Uttarakhand Revisited – Kuari Pass Trek

This blog narrates my experiences of Uttarakhand travels. This is the second part…

I had been to places like Tehri, Chamba, and Mussourie in past and knew what mountains are like. But I have plans for something more during my current Uttarakhand visit. I remember … “mountains were calling me”. I was yearning to feel mountains up & close.

During my first few days in Rishikesh, I heard from a friend that he would want to do a trek in mountains. And this worked out perfectly for us. We decided to do some outdoors. Nothing too intense, but still going out in the wilderness.

I knew a guide, whom I met a few times here in Rishikesh. I asked him how a 6-7 days tours for backpacking can be managed. The answer was simple. Collect gears one would need for backpacking and go ahead. My friend AK will reach in two days. As suggested by our guide cum friend, we decided to do Kuari Pass trek, north section. North section is essentially a 2-3 days trek from Auli to Tapovan.

So here’s how it went. AK arrived next day, and we three guys took a shared Jeep from Rishikesh till Joshimath the next morning. The journey is worth 250 km, and it easily takes 10-12 hours if you travel in public transport. The journey is exciting. The road will move along the valley of Alaknanda river, which originates near Badrinath temple, from the Alkapuri glacier. Enroute we saw prayags – Dev Prayag, Rudra Prayag, Karn Prayag, Nand Prayag and Vishnu Prayag – The Panch Prayags. All these places are significant because of confluences of tributaries that makes up Ganga river. At Nandprayag – Dhauli Ganga meets Alaknanda. At Nandprayag, Nandakini meets Alaknanda. At Karnprayag, Pindar meets Alaknanda. At Rudraprayag, Mandakini meets Alaknanda. And at Devprayag, Alaknanda finally flows into Bhagirathi to get its real name The Ganges. Bhagirathi, the actual source of Ganges is emerging from Gomukh near Gangotri Dham (from the Gangotri glacier).

Well, we reached Joshimath at around 5:00 pm, and checked in Hotel Shivlok. We were supposed to hire some gears from Joshimath itself. Essentially sleeping bags. We bought some basic ration, one Kerosene stove and some Kerosene fuel. We needed forest permission to go into Nanda Devi national park, which we would acquire next morning. We were all set. We could settle for the night, pack our rucksacks. The rucksacks would be heavy for first-time trekkers like me and my friend, but we did not know yet what we were getting into.

Next morning we woke up early and got ready. We went to the forest office and took official permission to trek and camp in the region. We didn’t face any big problem. The work was done by 10 am. We had to hurry now to take the cab from Joshimath to Auli, a drive that would take 40-minutes or so.

As we were reaching Auli we could see we were very close high peaks of Himalayas. Right in front were Haathi and Ghori peaks. In English, it translates to The Elephant Peak and The Mare peak. Look closely and you will actually find the impression of an Elephant and a Horse standing next to next. Their altitude is about 6700 meters.

At Auli, we sipped a cup of hot tea and began warming up with thoughts of actual trekking. We took an hour or so. At about 12:30 we finally started it. Each of us had heavy backpacks, ranging from 20-25 kg.

The climb from Auli itself is gentle, but uphill all the way. From Auli, one can get a grand view of Nanda Devi Peak. Nanda Devi is the highest peak in India that is completely within the territory. It is 7816 meter or 25,643 feet. It is the 23rd highest peak in the world. We could see some other big of Himalayan peaks as well in front of our naked eyes. There is a ropeway from Joshimath to Auli. However, it was not operational when we reached there.

So, from Auli, we started and soon I and my friend got to know why backpacking is not an easy preposition. We were panting heavily. The backpack seemed like it was a bag of bricks. Our guide told us to go very slowly and not to bring our bodies in Red zone. We reached the Tower-10 of the ropeway and there could find the last tea stall on our trek. We had a quick sip, rested for few minutes and went forward.

We reached Padiya Devta campsite by evening. There were two army shelters there, which we decided to make our home for the night. We cooked Maggi and some Chapatis. We had some cheese as well. We ate to the fill. The area was pristine. It had tall Oak and Pine trees all around. The night was beautiful, cold and clean. I loved that feeling.

Next day morning, we again had Maggi for breakfast. We decided to leave early after having a cup of tea. From Padiyar one has to cross through Gordon mountain to reach closer to Kuari Pass. At the time this trek was attempted, the Gorson trail was a narrow trail, with steep fall on one side. I was alright when negotiating that trail, but my friend felt some problems. The steep fall can make someone height-phobic. I and the guide had to motivate him to shed fear and walk with confidence. After a few hiccups, we went past through this trail, which is about 2-km long. We were finally on a path that was relatively flat. A little downhill we went and reached the forest of Taali. We were tired and decided to camp there. Today, I wanted to cook. I decided to make Pulao, with lots of vegetable in it. Another peaceful day was spent, and the mountains were giving me thrill I had never experienced before.

Next day, we started early again. After about 4-5 km of walk through Chitrkantha, we came close to the region known as Kuari Pass. The altitude was around 4,000 meter. There is campsite there called Khulara campsite. We sat down there for a while and soaked ourselves in nature. The scenes were amazing. I felt so up and close to mountains. We could witness Haathi-Ghori at an arms distance. So close!

We decided that we will walk straight down to Tapovan today, which is a road-head. Time was a worry so we decided to start soon. From Khulara, it is a knee-bending downhill trail to Tapovan. We kept walking for few hours, lost in time and space. We were so very tired by the time we could see any house. Finally, we reached Regri village, few kilometers short of Tapovan. Our guide knew people from there, and we got permission to stay at someone’s house for a night. We were tired and slept immediately.

Next morning we started early again and reached Tapovan. Tapovan to Joshimath in a shared Jeep. From Joshimath, we found another direct jeep to Rishikesh. We reached Rishikesh late evening at about 10:00 pm.

My friend AK left for Pune after taking a day’s break, as he was sore. This is how we experienced Kuari Pass, my first backpacking experience.