3rd June, 2014 :- Finally we started our journey with a desire to summit Rudugaira peak. Rudugaira or Rudragaira is a walking peak in the Garhwal region of India and can be classified as a mini expedition. Earlier we held several brain storming meetings before we could zero in to the itinerary, journey date, responsibility distribution, etc. We were a team of six, of which 3 were pretty experienced and 3 were more or less novice with a few low altitude treks in Sikkim under their belts. 4 of us boarded on the so called “Super Special” train and the remaining 2 were supposed to meet at Haridwar. But little could we imagine what was in store for us. The train was PATHETIC. I wonder why and how the name “Super Special” was coined. It was hopelessly slow, running out of bare minimal service with slightly higher fare than other trains. We were really tensed, whether we would ever be reaching Delhi or not.
4th June :- We missed the Janshatabdi train which we planned to avail to reach Rishikesh. The “Super Special” train, which was supposed to reach Delhi at 11:00 in the morning, reached at 6 in the evening. The only option we had with us was to rush to ISBT with the heavy luggage that we had. We had to negotiate a lot with the bus conductor who was not allowing us to board on with those heavy luggage, but we managed by paying extra. It was very hot and dry in Delhi and such a boring overnight train journey already had wrecked our nerve.
5th June :- We reached Rishikesh and headed towards Nataraj hotel jeep stand. We booked a hotel for a couple of hours so that we could freshen ourselves up. In the meanwhile, our remaining 2 friends joined us and we were just ready to book the jeep for Uttarkashi. One thing we observed while booking the jeep….. if you can manage the driver outside the authorized jeep stand, they would take a rate lesser than what he would have taken within the jeep stand. So, we all were ready to kickstart our journey for Uttarkashi. Our plan was to make out to Gangotri in every possibility as we were on a tight schedule. We reached Uttarkashi from where we divided ourselves in groups for marketing, arranging porters, etc. We fixed up our porters and guide from Karan of Chandra Sang Adventure Foundation from Kolkata itself. We purchased kerosene from him as well. The porters and guide, we were told, would join us the next day at Gangotri. We had our lunch at Bhandari Hotel, booked our jeep and started for Gangotri. The journey was enjoyable till Harshil, after which, the road condition was becoming poorer. It was very dusty and all on a sudden, it started raining. It went quite dark till we reached Gangotri. It was quite a crowded place with pilgrims everywhere. Temperature was dripping quite dramatically. We booked our hotel, had an early dinner and engaged ourselves in arranging our gunny bags. All we needed was a good sleep before we could start our real journey for Rudragaira.
6th June :- We were actually a bit worried whether the porters would be able to make it to Gangotri in the morning. In case they failed, we would have missed one good day. But they turned up in proper time. We offered our Puja at Gangotri temple, had our breakfast and were charged with a bill which dug deep holes in our pocket.
Bidding farewell to the crowd, at least for the next few days, we started our journey. Our first day’s target was to reach Nala Camp. It was an easy trail initially but we were shocked to see the number of trees being chopped down. Plastics in all forms and shapes were littered here and there. We tried to collect as much as we could but 10 persons were not enough to do the mammoth task. We were gaining in altitude gradually. Then came a stretch which had an incline of, perhaps, seventy degrees. Incidentally, that was not the main trail we followed. The guide informed that it was unusable for the time being as some large trees were uprooted. We were wandering how to overcome the stretch and were chalking out the easiest route. However, every possible alternative just seemed to be just the same. To add to the difficulty were knee high golden grass which were extremely slippery and thorns of wild trees. We tumbled many a times but managed to cross that stretch.
It was a time for a much needed break. After that, the route was moderately easy. We were walking along the right bank of the Rudraganga river. There were lots of Bhoj trees, inclined along the slope. We were amazed to see the technique that they adapted for their survival, perhaps, in thousands of years. Another major hitch was a log bridge over the Rudraganga river. Though it lasted for only a few steps, it posed a threat to us with the thought that missing a single step would carry us till Gangotri once again, though certainly not as a living being. Fortunately, we all crossed it in a single piece. After that, it was quite an easy trail with minor ups and downs…there were innumerable wild flowers of different colors and shapes studded in the green carpet of grass.
The dazzling water of the river and streams getting tossed among the boulders, rushing from great heights added to our exuberance. Without any fear of getting any water borne disease we were gulping mouthful after mouthful of water by placing ourselves along the edges of the streams. We all were in a good spirit with the weather God very much in our favor. We reached Nala camp and called that a day. We pitched our tent near a thin water source. The porters engaged themselves in preparing the dinner and we were busy experiencing a magical twilight. Incidentally, Jogin II is very prominent from the camp site and at times can be seen on the way to Nala Camp. We all were left speechless. We came out of that state when the porters called us for dinner. After dinner, we hadn’t had much activity, but to slip into our sleeping bags. Quite naturally, we all slept like logs with all the fears in mind of being crushed by dislodged boulders.
7th June :- Though we targeted to start at 8 in the morning, we were nearly 45 minutes late. We took a breadth of fresh air and made a fresh start. The sun was scorching above; the sky was blue giving me ample scopes to make full use of my polarizers. The trek for that day began with a steep incline and we were breathless crossing the very first hurdle of 200 meters itself.
But, it gave way to a majestic bugiyal and we were happy like never before. It was an ideal place to relax and we unbuckled our sacks, rolled, laid down, took innumerable photos, showing minimum interest to proceed any further. It was our guide who reminded us to start once again. We came back to reality and started all over again, reinvigorated. Then there was a boulder zone which was not that tough. Again came a bugiyal and again time for us to take rest.
The bugiyals were indeed excellent camping grounds and in fact, the trek from Nala Camp to Base Camp can be extended by a day if one stays at any of the bugiyal. Then there was an ice patch which seemed to be of a glacier worn out with ages. We didn’t face much problem crossing that and found yet another bugiyal greeting us. We all were enjoying nature at her very best.
But all good things must come to an end. Likewise, the series of bugiyals were over and we were moving through a trail, very dusty. The view of Jogin II was gradually opening up. There was, however, an unanticipated twist in the tale in store for me. There was a big waterfall in the route and as expected, extremely slippery with hardly any stable place to provide your feet with a good hold. I lost my grip and fell down and thankfully, was not hurt. But my confidence came down drastically with that. We took a break to have some food just after crossing the waterfall. There were lots of bharals way above us but we were very much exposed of being hit by boulders shattered by them. Suddenly, I encountered an enemy which cannot be seen, only experienced. I realized that it was really getting more and more difficult for me to breathe. I was feeling nauseatic and disoriented with a severe headache. I tried to inhale as much of air as I could but felt nothing was going in. I was experiencing the typical symptoms of acute mountain syndrome. There was a long stretch of massive incline ahead of us and I was apprehensive how to overcome that one with such a physical condition. I was sitting down every now and then and was extremely sleepy. It seemed that I won’t be able to cross the last part of that day’s trek in my entire lifetime. I was not at all in a mood to proceed. I observed all my comrades gradually going out of my sight. I gathered all my energy and stood up on my feet, just to sit down once again. I had no other option but to keep my sack there itself and drag till the campsite with the last bit of energy left in me. It took more than an hour to reach the campsite. Everyone, especially the guide bantered me after witnessing my foolish act of keeping the sack down under. But it was gracious enough for him to go down and bring it to our campsite. I tried to engage myself with all kinds of activities that I could but was not getting rid of the mountain sickness under any circumstances. The water source was a bit far from there. It was muddy and all our temptation to drink vanished immediately after seeing the condition. But there was no other way out. We had tea and I extended my hands to the porters to help them in cooking, which I thought, would be the best possible way to keep AMS at bay. I was trying my level best to sleep but suddenly realized that it was a full moon’s night and I didn’t want the opportunity of witnessing the glorious view at any cost. I was not feeling well still managed to come out of my tent and what I saw was hitherto unseen to me. The moon was at her full glow above Jogin II, it was glowing like pearls everywhere with soft soothing light peeping through the floating clouds. Nature was transcending. My head nodded with utmost awe and reverence and thanked the Himalayas to have given me the chance to witness such a magical moment. Mesmerized, I felt myself to be sequestered from the mundane world. My friends were sleeping inside the tent and I was all alone. I was being told that the base camp was haunted as few years ago four mountaineers died because of heavy snowfall. That evoked a sense of uncanny mystery and eerie in me. The wind was brutal as knife. I made no further delay and went inside the tent with a feeling that very little is left for me to be seen. But, sleep was very difficult to come and my headache was becoming more and more acute.
8th June :- The serene blue sky in the morning made me forget of the sleepless night. My head was heavy, barely showing any sign of improvement. There were several bharals in close distance from our tents. They hardly seemed to be bothered about our presence. We decided to stay in the base camp for another day for better acclimatization. My friends suggested me to walk around the camp and to explore the surroundings which, I denied. I was feeling extremely sleepy so opted to stay in the tent and a blunder that I committed. However, I was not able to sleep. Suddenly, the weather started to deteriorate. It was going from bad to worse. What it was dazzling blue in the morning turned cloudy and gloomy within barely an hour. There was a heavy whiteout and we were anticipating a snowfall. My friends returned in the right time and few minutes after that, it started to snow and a mild blizzard brewed in. We had no other alternative but to finish off our lunch and remain in our tent.
9th June :- We woke up with lot of anticipation that the weather has cleared up. And we were lucky that our prayers were answered. It was blue all around and the peaks even whiter with a fresh layer of snow. We were bedazzled. There was a moderate snow deposition outside our camp and we were a bit worried as the day of our descend was nearing by.
After our “warm up” and breakfast session, we decided to trek towards Gangotri summit camp, which was quite near to our camp. It was a walk through boulders — the gradient was uphill, though not so steep.
We chanced upon a couple of streams, which, though narrow was wild enough to turn one upside down. We crossed it carefully and as we were approaching towards the summit camp, the view was opening up all the more. Actually, we were walking through a moraine. It was indeed an experience for me. So peaceful and serene. Finally we reached Camp 1 of Gangotri peak. The snout of the Rudragaira glacier was prominent from there. However, it was a shocking sight for all of us. According to the Swiss contour map of 1992, the glacier was supposed to be much nearer…. near the ice patch about which I have mentioned earlier. But only in a mere span of 17 years, it has receded alarmingly. We could foresee the doomsday that was nearing by and once again realized that it’s high time we should act to counter the menace called global warming. With a heavy heart we offered Puja to Mother Nature and wished for her well being. We again returned to our camp along the same way. It was extremely windy along with a mild snowfall. We laid down on the bugiyal near our camp. Lunch was ready in the meanwhile. The time to part from the magical place was nearing by as the next day we were supposed to return to the Nala Camp. All of us, quite seemingly were in a “vacant or pensive mood.”
10th June :- Time to bid farewell….. we dismantled our tents where we have spent a few glorious days of our life. We have always emphasized on cleaning the campsite in our best possible way. While doing that we found loads of polythene in different formats…. from chocolate wrappers to mustard oil packets…… we cursed all those so called “nature lovers” who can’t even show their minimum sense of responsibility. It was a heavy collection. We disposed off all the rubbish by burning those. Its my sincere request to all of the people who claim to love nature — please do your part. Please keep the nature clean and green. We all are moving through a very critical phase when living beings are in utmost danger, some way or the other.
The time came to move on. Though we stayed in that place for a mere 2 days or so, I personally built up a strong emotional bonding with the place, the mountains, the rivulets, the grass, the boulders, the bharals, the amazingly blue sky….. with all who were a part of the place. It was my resolution that I would return to the place, someday or the other. Maybe with a different perception or with a different purpose. But I perhaps won’t get tired returning there over and over again. I have simply fallen in love with the place.
The trail was quite treacherous and through the boulders with golden grasses springing here and there. It was quite slippery all through. Few of us toddled over quite a few times. The inclines which we passed through while coming seemed to be equally treacherous while declining. I personally, though, didn’t have any problem as such. The bugiyals were greeting us with open arms. Once again, we didn’t let the opportunity to roll on those bugiyals go by. A very sweet place to savor on to our sweet taste buds. We had lots of sweet there, which were still in our ration. But with every passing minute, my mind was becoming heavier with the thought of leaving the place. Then came the time to move on once again….. we bid farewell to the bugiyals.
Within another hour or so, we reached Nala Camp. It was our day of “Campfire,” so all of us were very excited. We saved our tinned chicken till then. We all were tired, so had our dinner quite early. Though we were a bit melancholic as the days of merriment were going to get over very soon, we were also quite cheerful with the thought of returning home. The evening, like other evenings, we spent singing and chatting, though not for long. We retired onto “bed” to rejuvenate ourselves for the final battle….
11th June :- We dismantled our tent for the final time in the trek…. Weather was fine though I was very gloomy in my heart. Our trek was finally coming to an end. We started to move towards Gangotri along the same track laden with wild flowers keeping the Rudraganga river to our right. It was a bit difficult trail and there were places where even a slight imbalance would have knocked us a few hundred feet down. We were extremely cautious of our steps with able support from the porters. We were moving at our convenient pace with the thought of safely returning to Gangotri. Again came the log bridge with the gushing river underneath it. We came to know from few shepherds along the way that a couple of goats have fallen from that bridge and have flown away. And that naturally tarnished our confidence. Anyway, we managed to cross that bridge quite easily and refueled us with food. We didn’t want to waste much time taking rest as our target was to reach Uttarkashi by that evening. So we all were rushing towards Gangotri. But the trail was not showing any sign of ending. We came to know from our guide that we were following a different trail. Our toes were numb being constantly hit by boulders and rocks while descending. Finally, we could hear the sound of blowing horns of buses and cars. We could site those vehicles a little later. It was a shocking trail as there was an immense deforestation. The place was heavily dusty with lots of chopped off trunks. Few minutes later we saw tourists wandering here and there and few of them littering the place by throwing away bottles, plastics, etc. That was an indication that we have almost made it to Gangotri. At Gangotri we rested for a while and saw off the porter. I was feeling quite ashamed of myself. We are all blessed with material happiness but still, we are never satisfied, always craving for more, all participating in nasty rat race. But those porters, even with their bare minimal belongings to sustain their life were lucky enough to maintain their smile. The jeep was ready to take us to Uttarkashi and we bade farewell to Gangotri for the final time with a promise to come back again to be at Mother Nature’s lap, to savour her beauty, to escape at least for a time being from the world that is primarily materialistic…