"Let your life lightly dance on the edges of Time like dew on the tip of a leaf. " ~ Tagore


Reminiscing about the Khedatal Trek

Alfiya Calcuttawala remembers an organised trek to Khedatal that he enjoyed thoroughly.

It was early October and dusk was settling in. The unexpected hailstorm an hour earlier had left us wet, cold and miserable. The campsite was nowhere in sight and to make matters worse our guide Rawat had vanished too. The knee-wobbling ascent over the last three hours had drained our energy. Our legs were aching and the heavy rucksacks were hurting our backs.

We gazed at the impossibly steep mountains surrounding us. Four more days to go. And to think we had actually paid for all this to 'The Wanderers' who were hauling us up the mountain and taking obvious pleasure in it!

The sadistic thought that hundreds of other trekkers were at this moment crawling up some high pass in the Garhwal Himalayas, in similar conditions of physical breakdown, brought the smile back to our faces and we began climbing again. Our destination- Khedatal Lake. 10,500 ft. An unheard of lake in the middle of nowhere.

Over the next four days, with fatigue as our dear friend , we passed through paradise. Trekking in these uncharted mountains was sheer bliss. The small and enchanting Khedatal Lake with the silhouette of Dropti ka Danda (19,600 ft) and Jaonli (21,700 ft) reflected in it's crystal clear water was a sight to behold.

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Sitting beside the lake, I understood what Galen Powell meant in his essay "Storming the Myth", when he wrote: "at the heart of the climbing experience is a constant state of optimistic expectation and when the state is absent there is no reason to continue climbing. 'I have found it' can apply not only to those who feel they have found God, but those who, like me, continue to find Shangri-las where we experience fresh, childlike joy in everything that surrounds us, including memories that are the most long lasting and intense of our lives."

For the pilgrim on his Char Dham Yatra or the adventurer experiencing the thrills of trekking, river rafting, skiing or rock climbing , the Garhwal Himalayas with it's astounding scenic beauty - the high peaks sheathed in snow, the gurgling streams and waterfalls , the rolling valleys, flowering 'bugyals' ( high altitude meadows ) and the rich culture - has so much to offer the visitor. It's a destination that has retained it's popularity and charm over the decades and has never failed to enthrall nature lovers who visit it. No wonder then that Dr. T.Longstaff, the world renowned mountaineer , naturalist and trekker described Garhwal as "the most beautiful land in the mountains of the Asian subcontinent."

Additional information: Uttarkashi , 150 kms from Rishikesh is a good base to explore the wilderness of the Garhwal Himalayas. Treks to Nachiketatal, Dodital, Dayara, Khedatal begin from road heads close by. Gangotri is 99 kms further up the road. From there one can trek to Nandanvan, Gaumukh, Tapovan or to Kedartal. The 13 km Yamunotri trek can be done from Hanumanchatti, 100 kms from Uttarkashi by road. Tents, sleeping bags, porters, guides and all equipment can be hired from the many trekking agencies based in town.

From Hardwar, one can hire a jeep to Uttarkashi for Rs 1,300, passing Rishikesh en route. Alternately, you can get off at Dehradun and proceed via Mussoorie, Dhanolti, Chamba and Tehri. The distance can easily be covered in a day. At Uttarkashi , one can stay at Hotel Relax (Rs.250-350 for a clean double bed) or at Ekanth Tourist Lodge (Rs. 250 for doubles) at Netala, a quiet, picturesque village on the banks of the Bhagirathi, 13 kms from Uttarkashi on the Gangotri Road.

For further information on hotel bookings, bus details or adventure sports contact the helpful GMVN office at Nariman Point in the MTDC office complex at Mumbai.

Itinerary of the Khedatal Trek

The more you advance the more pitfalls your feet will meet. The path that leads on is lighted by one fire -- The light of daring burning in the heart. 'The Voice of Silence' This is a classic wilderness trek, a trail that is used only by the local Gujjars or nomadic cattle tribesmen. From the dense bamboo forests in the lower reaches to the glorious meadows (or bugyals) at altitudes above 10,000 ft. the trail takes one across numerous streams and quaint Gujjar villages that are completely deserted from October to March. In fact, staying in their huts for a couple of days in their absence is the highlight of this trek.

The picturesque Khedatal at 11,000-ft (approx.) is hedged in the mountainside and surrounded by a luxuriant forest cover. The silhouette of Jonli (21,700 ft) and Dropti Ka Danda ( 19,600 ft) is reflected in the placid waters of the lake. This is God's own country - where the spirit of the trekker mingles with the soul of the mountain birds and the breeze and the high passes and the rolling meadows.

Day 1: Drive from Hardwar to Uttarkashi (1158 Mts. or 3798 ft) by jeep. 7 hrs. Via Rishikesh and Tehri. Stay at Hotel in Uttarkashi town.

Day 2: 6 AM. 7 hrs trek. After breakfast, drive to BHUKKI (1900 Mts. Or 6232 ft) road head on SH 53 by jeep (1 hrs). Our trek begins from here.

Crossing the footbridge over the river Bhagirathi, the climb begins. You will cross the main village of Bhukki after an hour's climb. The inhabitants of this village are simple hardworking hill folk . Their way of life has been described beautifully in Frank Smythe's account of 'the Valley of Flowers' as being "the life of the mountain peasant the world over; a struggle against adverse forces, yet forces that once tamed will yield, if not bountifully, at least enough to maintain a fit and hardy race"

Night halt at TELA (2773 Mts. or 9095 ft), a Gujjar village.

Day 3: Trek from TELA to JUNGLE CAMP. 5 hrs. Moderate climb.

There is a distinct change in the scenery around you. The bamboo forests of the lower reaches have given way to cedar , pines, chestnut etc. Numerous streams are crossed over fallen logs with the white waters rushing in torrents beneath you.

At times Rawat, our guide halts and observes the ground carefully, gleefully showing you the fresh pugmarks of the "baghira" or leopard. Sometimes he shows you the hoofmarks of the "burrasingha" a species of deer, or the nail marks of the Himalayan Black Bear on a gigantic walnut tree.

Day 4: Trek from JUNGLE CAMP to KAROLI (3467 Mts. or 11371ft) 7 hrs. of hard arduous climbing. The trail again crosses numerous streams and seems to go on endlessly. The occasional breathers allow you to soak in the beauty of the majestic scenery. As you approach the village of Karoli, nestled in the midst of a bugyal and surrounded by awesome peaks on three sides you are struck with a sense of wonderment at how quickly you forget the tiredness of your limbs. The twin peaks of Jonli and Dropti Ka Danda are straight ahead.

Day 5: Trek from KAROLI to KHEDATAL. (11,000 ft). 8 hrs. A fabulous hike at almost level ground. The sense of wonder doesn't really cease even today. It's as if you've come 'knocking on heaven's door'. Spend the day at Khedatal or walk for hours across the massive meadow to the base of Jaonli or Dropti ka Danda. Nothing much is known about Khedatal. Rawat and the porters claim that it is a sacred lake and the abode of the 'Nag Devata', in whose honour a shrine has been built in the village of Uri, which we'll cross on Day 9. The silhouette of Jonli (21700ft) and Dropti Ka Danda (19600 ft) is reflected in the placid waters of the lake. This is indeed God's own country!

Day 6: Khedatal to PANGRIAPOL ( 3,120 mts or 10,233 ft ). 7 hrs trek Through the LINGUDHAR PASS (3,876 Mts. or 12,713 ft). There is hardly any distinct trail in the knee-wobbling ascent to Lingudhar. Grand panoramic views greet the trekker on top. There are no trees on the pass - just grasses, herbs and mosses strewn all over. From here it's a gradual and much appreciated descent to Pangriapol, another quaint Gujjar village.

Day 7: Pangriapol to Gangnani (1,876 Mts. or 6,153 ft ). 3 hrs trek. Within 2 hrs we cross Uri village. The trek ends at Gangnani above the hot spring temple complex. Near the tank called Rishikund is a temple dedicated to sage Parasher, believed to be the father of Ved Vyas, author of the 'Mahabharata' .It is considered sacred by pilgrims proceeding to Gangotri, who take a dip in the warm waters of the Kund. Relax in the pool for a while. An exhilarating experience that soothes your tired bones. Overnight at the lodge at Gangnani or at Uttarkashi.

Day 8: After breakfast, departure for Dehradun via Dhanolti and Mussoorie by jeep. Lunch en route at Dhanolti. Arrival at Dehradun at 5 p.m. Suggestions on what to carry:

Cap, woollen balaclava, light weight rain coat or umbrella, woollen socks, small torch with cells, toilet requisites, woollen gloves, waterproof cover for turbans, rubber soled trekking shoes (PVC soled shoes and canvas shoes should be avoided), heavy woollen pullover/ jacket, repair kit (needle, thread and buttons), pen knife, camera, films, cells, dark glasses, personal medical kit.

The trek is graded as being 'moderate'. You will enjoy the trek if you are physically fit. We suggest a minimum of one month's exercise prior to the trek to enjoy it more.

To catch up on some excellent reading, check out "Glorious Garhwal", a collection of wonderful essays by stalwarts such as Frank Smythe, Ruskin Bond, Bill Aitken and edited by Ganesh Saili. Published by Lotus Collection it costs Rs 225/-

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Editor: Romola Butalia       (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.