The Nanda Devi basin is one of the most legendary regions in the entire Himalayan chain. The mountain itself, revered since time immemorial by all those who live in its shadow, has long attracted the attention of the pioneering mountaineers and explorers, mystics and spiritualists, writers and everyday travellers who have visited the area. Everest may well be the highest peak in the world but the beautiful peak of Nanda Devi must surely be the most fascinating. This beautiful area got fame when early western explorers like W.M. Graham, G.W. Traill and Lonstaff visited this area in 19th century. In mid 1930’s Bill Tilman and Eric Shipton explored this area in search possible climbing route to Nanda Devi. Bill Tilman climbed Nanda Devi in 1936 in a English-American expedition with Noel Odell. Nanda Devi is world 23rd and highest mountain situated completely within India and is surrounded by a ridge wall of nearly 6000m. The only break in this wall is the Rishi Ganga gorge. Sadly, the mystic of the area led to an excess of expeditions and ecological damage and the Sanctuary was closed in the 1980's. Investigations are currently underway to assess the recovery.
This classic trek takes us across the picturesque meadows and valleys that border the western edge of the Nanda Devi Sanctuary. Sometimes known as the Curzon Trail after the British Viceroy that enjoyed this area, the route we follow was used by Shipton and Tilman on their amazing journey to the Nanda Devi basin. During the trek there are many views of the surrounding peaks and the Kuari Pass (3658m) itself has an unrivalled panorama of the Great Himalayan peaks including Nanda Devi (7816m), Changabang (6864m), Dunagiri (7066m), Kamet (7756m)and Trisul (7120m). The trails are generally good, being in regular use by local villagers and traders. The trek is not technically difficult but the ascents and descents can be long and feel relentless, especially in hot weather. You should, therefore, have some experience of long distance walking.
We take the early morning train/Flight to Haridwar/Rishikesh, one of the seven holy towns of Hinduism and site of the 12 yearly Kumbh Mela. The town is situated on the edge of the Shivalik foothills, where the Ganges leaves its last rocky gorge and begins a 2000km journey across the plains to the Bay of Bengal. We then transfer to private vehicles to drive along the River Ganges till Rishikesh, Evening visit to Ganga Arti at Parmarth niketan. Stay in Hotel.
A full day of driving as we continue through the heart of Garhwal. From Rishikesh the road gradually ascends as it follows the Alaknanda Valley through a timeless agricultural landscape, on the way we will see Devprayag (Junction of Alaknanda and Bhagirathi rivers: where the Ganga begins) lunch at Rudraprayag (610m), where in the 1920’s Jim Corbett shot the “Rudraprayag leopard”, a man-eater who allegedly consumed some 125 persons over the years. The “prayags” are the sacred confluences on the rivers that drain into the Ganges; there are five in all and further along the valley is Karanprayag (832m), situated on the junction of the lovely Pinder River and the Alaknanda. Shortly before Gwaldam we turn off the main road to Debal (1218m) and drive up a switchback track to the road head near Wan village (2450m). Wan has an old British rest-house, where we set camp on the lawns, as did Shipton and Tilman on their exploratory visit in the 1930’s. Here, in the base of a massive deodar tree, is an ancient shrine devoted to Latu, one of Nanda Devi’s most significant nature spirits and a living example of the Garwhalis deep belief in the power of the mountain. Camping
Today we will trek 11 km (5-6 hrs) to reach Bedni Bugyal, probably one of the best camping sites in the Garhwal Himalayas. Dinner and overnight stay in tents.
Bedni Bugyal: Bedni Bugyal is a charming green meadow adorned with flowers in a spell binding varieties, in full bloom. There is a small lake situated in the midst of the meadow, where Tarpans are offered by the devotees. Situated nearby is a small temple where the devotees pay their obeisance, during their halt at Bedni Bugyal.
After breakfast trek to Baguabasa. Bagua means flowery park and Basa means place. And rightly the place was full of variety of flowers including the rare Bhram Kamal, a special godly lotus found at only and between the altitudes of 14000 - 15000 ft. Today we will trek 12 km, taking about 5-6 hrs to reach today's campsite at Baguabasa. Dinner and overnight in tents.
Stupendous views of Trisul and the mountains around. An arduous and spectacular trek for about three hours gets us to RoopKund, a holy lake surrounded by glaciers and high peaks and situated on the outer rim of the Nanda Devi Sanctuary. Every 12 years thousands of devout pilgrims, carrying a golden idol of the goddess Nanda Devi, undertake a difficult trek to this holy lake from Nauti village, near Karnaprayag. Overnight at Tents.
Roopkund: is situated at a height of 4600m, in the lap of Trisul massif. This usually called “Mystery Lake” since human skeletons and remains of horses were found there. The skeletons were discovered in 1942 by a park ranger. At that time, it was believed that the people died from an epidemic, landslide or blizzard. The carbon dating from samples collected in the 1960s vaguely indicated that the people were from the 12th century to the 15th century. In 2004, a team of Indian and European scientists visited the location to gain more information on the skeletons. The team uncovered vital clues including jewelry, skulls, bones and a preserved body. DNA tests on the bodies revealed that there were two groups of people, a short group (probably local porters) and a taller group who were closely related. Though the numbers were not ascertained, it is believed that three to six hundred people perished. Radiocarbon dating of the bones determined the time period to be in the 9th century, predating the earlier inaccurate tests. After studying fractures in the skulls, the scientists in Hyderabad and London determined that the people died not of disease, but of a sudden hailstorm. The hailstones were as large as cricket balls, and with no shelter in the open Himalayas, all of them perished
The trek then makes a long, steep descent through a fine forest of firs and rhododendrons. This more remote trail with excellent camping spot.
A beautiful day of walking through classic Garhwal scenery. With excellent views of Trisul. We will we crossing Sutol village, Fields are still hand-tilled and provide the villagers with most of their staple foods and a small income from any surplus. From here, a lengthy descent takes us to the Nandakini River where we stop for lunch and a chance to sooth our feet in the cool water. A very pleasant walk in the afternoon takes us on a broad cliff path above the river to pine forest and further villages. Near Sutol village we cross the Nandakini on a solid iron bridge and stop for the night on the right bank. In Shiptons day the crossing of this river necessitated a five-mile excursion upstream. (12km, 4-5hrs) Camping
This is the heart of Nanda Devi country as the Nandakini is worshipped as the river of the mountain goddess. Our morning walk takes us up and out of the valley through delightful villages where many social rituals and annual events are still intimately linked to worship of the “mother goddess”. Almost every stone, tree and hilltop seems to have some spiritual significance attached to it and a sense of timelessness prevails. After lunch an easy walk followed by steep climb takes us to our campsite above the village of Ghunni. From here there are wonderful views. In one direction is the country through which we have been walking and in the other the mighty peaks of Trisul and Nanda Ghunti once more. (16km; 06-07hrs) Camping
A less demanding day due to a restricted choice of campsites after lunch. A steady climb through forest brings us to the top of a ridge known as the Ramni pass (3215m) with distant views of the Kuari Pass that we cross in a few days. This is ancient forest with splendid old specimens of gnarled oak, holly, chestnut and rhododendron emerging from a thick carpet of white and pink flowering peonies (depends on season you trek). There may be occasional glimpses of monal and other jungle fowl. We camp near Shem Kharak, amongst the trees. The afternoon is yours to relax and enjoy the peaceful beauty of our surroundings. (08km; 04hrs) Camping.
We continue through thick forest to the village of Jhenji (1524 m) from where a steep descent takes us down the wild Birahi Ganga, a river that caused Shipton and Tilman much frustration during their explorations. The bridge, then a tree-trunk affair, was frequently washed away resulting in some perilous substitutions. Thankfully, the river is now spanned by an impressive suspension bridge. There are recent developments to connect these villages by roads, which is under construction. Not surprisingly, across the bridge is a steep ascent that follows a zigzag path up the bare and eroded hillside. As we climb we can see the remains of Gohna Lake. In 1893 a great landslip dammed the Birahi Ganga, so creating a massive lake. In the following year, monsoon rains broke the dam and caused a catastrophic flood as far downstream as Srinagar. After lunch a great walk through forest and pastures takes us towards Pana, the last village before the pass, w camp after the village. (12km; 05-06hrs) Camping
As we head for the base of the Kuari, crossing the last of the bugyals as we go. A steep and sometimes slippery descent takes us to the Pal Gadhera stream and this is immediately followed by a steep climb up through wild crag and forest country. We are following an ancient trade route that linked the southern valleys of Garhwal with Tibet. Goats and sheep carried grain from here over the Kuari and Niti passes into Tibet, with salt and borax being brought on the return trip. The afternoon is spent relaxing at Dhakwani (3210m), a small grazing pasture below the base of the Kuari pass. (12km; 06 hrs) Camping
An early start for the Kuari Pass in order to enjoy the splendours of sunrise on the Great Himalaya. The ascent, that takes less than two hours, follows a zigzag path to the col (3658m) but the most impressive views are gained from a point further along the Kuari ridge at 4268m. Here, on the divide between the middle and the Great Himalaya the snow capped peaks stretch in a seemingly endless arc, so forming the border with Tibet. Just some of the major peaks visible are Kamet (7757m), Choukhamba (7138m), Dunagiri (7066m) and Changabang (6863m), Nilkanth (6600m), the elephant shaped Hathi Parvat (6727m) and of course, Nanda Devi (7817m) and many others. After savouring this superb panorama, we descend a little from the main ridge to camp about 280m below the pass. From this beautiful spot we can, with luck, watch the sunset on the mountains as a perfect end to the day. (10km; 04-05hrs) Camping
Kuari pass base is the most beautiful camp to see best of Himalayan peak. We can see 360 views of Himalayas. We will also go to Pangarchulli peak (4600m) to see great panorama. Return to base in the afternoon. People can also opt for relaxing and enjoy the mountains doing nothing.
Our day start walking through easy ridge and meadows, as we descend down to thick forest of Oak, Rhododendron to Tali. We can see Dhauli Ganga gorge at the bottom and legendary Nanda Devi massif just at the corner of Gursoan bugyal. An easy walk through spongy grass and great views of Himalaya will take us to heart of Gursoan bugyal and Auli. We will board on waiting jeeps to ride to Joshimath for hot shower and comfortable beds. Stay in hotel
A full day of driving so a prompt start after breakfast. We follow the Alaknanda River away from the high peaks back to the Shivalik foothills. At Nandprayag the Alaknanda joins with the Nandakini River that we crossed few days ago and a little further on we meet the Pinder at Karnaprayag. From here it is a pleasant drive along the main valley back to Rishikesh. Stay in Hotel.