Q. Was this personally organised trek or one done with an expedition group?
I organised the trek myself by scouring various trekking websites and forums for information. However, I rented out equipment from Joshimath.
Q. How did you plan this trek in terms of finding the guide, porters, gear, etc?
Having organised some treks myself already, I had a fair idea of the equipment to take and the budget. I drafted an itinerary based on information obtained from various websites and forums. I learned Joshimath has a thriving trekking community, so I did not contact any guide or porter in advance. One can easily locate trekking agencies in the market. The rates are negotiable and after some haggling, we settled for a decent price for guide, porter, tent and utensils.
Q. How many days had you given for the trek? Which camp sites did you identify to stop at for the night?
The usual length for this trek is 4 days. However, that leaves us with very short distances to cover on first and second days. So, I decided to complete the trek in three days as the distances were fairly comfortable even when compressed to three days.
The choices for camp sites are limited and are determined by the proximity of fresh water. As I had planned for a three day trek, we only needed to camp at two places. Based on distance to travel and availability of fresh water, I decided on Talli camp site, which is little further from a small lake at Talli as the water in that lake/pond is not potable. The other was Khulara camp site, also due to availability of fresh water and firewood.
Q. Any specific reasons for moving towards Tapovan from Kuari Pass and not proceeding towards the logical exit route towards Sutoli, Jhangi, Ramni and Ghat camp sites?
For me, the main reason was time constraint. Exit through routes other than that of Tapovan requires additional camping and extends the trek. Also the best views of the peaks are from Khulara top, Talli and Kuari Pass. So, I wasn’t losing out on any view by taking the exit through Tapovan and the itinerary fit the bill.
Q. From where does one find a reliable guides and porters? Could you recommend any to trekkers?
Joshimath is the base for many treks in the region. So, as is the case with any other such town, one can easily find guides and porters in the town. The market has many shops that act as booking offices for trekking agencies. Guides and porters can be arranged from any of them. It is advisable to visit as many such agencies before deciding as the rates are negotiable and services offered and their prices can differ. Choose one that fits your needs. For example, those who do not have much trekking experience and wish to keep troubles minimum can opt for per person per day arrangement wherein the agency charges a certain amount per person per day and takes care of all the arrangements. I opted for per day charges for a guide, porters, kitchen utensils and a tent. I procured the provisions from Joshimath itself based on the itinerary that I drafted.
I chose Grand Adventures. Their shop is located in the main market. The guide I got was a Nepali Sherpa named Megma. He was an outstanding guide and told many stories of his adventures. The porter too was excellent.
Q. There is a motorable road from Joshimath to Auli. What was the condition of this road?
This may not be very helpful as the conditions of the road can change every year. During my visit the road was in good shape.
Q. Was the ropeway operational till Auli?
Q. What is an ideal month for this trek?
It is essentially a good weather trek. In many treks, you are up close to the destination, so even in cloudy conditions you can see what you came to see. In this trek, however, the cloud cover can totally obscure the peaks as they are not too close. This trek is also not too adventurous so the main reward is the view itself. Due to this, it should be done when the probability of finding clear weather is highest. In my opinion September/October, i.e. just after the rains, is the best time for this trek.
Q. Tell us in detail about your first day of trekking from Auli to Tali camp.
The trek starts from Auli in a striking fashion with a magnanimous view of Nanda Devi and Dunagiri peaks. For any mountain lover, it is a rewarding sight. The trail is along meadows lined with the rope-way towers. A short walk from the last rope-way tower leads to a beautiful Khirsu forest. The tree line then gives way to the lush green Gorson Bugyal, which is much more expansive than the grass field at Auli. The trek to Gorson top is mildly uphill and more peaks begin to appear on the horizon.
The trek to Talli is slightly downhill from Gorson Top. There is a small pond at Talli, but the water is unclean. The camp site is further downhill and in the tree-line. There is a small stream with running water and the camp site is in a small clearing near the stream.
Q. Normally, we hear people camp at Chitra-Kantha on the first day of the trek. Any reasons why you decided to camp at Talli?
Talli is a better option in terms of distances to cover. With the total trek to be covered in three days, a camp at Chitrakantha would have skewed the distances. People also camp at Gorson on first day and then move towards Talli or Chitrakantha. Most of the trekkers we passed by did it that way with the total trek taking 4 days as opposed to our 3 day plan.
Also, Talli is a beautiful camp site near the Talli pond. The reflection of Nanda Devi and Dunagiri peaks in the water is a striking sight and a godsend opportunity for shutterbugs.
Q. What was the camp site at Talli like?
The camp site at Talli is in the forest. There is a small clearing with enough space to pitch tents and a small stream of fresh water nearby, making it a suitable camping site. Owing to the location, the camp site provides no view of the peak. However, the clear area is not far off and can be visited for viewing the sunset/sunrise .
Q. Any issues in finding a source for drinking water on the trek?
The sources of water are few and far between. It is advisable to fill the bottles at each source. We only found water at the places where we camped. Camp sites, however, had good supply of clean water.
Q. How was the weather at night at Talli Campsite?
We went just after the rains had stopped in the region and so the weather was perfectly clear with no sight of clouds. The temperature in October was pleasant in the evening and cold at night.
Q. The trek to Kuari Pass is said to be the most scenic one. What’s your take on this?
If the view is judged solely on the basis of the number of visible peaks then Kuari Pass is surely among the very best.
On a clear day, you can see peaks starting from Chaukhamba and Neelkanth on the left, to Trishul on the right with Mana, Kamet, Hathi Parvat, Ghodi Parvat completing the scene.
The most scenic, however, is the Nanda Devi peak with Dunagiri standing tall beside her. The ever beautiful highest inland peak in India has mesmerized many mountain lovers and has inspired many literary pieces. (One of them being The Nanda Devi Affair, which inspired me to do this trek).
Q. How long did it take for you to reach Kuari Pass?
I reached Kuari Pass on the second day of the trek. The second day started from Talli camp site, onwards to Chitrakantha, Khulara Top, Gailgarh and then further to Kuari Pass. Kuari Pass, in fact, does not lie en route if you plan to exit through Tapovan. One needs to take a detour to Kuari Pass from Gailgarh.
Q. Explain the last section of the trail leading to the pass?
The trek to Gailgarh is downhill from Khulara top. Gailgarh is a three-way junction with one way leading to Kuari Pass, another downhill to Khulara Campsite and further to Tapovan. The path is well-carved-out and it is not difficult to locate the trail. The pass lies next to Pangarchula peak, which in itself is a destination and can take another couple of hours to reach from the pass. The trail up to the pass is not much of a challenge albeit a bit tiring. There is a small waterfall that needs to be traversed along the way, which can prove to be tricky if the water level rises. There is a camping site near the pass, which is suitable if you plan to move further along the Curzon Trail or make a hike to Pangarchula peak.
Q. Any tricky sections on the way you want to elaborate on?
This is more or less an easy trek to undertake. We, however, encountered only one slightly tricky section due to part of the trail being washed away (2010 had a particularly hard monsoon). The section was between Gorson and Talli on the first day of the trek. It was only a small part and required careful trudging. The challenge was compounded by the fact that the trail ran along the mountain slope with a terrifying drop on the left side.
Q. Are the trails well-defined?
The trail is pretty much well-defined all along.
Q. Tell us from where the trail breaks for Tapovan.
The trail trifurcates at Gailgarh.
Q. Any landmarks on the way to help identify the trail to Kuari Pass?
The path does not branch out often. When you reach Gailgarh from Khulara Top, the uphill way to the right leads to Kuari Pass.
Q. How would you sum up your Kuari Pass trek experience?
As a mountain lover, I could not have asked for a better experience. I was fortunate to have been greeted with a clear window, which lasted long enough for me to complete the trek. The easy nature of the trek affords ample time to soak in the mesmerising views. The trek is rendered even more special by the constant presence of Nanda Devi peak on the horizon.
I would rate it as a must-do trek as it offers a uniquely large panorama of mountains so close.
Q. Is there something which a trekker should keep in mind while preparing for this trek?
It is a relatively easy trek and the altitude is not too high. Scarcity of water sources along the way is something to keep in mind. Although water is present in plenty at camping sites, bottles should be filled at each source for the day’s journey. Also even without rain, the clouds can play spoilsport so it should be done when there is high probability of getting clear weather.