Winter is coming: Rupin Pass

It was the month of May, when temperatures across most Indian cities were touching close to 40 degrees Celsius. News of heat waves sweeping across the nation made us find solace in Himalayas and thus me and my friend, Adin set out for Rupin Pass adventure.

Rupin Pass is a high altitude mountain pass (15,250 feet above MSL) connecting Dhaula in Uttrakhand with Sangla in Himachal Pradesh. Hence, it acts a bridge between the Garhwal mountain range in Uttrakhand with the Kinnaur mountain range in Himachal. It is a traditional shepherd route. The route follows Rupin river right till its source. The trail passes through remote Himalayan villages, apple orchards, snow bridges, rocky trails and flowery meadows.

Day 0 – Dehradun to Dhaula.

Battling the Delhi heat, we reached Dehradun early morning. Here we met few of our trek mates. Our group had eighteen members from different parts of our country and three cabs were arranged to take us to our base camp Dhaula. The mountain roads made its way through scenic pine forests and finally entered the Govind Pashu national park in Uttrakhand. Here the rivers Rupin and Supin merge to give birth to Tons river, which finally meets Yamuna.

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Pine forests along the way

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Our campsite on first day

We reached Dhaula around 5 PM. Dhaula is a small village located deep inside the national park. Our campsite was set beside the gushing Tons river. As the evening bore down upon us, we gathered in the dining tent for formalities, instructions from our trek lead and introductions.

There were a group of three bongs – Arka Halder, Arka Mukherjee and Yajna

A group from Mumbai – Shloka, Duhita, Abhishek and Radhika.

Colleagues cum friends from Pune – Avantika, Ameya, Shankar and Anudeep.

Sudhanshu – a lawyer from Delhi, Gurpreet – our enthusiastic Physics teacher, Chandan – our photographer in the trek, Neelam, a psychiatrist from Mumbai and Shilpita – our youngest member from Hyderabad were solo trekkers.

Then of course, I was accompanied by my friend, Adin. Apart from this we had Bhupinder, our trek lead with Satish and Vishal bhai. They would be our friend, guide and savior for the next few days.

Day 1 – Dhaula to Sewa

We started for Sewa around 8:30 AM in the morning. Few of our members from the group chose to offload backpacks so they had to carry it only till a small hut nearby. Chandan and Arka had particularly heavy bags weighing more than 15 kgs but instead of offloading them, they chose to bear the pain of carrying it. The trail was easy and there was a section of steep climb in the middle. However, with passing time the sun became harsher which made the walk exhausting.IMG_3547.JPG

Arka (left) with his huge bag. No one figured out the mystery behind the rope yet.

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Steep section on the way from Dhaula to Sewa.

We reached Sewa around 1 PM. Our campsite was beside a small temple in middle of the village. The architecture of the temple was unique.

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Our campsite beside the village temple.

After lunch some of us chose to relax in an abandoned house in the village which stored food grains. Chandan clicked some nice pics with his huge zoom lens. He truly looked like a Nat Geo pro photographer.

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Chandan in action

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Group pic near the iconic temple.

After some time, it was call for our acclimatization walk. We climbed up a nearby slope from where we got excellent views of the entire village.DSC08306.JPG

Soon it was time for snacks and the feared oxygen check. Our guide warned us that anyone with less than a reading of 80 would be sent back. Then dinner was served and after some star gazing, we all fell asleep.

Day 2: Sewa to Bawta

We were told that the trail from Sewa to Bawta would be similar to the previous day. So we decided to start early to avoid the heat as much as possible. The initial trail took us through a forest right up to the banks of Rupin river.

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Rupin river in full glory.

After walking few meters ahead, we had to cross a wooden bridge across the river. This bridge supposedly lies on the border of Uttrakhand and Himachal.

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Bridge at border of Uttrakhand and Himachal

After a small climb, we were exposed to open road which goes right till our destination Bawta. While we had to bear the heat, the scenery around us was beautiful. The Rupin river seemed to disappear somewhere in the valleys far ahead.

DSC08412.JPGAs we were nearing our destination, we saw trekkers from Indiahikes group getting transferred via jeep. It only increased our frustration levels since we had to walk for hours with the sun blazing upon us. But sometimes a hard day during treks has its own rewards. And for us the reward appeared in form of a beautiful home-stay right at the top of the village with amazing views. It was here that we would be spending the rest of the day.

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Our home-stay at Bawta had the perfect setup.

Soon clouds gathered from nowhere and it started raining heavily. This was a respite from the heat, which we had to bear for last few days. With electricity available in the home-stay we turned on some dance numbers. Yajna turned out to be the star with his perfect dance moves and everyone else swayed with the tune happily. The rain during the evening caused a sudden dip in temperature, but it was least of our worries today since we had the luxury of blankets and soft beds.

Day 3: Bawta to Jhaka

Today was the easiest among all the days during our trek. Unlike the earlier days, today our trail was through forests. There was a beautiful waterfall, where we rested.

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Waterfall on the way

Soon it was time to move on. Our guide mentioned that this was like a test for the climbs coming up in next few days. The route took us through pine forests and was very scenic.

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We reached Jhaka quite early around 12 PM. This village is also known as hanging village since it is situated on such steep slope. This village had beautiful kids. Some of them seemed to resemble child actors in Hollywood movies. Our acclimatization walk took us to the top of the village where there is a temple. From there one can truly admire the view of the entire village.

Village kids at Jhaka

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Jhaka village

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With great effort Yajna and Arka managed to gather the entire group for a pic.

Since we had lot of time for the day, we spent rest of the day playing Uno and Antakshari. This was the most relaxed day in the entire trip.

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Day 4: Jhaka to Dhanderas Thatch.

This day was supposed to be one of the difficult days during our trip. We had to cover a distance of around 12 km and hence after getting a well deserved rest in the home-stay, we started around 8 AM. Since the day was long, we were also provided with packed lunch. There was a initial descent through dense pine forest which again took us to the banks of Rupin river. Some locals operated a Maggi and tea stall which provided us with much needed refreshments. A big furry Himalayan dog straying near the area became the focus point of attention for the animal lovers in our group.

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After the break, we had to start climbing again. Soon it started drizzling. The trail was narrow so everyone had to move in one line. As we gained altitude, we saw the first signs of snow. At multiple places the snow had formed bridges over the waterfalls. Our guide mentioned that we also had to cross similar bridges later in the trail.

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As we gained altitude, there was also a change in scenery. The pine forests got replaced with Birch and Chir trees. Bark of Birch trees were used as paper to write ancient scriptures. Shrubs of Rhododendron laden with colorful flowers added the beauty of the trail. However it also started raining heavily which caused a sudden dip in temperature. My hands got numb with cold and somehow water also seeped inside my shoes which made climbing difficult.

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Birch Forests

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Rhododendron

After climbing more for some time, we entered a vast open valley. Now the rain had stopped and the sun shone again, so quickly the weather changes in such terrains. The once gushing Rupin river now transformed itself to a silent stream taking a serpentine path through the middle of the valley. The meadows were covered with beautiful yellow and blue flowers and on the sides were huge mountain walls decorated with snow. At such altitudes, the treeline ends and grasslands begin. The aura was peaceful and serene.

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Bhupinder and Satishji

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Trekkers crossing snow bridge across the river

Our campsite was right at the end of the valley. In fact we crossed two Indiahikes campsite along our way. But then the location of  our campsite provided excellent view of the Rupin waterfall. We were right at the base of the waterfall. It was among the best campsites, I have visited till date. I was simply struck by its beauty when our trek-lead, Bhupinder chirped “No pain no gain”.

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As the sun set and darkness engulfed us, it started to get cold. Suddenly dark clouds appeared again and then a miracle occurred. Instead of the regular rain-fall, it started snowing. It was the first snowfall that we encountered in our journey, but my shoes and socks were wet and I was feeling cold and tired, so I avoided venturing out.

Some of our members also started showing symptoms of altitude sickness after a long and tired day. I think the best way to control this is to keep yourself hydrated and not take too much physical stress. Our body needs more oxygen to carry out strenuous activities and oxygen is a scarce commodity in such heights. Also in cold environment, people tend to drink less water which aggravates the symptoms. Proper acclimatization days are necessary for our bodies to adapt to such conditions.

Day 5: Dhanderas Thatch to Upper waterfall camp

This day was a short day before the actual D-day. I liked the way, how TTH (Trek the Himalayas) had organized easy and hard alternate days in the entire trip. We were to climb up till the point from where the Rupin waterfall starts. Although the climb was short, it was steep and there were no well defined trails. We were provided with micro-spikes for snow sections. Our guide insisted that we start early since the sun melts the snow during later part of the day which makes climbing difficult.

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As we climbed up higher, we were treated with excellent bird eye views of the entire valley. Soon we reached our camp which was the on the edge of the valley. Our tents were pitched on white snow. Huge patches of snow were lying untouched all over the place. It was an ideal ground for snow-fights.

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View of the valley enroute upper waterfall camp

Soon it was time for our acclimatization walk. We were introduced to our technical guide Vikas, who taught us some techniques to climb up in the snow without slipping all the way down. Once we came back down to our camp, it started snowing heavily, but bad weather, cold and snowfall could not stop some people from dancing out in the open.

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Day 6: Upper waterfall camp to Ronti-gad via Rupin pass

Today was the pass crossing day and the most difficult day during our entire trek. We were made to start at 6 AM since we had a lot of distance to cover and some of the sections were difficult which would take time. Since it was quite early, I barely managed to have a small portion of porridge as breakfast. We were given packed lunch. We started slowly with everyone moving in a single line. Since we were the first batch of Rupin Pass trek, the path was not well defined. At several places the guides carved out trails for us to cross. The snowfall had created several risky sections, where a slip can be accidental. But slowly and steadily, we moved on.

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As we were climbing up, we saw a shepherd with his pack of sheep and goats. Rupin pass is a shepherd trail after all. The man was climbing with such ease as if it was a normal route for him. Behind him followed hundreds of sheep and goats guarded by some dogs.

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After climbing up further, we were exposed to a vast open snow field. The entire area was covered with snow. We had to cross this for the final ascent of Rupin pass. Though the scenery was ethereal, walking on snow requires more effort compared to plain land. Occasionally we had to clear snow balls from our feet, otherwise it gets slippery.

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Finally as we gathered for the final ascent, the weather started to get bad. From the base the pass looked like a 80 degree steep and impossible climb. Our guides assisted us with a rope and asked us to hit the snow hard with each step so that the climb becomes easy for the person behind. It was a true example of team-work.

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Rupin pass seen from base

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Summit photo

Climbing down the pass was fun. We quickly learned the art of glissading, where you slide down on snow with your legs controlling the speed. It truly made me forget the pain and the difficult climb. It was actually quite late in the day, but the snowfall continued. We decided to open our packed lunch. I think, I ate more snowflakes compared to actual food.

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Around 4 PM, the snowfall stopped and at lower altitudes the snow patches turned out to be very slippery. With the assistance of our guides, we somehow managed to cross them without any major accidents. We were even assisted by staff from other trek groups. I think it was important that everyone reaches safely rather than focusing on your own group.

As we descended further, down it started raining. On the opposite side of the valley there were beautiful snow slopes right till a small stream flowing below. But I was exhausted walking from morning with almost no food. We saw campsites of several other agencies but there was no sign of our campsite.

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This is not our camp

Finally, we saw a toilet tent perched up on small hill which turned out to be our campsite. After trekking for almost 12 hours, now we had to climb this to reach our camp. It really tested our patience. Somehow TTH chooses their places to stay right at the top. The rain didn’t seem to stop and it was cold and windy. In spite of the difficult weather our support staff prepared the most delicious food among all other days. Our menu consisted of gulab jamun and egg curry, which was much appreciated for we were starving after a hard days trek.

Day 7: Ronti-gad to Sangla

I woke up to the bright sunshine and chit chat going on outside our tent. The weather Gods seemed kind to us today. It was the last day of our trek and we thought of starting our descent bit late considering the difficult day we had yesterday. Our trek lead handed over certificates on successful completion of the trek and congratulated each one of us. He also mentioned that the weather conditions increased the difficulty level of the trek and some sections were risky.

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Our campsite at Ronti-gad

I thought of descending slowly today and walking at the end of the group. As I walked, I was recollecting the incidents and memories of earlier days. On the way, we saw Yaks leisurely strolling in the vast meadows. It was peaceful after the intense previous day. At last we saw Sangla from distance. We were finally back to civilization.

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Rupin Pass trek tested us on different types of terrains with varying weather conditions. Some say that strong bonds of friendships are forged during toughest of times and this trek did exactly that. We joined as strangers on this trek and emerged as good friends. I will really miss our Uno sessions, hilarious leg pulling between Arka and Yajna and those calm peaceful moments during our trip. I truly hope that in future our paths cross each other again.

The pic credits goes to all our members in the group who turned out to be excellent and creative photographers.

We booked this trip through Trek the Himalayas. They had an amazing support staff and everything was well organized with the highlight of amazing food provided everyday.

 

 

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9 thoughts on “Winter is coming: Rupin Pass

  1. You complete our journey. Truly it’s​ not just make this trek memorable but also touch my heart deeply. After reading this am very much overwhelmed​. Definitely we cross each other in future. Am eagerly looking for it..love you bro
    Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Nicely written. I was in the 15th May batch. Kept hearing from time to time about the difficulties the previous batches faced. Luckily, weather god were a lot kinder on us. Such a beautiful trek it was. Thanks for recollecting those memories.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wonderfully written…. It urges me to go for this trek…. Hopefully will do it very soon… Waiting for your next blog of our trek together..will not disclose the name of our trek…. Let it be a surprise.

    Like

  4. Excellent writeup! Even though I haven’t set foot in the Himalayas, I could relate to so many things from my Sahyadri treks! And Gulab Jamun in the hills! Whoa! Does it get any better than that after a tiring day? 😀
    All in all, a great post! Keep blogging! Cheers

    Like

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