What can we say? If you are into trekking and hiking and haven't done the Roopkund trail, then you need to start planning for it right away. It is one trek that is a must-do.
It's got everything going for it. Deep virgin forests, gurgling brooks, breath-taking campsites, miles of undulating meadows, snow and ice, and the taste of a great adventure as you climb from 8,000 ft to 16,000 ft in 4 days.
Your trek starts at Lohajung (7,700 ft), a tiny pass, in the heart of the greater Himalayan range, 85 kms from Karanprayag.
Roopkund trek:The Indiahikes base for the Roopkund trek at Lohajung.
Day 1: Reaching Lohajung
( for details, see right column on page)
Roopkund: Day 2. Lohajung to Didina
(5 - 5½ hrs. Level: Descending initially, moderate climb at the end)
Photo contribution: Prashanth UC
Indiahikes homestay at Lohajung
From Lohajung, just behind the bus stand take the Lord Curzon trail that leads to Raun Bagad. Any shop keeper will show you the way. It is a well marked descending trail through mixed forests. It takes about 2-2½ hrs to get to the Raun Bagad -- an iron bridge across the Neel Ganga river.
An alternative route is to take the the road from Lohajung to Wan. It's a 6 km easy walk to Kulling village followed by a steep descent to Raun Bagad. The road route is easier than the Curzon trail, but you miss the enchantment of the mixed forest.
Whatever route you take, it is a good way to flex your hamstrings before you start your climb to Didana Village.
Note: Neel Ganga is the name of the river that flows between Wan and Lohajung. The Neel Ganga meets the Kail river, which in turn meets the Pindar river at Debal. Bagad means a spot where a river widens out to form a bed with sandy embankments.
The trail to Raun Bagad initially skirts over Banq (a large village below Lohajung) and then enters a mixed forest of Rhododenderons, oaks and pines. At places the forest is thick but the trail is wide and clearly marked. The trail passes over a few dry streams before running into half bodied streams an hour and half into the trek.
All along your walk to Raun Bagad you hear the whistles of the thrushes, the soft chirps of the swallows amongst the Rhododendrons. With a sharp eye you can catch the fork tailed Himalayan Magpie amongst the branches. They are plenty in this region. Below, the Neel Ganga tumbles about as it rushes to meet the Kail river and seemingly out of the depths of the river, you'll spot Lammergeiers, soar over the valley, their massive wings stretched out catching the eddies.
It is not uncommon to spot the yellow throated marten in this section. Martens have a yellow black head and a deep canary yellow throat with a bushy black tail. Though it is a bit clumsy on the ground it climbs trees very well. The locals don't like them and shoo them away with a pellet of stones. Martens are good stealers and often grab a hen from the villages.
On your way to Raun Bagad, at a open clearing, spot Kulling village soar 500 ft above you. At this spot you are 2 hrs out of Lohajung.
The trail descends sharply to a stream that falls from above and to the left of Kulling. The stream is full bodied and the water clean. The deep dark foliage around the stream is inviting for a much deserved rest and fill up of water bottles.
The trail levels out to a small settlement of 4-5 village houses, crosses another small stream (the descending trail from Kulling meets the Curzon trail at this spot), before beginning to climb in a gradual ascent. Watch for a fork in a trail where the main Curzon trail moves upwards towards Wan and the smaller trail descends to Raun Bagad. You need to be on the smaller trail. From the fork in the trail it is 10 minute walk to Raun Bagad. An iron bridge marks the end of the trail to Raun Bagad and start of the climb to Didina.
Take a break at Raun Bagad and catch the sight of a tall water fall that crashes down to the river from the meadows high above.
The trail starts to climb right after you cross the river. It is a switch back climb to Didina. The climb's moderately difficult and your legs tire easily. You aren't used to it and your body's mechanism rebel. Breathing hard, you'll reach Didina in about an hour and half's time. Stretch it to two if you are out of condition.
Didina village can be a bit confusing with many trails running into it. Stick to the trail that goes around the village -- this leads directly to the Didina camp site, a clearing 200 ft above the village.
Didna camp site is a grassy field just 10 minutes above the village. An ideal spot with a small clear stream running to its right. The campsite gazes across the valley. Lohajung, Kulling and Wan span left to right in a sweep. Behind you through the oak forest, high above is your destination for tomorrow -- the twin meadows of Ali and Bedni Bugyal.
If you are camping at the Indiahikes home stay then follow the cemented trail that starts at the outer edges of Didina and leads directly to the home stay.
Day 3 Roopkund: Didina to Bedni Bugyal (via Ali Bugyal)
(6 ½ - 7 ½ hrs. Level moderate: Stiff climb at the beginning, easy walk in the middle, gradually ascending trail towards the end)
There are two ways to reach Ali Bugyal from Didna. If you are looking across the valley, to your left is Tolpani a cluster of shepherd's hut 3 kms away and 1,000 ft higher. The trail to Tolpani moves away from the general direction of Ali Bugyal. At Tolpani it continues briefly in a northerly direction, and then climbs a ridge through a series of switchbacks, topping of at Tolkaan, a small grassy clearing in the oak forest. At Tolkaan, the trail takes a sharp left, veers south and rides the top of the ridge to emerge out of the forest and at Ali Bugyal.
Roopkund trek: The trail from Didina to Ali Bugyal is through a dense Oak forest. The forest climb takes about 2 - 2.5 hours.
An alternative route is to climb directly to Ali without going to Tolpani, over the right shoulder of Didina village. The climb is shorter but steeper. It takes about 2½ hours to get to Ali Bugyal on this route. This is the route followed by Indiahikes.
Start early from Didna. You want to get most of the climb behind you before the weather closes in in the afternoon. You'll miss your best views of Ali Bugyal with Trishul forming the backdrop if you get to Ali Bugyal too late.
For those who want to take the Tolpani trail: The trail to Tolpani is to the left of the Didna camp site. At the stream fill in your water bottles. The next water point is at Tolpani, an hour and half away. The trail to Tolpani is a steady climb through some of the densest oak you'll see. Under you is a never ending brown carpet of leaves. The climb to Tolpani is refreshing, helps you acclimatize and get ready for the steeper climb.
From Tolpani the steep switchback climb through the dense oak forest is seductive. Sun beams light up the moss laden bark of the tress. A brown carpet of leaves marks the trail. The air is cool enough to make your sweat cold. Around you are dense foliage of green, and as you climb the sweet smell of moist earth lingers around.
Tolkaan, is a welcome grassy opening at the top of the switchback climb. Surrounded by dark oak forests all around, it is a delight to rest at the clearing.
Photo contribution : Srikanth K S
Roopkund trek: Ali Bugyal. The undulating alpine meadows are one of the most beautiful in the country.
At Tolkaan, the trail turns left to head towards Ali Bugyal. The steep climb is replaced by a steady gentle climb on the ridge top. Your climb is often interrupted by a rush of clouds that suddenly envelopes you in its thickness. At a distance you can glimpse the start of Ali Bugyal and the end of the tree line. The forest starts to thin 2 hrs into the climb (2½ hrs if you are slow). Abruptly, the oak falls behind you and stretched in front of you is a largest, greenest rolling carpet ever laid out. You've arrived at Ali Bugyal.
All tiredness forgotten, soak in the mesmerising sight of the undulating meadows of Ali Bugyal. You are on the top of a ridge that spreads in every direction -- acres and acres of green meadow scooped out of the mountainside.
Clouds drift in from below, glide over the ridge and slide down the either side, all in a slow swift motion. You watch countless horses grazing on the bounty of nature. Foals tear themselves across the turf in an uninhibited abandon.
Roopkund trek: The route from Ali Bugyal to Bedni Bugyal (11,500 ft).
The worst of the climb is behind you. Leisurely walk your way to Bedni Bugyal, 5 kms away and a mildly descending trail initially. If you are tempted to take off your shoes and allow the feel of the carpet on your toes, just go ahead and do it!
Towards the end of Ali Bugyal there's a short switchback climb of 20 minutes before the trail levels out to a gentle trail to Bedni Bugyal. It takes about an hour to get to Bedni Bugyal from this point.
Photo contribution : Arig Chakraborty
If you want a perfect setting for camping in the Himalayas, then Bedni would be among the top in your list.
The weather fluctuates in these parts and you can have moments of wild sunshine followed by anxious cloud cover. Keep your raincoat handy. Sometimes it rains for a few minutes leaving you frustrated, at times it could rain for a few hours.
Photo contribution :Saurabh Chatterjee
Roopkund trek: Mt Trishul lights up in the evening sunlight - seen from Bedni Bugyal campsite.
A "L" in the folds of the mountain, and the Bedni Bugyal campsite unfolds below you, another heavenly strip of green overlooking the western valley. There's a tea house that serves up some much welcoming warm tea after your exhilarating climb to Bedni.
Roopkund trek: Day 4 Bedni Bugyal to Patar Nachauni
(3½ - 4 hrs. Easy climb at the beginning to a saddle followed by gradual descent to Patar Nachauni)
Photo contribution : Arig Chakraborty
Roopkund trek: The Bedni Bugyal camp site and the Bedni Kund seen from 800ft above on the ridge trail to Ghora Lotani.
The trail to Patal Nachauni or Ghora Lotani climbs out of the Bedni campsite in a gradual, easy meander. From your Bedni campsite you can follow it with your eye for 3 kms before it disappears into a saddle in the mountain.When you cross the saddle, the trek exposes you to the other side of the ridge. The scenery is differently mesmerising. For the first time you also see remnants of the winter snow on the mountain flanks (on the other side). It is still meadow country and below you are the meadows of Ghora Lotani, the last stop for the horses. Beyond Ghora Lotani the meadows merge into the mountain side.
There are two ways to catch the trail to Ghora Lotani and Bhagwabhasa beyond. The easier option is to retrace your steps of yesterday to the point where you left the main trail to get into the Bedni campsite enclave (5-7 mins walk backwards). Get on the Roopkund trail and carry on your hike up and above the Bedni Camp site. Another option is to start from your camp site, skirt the Bedni Kund from the right, climb up the slope behind the Kund, and climb further up to the trail from any direction you deem fit. This will save you half an hour to 45 mins of trekking time, but can leave you breathless.
If you wish to break for the day, Ghora Lotani makes an excellent camp site. In fact an additional day spent at Ghora Lotani will help to acclimatise to the altitude, plus offer you great views. Not much has been written on Ghora Lotani but think of camping here either on your way to Roopkund or on your way back. It offers as good views as Bedni and has the added bonus of a strange sense of isolation. You can just about camp anywhere at Ghora Lotani, but ideally look to camp near the end of the meadows. A clear stream spews out of the side of slope and makes for a very good water source.
Roopkund trek: The Ghora Lotani camp site. Remarkable in its isolation. 12,500 ft
Choose to camp at the Ghora Lotani meadows or a head up a bit to the saddle and stay in the eco shelters. The view here is beautiful though a bit exposed to the winds. Here, on your left you can see a trail that heads down to Bhuna (and further on to Sitel and Suthol). Upwards is your climb to Kalu Vinayak. The saddle signals the end of the meadows.
Roopkund trek: Day 5 Patar Nachauni to Bhagwabhasa
(4½ - 5 hrs. Flat walk is followed by 2½ - 3 hrs steep ascent to Kalu Vinayak followed by a gradually descending trail to Bhagwabhasa)
The climb to Kalu Vinayak is a steep zig-zag up the mountain side and will take you to 14,500 ft. The distance isn't much, and the zig-zag trails makes you gain height very rapidly. Climb this section very slowly.
There really is no hurry and even if you are the slowest on the team you can reach Bhagwabasa in comfortable time. Take 10 minute breaks every 15 minutes. This is a cruicial height where most climbers feel the thinness in the air. You get breathless very soon and sometimes even feel dizzy. This would be ok, if you did not have to do the Roopkund climb the next day. Most folks climb this section like any other climb and find it difficult to acclimatise to the Roopkund altitude later on. Treat this section as the most crucial bit of your trek. In climbing time it takes around 1½ hrs to climb to Kalu Vinayak. Stretch it to 2½ hrs, even if you can climb quicker. By doing this, you'll find your body adjusting to the increased height and the lack of oxygen
Climbing to Kalu Vinayak is a thrill and everytime you look up and take a bend on the trail, the ridge line gets closer, drawing you, inspiring you. Around you are the green, sheer mountainside. Below, you can follow the trail that you took from the first saddle over Ghora Lotani and finally to Kalu Vinayak.
Photo contribution : Saurabh Chatterjee
Roopkund Trek: A zoomed in shot of the Roopkund flank from Kalu Vinayak. You can see the trail on the snow in the initial section.
Kalu Vinayak gets its name from the black Ganesh idol enclosed in a stone shrine just as you finish the climb from Ghora Lotani. Lots of temple bells and a large plate for you to make a donation. Everyone offers a prayer here for a safe pilgrimage to Roopkund. A donation of Rs 10/- is standard. Some offer biscuits instead! Choose!
Roopkund trek: The Kalu Vinayak Shrine. You touch snowline here.
Beside the Kalu Vinayak shrine and right next to it you hit your first patch of snow. You are at the snow line.
The trail from Kalu Vinayak to Bhagwabasa is easy and gently sloping downwards. Bhagwabasa is 2 kms away and you can see the Bhagwabasa huts if you follow the trail with your eye. The trail meanders through snow patches.
Roopkund trek: The trail from KaluVinayak to Bhagwabhasa. Gently sloping down and meandering over snow patches.
Be careful on these snow patches. In June, by mid-day, they get soft and you can find yourself sinking to your knees in them. Step gingerly, quickly and skip your way across them. Better still, skirt around them.
Bhagwabasa is a cluster of stone huts put up by enterprising locals. The charge is on a bed basis. It could be Rs 150 to Rs 200 per bed depending on the season. On lean seasons the rates could go down to Rs 50. If you are staying at Bhagwabasa the locals will also cook for you at an additional cost. Carry your own sleeping bag -- the nights are extremely cold.
If you are carrying tents, then don't pitch camp at Bhagwabasa. Move ahead for another 5 minutes and you get a camp site on your left. This is Hunia Thal, a small clearing. There's space enough for 4 tents and no more. The place is rocky, but you don't have much of an option. If the sky is clear and the team is fit, its a good idea to attempt Roopkund in the afternoon. The next day serves as an additional buffer.
Roopkund trek: The Hunia Thal campsite. Just room enough for 4 tents. Note the rocky terrain. 14,500ft
At Bhagwabasa, night's turn extremely cold. Inside tent temperatures dip to 1°C. Outside I measured at -2°C at 2.30 in the night. These are mid summer temperatures. In September-October temperature will dip further to -5°C or -6°C. Bhagwabasa is windy too. In the wind chill the -2°C feels like -6°C. You need to put on all your warm clothings and then get inside your sleeping bag to brave the night.
Day 6: Bhagwabasa to Roopkund. Further up to Junargali. Return to Patar Nachauni via Bhagwabasa
(2½ - 3 hrs to Roopkund. 2½ hrs return to Bhagwabasa. 3½ hrs return to Patal Nachauni. Level: Moderate-Difficult.)
You need to start your push to Roopkund at 5.00 am. The sooner the better. You need to climb up to Roopkund while the snow is still hard. In the mid morning the snow becomes soft and your feet start sinking in. You want to avoid this. There's plenty of snow even in the middle of summer.
Roopkund trek: You start your trek to Roopkund at 5 a.m. The snow is hard and it is easy to climb.
From Bhagwabasa it is a 5 kms gradually ascending walk to Roopkund. Towards the end the trail climbs sharply through a series of switchbacks and a steep climb over a snowy flank to reach Roopkund. The stretch isn't long, but the entire stretch is on snow patches. At some parts the slope is steep but most parts are easily trekkable. Those trekking alone need to carry ice-axes to cut steps on the snow.
Photo contribution : Arjun Majumdar
Roopkund trek: The climb to Roopkund. Expect good amount of snow during most parts of the year.
It takes about 2½ hrs to climb up to Roopkund. Ideally, if you have started at 5.00 am then you are going to get to Roopkund by 7.30 or 8.00 am. The climb is deliriously exhilarating. The last stretch of climbing over the snowy flank on the left requires support of all four limbs, but is over in 10 mins. Roopkund is right over the edge, two minutes away and yet you can't see it unless you get there.
Roopkund is a crater on the mountain face, a dip at the cusp of the mountain. It is much bigger than what most internet pictures suggest. All around are snowy flanks of the mountain. You have to actually climb down 50 ft to reach the edge of the lake.
Photo contribution : Saurabh Chatterjee
Roopkund trek: Trekkers at the Roopkund lake as the first rays of sunlight hit the slope.
On the internet, Roopkund is reported at 16,500 ft. However, GPS readings suggest that Roopkund is not more than 15,500 feet. Whatever the altitude, you will feel the thinness of the air. Climbing a few steps takes your breath away.
Getting to Roopkund is meaningless if you don't climb up to Junargali. All trekkers must attempt Junargali unless the weather does not permit it. From Roopkund, the sharp ridge line that towers above you is Junargali. It doesn't take much time to get to Junargali. The route is over snow that gently inclines upwards until it reaches the face of the mountain. After which it is a steep clamber on the mountain face to reach Junargali. The climb isn't for long; perhaps 200 ft. It gets over in perhaps 15-20 minutes. Care must be taken while you are climbing to Junargali. A slip can result in a bad fall. A rope with you is very handy.
Photo contribution : Shubhanker Biswas
Roopkund trek: An unusual angle of the Roopkund lake rarely seen in photographs. On the far left is the trail leading up.
Returning from Junargali
Start your return by 9.30 am from Junargali, timing yourself such that you are back at Roopkund by 10.00 am and after a brief rest, you are on your way down.
Trekkers often find getting down from Roopkund difficult. The snowy slope looks tricky and dangerously sloping. You may need to squat on all fours to negotiate the immediate flank of snow as you get off Roopkund. This is the difficult part but the lower you get, it gets easier progressively. Once out of the switchback descent, it is a easy walk back to Bhagwabasa. However, step carefully on the snow patches. By mid morning they are soft and slippery. Always trek down in small groups.
You should reach Bhagwabasa within 2½ hours.
It makes no sense to camp on your return at Bhagwabasa. Move down to Ghora Lotnai. It is a long, exhausting day of trekking, but the benefits are many. You get the advantage of spending the night at a lower altitude and a warmer location. In addition you are closer to Wan and can plan your exit out of the trek easily. Make yourself a light lunch and head back to Ghora Lotani. It is a 2 hr descent.
Day 7 Roopkund trek: Patar Nachauni to Lohajung via Bedni and Wan
(6½ hrs to Wan. 1 hr drive back to Lohajung. Level easy-moderate).
There is a sense of elation as you return through Bedni. And the oak forest over Wan is just the icing on the cake that you want. Retrace your path to Bedni Bugyal. Pass the Bedni camp site and take the trail heading to the right and below. 20 minutes later, you get to the tree line and sharp descent that signals the end of the meadows. Watch for the descending trail on your right. The main trail moves ahead to Ali Bugyal.
Photo contribution : Arig Chakraborty
Run down into the oak and Rhododendron forest. Half an hour into your decent, you get to a clearing. The green trekker's huts signals Ghairoli Patal. On a clear day, you get astounding views of Mt Trishul commandeering over the area. Rest here and if your team is not in a hurry, step into the flat oak forest on your right. The setting is straight out of a movie set with beams of light streaming in from above and a crunchy cover of brown leaves below. Spend sometime here at the wonder of nature and rejoin the trail.
It is a steep ridge descent to the Neel Ganga. Quicker trekkers reach the river in one and a half hours. The slower ones take two. Take your time because you will rarely see a more wondrous stretch of forest cover.
The bridge on the Neel Ganga is an idyllic location to wash the dirt and grime of the week long trek. Trees overhang the river and the water trips and falls over boulders in the shade. The water is cool and refreshing.
From the river it is a short half hour climb to the ridge above Wan village. After spending days in the wilderness, you finally come to a busy civilization. Some welcome it and some hate it. There are many routes to the bottom of the Wan village, and all roads eventually lead down to the road junction (Kasar Bagad) near the hydel project. It takes about an hour and half to get down to Kasar bagad. It is a steep descent.
There is an alternative longer route to get down to Wan. From the ridge top of Wan, take the main trail that runs to the right. Follow the trail until it reaches the Cyprus trees at the lower Wan village. Spend time looking at the Cyprus trees because they are centuries old. A short descent later you touch the road. You can ask your vehicle to meet you at this junction.
From Kasar Bagad regular vehicles ply to Lohajung and you get a welcome cup of tea at Hari Singh Bugyali's shop. By Jeep it is an hours drive to Lohajung over a road that bumps and rattles all the way. The thrill of the ride stays for many days to come.
Day 8 Roopkund: Drive to Kathgodam from Lohajung
Depart for Kathgodam. Approximate arrival time at Kathgodam: 6-7 pm.
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Roopkund Trek Itinerary
Day 1: Pick up from Kathgodam Railway station at 7.00 am. Drive to Lohajung base camp. Apprx arrival time at Lohajung 6-7 pm.
Day 2: Trek starts. Lohajung to Didina. Homestay at Didina. 8 kms, 5hrs.
Day 3: Didina to Bedni Bugyal (via Ali Bugyal). 8 kms, 6-7 hrs
Day 4: Bedni Bugyal to Patar Nachauni. 4 kms, 4 hours
Day 5: Patar Nachauni to Bhagwabhasa 4 kms 4-5 hours
Day 6: Bhagwabhasa to Roopkund to Patar Nachauni. 12 kms, 9-10 hours total
Day 7: PatarNachauni to Lohajung via wan. 12 kms, trek, 11 kms road. 6-7 hrs
Day 8: Depart for Kathgodam. Approximate arrival time at Kathgodam: 6-7 pm.
Note: Pick up on Day 1 is linked with the Ranikhet Express. The pick up transport will wait until the train arrives at Kathgodam.
Moderate-Difficult. See link for details.
Circular; returns to base camp.
Roopkund: 15,750 feet (4,800 mts). Junargali 16,000 ft (4,878 mts, highest point)
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.
Village Lohajung (Chamoli District, Uttarakhand)
May 3rd week to June end; Mid September to October end.
Temperature in May, Jun.
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.
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.
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.
Physical preparation mandatory. See link for more details.