Buran Ghati is a rare trail in Himachal that can be a great alternative to the Roopkund trek. Arjun Majumdar tells you why.
When I see the registrations of our Roopkund trek, I find most of our groups in May are already filled out by the last week of March. This really isn’t a happy sight.
Roopkund has become a Mecca for trekking. I admit that Roopkund is one of the greatest treks of our country, but frankly the mad rush to do Roopkund is also going over the top. When hundreds of trekkers are crowding up on the same slope at the same time, it is no longer fun. Buran Ghati is a terrific alternative to Roopkund. Yet, not many people have even heard of the trek.
I feel Buran Ghati needs a bit of explaining. It is a new trek. Understandably, not many know of the treasures it holds.
When I went for the exploration, what struck me about Buran Ghati on the whole was how extremely visually scenic the trek was — much above par compared to other Himalayan treks. The trek is not just pretty. It is almost built to perfection. So perfect are the pine trees and grasslands that they seem out of a picture-book. Along with the pretty visuals is an adventure of a lifetime. Climbing the Buran pass and descending from it will forever remain as one of your life’s high adventure moment.
This combination of high scenic returns plus adventure is what makes Buran a terrific alternative to Roopkund. I’ll also add that the difficulty level of the Buran Ghati trek is almost identical to Roopkund.
Let me give you a day to day comparison of the two treks with my ratings.
First, the start of the trek. Roopkund starts at Lohajung. Buran Ghati begins at Janglik. Village to village Janglik is infinitely prettier than Lohajung. Janglik is still untouched by civilisation. Homes are beautifully designed, mostly wooden with stone roofs. Snow peaks and pretty farms surround the village. Pine trees hang over the top of the village. When you arrive at Janglik you truly feel you are in the mountains. Lohajung, thanks to commercial trekking, has become a concrete mess — though you still get lovely views of Mt Nanda Ghunti and the Didina valley.
Day one of the trek. Again, head to head, I would give Buran Ghati a thumbs up. Climbing out of pretty farms, the Buran Ghati trail gets into superb pine forests in an hour or so. The walk through the pine trees is dreamy, moving in and out of lovely clearings. The trail then dramatically bursts open into big grasslands. At the end of which is the superb Dayara meadows. Dayara meadows is a visual bomb! It’s so prettily landscaped that it will remind you of postcards from childhood. In fact there’s a particular stretch where trekkers get a first glimpse of Dayara. We call it the ‘wow’ point. At this stretch, I am yet to see a trekker who has not stopped dead on his tracks, with wonderment in his eyes, so unbelievably beautiful is the setting.
On the first day, the Roopkund trek too gets into superb oak and rhododendron forests — the colours, light and shades are fascinating. The oak forests are extremely dense and beautiful. They stay beautiful all the way to your first camp at Gheroli Patal. Until Buran Ghati took over, Roopkund was my favourite ‘day one’ trek thanks to its oak forests.
Day two, well, Roopkund takes it, but Buran Ghati matches up almost equally. On day two of Roopkund, trekkers continue through the oak forest in an easterly direction. The sun filters in through the forest like a movie set. Suddenly, trekkers pop out to the magnificent Ali Bugyal. I really don’t have to talk much about Ali Bugyal — it is one of the most beautiful high altitude meadows of India. Walking barefoot along Ali Bugyal is an experience that you’ll cherish all your life. The trek ends at Bedni Bugyal, which many believe is even prettier than Ali Bugyal. I would agree too. The sunset at Bedni Bugyal has always been a mesmerizing and emotional moment for trekkers. Let’s compare Buran Ghati now.
On the Buran Ghati trek, day two starts out of the superb Dayara meadows. Trekking along the meadows, the trail weaves in and out through lovely folds of the mountains, through sections of pine and silver birch forests. Clear mountain streams spring and hop through these folds. It is lovely to see these mountain springs tumble down from high grassy mountain slopes. The trek marches above the valley, with pine trees almost hugging your ankles. Lovely snow peaks, not very high, accompany the trekkers all along. The grasslands are still tantalising. In about 5 hours we make camp at Litham at the intersection of two valleys — which is such a rarity in trekking. Litham opens up views on two sides each with its own splendid views. As a trekker, you are spoilt for choice. Such settings make Buran’s day two almost at par with Roopkund’s.
Note: We have an extra acclimatisation day on the Buran Ghati trek to do the Chandranahan lake (day three).We do that from Litham. That’s another exciting side trek but I’ll talk about that some other day. That’s why I jump to day 4 directly.
I would rate Buran Ghati higher for its fourth day trek. On day 4 of the Buran Ghati trek we walk along the floor of the Litham valley, now getting daringly close to the Dhauladhar range. The range stands almost like a wall in front. It is very exciting to see the high snow ranges so close. Our guides will excitedly point out the great Gunas pass, a sister pass to Buran Ghati. Early in the season you are already stepping into your first snow patches of the trek here — which is again very exciting. The grasslands start thinning and around a bend you catch the first sight of Buran Ghati. Your eyes are almost transfixed on Buran Ghati as you mentally plot your way up the pass. At Dunda, you’ve touched the snow line. It is a total alpine setting with snow patches all around. Camping on snow is a treat for any trekker.
The third day of the Roopkund trek is pretty too. The trail moves along the entire length of Bedni Bugyal — which is, let me put it this way, a trekking paradise. Where else in this world do you get an opportunity to trek over such pretty meadows? Later, it jumps over to the other side of the mountain to get to Patar Nachauni, the last of the grasslands. The entire trek with Mt Nanda Ghunti and Trishul always ahead of you is very mentally absorbing. Though the beauty of the trek is a feast for the eyes, Buran takes it with its exciting moments.
The fourth day of the Roopkund trek compares very well with Buran Ghati’s day 4. Trekkers climb from Patar Nachauni to the shrine at Kalu Vinayak, which looks like an impossible vertical climb. At Kalu Vinayak trekkers get a first glimpse of the Roopkund flank. Jaws usually drop here. The change in scenery is extremely dramatic. The icy terrain of Bhagwabasa with the Roopkund flank behind and Mt Trishul towering over the setting is a sight to see. At Kalu Vinayak trekkers excitedly look for a glimpse of Roopkund, the mystery lake they are heading to. When they realise it is hidden inside a tarn high above the mountain flank, trekkers get a nervous tingle at that prospect. What an adventure it is going to be!
Let’s get to the big day. The crossing of Buran Ghati and climbing of Roopkund. Right away, both are exciting days. I would give both treks an equal rating. If you push me hard, I’ll go with Buran Ghati with its nose ahead just an inch. I’ll tell you why.
On the Roopkund trek you don’t get to see the Roopkund lake until the last two minutes of the climb. To get to the lake you need to cover an almost totally snow covered flank of the mountain for two hours before you get to a spot which is directly below Roopkund. From that spot you make a final assault to Roopkund over switchbacks and a wide climb that suddenly pushes you inside the Roopkund crater. The sight of Roopkund makes you gasp. It is much larger than you have mentally imagined. The setting is surreal. Cliffs hang over Roopkund at its far end casting a big shadow over the lake. You can almost hear your voice echo in the deathly silence of the spot. Getting to Roopkund is an achievement. It is an emotional high. Trekkers often break down and cry.
Buran Ghati on the other hand is a thriller the moment you step out of Dhunda campsite. The glaciers flowing down the pass first needs to be traversed. Then comes the climb to the pass over the beautiful snow covered gully. It takes about 3 hours to just climb to the pass. It is 3 hours of adrenalin pumping moments.
Then there is the pass. It is a razor’s edge, wide enough for only about 4 people to stand hand to hand. The view on the other side is stunning. From the pass snow flanks flow down the glacial valley as far as the eye can see. Where the snow ends, a lush green valley with pine forests stretch out. It is a magical sight. But the fun is in actually getting down from the pass.
Standing on top of the pass at 15,000 feet you suddenly face the prospect of staring down a near vertical face of snow wall. It brings your heart to your mouth. It’s then when your trek leader throws down the rappelling ropes does your heart rate relax a bit. I think it must be the highest rappelling spot on earth. The rappel down is not for long — perhaps 50 meters. Right after rappelling the next round of fun starts. Your trek leader gives you a heave ho to send you sliding down the snow patches. If ever there is moment when your inner child shows up it is this. Trekkers hoot with glee when they hurtle down these snow patches. There are five big slides, each of them more fun than the other. It is a day of extreme exhilaration! When you finally walk down the grassy trails of the green Baruva valley, there’s a spring in your step!
There’s more to these treks. In fact lot more. The purpose of my article is not to show you how great these treks are. But to tell you that there are treks like Buran Ghati that match up to Roopkund. Not only do they match up but in some aspects, even get better. It is a terrific alternative to the Roopkund trek. It makes more sense now to think of Buran Ghati — especially when you see the big crowd on the Roopkund slope.