Roopkund: A first-hand account

Roopkund: A first-hand account

Category Trekker Space Transformation Stories

By Shantnu Mathuria


Was my trek worth it?

Trekker Shantnu Mathuria writes about his intriguing experience while climbing to Roopkund. Having experienced the best – playing cricket with the Indian army on a 13,000 ft-high meadow – and the worst – dealing with mental and physical weakness – he puts his thoughts down about whether he liked his trek. 

There I stood, atop the mountain peak, with my fellow trekkers. We were all looking down into Roopkund, marvelling at the grandeur of the lofty mountains that surrounded us, looking for answers to our identities as human beings.

Then out of the blue, a strange thought came to my mind.

What am I doing here? Does this mean anything to me? Was this journey really worth it?

And my mind went back to where it all started.

We still don’t know why we chose the Roopkund trek. Maybe it was the sheer thrill of testing our mettles in the face of the intimidating mountains. Or maybe it was those stunning photographs that had lured us into the valley. Or maybe it was simply time for us to make an intimate connection with nature.

Whatever it was, there we were, four of us from Delhi at the base camp, Lohajung, conversing with 21 other trekkers from different parts of India. After receiving instructions about the next day’s programme from the trek leader, we soon hit the bed.

With an early morning whistle from the leader, we were up like an army battalion. We had a light breakfast and started the trek to our first checkpoint, Didina, a nerve-racking steep climb of 8 km, zig-zagging through a lush green forest.

What started out as a team activity quickly turned into a race amongst us all. Perhaps some of us had forgotten to leave our competitive corporate habits behind. We reached the camp in six hours, depleted of energy, thoroughly exhausted and crazily hungry. At dinner, we ate like a pack of wild, hungry wolves. Eating from a single thali, the four of us finished 20 rotis in less than a couple of minutes.

I couldn’t help but laugh at the idea that each one of us was like the Early Man – away from civilization, comfort and luxury, sparsely equipped. Our sole motive was to survive.

Our next destination was Bedni Bugyal, a place of breathtaking meadows. It could perfectly pass off as a high-terrain golf course. I think it was while we were here that we realised it wasn’t a race. We could all take our own time, trek at paces that suited us best.

Our day ended on a beautiful note with a cricket match against the Indian army. Believe it or not, we beat their team! But they absolutely won our hearts with a defiant performance, a quality so integral in our army men.

That evening was perfect – a cricket pitch at 13,000 ft overlooking Mt. Trishul; humble trek mates and a laudable opposition; and a few beautiful girls to cheer us on; what more could a man have asked for!

Next, we had to reach Bhagwasbhasa, a campsite stationed in the snow-covered peaks of the great Kumaon mountains. This is a region where the temperature is in single digits during the day and can go as low as -5 degree centigrade at night.

Conditions had started to get tough now. A few of our comrades had to end their run in between, turned down by AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness), the most prominent cause of death in the mountains. I remember the first time my footstep in snow. I felt like an astronaut, who had just set his foot on the moon, scared of the vast expanse of unknown land but curious to go further.

Things took an ugly turn when we were completely enveloped by cloud cover and visibility dropped to a single metre. The team lost its integrity in the dark cover. Some of us had no one around to guide us. It was terrifying to walk alone on a trail that was just a single foot wide, with only grey nothingness around. A wrong step and you may never be found again.

That almost happened to me. Although I meticulously placed my foot in the snow, following every instruction I was given, I lost footing and slipped on a watery patch. I thought that was the end. For a few seconds, I had my heart in my mouth. My legs were paralyzed. They just would not move! It took me a while to get up and convince my frozen mind to go on.

We finally reached the camp, completely physically and mentally exhausted. From the camp, we could see the final point – a crescent-moon of snow, behind which rested our Roopkund! Our trek leader told us that the final stretch would be 3km uphill, through complete snow. He said we’d be provided with crampons to help us. The time to start the expedition was decided as 4.30 am.

We were told to not exhaust ourselves. We were asked to sleep a bit early. But one could hardly sleep in the tent, with temperature below zero, even a slightest sway of wind was enough to send shivers down the spine and that was after 6 thick layers of clothing! A few of us even flouted the advice and played around outside. But we paid heavily for it, because our shoes had become completely wet thanks to fresh snow from the night.

There was only question floating in every tent, “Subah hone mein  aur kitna time rehta hai?”

The next morning, we were up on time. All trekkers quickly assembled to move; all, but one. That sole exception happened to be me. I had developed some health issue by the morning; maybe it had to do with the meager meals I was eating and the hard water obtained by boiling snow. I almost threw up twice but pushed it back into my stomach so as to keep my condition a secret (which is a really stupid thing to do at heights).

The organising team of Indiahikes (eight professionals) loaded us with some high-energy ration and we were off to Roopkund. From the very beginning, I felt myself inching away from the other trekkers, little by little. The only partner I had was the guide, who was walking behind the team. I could feel my body looking for food in my stomach, then my intestines and finally giving up! There was nothing there that could be consumed. Even a sip of water would feel like acid in my stomach. Dizziness took over me, as I saved myself from a fall every now and then. Noticing my struggle, the guide came to me asking if I could move on any further. I just nodded.

A few metres ahead, I saw one another trekker who had slowed down. She seemed ready to send her white flag up. As I overtook her, I advised her to move without stopping. “Walk as slow as you have to, but walk. Don’t stop at all.” Come to think of it, I can’t believe I had the morale to ask someone else to go on, considering was so sick and exhausted!

I glanced upwards to see the final checkpoint and a great disappointment set in me. The destination was too far and the separation too great. I cursed myself for being there, carrying weight like a mule, torturing my body and soul for no sins.

The leader then decided to give us a break – a huge respite for all those lagging behind. After this, the team regrouped. Now, the only option I had was to stick to the team, move when the team moved, stop when the team stopped and continue till we reached the goal. As the first rays of the sun fell upon us, a spark of confidence ignited inside us.

We had put every strand of muscle and nerve in our body to test and kicked our legs out of deep wet snow and steep muddy patches. We had fought biting winds and cold nights, corns in our feet and defeated legs. But at last, we had made it!

The sweet taste of victory made every inch of pain and every feeling of anger melt away. I asked myself again, 

Was it worth it?

And the answer came – Yes, every second of it.