The above sentence sums up all you will need while scaling ‘Bagini Glacier’ and ‘Chang Bang’ base camp at an altitude of 4800 Mts. If you want to check your mental grit and stamina then this is ‘The Trek’ for you. When I and two of my school buddies were researching about this trek we could not find enough information. Now after doing this 7 days trek we understand the real reasons. Thanks to the hostile terrain this trek takes you through, it has still not captured the fancy of trekkers & hasn’t become clichéd in that sense. Hence very few people undertake it except the “Bongs” so much so that there is a camping site towards the end of the trek appropriately named “Bangali Base Camp”
Points to Ponder
Joshimath is your gateway for any of these treks in North East of Uttarakhand towards Chamoli district. If you are pressed for time then the best way to reach Joshimath from Haridwar is to hire a SUV which will cost you approx. 8000 INR (as per 2017) during peak season which is May – June as lot of pilgrims do ‘Char Dham Yatra’ or visit the revered ‘Hemkunth Saheb Gurudwara’. Be prepared for the bad weather conditions as the rain could play spoil sport to the best of the planned journey and might trigger a land slide followed by a never ending traffic jam. We got held up near Srinagar (Uttarakhand) for 3 hours waiting for the traffic jam to be cleared up ahead of us near Joshimath because of a massive landslide a day before. The traffic administration and regulation goes for a toss due to the heavy rush. It’s all ‘Ram Bharosay’.
Another potential challenging and unpredictable journey could be to travel from Delhi to Haridwar by Private buses. Better to book train tickets or Government ‘Volvo’ buses in advance. Unfortunately we couldn’t do that and ended up booking ‘Volvo’ Private bus online. All we got was a non-functional AC Deluxe rattling bus. What a harrowing experience it was in ‘Kashmiri Gate’ Bus terminus, ‘Delhi’ where we were getting tossed up by the private bus operator from one bus to another. Thank God he did not disown us! Bam Bam Bholey!
Remember to keep ready your ID card to get the permit for the trek in advance. During the trek we met few overzealous backpackers who came without a permit and had to struggle to secure one at the last moment. Our guide ‘Dinesh Bisht’ had already secured the permit for us a week in advance. He had also arranged his team comprising of a helper, a cook and a mule owner with three mules to carry all the provisions and vegetables we would need for the next 7 days.
1st Day – Joshimath to Jumma by SUV – 40 Kms ride
The drive from Joshimath to Tapovan was pretty smooth and took us about an hour. Tapovan is the last point where we could get the airtel mobile network. From here onwards our mobile phones got transmuted to a camera or an occasional torch. No connection to the outside world. Detoxification had just begun with total bliss for the next 7 days! However we had a short range walke talkie with us for co-ordination with our crew members.
On the outskirts of Tapovan we stopped for a while to visit a hot water geyser just beside the main road. This geyser had boiling water with loud guttural voice and was spewing steam. The air around the geyser had a sharp pungent smell of Sulphur. Looked like some perverse phenomenon in action from the nether world
From here onwards till Jumma the ride for about 2 hours is pretty rough and seems like an extract straight from the History Channel’s – IRT Deadliest Roads (http://www.history.com/shows/irt-deadliest-roads). Most of the stretches of road are quite narrow and are meant for a single 4-wheeler at a time. Only a seasoned driver can maneuver the treacherous curves with a bottomless fall into the Dhauli Ganga river on one side and fragile, land slide prone wall of perilous mountain on the other. But our driver was a Super Man who was still trying to put to use the invisible last stick of his dying network to seal a quick deal!
1st Day continued – Jumma to Ruing Village by a short 3 Km trek
We got dropped off around 2 PM at a scenic spot just beside a suspension bridge over the effusive Dhauli Ganga river. Our mule owner was waiting here with his three mules to take all the loads including tents, provisions, vegetables & stove to be used for the next 7 days. We got to know from our guide that he had to be cajoled a lot to come for this trek by paying extra as this trek is quite challenging for the mules as well!
The trek starts with crossing a suspension bridge over the Dhauli Ganga river. From here onwards till the Ruing village camp site the trail is of easy difficulty level with a gentle ascent. The entire stretch looks like a war ravaged territory with occasional sounds of Dynamite blasts being done to widen the roads (Poor Mountains!). On our way we saw a pack of mules carrying nicely packaged boxes which could have been easily passed over as exotic Himalayan fruits. Upon a closer scrutiny and inquiry with the mule owner we found the boxes were full of dynamite which were good enough to give us extra energy bites to increase our pace till we reach our camping ground!
The camping ground is quite aloof from the village and overlooks a massive mountain wall with serpentine roads being used frequently by army trucks which look like match boxes from the camp site. The road goes towards the Malari village near China border. Near our camping site, Uttarakhand Govt. GMVN (http://www.gmvnl.in/newgmvn/) had a bunch of permanent tents and we incidentally found that the state tourism minister is promoting Dronagiri village as a trekking destination. They had organized some folk dance and music programs during the day by the beautiful Garhwal women in their bright colored traditional attire.
2nd Day – Ruing Village to Lower Langatauli – 12 Kms trek
Ruing village has some 30 houses and they seemed mostly vacant. The architecture style is not purely traditional hill rather a mix of out of place brick structures. The trek goes through this village and onto the mountain behind full of pine trees resembling Taiga forest. The trek starts with few gentle climbs and descends till about 3 Kms and then a series of some extreme climbs for the next couple of kms which take you through some scenic views suffused with the smell of wild white roses and other wild flowers which are found in abundance here. You can also find here many different kinds of herbs which the local people collect for their medicinal use. Our guide picked few of them which smelt like a combo of ‘Tulsi’ and ‘Mint’ leaves but looked very different. In fact the legend has it that ‘Lord Hanumana‘ had taken a piece of Dunagiri mountain from here full of ‘Sanjeevani Booti’, a kind of herb (a panacea for all the ailments) for ‘Lord Rama’s’ brother ‘Lakshmana‘ who got hurt while fighting with ‘Meghanada‘ the son of ‘Ravana’! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanjeevani_(plant)
By around noon the sky was overcast with clouds and there was a sudden downpour making the path very slippery posing huge challenges to few trekkers from Mumbai who were fresh outs from the school. They did not have proper trekking shoes. I could realize how important it is to be armed with all sorts of proper gears in such treks thanks to my ankle high ‘Quechua‘ shoes with big treads like tractor tires. I temporarily took refuge under a huge canopy made up of a massive slanted rock and was given company by another trekker. He later told me that he is one of the 30 trekkers working in different govt. organizations who had been sponsored by GMVN. Nothing but for this perk I wish I worked in a Govt. organization!!!
The suspense was building up to the best part of this trek which would be any trekker’s delight. The path was already laden with a deadly combo of muck caused due to rain. Suddenly a huge dry branch from a tree crashed from the top and landed next to me scratching one side of my head. It was a close call else I could have got badly bruised. Then from nowhere a huge boulder of the size of watermelon rolled down from the fragile mountain wall few steps ahead of me and vanished in the deep gorge. Welcome to the ‘Landslide zone’! This 2 Kms 2 feet wide trail which stretches up to the foot hills of Dronagiri village is so scary that it will put to test the mental grit of most of the expert trekkers. My friend, who was busy taking pictures on this trail was warned by few army personnel who were trainers from Indian Mountaineering Foundation (http://www.indmount.org/) to cross this stretch as soon as he could. On one side there is a huge fragile mountain wall with loosely held boulders of all sizes and on the other there is a bottom less steep fall. One mistake and the best of the rescue teams will struggle to find the holy remains of a nonchalant trekker!
Mysterious looking Dronagiri Village
For most of the trekkers the 2nd day ends up with camping in the Dronagiri village. However, we wanted to save time and cross the 2 kms distance through the village to the other side of the mountain. We had a quick packed lunch in a semi open shelter while soaking in the beauty and the serenity of the place. Dronagiri village from a distance looked very dark and mysterious as most of the houses with a characteristic hill architecture were locked. There was a huge camping site again occupied by permanent tents set up by GMVN and also a helipad put up for the state tourism minister. This place is surrounded by mountains from all the sides and offers 360 degrees panaromic scenic views!
The steep climb after crossing the village and an immediate descend goes through the forest full of rhododendron trees bearing white flowers. A sign that we have already reached an altitude of 3000+ Mts as they are usually found at that height. The air was filled with a pleasing distinct aroma of these flowers. My olfactory nerves had never had a treat like this before. A perfect balm for the tired body. Usually this trek ends at Dronagiri village. But we wanted to be bit more adventurous and went for the next camping site instead, overstretching ourselves.
We crossed a bridge over the Bagini river which was flowing ferociously. It was 2 PM and it had started getting cold already. As soon as we crossed the river bridge there were series of 3-4 steep risky ascents along the river through narrow path half a meter wide. We reached the next camping site called lower Langatauli lying in a valley around 3 kms away from Dronagiri.
3rd Day – Lower Langatauli to Upper Langatauli- 3Kms
The night before, there was a light rain and the temperature had dropped down drastically. There was no proper shade for the three mules. They could not bear the cold & broke their leash in the middle of the night to climb down to a comfortable resting place near Bagini river bridge. The morning on the third day we over heard the mule owner saying that he had a tough time locating his mules early morning.
After eating sumptuous breakfast comprising of porridge, eggs, cornflakes, milk and ginger tea we started for the next trail. It was a short trail of 3 kms and for the first time we could see some sign of Bugyal or Himalayan meadows just adjacent to Bagini river and a fresh water spring. The site looked beautiful with the shallow meandering river full of white pebbles and white sandy beach. Abutting to the site were two rocks which looked quite inviting to flex our muscles for a quick climb. We could climb on one of them and the view from the top was breathtaking. On one end of the valley towards west we could see the mesmerizing Dunagiri & Hathi Ghoda peaks and on the other end Trishuli, Kalanka and Hardeol peaks playing hide and seek with intermittent cloud cover.
4th Day – Upper Langatauli to Upper Bagini base camp – 8 Kms
The day before was pretty relaxed and helped us to give good rest to our muscles preparing them for the most difficult climb of this trek. This hostile looking trail is devoid of any sign of vegetation and goes through all sizes and colors of rocks strewn all around rendering it a beauty of different kind . The rocky terrain seemed to have formed due to explosion of some sorts releasing tons of energy. You are sure to get twisted ankles at every step if you do not have proper ankle support shoes. You have to be very watchful while placing your foot as you might even slip over loosely held rocks. During the steep ascent you see only the horizon juxtaposed with never ending rocks which is similar to watching the never ending ocean from the deck of a ship. This goes on for 8 Kms till you are sapped of all your energy and have started getting cramps on your thigh muscles and then you reach a ‘C’ shaped camping ground surrounded by rocks from all side called ‘Upper Bagini Base Camp’.
Around 4 PM the weather had started getting cloudy with biting wind and there was a drizzle with a bit of snowfall. The sunlight had a refreshing mild yellow color of a scotch whisky. The view towards the west with overpowering Dunagiri peak looked surreal. We saw for the first time a herd of Ibex or Himalayan goat on the mountain near the camping site. They were frolicking on the slope going up and down inciting us to take their close up snap shots. Our guide could not resist the temptation to climb the mountain stealthily and took some great pics of the nimble footed Himalayan goat.
As the weather was deteriorating fast the entire crew including us got together to make a proper shade for the mules. Our guide had got some wood from the mountain which was used as a vertical support for the shade against a huge rock in the backdrop. Eventually after battling the harsh chilling wind a strong shade was put up. The local Gods rewarded us with a ‘Bon Fire’ out of the remaining extra wood!
5th Day – Upper Bagini base camp to Chang Bang base camp 3 Kms
We got up with a slight heavy head as the high altitude of 4000+ Mts was beginning to show its mild effect on us. We were happy to find the mules still tethered under the temporary shade happily chewing the special fodder the mule owner got for them. At this height there is no vegetation available for the mules to survive on.
The sky began to open up slowly and after finishing our breakfast we started to scale the last stretch of the trek towards Bagini Glacier and Chang Bang base camp. The trail is lined up with markers made up of pile of stones to guide the trekkers. It is a mostly a gentle ascent through the rocks and boulders strewn around. It goes along a shallow stream on one side and huge deep gorge on the other which is actually the Bagini glacier. This glacier is camouflaged with gravels and boulders of all sizes. Intermittently you can hear echo of an eerily sounding thud caused due to the crashing walls of glacier. Then you realize the presence of a mighty glacier.
After around 2 Kms of trek we were overawed by the first clear glimpse of the beautiful Rishi Peak. At this place there is a temple where we offered our prayers to the mountain God feeling blessed that we could experince such a surreal beautiful world here. The trek ends on a view point ridge where you will be enthralled by the close up view of other mountain peaks like Hardeol,Trishuli and Kalanka.
5th Day (continued) – Chang Bang base camp to Lower Langatauli
We could spend only half an hour on the view point ridge till 11 AM as the clouds started hovering around forcing us to trek down to our next destination all the way back to lower Langatauli. If we would have planned this trek properly we could have also taken a differnt route just before a kilometer from Langatauli via Kanari Khal and Garpak to reach Ruing village.By the time we reached our camp it had already started drizzling which later turned into a heavy icy cold shower. The dining tent became soggy causing some discomfort which was offset by the sumptuous dinner we were served followed by delicious Malpua at an altitude of 3500 + Mts!
6th Day – Lower Langatauli to Ruing Village
We had an impression that taking the same route back to the starting point would be monotonous but on the contrary it was much more interesting. While climbing down we could stop at different vantage points to soak in the scenic beauty we missed earlier.
By now we were desperate enough to make phone calls to our dear ones to inform them of our wellbeing. We got to know that Dronagiri village has a satellite phone booth. This made us to explore the village till we reach the booth operated from a house.
By 3 PM we reached Ruing village where our guide had planned a grand dinner with excellent food and local drink around a bon fire. Everything went smoothly as per plan!!
7th Day – Ruing Village to Jumma 3 Kms and drive to Joshimath 40 Kms
We had reached the last day of our trek. We started climbing down towards Jumma where a SUV had to take us back to Joshimath. The mood was upbeat with a sense of achievement and pride to have undertaken such an adventurous trek. The experience in the last 7 days has rejuvenated us for life and motivated us to remain healthy so that we can continue exploring such pristine locales.
This trek requires lot of courage & determination to take into your stride a hostile, risky but beautiful terrain full of suspense and excitement. This wouldn’t have been possible without the enthusiatic support of my school buddies Akash and Ganu & the support of our able, charming and enthusiastic guide Dinesh Bisht (M- +91-8958084282; https://www.facebook.com/DEV-ANGAN-Adventure-Dinesh-Bisht-1594461924142153/) & had shown positive attitude during trying times. His team of cook, mule owner and a helper were excellent and took good care of us. I would highly recommend Dinesh to anybody who wants to do a solo trek or with a small group of friends anywhere in this part of ‘The Himalayas’.