Kagbhushandi Lake Trek- ‘Travelogue’

(scroll down for pictures)

I was in Joshimath(Uttrakhand) when I first read about KagBhushandi Lake, about which the locals had a very interesting say, “Sir, just like the Hindus revere river Ganga at Haridwar and take the ashes of their departed family members, the crows (bird) go near the lake to place a feather of their dead ones.” I was intrigued after listening to that and wanted to go there but to reach; I needed a good team and at least 7 days of trekking in the wilderness. After some planning and a couple of posts on different travel portals my team, the Indian Navy Captain from Andhra Pradesh, a sales manager from Ghaziabad and an Infosys engineer from Chandigarh, was ready to go. June 2011, I was back in Joshimath(Derived from Jyotirmath, the seat of ADI GURU SHAKRACHARYA) and this time with a mission to reach KagBhushandi Lake(altitude almost 5000 metres above the sea level). My first task was to collect the permit from the division forest officer, who was baffled after looking at a young guy who was going to attempt a trek in the forbidden month of June, for which I had to convince him that I am a regular trekker and a man from the forces was also a part of the team. He told me before handing me the permission letter that the ideal time to do this trek would be in the month of August and it would be better for us if we hired a guide instead of depending only upon the global positioning system. Our bags were ready and so were we, for our next pit stop -Govindghat, little punjab in Uttrakhand crowded with thousands of 100cc bikes coming straight from “pind-punnjab” as it is also the pit stop for those going towards Hemkund Sahib Gurudwara . There we hired a guide for only five hundred rupees per day and on our way to Bhyundar Village from Govindghat, our guide “Biju” told us that he had done this trek ten times but never in the month of June, to which we four had no comments.

First hour of steep climbing from Govindghat was slightly demanding but we were enjoying the sound of the water gushing. Although we still could not see the river Alaknanda flowing. Our engineer from Chandigarh was busy clicking pictures of the Garhwali beauty all around when our guide informed us that we would have to climb less from there but the thick forest won’t be easy ahead. Captain Bhushan made sure with a couple of jokes that we don’t use the words ‘easy’ or ‘tough’ for the next couple of days. The walk was pristine with the river flowing and the greenery surrounding us to make us forget the weight we were carrying on our backs. We stopped for a breather every now and again to click pictures along with having an energy drink. We had reached Bhyundar Village where we were stopped by the forest officials who checked the permit to make sure that we were not illegally entering the jungle. From Bhyundar village it was a continuous trek of 5 hours till we reached Gairgilla where we decided to rest for the night. Just when I was beginning to pitch my tent I saw a shepherd coming towards us who offered us his hut for the night and, just our luck, we did not have to eat our packaged food that night. The tantalizing smell of the wood on which the food was being cooked was enough to satisfy half our hunger.

That night it rained very heavily and the shepherd had lost one of his sheep to a “Leopard”. Next morning I did not exchange many words with the kind shepherd, he looked sad, and before our team left his hut we thanked him and moved on for our next destination. Mr. Siddhu from Ghaziabad, en route Samartoli, who happens to read a lot of books on mountains told us that if we had arrived in the Bhyundar Valley (set in the lap of Haathi Parvat) in the month of August then we could not have been able to step forward without crushing a flower.

As we were walking in the jungle we met a Bengali couple in their sixties who told us that they could not complete the trek due to heavy fresh snow ahead but before leaving they had done enough to encourage our team to continue walking. The terrain kept changing after every half hour and the challenge kept increasing. It took an hour to negotiate the slippery rocks of the waterfall just before Samartoli.

We took a Maggie break at Samartoli under a big rock as it had started raining. After the rain stopped we were back on the trail and the vistas just kept getting better and our cameras got busy capturing the mountains. The fresh snow from Samartoli was easy to negotiate compared to the climb 2kms ahead with small rocks coming at us down the slope at high speeds. After finishing this climb I could feel the exhaustion in the team and to quench our thirst the guide brought us the glacier melted water. A couple of hours more and we had managed to reach Raj Kharak which was to be our camp site for the night. Total 7 hours of continuous trekking but not an inch of tiredness on the faces probably because we were too stubborn to show it under the leadership of a 43 year old man. There was another tent nearby where the locals were staying who shared some extra facts about KagBhushandi Lake.
“Above the Kagbhusandi Lake, two huge irregular shaped rocks can be seen sitting on the spur of the Hathi Parvat. According to the local folklore, they are the Kaga (crow) and Garuda (Eagle) who are having a heated discussion on the affairs of the universe. Yet another version narrates the crow as actually being a learned Brahmin from Ayodhya. Having been unfortunate enough to incur the wrath of the sage Lomas who lived near the lake, the Brahmin was cursed by the sage and turned into a crow.”

On further inquiry from the guide I got to know that the locals would be staying there for the next couple of weeks in search of a “jadi-booti”(herb) named “Darcha-Khambu” which helps if you are not good in bed and mind you it is not easy to find it as people have lost their lives too in doing so. After a good little bonfire party we were in our tents expecting a good sleep with all the heavy clouds hovering above. Luckily it did not snow heavily that night.

Next morning I woke up just too see the ice pinnacles guarding the entrance to Kankul Khal(4960 Mts) .For the next five hours, after a quick breakfast of powder milk, we were only climbing the Kankul Khal which was a climb with fresh snow in some areas. The climb was nothing less than an endurance test with every kilogram becoming ten kilograms. The snow field was beautiful yet dangerous at every slip. It was a matter of negotiating hard snow for half an hour more and we were there at the top of Kankul Pass posing for a group picture. Before the weather could play a game with us we began descending from that high ridge towards the Lake. Another hour on snow and we could see the lake from a distant. The Lake was Frozen and we could walk on it. Yes ! There were “crow-feathers” there on the banks of the lake but not a single crow maybe because of the weather.

We sat there to admire the beauty but not for too long as it started snowing heavily. It was beginning to get dark which had made walking dangerous in the snow. Fighting knee deep snow, it took us two hours to find the right place to pitch our tents for the day as we could see nothing after twenty metres of distance. The weather was clear now and the mountains were glowing in the moonlight, this was a majestic sight and it was the night to celebrate our successful trek so we had our rum bottles out. Our guide was given due credit by everyone as it would not have been possible without the right directions at crucial stages. The joy of drinking with Himalayas standing tall right in front of me was pure divine with my watch showing minus 5 degrees. Some snacks with the drinks, and a couple of minutes later we were snoring in our sleeping bags. The last morning in the mountains and we would be back to the same old city life but the challenge was not over. Our mission was to reach Painka village where we would find transport and to do it in one day was one big task. We crossed a glacier, crossed Bhainsatal Khal and finally after 2 hours of climbing (the Panchvinayak Khal) the last couple of hundred metres were negotiated too but with a few cramps in an attempt to do it fast with the weight we were carrying on our backs.

We could not have asked for more when a Himalayan Monal came quietly and sat next to us when we were at Barmai Pass enjoying the lofty panoramic view. A trek with such harsh conditions was about to be over within four days and, luckily, with zero frost bites. Our guide was limping with a minor injury in his right leg and to add to my woes the heavy construction shoes, I was wearing, had given me enough blisters to make my final descent the toughest with nothing left to eat or drink but somehow we managed to reach the Painka village by evening before it got too dark to walk in the forest and that was the end of a blissful walk in the Garhwal Himalayas.

Rohit Khattar
Himalayan Explorers Club