Fancied by trekkers from across the globe, the high altitude glacial lake, Roopkund at 15,696 ft is not just spectacularly gorgeous; it also stands out due to several legends and mysteries associated with it. One such legendary tale says that so impressed was Goddess Parvati to see her own beauty manifest in the water reflection, that the lake was named, Roopkund – Roop is a Hindi connotation for beauty, and kund refers to pool.
Add to this equation, 9th century skeletons buried in the lake, and surreal mountain landscapes, packaged with meadows, forests, snow peaks and streams, which have together helped Roopkund become one of the most sought after treks in Uttarakhand.
The ideal camp to begin the trek is Lohajung, a small hamlet in Chamoli district. Alternately, one may choose to commence from Wan village, undisputedly more scenic and vibrant. But most trekkers prefer concluding the trek at Wan because it saves upto 15 kms of walking.
Legend says that Parvati too began her sojourn from Lohajung. She fought a demon, Loha, blocking her way into the mountains, where she would meet her consort, the highly reverent Lord Shiva.
The upward journey of 53 kms from Lohajung over a span of 6 days is adventurous and requires tenacity to overpower odds along the way. Strong winds, thinning air, snow walks, and steep ascends are likely to tire the body rapidly as it tries to acclimatize with altitude and weather.
From Lohajung, the next camp site at Didna calls for a moderate trek. The gradual gradient is dotted with small hamlets, mostly engaged in potato farming. They feed upon water from Neelganga River, to be crossed over by using an iron bridge.
Unlike Himachal Pradesh, where far flung and remote villages have access to electricity, those in Uttarakhand still lay dormant. Most village homes along the way to Roopkund use solar panels to generate power, but being scanty, villagers use this resource rather judiciously.
Over the next two days, trekkers pass over the twin meadows of Ali Bugyal and Bedni Bugyal. Situated approximately at 11,000 ft, a lush green Rhododendron forest gives way to vast expanse of alpine meadows, where shepherds graze their cattle during summer, and where wind tornados shake off trekkers as they push for balance.
These winds are loud and howl to make nights feel ghostly as they sway tents. Apparently, the same winds also blow away clouds to usher in clear morning skies.
The weather in the mountains is unpredictable and so there’s a common saying about it:
“Bombay ka fashion aur pahadon ka mausam kabhi bhi badal sakta hai” (Bombay’s fashion and the weather in the hills can change anytime).
It is advisable to start each day early in order to reach camp site by noontime. Depending upon the season, it mostly rains or snows post noon.
At a small distance from Ali Bugyal, Bedni Bugyal, is another famous mythological pitstop en route to Patar Nachauni. According to local legend, Parvati’s ill health made her halt at Bedni, where Gods came down from the heavens to wish her a quick recovery.
From here, the last camp site at Bhagwabasa, at 14,000 feet, is most likely to be drenched in snow during the month of May. Luckily, due to a snow drought this year, trekker’s witnessed only one snowy camp. There have been several reports of snow blizzards in Bhagwabasa, during which trekkers were sheltered in huts built by the forest department.
Just before Bhagwabasa, at the hilltop, it is mandatory for trekkers to pay homage at the Kalu Vinayak temple, a stone structure with a small black idol. Legend says, Vinayak aka Ganesha stood here and protected his mother, Parvati, who was bathing in the Lake above.
From Bhawabasa, Roopkund seems just a stone’s throw away. It rests peacefully in the shadow of the Trishul Massif, with the reverent Nanda Ghunti on the left.
To mount the summit, trekkers break the day as early as 4:00 am. At several points, the vertical ascend through snowy peaks appears insurmountable, only to be crossed with caution and some help from local guides. But as soon as the body adapts to the terrain, the focus shifts to the skeletons at the summit.
Scientists have discovered skeletons of some 200 people in the frozen lake. Taller skeletons, they claim belonged to pilgrims, and shorter ones to local guides. Apparently, they all perished under the weight a massive hailstorm. Skeletons can only be spotted post monsoon, when most of the snow has melted.
Thanks to commercialization, the trek to Roopkund attracts many inexperienced and first time trekkers. Private companies organize group treks with the aid of local guides. In addition to providing food and lodging they also provide mules to carry backpacks during the trek. Daily medical check-ups, which include measuring one’s pulse rate and oxygen, are done mandatorily to ensure safety of trekkers.
They also arrange transportation from Kathgodam to Lohajung via Sumo cars. The 10 hour journey is strenuous. This year travelers witnessed the mayhem of forest fires. Mountain slopes had been blackened out and the skies left with smog. Only when snow capped peaks and River Pinder appeared close to Kausani, the visuals brought some respite.
Kathgodam in turn is well connected to the capital, Delhi. Regular buses ply between the two cities on an hourly basis. Buses arrive at Haldwani, from where Kathgodam is just a 5 min ride. Those wishing to come by train, mostly book the Ranikhet Express, reservations for which need to be made way in advance.
These 8 days in the lap of nature, in the Gharwal Mountains allows trekkers to forget about the life left behind. One gets so deeply involved with completing the trek, whatever spare time and energy is left, mostly gets consumed in marveling nature’s bounty at human disposal.