Har-Ki-Doon, Uttranchal, India: Trek is the Way to See

Har-Ki-Doon (HKD) was my third trek with Youth Hostel Association of India (YHAI). Our journey started at youth hostel Mussorie. I, along with my husband and younger nephew reached there on May 15. The city of Mussorie is a beauty but in my view to get a real glimpse of beautiful Himalayas, a trek is a must. In the evening we reported at youth hostel Mussorie and stayed there. 

Next day we would go by bus to a place called Sankri travelling a distance of 180 Km roughly. It was a tiring bus journey and we reached at 7.00 pm on May 16, in the evening. Sankri was our base camp where after spending one day we would start our journey to HKD.

The Entire Group

Base Camp Sankri: Sankri is a small village surrounded by hills. The next day on May 17, we were taken out on acclimatization walk of 3 Km and as we gained some height, we enjoyed watching higher peaks but still nothing very spectacular. We were, on a voluntary basis, taught how to climb down on a steep rock with help of equipment and two qualified instructors assisted us. My husband (H) refused to get involved but my nephew and I enjoyed it a lot. My nephew also managed to slip in the first instance on the rock but he was securely tied to a rope and could manage to climb down easily after he got over his initial shock. It was 12.00 noon before we were through. We had nothing much to do after this but to think of our departure the next day.

Sankri to Juda ka Talab (May 18, 2004): It was a short walk of 4 Km. In this trek, instead of walking with the help of arrow marks, we had a guide everyday. The guide walks in the front, and a person chosen as group leader among us, at the back. Our group leader was from Chennai. Yours truly was chosen as environmental leader and my role was to see that we were not leaving plastic behind and believe me it is a tough task. Our group had in all 49 trekkers.

Among that were 14 trekkers was a particular Indian state and were extremely juvenile. They were under the impression that if they made enough noise probably the rivers, trees and mountains would acknowledge their presence! It was painful trekking with them. After a day or two, our prime concern was to walk much ahead of this group (which was not difficult, as they had a few extremely slow trekkers).

So 49 of us set out on our journey to Juda ka Talab. It was a fairly easy one. But our guide could have set more moderate pace, after all the distance was not much. He being a mountain lad of 20-21 would make us run for a while and then stop for a long time. At lunch point there was a temporary tea stall selling omelet and noodles and of course tea. The YHAI provides us with packed lunch. Our guide, Shahruk, played flute and sang a few songs. The people running the tea stalls, our guide and a few members from our group tried learning the local dance. My nephew too joined them and had fun. After a break of about an hour and a half we started again.

In the post lunch walk snow capped peaks started showing their tips to us and I was thrilled. We reached Juda ka Talab around 3.30 in the evening and spent a lot of time near the small pond. There was an empty depression ahead of this pond, full of small, yellow mountain flowers and we walked around that place also for a long time. Soup time was 6.00 pm and after that dinner was served.

After dinner was over around 7.30 we were called for a very irritating ritual called campfire. Of course, YHAI does not permit burning of wood but we are asked to gather and for those interested to present some song or dance or joke or the like. I would rather spend my time gazing at nature than doing our city stuff. By 8.00-8.30 pm we hit the bed, sleeping on the ground wrapped in a sleeping bag inside a tent. Next day we had to walk to Kedar Kantha, a distance of 7 Km.

Wild Rose Bush

Juda ka Talab to Kedar Kantha (May 19, 2004): For me, this part of trek was a simple walk, not much tiring. But for many others it was a tough walk. There was a couple in our group, surely somewhere in their late 50s, and the lady found the going a bit tough. Even a few schoolgirls found the going difficult, probably because we had reached a height of 11,000 feet and the air becomes thin leading to giddiness and vomiting sensation. But all of us ultimately reached our destination safe and sound. The way as usual was beautiful, full of mountain flowers, sheep grazing in the fields and mountain dogs with them. Lunch point again had our temporary tea stall and there were sheep and sheep dogs around along with the villagers tending to the herd.

Kedar Kantha campsite is a vast open ground of the size of two football fields surrounded by misty mountains from all side and a stream running nearby. In fact as soon as we arrive we are offered a drink of rhododendron flower extracts and a little later tea and snacks. This time campfire was optional and I did not attempt it. H and I tried to roam out near our campsite but the wind was picking and it was chilly, so we decided to call it a day. Next day we would walk to Dhunda.

Two Brats Pose for Us

Kedar Kantha to Dhunda (May 20, 2004): On this day, we had to cover a distance of around 9 Km. but much of it was uphill. We had to climb from around 11,000 feet to 12,500 feet and then go down again to around 11,000 feet. A girl in our group was not feeling well and had a very heavy rucksack. She had a strong vomiting sensation and a lot of difficulty walking. I decided to walk with her slowly. After walking for around 1 hour, she actually started vomiting and we asked her to give her rucksack to the guide. She did it with great reluctance. After that, we kept walking slowly and reached at Kedar Kantha Peak (12,500 feet) the highest point in this trek. On the way there were a few small patches of snow were Sunil started having fun and throwing snow on us. But later when he reached at the peak he developed a headache and was a bit off color. In the distance we could see snow covered peaks called Swargrohin
which literally means ‘stairway to heaven.’

At this peak was a temple devoted to Lord Shiva (sorry I do not have a digital photograph of it). We took a lot many photographs from here and many have turned out well. After a break of about 45 minutes we started off again. On route we had lunch and after that walked mostly down hill. Around 3.15 we reached a tea hut again with a stream running nearby. Probably most of us were feeling a bit of altitude sickness because the whole group was unusually quite at this place, even that group of 14 that acted as our car horn and deck music throughout the trek. After having tea, we slowly started towards our campsite at Dhunda.

This site was smaller than our previous one but still beautiful. Here again the campfire was optional and I missed it. I tried again walking with H but we gave it up after 10 minutes because of the chilly wind. Next day our trek was from Dhunda to Talhouti. In the night once I was securely inside the tent, it started raining and I had to run out to get my shoes in. But next morning it was sunshine again.

Dhunda to Talhouti (May 21, 2004): The distance to be traveled today was 11 Km but it did not involve any steep climb. The highlight of this trek was a huge patch of snow on the way. In my last trek of Sar Pass I had walked on snow for about 11 hours, so this was very little snow for me but for my nephew this was a first and he went berserk over it. All of the one and half-hours, he spent on that patch and in the end had to be pulled out of it to continue with our journey.

Once we reached our campsite my nephew had red eyes and said he was not feeling well. There again was this nasty cold wind in the evening. We wrapped him up properly in woolens and made him eat properly and in the morning he was his sunny self again. At this campsite we also met a sheep dog whom the camp leader used to call Bakri or goat. My nephew was very fond of Bakri.

A Typical Mountain Trail

Talhouti to Lekha Thach (May 22, 2004): This day we had to cover a distance of 12 Km but again not uphill. My nephew on the way was given bumps for talking a lot by a group of five engineering students to whom we were quite friendly now.

The best point on this route was our lunch point near a fast flowing stream that later joins river Tonks. I sat on rocks, near the edge of the stream, my feet dangling in the ice-cold water for a few seconds, to be pulled out quickly and put in again. I spent a long time there, looking at the marvelous view and cursing my hectic city life for a second or two. After that, the scenery would take my attention away. There were wild strawberries growing along the way.

A Mountain peak as Seen from Har Ki Doon Valley

We reached Lekha Thach in the evening around 4.00 pm. The campsite was small compared to others and after tea it started raining which turned into a small hailstorm. Many people enjoyed it a lot from inside of tents but a few of us put our rain sheets and came out. Soup was served inside the tent in this storm and we enjoyed it more than ever.

Later the rain stopped completely. But unfortunately at this campsite campfire was compulsory and we had to suffer through it. Our car horn group went on and on and finally stopped at 11.00 pm. I had told the camp leader at 9.30 that I needed my sleep to continue the next day and many of us got out at that hour. But unfortunately my tent was next to the tent where campfire was going on and I could hardly get any sleep till it finally stopped. That night I was really angry and upset, pledging never to trek with YHAI again.

But when I woke up it was another day and I was ready to go to Seema next.

Lekha Thach to Seema (May 23, 2004):
In each trek, some rain must fall and we got ours on this day. When we got up the sky was full of clouds. By the time we had breakfast, it had started raining. So, we started our journey in rain itself. On the way we passed through a small village Datmir where kids were playing, what else but cricket, in a wooden building. In front of it, was a local temple made of wood. We rested, taking shelter in the structure where the kids were playing cricket. It was still raining hard and after a while, we set off again. All the way to our lunch point we kept walking in pouring rain, my shoes were getting wet and water was trickling through my sleeves. The way as usual was beautiful, with many wild rose bushes lining our path but still I had started feeling a bit miserable. I kept taking photographs anyway. On a wooden bridge my nephew managed to lose his rain sheet near a stream but luckily it did not fall in the water. With a complete painful expression he asked me “What should I do?” I told him to get down the bridge and get it back, which he did.

Some Editions of Lonely Planet have a Photograph of this Spot

Finally, after a long time we reached another temporary tea hut that offered shelter under some plastic sheet and breathed a sigh of relief. We ordered omelet and tea and realized that it had almost stopped raining. In fact, after ten minutes, the few drops that were still falling went away and sun started shining weakly. We had our lunch peacefully and within half an hour, we were almost dry. So the second half of the journey was completed in much cheer through thick forest but with a clear path leading to Seema. On way we also found many chestnut trees and picked up a few green raw ones that give out a strong aroma.

Our campsite at Seema was next to river Tons. It was nice sleeping to the roaring sound of the river. At this camp again we again had to suffer through campfire. Here two ladies, Gopi and Ruchita ran the camp, a first in YHAI history. Next day we a target of 13 Km to reach to our final campsite on way up, HKD.

Snow Capped Peaks on the way from Seema to Har Ki Doon
Seema to HKD (may 24, 2004): This 13 Km walk was the toughest on this route. It was mostly uphill and though food has never been an issue with YHAI on this day for some the
quantity of packed lunch was not adequate. So post lunch session I was almost dragging myself. The way leading to HKD was the best on this route. We were now really getting close to the snowcapped peaks and some of the best photographs have been of this route. My stupid, lousy camera jammed on the way, and our camp leader from Chennai offered us to use his digital camera for remaining of the trek, an offer I will be eternally grateful for.


My Nephew Enjoying a Patch of Snow

Our lunch point was next to a waterfall and before that we walked through paddy fields for about 45 minutes. In all a very nice route but by far the toughest. By the time we were around 3 km away from our campsite, I started feeling very tired and to add to my misery it had started drizzling again. H suggested me to eat a few biscuits we had but I was getting impatient to reach somewhere. Still, I gobbled them making ugly faces at him but I immediately felt a bit better. We continued this journey for an hour more and saw our campsite finally and immediately forgot our fatigue. The view cannot be described in words, but here is an inadequate attempt to do it. We were looking at a valley that had huge green ground with streams flowing nearby and the ground was surrounded by snow covered mountains. Swargrohini was right in front of us and Kedar Kantha peak could be seen far away. We were amazed that we have traveled that far.

A Path through a Paddy Field

It was cold here and I quickly put on thick woolens and started roaming near the camp. We had to come for tea and snacks and we were asked to serve it ourselves. Soon, dinner too was over and we kept on gazing around till the camp leader finally forced us into our tents. In the morning, once again we kept on wondering at the site and taking pictures. Very soon it was time to walk back to Seema leaving this excellent valley behind. We traced the same path back to Seema. but it was easier this time, as we were mostly walking downhill. We reached Seema. On May 25, 2004. The next day, May 26, 2004, we walked back to our base camp Sankri 14 Km on foot and 12 Km by Jeep. Next day (May, 27, 2004) we were transferred by bus to Mussorie and we were back to civilization.