Shipton Tillman Trek
VALLEY OF THE FLOWERS AND ROOPKUND LAKE GARHWAL, NORTHERN INDIA
The trek over the Kauri Pass was the route followed by Shipton and Tilman on their way to the Rishi Gorge and by other mountaineers en route to the peaks on the Indo-Tibetan border. It is also called the Curzon Trail, as the famous former Viceroy of India traveled this route. The trail was named after Lord Curzon, who was a keen trekker, and it is said that the path was specially improved so that he could do the trek. The crossing of the pass is a fitting conclusion to a trek that takes in three lesser passes and five major rivers - the Pindar, Kaliganga, Nandakini, Briehiganga and the Dhauliganga.
This trek takes you over mountain passes, through dense forests of oak, pine, rhododendron, fir and deodar, traversing bugayals - wide open meadows typical to the region which serve as high altitude summer grazing grounds - and numerous streams. You get truly spectacular views of the Himalayas, all the way from Trisul (23,496 ft/7,120 m) to the peaks of Kedarnath (22,994ft/ 6,968m) with Kamet (25,595 ft/7,756 m), Nilkanth (21,767 ft/6,596 m), Rishikot, Changabang (22,651 ft/6,864 m), Kedarnath and Chowkhamba (23,522 ft/7,128 m), to name a few. It is also possible if you walk along the ridge for a while to gain views of the legendary twin peaks of Nanda Devi, surrounded by an awesome 19,800ft/6,000 m wall which forms a sanctuary. In many publications the Kauri Pass is described as one of the finest vantage points in the Himalaya.
Nanda Devi at 25,643ft/7,816m is the highest mountain in India (excluding Sikkim) and was the highest in the former British Empire. The legend has it that the hand of Nanda Devi (she who gives bliss), daughter of a local king, was demanded in marriage by a marauding prince. War ensued, her father was killed and she fled, eventually finding refuge on top of the mountain now bearing her name. A ring of mountains 112km in circumference protects her, containing 12 peaks over 21,000ft/6,400m. For half a century the problems which engaged the attention of many experienced explorers and mountaineers was not so much how to climb the mountain, but how to get to it. Eric Shipton and Bill Tilman finally solved the riddle when they forced a way up the Rishiganga Gorge.
Tilman, a purist, wrote "We live in an age of mechanization and in recent years it has become apparent that even mountaineering is in danger of becoming mechanized. It is therefore pleasing to record that in climbing Nanda Devi, no climbing aids were used, apart, that is, from the apricot brandy we took."
Some time in 1905, Dr. Longstaff, the famous mountaineer, happened to reach Roop Kund in the course of his search for the Nanda Devi base. He stood dumbfounded by what he saw near the small oval lake - hundreds of human skeletons lay strewn beside the lake. Many stories have been written and many theories advanced to explain these skeletons. The mystery has remained unsolved to this day.
The region has been open since the British took over in 1815, but explorers in favour of the more mysterious Nepal abandoned it. The scenic splendour of the mountains here lies partly in the fact that the forests around the big peaks are still in marvelous condition and the local population unaffected by the ravages of mass tourism. Also in Garhwal and Kumaon there are ranges that you can easily get among, enabling a greater feeling of intimacy with the Himalayan giants.
Rishikesh - Mandoli - Bedni Bugyal - Bhogubasa Cave - Roopkund - Bhogubasa - Wan - Kunol - Sutol - Dekhandhar - Ghunni - Kaliaghat - Dhakauni - Kauri Pass - Tapovan - Joshimath - Govind Ghat - Ghangaria - Valley of flowers - Rishikesh - Delhi
Day by day Itinerary
Day 1: DRIVE TO MANDOLI, TREK TO CAMP (8,640ft /2,634m). 8-9 hrs drive, 1 hr trek.
- After an early start you follow the River Ganges until Deoprayag, the confluence of the rivers Alaknanda and Bagirathi. The road then follows the Alaknanda River, and finally the Pindar River up to Tharali. You are at the mercy of road conditions and while the road is good up until Karnprayag, there are often rough sections to cross up to Debal. From Debal the road runs up to Mandoli. The campsite is among shrines on the top of the ridge about 1,600ft/500m above Mandoli, near to a Forestry department nursery, and has fabulous views south down the valley and north in the direction you will follow tomorrow up the Gyan Ganga. Camp overnight.
Day 2: TREK TO BEDNI BUGYAL. (11,000 ft /3,354m). 6 hrs.
- The day starts with a steep climb up through the forest. After three hours you will emerge above the tree line and will get wonderful views of Chaukhamba and Nilkanth as you walk along high grassed ridges before reaching the meadows of Bedni Bughyal. This high meadow is the main camp used by travelers on the great pilgrimage to Roop Kund that takes place every 12 years. It is a beautiful place dotted with shrines and temples, and the morning should give awesome views of Trisul as well as mountains of the Garhwal such as Nilkanth to the north-west. Camp overnight.
Day 3: TREK TO BHOGUBASA CAVE. (13,451ft/4,100m) 5 to 6 hrs.
- This is a day when you increase sharply in altitude. For those who do not feel fit enough there will be the option to trek down to Wan, where the main group will meet you on Day 8. The trail crosses a hump to reach Bistola and then climbs up to Bhogubasa, an improvised stone shelter that is generally used by local pilgrims. Camp overnight.
Day 4: TREK TO ROOP KUND (15,092ft/4,600m) AND RETURN TO BHOGUBASA. 6 hrs return.
- In the morning if the weather is clear you will get stupendous views of Trisul and the mountains around. An arduous trek for about three hours gets you to Roop Kund. This is an optional trip for those who are feeling fit and are acclimatising well. Alternatively provision will be made to return down to Wan for those who do not feel strong enough. This trek to the outer rim of the Nanda Devi Sanctuary is spectacular. The mysterious pond of Roop Kund lies in the lap of Trisul Mountain. Every 12 years thousands of devout pilgrims undertake a difficult trek to the lake from Nauti village, near Karnaprayag. The pilgrims are said to be led by a mysterious four-horned ram, which takes them from there through Roop Kund to the shrine of Nanda Devi, where it disappears. The pilgrims on a silver palanquin carry a golden idol of the goddess, Nanda Devi. At Roop Kund, if the snow is not too deep, the skeletons and remains of human beings and horses can be seen, surrounded by glaciers and high peaks. The lake presents a magnificent sight and another 30 minutes' walk up to the ridge above the lake will reward you with wonderful views of Trisuli and the surrounding mountains. After spending some time exploring the area, you return to Bhogubasa. Camp overnight.
Day 5: TREK TO WAN. (8,045ft/2,437m). 7 to 8 hrs.
- The day begins with a 3-hour return trek to Bedni Bugyal. The track then makes a long, steep descent through a fine forest of firs and rhododendrons and across a beautiful clearing with much of the track being paved. After another drop down, you reach the river 2½ hours later - a good place for a late lunch. After a climb to reach the main valley, at the head of which is Wan. We camp above the village, by a Tourist Bungalow on a wide tree-fringed terrace. Just above the Bungalow is the sacred grove of Latu, another famous local devta (spirit), whose temple lies under one of the biggest Deodar trees in India. Unfortunately some of its branches have snapped off near the top. Wan is a fascinating old village where the men and women continue to wear traditional Garhwali brown, homespun wool blankets pinned across the chest. Camp overnight.
Day 06: TREK TO SUTOL VIA KUNOL. (7,500ft/2,300m/) 6 hrs.
- Walking on past Latu's temple the path climbs gently up through magnificent cypress trees to the beautiful Kukin Khal pass at 10,070ft/3,069m, reached in about 1¾ hours. There are two graves of holy men here. The path drops down to broad meadows with the track marked with stone rows on either side. Another 45 minutes takes you to the end of the broad meadows to near Kunol. From here the track drops down east again on a long undulating traverse through magnificent forest, filled with monkeys, to the confluence of two rivers to camp below Sutol after another two and a half hour walk. You may get views of Trisul through the trees. Camp overnight.
Day 07: TREK TO DEKHANDHAR. (6,955ft/2,120m). 6 hours.
- A short climb brings you to Sutol a lovely village with paved alleys and heavy slate roofs. There is a post box here should you wish to post letters. The track now traverses along the valley with a number of ups and downs and huge drops down to the river gorge below, through forests smelling of fir trees. After dropping to a river, crossed by a green girder footbridge there is a long steep climb to a little temple on a col at 8,200ft. From here, passing fields and small-holdings, and dropping once again to a side river, there is a good place for lunch after a total of about four and a half hours. An upper track leads you to a bridge and then a gradual climb through forest to emerge near farms and fields up to a splendid camp site near Dekhandhar at 2,120m on a ridge with amazing views of Trisul, one and a quarter hours from the lunch stop. Camp overnight.
Day 08: TREK TO GHUNNI. (8,200ft/2,500m) 4 hrs.
- A short climb brings you to Sutol, a lovely village with paved alleys and heavy slate roofs. There is a post box here should you wish to post letters. The track now traverses along the valley with a number of ups and downs and huge drops down to the river gorge below, through forests smelling of fir trees. After dropping to a river, crossed by a green girder footbridge there is a long steep climb to a little temple on a col at 8,200ft/2,500m. From here, passing fields and smallholdings, and dropping once again to a side river, there is a good place for lunch after a total of about three hours. A steep upper track leads you to a bridge and then a gradual climb through forest to emerge near farms and fields with possible further views of Trisul, before reaching the village of Ala, which has a house with magnificent carvings on the porch. After three hours from your lunch stop you reach your camp by the school of the small village of Ghunni. It should be possible to visit the nearby village of Ramani to have a look round. It is a typical Garhwal village with friendly people and attractive houses with heavy slate roofs and paved alleys surrounded by fertile fields. It has a solar-powered electricity scheme. Camp overnight.
Day 09: TREK TO KALIAGHAT. (7,500ft/2,300m) 7 hrs.
- This is a long but rewarding day. From the campsite you climb steeply for 1,000ft/300m on a good zigzagging track to emerge on open grassy grazing meadows. Snow peaks begin to emerge above the forest to the north. The path continues up through forests of rhododendron, pines and oak with more pastures for summer grazing with shepherd huts. You may meet flocks of sheep and goats moving along the track. The highest point, reached in 2¼ hours from the camp, at 3,064m/10,053ft, is the Ramni Pass, also called Binayak Top. It is also possible to make out the Kauri Pass, which we will cross on Day 14. From now on there may be a chance to see the multi-coloured monal pheasant but they are very shy, being hunted by the locals for the pot. You then trek gently down for a while across more pastures and open glades, then into lovely forests of horse chestnuts and walnut trees with waterfalls. The track now starts a steep zigzag descent, reaching the colourful village of Jhi-jhi. The trail carries on down past small farms through woods to the spectacular suspension bridge at 1,840m/6,037ft across the Birehi Gorge, currently inhabited by a large number of monkeys. From here a very steep climb takes you back to 7,382ft/2,250m, where the track eases after a one and a half-hour ascent. From here the path is almost flat passing through fine rhododendron forest with long-tailed magpies flitting about. There are many streams and waterfalls as the route contours round many deep re-entrants. If you look down to the deep gorge below you can see the landslide and the Gauna Lake, which burst to flood the whole of the Ganga Valley down to Rishikesh in 1898. After going round the head of a horseshoe valley you reach two lovely rivers cascading down under the path. From here there is a short climb to a spot called Kaliaghat, which is a good campsite near the village of Pana. Camp overnight.
Day 10: TREK TO DHAKAUNI VIA SARTOLI AND DOMABHITI. (11,000ft/3353m) - 7 hours.
- This is another long, but spectacular day. The route traverses above the village and then starts a steep climb up into rhododendron forest, with many zigzags - it is a broad, well made track but after quite a number of false summits, a Col is reached at 9,842ft/3,000m. The path now descends gently, traversing along the valley, to open meadows with views across to the Kuari Pass. The track then traverses down around the side of the valley, across several streams, before it plunges down a very steep and loose section, much of which has been washed away by the monsoons - an awkward and loose descent.
At the bottom, you will see that the river has cut through a deep rocky dramatic gorge, to your right. This is wild country and there are no settlements, while blue sheep and the Himalayan black bear are said to be roaming here. From the river, it is a very steep climb of about 3,000 feet (900 m) with a small break about half the way up to cross a large stream. A final climb brings you above the tree-line to the campsite on the large pastures where sheep and goats graze in summer, with the Kauri Pass towering above. Camp overnight.
Day 11: TREK ACROSS KAURI PASS (KUARA KHAL) (12,000ft/3,658m) TO KULARA (11,155ft/3,400m). 8 hours.
- A long and spectacular day. You aim to cross the pass so that you will have the benefit of the clear early morning views the following day. The route traverses above the village of Pana and then starts a steep climb up into rhododendron forest, with many zigzags - it is a broad, well made track but after quite a number of false summits, a Col is reached at 9,842ft/3,000m. The path now descends gently, traversing along the valley, to open meadows with views across to the Kauri Pass. The track then traverses down around the side of the valley, across several streams, before it plunges down a very steep and loose section, much of which has been washed away by the monsoons - an awkward and loose descent. At the bottom, you will see that the river has cut through a deep rocky dramatic gorge, to your right. This is wild country and there are no settlements, while blue sheep and the Himalayan black bear are said to be roaming here. From the river, it is a very steep climb of about 3,000ft/900m with a small break about half the way up to cross a large stream. A final climb brings you above the tree-line to a pasture where sheep and goats graze in summer. The Kauri Pass towers above. The climb up to the pass is made on a zigzag track to the top. You make a traverse along the high ridge past a shrine to Shiva before dropping down to your camp at Kulara which is the name given to a clearing amongst the Rhododendrons about half an hour and 500ft/150m below Shiva's shrine to await the spectacular views of the morning. Camp overnight.
Day 12: TREK TO TAPOVAN. (6,562ft/2,000m/), DRIVE TO JOSHIMATH.
- For the keen types among you, it is worth getting up early to go back up to the pass for the dawn views of the Himalaya. Frank Smythe, who came this way in 1931 en route to Kamet (25,443ft/7,757m), the second highest mountain in this region, summed it up beautifully. "We breasted the slope and halted, silent on the path. No words would express our delight. The Himalaya were arrayed before us in a stupendous arc". Some of the mountains seen are Kamet, Nilkanth (7,141m/23,425ft), Dunagiri (7,067m/23,182ft) and Changabang (6,864m/22,516ft), with even Nanda Devi herself visible if you walk along the ridge for a while. The blinding vision of snow peaks make all the effort worthwhile, for it is often said that this is one of the greatest mountain views in the world. A long way below lies Tapovan and the roadhead. A 5-hr walk. A very steep descent to the Tapovan, down through woods and pastures. At Tapovan your bus will be waiting for the drive to Joshimath which, although having none of the elegance of its sister hill resorts, does have a charm and beauty of its own. It is the site where the famous Adiguru Shankaracharya attained enlightenment before beginning his campaign for the unification of India and the revitalization of Hinduism. There is a temple here called the Na Singh where the statue of Na Singh involves a legend that when the arm of the idol finally breaks, the road to Badrinath will be blocked. The arm gets smaller every year! Time to restock supplies and relax, and look around this bustling garrison town. It is the centre of the Indian ski scene, and the cable car up to the resort of Auli starts in the middle of Joshimath. Overnight in the Uday Palace Hotel.
Day 13: DRIVE TO GOVIND GHAT, TREK TO GHANGARIA. (10,100ft/3,079m). 6-hr walk.
- Today you leave Joshimath on the pilgrim road to Badrinath and have to go in convoy as the road up to the holy temple is only one way. Following the Alaknanda you stop at Govind Ghat half way up the gorge. You leave the vehicles and walk up the Bhiundhar Valley to Ghangaria. This is a pilgrim road for Sikhs who in their thousands make a pilgrimage in the summer up here to the lake of Hem Kund which is holy to them, and Ghangaria is a camp for them before they make the arduous climb to the 4,000m/13,123ft lake. The walk up to Ghangaria is beautiful despite the ample evidence of the passage of the Sikh multitude. The path rises steeply through rich forest with eventual views of some of the great peaks around. You camp in or around Ghangaria, which is deserted in spring and summer. Camp overnight.
Day 14: TREK INTO VALLEY OF THE FLOWERS. 2 hrs.
- It is a 1km gradual ascent to the Valley of the Flowers, following the path at the left fork a little after Ghangaria. You then descend steeply into a narrow gorge. After crossing the bridge over the Bhiundhar Ganga, you climb for about another 1 km. The entrance to the valley is officially at the bridge over the Bhiundhar, though the full view down to Rataban opens up after 1 km or so. The valley in Spring is a sight to be seen and it will be an unforgettable experience. In autumn the turning leaves on trees to the south side of the valley entrance produce the colors. The valley extends for 10 km and through the centre there is a path, and the day can be spent exploring up towards the glaciers at the far end. Return trek to camp at Ghangaria. Camp overnight.
Day 15: RETURN TREK TO GOVIND GHAT, DRIVE BACK TO JOSHIMATH AND THEN ON TO NEAR RUDRAPRAYAG.
- If you have the energy it is possible to make an early start to climb the 3,000ft/1,000m on a zig zag track up to HemKund. Poised among a ring of 16,500ft/5,000m peaks it is an incredible place, and the holy temple itself quite a surprise. Otherwise you walk down the Bhiundar Valley to Govind Ghat where you meet the vehicles for the return drive to Joshimath and on to the Monal Resort Hotel near Rudraprayag for the last evening before the return to civilisation. Time to relax and prepare for any celebrations that may be planned by the camp staff. Overnight at the Monal Resort Hotel.
Day 16: (Spring) DRIVE TO RISHIKESH. (Autumn) DRIVE TO MERCURY RIVER CAMP, NEAR RISHIKESH. 230 kms. 11 hrs.
- A long drive on a very good (and very spectacular road), the last part of which will be following the route you took at the start of the trek. As the road is generally in much better condition than the last section of the outward leg the journey should take the same time, with plenty of opportunities to stop and take photos or have a glass of tea. Look out for the road signs, which are a great deal more imaginative than anything you might see in Europe. On the Spring departure we drive to Rishikesh and stay overnight at the lovely Glass House hotel set in tropical gardens on the banks of the Ganges. On the Autumn departure we stay overnight at the Mercury River Camp near Rishikesh.
Day 17: (Spring) MORNING REST OR SIGHTSEEING IN RISHIKESH, AFTER LUNCH DRIVE TO DELHI. (Autumn) MORNING REST OR OPTIONAL RIVER RAFTING, AFTER LUNCH DRIVE TO DELHI.
- In the morning for the Spring departure, you have the option of relaxing or looking around Rishikesh. For the autumn, you may like to try some river rafting or take a ferry over across the Ganga and walk along the other bank for 2kms. This will bring you to the famous Lakshman Jhula Bridge, which joins the main Badrinath road. Here are more temples and museums, for Rishikesh is essentially a pilgrim town, and the bulk of the pilgrims are simple villagers whose intense devotion give both Haridwar and Rishikesh a special atmosphere, a taste of the old India that continues to flow in modern dress as the Ganga canal has been harnessed to irrigate the fields of modern India. At sundown each evening there is a service at the side of the river, at the bathing ghat in the middle of Rishikesh at which tiny candle rafts are lit and let out into the choppy water to float away into the dusk. After lunch for both departures you drive back to Delhi, transfer to a restaurant for evening meal (at client's expense). One day room kept available at the Oberoi Maidens Hotel, late evening transfer to the airport.