Trekking – Explore Roopkund with a Backpack

Posted By : Kamal Kant/ 562 0

Roopkund (locally known as Mystery Lake) is a high altitude glacial lake in the Uttarakhand state of India. It lies in the lap of Trishul massif and is famous for the hundreds of human skeletons found at the edge of the lake. The area is uninhabited, located in the Himalayas at an altitude of 5,029 metres (16,499 feet). Surrounded by rock-strewn glaciers and snow-clad mountains, the lake is a popular trekking destination.

A shallow lake, having a depth of about two metres, Roopkund has attracted attention because of the human skeletal remains that are visible at its bottom when the snow melts.Many theories and opinions exist, from purely spiritual to purely scientific ones, attempting to explain the existence of these skeletons, which date back to 9th century CE. Because of the human remains, the lake has been called Skeleton Lake in recent times.

HUMAN SKELETONS

The human skeletons were rediscovered in 1942 by a Nanda Devi game reserve ranger H K Madhwal, although there are reports about these bones from the late 19th century. The skeletons are visible in the clear water of the shallow lake during a one-month period, when the ice melts. Along with the skeletons, wooden artifacts, iron spearheads, leather slippers, and rings were also found. When a team from National Geographic magazine retrieved about 30 skeletons, flesh was still attached to some of them.Geneticist Neeraj Rai at Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology at Hyderabad conducted DNA tests on a hundred samples from the lake and compared them to the current Indian population. Results indicated that 70% of them had an affinity with Iran, while the remaining belonged to the local population. It is hypothesized that the Iran group took the help of local porters to seek a new land for settlement. Later studies placed the time of mass death around the 9th century AD (1200 years old).

The local legend says that the king of Kanauj, Raja Jasdhaval, with his pregnant wife, Rani Balampa, their servants, a dance troupe and others went on a pilgrimage to Nanda Devi shrine, and the group faced a storm with large hailstones, from which the entire party perished near Roopkund lake.

Remnants belonging to more than 300 people have been found. Radiocarbon dating of the bones at Oxford University’s Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit determined the time period to be AD 850 ±30 years.The Anthropological Survey of India conducted a study of the skeletons during the 1950s and some samples are displayed at the Anthropological Survey of India Museum, Dehradun.

roopkund

IDENTIFICATION

Scientific tests revealed that the skeletons belonged to several groups of people, including a group of short people (probably local porters) and a taller group, who were closely related—with DNA mutations characteristic for Konkanastha Brahmins (Chitpavans) from Maharashtra.A DNA test conducted by the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad, indicated that three samples with unique mutation in mitochondrial DNA, matched with those of the Chitpavans.
What has not been determined is where the group was headed. There is no historical evidence of any trade routes to Tibet in the area, but Roopkund is located on an important pilgrimage route of the Nanda Devi cult with Nanda Devi Raj Jat festivities taking place approximately once every twelve years.

DIFFICULTY

Difficult:: Moderate
Trail type:: Circular; returns to base camp.
Altitude:: Roopkund: 15,750 feet (4,800 mts). Junargali 16,000 ft (4,878 mts, highest point)
Rail head:: Kathgodam. You can reach Kathgodam by an overnight journey from Delhi. Ranikhet express leaves Old Delhi station at 10.40 in the night to get to Kathgodam by 6.30 in the morning. Indiahikes pick up is lined up with the Ranikhet Express.
Base Camp:: Village Lohajung (Chamoli District, Uttarakhand)
Best Season:: May 3rd week to June end; Mid September to October end.
Temperature in May, June:: Day: 15° to 20°C. Night: 4° to 7°C. Temp at highest camp, Bhagwabasa: Day 5°C to 10°C. Night: 3° to -2°C.
Rains:: Rainy season is from the second week of July to mid September. May/June is not the rainy season but afternoon showers are very common in the mountains. These are not the monsoon rains.
Temperature:: in Sept and Oct Day: 13° to 20°C. Night: 2° to 7°C. Temp at highest camp, Bhagwabasa: Day 3°C to 10°C. Night: 3° to -4°C.
Snow:: High snow in May from Kalu Vinayak onwards. Decreases in June. Comfortable snow during the last half of June. September has little snow. In the first week of October, the first winter snow is likely to fall in the upper reaches. Usually melts in a few days.

PREPARATION

Backpack (40-60 litres): Backpack with sturdy straps and supporting frame. Rain cover for backpack is essential.
Daypack (20 litres): It is mandatory to carry a daypack if you choose to offload your backpack. If you decide to carry your backpack, day pack is not required.
Trekking shoes: No sports shoes. The shoes need to have soles with good grip and ankle support. Do not wear a new shoe to a trek. It might cause blisters. Before bringing them to trek, wear it for a week to make it softer. We recommend FORCLAZ 100, 500, and 600.
Socks (3 pairs): 2 cotton pairs, 2 woolen pairs (mostly to be used on campsites and while sleeping. Keep them dry.)
Trek pants (3 pairs including the one you are wearing): We highly endorse synthetic quick-dry pants as they are light. Plus, when it’s cold you can wear one over the other. While trekking a pair is what you would carry apart from the worn. You could keep the third pair for your return journey. Alternative : Cotton pant with many pockets / Track pants are comfortable too. Please do not get Denim jeans, shorts or 3 quarters to trek.
Collared t-shirts (3 pairs including the one you are wearing):Preferably light, full sleeve t-shirts. The collar and the sleeves prevent sun burns on the neck and arms. Avoid loud colors that would distract birds and animals.
Full sleeve woolens (2 pairs including the one you are wearing):We endorse fleece over wool as it is light weight, compact and warm.
Thick jacket: Carry 1 hollow full sleeve windproof jacket/down jacket
Thermal inners: 1 pair of lightweight, upper and lower (optional)
Raincoat/poncho: A lightweight poncho is preferred as it covers your rucksack as well from top. Raincoat can also be used as wind proof when required. Enquire Indiahikes for availability of ponchos at the base camp.
Balaclava: The cap must cover your ears and neck. You may also use scarves.
Synthetic handgloves: Ensure that the gloves are waterproof.
Suncap: 1 pair of nice warm gloves required, fleece or woolen. 1 pair of water proof/resistant, wind proof gloves. You get very thin inner gloves nowadays. You may get one of those to use layering.
Sunglasses: Curved ones will cover your eyes well. No blue coloured sunglass — they don’t block UV. Blacks, greens, browns are fine. Avoid multi tone sunglasses. Sunglasses prevent snow blindness. Sunglasses are mandatory for this trek.People who wear spectacles, choose one of these – contact lenses, photo chromatic glasses, or if either of the above is not possible, wear your spectacles and carry a big sunglass that can be worn over your spectacles.
Toiletries (Sunscreen – SPF 40+, moisturiser, light towel, lipbalm/chap stick, small soap, toilet paper, wet tissue)
Repair kit (needle & thread)
Headlamp/LED torch: Mandatory
Camera: Carry all accessories – spare batteries, charger, etc.
Cutlery: Carry a plate, spoon, coffee mug & a lunch box. We insist on trekkers getting their own cutlery for hygiene reasons. To save weight, you may use your lunch box to have food in it and also carry it.
Water bottles: 2 bottles, 1 Litre each. Packaged drinking water bottles like Aquafina, Bisleri and others are not allowed.
Trekking pole: Trekking pole is mandatory. Duralumin 4-step telescopic anti-shock trekking poles are available with Indiahikes at the cost of Rs 450. To order mail us at support@indiahikes.in
Plastic covers: While packing, use plastic bags to compartmentalize things and carry few extra plastic bags for wet clothes.

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Location

• Take the Ranikhet Express (Train no: 15013) that leaves at 20.05 every night from Old Delhi Railway Station (NOT New Delhi). It will bring you to Kathgodam, which is its final stop around 5.30 am. The total cost of transportation is Rs. 5400(to be shared among 5-6 people, i.e Rs. approx Rs.1000 per head), Kathgodam is the last train station and is in the foothills of Himalayas. It is 32 km from Nainital, a famous hill station.

Option 1:

• You can take the earlier day’s Sampark Kranti from Old Delhi, which leaves at 4 pm. Tickets on the Sampark Kranti are usually easy to get as it is a day seating train. Stay overnight in a hotel at Kathgodam (or Haldwani) and join the team vehicle the next morning. KMVN Kathgodam is a good place to halt for the night and guest house right next to the railway station.

Option 2:

• You can take an overnight bus from Delhi’s Anand Vihar ISBT to Haldwani/Kathgodam (7kms apart). Volvo buses leave Anand Vihar for Haldwani/Kathgodam around 9 pm. It is usually an 8 hour journey. There is no online booking, so try to reach couple of hours early at Anand Vihar to book your tickets. No advanced reservation is required.

FOR INDEPENDENT TRAVELLER


Option 1: (Delhi to Lohanjung – 24 hours)

• There is a direct bus from Delhi to Mundoli/Lohajung and leaves Delhi Anand Vihar terminal at 9.15 pm so you can reach Kathgodam at 4 am and Lohajung at 5.30pm.

Note: This is an extremely long and tiring journey and the buses are not too comfortable. We recommend Option 2 and 3 over Option 1, despite the fact that option 1 is a direct transfer from Delhi to Lohanjung.
Option 2: Rishikesh to Lohajung (by taxi – 11 hours)
• From Delhi, get to Rishikesh/Haridwar and hire a Sumo to Lohajung and you can follow this route : Devprayag – Srinagar – Rudraprayag – Karanprayag – turn right to Tharali – Debal – Mundoli – Lohajung
Note: Most taxi operators may not have heard of Lohajung. So, you’ll have to show them the direction as given above.
Option 3: (Rishikesh to Lohanjung via Karanprayag – 12 hours)
• You can take any bus on the Joshimath/Badrinath route and buy a ticket to Karanprayag. It gonna be a 6-7 hour journey from Rishikesh to Karanprayag and also try to take a bus that leaves as early in the morning as possible, preferably around 6 am.

1. Lohajung

The road is through the Kumaon region and mostly goes along wide spread valleys of Shivalik Himalaya. We have crossed Almora and Kausani on our way. From Gwaldam onwards the road enters in the Garhwal administrative region and the road is gradually winding and goes through the conifer forest. The last stretch of the journey from Deval to Lohajung has considerable height gain. Lohajung has one GMVN tourist lodge, one Tourist Rest House and two private hotels. All the major mobile networks have connectivity here. Night stay in Tourist Rest House/Lodge.

2. Didna Village / Ghaeroli Patal

Remote from markets that could supply building materials, the villages in the mountainous tracts of the Himalayas resort to locally available material for buildings and other purposes. As you can see the stone and mud built houses from the village of Didna, situated on the slopes of the Himalayan foothills in the Chamoli district of the State of Uttarakhand, India
The Himalayan village of Didna is passed by trekkers on their way to destinations higher in the Himalayan mountain range like Roopkhund (a mountain lake), Junargali Pass and Ronti Saddle.

3. Ali Bughyal / Bedni Bughyal

We reached this high altitude meadow, named, Ali Bugyal. Ali Bugyal is arguably the largest meadow in India and surely the most beautiful. You can see in any picture where the end of tree-line and the beginning of the meadow. The large herd of cattle seen in the photo is a common scene in these meadows during the summer and monsoon season.
We will climb this face of the mountain. After starting on the trail which goes out of the village we get a bifurcation. The trail on the right is longer but with gentle gradient and goes through a temporary settlement of the shepherds called Tolpani. The trail on the left is with continuous gradient but shorter. Eventually both the trail leads to Ali Bugiyal. The trails consist of thickly vegetation of Oak, Birch and Rhododendron trees. A trek during the late spring is full of red and pink varieties of Rhododendrons. The climb may take 3 to 4 hours. After ascending this face suddenly a wide vista opens up and we are on one of the most beautiful meadows of Himalaya called Ali Bugiyal. The far stretched green field clearly resembles the default wallpaper of MS XP . As it is a table top, the clouds start to sell in after midday . Misty Bugiyal has its own charm and feeling. We slowly walk on the gentle rolling slopes of the meadow. In summer and especially during monsoon this meadow is full with wildflowers in hues of blue, yellow and white. You can see grazing cattle and horses which will stay here till the end of monsoon. On a clear day one can see the peaks of Trisul and Mrigthuni towering straight. After crossing this Bugiyal we climb a small face and traversing for an hour reach another Bugiyal, our camping ground for the day Bedni. In the afternoon walk around the Bedni Kund and visit the small temple inside the boundary of the Kund. Clear weather will unfold mighty Trishul and Nandaghunti in front. On the other side we can see the panorama of Garhwal Himalaya like Neelkantha, Chowkhamba and others. Total distance is around 12 km and can take 6 to 7 hours. Camp overnight.

4. Pathar Nachauni

We trek short today due to acclimatisation purpose. From today onward the oxygen starts reducing so we spend more nights before reaching the higher altitude. A short and easy walk takes us to Patar Nachuni (~ 3750m/12300ft). Total distance is 5 Km and may take 2/2 and hald hour. We start by walking on the Bugiyal and climb for half an hour to take the trail which is coming from Ali Bugiyal. From here onward the road is almost flat till we reach Ghora Lautani. The road splits and we take the trail which goes to the right. Walking an hour on level ground we are at Patar Nachoni. The green fibre huts of the Forest Department is on the left hand side of the trail while the beautiful camping ground is around 200 feet down on the meadow situated in the right. On a clear day the view of Mrigthuni range is magnificent form this place. There is a small shop run by a local in season time inside one of the green hut. It offers basics like tea/coffee, noodles and biscuits. We camp for the night.

5. Bhagwabhasa

We are at Baguabasa (~ 4300m, 14000ft) via Kailuvinayak(~ 4400m, 14400ft). Patar Nachuni is surrounded by meadows and occasional mountain tops. The top of the ridge going almost straight ahead is Kailu Vinayak. First we gradually climb the ridge for first 2 Km. Then the ridge turns right and rises sharply in next one and half Km. This is a steep climb and we gain almost 1500 feet within a distance of 1.5Km. The ridge goes zigzagging on the gravel. Slow but steadily climb this face without any hurry. The lack of oxygen may result to a headache. Once we reach the top there is small stoned temple of Ganesha with bells clinging to it. The deity is of black stone and thus the place got its name Kailu (Black) – Vinayaka (Ganesha). From here the vista in front widens and first view of the Roopkund area ( the depression of the lake) is visible on the lap of the ridge straight. It is truly mesmerising with glittering Trishul on right and bell shaped Nandaghunti on left at a stone throwing distance! We gradually go down on the rocky trail for another 1 Km to reach Bagua Basa. Total distance is 5 Km and can take up to 3/3 and half hours. There is a small cave on the right side of the well defined trail, and according to the legend it is the resting place or shelter of the Tiger ( Bagua -> Bagh/Tiger, Basa -> Home) that the goddess Nanda Devi rides. There are green fibre huts also here. The camping ground is also referred as Hunia Thar. This area is famous for Brahma Kamal, blooming in the monsoon. Fen Kamal (Pink) and Neel Kamal (Blue) are two other flower species which grow in this altitude. The flowers remain till early September. Being at an altitude of 14000 feet the area is rocky and brown while snow clad mountains towering in front. The area is notorious for snowfall. Snowfalls may start even in the month of early June or October. We tent for the night.

6. Roopkund

We start early in the morning by 5 am for Roopkund. It is a moderate climb to Roopkund for about 4 km but surely the altitude gain tires the body. Depending upon snow conditions it may take 2 to 4 hours to reach. Until mid of June the trail is covered with snow. During monsoon to late September snow will be much lesser. The trail is well defined but on snow it is difficult to locate. From Baguabasa camping ground the trail is a traverse first till we reach a place called Chhiria Nag meaning staircase formation like a snake. From this point the climb is moderately steep and one final steep climb on rock leads us to a flattened trail. Due the Nanda Raj Jat (Yatra) in 2014 the trail has been maintained and in well condition. From here we can see the depression ahead which is our destination, Roopkund (~4850m/15900ft). We spend some time clicking the photos and offering puja to the small temple of Goddess Nanda Devi. The shallow lake has remains of skeletons which are almost 1200 years old! There are still remains of semi decomposed torsos on the other side of the lake, which is a permafrost area. Depending upon the weather condition/time and team condition we may decide to attempt Junargali Pass (~ 5100 m, 16700 ft). The pass is between the ridges joining two low altitude peaks, Chandaniya Kot (on the left) and Kali Dang (on the right). Without snow in September it will take 30 to 45 min to reach the top. From top Nanda Ghunti and Trisul massif are magnanimous. The depression between Bethartoli Himal and Nanda Ghunti is the famous Ronty Saddle. We return on the same trail to Baguabasa. Descend on a steep trail is often tricky comparing to that of ascent. We climb down till Baguabasa and then almost on a level ground till Kailu Vinayak. We continue our descent till we reach Patar Nachuni. A long days trek ends at the lush green camping ground. Total trek distance is around 15 Km and may take 8 to 10 hours depending upon the snow condition. Depending on the team condition we may return to Bedni Bugiyal.
Camp for the nig
Roopkund (locally known as Mystery Lake) is a high altitude glacial lake in the Uttarakhand state of India. It lies in the lap of Trishul massif and is famous for the hundreds of human skeletons found at the edge of the lake. The area is uninhabited, located in the Himalayas at an altitude of 5,029 metres (16,499 feet).Surrounded by rock-strewn glaciers and snow-clad mountains, the lake is a popular trekking destination.

A shallow lake, having a depth of about two metres, Roopkund has attracted attention because of the human skeletal remains that are visible at its bottom when the snow melts.Many theories and opinions exist, from purely spiritual to purely scientific ones, attempting to explain the existence of these skeletons, which date back to 9th century CE. Because of the human remains, the lake has been called Skeleton Lake in recent times.

7. Junargali

It goes without saying that the views were out of this world with vast sweeping ice fields, Shila Samudra Glacier, Ronti Saddle on one side and Roopkund on the other and all the peaks rising high all around us. With peaks rising to as high as 7200 meters in front of me, I felt so insignificant. One wrong step and I’m dead! One unfavorable change of weather and I’m dead! One wrong decision and I’m dead! How insignificant! We, the insignificant humans had to get off the snow grounds before the morning sun made it soft. Getting down the rocks on the cliff edge was a bit tricky where just a strong gush of wind could push you down. The porters helped us get down.