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Photo Courtesy : Vaibhav Chauhan

Bali Pass- Ruinsara Lake Trek

  • The Bali Pass- Ruinsara Lake Trek is the only trek that offers views of Bandarpoonch, Kalanag and Swargarohini peaks at a touching distance.
  • There aren’t many treks that let one experience the raw grandeur of a Himalayan Pass Crossing. Connecting Har ki Dun valley with Yamunotri, the Bali Pass has a lesser-known exhilarating trail.
  • It traverses the confluence of Tons and Ruinsara rivers, the undisturbed serenity of the Ruinsara Valley and the lush meadows of Dev Thach. Soon, greenery paves way for an alpine zone.
  • The Bali Pass offers a 360 degree panoramic view of the Bandarpoonch, Kalanag and Swargarohini peaks – at a mere touching distance, something that isn’t found on treks like the Kedarkantha or Har Ki Dun. This reward doesn’t come easy, as this trek is a difficult one, not suitable for beginners.
DIFFICULTY:

Difficult

TRAIL TYPE:

Crossover trail which starts from Sankri and ends at Janakchatti. Trail gets tricky and sometimes non-existent. A difficult trail.

DURATION:

6 days

ROAD HEAD:

Sankri

BASE CAMP:

Dehradun

BEST SEASON:

Late May till Mid June, September till First week of October (Except Monsoon season)

Bali Pass- Ruinsara Lake Trek

4 Reasons why Bali Pass Trek should be done in June

1. Like any other Himalayan Pass Traverse, Bali Pass is best when done in pre or post monsoon season. The generous amount of snow in the pass makes the pass-crossing more interesting in the month of June.

2. The Har ki Dun and Ruinsara Valley are at their thriving best in June. You see an abundance of greenery all around. The flora and fauna are at their peak. The meadows of Dev Thach and camping grounds of Ruinsara Gad are too tempting to be ignored.

3. The view of the mountain ranges is breathtaking in the month of June. It is incredible to be in such close proximity of Swargarohini ranges, Bandarpoonch, Kalanag peaks.

4. Bali Pass Trek is an ideal trek for anyone who wants a perspective of the inner high region of the valley. From the high grounds of Damini campsite, you can understand and observe the logical approach towards more challenging expeditions like Dhumdharkandi Pass, Tatkar-Puldhar Pass, Phachukandi Pass etc.

Things to look out for in Bali Pass Trek

1. The striking vistas of the Govind National Park and Ruinsara Valley are breathtaking. On day one, the ancient villages of Gangad and Osla strike a chord with unique village cultures and folklore. The ancient temples at Osla have riveting Himachali architecture that can keep you absorbed for a long time.

2.The alpine meadows of Dev Thach in middle of the Ruinsara Forest are a grand surprise of the trek. The setting of Dev Thach is picture perfect. A lush meadow surrounded by tall trees with Swargarohini and Kalanag looming in the background makes for a perfect setting. It makes for a very tempting spot to camp.

3.The trail from Dev Thach to Ruinsara Lake, meandering next to the Ruinsara River is a beautiful and tricky one. The valley is narrow and one can be excused for comparing it with Rishi Gorge from Nanda Devi Sanctuary, although it isn’t as difficult as the latter. The array of alpine flowers across the river bank is astonishing.

4. The Ruinsara Lake is a special glacial lake resting amidst beautiful mountain ranges of Swaragrohini. The meadows around are neat and untouched. One can experience a sense of tranquility all around the lakeside.

5. The approach to Bali Pass is a challenging one. In the month of June and July, the higher regions of the pass are covered in snow. Trekkers who enjoy high altitude pass traverses will find themselves totally at home. The pass crossing day is long over never ending snow dunes and ridges to cross.

ATM points and Mobile connectivity

Purola has the last ATM point before your trek begins.  Purola and Sankri have BSNL mobile phone connections that work intermittently (both mobile and landline). Signal is intermittent in the mountains. Do not depend on it. Finish all your important calls at Purola.

Day 1: Drive from Dehradun to Sankri

Take an overnight train from Delhi to Dehradun. There are two night trains available from Delhi to Dehradun (check the ‘getting there’ tab for more details.) The drive till Sankri will take you through Nainbagh, Naugaon, Purola, Jarmola,Mori Naitwar (left from Naitwar will lead you to Dhaula, which is the base camp for Rupin Pass  and Bharadsar Lake trek), and finally Sankri.

Sankri is a charming village with around 250 houses. In peak season, it is usually bustling with trekking activity as it is the base camp for many treks- Kedarkantha, Har Ki Dun, Borasu Pass. Stay at the GMVN guest house slightly up the road. Walk through the village and learn about how the people live there.  The peaks of Swargarohini shimmer in the evening sun, standing tall over the ridges beyond Sankri.

Day 2: Drive from Sankri to Taluka. Taluka to Chilud-dhar via Taluka 

  • Altitude: 7053 feet to 8,159 feet
  • Distance: 11 kms (the trek from Taluka)
  • Time: 4-5 hours

There is a road that connects Sankri with Taluka. This 12 kilometre-long journey may be covered by hiring a local jeep (subject to the condition of the road as this is a landslide-prone route, often closed during monsoon). The trail is almost a level-walk going through 10 to 11 mountain bends. On the way, there are three major streams gushing down the road, almost submerging certain sections of the road. The hike is scenic, going past a series of wild roses, irises and bamboo, chestnut and deodar trees. Around 2 km before Taluka, there is a campsite beside a stream. Camp here in case there is not enough time to trek till Seema.

Bali Pass- Ruinsara Lake Trek bali pass sankri Taluka village is a small one, centered on concrete houses that look out of sync with the village architecture seen at Sankri, Osla, Gangad etc. There is a GMVN Guest House for accommodation. The dhaba food here is basic.

From Taluka, next to Forest Guest House, the trail descends to the river valley of Supin and continues through a series of forests on your left as the river remains on your right. This shepherd trail goes along the river on a level walk. Around 10 minutes into the hike, you will see the first cemented bridge on a small stream. Another 15 minutes of level walk will have you reach another bridge, this time a wooden one. These two spots are conducive to fill up drinking water. Bali Pass- Ruinsara Lake Trek bali pass sankri

From here, walk by a series of gradual descends for 15 minutes, till you see a small clearing next to the river. This is an option for setting up an emergency camp if need be. Another 10-15 minutes later, you see a section where you climb down, meeting the Supin’s tributary that flows on your right side. Look for a wooden bridge that can be used in crossing this river, just below Datmir village.

After crossing the tributary, there is a short climb of less than a minute till you reach a camping ground. From here, facing the inside of the valley, locate two trails, one moving up and the other going straight ahead. Take the one that goes straight ahead. The trail will now deteriorate, owing to a series of landslide-prone sections adjacent to the Supin River.

Around 15 minutes of level walking later, you reach a land cleared by shepherds to setup temporary night shelters. The trail moves up with a series of gradual climbs followed with level walks. Around 10 minutes into the hike, look out for your first landslide-prone section. You may have to come down the river and cross the section that has caved in. After 20 minutes of similar walking, spot a river crossing option via a wooden bridge over Supin River. Ignore it and proceed straight ahead. After five minutes, there will be the first section of steep incline trail in a zig-zag formation. This section will take about 15-20 minutes to cover.

During rainy season, expect this trail to be completely in covered in mud. The trail now will relax with a series of level walks till you see a big stream coming down the hill on your right, over a wooden bridge crossing. The trail picks up a little altitude as you once again enter the forested cover with a series of ascents and level walks. After 30-40 minutes of easy walk, look for an old village setting across the river on your left. This is Gangad village. After another 20 minutes of level walk, take a diversion towards the right side, till you reach a dhaba next to a wooden bridge crossing.

Bali Pass- Ruinsara Lake Trek bali pass

Behind the dhaba is a small hut where locals use the momentum of water to run a mechanical turbine that grinds cereal into flour. Those who want to camp at Osla may cross a wooden bridge to get to the other side of the mountain, left of Supin River and then trek straight along the river till they reach Osla. To reach Seema, one has to trek straight up by remaining at the true right of the river, all the way till Seema.

There are a few steep ascents but are not in continuity, as the trail relaxes giving certain sections of level walks. The landscape and condition of terrain will remain like this for an hour and a half. Look for cemented houses built across a series of barley and wheat fields towards your right. The ground next to the cemented house is Chilud-dhar. One can camp here for the night as there is no spot available in Seema for camping.

Day 3: Chilud-dhar to Ruinsara Lake via Dev Thach and Untigaad campsite 

  • Altitude: 8,159 feet to 11,853 feet via 10,016 feet and 11,450 feet
  • Distance: 20 kim
  • Time: 8-9 hours

Today is a long day for trekking. Start early in the morning, taking the trail going ahead from the campsite. Pass a cemented bridge and take the trail going ahead. Observe Osla wooden bridge towards your right over Supin River, which goes to Osla village. The trail is a well-defined leveled one, with few gradual ascents. After 20 minutes of trekking, you will reach Seema. Pass a series of dhabas and GMVN and Forest Guest Houses in Seema.

A 200 metre-long brisk walk will have you pass another bridge, crossing over River Supin. Do not cross over. Take the trail going down, with River Supin on your left as you by-pass the bridge. Ensure you do not take the trail ascending from here. Note that from here onwards, the trail gradually ascends as you near the entry point of Ruinsara Valley. Pass by a series of streams and landslide zones. Bali Pass- Ruinsara Lake Trek bali pass Around 30 minutes into the hike, you will cross a series of huge boulders as you enter Ruinsara Forest. The trail from here ascends sharply over the boulders. Leaving the river below you, climb up briskly as you near the point from where the trail takes a right. This is the point from where you will be able to see Osla village behind you for the last time, as you enter the Ruinsara Valley. Another 30 minutes of level walk later, you will enter the meadows of Dev Thach. Follow the trail going from the centre of the meadow surrounded by tall tress all around. Dev Thach is approximately 2 km in length and is a delightful walk.

Bali Pass- Ruinsara Lake Trek bali pass

On your left, observe Har ki Dun Valley, below which is the confluence of Har ki Dun and Ruinsara rivers. Walk for another 15 minutes till you reach the last section of the pasture land. From here, look for a forest trail descending sharply towards the Ruinsara river below. The descent is rapid and steep. Around 15 minutes and 100 meters of careful descent later, you reach a wooden bridge that crosses over River Ruinsara. Observe the Ruinsara Valley towards your right. Cross the bridge and take the trail going inside the valley, with the river on your right.

Bali Pass- Ruinsara Lake Trek bali pass

The next 45 minutes of the trail are a series of level and gradual ascents over boulders and patches of pasture land next to the river. Observe a cemented hut ahead of you. This is a good spot of camping or taking a break for lunch. The condition of the trail deteriorates rapidly from here forth as you trek towards the interiors of the valley.

Pass through three mountain bends, after which you’ll pass through a series of landslide zones. The trails have been completely or partially broken in these sections. Take great care in crossing these sections. Depending upon the conditions, one may have to use ropes for crossing over the broken bends. These sections are consistent for another hour and a half till you reach a waterfall at your left side. Descend down the trail and pass the waterfall section. Once crossed, the trail again ascends sharply as you leave the last bend and enter a series of meadows covered with glacial snow and scree. Walk over this ridge carefully.

bali-pass6

In a few minutes, you’ll come across a vast meadow with birch forests forming a vivid background. The Unti-Gaad campsite is another 30 minutes’ walk from here. There is a small river-crossing over a tributary of Ruinsara here. The crossing is fairly simple. Once crossed, walk straight and re-join the trail that is next to River Ruinsara. Look for a makeshift bridge over the river. The ground towards the left of this bridge is Unti-Gaad. It is advisable to camp here rather than Ruinsara Lake, as this camping ground is more secure from cold winds.

It is also on the next day’s trail to Bali Base Camp. Ruinsara Lake, however, is a 30 minutes’ hike ahead. One can halt at Unti-Gad and do a short excursion to the lake and return to the campsite.

bali-pass7

The trail to Ruinsara Lake goes inside the birch forest towards the true left of the river. Ensure you do not meander towards the right. Once you leave the forest behind, cross a boulder zone till you see a hut on your right ahead. Walk towards the hut. Observe Ruinsara Lake below you towards the left. The lake is surrounded by meadows where one can camp. Swargarohini ranges are behind the mountain ridge next to the lake and are not visible from here. Your return to Unti-Gad campsite and will take around 20 minutes.

Day 4: Unti-Gad to Bali Base Camp (Odari) 

  • Altitude: 11,450 feet to 13,287 feet
  • Distance: 5-6 kms
  • Time: 3-4 hours

Today is a light day with a promise of great views of the entire Ruinsara and Kyarkoti Valley. Cross the bridge from your campsite and take the landslide-prone trail on your left. The mountain ridge is completely broken as you ascend through a maze of boulders. It takes 20 minutes to cross this till you reach level ground and are able to see a tributary of Ruinsara River passing on your left. Look for a suitable spot for river crossing. It is advisable to start early so that the depth of water is not high. There is no makeshift bridge and one may have to boulder hop across this tributary. A rope can be handy as well, though not necessary. Once you’ve crossed, take the trail going straight towards the snow moraine that lies ahead, keeping Ruinsara River on the left.

bali-pass8

Treat yourself to the beautiful Swargarohini ranges that are completely visible for the first time. You’ll see the first patches of snow in the meadows ahead. Cross over these meadows and move to the right side of the valley as you start gaining considerable altitude. The steepness of the climb gradually increases as you enter the snow line. The snow is slippery here and a micro spike/crampon is very handy in this section.

The route to Bali Pass Base Camp swerves to the right. You now enter a funnel valley. In an hour or two (depending upon the pace of the ascent), you will reach the top of first ridge. From here, you can see a small snow ridge. Behind that ridge are the ice fields of “Odari” or Bali Base Camp. The views of Kyarkoti towards the right and Swargarohini massif behind you are outstanding.

The trek from here to the Base Camp is another 20-30 minutes of gradual ascent over slippery snow. Observe a level ice field with a few semi-frozen small glacial ponds in between. This is Bali Base Camp. Look for a level ground for pitching the tents. In the month of June and July tents will be pitched on hard snow.

bali-pass9

If one wants to trek further, one can proceed ahead to the Advance Base Camp of Bali, which is another 2-3 hours on a snow ridge away.

Day 5: Bali B.C. (Odari) to Damini Forest camping ground via Bali Advanced B.C., Bali Pass 

  • Altitude: 13,287 ft to 11,076 ft via 15,147 feet, 16,207 feet
  • Distance: 10-12 km
  • Time: 9-10 hours

Today is a long grueling day for trekking. Start very early in the morning, preferably around 4 or 5 am. One can start much earlier, depending upon prevailing weather conditions. Crampons are required for today. There is also a section where ropes need to be fixed. Carry plenty of water as there are no water points for a long section of the trek. Looking ahead, observe a series of five snow ridges that need to be traversed. Bali Pass summit is not visible from this section for the moment. It takes around 30-45 minutes to climb to the top of the third snow ridge as you gain an altitude of 200 meters. bali-pass10

From this spot, you will be able to see a snow ridge line that connects to a steep climb over a series of snow ridges. The initial walk is a gradual walk over a level ridge. There is huge accumulation of snow all around. It is wise to remain on top of the ridge and climb up via that route. No ropes are required here. These sections are not technical but are long and tiring.

After an hour or two (depending upon your pace) you will reach the top of the fifth ridge. From here, you can see Bali Pass Col towards your left ahead. Below the pass is the camping spot of Advanced Base Camp. Walk towards the left side, crossing as many as three snow dunes to reach the spot, from where the true ascent of Bali Col begins. bali-pass11 The climb is steep and you might require an expert guide to find the route. There are no crevasses here, but there’s a lot of snow.  An ice axe is useful here, to ensure sure footing. It is advisable not to take a straight line ascent route. Making scissor-bend trails is more practical. The climb can take anything from 45 minutes to one and a half hours. As you reach the top of the mountain Col, you will be able to see the Yamunotri side of the valley for the first time.

The Bali Pass summit is another 10 minutes of ascent towards the connecting ridge on your left. The last climb is again steep, but doable. The summit of Bali pass has enough space for a large group of 30-40 people to assemble. bali-pass12 Once you’re reached the Bali Pass summit, enjoy a clear 360 degree view of the Ruinsara and Yamuntori side. One can see Bandarpoonch (White peak) and Kalanag (Black Peak) and also the logical route to Saptarishikund. Look down towards the Yamunotri side for a connecting snow ridge that descends. This is from where you will descend. Fixed ropes need to be placed in the initial 60-70 metres. Care must be taken while descending. The second section of descent can be done by merely sliding down towards the Advanced Base Camp site on the Yamunotri side.

bali-pass13

Once down, observe snow fields descending on your right. There are multiple routes that one can take to descend from here. Moving down on soft snow can be done swiftly. After 15 minutes, you will reach the last point of the Advanced Base Camp ridge. From here, there is another sharp descent down to base camp. Let an experienced team member find a best possible descent route from here. You will cross a few boulders over snow. Once this section is crossed, one can slide down till the Base Camp. From here, move briskly as you lose altitude. Another 30 minutes of brisk descent later, you will be required to traverse to the right side of the mountain ridge till you reach the pinnacle.

bali-pass14 From here, you will be able to see the upper and lower Damini forest ridge below you. The descent from here is tricky, especially if there is snow. If the accumulation of snow is large, you may need to place ropes. The trails here are non-existent and one has to descend sharply over huge boulders and snow.

Look for a land clearing 500 meters below you. This section is like a maze and the team must do this with extreme caution. It may take an hour or two to cross this section safely. Once you enter the upper forest of Damini, rejoin a well-laid trail that now descends rapidly. There is no water source at Upper Damini camping ground anymore. Hence, it is advisable to trek down to lower catchment area inside the forest. The trek down is another 2-3 km, till you reach a small camping spot next to a stream. You have now reached lower Damini camping spot. (One can also camp at the Base Camp location in the Yamunotri side of Bali Col, depending upon weather conditions.)

Day 6: Damini Forest camping ground to Janakchatti

  • Distance: 8-9 kms
  • Time: 2-3 hours

Today is an easy day. Take the trail descending the lower Damini forest. The trail is well-defined and after 30 minutes of steep descent, you will connect with the old Yamunotri trail. Take a left if you want to detour and visit the Yamunotri temple. Otherwise, take a right and follow the trail that descends and connects with the new Yamunotri to Janakchatti pilgrim trail. The trail from here is cemented and one can reach Janakchatti in couple of hours. From Janakchatti, board a bus or a shared jeep to Dehradun or Barkot.

Cardiovascular endurance
This trek requires a good amount of endurance. You can begin by jogging everyday. Start jogging at a slow pace and then keep increasing your pace day by day. Make sure you are able to jog 5 km in 30 minutes before the start of the trek. It takes time to be able to cover this distance in the given time. Swimming, cycling and stair climbing without too many breaks in between can help too.

Strength
This is another area you should work on. There is a lot of trekking distance that you will cover carrying your backpacks and trekking along with your backpack is not a very easy task. You have to walk on uneven terrain during the trek. It could be taxing for your legs. For this, strengthening your legs will help. You can do some squats to strengthen them. Do around 3 sets of squats, with 8 squats in each set.

Flexibility
Another aspect that will help you trek comfortably is flexibility. For this, you can do some stretching exercises – stretch your hamstrings, quadriceps, hip flexors, lower back muscles and shoulders regularly. On your trek, it is important that you arrive on the slopes with your muscles relaxed. Carrying a backpack, however light, can become a strain after a while. These exercises will help you to be in good shape before the trek.

Working out indoors
If you can’t go out and jog because of time and space constraints, here’s a video you can use to work out indoors.

Bare necessities

  1. Trekking shoes: The trek distance is long and you will have to walk for long distances which need you to have comfortable trekking shoes. You can watch this video to learn to choose the right trekking shoes.
  2. Backpack (40-60 litres): A backpack with sturdy straps and a supporting frame. Rain cover for backpack is essential.

 

Clothes

  1. Three Warm Layers: You will be trekking and camping at high altitudes. So make sure you have the apt clothes for the climatic conditions. It will be cold at the higher altitudes so make sure you have at least three layers of warm clothes to protect yourself.
  2. Two trek pants: One pair of pants should suffice for this trek. But you can carry one spare pair in case the first one gets wet. Wear one pair and carry one pair.
  3. Two collared t-shirts: Carry light, full sleeved t-shirts that prevent sun burns on the neck and arms. Again, wear one and carry one.
  4. Thermals (Optional): Those who are more susceptible to cold can carry thermals to wear at night.

Accessories

  1. Sunglasses: Sunglasses are to prevent snow blindness. 
  2. Suncap: The sun is more harsh at high altitudes so wear a suncap to protect your face and neck.
  3. Synthetic hand gloves: One pair of fleece or woolen hand gloves. One pair of water proof/resistant, wind proof gloves.
  4. Balaclava: You may use woollen scarves instead as well.
  5. Socks (2 pairs): Apart from two sports socks, you can take a pair of woollen socks for the night.
  6. Headlamp/LED torch: Mandatory
  7. Trekking pole: Watch this video to understand why you need a trekking pole.

Others

  1. Toiletries (Sunscreen, moisturiser, light towel, lip balm, toilet paper, toothbrush, toothpaste)
  2. Cutlery: Carry a spoon, coffee mug and a lunch box. We insist on trekkers getting their own cutlery for hygiene reasons.
  3. Two water bottles: 1 litre each
  4. Plastic covers: While packing, use plastic bags to compartmentalise things and carry few extra plastic bags for wet clothes.

Mandatory Personal Medical Kit

  1. Diamox – 10 tablets (to prevent AMS)
  2. Crocin – 6 tablets (fever)
  3. Avomine – 4 tablets (motion sickness)
  4. Avil 25mg – 4 tablets (allergies)
  5. Combiflam – 4 tablets (Pain killer)
  6. Disprin – 6 tablets (headache)
  7. Norflox TZ & Lomofen– 6 tablets each (diarrhea)
  8. Digene – 10 tablets (acidity)
  9. Omez/ Rantadine – 10 tablets (antacids)
  10. Crepe bandage – 3 to 5 meters
  11. Gauze – 1 small roll
  12. Band aid – 10 strips
  13. Cotton – 1 small roll
  14. ORS – 10 packets
  15. Betadine or any antiseptic cream
  16. Moov spray (aches, & sprains)

Here is a video from our Bali Pass exploration. Watch out for the 360 degreee view from Bali Pass summit of Ruinsara and Yamuntori Valleys!

To reach Dehradun
The best way to reach Dehradun is to take an overnight train from Delhi

  • 12205 Nandadevi Express – 23.50 – 3.55

There is a direct bus from Dehradun to Sankri. It leaves at 6 am from Dehradun Railway station. Be there by 5.40 am to get a seat.

If you are reaching Dehradun late, you can take a bus to Purola/Naugaon and then a connecting bus to Sankri. The last bus leaves from Dehradun Railway Station at 12 noon. If you reach Purola late, you can stay there overnight.

If you are taking a hired taxi, the route is pretty straightforward. First, head to Mussoorie, then move down to Yamuna Bridge, via Kempty falls. Then follow the Yamuna on your left until you reach Damta and further on to Naugaon. Cross the Yamuna at Naugaon and head towards Purola. The route immediately turns scenic, with pine trees overlooking the road.

At Purola break for lunch. From Purola, the route gets more mesmerising with the road climbing up and descending through thick pine forests until you get to Mori along the Tons River. (5 km out of Purola try to locate the south face of the Kedarkantha peak on your left. The highest peak, it is not difficult to spot.) From Mori, follow the Tons to Naitwar, again through some breathtaking mountain scenery. At Naitwar, the road branches off to the right along the Supin, until you get to Sankri an hour later.

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AASHISH CHAWLA

AASHISH CHAWLA

Aashish Chawla is a wandering soul who loves to travel deep and offbeat, trying to connect with rivers,mountains, wilderness,people and cultures. He loves trekking and lands up on some Sahyadri trail almost every weekend. Writing and meeting new people always excites him to no end.