Day 1 Sagar to Panar Bhugyal
We pick up the threads from Mandal after returning from Madmaheshwar trek. The next day on 4.6.2011, we woke up to find a bright sunlit day. Two successive days of sunshine and what more could we ask for? As usual, by 5.30 am, we were ready but dhaba down below was not yet open for business, to cater to our morning cuppa. So the next best thing to do was drive 5 km to Sagar along with our two porter–cum–guides Sanjiv and Guddu, Garhwali youths. Sanjiv was his own chirpy buoyant self and Guddu was a bit reserved. At 6 am we arrived at Sagar, a small village nestling in the lap of hill covered in green vegetation. A row of shops by the road side where our car took a halt, with shutters down, were not yet ready for business. So, yet again we were deprived of morning tea. However, as is customary, before every trek, we have our photo taken at starting destination. Rudranth trek was no exception.
|At Sagar, trek starting point|
We started our climb through the steps on a sloping cement track, separating village shacks on either side. The place had a pervading buffalo – dung odour, bunches of straw strewn all round – a typical village of Garhwal. Onwards, we had to squeeze through tall thorny bushes on both sides of trail. Guddu warned us not to touch those bushes, to avoid skin itching. By that time I had been busy scratching affected part of my arm. However my finger was itching for a different reason, as a wild violet beauty of a flower made its appearances.
|Trail from Sagar|
As we climbed higher, the bird’s view of Sagar came into focus.The upward trek became more arduous as time wore on. At some places, there were no steps or stone foot hold. I had to step up with one the porters giving me a helping hand. Slowly it was sinking in, why Rudranth trek is considered most difficult one among all Panch Kedar treks? The porters kept telling us, ‘the gradient will be steeper as we go higher.’ For time being it was better to concentrate at the chore at hand rather than worry about future. A middle aged Bengali woman coming down had some interesting stories to tell regarding just concluded Rudranth trek experience. She claimed to have walked over snow for nearly seven and half kilometers on way to Rudranth. She was surprised to hear that at Madmaheshwar we experienced mild snow fall, two days earlier, around the same time. As we proceed, a view of a cluster of houses and terraced fields at Sagar cross our vision.
|Sagar, a bird's view|
At 8 am, after trekking for 4 km, we came to a green grass land in a plateau, emerging from a densely covered cluster of trees, followed by a villager and a group of Garhwali pilgrims. Pung Bhugyal as the place is called has a single shack, with a dhaba stocking mineral water and some soft drinks. We needed more than anything, a cup of tea and some bites to satisfy our morning habit. Seating on the plastic chair, gazing at the green forests around and savoring one of the finest cups of milk tea we had tasted so far in Garhwal, was immensely satisfying.
|Pung Bhugyal Chatti|
|Cricket on bhugyal|
When breakfast of Roti, Potato curry and aloo parathas were being cooked, we had a good half an hour of break to look around. The green carpet was inviting to lie on the ground on chatai and relax. Some pilgrims were doing just that. The birds hopping across the trees kept me busy but it was too elusive for a capture through the lens. A cricket player wielding his bat facing a bowler, standing on the bhugyal, with forest like growth in the background was worth watching. A dash of white flowers against a blue sky looked too good not to capture in a frame.The boy from Chatti opened a beach umbrella, courtesy Pepsi, to make us sit in shade and have our breakfast; it was a kind of novelty not usually seen in Garhwal hills.
|Reaching for sky|
|Liti Bhugyal Chatti|
|Trekking at Liti Bhugyal|
Early summer setting in, the wild flowers made their appearance on the grassy surface all along the route. They looked fresh and gorgeous, after a wash by recent rainfall.
As I neared those shelters, Sachin was sitting on a bench in front of a thatched shack. He was a bit disappointed to find the rooms were mostly occupied and for us a room was given by the side of the dhaba kitchen in thatched shack, which had mud floor with straws spread on it. After some persuasion, the cottage owner, landed us a room in the adjoining cottage, the better one, with a cement flooring. The bare room had straws spread on it. There was no toilet, wash basin or piped water. The charges were Rs 150/- per head per day per person, including dinner.
|Panar Bhugyal Chatti|
We realized nearest piped water was available about 200 m ahead in the bhugyal. The chatty-wallas provided the drinking water from there. We got our bottles filled at that spot and nothing else to do just roam around the bhugyal after ordering for lunch from the dhaba. A big group of Bengali trekkers had taken a neighbouring bigger room in cement cottage, returning from Rudranath trek. They were just sitting on mat spread on the grass and having lunch ordered from dhaba. One guy from that group narrated how a group of about eight members trekked Rudranath from Mandal end and one of their members fell sick; they had to take shelter at Panch Ganga and with great difficulty they reached Rudranth the next day. They reassured us that our return trek from Rudranth terminating at Mandal will be much easier, with continuous down trek on a mud – grass track. We considered ourselves lucky to have chosen the right course with advice from Bhagat Singh Bisht at Mandal.
With wide spread bhugyal all around, can live stocks be missing? The cattle and sheep laze and graze in the sun drenched valley. The tall grass of light green shed and and the short grass of dark green variety, co-existing side by side, the yellow wild flowers wide spread and the distant pine trees of green decked hill, with snow filled mountains was all part of a Himalayan grandeur. A lone man climbing up a hillock finds company of a lone leafless tree, immersed in his own thoughts, soaking into the all pervading expansive nature, where one feels so small and insignificant.
|Panar on lens|
It is not every day that one emerges out of his room and steps into a Himalayan bhugyal. In the morning, stepping out of cottage at Panar, toothbrush in hand, we were in open, caressed rather brutally by the chilly wind and looked at the snow clad Himalayan panorama. The lone snow peak jutting out behind the tall grass on bhugyal gave us a reminder that we were in high altitude and will be going through some real tough high altitude trekking shortly.
|Snow peak from Panar|
As we were packing up for the days trek, the sheep walking one by one at a distance, gave an element of life to the mute landscape. After a simple breakfast and tea, I bid goodbye to Panar, the best Himalayan bhugyal I have seen in my life.
|Sheep marching at Panar|
Having done the hard work, Pitridhar onwards, it was occasional gentle downward gradient and some portion of flat stretch. We were yet again in a region of expansive bhugyal. At 9.35 am we reached Panch Ganga, consisting of a chatty containing dhaba and shelter for trekkers. Some pilgrims take a break at this place and next morning have darshan at Rudranath and commence return trek on the same day. We simply had a break for some time for a cup of tea. The entire upper portion of this place is a sloping Bhugyal going up very high right up to the top of the hill. Some pilgrims were on the bhugyal slopes on their way up, on their return trek from Rudranath. For time being, negotiating the steep slope on bhugyal looked a rather difficult proposition on our return trek. Panch Ganga happens to be the junction where the routes to Rudranth from Sagar as well as from Mandal meet. But why am I worrying about return trek, when we have not yet reached our destination of Rudranath?
|Terrain at Panch Ganga Bhugyal|
Beyond Panch Ganga it was easy going, gradual down hill and some portion of flat stretch. The terrain changed its complexion abruptly. Suddenly we realized that we were in midst of a mini valley of flowers. The pink specie of flowers covered a huge area of the bhugyal. A closer view of the flowers and leaves, gives an impression of Rhododendron species.
After reaching the chatty, we were left with a mere 250 m gentle upward climb to reach Rudranth. I, as usual slowed down my walking pace knowing that I will easily reach Rudranath around noon time. Rudranath cave temple was visible at the extreme end of the trail at the blind end of the hill face. The cottages on the way are chatties where pilgrims can stay for the night and have food.
|Small Shiva Shrine|
|Chatti at Rudranath|
|Inside room at chatti|
I woke up with a start with the room door banging with a loud thud. The gushing wind carried rain water droplets through the partially open door. The valley down below was pale gray, the near and distant mountains partly obscured with clouds. Peering out of my sleeping bag, there was no other activity other than watching the rains pouring. We thanked Lord Rudranath that we reached our destination in time to be in a protective shed, even if it means ‘Gaushala’!
|Accumulated Sleet at Rudranath|
|Oriental Turtle Dove|
Aarti was conducted amidst chantings by pujaris, with devotes participating with enthusiasm. Some sat on the floor but I was content to stand. At the completion of Aarati ( while more rituals continued ) I left the temple quietly for the shack, carefully negotiating the distance through the mud stone track, finding my way by means of torch light. Unzipping the sleeping bag, I just slid inside to combat the biting cold, waiting for my friend Sachin to return. Since the dinner time was 9 pm, he was probably not in a hurry.
At around 8.30 pm, an exasperated and panting Sachin came running to the room to inform Guddu our porter that Sanjiv the other porter had fainted in the temple hall. A sudden gloom descended in my mind, ‘In case Sanjiv has fallen sick, we will find it difficult to arrange another porter at this place on our return journey.’ After Sanjiv regained his consciousness at the temple, Guddu and few others helped him to walk to our shack and he was made to lie down. Sanjiv who was very energetic right through the evening in helping the chatty-wala, looked visibly sick. I requested dhaba fellow to arrange a glass of milk, which appeared to be very much in short supply at this temple destination. Half a glass of milk was some how arranged and Sanjv drank it and went to sleep. We were trifle worried but hoped he will be alright the next morning.
The dinner for us this time around was really nice. No dal roti and potato curry, which has been our staple diet so far. We were fortunate to have two vegetables along with roti. The lauki and also the karela sabji tasted good. Dhaba-wala somehow arranged the vegetables from temple committee ration.
Day 3 Rudranath to Anusuya
Waking up at our ’Gaushala’, we were in high spirits. Sanjiv our porter had completely recovered from his overnight illness. The morning was a sunlit day and we were looking forward to a long easy mostly downward trek to Anusuya. As Sachin went out for his morning chore, I stepped out of the room to have a view of the valley. The overnight rain and sleet wash did a cleansing to the landscape and it exuded freshness. To my pleasant surprise, the lone Oriental Turtle Dove made its re-appearance on a nearby scattered stones in search of food. It was an easy prey to shoot in a bright sunlight and no photographer worth his salt will let go of this opportunity.
|Oriental Turtle Dove at Rudranath|
|Oriental Turtle Dove|
We had tea and a bite to eat from adjoining dhaba; Sanjiv packed up some parathas and pickles as our packed lunch for the day. We were supposed to be climbing up the bhugyal to the hill top from Panch Ganga and reach the highest altitude of Rudranath trek, then drop down over a long distance. The entire route of 14 km, save for Panch Ganga was not expected to have any amenities and dhabas for food. At 6.15 am, Sachin returning, packing done, we resumed our return trek going downhill through narrow mud track.
We reached near the chatty at a distance of about 250 m in no time. This place is of importance because of the water pipe line supplying clean water, which is even carried to Rudranath dwelling. The pilgrims holed at this chatty took full advantage of this place, some even taking bath in cool morning, right near the bhugyal.
At 7.15 am we reached Panch Ganga, with expansive bhugyal on both sides of the route. Most of the pilgrims return via the same route they had taken for onward trek to Rudranath which is invariably from Sagar. We considered ourselves lucky to have decided to take a different route on return trek to ultimately land at Mandal as per our adviser at Anusuya lodge. We had Sanjiv and Guddu two experienced porters who have done the Mandal route many times, that worked to our advantage. Seeing newer places and experiencing the unknown has its own excitement and thrill!
|Trek from Panch Ganga Bhugyal|
By now Sachin and Sanjiv overtook us and were striding ahead. I captured some footprints on snow right on the trail. Later Sachin informed me that he left his foot prints at the very place. With scattered snow around, I did not hesitate to assume that this was the highest elevation point of our trek and what other place can it be other than Naola pass at 14,000’?
|Foot-prints on snow|
Gradually coming down from snowline, through the grassy trail, we were approaching dense growth of trees. After nearly another half an hours continuous down trek, I realized that my left toe getting the brunt of load inside shoe will not hold any longer. Having lost my floaters already, I was left to trek with my plastic bathroom sleepers! Some fifteen minutes of efforts and I started getting bruises on my feet. I had some band aid applied on the affected area to prevent it from bleeding. At the insistence of Sachin, I switched over to his spare floaters one size bigger, never the less that was the best option left for continuation of my trek. By now we were passing through really dense growth of jungles with trees on both sides of the mud – stone trail. This area is supposed to be occasionally visited by bears climbing down from the higher reaches after the snow fall. The road occasionally forks; without any guide or experienced porter to take the correct course, I realized one will get lost in the jungle easily. This is probably the reason why the Sagar to Rudranath route for to and fro trek is preferred by trekkers who do not have any porters or guides. The occasional wild flowers peering out at regular intervals, photo shooting was for the asking.
|Chatti at Hamsa Bhugyal|
Since we were going down hill, with no extra effort on our lungs, we were consuming less time. Hence we could afford to spend a little more time on the way. But our porters were eager to complete the 11 km trek from Panch Ganga to Anusuya as early as possible.
At 10.15 am we reached Hamsa Bhugyal, yet another of vast grassy terrain with a chatty for boarding and lodging facilities. The place appeared to be desolate and not yet opened for business in early summer. The porters insisting for a bite to eat their packed lunch of Parathas and pickles, Sachin also joined them. I managed with tidbits from my own bag. After the break, the downward trek for me was some what slower compared to others but Guddu our porter waited for me at every bend, so that I do not get cut off from other members. Some more wild flowers greet us on the way.
|Anusuya - a bird's view|
|Anusuya from lodge|
At 3.15 pm we entered the fringes of Anusuya village. The village full of trees and bushes contained a cluster of sturdy houses, the temple complex containing the main temple and other smaller structures. We thought of visiting the temple the next day. Our immediate goal was to look for a shelter. Sanjiv and Guddu meanwhile were resting near a dhaba adjoining a two storied lodge, where we were supposed to put up. The place is called Tiwadi Lodge, but the word ‘Tiwadi’ had been crudely erased, possibly because of change of ownership. We were given a double room with cot, bedding and rajai decent enough for Rs. 200/- per day. We were happy to be at lower elevation in a comfortable place with much better amenities compared to ‘Gaushala’ of last two days.
|Red Billed Blue Magpie|
The dinner was a simple fare of rice, chapatti, dal and hari sabzi (mix of aloo palak and tender leaves of baby fern). Back to room we did a rearrangement of our personal belongings for next days trek. I discarded some of my old cloths to lessen the burden. We had a pleasant climate having left the cold climes of high altitude behind and what was left was a mere 5 km downhill trek to reach Mandal through a salubrious climate the next morning.
Day 4 – Anusuya to Mandal
Early morning at a picturesque village of Anusuya of Garhwal Himalayas, after going through some tough trek to Rudranth, bring a huge relief and respite. In the morning, getting up and coming on verandah of Tiwadi Lodge, I gazed at the Anusuya temple complex, bathed by early morning sun light. The huge green cover all around and birds of different hues chirping their hearts out, one is in perfect harmony with nature.
|Brown Rock Chat|
A Himalayan Bulbul perched on tree top, against the deep blue sky constantly cooing could not be missed. With luck running out for further catch of birds, it was time to resume the 5 km downhill trek to Mandal. The initial trek path was stone paved, going through forested area with dense growth of tall trees on both sides of the trail. New specie of bird, green in colour was found to fly around, but proved to be difficult to catch on lens. After about half an hour, we started walking through lovely cement
Another half an hour of pleasant downward trek and I could get a bird’s view of Mandal village. The mobile phone tower visible on left side of town meant we were in communication range.
|Mandal, a bird's view|
A zoom shot gave me a clear view of the gate which served as the starting point for Anusuya temple trek from Mandal and on the opposite side I could even see the Anusuya lodge where we stayed. I could visualize Bhagat Singh Bisht besides the chulha of the dhaba, with all his cooking stuff around him. On the hill slopes we passed through a few more villages on the way to Mandal. A makeshift worshipping place on the way side, with an idol catch our attention.
We came across a school at Shiroli village, with a compound adorned with some of the exotic flower plants collections. The School has a painting of Goddess Saraswati ‘The Goddess of Learning’ on the outer wall. One really does not expect some extra ordinary school in hilly villages of Uttarakhand, hence this was a revelation. Children of this village will be more than willing to come to this beautiful place to take a stride in the literacy world.
|Pink and Yellow|
I could not resist myself in spending some time around the school compound to photo shoot some exotic flowers. The red flower in shape of a small bowl was a rare beauty. I just could not resist the flower with yellow – pink colour combination either.The yellow flower of cana variety looked fresh and enlivened the place.
Bird watching and photo shooting is a different ball game requiring time and patience. The Anusuya – Mandal stretch proved to be a bird watchers paradise. But on a trek tour one is some what starved of time to do full justice to this pastime. After a chase of a gray coloured bird for about 10 minutes, I gave up, after taking a shot of the bird entering its nest.
After covering some distance a clourful moth on the leaf of a plant was rather easy to capture.We were almost 1 km short of Mandal, while passing through another cluster of houses, a Common Myna, was not at all ruffled by our approach.Around 9 am, we reached our destination Mandal, after coming out through the arched gate. At the Anusuya Lodge dhaba, Bhagat Singh Bisht was at his usual place, cooking lunch for his customers. He was relieved to see us completing our trek in one piece. He sent one of his boys to fetch a bottle of Nimbooz for me. I needed the fluid make up after the morning’s trek. The porters Sanjiv and Guddu were eager to reach their home particularly Guddu, who got married recently and must have been feeling the void in his heart for last four days. Making their payments, we roamed the streets at Mandal buying some small items like band aids for my toe. Around 9.30 am, we ordered breakfast for myself and Sachin. We had roti, potato curry and hari sabzi. The hari sabzi was made of baby fern shoots and called Lenguda in local dialect. It was cooked in mustard paste, which reminded me of my home preparations. Having completed the twin treks to Madmaheshwar and Rudranth, our last sojourn was just to have a leisurely evening and night halt at Pokhri or some other hill station, before we departed for Mumbai via Haridwar and Delhi.
* Author has a video clip recording all the three and half days Rudranath Yatra, which can be viewed by taking the following captioned link: Rudranath Yatra - Composite video
* Author has a video clip recording all the three and half days Rudranath Yatra, which can be viewed by taking the following captioned link: Rudranath Yatra - Composite video