Roopkund - Rated among the top three treks in India
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.
Day 1: Getting to the base camp - Lohajung
It is a 10-11 hour journey from Kathgodam to Lohajung. Read in detail on how to get to Lohajung here
Day 2: Drive from Lohajung to Wan. Trek to Ghaeroli Patal
- Time taken: 4 hour trek + 1 hour drive from Lohajung to Wan
- Trail type Combination of a short descend and a steep ascend
Day 3: Ghaeroli Patal to Bedni Bugyal
- Time taken: 2 hours
- Trail type: Stiff climb that opens up to a slight ascend in the meadow
Day 4: Bedni Bugyal to Patar Nachauni
- Time taken: 4 hours
- Trail type: 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 Patar 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.
Day 5: Patar Nachauni to Bhagwabhasa
- Time taken: 5 hours
- Trail type: Flat walk is followed by a 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, and further up to Junargali. Return to Patar Nachauni via Bhagwabasa
- Time taken: 3 hours to Roopkund + 2.5 hours return to Bhagwabasa + 3.5 hours return to Patar Nachauni
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 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: Patar Nachauni to Lohajung via Bedni and Wan
- Time taken: 6½ hrs to Wan plus 1 hr drive back to Lohajung
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: Drive to Kathgodam from Lohajung
Depart for Kathgodam. Expected to reach Kathgodam by 7pm.