Vasuki Taal Trek

Travelogue by Nitin Gokhale

Oct 2 – 22, 2003, we trekked Garwhal region of Himalaya “ Vasuki taal, Sapt taal & Shreekanth parvat. Vasuki taal trek is probably the best high altitude trek for mountain peak & glacier lovers. One can view so many famous peaks like Shivling (21,785 ft), Bhagirathi, I (21,685 ft), II (22,830 ft), III (21,495 ft), Kedar Dome, Meru (22,248 ft), Manda, Sumeru, Bhirgupanth, Chaukhamba(23,536 ft), Satopanth (23,516 ft), Vasuki Parvat (22,617 ft), Matri, Sudarshan, Kalindi Parvat, Chandra Parvat, Chaturangi Peak and so on, Glaciers – Gangotri & Chaturangi , trek till gaumukh is along the most worshiped Ganga river.

Shivling Peak (21,785 ft) is most beautiful of them. Its brown color mountain with snow at the top, green grass and flower plants at the base & perfect black color boulders surrounding the slope. Its miracle of nature that Lord Ganesh is clearly visible in Shivling mountain.

Near Tapovan base there is a wonderful blue water lake called Neel Taal or Gandharv Taal which could be described as something just out of this world.

Pune to Uttarkashi :

We were a team of 2 people Sanjeev & myself. There were reports about heavy land sliding at Uttarkashi. We reached Uttarkashi via Delhi (Jammutavi Exp.) – Hrishikesh (Bus). It was worst land slide of the century. Main market, government hospital, district court, all was affected heavily. People living & doing business for generations were forced to evacuate. Our planned journey route was – Uttarksahi – Gangotri by bus, from Gangotri onwards trekking- Chidbaasa- Bhujbaasa – Gaumukh -Tapovan – Nandanvan – Vasuki taal – Gaumukh – Gangori.

Uttarkashi To Dharali :

After reaching Uttarkashi bus stand we were informed that road to gangotri is working fine & jeeps are running frequently for gangotri, but a walk of 2 km was required to cross land slide affected zone. Had a pleasant surprise while negotiating with Jeep driver, two of our batch mates of Nehru Institute of Mountaineering (Basic Mountaineering Course, 1999 batch) Gambhir Panwar & Sanjay Panwar were sitting on the front seat as passengers. We were happy to meet again & share those happy memories. They belonged to Dharali (20 km prior to Gangotri on the highway). Sanjay is in hotel business, while Gambhir was working as guide. Dharali village is famous for apples & rajama (red, cream & white color bean). Gambhir informed that the patch between Tapovan & Nandanvan is via glacier & advised for services of a guide. Usually we avoid porters & guides. But since Gambhir was our friend, we requested him to give us company as guide. We decided to stay at Sanjay’s hotel at dharali and start the trek next day morning.

During the journey to Dharali via jeep, we met a trekker from U.K, social worker by profession. Government was paying him for his services. It was a new thing for us; here in India a real social worker is a person who works selflessly for society with out expecting any monetary benefits. One of our friends now working at Tokyo, informed recently that in Japan old people live alone. No one care for them, all working people are already very stressed & possessed by their work task & schedules. Whenever theses retired old people feel loneliness & depressed, they call social workers for talking to them at the rate of 1000 Yen per hour . These are typical problems of developed countries. Development has its own cost & surely India is on the path to become a developed country. Probably when today’s working generation of India has gray & white hairs, they will also need services of social workers.

Dharali is a picturesque village. River Ganga flowing on one side & mountains on other. Surrounded by pine trees, apple gardens & sight of beautiful silver peaks. In the village there is an ancient Shiva temple, similar to Kedarnath. Its believed that its been built by Bhima (Pandva) in one night only. Here we saw trees laden with apples. Test of apple was very different than what we get in city market. Its very juicy, tasty, fresh, & really energetic. Three varieties of apple are available here a. Delicious b. Royal delicious (export quality) c. Wilson. Rate Rs. 7 per kg for delicious & Rs. 15 for royal delicious. Young people of this village are nick named as Tamatar (Tomato) by other village people (because of their pink & reddish color faces).

Dharali To Gangotri :

At 11 AM started for Gangotri with Gambhir as guide. Gambhir is a very nice, friendly, dependable, practical, always happy kind of diplomatic guy. He has a big friend circle, lot of contacts & all the qualities to become a successful politician (Indian !). It was a late start since jeeps running towards Gangotri were full. Gambhir with his links (jugaad) arranged our trip via Toyota jeep of a police officer. Near Gangotri we crossed 2nd highest bridge of Asia built by army. Here a river from China called Jaat Ganga joins Bhagirathi (Ganga). Well ! It means the most worshiped river of India has a source of water from China too. China border is just few km away from Gangotri.

Gangotri is a very famous place for Ganga Maiyya Temple & one of chaar dham (Gangotri, Yamunotri, Kedarnaath, Badrinaath). Its open from May to Dipawali (Nov.) & thousands of pilgrims from all over the India visit here. It’s a small town with all modern facilities. Gangotri temple is silver color ancient temple. 6 feet high, standing Ganga Maiyaa (mother) idol in blessing pose is symbol of purity, life, prosperity & spirituality. On Dipawali its shifted to another temple at Mukhwa village (near dharali). From childhood itself every Indian hears name of Ganga river & to be at gangotri or gaumukh i.e. origin of Ganga is some thing very special in life. Not only in childhood but even when some body is dying few drops of Ganga jal are put in to the mouth so as to get ride of all wrong deeds of present life & safe journey to other worlds.

Before Centuries origin of Ganga was at Gangotri but now its at Gaumukh 18 km away. The gangotri glaciar, spread over many kilometers & is joined by various other glaciers like, Chaturangi, Kirti, Swachchand etc, is receding. These glaciers are source of water for the Ganga river flowing continuously for thousands of years.

Gangotri( 10,290 ft) – 9 km – Chidbaasa (11,988 ft) :

Started the trek after performing puja at Gangotri temple. The place is called chidbaasa because of many chid (pine) trees in the area. Trek from gangotri to gaumukh is a no doubt a great treat for nature lovers. Its along the river side, many snow peaks in the surrounding, flowers of different colors & deep blue sky. On the trek route met many young & old people riding on horse, trekkers from India as well abroad. Most of them were pilgrims from Bengal ( Durga puja festival vacation time).

It was our 5th visit to Himalaya. We always find many foreigners from various countries at Himalaya. Almost everybody praises India’s natural beauty & variety of option it offers. Three top places favoured are
1) Himalaya
2) Kerala for back water, beaches & greenery
3) Rajasthan (palaces, oasis & food).

Its quite interesting that these foreigners know more about India than most of our own people. No Problem! we too have upper hand on USA & UK tourist, in mega cities even our under graduates know detailed geography, Length & width (i.e. area) , population of different states, meaning of their national symbol, name of pop stars, latest hollywood hits, novels by English writers & off course Tennis.

Here in our country tour to Europ/USA/Singapoor is seen as a status symbol & some special achievement in life & if some body is touring Rajsthan, Kerla or Agara/Mathura then its sheer wastage of time & money. So what, I guess probably in USA & Europe also visiting their own country places might also be having low prestige & status symbol might be in touring India, Pakistan, Srilanka, Bhutan

At chidbaasa we stayed at a temporary hut like hotel, run by Gambhir’s friend. During the season (May – Nov.) unemployed youth open these hotels by submitting aprrox. Rs. 35,000/- to Government.

Chidbaasa ( 11,988 ft ) – 5 km – Bhujbaasa ( 12,627 ft) – 4 km- Gaumukh ( 12,960 ft) :

It was 2nd day of the trek, started early in the morning. Nature was at its best on that day, Freshness of morning air, walking against the river throughthe trees of pine & bhuj, mountains on both sides, plenty of pink, yellow, white, red, orange & blue color flowers around. This place is called Bhujbaasa because of Bhuj Trees {famous for Paper, our Hrushis (Saints) used Bhuja-patra for writing granth (books)}.

We were carrying aprox 30 kg wt ; tent, utensils, pressure cooker, food items, stove, kerosene, sleeping bag, warm cloths, medical kit, water bottles etc. Gaumukh was clearly visible from the hotel at bhujbaasa, we halted for a cup of tea.

Gaumukh : There was only one Temporary hotel. Usually only trekkers & mountaineers halt at gaumukh. Due to sever cold & as its glacier area pilgrims would return same day to either bhujbaasa or chidbaasa. We decide to pitch our tent near the hotel at safe crater like place (to get protection from cold & high velocity wind). After pitching the tent & requesting the hotel person to cook, we explored gaumukh. It was evening time & Shivling & Bhagirathi peaks (Bhagirathi Hrushi had penance to bring Ganga on earth) were visible in the back ground. Glacier color in the evening was cyan. This glacier is known for changing its color.

Gaumukh is called so because of its shape like cow’s mouth. (Gau – cow , Mukh- mouth). Ganga river originates from a broad & deep cave. The river area at origin itself is quite wide & flow is substantial. It means Ganga must be flowing at least few kilometers under ground to have accumulated such a large volume. Puranas say it comes from Mt. Kailash (Nepal).

Near gaumukh we observed a hut on left side of the trek route & on right side an A-3 size enlarged photo of a yogi with few scent sticks burning in front of it. Photo was resting on a stone & carefully kept in such a way that every body would observe it. The picture was showing a yogi in Padmasana (a sitting posture), flying in the air (head of the yogi touching roof of the room). What do you call it? For us it was “A perfect marketing by a commercial saint to attract customers”

After returning back we observed one more tent pitched near ours. It belonged to Mr. Patrick from Belgium, who reached gangotri on bicycle. He has been cycling around the globe specially near the mountains. It was a pleasure to talk to him & know about his cycle tours.

Gaumukh (12,960 ft) -Tapovan ( 14,985 ft ) :

From gaumukh onwards its real trekkers road, through glacier, loose big stones, route not defined & sudden altitude gain.

After reaching at the top i.e. Tapovan we were called by a Saint Mauni baba who has been staying there round the clock for 18 years in a cave. He had a solar cooking equipment (like stove) & was cooking at that time. He offered lunch & advised us to visit Neel taal or Gandharv taal (a beautiful blue water lake) hidden on the top of near by mountain aprox. 600 ft above Tapovan base.

After pitching the tent & lunch, visited Neel Taal. We were the only one there. It was a mystic & beautiful place, felt like on the top of the world, Shivling, Kedar Dome, Kharchundi peaks in the front, Blue water lake in between & hundreds of peaks visible on the back side. We observed many more colorful tents after returning back. Here we met another foreigner from Holland, 3 teams from Bengal & team of around 15 foreigners from various countries.

We had an interesting observation about this group of 15 tourist. They brought with them about 30-35 porters & 5 guides. They had pitched around 15 tents. The porters were carrying every thing right from essential items to luxury i.e. dinning table, chairs, portable toilet on their head. They had set a separate big tent as dinning hall & one as western toilet. Almost every body wearing feather jackets, movie recorders in hand, long sticks in both hands, smart goggles . it was really a fun to watch their show business activities.

Its no business for me to comment on them & there are two sides to it, Locals are making money out of it & tourist are also as happy as conquering Everest, but other side is what the mountains standing there for infinite time teach, is it not to become self sufficient, reducing ones requirement, adjusting & surviving in the most difficult situation, to help others, courage & determination to achieve the goal… anyway probably there is a third side to it, u do not get any entertainment means in the mountains & it was a good entertainment for us.

Here we met one more mountaineering course batch mate from Nepal, Rajbahadur. He was guide to one of the group from Bengal. In the night we had a camp fire. Temp was near zero, Sky was clear & it was full moon night (Kojagiri Poornima), Shivling was reflecting the moon light & clear view of thousands of stars in the sky. Cameras were unable to capture the scene but it will be there in the memory forever. We enjoyed fire as well lot of Gadhwali, Nepali, Kumanyuni, Hindi songs & dances & also special song from Belgium. In the night temperature was below zero & water kept in the bottle became hard ice (“Batli cha Khulkhula zala hota- Khulkhula is a Martahi word for a toy usually given to very young child, there are small stones in a plastic shell, dome like shape with narrow handle, shaking results in nice sound).

Tapovan (14,985 ft) – Kedar dome Base (16,000 ft) – Tapovan(14,985 ft):

We left our tent as it is & started towards Kedardome base camp, Mr. Patrick was also with us. Route selected by Gambhir was a bit risky, but enjoyed it. At around 1 pm suddenly weather turn hostile & snow fall started . We decide to return back. During the return journey Sanjeev & Patrick observed few deer.

After returning to base we were informed that one of the team supposed to visit Kalindi Khaal has return down to Gaumukh due to high altitude sickness. High altitude sickness is not uncommon. symptoms are sever headache, drop in appetite & feeling uneasy. It happens due to high altitude, less oxygen, low temp & pressure, high velocity wind. What’s the remedy ? Raambaan Upay – One has to loose the altitude & return down. Medicines may help but its not the best way & there are side effects. Precautions to avoid it are drink as much water, tea, coffee, soup, daal (liquid) etc, After reaching the destination just donot pitch the tent & slip inside but have a short height gain walk (aprox. 300 – 400 ft height gain), spend 1 hour there & then return back.

Tapovan (14,985 ft) – Nandanvan (14,442 ft): 

A team of very friendly people from Calcutta was also planning for Vasuki Taal. Route to Nandanvan was via gangotri glacier, a long one, quite tricky & risky. We decided to go together as a single team & were together for rest of the trek. They were 4 people + 1 guide + 1 Cook + 1 Porter & we were 3.

We reached Nandanvan in the evening. There was water shortage at Nandanvan. The cook & porter worked really hard for water ferry from a distant place & cooking. Getting bed tea in the tent at 15,000 ft altitude & sub zero temp., is a pleasure probably better than what is talked about heaven pleasure. Those who donot agree, should experience it !

We met here Chandra Parvat expedition team from Calcutta, a team of mountaineers from Switzerland for Bhagirathi Peak II climb & another team from Utarkashi planning Badrinath via Kalindi pass. Bhagirathi, Shivling, Meru, Sumeru, Kedar dome, Khahrchundi, Chaturangi, Kalindi parvat, Chandra parvat were visible from Nandanvan. We were really fortunate to have clear weather.

Nandanvan (14,442 ft ) – Vasukitaal( 16,310 ft)-Nandanvan( 14,442 ft)

It was a one day return trek to Vasuki taal. Route was comfortable in comparison to previous 2 days experience. But now altitude was high & getting tired with lesser efforts. Chaturangi glacier was on the left, Bhagirathi peak on right, Kalindi & Chandra Parvat in front & Shivling on the back side, Clear deep blue sky, bright sunlight & pleasant wind made this trek memorable. In the end crossing the glacier patch & vertical climb of 400 ft resulted in majestic view of Vasuki Taal. Water appeared black colored from the top. It was a big plane ground, one forth occupied by the lake.

We met here Chandra Parvat team again & they offered us Amrut tulya (At Pune Tea is also known as Amrut tulya!). It was the peak i.e. last destination of planned trek. With emotions started the return journey. During the return journey we observed hundreds of deer. That night had a last camp fire of the trek & shared our experiences.

Nandanvan – Gaumukh – Chidbaasa – Gangotri – Dharali.

From Nandanvan there is a direct route for guamukh, trekked further to chidbaasa & stayed at a hotel. Next day we reached dharali via gangotri.

At dharali we visited apple gardens & Rajma farms. Next two days had a short trek to Shrikanth parvat & Sapt taal too.

Copyright: NITIN GOKHALE )Baba(

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