Dayara Bugyal – a picturesque getaway – Part 2

Part 1

As I heard the birds chirp in the surroundings, I pulled myself out of the sleeping bag, juggled along to make some way and unzipped the front of the tent to peep outside. A mild brightness spread across the sky just enough to mark the outlines of the mountains. I gradually came out of the tent. The chill was strong but enjoyable. After putting a quick glance around, I headed towards the nearby bushes with a bottle of water in my hand. After brushing my teeth as soon as I splashed water on my face, it felt like prickles from a thousand needles. After that, I went to the tent to wake up others. They cuddled in their sleeping bags enjoying their sleep that came very late last night due to unaccustomed surroundings. I let them continue with their sleep for some more time as the day’s walk was not supposed to be long (as per our guide Arvind, it was only about 1.5-2 hours). I took my camera and ventured around for some photography. The sky started to light up with the bright sun rays falling on the Mountain peaks of the Bhagirathi range. But these places don’t offer golden views of sunrise as the sun rises from behind the mountains. Finally, the entire meadow bathed in bright sunshine. So was Mt Bandarpoonch.

Mt Bandarpoonch

I woke up my wife and daughter. I had to push them to come out, but once they did, they felt much better in the bright sunshine. They got themselves prepared, which basically meant brushing the teeth and answering nature’s calls. Bathing was out of question. We went inside the shepherd hut behind the tent, which acted as the kitchen and breakfast was served. A couple of parathas with hot tea provided the much needed warmth.

After breakfast, it was time to strap the backpacks and hit the trail. The route moved through the meadow to ascend gradually into the forests along the higher slopes. We entered the woods and once again we were walking under the canopy. The slope was gradual and walking was easy. Now that she got used to it, my daughter too, wasn’t complaining. The bright sun rays of the morning trickled through the canopy and played hide and seek along the tracks which traversed through the woods. A breeze kept flowing with a mild chill (which is normal in the autumn season in these parts of the Himalayas). Winters were knocking at the doors.

En route Dayara Bugyal

I had a look at the trail ahead. Our guide Arvind pointed towards the top of the hill we were ascending. There, just beyond the tree line, lay our destination. It didn’t seem very far. The plan was to reach there by noon, have our lunch and spend sometime settling in our tents and then head off towards the adulating meadows of Dayara Bugyal.

As the trail moved up the slope, the forest started thinning out. The intensity of solar rays increased with reduction of the canopy cover and so did the heat, though it wasn’t at the levels as felt the day before during the afternoon. Partly because it was morning and partly because we got used to the trail, the members felt better.

During the trek, I kept comparing the facilities available in Nepal with the Himalayas in India. There, in Nepal, one can expect to find a well managed tea house throughout the route, even in places as high as Gorakshep, which is just shy of the Everest Base Camp. At the Annapurna Base Camp trekking route, one can even stay at a tea house. But here, in Garhwal Himalayas, even in routes like Dayara Bugyal which fare nowhere in terms of remoteness or altitude, one has to be content with staying at tents. In a way, it is good as it doesn’t impact nature or its resources as much as it does in well frequented routes of Nepal. Proximity and accessibility brings its own set of drawbacks to quiet abodes of nature. The route, by now was devoid of any forest as we crossed the tree line. The peaks of the Bhagirathi range was visible on the horizon and so was Mt Bandarpoonch.

After a few more steps, we could see the shepherd huts and we knew we had reached our destination. We sat there to have some rest. Arvind gave us mugs of steaming hot tea, which was so refreshing for our tired bodies. The porters already started to erect our tents. They were being erected on a lower ground, just where the slope from the huts descended to. The hut was to act as kitchen and the place of stay for the porters and guide Arvind. They wasted no time and got started with preparing the lunch.

Shepherd huts, Dayara Bugyal

The place where we our tents were put up, was just before the start of the seemingly endless adulating meadows of the Dayara Bugyal. They chose this place because of proximity to streams of water, which is a crucial factor in determining places of halt. Lunch got served quite early. After that we settled in our tents for sometime to have some rest but Arvind reminded us to head for the bugyal in the afternoon with enough sunlight to enjoy. So, despite our desire to rest for some more time, we heeded to his calls and went out for the meadows. Beyond the huts, the path moved up gradually and took a turn around the bend. As we turned around the corner, endless slopes of adulating fields greeted us. As if the surrounding forests were making their advances from lower hills to cover these tops, but came to a halt suddenly to give way to endless grasslands which form the favorite pastures for herds of sheep and goats of the villagers.

Dayara Bugyal

These high altitude meadows of the Himalayas often are self-contained ecosystems and are homes to many endemic species (i.e. species that are found only in specific meadows and nowhere else). Right after winters and before the monsoon, these meadows get covered with numerous flowers with varied colors. One cannot move around in these fields without stepping on the floral beds. Hence, the forest departments take care to protect these species and their habitat. Increasing number of tourists and camping on these grounds often cause danger to the survival of these species, which, if not protected, will become extinct. Ever increasing human activities and related deforestation and cultivation have cut out the connection between these meadows and most of the species housed by them are not found elsewhere.

Dayara Bugyal

We roamed around the fields aimlessly, taking a look at the surroundings. This wasn’t the time of flowers, but the meadows, nevertheless, were picturesque. The afternoon rays of sun glorified the fields. The slopes went down on one side leading to the forests, beyond which, lay the gorge of The Ganges. The hills on the other side of the river moved up till they gave way to the snow peaks of the Bhagirathi range.

Dayara Bugyal

The entire meadow was devoid of any sound, beyond the reach of any modern civilization and its allied fallacies. I climbed up the slopes of some of the hillocks to get views from different angles. Though it wasn’t the time of the year when flowers bloom in these meadows, I could still see some remnants with some peeping out from the grasses.

Dayara Bugyal

The solar rays changed their angles and so did their colors, which started to play their part on the distant snow peaks. Gradually, shadows started to move along the long distant fields of the Dayara Bugyal giving an indication that the sun was about to exit the sky.

Dayara Bugyal

Arvind showed me the trail that moved up towards Bakharia top, our destination for the next morning before we head down towards Barnala. The extent of the meadows seemed endless. He talked about a trekking route wherein one can traverse the Bugyal and descend towards Yamnotri. Another variation of that route can take one to Dodi taal and further ahead, to Yamunotri. There are numerous trekking routes in these parts of the Himalayas, some of them even cut across the watershed between the Ganges and the Baspa river to descend into Chitkul of the Sangla valley in the neighboring state of Himachal Pradesh. While I was chatting with Arvind, my wife and daughter started feeling the chill of the evening winds as the sun was fading out fast. I urged them to move ahead towards the huts. As they moved along, I trained my lenses on the peaks to capture sunset views.

Herds of sheep started to come down one of the slopes towards the huts. They were returning after enjoying a full day of grazing on the distant meadows. As they crammed to move into the huts, their bleats of different pitches coming from animals of varying age groups filled the skies. They hopped around and over the rocks and uneven slopes to move ahead. Two strong dogs kept a strict vigil on the group ensuring the herd sticks together.

Mt Bandarpoonch at sunset, Dayara Bugyal

The peaks acquired a tinge of yellow, which successively turned golden, crimson and finally all white after the sun bowed down.

Sunset, Dayara Bugyal

As I came back to the huts, I saw my wife and daughter enjoying the bonfire that had been lit up by the porters. I was welcomed with a steaming mug of tea. The chill in the air was significant which prompted all of us to subside into the huts. One has to bend the back considerably to be able to get a passage inside. The cooks were already into their act preparing for the night’s dinner. Some lentils were being prepared over a burning earthen oven. We sat beside it. The warmth from the oven gave us comfort. After dinner, we headed to our tents. On this second night in the tents, it felt less uncomfortable as we got used to it. Since it was only 7 PM, we spent sometime playing ludo using our headlight torches. Sleep was peaceful as there wasn’t any dog to move around.

As I ventured out of the tent, next morning, a dazzling Mt Bandarpoonch gave a hearty welcome. After breakfast, I headed towards the meadows once again while rest of the family moved down along with the support staff towards Barnala, an hour and a half of walk down the slopes. We took the turn around the same bend and then started moving up the slopes. It was a different route that moved up and down the hillocks. The meadows were bathing in bright sunshine and the lush green fields resembled a freshly laid carpet.

The bugyal was at its best in the bright sunny morning. As we moved ahead, my walk got increasingly interspersed by small flowers that peeped out of the lush green fields and I took time to focus my lenses on them.

Dayara Bugyal

The flowers were so small yet so beautiful. It was a tough time to get still snaps as they continued to shiver in the chilling morning breeze.

After going a long way, I realized that the Bakharia top was still far away. A quick look at my watch prompted me to turn around. The further we go, the more we’d have to traverse on our way back and the day’s target was to descend to Barnala. So we headed back.

Barnala

As we started our descent beyond Dayara Bugyal, forests made their reappearance and once again, we were walking under canopy cover. After walking for about an hour, we came to a small lake with a temple beside it. By the looks of it, I recognized it to be Barnala (thanks to the pictures from the internet). But I couldn’t see any trace of either the porters or my family. Arvind walked up the nearby hillock to have a look at the valley below and he recognized their location at once. I glanced a look beyond his shoulders down into the valley and I could see them too. The mules grazed around and the porters got engaged with work. My daughter was roaming around freely in the small patch of ground. But all of that was a silent film that was being played out at a distant place down in the valley with no sounds reaching us. We continued our descent and finally reached there. Our tent was already erected. It was picturesque setup with tent almost lying in the middle of no where. Dense forests surrounded the entire place.

Camp site, Barnala

After lunch, we roamed around the place. Fresh breeze running through the pine forests carried their fragrance to us. It was leisure that was written all around. But that was for us as the porters and cooks were constantly engaged. After lunch, they got started with preparations of evening tea and snacks. They promised to treat us with fried onions and potatoes along with the evening tea. While it lifted our spirits immediately, it wasn’t an easy task to provide such comforts at these places. Materials and rations for all that gets served at these altitudes, have to be carried all along from the towns below. They either need to be carried on backs of mules or by porters all the way up.

Barnala

We roamed around freely and enjoyed the views at our disposal. The peaks of the Bhagirathi range were visible through the gaps between the otherwise thick pine forests. Another herd of sheep and goats made their way down the slopes from the meadows above. They raised the same symphony of bleats of different pitches. The rusty shepherds and their sturdy dogs kept tight vigil on the herd.

Barnala

As the herd made their way through the forests into the lower villages, evening wore on with the familiar shades of color being played out on the distant snow peaks resulting in yet another colorful sunset.

Sunset, Barnala

We couldn’t remove our eyes from the colorful play on the distant peaks. Darkness covered the forests nearby but the sun was still lightening up the peaks on the northern horizon.

After darkness came upon, we moved towards our tents. Bonfire was already setup and our cooks handed out cups of hot teas accompanied by fried onions and potatoes. We enjoyed the treat thoroughly in the chilling atmosphere. While they went back to prepare the dinner, we went inside our tent. The tent had almost transformed into our small home away from home. We had worked out how to sit and arrange ourselves in the small space available. While we were playing ludo, I heard sounds of water droplets on the roof of the tent. Before long, it started raining intensely. Just as we were thinking about how we could go to the kitchen tent for our dinner amidst heavy rains, we heard sounds outside our tent and saw lights. The cooks and the porters came up to our tent with our dinner. I was simply spellbound by their hospitality in these harsh conditions. They braved the downpour in the chilling night to serve our dinner right at our doorstep. That night we went to sleep with not just peace, but respect for the large hearts that these poor and simple people possess.

 Part 1

Dayara Bugyal – a picturesque getaway – Part 1

Part-2

Ever since I started my ventures in Nepal, I had the challenge to maintain a proper balance between family trips & trekking. The latter normally didn’t involve family members. The Diwali break was coming up & I planned to use it judiciously. Most of my Himalayan getaways started with long weekends. But over the last ten years, most of the common hill stations of Uttarakhand & Himachal have been covered. Also, over these years I’ve preferred to stay away from common destinations as their accessibility has led to their “downfall”. Swarm of travelers flock to these places leading to massive build up of hotels & deforestation. Traffic snarls are very common in places like Manali, Simla or Nainital. Some years ago, I’ve tried my hands with shot treks with family. It started with a hike to Chopta from the picturesque Deoriatal through the woods of the Kedarnath wildlife sanctuary. I thought about exploring that option once again. This was in November 2017, a year ago before Annapurna happened. While scouting for options of easy to moderate grade treks, I came across “Dayara Bugyal”. It’s in the Uttarkashi district of the state of Uttarakhand. The accounts available on internet seemed to suggest that it easy, often done with family. I reached out to my contacts (guides whom I knew) in other parts of Uttarakhand & at the same time my search continued on internet. Finally, I came across Balbir Singh Negi. Discussions continued with him. Finally, an itinerary was drawn up. We were to start from Dehradun. A vehicle was to take us to the town of Uttarkashi. The next day would see us hiking up to Raithal, our first halt. The next day would take us to Dayara Bugyal, a high altitude meadow in the upper Himalayas. We’d camp there for a night & then come down via a different route via Barnala. We still had two additional days at our disposal & we thought to spend them at Harsil, a beautiful hill station before Gangotri. I booked the GMVN rest house at Harsil & the railway tickets to Haridwar. Later, based on Balbir Ji’s advice, I changed them to Dehradun. That would save us about 2 hours of travel.

Ever since I started my ventures in Nepal, I had the challenge to maintain a proper balance between family trips & trekking. The latter normally didn’t involve family members. The Diwali break was coming up & I planned to use it judiciously. Most of my Himalayan getaways started with long weekends. But over the last ten years, most of the common hill stations of Uttarakhand & Himachal have been covered. Also, over these years I’ve preferred to stay away from common destinations as their accessibility has led to their “downfall”. Swarm of travelers flock to these places leading to massive build up of hotels & deforestation. Traffic snarls are very common in places like Manali, Simla or Nainital. Some years ago, I’ve tried my hands with shot treks with family. It started with a hike to Chopta from the picturesque Deoriatal through the woods of the Kedarnath wildlife sanctuary. I thought about exploring that option once again. This was in November 2017, a year ago before Annapurna happened. While scouting for options of easy to moderate grade treks, I came across “Dayara Bugyal”. It’s in the Uttarkashi district of the state of Uttarakhand. The accounts available on internet seemed to suggest that it easy, often done with family. I reached out to my contacts (guides whom I knew) in other parts of Uttarakhand & at the same time my search continued on internet. Finally, I came across Balbir Singh Negi. Discussions continued with him. Finally, an itinerary was drawn up. We were to start from Dehradun. A vehicle was to take us to the town of Uttarkashi. The next day would see us hiking up to Raithal, our first halt. The next day would take us to Dayara Bugyal, a high altitude meadow in the upper Himalayas. We’d camp there for a night & then come down via a different route via Barnala. We still had two additional days at our disposal & we thought to spend them at Harsil, a beautiful hill station before Gangotri. I booked the GMVN rest house at Harsil & the railway tickets to Haridwar. Later, based on Balbir Ji’s advice, I changed them to Dehradun. That would save us about 2 hours of travel.

On the day, Mussourie Express was running late. After leaving Haridwar it moved on gradually through the dense forests of Rajaji National Park. The solar rays made their way through the dense canopy of the forests. At some places it was even dark during the day. I’ve traveled this section many times before but it never fails to fascinate. Phases of dense forests are interspersed by river beds & streams which came down the slopes of the Shivalik hills that are visible on the horizon. Finally, the train reached Dehradun station about 3 hours late. It was 12 PM. Though I enjoyed the journey, but at the station I felt we were robbed off at least 2 hours. We could have reached our destination by noon, but it will be at least afternoon. We boarded the vehicle which started it’s journey from the railway station.

At first it struggled to make it’s way through the crowded streets of Dehradun, but as it hit the Mussourie road, the ride was smooth. This section of the road was familiar to me as I’ve traveled in this region on multiple occasions. On one occasion we drove to Mussourie all the way from Noida. That was the first time I drove on the mountain roads. It was a thrilling experience but I didn’t enjoy the traffic snarls at Mussourie. Places like Kempty falls near Mussourie are now notorious for long queue of vehicles, thanks to the weekend rush from Delhi, Punjab, Haryana and other areas of the plains. The vehicle moved up the road that winds itself along the mountain slopes. After a few bends, houses of Mussourie started to appear. Fortunately, the road still has some forest cover and concrete hasn’t quite swallowed the forests to the extent it as done in other hill stations. But Mussourie is known for the pomp and show of its hotels. As salaries increased, so did the living standards and the allied expectations of comforts of urban life. With increase in accessibility to hill stations like Mussourie, more and more people flocked towards them on long weekends. With them, they carried their ever-increasing expectations from modern urban life. The tourism industry hoped to cash in on this by attempting to meet them. Little did they or the governments and local authorities realize that these places cannot sustain such demands, not at least by keeping their serenity intact. This is a harsh truth faced by almost all the areas of the Himalayas which has become more accessible due to increased connectivity. Mussourie, for example, was a place known to receive snowfalls regularly. However, over the years, uncontrolled constructions has seen it losing a large section of its forest cover and today, in some years, winters go by without any snowfall. Fans and air conditioners are common in the hotels and lodges there, which people never had to install earlier. But, with some of the territories earmarked under forest department, Mussourie has been able to put some check to uncontrolled urbanization and fares a little better than places like Simla.

The vehicle meandered around the serpentine roads of Mussourie town. It kept off the Mall road and followed the streets that took us through the cantonment area and we came out of the Town to hit the road that goes towards Dhanaulti. It was a short cut through the town, avoiding the crowded tourist areas. We kept moving till we reached a junction. At the junction, one road goes ahead towards Dhanaulti. But we took the left turn that is headed towards Uttarkashi. It was now going down down the slopes through the forests. This is a relatively new section of road that connects Dehradun, Mussourie to the road leading to Uttarkashi and Gangotri. The road took us to the banks of the Tehri dam reservoir, a large dam built on the Ganges, causing much disbalance in the local ecosystem. The rising waters of the reservoir drowned the old town of Tehri and it had to be relocated to higher reaches of the hills as “New Tehri”. The vehicle moved along the banks to reach Chiniyalisaur, an important junction town on the route. It is here, the road from Haridwar and Rishikesh joins the Gangotri road. It is also where a different road takes pilgrims and tourists towards Yamunotri, another important pilgrimage site which is also one of the famous “Char Dhams” of the state of Uttarakhand. After Chiniyalisaur, the road went by the banks of the Ganges, a pattern to be followed for rest of the trip. It was our first view of the river on this route and here it appeared no different than any other river in the mountains, making its way down the rocky and bumpy slopes of boulders through the gorges. Gradually, we passed the town of Uttarkashi, the district headquarters and reached Gangori (not to be confused with Gangotri). Balbir Singh met us at a nearby market and boarded the vehicle, which left the Gangotri highway to move up the slopes of a narrow road. This is the route that goes towards the famous Doditaal lake. The vehicle took us to a place where paved road ends. Beyond this, it is a trekking route to Doditaal and beyond. We disembarked here and headed up towards our place of stay, the Kaflon camp.

Kaflon

The Kaflon camp is located in a valley surrounded by high hills on all sides. They have a few tents set up with comfortable beds and attached toilets. The lawn in front bathed in bright afternoon sun. We were greeted with lemon juice by the staff at the camp. As we were shown the tent, it lifted our spirits. The tent had a proper bed, was very clean, airy and there was enough sunlight in it.

At the camp, Kaflon

We had the entire afternoon at our disposal, at least 2-3 hours of bright sunshine to bask in. However, a quick conversation with the camp staff revealed that sunshine doesn’t stay that long in this camp, thanks to the high mountains that surrounds the place. They are also the reason due to which sunlight reaches late in the valley in the morning. Nevertheless, we still had sometime and we sat on the chairs to enjoy the afternoon. Tea was served with delicious onion fries (pakodas, as they call it, in this part of the world). We sipped the warm tea and the pakodas played a perfect match.

Kaflon

As evening wore on, the chill increased and we subsided to out tent and after dinner at 7 PM, we slid under the blankets. After chatting for sometime, sleep overran us.

The next morning, when we were served breakfast and tea, it was already 8 AM, but the sunlight was yet to reach the valley. Balbir Singh came over to meet us along with his son Arvind, who’d be our guide on this trek. We left some of our luggage at the camp and carried just the essentials along. We walked down the trail and reached the road head, where a vehicle was waiting to carry us to Raithal, the point where our trekking was to start from. The jeep moved down the road to reach Gangori, where rations and supplies were loaded (raw materials for food, cooking utensils, tents, sleeping bags, matrices, kerosene and other equipment). A drive of two hours took us to Raithal, where we were surprised to find a GMVN tourist rest house. Had I known about it before, we could have halted here instead of Kaflon. That could have saved us sometime. Nevertheless, we started our hike at about 11 AM. It was a bit hot, but a nice cool breeze gave us some comfort after we started. The initial route went amidst the houses and the fields of the Raithal village.

En-route Goyee

The route was paved with stones, but over a period of time, it has worn out, but it was still a well laid trail that zig-zagged upwards. We couldn’t keep our jackets on for long. So, we had to fasten them around our hips to give us some comfort while walking. My daughter and wife were faring well. It was just the start and there was some way to reach our camp. The distance wasn’t anything compared to what we’re accustomed to during treks of a higher grade. The walk for the day wasn’t likely to exceed 4 kms, whereas 8-10 or even 15 kms a day is quite normal in treks. Clouds stayed clear off the sky where we could see the peaks of the Bhairathi range of the Garhwal Himalayas.

After crossing the Raithal village, we entered the woods that covered the route right up to the top where Dayara Bugyal lay. That gave us some respite from the blazing sun, whose rays were intense even in this time of the year when winter was knocking the doors.

As the gradient increased, breathing became harder and halts increased for my daughter. They increased to a point where I had to intervene and take her along with me instead of letting her progress on her own pace. Though we had time at our disposal, but it had to be kept under control. At her age, one cannot expect the urgency and maturity that is required for treks. I urged her to look around in the surroundings where, on the horizon, Mt Bandarpoonch was visible in clear sky.

Mt Bandarpoonch

After sometime, guide Arvind handed over the packed lunches to us. We had our lunch at one of the bends, chapatis and sabzi (curry). I didn’t have much appetite and confined myself to minimum. After lunch, its always difficult to regain the momentum to walk but we got into our grooves again. The rays of sun acquired a tinge of yellow as afternoon wore on. My daughter became increasingly impatient , but the camp was nowhere to be seen.

We dragged on for another hour till we reached a point where we could see our tents at Goee, our place of halt for the day. The tents were in front of a shepherd hut, which was to serve as the kitchen fr the night. It was a small meadow spread out on the laps of the hills that led to Dayara Bugyal. Sun was preparing to leave the stage.

Mt Bandarpoonch, Goee

Shadows gained grounds quickly, but the peaks beyond the distant hills still bathed in the afternoon sun. My years spent earlier in the laps of the Himalayas told me the time was ripe for the sunset colors to play our their drama over the snow clad peaks. The yellow tinge of the solar rays acquired intensity and then crimson came in the mix. Mt Bandarpoonch was the nearest and largest visible from the camp.

Mt Bandarpoonch at sunset, Goee

We were handed our evening tea. I kept my focus on the distant mountains where the sunset scene was being played out. The entire Bhagirathi-Gangotri range turned crimson in the fading rays of sun.

Bhagirathi range at sunset, Goee

The guides and porters set up camp fire with the help of twigs collected from the nearby forest. We spent time sipping our evening tea and warming our hands till the fire died out. As soon as it was dark, dinner got served, after which, we subsided to our tent. The tent proved inadequate for two adults and a kid. There wasn’t enough space to turn around, especially with the sleeping bags, which I never felt comfortable with. Silence engulfed the place with only strange sounds coming from nearby forests. My daughter kept asking whether tigers or leopards were a common occurrence in the surrounding forests. She went crazy with sounds around the tent which came from a stray dog which was roaming around and finally as he slept with his back against the wall of the tent, my wife got the jitters as she was leaning against the other side. But, we soon got used to it and the rest of the night was peaceful.

Part-2