We went on a trek to Har-ki-Dun in May 2008. This is not a day by day account of how or what we did or didn’t do, that should interest you as a possible trekker to this place. Guide books can do a far better job; go buy one. Or to get high on one such account anyway, go read my ultra boring “spiti left bank trek” post (yes! a daily account).
This post contains personal experiences which I found interesting enough to write about (actually it’s been so long since this specific trek that these are the all I could think of to write, or remember). These are some of the memories that have still lingered on after all these years. They may or may not happen to you or might’ve or might not have already happened to you.
Route followed: Sankri (1450 mts.) – Taluka (1800 mts.) – Seema (2500 mts.) – Har-Ki-Dun (3566 mts.) – Jaumdar (jaundhar) glacier – Har-Ki-Dun – Osla (2559 mts.) – Taluka – Sankri
Day 1 (17th May): Dehradun to Sankri (starting point of treks to Har-ki-dun)
If you plan to get to a remote place like Sankri where roads are just dug out mountain sides, and the taxi operator in Dehradun offers you an Ambassador as a ride, chances are you’ll be changing vehicles towards the end. Just ahead of Mori at Netwar, we stopped for what we thought to be a break. But it was essentially a negotiation time for our driver who went off to look for our new ride. And though we didn’t have to care about how the agreed upon cost to Sankri was split (a meagre 12-14 kms more), it still meant waiting for around half an hour. Our new ride? A Mahindra Maxx jeep with a capacity to seat around 14 people, but had to make do with just the 3 of us rolling in its insides!
Drive from Purola (1524 mts.) to Mori (1130 mts.) is one of the prettiest I have been on. Dense forests around Jormala (1800 mts.) make it quite scenic, and the traffic on this route is very less too.
Day 2 (18th May): Sankri to Taluka in a jeep, Taluka to Seema on foot
Building of roads are bad for trek health, real bad. We were told that we could ‘save’ a day of our itinerary by skipping the walk between Sankri and Taluka (12 kilometres) thanks to a road connecting these two villages. And the road would get us within a kilometre of Taluka. So we agreed, not before realising what we missed out on. The forests between these two villages are just fantastic with an amazing bird life to be enjoyed. It felt so untouched and so old that we could have easily been in a place hundred times remoter than we were in.
Day 2: At Taluka
We had a stone thrown at us. Perhaps some sort of game for a couple of playing kids. And when we tried to scare them off by giving them dirty looks we were at the receiving end of verbal volleys of their granny. Hostile lands we thought.
We then ate in a dhaba; the best potato curry ever made (according to the then frame of mind) was consumed here. But the strangest sight of all was a BJP political meeting (locals in their traditional attire) on a rooftop that went on for the entire duration that we were there for. And weirdly we didn’t see participants talking a lot; it was more like a community sun soaking time out.
Day 2: First-day walks
‘First-days’ (umm, and last-days too) have to be the most notorious of all days’ walks. Not for any risk factor involved but for the insanely huge distances they make everyone walk right in the beginning. It’s as if they are rueing the fact that they are the very first day of a trek and have unfortunately nothing to offer in terms of grand vistas, and hence make sure the trekkers don’t forget them, by making them go on endlessly. So did we; kept on going, along the river, up and down, never actually gaining height, crossing a number of fallen trees as bridges over areas otherwise made impassable by thick undergrowth or landslides. We stopped at a spring for lunch which I secretly thought should have been the first day’s stop. Agreed I was quite overweight then and in no decent physical condition, but a while later I learnt that same thought had occurred to the other poor trekkers too.
When was the last time the attack-of-the-first-day-of-trek happened? The yuksom-tsokha trail on the dzongri trek; it was so long that we were walking with our head-torches on way past sun down, and were close to exhaustion.
Day 3 (19th May:) at Har-Ki-Dun
We noticed that our porters and guide were getting a bit restless when we were about to reach our destination. So much so that the moment the GMVN guest house (our stay for the coming 3 nights) was in sight they shot off hurriedly showing us the route that remained. We thought maybe they were tired of having to deal with our pace. We were in for a quite a shock. 7 young boys (all guides and porters), our crew included, were playing cricket at an altitude of 3500 metres! So how do they deal with the bounciness of a cricket/tennis ball on such an undulating terrain? They don’t have to. They make their own ball by tying together pieces of cloths. This way they make sure the ball doesn’t shoot off to distances which would require a half day retrieval trek. So I tried my luck at batting with this kind of a ball. First delivery, I tapped the ball gently, and it landed just where it hit the bat. Having got an idea of the strength it would need for me to hit the ball to some distance, I infused all my energy into the next shot, only for the ball to land in a fielder’s hands at the short leg position. This wasn’t meant for me. We played on for a while and then preferred being spectators. The bat is a permanent fixture at the guest house though. Read more on this here.
Day 4 (20th May): at Har-ki-Dun
It was interesting to see how different people had different priorities. An amusing contrast was noticed between a Bengali group (2 men) and a huge Gujarati group (8-10 members). On this day, we had the company of the former, and the only memory I have of them was that one of them was standing out in the porch holding a thermometer. He was apparently obsessed with knowing what minimum temperatures can be like at this place. The ritual was repeated the next morning. They left after breakfast and were replaced by the latter group by late noon. Cold was too much to bear for them and so most members decided to stay indoors, most of the time. And when they came out, it was to discuss the menu with the GMVN cook. “Thepla?” “Can you make Thepla?” Having figured out cook’s helplessness at the questions, they came down to inquiring about raw materials’ availability for themselves to make some. Obviously they ended up disappointed.
While on the topic of food, I must mention that rajma and spinach were the only two available food items. Apart from roti and chawal, of course.
Day 5 (21st May): weather and the Jaumdar glacier
On this important day, we knew how badly we needed the weather to behave. Throughout the trek we had faced an inclement weather. We were sadly forced to shuttle between in and outdoors most of the time while at Har-ki-Dun. So on this day we set out with much hope, despite a grey sky overhead, and crossed the great meadows at Har-ki-Dun. The walk wasn’t challenging and we did it leisurely, occasionally stopping to click pictures of flowers, blooming all over the meadows. Towards the end of the meadow the route starts to ascend. We walked till a spot which would have offered a clean shot of the entire glacier with the Swargarohini peak, if the clouds cleared, and decided to wait here. Even an hour’s wait couldn’t help our cause. We would catch glimpses of parts of the glacier and the peak through openings in the ever moving and ever-regenerating smoke of clouds.
Day 6 (22nd May): at Osla
Okay, so we could no longer hold back our thoughts. 5 days of going without any sweets meant we were day dreaming about our favourite sweets. And so we took it up with our crew. Our guide thought on it for a while and asked “kheer chalegi (Will rice pudding do)?” Our wide grinning faces at the sound of pudding must have given out a wrong message to him; for when we sat down to have lunch we were in for a shock, though we tried to restrain our emotions. Lunch was pudding, and pudding alone! In ‘Himalayan’ quantities! I can take in any amount of dessert, but for the rest two, it was one difficult meal.
Sometime later, after lunch, when it was time almost for the evening snacks, we ask our guide again “maggi milegi (Can we get noodles)?”
Day 7 (23rd May): at Taluka
Playing cards is an amazingly captivating game. Not only for the player but onlookers as well. We bought a pack of cards in the beginning of the trek, and were glad we did that. Most of the evenings were spent playing cards with the three crew members. We were taught a new card game here, by these guys, called gadha patti (literal translation – donkey card). And we were so smitten by it that our last day of trek could pretty much sum up our obsession with it. We reached Taluka at around 2 in the afternoon, had lunch and waited for some vehicle to come by, which could drop us on its way back to Sankri. We walked a bit on the road and then decided to wait at a spot which offered views of the winding road for pretty much upto a kilometre, just outside the village. So all of us sat down (8 people, 2 locals tagged along for a ride), mixed 2 decks of cards, and started our game, spread out in the middle of the road! The game had to finally stop after around an hour when we had to give way to a pickup truck, which was to be our ride back to civilisation.