Har Ki Dun: Entry into the Himalayan Treks

Himalayas! One of the biggest natural assets of India. Home to nine of the top ten tallest peaks of the world. They are a blessing for India. A natural wall of defence, keeps frigid winds away, traps monsoon winds, and provides ample tourism opportunities.

Its not a surprise that this region hosts the best hiking trails, ranging from easy, to most difficult, to suicidal! So, in April of 2015, when my friend invited me to the Har Ki Dun trek with Indiahikes, without thinking, I said Yes!

Har Ki Dun is a Moderate level trek in the Garhwal Himalayas. You cover a distance of ~48 km in 5 days in Govind Pashu National Park. The trail is steep, and depending on the season you may have to hike for two days in knee deep snow.

Initial research pointed out that I needed to improve my fitness levels to be able to finish the trek. I started running and after about a month, I was able to run the recommended distance of 4.5km in 30 mins. I was happy to achieve the required fitness levels, and was ready for the trek. I have some experience with hiking, and so I knew I had to pack light. After I finished packing, including water, my rucksack weighed ~9kg.

I reached Delhi early in the morning, my friends were supposed to meet me at the station in the evening. We were to catch Nanda Devi Express for Dehradun in the evening. Indiahikes had already arranged for transportation from Dehradun station. I spent the day meeting some friends. In the evening we got together at New Delhi station. Most of the trekkers were travelling by the same train. We got acquainted on the station itself. Soon, we were on the way to Dehradun.

Day 1 - Arrival at Sankri

We reached Dehradun early in the morning. Cabs were waiting outside the railway station. This was the most boring part of the journey, a 10hr ride to sankri. The road starts to climb almost immediately and is full of twists and turns, limiting the speed. It does provide some spectacular views though.

Road to Sankri

We reached sankari in the evening. Its a small town in the Govind Pashu national park. Low temperature at Sankri provided a much needed escape from the heat of Delhi. Weather was unpredictable and it would drizzle every now and then.  

After registration and briefing we realized that the ‘light’ rucksack we packed, had a lot of unnecessary items. I was able to remove another 1-1.5 kg from it. Dinner was served soon after.

Day 2: Trek to Puaani Garaat

Mornings in the mountains are refreshing and energizing. Cold winds, no pollution, the sun is brighter, and if you get hot cup of tea in the cold weather, it feels heavenly.

After breakfast, we got ready for orientation. We were given rules and guidelines for the trek. Things like drink a lot of water, always inform someone if you go off the trail to relieve yourself, and where to refill water bottles from. Information that was crucial for the trek.

Orientation before start of the trek

The trek starts from Taluka, a small village 12 km from Sankri. Roads are practically non existent. The cab takes around one and a half hour to reach there.

We finally started walking. It was 10:30 in the morning. The trail started with a descent and leveled after a while. We were walking alongside the Supin river, and there were mountains on both sides. Water was crystal clear and we refilled directly from the river. The trail was mostly level with short portions of ascent.

Hiking trail alongside Supin river

We walked along the river for around three hours and then there comes a point where we cross the river and take a u-turn. Immediately after the crossing, starts the major ascent of the day.

It was the first major climb of the day and we started to feel a little tired by then. Right after the ascent we stopped for lunch. Packed lunch was provided to us in the morning - chapati and cooked potatoes. It is advisable to eat light since you have to start walking immediately after lunch.

After around two hours of walking, we reached Puaani Garaat at 4:15 pm. The distance covered on the first day is 12 km. The trail is easy and is mostly level. There are a few small portions of ascent which are easily manageable.

By the time we reached Puaani Garaat, it was raining. Porters were already there and were almost done with setting up the camp-site. We learned how to pitch tents, and helped them with whatever we could.

setting up camp at Puaani Garaat

There is an abandoned building near the camp site. We all took shade inside it. It was raining heavily now and we could see the snowfall slowly turning the peaks white at higher altitudes. It was getting cold even inside the building and we were advised to put on more layers if needed.

We washed our lunch-boxes in the rainwater and got ready for dinner. The food provided by Indiahikes is excellent. Well cooked chapati, vegetable, pickle and even dessert. I never expected this kind of service on a trek.

Everyone was tired from the day’s trek, we all quickly went to sleep after dinner.

In the mountains you sleep early and wake up early. Even if you don’t set your alarm, you’ll be up by 6. But there’s a difference between waking up and getting up! While the temperature inside your sleeping bag can be a  cozy 20 - 25 degrees Celsius, the outside temperature is usually less than 5 and can even dip below 0 at some campsites.

The toilets are very basic. A hole in the ground - covered with a tent - with a shovel inside. Do your business in the hole and cover it with mud using the shovel afterwards. And if you are not brave enough to use the freezing water, carry tissue paper with you!

Indiahikes staff setting up toilet tent

But there is a prize for waking up early, breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains, Snow clad peaks rising between pure white clouds, Stalactites formed on tree branches, Condensation on tents, rocks and almost everything left outside.

Day 3: Trek to Kalkatiyadhar

It was still drizzling when we woke up. No one was outside except Indiahikes staff. Probably everyone was waiting for rains to stop and skies to clear up.

About half an hour later when there was still no sign of rain going away. We decided to get out and finish our daily chores. Breakfast was served soon after.

We were supposed to start by 8am. It was 9 and it was still raining heavily. Our next camp site, Kalkatiyadhaar, was 7 kms away. If we didn’t start by 10, then we will not be able to reach Kalkatiyadhaar, and will have to stay in Osla, a village on the way where home-stay was available. Making it to Har Ki Dun seemed difficult now.

By around 10 am, skies started to clear up far in the distance towards Taluka, from where we started our trek. But it was still drizzling in Puaani Garaat. Our trek lead took a brave decision to attempt to reach Kalkatiyadhaar. If we face any issues on the way, moving towards Osla, was our best bet.

We all put on our ponchos and started walking. It was 10:15 am. The trail was slippery and prone to landslides. It was drizzling continuously.

The trail is level for a long section in the beginning. We were still walking alongside the Supin river. Our trek lead, Dushyant was a little concerned and went back to check on how others were doing.

The trail ends at a bridge where we cross the river. Right after, a steep ascent begins. We started climbing slowly as the trail was muddy and slippery. It was the longest ascent till now and rain was making it difficult to hike. Walking with the poncho was really annoying.

Bridge on Supin River after Puaani Garaat

After around an hour, rains slowed down enough to take off our ponchos. Ascent was almost over and the remaining trail was mostly level with few ups and downs.

We reached the lunch point fairly quickly. There was a log hut over there. We all took shade under it and rearranged the stones to make comfortable seating space for lunch.

Lunch break on the way to Kalkatiyadhar

There were small patches of snow around us. We couldn’t feel it while walking but as we stopped, we could feel the cold. Temperature was significantly lower than Puaani Garaat.

We reached Kalkatiyadhar campsite by 3:15pm. It was completely covered in snow. It is the most beautiful campsite I have ever seen. There are snow clad peaks all around. A stream of fresh water flows nearby. Indiahikes staff was already there. They had cleared all the snow from the campsite to pitch tents. We all helped them in setting up the camps.

Kalkatiyadhar camp site

Another view of the Kalkatiyadhar camp site

Setting up camp at Kalkatiyadhar

We had a lot of time to kill. Sky was clear and weather was perfect. Some of us were busy taking pictures. Some went for a walk to explore the campsite. There was a small hill nearby. It had a steep slope and was covered with snow. I tried climbing it but surface was too slippery.

Hill near Kalkatiyadhar camp

Evening snacks were ready by around 5pm. We went to the stream to wash our lunch boxes. Hot maggi was being served. We all ate to our contempt.

Second day was not tiring. The distance covered was only 7kms. Although the major part of the trail was steep, most of us were not tired. Rain was the major reason why it took us this long.

It started getting colder after sunset. We put on as many layers as we could, and spent rest of the evening in the dining tent chit-chatting and playing games.

While sleeping at night you can put on as many layers including thermal wear, But it is advised to not wear thermals while walking as you’ll start to sweat and would require much more water. It better to remove your thermals before you come out of the tent in the morning so that you can acclimatize faster to the outside conditions.

Day 4: Trek to Har Ki Dun and Back

Morning view at Kalkatiyadhar

We started for summit attempt at 7:30am in the morning. The summit day is always the longest. Although it wasn’t technically a summit since our destination was a valley, but it had all the ingredients of a treacherous climb. The trail was not level at a single point. It was full of ups and downs and long portions of steep ascent. And to add to the difficulty, due to fresh snowfall the previous day, the trail was hidden beneath two feets of snow!

On the way to Har Ki Dun

We needed to open the route again, and our trek guide, Chaman Rawat, did an excellent job with that. Our job was to follow his footprints and avoid spots where snow was too soft. Every alternate step we would sink in as deep as two feets. For many of us it was first experience with snow were already getting annoyed with it.

Fresh snow reflects sunlight very well and makes it too bright to look at. Even with the sunglasses on, our eyes were getting fatigued and causing mild headache. If you look directly at snow without sunglasses for too long, it can cause snow blindness. At first it would become difficult to see colors and everything would appear gray. Still longer and you won’t be able to see anything. So it is absolutely necessary to bring snow goggles.

There are regular water sources initially but as we move closer to the valley, they become hard to find. After around half way, the narrow trail ends and we begin walking on the wide slopes of the valley, the kind of slopes which are specifically designed for skiing, only, these were natural.

the climb gets steeper as we move closer to Har Ki Dun

Most of had finished our water supply by now. It was getting more difficult to walk in the strong sunlight. In Spite of snow all around, it was very hot. I was down to a single layer of clothing now.

It is advised to drink as much water as you can in the morning and sip as frequently as possible while walking. It will help you keep hydrated, avoid headaches and any other issues like cramps and muscle fatigue.

The ascent is steep near the end. I could see trekkers as far as half a kilometer from us as the trail is almost straight and constantly ascending. We were walking along the river but snow made it difficult to figure out a safe point where we could fill water.

Fatigued and Dehydrated!

It was frustrating walking so close to the and water still not able to reach it. After around half an hour of walking along the river, we were able to reach the shore and fill our water bottles. The water was freezing cold. Still it provided the much needed energy to complete the remaining trek with ease.

Har ki dun valley was visible now, hardly a few hundred meters away. Sandwiched between Har ki Dun peak and Swarg Rohini group of peaks. All the peaks were completely covered in snow.

Har Ki Dun valley

We reached Har Ki Dun valley at 12:30 pm. After three days of walking, numerous cuts and bruises, and countless ankle sprains, we finally reached Har Ki Dun. It felt amazing, like you have accomplished something big, and you get these breathtaking views as a reward.

Finally there!

It was the most tiring day of the trek. It was hard to believe that the distance covered was only 4 kms. We sat down and got a chance to enjoy the view. The Har Ki Dun peak was right in front of us. Its a virgin peak, no one has been able to reach the summit. Opposite to it were the Swarg Rohini group of peaks. Its a group of four peaks and it is said that Pandavas went to Heaven from here.

We didn’t get to spend much time in the valley as we had to be back to Kalkatiyadhar before sunset. After having lunch we started our descent from Har Ki Dun valley at 1:30pm.

Descent is always easier than ascent. You don’t get tired easily and it requires minimal effort. But one should always be more careful while descending. Most of the mountaineering accidents occur while descending. One usually descends at higher speeds than ascent and it’s easy to lose control. To add to that one usually starts to descend after running over-schedule after ascending and tries to cover up on the way down.

Thankfully we started from Har Ki Dun valley on-time and there was no need to rush. Although we were told not to take breaks and reach Kalkatiyadhar as quickly as possible as clouds were now visible on the horizon.

While you don’t get tired easily, downward slope is hard on the knees. After some time of continuous descent you will start to feel the pain. Snow was still soft and making things difficult.

The part of the trail with thick snow was also with steep slope. It was over quickly. Then started the long ascent just after the waterfall, which no one had the energy for!

From the waterfall the trail continuously curves towards right, and from the final right turn, the Kalkatiyadhar campsite is visible and marks the start of final descent. While coming the descent part of the trail didn’t seem much long but while climbing back, it seemed unending.

At every right turn, our hopeful eyes would look for the distant camp, only to find another ascent waiting for us. After an hour of ascent, the campsite was finally visible. Some of us who started early had already reached. From there, descending down barely took around 15 minutes.

It didn’t snow at all that day. We were lucky to get a window period otherwise we could not have made it to Har ki Dun. Turning back when you are so close to the summit is one thing I have never experienced and I hope to not, ever!

Day 5: Descend from Kalkatiyadhar

It was a lazy day. We started at 9am. Distance was less and trail was a continuous descent.

We took a different route this time and went via Osla village. Its a small, high-altitude village on the slopes of the supin range. The village is untouched from modern civilization and people are mostly self-sufficient. There are no power connections. NGO’s have installed solar panels on some of the houses.

Upon reaching Osla we also found that Australia had won cricket world cup. Australia is India’s arch rival when it comes to cricket. All the cricket fans were deeply disappointed.

Daily life in mountains is very difficult. It involves a great deal of walking and maneuvering over ups and downs. Although people are fit and healthy, and have a high life expectancy, Injuries are a big problem. Most of them don’t know how to take care of small cuts and bruises. In such cases, their wounds never heal.

tough life in the mountains
injuries are a major problem

We helped them with whatever we could. Our team doctor, Sushil Kumar, spent a lot of time tending to their medical needs. Cleaning their wounds, providing medicines and explaining how take care in case of illness. After spending two hours at Osla, we left for Puaani Garaat.

Dr. Sushil at work

We reached Puaani Garaat at 1pm. It started raining soon after, and rained the whole day. Our plans of group activities and games were washed away. We spent the day in the dining tent playing Dumb Charades.

Day 6: Puaani Garaat to Taluka

Packed and ready to leave!

The last day of our trek was an easy hike to Taluka. We started at 9am and reached Taluka by 2pm.

It was my first major Himalayan trek. It is categorized as Moderate trek by Indiahikes. The snow made it somewhat difficult for us. Reaching Har ki Dun on the first try with such adverse weather conditions makes me hopeful for the future.

I came to know about many other Himalayan treks. Some of them are discovered and documented by Indiahikes. Each having a beautiful story of how it was discovered and some of the rare sights and experiences you get on them.
Himalays are endlessly fascinating. They offer something for everyone. Whether you are an adventure junkie, a hiking enthusiast, interested in camping or looking for leisure, you will find it here, along with mesmerizing views that you won’t get anywhere else. If you come here once, they keep calling you back, and I’ll be back, soon!

Somil Bhandari

Somil Bhandari, A programmer, traveler and an amateur photographer. Loves adventure, hates stagnant life. Always looking out for something new.

1 comment:

  1. Bohot sahi likha h... Saari yaadein taza ho gayi!!! 😊