dog too, ate snow to quench his thirst.
At some point, the dog started barking loudly at something far away and we realised they were two foxes, with white tipped tails. Was the dog protecting us from them?!
The famed peaks of Bandarpoonch, Mt. Srikanth, Draupadi Ka Danda, Bhagirathi Sisters looked awesome and made us feel so humble.
We reached back at the camp by 2 PM and after lunch, slept in the sun again till it was time for tea at 5 PM.
It was bonfire time again and wanting to make the most of our last night on the mountains, we tried to stay out in the cold night air for as long as we could.
Day 4 – Back to Civilisation
We were up early the next morning, to catch the marvellous sun rise. The rays of the sun seem to touch the Himalayan peaks, in reverence, illuminating them in the process.
Trekking down is more difficult than climbing up, as it is very easy to slide on the ice or pebbles on the trail. Two of the porters slid twice. Fortunately, they were not injured.
We reduced our layers of clothing at Barsu.
Happy with Kamal’s arrangement, we tipped Rs. 500 to each porter.
A totally memorable hike! And it comes with the assurance of shedding off 2 kgs, when you return 🙂