The post I’m writing today is very dear to me. It’s been three weeks since I’ve returned from one of the grandest adventures of my life. The adventure went beyond my Rupin Pass trek experience (which I hold extremely close to my heart), it went beyond trekking solo in Switzerland, it even went beyond trekking in the grand sceneries of Kashmir.
It’s an experience that will go with me to my grave, because it was my first ever chance to be in an exploration team.
We explored a new route to Gidara Bugyal. 🙂
I had the honour of trekking with our founders, Arjun and Sandhya (for the very first time in seven years!), and a close colleague of mine, Izzat, who heads the Experiential Learning division at Indiahikes.
The four of us, along with our guide, Pravesh, set off to Gidara Bugyal from the village of Barsu — a route that’s seldom trekked on. Only shepherds usually roam these trails. We were looking to see if approaching Gidara Bugyal from the Siyari meadows would make a viable trekking route for the future.
Pravesh was sent on a recce of this trail earlier this year. Even though some parts of the trail were unfamiliar with him, what he knew was still enough for him to play the guide’s role.
Also, we were attempting the trek DIY style, experimenting with our new lightweight tents, sleeping bags, cooking gear and food.
What followed was 5 days of sheer adventure. We saw some unbelievable mountain scenery. Of course, the meadows of Gidara took the cake, but I’ll get to that later.
The backstory of the Gidara Bugyal exploration
“Gidara Bugyal is an unfinished story from ten years ago,” shares Sandhya, our co-founder. “Back in 2010, when I was recce-ing Dayara Bugyal for the first time, a local shepherd had told me about Gidara Bugyal. He was singing praises of these meadows like it was paradise on earth. He had said, ‘You haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen Gidara.’
“I got so excited that I called Arjun immediately and asked him if I should go alone and explore Gidara right then. Though Arjun was equally excited, he said we had too many things going on to do the exploration right then. The exploration did not happen,” she says.
Two years later, it was now Arjun’s turn at exploring the back corners of the Dayara and Siyari meadows. Siyari was almost halfway to Gidara Bugyal from Barsu. Though Arjun was tempted to explore Gidara, the uncertainty of the terrain and his lack of preparation made him hesitate. Again, the exploration of the Gidara Bugyal remained an unfinished dream.
“It never went out of our minds though. I always knew I had to go back, I was just waiting for the right time,” says Arjun. “I had to find out for myself if the route to Gidara from Barsu, via the Siyari meadows, was a worthwhile one.”
Finally, in 2021, ten years later, on a crisp November morning, five of us set off from Barsu, exploring a new route to Gidara Bugyal.
The new route to Gidara Bugyal
You may know that we already run the Gidara Bugyal trek (see trek here). Currently, we start this trek from Bhangeli, a small hamlet around 50 km from Gangotri. It’s a circular trek that touches the Gidara meadows and comes back to Bhangeli.
This time, we were doing the trek from Barsu to Bhangeli via the Gidara meadows.
Take a look at this map. You’ll see our current Gidara Bugyal trek in blue. The red trail is the new route we explored. The green one (just for reference) is our Dayara Bugyal trek.
The benefit of this new route was immediately apparent to us — we were doing what seemed like 2-3 treks within a span of 5 days. This needs a bit of explanation.
We started our trek from Barsu, across a ridge from where we could see Dayara Bugyal. From there we touched the Siyari meadows (a great trek on its own!). From Siyari, we climbed to a high point called Surya Top, and further up to 13,600 ft, which was the highest point on the trek.
On the third day, it was a challenging journey to reach the Gidara meadows. We had to squeeze through nooks and crannies in the mountains, across jagged cliffs and trail-less moraine sections.
Even though the distance wasn’t much (30 km), it felt like we had walked 50 km. The trek was not easy on my legs — I’ll admit I am not at my fittest best at this moment. But what we were bombarded with — the many scenery changes everyday made it feel like so many different treks.
I want to take you through some of the biggest highlights of the trek.
What to watch out for on this route:
The meadows of Siyari
To me, this was the first “Wow” point on the trek. Even though the first day’s trek was beautiful, through oak forests and lovely clearings (in one of which we camped), the moment we got to the meadows, I was stunned.
Out of nowhere, a vast expanse of golden brown grasslands opened up in front of us. Oak trees bordered the meadows. The Gangotri ranges formed the ever-perfect backdrop, against a spotless blue sky. A light stream tinkled through the meadows, shimmering in the morning sun.
My heart longed to camp right there, in the middle of this golden cauldron.
Here, I have something special I want to show you. Perched at a high point in the meadows, we made a video for you, to get an idea of where we were, and what you should do if you’re ever planning to do the Dayara Bugyal trek DIY style. I recorded it with Arjun. Take a look:
Proximity of the views of the Gangotri range and Mt Bandarpoonch
The mountain views on this trek are something that will remain etched in my memory forever. Even now, when I close my eyes and transport myself back to the trek, I can see the entire range before my eyes.
Starting from the left, Mt Srikanth, the three Gangotri peaks, Mt Jaonli, Draupadi ka Danda. For five days, these mountains accompanied us. We saw them from the rarest of angles, the closest of distances.
On our left, playing sneak-peek with us was the daunting Mt Bandarpoonch.
At one point, we were so close to Mt Bandarpoonch that we thought “why not just get onto that ridge, climb Bandarpoonch and come back.” 😛 (Bandarpoonch is a 6000 m massif btw).
Even from the forests on the last day, we saw such a different view of the ranges. I’ve never been on a trek where big Himalayan ranges accompany you almost every minute of the trail. Right from the base camp, all the way to the very last minute. I got to experience that at Gidara.
Reaching Gidara Bugyal
I’ve put “reaching Gidara Bugyal” as a highlight because our entrance into the meadows was so suspenseful and dramatic, that the adventure alone is a story!
On Day 3, when we started our trek from a campsite called Pailatu towards Gidara Bugyal, we did not know what was in store for us.
“I knew the general direction and the nature of the trail, but that was only by instinct and prior experience trekking in this region. I was cautious, since we were at the end of November. I knew there would be snow and verglas on the trail,” recollects Arjun.
The trail we trekked on that day was an adventure of a lifetime.
The entire trail was through an alpine section. Moraine that crumbled under our feet. Sections with 2-3 feet of fresh snow into which we sank knee-deep. Scary descents that overlooked deep chasms. Many times, we had to take off our backpacks and get on all fours to navigate big boulders. Such was the approach to Gidara Bugyal.
“I remember the moment that we first spotted Gidara Bugyal from a distance. I first saw the sheer cliff. It was a straight drop, like someone had sliced a cake neatly. At the top of the cake was where the meadows started. After all the rocks, snow and moraine, my heart soared when I saw soft golden meadows,” recollects Izzat.
Despite having spotted the meadows, we still had an hour of arduous trekking to reach the meadows.
Gidara Bugyal and the terrific ridge walk
We reached Gidara bugyal just as the sun was casting an evening glow. Somehow, all of us went quiet when we entered the meadows.
A large snow patch stretched out in front of us, forming a beautiful contrast with the sun-baked golden meadows. The meadows stretched out as far as our eyes could see. So vast was the landscape that even Kashmiri meadows seemed small in comparison!
“It was like being transported to another world,” recalls Sandhya. “Despite having trekked the best treks of our country, including Warwan Valley in Kashmir, I had not seen anything like these meadows,” she says.
To add to it, the Gangotri range stood calmly in the distance, soaking in the evening sun.
For Arjun and Sandhya, being in these meadows was like coming full circle. A dream from ten years ago finally come true. I could sense a deep sense of happiness and gratitude in both of them. Both were a little teary.
Here, I want to add a bit about the ridge walk — something we didn’t do, but our trekkers do. On our regular Gidara Bugyal trek, trekkers approach the meadows from the opposite side and walk the entire length of the meadows until the very edge.
Once there, they turn around and climb onto the ridge on the right side and cover the entire length of the meadows from the top of the ridge. This is an incredible experience, being able to see Gidara Bugyal on both sides of the ridge, — something we couldn’t do. It’s a very cleverly designed trek by our Senior Trek Leader Nitesh, and every trekker must experience it!
The descent through oak and maple forests
On the last day of the trek, when we were done with the toughest parts of the trek came the most pleasurable trek through a dense oak and maple forest.
Given that we were trekking in early winter, the trees had shed their leaves and the forest floor was a soft mattress of maple leaves.
But the forest alone did not enchant us. There were two other things.
First, the clearings. There were so many clearings and small ponds in the forest that trekkers would love to simply drop their bags and rest there. The clearings opened up to views of the Gangotri range from a completely different angle.
Second, the birds that we spotted. “You know, most trekkers would fawn over spotting a Himalayan monal. Even on my past treks, with great difficulty, I’ve seen one or two monals. But in these forests, we spotted so many Himalayan monals!” exclaims Arjun.
We spotted martens, blue sheep and even a full-grown bear on this trek. A first of everything for me, especially the bear part!
There are so many other highlights I’d love to talk about — the Dokrani meadows, the campsites, the stream-crossings, the unreal sunsets and sunrises that we saw every single day, our moonrise experience from behind the Gangotri ranges, but I’ll save these for another day.
Our Experience of Trekking DIY Style
If you remember, last week, I told you that we had re-launched our DIY Treks. (If you missed it, read about it here). We have introduced brand new lightweight tents, sleeping bags, food and cooking gear after months of research and experimentation.
Our Gidara Bugyal trek was a final experiment before we took the DIY treks live. And boy were we impressed with the gear!
Our new Crosstrek Lite tents, which weighed as less as 2.4 kilos, worked wonderfully in temperatures up to -10 degrees.
Our new sleeping bags were so light that with all my winter layers + my sleeping bag, my backpack weighed just 7-8 kilos.
Our cooking gear was particularly impressive, especially because it out-did all the cooking gear we have used in the past (watch a video on it here).
Finally, the food was finger-licking-good! Of course, we made the premixes in-house, with our own recipes. But having hot manchow soup with crispy noodles, sitting in the middle of a forest on a cold night was a one-of-a-kind experience.
I know I seem to be gloating about all the DIY gear, but this big success has come after many failed experiments and small wins.
“Reducing weight of gear at such unprecedented levels (almost halving them in weight), yet not losing out on their efficiency has been a huge challenge for us. I’m going to be very proud when DIY trekkers use this gear and remain warm and comfortable on a Himalayan trek,” says Manish Pasad, head of Research and Development at Indiahikes.
The first question that you may have in your mind is “When are we opening the Gidara Bugyal trek?”
The answer is, I’m not sure. This route does have its share of uncertainties. The approach is difficult in summer, because of the section between Surya Top and Gidara Bugyal — the trails are narrow, and snow doesn’t melt in many sections because they are west facing. From mid-September to mid-November the trek could be doable, but we need to do another exploration, but this time with real trekkers.
The trail will need a bit of designing as well. Some campsites need to be changed, water sources to be more sure of.
So we will have to wait for sometime before we open this trek from the Barsu side. Maybe if you want to be part of the first exploration team, you could send me your interest in an email.
But whatever it is, if ever this route opens, then it would be a royal treat for the trekker. This route is worth the wait.
If you have any thoughts, questions, or experiences on this route, drop in a comment below.
We’ll be back with more trek talk soon.