The year 2008 has be a fantastic trekking year for us. We had done three different treks in almost different regions of the Indian Himalayas.
This is a trip report for the last of the three treks - the Dodital and Darwa Top Winter trek which started around Christmas time and culminated with us spending the new years eve in the Uttarakhand Roadways bus.
The germ of an idea of doing another winter trek for the year was already forming in my mind, as early as October. But I very well knew that if I asked Sandeep to spend the Christmas and New Year time in Himalayas, he would definitely give me a big NO. Not that he didn't want to do it himself, the guy would run towards and be in the mountains before I could say Nanda Devi. The reason was, with recession looming in the air, with us spending our money on our new house and low cost air fares not exactly being low for us, I knew he would say no. I still went ahead and booked the train tickets in advance.
There aren't too many options available for trekking during the winters. We had done the Tunganath trek earlier this year and after looking at a few other options, we decided to do the Dodital and Darwa Top trek.
So here we were finally on the 24th of December on the Rajdhani Express. As soon as we boarded the train, we saw few rucksacks and bag packs in our compartment. There was another group of about four to five guys going for the YHAI Dalhousie-Khajiar trek. They were all first timers and we had a really good time during the journey.
We reached Delhi, early morning of the 26th. Our plan was to try and reach Uttarkashi the same day and we knew it would be really tight during these cold winter days. It was indeed very cold as we reached ISBT to catch the bus for Haridwar. The ISBT bus station is huge and finding a correct bus was a difficult task. Finally we got a bus which was leaving soon, but it was a UP Roadways bus and in a very pathetic condition. We had no option but to board. To top it, there was a very dense fog in the morning and we got stuck in an around Delhi for a long time. I have traveled from Delhi to Haridwar many times but all the time it was an over night journey. This was about the most boring 200 km I have covered. It seemed we had been traveling the entire stretch in a thick concrete jungle.
By the time we reached Haridwar, it was 2.30 in the afternoon and chances of reaching Uttarkashi looked very slim. We knew that the last jeep from Rishikesh towards Uttarkashi would be gone by 2:30. We still decided to give it a try. By the time we reached Natraj Chowk at Rishikesh, it was 3.45 and surprisingly, we saw that there was a jeep which was waiting for last two passengers. We remembered we had had nothing to eat since the morning and asked the guy to wait for some time while we had quick tea and buns. Finally after a very tiring journey, we reached Uttarkashi in the night at around 10. Finding a hotel at this time was really difficult because for most residents in Uttarkashi it was well past their sleep time. Finally we checked in into some hotel, had some hot food and hit the bed.
The Dodital trail can be used to go from the Gangotri region to Yamnotri. The trek starts from Baghirathi Vally goes up to Dodital and then via Darwa top one can reach Yamnotri.
I knew that the Dodital Darwa top is a relatively easy trek in the summers, ideal for beginners but in winter the cold and the snow add some level of challenge to it. The temperatures in the afternoon were always around the freezing mark. The nights were horribly horribly cold. We have experienced temperatures as low as -8 celsius inside our tent itself.
We had decided to go with our guide Shambhuji and couple of porters. Shambhuji was arranging all the stuff for us.
The actual trek starts from Sangamchatti, about 20 odd kilometers from Uttarkashi. We started in jeep towards Sangamchatti at about 10 in the morning. Sangam Chatti (4500 feet) has some small dhabas and tea stalls. It also has a GMVN TRH. The trail crosses the bridge on the Asi Ganga and goes towards Agoda.
We had planned to camp at a place called "Bebra", a small settlement about 8 km from Sangam Chatti. The village of Agoda is on the way to Bebra. The village itself is divided into lower Agoda and upper Agoda. The pony trail is very well marked, and the climb too is gradual. The trail is amidst thick forests are on the way to Bebra. The trail was surrounded by sparse forest of oak.
Bebra (7500 feet) is one of the nicer places that I have been to in the Himalayas and I was happy that we chose to camp here rather than camping in Agoda. We reached Bebra at around 2.30PM and we had some time to explore the place. The place was extremely quiet and this being the winter season, there was no one around as well. The evening was perfect. Sandeep and I were in the one of the most beautiful and peaceful places, with campfire, amidst the Himalayas. As the evening progressed it became even more cold. At around 5.30 PM the place was in pitch darkness. The night was horribly cold. We had experienced real cold nights on the Bara Bhangal trek, but this was something that really required some bearing. Even inside the tent, the temperature watch was showing 0 degrees. We went to sleep earlier than usual, but the cold kept us awake throughout the night.
The next morning, at around 8 AM the temperature was around 1 degree celsius. We started for Dodital at around 9.30 AM.
Dodital is a sacred lake at around 10800 feet and it is believed to be the birth place of Lord Ganesha. Dodital trek is a forest trek. The trail is very well marked goes through the Oak, Rhododendron and some Deodar forest. The distance from Bebra to Dodital is around 15km. We did take some short cuts and it was good fun. On the way we got our first glimpse of the snow capped mountains. The whole route is through the forests of , mainly Oak and Rhododendron. It was long but an easy walk. There is a small settlement called Manjhi which is about 9km from Bebra. We reached at Manjhi in less than 2 hrs. There are some small dhabas at Manjhi but everything was closed because of winter. Some people also camp at Manjhi before going to Dodital. From Manjhi, the trail became a little narrower. We did not take a lot of time to reach Dodital which was around 5-6 km from Manjhi and were near the lake at around 1 in the afternoon.
There is always some amount of joy when one reaches the destination. Be it on a difficult trek like the "Kalindi Pass" at more than 19000 feet or the relatively easier Dodital with a well marked trail; there is always some elation. Of course, the other part is sheer curiosity. One reads about/hears about different treks and sometimes it almost feels like one has been to the place earlier. There is some level of deja vu that accompanies the elation.
The high altitude lake was surrounded by the thick forest. The lake is full of rare fish Trout or "Dodi" in the local language from which the lake gets its name. On the far end of the lake, we could see the trail going further towards Darwa Top which is en route Yamunotri. When we reached Dodital, we saw there were some tents already pitched there. Later on we came to know that there was a group from Delhi.
The lake was frozen in some parts even during this time of the day. There is small temple of Lord Ganesha near the lake. There were also couple of small dhabas and tea shops, one of which was open. But surprisingly there was no snow yet at this place. I believe we would be the last people for the season, as after this, heavy snow and cold would grip the region.
By the time our porter and guide reached and pitched the tents, it was late afternoon. Sandeep checked the temperature, it was -6 degrees. Sandeep wanted to explore the area but I was not ready to move a muscle. My teeth were chattering because of the cold and just felt like sitting at one place.
As the evening progress, we got clear weather and the sky was full of millions and millions of stars. I really don't remember when was the last time I had seen such a beautiful sky. Well, I don't remember, back in Bangalore when was the last time cranked my neck up to see stars in the night. Probably on one of my earlier treks ?.
We were planning to go up till Darwa Top the next day. I had read so many times that the views from Darwa top are very beautiful. With so much of excitement, we decided to hit sack.
The whole night, both Sandeep and I couldn't sleep. I was shivering like crazy even inside the down filled sleeping bag. Just out of curiosity, I asked Sandeep to check the temperature inside and tent as well as inside the sleep bag. The temperature inside the tent was -6 degrees and inside the sleep bag was -1 degree. I asked Sandeep whether we would be in a good shape tomorrow morning or not; what with this bone chilling cold. I was desperately waiting for morning to happen.
Next morning someone from the other group told us that we would be better off by borrowing a quilt from the tea shop. That is exactly what they had done and they were very comfortable. This was sweet news for me and I decided that no matter what Sandeep says, I would also do the same for tonight.
We started for Darwa top a little late, after the sun had come out and we were warmed and comfortable. The trail was from the far end of the lake, and initially was full of small boulders and snow patches. Darwa Top is 5km from Dodital and is at around 13300 feet. It was a tough climb as compared to easy walks of the last two days. The entire walk is an uphill climb. It starts with the climb along the feeder to Dodital breaking into a thick birch forest opening into the high meadows. However at this time of the year, we could see no meadows as everything was under a lot of snow. The last push to Darwa top was heavy snow plodding.
The snow was around 2 feet and was all powder. Finally at around 12 PM we reached the top. The place was very very windy and cold. It was bone chilling and my hands and feet had gone numb because of the cold. There are views of the Bandarpunch and Swargarohini ranges from here. I tried to take some photos but my camera batteries had drained out completely because of the cold. It really required lot of courage to change the batteries as I removed my gloves and took out the extra pair that I was carrying. I braved the act, but no luck. The extra pair had also drained out, possibly in the night.
But this was not new for us. It had happened earlier too, but generally we have other trek partners and we do get some photos. I felt a little disappointed, but thought it was ok. The views from the top will be etched in my mind for a long time.
After spending sometime at top, we decided to head back down. Sandeep's knee was giving him a real hard time from the first day, and he was in some real pain on the descent. We had thought that we would try and go towards the Dayara Bugiyal after we finish the Dodital hike, but I didn't want to take any chance what with Sandeep being in pain. The climb down is not very difficult otherwise. We could just stroll amidst the snow and meadows and cross some small streams and get back to Dodital within no time.
After coming back to the camp site at Dodital, we decided that we would directly go down to Uttarkashi instead of going towards Dayara Bugiyal. I was a little disappointed again, I wanted to spend the new years eve in the mountains and not the plains. Going to Uttarkashi would mean that we would have to get back to the plains soon.
This is what we did exactly. While coming down, we camped at Bebra again and then proceeded to Sangam Chatti after spending a night at Bebra.
Finally we were back in Uttarkashi on the 31st of December.
Year 2008 was a great trekking year for us. As I am writing this travelogue, I can feel the sudden urge to see and be in the Himalayas again.
Stay tuned for my next tryst with the Himalayas.