India Journal Part IV

10/10/2004: 1856 Bendi Bugyal àBhagwa BasaàRoop KundàBhagwa BaseàBendi

                        Today              Total   

Ascent              5,030               10,730             24km round trip

 Descent           5,030               7,200


“Slowly, slowly”.  Some of the best advice I have ever received.  We were supposed to go to Bhagwa Basa today and camp for the night before going on up to Roop Kund, but people descending from the higher area warned that it was too cold and snow was coming in.  Raten (Boss Guide) gave us an option, wait out the weather, or go for a round trip today before the really bad weather moved in.  Since I knew that some of this problem was brewing, I had laid awake in my tent last night worrying that we would not get a chance to go to our trip high point (and life time high point) due to the weather.  This opportunity was welcome to me, and Mo was sporting to go.  What you don’t know can’t hurt you.

Many sites along the trail we have hiked have religious significance for the Hindus.  The trek from Bendi Bugyal to Roop Kund is particularly rich in this respect since this is the path of one of the largest Hindu Pilgrimages in the Himalayas.   We passed many small shrines, some with evidence of recent activity such as incense or leaves brought from much lower elevations.

As we ascended there was one thing that was notable lacking, oxygen.  For incentive I would look at my altimeter and report when we had reached certain notable elevations.  I used some Colorado 14,000 ft peaks as mile stones.  We just summitted  Mt. Belford at 14,200 ft.  We just summitted Longs Peak at 14,255 ft. We just summitted Mt. Elbert 14,433 ft.  The last summit was significant because that is the highest either of us had been on the planet and marked the top of the highest peak in Colorado.

Forgot to mention the weather.  Started out in cloudy conditions.  The high peaks were covered with clouds and a light snow from last night.  The weather the entire time had been intermittently rainy then snowing.  The higher we went the more it snowed, although never becoming heavy.






Mo and I relaxing at the front door of our new real estate in Bhagwa Basa








We reached Bhagwa Basa at15,000 ft after several hours.  This was going to be our camp site today if the weather would have been better.  Bhagwa Basa is not a town, unless you consider three small rock shrines and a slightly larger rock hut a town.  It would have been tight camping as the only flat ground was about 100ft X 50 ft of uneven rock. The structures are clearly very old, but the pilgrims that pass through here must do repairs as needed.  The story is that every 12 years a mysterious four horned ram appears and leads the faithful up this trail past Bhagwa Basa to Roop Kund.


As we moved upward Raten and Ijabossing  (Bandana Man) had moved ahead of us to the point that we could no longer see them.  The snow squalls increased and we were a little unsure of how far we had to go. 






View at 16,000 ft back at trail (marked with red arrow) from where we came. 







We ascended some rock steps that had been built in to the side of a sheer rock wall and angled up the side of the mountain.  The rocks were getting a little slicker and the air a lot thinner when we looked up and saw our two Indian companions standing about 100 meters ahead waving their arms and yelling “Roop Kund.  You are here”. 

Roop Kund is a very holy place for the Hindus, and our guide welcomed us to the summit ridge in front of the lake with a bow, his hands help in from of him in standard prayer position, and said “Nameste”.  The kund (lake) itself is small, maybe an acre in size, with large black imposing cliffs jutting up 1-2,000 feet behind it.  The top of these cliffs lead to a sub-summit of Trisul.  Although the top of the ridge and Trisul were obscured by clouds, it was still inspiring to know that we were high on the side of 24,000 ft peak.

From the ridge we were on we could look down about 100 ft to the frozen kund.  Just to the left of us was a small shrine about 2 ft high with human femurs stacked up against it.  Some of these human bones had old fractures, but most were well preserved. 




Human femur bones stacked on shrine at Roop Kund






These were not the bones of climbers who had fallen from Trisul high above, but the victims of a much more mysterious event.

Around the base of the lake and under the ice there are 600 year old skeletons of about 300 men and horses.  Because of the altitude and permafrost some of the skeletons under the ice still have flesh attached.  The story proposed by the locals (and they stick by it) is that 550-600 years ago Raja Jasdal of Kanauj undertook a Nanda Jat (holy pilgrimage) along with Rani Balpa, the sister of a very powerful goddess named Nanda Devi.  Near Roop Kund Rani gave birth to a child.  Nanda Devi felt this was a sacrilege of her sanctuary and sent a terrible storm that trapped all of the members of the Nanda Jat in this small lake.  600 years later their bones still lay were they died.  I hate to be a cynic, but it did occur to me that if this was, let’s say in somewhere in the US, all those bones would be long gone and selling at a souvenir stores for a healthy profit. 

On our return trip to Bendi Bugyal we had periods of heavier snow with brief periods were it would clear enough to see some of the high peaks.  Just as we reached Bhaga Basa on our return, three Ibex ran up the mountain side in front of us.  Ibex are a sign of good luck.  They didn’t work for the weather, but at least it stayed clear enough to see our way back. 




Look closely. x marks location of Roop Kund







With about 1,000 feet to descend, and our camp in view, the wind picked up, and by the time we made it back to camp it was a full white out blizzard.  We crawled in to our tent and got in the down bags.  About 15 minutes later we heard the welcome and now familiar call, “Hello, hello. Hot tea”.

The Ibex was true to its sign.  All in all we are very lucky.  At ages 54 and 60, with relatively little acclimazation, we made a 24 km 10 hour trek with over 5,000 ft of climbing, to a higher elevation than either of us had ever been, with out so much as a head ache.   This is not to say we were not really really tired.  Mo was awesome! Our mantra was “slowly, slowly”.


10/11/2004: 0800 Bendi Bugyal tent

Snowed and blew all night and continues today.  Unlike being in Everest Base Camp, where you can get in depth satellite weather reports 24 hours per day, we had no communication and no way of knowing whether this was going to get worse or better, or continue for the rest of the year.  Raten says we better pack up and get to lower ground so we began to break camp.





Mo enjoying her private bathroom at Bedni Bugyal







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