Abhishek Kaushal recently returned from a successful expedition to the summit of Mount Thelu in Garhwal Himalayas, Uttarakhand. In the coming days and weeks, he will share his experiences of this amazing journey.
Expedition Day 1 (21st May 2016): Gangotri to Bhojwasa
Waking up at 5:00 am in Gangotri after a good night’s sleep, I was recharged for the 14 km trail to Bhojwasa. Standing in the balcony of the hotel, feeling the pleasant fresh weather, and listening to the sound of the Bhagirathi River, I could feel the excitement slowly building up. The weather was very clear with not even a single cloud in the sky, which meant that today was going to be a hot day, which in turn would make walking a bit difficult. As I was waiting for the morning tea and for others to wake up, I was fondly thinking about the walk to Bhojwasa that I had undertaken 2 years ago.
By the time I had finished my morning routine, the tea had arrived and others had woken up. We discussed our plan for the day and ration for the day was distributed among the team members. Meanwhile our porters, cook and HAPs/guides had already started leaving with supplies and equipment towards Bhojwasa. After getting ready, everybody left for Gangotri temple to offer prayers for a successful expedition. The road to the temple was already abuzz with different activities. There was a big queue of devotees outside the temple, and there were also a few trekkers and mountaineers who would be going further ahead from Gangotri towards Gaumukh and other peaks in the area.
After having breakfast, I checked and packed my day-pack with all necessary items for the day and we all left the hotel. We clicked a few group photos at the Gangotri temple and instructions for the day were issued to all members of the team. Our first stop was going to be the Kankhu barrier, which is approximately 2 km from Gangotri. There are 2 routes from Gangotri for the start of the trek: One route is from the market while the other is a staircase that starts from behind the Gangotri temple and subsequently connects with the other route. This staircase perhaps is one of the most irritating part of the day’s schedule as it is pretty steep as compared to the rest of the trail. Most of the energy is consumed here at the start of the day itself, especially when the body is cold. There is a information board on top of the staircase mentioning the distances of various places from Gangotri till Gaumukh and the average time taken to reach each place. The walk from this place to Kankhu is gentle.
After around 45 minutes, I reached the Kankhu barrier and waited for others to assemble here. There is a Forest Check Post here, where all the necessary paper work and permissions required for proceeding ahead are checked. This was probably the last point where the entire team would be seen together, as from here on everybody starts walking with their buddies or solo based on individual preferences, speed and fitness. We also got the first sight of Mount Thelu at this point. Now the eagerness to reach the top was increasing. It looked high but within reach, and hopefully we would reach the top in another 7 days if everything went as per plan. As I had anticipated, within the next 500 m, everyone got separated and were now walking either solo or in small groups. Slowly conversations were just limited to questions and information regarding the nearby peaks and sceneries.
From here on the trail is pretty simple with a gradual gradient. It’s more like a gentle walk in the mountains with the Bhagirathi river flowing on the right hand side throughout. The sound of the river varies during the trail based on the distance between the trail and the river. At some points, there is a sheer cliff drop to the river, where a fall into the fury of the flow can be fatal, while at other places, the sound of the river reminds one of the peace and silence in the mountains. Bhagirathi peaks are visible almost constantly throughout the trek and act as a landmark which gives you a feel of the direction of your evening destination. The vegetation also starts decreasing gradually as you move towards Bhojwasa. Due to lack of trees on the route, it gets very hot during the trek on clear days. Small streams along the way offer nice fresh drinking water and these streams are crossed by wooden bridges placed across the top of them. The path here generally consists of stones or soil. Walking on the soil is easy and faster but walking on stones is tiring, slower and one can get hurt if he/she is not careful. At some places, the path has also been cemented after the floods of 2013.
The last major tree line is seen at Chidwasa and after this you only see small bushes and patches of grass. This is the half way stop towards Gaumukh where travelers can stop for lunch at a tea stall or a peaceful meal can be relished amidst the shadows of the trees. Since all of us were carrying our own food, we just sat down below the trees to enjoy our food. We had also overtaken our porters on the way so we decided to rest for some more time before going ahead. After having lunch and resting almost for 1 hour, I started the next phase of the journey towards Bhojwasa. The final 5 km to Bhojwasa would be a one shot walk from here on. There are also chances of stones falling down from the loose mountain sides above at some places and hence awareness of the surroundings is very important throughout the trek.
As the sight of Bhagirathi peaks and Gangotri glacier kept growing and coming closer with every step I took, it was clear that I was nearing Bhojwasa. Bhojwasa just springs up in front of you after a sharp left hand curve and I was just waiting for that final curve which would then lead to a walk down the path to our camp site. Finally after almost 1.5 hours of walking from Chidwasa, I reached the Bhojwasa camp site. Here I met our guide and had a long chat with him while waiting for the porters to arrive with the tents. Our guide got busy with setting up the kitchen and I just walked around, watching some of the most beautiful peaks of this valley while waiting for other team members to arrive. Once the porters and other team members had arrived, we got busy setting up the camp site and discussing the sleeping arrangements for the night. Meanwhile the cook prepared some hot tea and served it along with biscuits. As we finished setting up everything in the camp site, the sun had gone behind the mountains and the temperatures dropped down drastically.
Now everyone settled into the warm kitchen tent and waited for dinner. There were 3 major groups of people sitting in the kitchen tent – one side was taken up by the porters, the middle section comprised the expedition team members, while the cooking staff and guides took the other corner. Different voices and conversations could be heard while having soup. Everybody was tired but excited after the 6-7 hour long journey from Gangotri to Bhojwasa. Meanwhile, in the back of my mind, I was thinking that the easy part of the journey was over and from tomorrow onward we would be pushing ourselves through the grueling tougher parts of the journey. The leader and senior members of the team briefed us about the next day’s plans. I was informed that I would be leaving early with the two guides to help them set up ropes for the crossing of Raktvan Nala. This really excited me and I just wanted to finish dinner and crash out early so as to prepare for the next day. Hot dinner is just what everybody needed to refill their energies and then hit the bed to prepare for the next day. After dinner and exchanging pleasantries, all team members went to sleep while the kitchen staff cleaned everything and also started preparing for the next day’s breakfast.
As I was lying down in my sleep bag and hearing the sounds of the winds and the river, I realized that the nature of my excitement had changed. Here, I was feeling very satisfied and at home. My mind was filled with happiness and the thought that there was no work load or stress for the morning was blissful. The cold and crooked floor on which I was lying now felt like a 12 inch thick mattress. Sleep gradually crept in as I felt rewarded for the effort put in throughout the day and I eagerly waited for my next adventure to follow.