After the stupendous success of our last HAT (High Altitude Trek) to the Valley of Flowers and Hemkunt Sahib (in August 2016), we were looking at other options from IndiaHikes (yup, we are now convinced they offer the best experience, are priced right and are run professionally for treks in the Himalayas), preferably in the snowy season (safer half of the season:)). One of the guests to Suragi over the new year’s eve suggested Kedarakanta and the team nodded in unison, although not all of the previous ones joined and some new ones stepped in.
As usual, we registered early February, and started the preparations in full earnest, with the Lalbhag walk and breakfast nearby routine, re-instantiated:)
The folks from IH were too a little insistent this time about fitness and BMI levels to the extant that we had to provide proof of brisk walk of 3 KM in 25 min etc. One of the early registrants had to drop out due to this and we were reduced to a group of 7 to form the ‘Hum 7 Saath Hai’ HAT team:)
We trek in preparations across some other locations in Karnataka – ThadiyandaMolu, although with non-trekking part of the VOF trekkers group, being a case in point.
Day by day the preparations intensify and owing to most of the shopping etc done during the previous trek, a single visit to the sports equipment store gets us the remaining gear (Warm inners, socks etc) and we were all set. The first week of April was all that was left for the final dash of preparations needing to step in and out of medical store, grocery stores, and hosiery store and for other odds and ends.
The D Day arrives and we set off to the airport for the long trip ahead. The issue with the treks in the Himalaya’s is the sheer amount of travel required to ‘Just Get There’. It took us all of 2 days, one to travel by air to Dehradun and another by TT to Naitwar to just START the trek.
The detailed itinerary is as below.
Day 1 – Bengaluru – Delhi – Dehradun (Overnight stay at Sarovar Portico)
Day 2 – Dehradun to Naitwar by TT (Overnight stay @ Homestay with IH)
Day 3 – Trek to Base Camp 1 (Overnight stay with IndiaHikes in Tents)
Day 4 – Trek to KK Base Camp (Overnight stay with IndiaHikes in Tents)
Day 5 – Trek to Kedarkanta Peak and to Har Gaon Camp (Overnight stay with IndiaHikes in Tents)
Day 6 – Trek to Sankri (Overnight stay @ Hotel with IH)
Day 7 – Drive back to Dehradun (Overnight stay @ Sarovar Portico)
Day 8 – Flight back to Bengaluru via New Delhi
The day long travel by flight on day 1 with a 3 hour layover at New Delhi airport was uneventful, the long layover was painful to while away, with nothing except places to eat and shop in our airports, although a good book might have helped, but our airports resembling busy marketplaces, there’s hardly a quiet corner to spend in the company of books un disturbed, but the lack of PA announcements have made our airports much less noisy. The best part of day 1 was the landing at Dehradun airport, with the splendid views of the mountains from above and the small airport logistics made all of us nostalgic about air travel from the yester-years when it was so simple and pleasurable. I would still fly to a small airport anywhere in India gladly, hopefully not transiting through the big ones – like we did this time:( I miss the small HAL airport in Bengaluru:(
Our stay for day 1 was at Hotel Sarovar Portico, a little away from the hustle of town. The right idea but was ill timed as it turned out. There’s an endless road widening project right opposite the hotel all the way up to the road to airport rendering the entire area DUSTY and the sweltering summer just made it worse. It was a tough ask to just travel about a KM to a near by shopping area by auto and back, a futile exercise in hindsight anyway, contested fiercely by some in the group of course. We retire for the day post a sumptuous dinner for an early start the next AM.
We had requested the hotel to serve Breakfast ASAP the next AM so we could leave early and they did oblige, and it was a regular continental breakfast buffet. We load up the TT (as well:)) and set off through the sleepy town area and eventually to the foothills of Massourie and start climbing. A quick stop over for tea (and some hot pakora’s) near Kempty Falls later, we make through the hilly terrain, carefully through the slender roads, narrowly missing crashes twice through the journey, stopping over near some water spots (where apparently a small stream from Ganga and Yamuna Ji meet). Stop over was refreshing with the chilled water rinses timely in an otherwise sweltering hot day. The lunch break at Purola was an adventure, with the hotel so understaffed, we ended up serving ourselves, whatever the anemic kitchen could wrestle up. Through some more hills and narrow roads snaking through thick, but organised looking pinewood jungles,with a few more stops to marvel at the postcard perfect country side, the ‘Tons River’ and its freezing waters and eventually a patch of muddy roads to arrive at the home stay at Naitwar.
Helped in to our sleeping area by the staff, the stay over was basic with thick Razai’s and firm, thick sleeping mats making up the bed. Toilets/ Bath were very few so a bath was off the list of essentials for the day:) for some, although a few (ladies in the group) got lucky with their sleeping quarters closer to a reasonable bathroom with hot water. This was the 4th trek through the new route, thus the Spartan arrangements. Team IH have promised better arrangements soon.
The 6/7/8 (AM routine for Tea, BF and Trek start) regimen with Jailor of a trek leader (in a good way – discipline is an absolute must in the mountains) Dashodh and team starts (Guddu and Deepak and the kitchen staff make sure you are on your toes all the time, keeping us engaged between sun rise and down every day, at the same time well fed, with basic, nutritious food) in right earnest.
Day 1 of the trek was to Camp 1 @ Jalouta about 3300 FT of altitude gain, but still through the green pine forests, through the small hamlets and villages, with locals eager to pose for our cameras.
The tranquility and clean air and water would render the dirty city dwellers green out of envy:(. Some of the enterprising folks even prepare and serve tea on the mountains that is so welcome. The Camp site itself
was at a very picturesque location, although the tents were set up at an incline making everything from sitting in the tent to sleeping, a challenge. Being the first day of sleeping in a tent with liners, sleeping bags etc, one of us even slid down so much as to force open the tent zippers while sleeping, waking up the rest to a chilling AM. Speaking of the tent zippers would need an entire chapter on this blog, best reserved for the feedback section on IndiaHikes site (duly provided on the last day)
Day 2 of the trek was to the KK base camp @ Pukhrola a climb of about 1850 ft. This one would get us closer to the snowy peaks and we taste the first steps on the snow as we near the base camp. The trek up to the snow was through some very green pastures
, between thick forests and their tree root shaped pathways and rocks. As we approached the snow and melt waters gushing down, some of the group start snow ball fights. We revel in the snow as best each could tolerate (the chilly feel) and make it in to the base camp. The camp itself was a sight to remember. Set up on a meadow, right below the peak we were to attempt summiting the next day, stretching endlessly as the eyes would see. We unload packs in to the tents get ready for the by now regular feature of juice made out of the rhododendron flowers, after which lunch was served in quick time.
Many would want to sleep it off in the tent but the Jailor would swing in to action and wake them up, urging us all to spend time outside so we acclimatise well. We therefore wander off on the endless meadows, take some pictures try to photograph the many Lammergeyers swirling endlessly over the peaks, often swooping to scoop up their prey and I was too under equipped photographically to manage a single decent shot. Did the best with my 42/150 (84/300 equivalent) of a telephoto on my micro four thirds mirror less system and then turn to a game of cards in a very bright, hot dining tent till tea time. Post tea we receive instruction on the use of gators and micro spikes the next day for the trek on snow after which we soak in the sights of the sunset in the rapidly chilling camp site. That evening was a short one until an early dinner and we make sure we wash up (with wet tissues) to make up for the lack of a proper bath as we did every day before retiring as the next AM would start early.
An early start it indeed was for day 3 of the trek – the day we would attempt summiting. We get up by 3.00 AM for tea, BF at 3.30 AM and were to set off by 4.00 AM. We were delayed by about 20 min it appeared and we make a steady start. The early climb was rather slow and we were all gasping for air a bit, due to a cold start. Once we warmed up enough we could move quicker and once we hit the point from where it was all going to be snow, we are instructed to slip on the micro spike and the snow was not deep enough to need any gators, which was a relief.
The magic of the micro spikes need to be experienced to be believed. It renders the otherwise slippery shoes gecko like, gripping the slippery snow with giving a sense of confidence. Being a first time snow trekker, I was still skittish with my escapades with snow, ice, ice rain etc earlier in life elsewhere, I was still not ready to take any chances. I hardly took out my camera or phone fearing a slip off (from the thick gloved therefore clumsy hands) and managed most of the filming on the GoPro. The ascent got steeper and the ice got thicker as we climbed up until we approached a rocky ledge on top of which was a little shrine for the deity of these mountains – Kedarkanta. We bow in penance and make it up to the shelf on top, which is the summit of Kedarakanta – Hum 7 Saath Hai ishtyle:), 1700 ft climb later.
The view from the top is to be experienced and hard to describe in words. One gets a sense of elation from the fact that one has endured everything mother nature had to throw at him and make it up this far and the views themselves are no less spectacular in their own right. We marvel at the views of the many peaks – Swargarohini, Chandrasheel, Rupin and several more as described by Dashosh, take some pictures in the harsh sun, selfies and individual/ group pictures for posterity and start the descent down.
It’s the descent on snow I personally found most challenging on this trek. With my preconceived notions about snow and ice and the very steep declines, I did not enjoy this section of the trek this time. Now I have gotten over it and am sure will enjoy the next trek in snow more confidently:) As we descend, Guddu and I being ahead, we locate a spot safe for slides and Guddu dashes up again to let all know they could slide here. And lo and behold every one slides down, although for me it would have been an arduous climb up and a slide down, which I avoided:( Those that dared slid down on their own and the lesser brave ones were dragged down by Dashod, who I must say is a gritty leader – he made sure all 28 in the group summited, not withstanding higher BMI than recommended:)
Another slide down and some more climbing through the snow, we approach a Dhabha for some hot omelet, noodles and tea.
Grabbing as much of it as we could all enjoy, we start the climb back which is more of rocks now and less of snow. The micro spikes come off and we trek on shoes interspersed with rock and snow to the next stop over, the older base camp on the Northern side of the peak for lunch. Some rhododendron juice later, the simple sumptuous lunch (rajma chaval and kheer) is served that we finish up in quick time, rest a bit in the open, under the shades of our sun caps and start back the trek to the next camp site at Hargaon, where we arrive by 3.00 PM. We lay about the camp (avoiding to sleep in fear of the Jailor) until tea, after which we leave for a small hike up to Judah Ka Talaab.
Enroute we sight the peaks of Swargarohini in a new light and chance upon some Langur (too far out to photograph) and meet a local shepherd, who was spinning wool as he was herding his lot. Some clicks with him later, we make it to the lake, which was lit perfectly for the reflection of the bright peaks in the water. Some snaps with the Macro lens of the local flowers,
we return to the camp site in time for a spectacular sun set and some locally baked cake celebrating our summiting.
That’s India Hikes for you. They even bake a cake at 9,000 FT for the trekkers and that’s a lot if you can imagine what it takes to just stay warm at those altitudes. Hats off to the cooks and the support staff in all camps. Some of them are even very good singers as we found out the next AM.
That evening as we clean up one by one in our tents, the others congregate at the dinner tent where a warm kangri is lit and it was karaoke nite at 9,000 FT. Some of the trekkers who were good singers displayed their talents as I sat through it all, suspiciously silent for the rest:) Post dinner we retire in the tents, fully satisfied for having summited that night.
The start next AM was a relatively leisurely affair and after the taste of local music, reverberating in the valley as it was sung, we make it (after breakfast) back to our next camp, a hotel in Sankri (which was the original starting point, before IH changed the routes this time). The descent was again spectacular to say the least as we walk through thick pine forests,
the view of them from some passes and valleys are spellbinding to say the least. That coupled with the relaxed atmosphere after having summited the previous day made it the slowest trek till now. Almost everyone stopped for many many pictures, the last of which was the many apple orchards with the flowering trees
and the butterflies in their hundreds, and the thousands of rhododendron flowers blazing in their pinks
on the trees and finally amble in to the hotel.
More of its (Rhododendrons) juice and lunch later, we search for telephone network to inform home we are safe and that was a challenge with only BSNL working and no STD booth type of facilities. Thanks to a local shopkeeper I could reach home after some 25 tries. Some of the intelligent ones in the group though leveraged the BSNL connections of fellow trekkers (there were some BSNL employees amongst the trekkers) and make it an easier task to complete. We manage to get some hot water (thanks to the solar water heater) for a leisurely bath after 4 days:). We were huddled in to a assembly area for sharing our experiences and were also handed our certificates of accomplishment after which we retire in to our rooms (very little to see in Sankri) for another round of cards, before dinner post which we retire confirming the next AM logistics for the travel back.
The next AM after the 6/7/8 regimen for one last time, we bid goodbye to Dashodh, Guddu and Deepak and hop on to the TT driven by Jagdish for our ride back to Dehradun (after Sidku for breakfast). The ride this time was more relaxed and pleasurable (with dancing to popular tunes:)) with breakfast (yup a second one of Alu Paratha’s and CURD, after 5 days as not everyone could eat Sidku) and lunch in interesting local dhabha/ hotels. By the time we arrived at Dehradun escaping the crowded Kempty falls and Mussourie (long week end crowd from the plains) it was almost 6.30 PM and with some quick shopping later, we make it back to the hotel (Sarovar Portico) through the maddening traffic of the city, compounded by some processions etc. Clean up and dinner at the hotel later, we retire for the night.
The next AM was the drive to the airport for our flight back to Bengaluru via Delhi for a 8.30 PM arrival.
When we booked on this trek, I was a little apprehensive of a repeat of the previous one and boy was a I wrong, Royally wrong.
This route is very very different from the previous trek and totally worth the effort, especially being the one on snow.
Enjoy the video and the pictures and as usual leave your comments behind. If you are looking to start snow trekking, I would recommend the Kedarakant any day and twice on Sundays:)