Winters are my favorite. Everything feels so fresh and untouched. Not that I live in a place that gets really cold, in fact no season tries its limits here. Only rains.
But I have not always lived here.
So, winter is a good time to take a break and go to some place where you can be away from the city life into the nature. Mountains are a good place to be. Himalayas. I have always liked mountains, mainly because they are humble and they provide.
This year the theme was adventure. The major ingredients were Bungee jumping, winter trekking and camping.
We started planning and soon we were six guys that had the same idea.
We started making an itinerary, and decided on Delhi – Rishikesh (the highest bungee jumping point in India) – Auli (skiing destination of India) – Kedarkantha Trek – Nainital – Delhi. This seemed like a good plan. The plan was to get to Delhi and hire a car to go to these places and end up back in Delhi. It was to be a 12 day trip, which did not seem to be a problem to any of us and taking time off from work was the easiest part. We got our tickets a week before departure and waited. Just when we were a couple of days from the start date, we learned that this itinerary was not at all feasible, because Auli was on the other end of Uttarakhand and to go to Auli and get back to the Kedarkantha trek by road would take us 2 days. Then why did we agree on this itinerary? It looked different on the map and very feasible.
It turned out, there are 2 Aulis, one in Himachal Pradesh and the other one in Uttarakhand (the right one).
Now we had a task at hand, find a trek that was near the right Auli and feasible in the time we had. And as if something did not want us to miss out on anything, we (without much hassle) found out that there is a winter trek of same duration around the right Auli, the Brahmatal Trek. So, the new itinerary was Delhi – Rishikesh – Auli – Brahmatal Trek – Nainital – Delhi. We were now ready. Meanwhile it was getting chilly in the North:)
We reached Delhi on 22nd December early morning around 3 and got on the cab from the Airport and headed straight to Rishikesh. But the not so good news was that we could not book the Bungee jumping slot as it was pre- booked until 2 january, what?! Yes. But there was still hope as the organisers told us that some people always get scared at the jumping board and cancel. And he would put us in if that happened. Wow, people do that? I was thinking what are the chances I would be scared and not do it? It was 7 hours journey to Rishikesh admist fog.
We had lunch on our way and headed straight to the Bungee Jumping point after putting our belongings in the Hotel. But, it wasn’t our lucky day. Looks like no one was scared! We were given some options though. The organizer told us that we could do ‘Flying Fox’ instead (Something similar to a glider, but attached to a rope, that takes you across the valley at high speed). Not as freaking as Bungee Jumping, but something. And 3 of us were convinced. I refrained and just took pictures there. From there we got back to our hotel and rested. It was a colorful pretty hotel, but that didn’t stop us from leaving the next morning as we had a lot of travel ahead.
We were now headed to Auli, it was some 265 km from Rishikesh and we were very optimistic that we would get there by evening, perhaps earlier. We were so wrong. The road we took (which was the only road) was through the mountains, of course. But more mountains were being cut to widen the road. We had stop every couple of kilometers, for there were blasts to cut the mountain and cranes to collect the falling rubble.
It would be a long trail of vehicles at every stop. We soon realized, we would not get to Auli by evening. But it was the journey that mattered and it was beautiful and serene. We set a target of reaching Rudraprayag by evening and staying there for a night. Rudraprayag is a beautiful confluence of 2 rivers Alaknanda and Mandakini.
In the morning we set out for Auli once again, it really turned to be a long journey, but no one was complaining, for the scenery was beautiful, and we were excited. As we neared Auli, we started seeing snow covered peaks. The roads were being cut all along this stretch too. And the road that was already there was not as good. We finally reached Auli in the evening and it was pretty cold. We had an option to live in tents, which we rejected it at once:) One, why live in tents when we could be warm in rooms made of cement and wood. Two, we would anyways live in tents in our next leg of the journey. That night we had a bonfire, it was a beautiful evening.
Wait, I said we were 6 guys, but no, not yet. One of our friends was supposed to join us today. He took a flight from Mumbai to Dehradun and had reached Rishikesh this morning. We knew what the roads had in store for him and had already communicated it to him. We asked him to not stop anywhere and board the local taxis as the local drivers are more accustomed to driving in such situations and can be a little faster. And this friend miraculously completed Rishikesh to Auli in a day. Though he had started a little earlier than us and reached later, but then too he was a day faster (he did have some problems getting to Auli from Joshimath, the last 16 kms).
Next day, it was Christmas and we all headed for the Auli Ski Resort. From the Auli ski resort to the ski point there is a rope chair car (not cabin). It was an amazing experience boarding that chair car. It was open and the view was breathtaking. We saw the snow up close for the first time on this trip at Auli. Followed were some ski adventures. Tired, we came back to the hotel, and it was a freezing night (-10 degree Celcius). Little uncomfortable, but manageable. Next day we had to leave super early to start the trek, but before that we had to travel some 170 km to get to the base camp.
We reached Lohajung around 3 PM, and our guide already had prepared lunch for us all. Post lunch we had to start the trek. We were late, and we had to trek some 6 km uphill to Bekaltal lake, where we would camp for the night.
It started off okay, but got steep very soon. It was tiring and we completed some part of this leg in the dark with torches. Our tents were set little away from the lake admist the trees (some protection from the winds). We had dinner by the bonfire and there were a million stars in the sky today. We were by the bonfire for sometime, but soon felt sleepy and were tucked in the sleeping bags. In the middle of night, it felt like rain. It was chilly and I did not want to leave my warm sleeping bag. It was in the morning, we realised it was snowfall. There was snow, but very little. Good thing was today’s morning was cloudy. It would mean a cold day, but also chances of snowfall.
We packed up, and left for Brahmatal lake in the morning around 9. First we went to Bekal lake which was frozen and covered with trees from all sides. Today’s trek took us through some beautiful meadows with astounding views all around. Walking uphill was tiring but a look around us would make us feel refreshed and we would gather ourselves and start again. Soon we could see tents at the distance. We had been walking for 6 hours now, the sight of tents was a good sign. Our tents again were little away from the lake. We had lunch and wandered around the tent soaking in the beautiful view around us. As the sun started to go down, it started to snow. Soon there was heavy snowfall, and it continued for around 2 hours. Everything was covered in snow, pretty. We had to regularly get the snow off our tents, or it would bring the tent down. We feared if it snowed again, we will have to be awake all night just to get it off the tents. But luckily it didn’t.
Next morning was white blanket of snow all around us.
We went to the lake and not a surprise, Brahmatal lake was frozen too. Today we trekked for 4 hours to get to the Brahmatal summit. It was a 360 degrees view from the top. The peaks Trishul and Nanda Ghunti felt so near, yet so far. We had reached the summit of our trek.
We got back to our tents by the evening and again the skies were very clear. I had never seen so many stars.
Next morning we had to get down to the base camp where our driver was waiting for us. This time we took a different route, which was shorter path to the base camp, and we made it back by the afternoon.
We were to stay the night at Lohajung, and our next destination was Nainital. Nainital is about 7-8 hours from Lohajung, but based on our experiences we figured it might take more. So, instead of staying in Lohajung, we decided that we would start our journey and halt for the night some place in between (we were aiming for Ranikhet). This way we could reach Nainital early the next day. We had lunch and bid goodbye to our Guide and the beautiful Lohajung village. We were low on fuel and kept an eye on petrol pumps on the way, but there were none! And, we knew petrol pumps in hills, if any, would close by 6 PM. So, there was risk of being stuck in the middle of nowhere pretty soon. We had gotten till Kasauni and hadn’t found a single Petrol pump on our way that was open. We decided we should halt and look around in the town, maybe we’ll get lucky. After talking to some people we managed to get in touch with a Fuel Station owner and he agreed to open the station and give us diesel at some extra cost. It was a relief, and the journey continued.
We reached Ranikhet by late evening around 8, and checked into a hotel. Ranikhet is a pretty place with a serene view of distant mountain peaks. It was cold, but not as much as it was in Auli or during the trek. It was a good morning the next day and we had a good view from our balcony. We started again on our journey to Nainital. It was a good thing that we had covered a lot of it already. We entered Nainital and stopped at Sattal lake (lake with 7 corners) because Nainital is all about lakes, it was pretty calm and beautiful and after lunch and some boating we headed to our hotel that was close to the Mall Road (we thought). P.S. there was a race while we were boating, and let’s not get into who won, because somebody cheated (this is not a complain).
So, our hotel in Nainital was uphill about 2 kilometers from the Mall road and the Nainital lake, and the rooms we had were on the top floor which had a wooden roof from the inside but tin from the outside and monkeys all around. At first when we heard thumping sounds from the roof it was alarming, but soon we discovered it was monkeys playing. And they liked playing all day it seems:)
We went shopping in the evening and it seemed everybody from the neighbouring cities was in Nainital for the new year. It was 30th today.
31st morning was a lazy one, for we were all tired and needed rest, so the day began pretty late. In the evening we again descended down from the hotel to the lake and the Mall road was swarming with people. Thankfully, the hotel staff told us about a way downhill which was shorter and an easy way to get down on foot.
We got into Nainital Boat Club in the evening (after some deal with some guy, for its only for members, at least that’s what they say). Nainital Boat Club is a pretty place besides the lake, with amazing wood interiors. It was soon very lively as people started pouring in. And yes, people welcomed the New Year dancing and singing. I would say most people, as I know I didn’t, for I can’t.
Our good good trip was coming to an end, but it was a perfect start of the New Year. Beautiful.
Afternoon of 1st January, we started for Delhi and reached the hotel by 11, which was very late.
The next day we just wandered around the hotel and relaxed and headed to airport in the evening. This was comparatively an uneventful day.
We had seen a lot of places in the last 12 days, and made memories of a lifetime. The trek was the highlight!