Roopkund trek


Roopkund - Mystery of the Skeleton lake

"A tiny jade oval concealed in a fold almost at the top of a sheer ridge, that drops down on its far side to the glacier whence the river Nandakini issues." 

Bill Aitken, the famed Indian travel writer, describes thus in a poetic vein, the high altitude lake of Roopkund. He credits fellow mountaineer Shambu Nath Das, the ‘Sherlock Holmes from Bengal’ with the revelation of the mystery behind the hundreds of human skeletons adorning the bottom of this hidden glacial lake. While most people clung to the theory that these belonged to Military personnel or Tibetan traders, Das did an exhaustive study to prove them wrong through empirical evidence. With carbon dating placing the remains at 1400 AD, military was no longer a plausible explanation and Tibetan trade route across the impregnable Nanda Devi wall seemed a far-fetched idea. The only reason, he concluded, that so many people could have assembled at this point was for the Bara Nanda Jat, the ritual procession that took place every twelfth year till the Homkund. He further goes on to regard  'Junar gali' as an aberration of 'Jyuri gali' or the 'Death alley', named so after the incident. 


(Junar gali and beyond)

An interesting number of myths and folklore surround this mysterious lake. The lake itself is said to have been created, following Goddess Nanda's wish to see her reflection. The Bedni kund is considered sacred and is believed to be the spot where the Goddess, on her way to Kailash, tired of the tormenting attendants of Shiva, hid herself. Some believe 'Bedni' derives its name from the 'Ved', commemorating the sacred literature. An interesting folklore in this region narrates the tale of a Raja from Rajasthan, who undertook the pilgrimage to Homkund. His troupe that did not adhere to the stipulated discipline became a subject of Nanda's wrath, ultimately perishing in the Roopkund crater.   


(Temple of Nanda at Roopkund)

The local villagers, every year climb from wan, after offering prayers to Nanda's herald Latu, till Bedni to worship the goddess at the small abode there. Every twelfth year witnesses an elaborate ritualistic procession from the Village Nauti, in the Nandakini valley till Homkund. The tantric link to the Nanda Devi yatra is confirmed by the presence of a Sri yantra buried in Nauti, whose replica supposedly exists under Homkund. The Chandrapur raja donates a special four horned ram that leads the group. At Homkund, as the priests from Nauti culminate the yatra with ritual offerings to the goddess, the ram, with its saddled back filled with offerings to Nanda, is let go into the inner sanctuary of the goddess.
(Note :The next Bara Nanda Jat is to take place in September, 2012)

Dairy entry

Our trek started from Loharjung, a tiny hamlet perched on a mountain pass, that offered a brilliant glimpse of Nanda Ghunti (The veil of the goddess) gleaming in the early morning sun. We reached this palce the previous day, after a tiring nine hour drive from Kathgodam (via Almora - Kausani - Baijnath - Gwaldam - Tharali - Debal - Mundoli).


(View from Loharjung - Nandaghunti in the background)

There are two approaches to Bedni bugyal. One from Loharjung via Didna, Tolpani and Ali bugyal and the other directly from Wan village. We  ascended through the first and descended the other way. At Patwal's lodge in Loharjung, flowers of bright colors greeted us along with cheerful forktails that flew close to our heads. We walked past numerous streams and bridges all along the way with clusters of bright Geranium flowers (in shades ranging from bright pink to indigo) everywhere for company. 
 


(Happy kids of Didna)

After crossing the iron bridge over Bedni ganga, an hour of ascent brought us to the Didna campsite. Cheerful village kids greeted  us with infectious zeal and took us around the tiny hamlet with thatched houses and vast expanses of 'Ramdana' fields.
 
Beyond Didna were dense oak forests carpeted with a permanent cover of dry leaves. A tiring ascent of a couple of hours brought us to Tol Khana, the first meadow beyond the treeline. Half an hour from here we were entranced by the captivating beauty of vast expanse of green alpine meadows (considered Asia's second largest), extending till the extent of our visions. Statistics apart, the Ali Bugyal with its sheer expanse of rolling meadows set against the turquoise sky and the 'Trishul' standing guard at a far off distance, was a totally overwhelming sight.


(Meadows at Ali bugyal)

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This trek was done with a group of around twenty trekkers, managed by Indiahikes. The organizers were masters in this route and their team of guides, porters and cooks were the best one could possibly get. Without  the incredible help offered by these extremely professional hill men, especially at the high altitudes, the lake would not have been reachable for most of us.

Narendra Singh Bisht - Chief guide of our team.

Our itinerary looked like this:
Day 1: Jeep ride from Kathgodam railway station till Loharjung.
Day 2: Trek to Didna village.
Day 3: Trek from Didna across Tolpani, Tolkhana and Ali bugyal to Bedni bugyal.
Day 4: Trek from Bedni bugyal to Ghora lotani (A short trek to acclimatize to the altitude)
Day 5: Trek from Ghora lotani to Bhagwabhasa
Day 6: Trek to Roopkund and back to bedni
Day 7: Trek to wan and jeep ride to Loharjung.
Day 8: A 14 hour drive to Haridwar to catch the night train to Delhi.

Album

Temple at Baijnath

Village near Tharali

Woods on the way to Didna

Geranium in bloom

Stream on the way

Farmhouse and fields

Kids at didna

Smiling innocence (Didna)

Meadows at Tol khana

Ali bugyal from beyond