Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Har Ki Doon & Ruinsara Tal Trek

These 11 days exceeded all my imagination/expectations. Saw all possible weather conditions in 5 days of trekking.


Har-Ki-Doon (HKD) [3550 mtrs] is a classic Tea-Shop trek. One can do this trek without any tents or ration to carry. The place can be reached in 3 hops from Sankri. If you are planning for your first Himalayan trek, this is the highly recommended route. The Destination (HKD) is a magnificent place to spend atleast one full day. One can go to Jaundhar glacier and Maninda Tal from HKD as a side trek.

Ruinsara tal (RST) [3600 mtrs] is a beautiful lake adjacent to Swargarohini range. The altitude at which this lake is situated makes it very popular among trekkers. Mountaineers who plan to climb Black-Peak and trekkers to Yamunotri (via bali pass) camp here for a night.

The Plan

Plan was to cover both HKD and RST in 5 days of trekking.

For this reason, we decided to start our trek from Taluka (instead of Sankri).

Day 1 : Taluka(2000m) to Seema (2600m) (or Devsu thatch) (16 kms)

Day 2 : Seema to RST (15 Kms)

Day 3 : RST to Seema (or Devsu thatch) (15 Kms)

Day 4 : Seema to HKD (11 Kms)

Day 5 : HKD to Taluka (via Osla) 27 kms)

How to Reach Taluka (or Sankri)?

Taluka is a small hamlet that’s on the northern border of state of Uttarakhand. From Delhi, 1120 Hrs Ujjain express to Dehradun (Capital of Uttarakhand), reached Dehradun by evening 1900 Hrs. Stay in Hotel Drona. Next Morning, Taxi to Sankri (8 hours).

Sankri to Taluka, a luggage van (45 mins)

The Team

  1. Ashwat
  2. Esha
  3. Harsha [Basu]
  4. Kausthub
  5. Mallikarjuna Konduri [Malli]
  6. Manohar [Manu]
  7. Pavitra
  8. Pramod [Dr]
  9. Priya
  10. Sharath
  11. Veena
  12. Vikrant [Vix]
  13. Vishnu
  14. Vishwanath [Choodi]
  15. Me


IndiaMike.com (IM) posts helped me a lot to zero on HKD-RST trek.

Obtaining phone numbers of Guide (Ramlal Singh), Taxi owner (Khajan Singh) was pretty easy, thanks to the members of IM(to name a few, chits, almoraboy, dilliwala, Srinivisan (KS)).

Train booking was done couple of months in advance, GMVN rest house booking was a easy thing to do, thanks to their metro office in Bangalore (Double road).

Vikrant booked the flight tickets and his friend in DDN assured us to arrange the required ration, stove and kerosene. Basu finalized the ration list.


  1. The main concern was the road quality between sankri and taluka. This place is known for land slides. Bad road meant no transport between these places and 8 kms of extra trek each way. This would upset our plan as our schedule was already cramped.
  2. Train delays, this might cause some real issue and would account for cascading effect.
  3. Can we do it? People have done this route many times, but 5 days to cover both RST and HKD was rarely heard.
  4. Being a “First time trekking in Himalayas” group, we were a bit concerned about the change in weather, altitude sickness, camping tents. What kind of shoes to wear, how cold would it be? etc etc
  5. My Back : Exactly a week before we were supposed to depart for the trek, I got a severe back sprain. I was not able to move for 3 days. Even after venturing in to the trek, I was very careful the first couple of days about my back.

The Experience:

Apr 29-May1 : Reaching Delhi

Six of us (Manu, Esh, Veena, Pammi, Vishnu) thought of roughing it out by traveling to DLI by train, and in a second sleeper compartment. Part of the decision was also because the cost of the train ticket was only 450 Rs against 4500 in Flight J.

The second day in the train (Apr 30) taught us that we are not made for it. The heat wave started at 9 in the morning (Kachiguda, AP) and tormented us until 4 p.m. Consumed lots and lots of bottled water, we were begging for ice from the vendors and not to forget the wet cloth on our head and face all the time.

Rest of the gang made a wise decision to come to Delhi by flight (0600 Hrs from Bangalore).Met the rest around 1030 hrs(May 1) in Nizamuddin railway station. After the customary introductions and some PJs, boarded the Ujjain Express train around 1130 hrs.

May 1-May 2 : Dehradun and the wonderful Jeep ride to Taluka

Ujjain express is not a preferred one by the locals, because of its round-about route to Dehradun. This train takes more than 7 hours to reach DDN, which is atlest 1 hour more than the average time.

After reaching DDN, we checked into Drona hotel (GMVN). Some of us went for shopping. I wanted to visit Paramount, people who sell trekking gear in DDN. This shop is in moti-bazaar. I bought a sleeve Jacket; Pammi got a new trekking bag, Manu shopped for some shirts.

Buffet dinner was ready at “Drona”, which was quite OK.

Off to bed around 11 in the night.

Next day (May 2), Woke up at 0415 hrs and got ready for a long jeep ride to Sankri (and then to Taluka). Two jeeps were arranged (Maxi cab and Bolero). Started the journey at 0600 hrs, the first main town on the way was Mussouri. Dehradun to Mussouri drive is on a winding road. This made lot of us uneasy. Kempty falls, 10 kms from Mussouri is a nice place for coffee and breakfast, we stopped there for 30 mins for people to refresh themselves.

After Kempty falls, the journey is completely on the periphery of some or the other mountain. Sometimes we felt that we are going round and round. The sight out of the window was awesome, valley, rush of the Yamuna river and step-cultivated fields.

On the way, we could see some forest fire. Driver stopped at a place where one of the Ganges tributaries flow towards Yamuna, this water is considered to be as sacred as Ganga.

Reached Sankri around 5 in the evening, thanks to lot of stops in between due to motion sickness and the nausea created by kerosene kept at the back of Bolero.

Ramlal, our Guide was waiting for us in Sankri, with the porters. His first dialogue was “Aapne bahut samay laga di aane mein” translated to “you took a long time to reach the place. Indeed 11 hours was way too much.

Luckily, there was no landslide and some luggage vans were plying from Sankri and taluka. Two vehicles were hired to drop us to taluka that’s 45 mins from Sankri.

Sankri is the last place where you would get electricity. Sankri was pretty warm and cozy, but the weather changed as we were reaching Taluka. Strong winds were blowing along the valley (Tons river). I guess this was a sign of things to come the next couple of days.

Taluka GMVN rest house; not very good when compared to other hotels in metros and big cities. No water in the toilet, we need to haul it from a common tap situated in the front lawn. No electicity. Not a very clean place. But the rooms were pretty cozy, the blankets (razai) were pretty heavy and kept us warm throughout the night.

I had booked couple of Family rooms and double rooms, this was enough for 15 of us. A big dining hall was used for cooking. Basu and Pavitra looked after the cooking that day preparing Upma and curry.

I was busy in talking to Ramlal about the further plans and what time we should leave from the place next morning, what are the precautions to be taken and how is the weather, etc etc. I was very anxious about the weather though.

As planned, we had hired 5 porters and a cook. Porters would carry all our groceries, stoves, kerosine and tents (6). We would carry our own things. Our bags were not supposed to be more than 7 kilos, but this was not so in many cases though.

After a long discussion and doubt clearing session, we went to sleep around 10.

May 3 : Trek, Taluka to Seema (Thro forest and small villages)

As planned, we got up at 6 in the morning. The breakfast of the day was “Poha” (Beaten rice), but it didn’t turn out to be as good as we expected. It was like the poha was fried in oil. Basu and the cook with the help of porters prepared Rotis for pack-lunch.

The trek started at 7 in the morning.

To start with, people were walking pretty fast. The Shutter-Bugs (Vix, Manu, Veena and I) were at the back of the group, capturing beautiful Tons river and the adjoining valley.

After walking for 3-Kms, we reached a make-shift bridge that was built across a small stream that joins Tons. After the bridge, a steep climb of 25 steps took us to a beautiful meadow. A small place, but an ideal one for camping. Here we caught up with the complete team.

After the meadow, the path goes inside forest and there are more than a couple of zig-zag climbs. By this time, the group was divided in to three, front runners (Ash, Choodi, Vishnu, Priya, Kausthub). Pramod, Malli, Esha and I next. Veena, Manu, Basu, Sharath, Vix and Harsha in the end.

Pavitra was struggling a bit and so was Veena, Basu carried Pavitra’s bag for most of the time and Manu carried Veena’s. Around noon, the whole group was scattered, there was a lag of more than 45 mins between the front and the rear end of trekkers.

Me and Pramod were walking at our own pace, munching dry fruits. Reached Gangad-village outskirts by noon. We were happy to see a tea shop, Pramod feasted on Boiled-Eggs while I tried some biscuits. Cup of tea each and off we were towards Seema. Gangad is around 11 kms from Taluka. Crossed a bridge over a river that joins Tons. After the bridge it’s a steep climb. From here we are supposed to cover around 500 mtrs of altitude in 5 kms to reach seema.

After an hour and half of walking we (me and pramod) entered Seema-Meadows. Nice little fields and couple of watch houses. By now, I was feeling very hungry and decided to have lunch. One last climb to seema from this place and we could see GMVN resthouse. Weather had got rough past hour or so, and it had started drizzling by the time we reached the RH(Rest House).

Entering the GMVN was kind of a relief cum achievement. Out fellow trekkers who reached the place nearly an hour before were consuming Egg-Omlets and Maggi-Noodles pretty fast. I don’t remember how many teas I consumed in the first half an hour.

30 mins after we (Pramod and I) reached the RH, rest of the gang followed. Most of us were exhausted by the 16 km trek. Weather too was not very friendly. This being the first day (easiest) of the trek, I was a bit concerned about the weather and whether we would be able to complete the trek. Our guide Ramlal though was always optimistic about our chances of completing the trek.

The initial idea was to pitch our tents at “Devsu Buguyal”, a beautiful meadow 3 kms from Seema on the way to RST. The weather forced us to decide against it.

Around 3.00 p.m, all of us were lying down on the main entrance area of Seema-RH and eating and drinking whatever we can. I hadn’t booked the RH rooms, but we could able to get two dormitories (5 Beds each).

Seema GMVN was more or less same as the previous one (Taluka), thick bedding and very thick blanket. The problem was the water source, one had to walk around 50 mtrs to a small temple for water.

Once the weather settled down (around 5.00 p.m), beauty of the surroundings started to unravel. Most of us were running around to get hold of our camera and to take photograph(s) of the picturesque mountains.

Seema is a very small village, less than 10 buildings and some fields around it.

Seema is on the true-left of Tons river, and on the true-right is Osla. Osla looked like a much bigger village (atleast 100 houses) and was situated at a much higher altitude. Osla resembled an old small Chinese(Japnese) kingdom.

There was a bridge (hanging, I suppose) across the Tons river. This bridge connects Seema and Osla. Some of us walked to this bridge in the cold weather to get some good shots. Indeed, the decision was a good one as we got very good sights of snow capped mountains towards north. The southern view from the bridge was that of rolling-mountains illuminated in different shades of gray, orange and green due to the setting sun. It was very difficult to remove gloves and click photographs.

Around 8 in the night, Basu and co prepared nice dinner; we were off to bed around 10.

May 4 : Trek, Seema to Ruinsara Tal (Campsite)

Basu and Vikrant woke up around 3.50 in the morning to take a bath. I cant even imagine it in that cold. Rest of us got up around 6 and started the trek at 7.

The plan was to have breakfast in the morning (Pasta), lunch would be prepared on the way. Pasta was a disaster though. It was a cross between Chapati-dough / Toothpaste / upma. We decided that we will never try pasta in the trek again.

Sharath and Pavitra decided not to trek to RST, they would join us in HKD. So, it was 13 of us venturing towards RST.

The route to RST is something like this, one has to walk on the true left of the tons river till Devsu-Thatch(DT), then climb down to RuinSara-River(RSR), cross the river (bridge) and then walk on the true-right of RST till we reach camp site near RST. But the walk was pretty strenuous due to change in altitude, weather and tired legs. Detail explanation of the route is given below.

From seema, path towards RST is on the right of the bridge; one need not have to cross the bridge. If you are going to HKD from Seema, then you need to cross the bridge. First three kms to Devsu thatch(DT) from Seema was very tiring, steep climb most of the places and no reprieve from the climbs throughout. The altitude gain was around 450m within 3 kms. It took us around one hour to reach the green pastures of DT. From DT, one can see a zig-zag path that leads to HKD. DT is on a pretty high altitude (3000 m), the span of DT is pretty big; we had to walk for almost a km or so to get to the other side. From DT, we had to climb down towards “RuinSara-River(RSR)”. This river joins Tons near DT. The climbing down is very tricky and it will be tougher if it rains. We had to take support of the roots and trunks of the trees (Pine). This descent is completely through a dense pine forest. The forest ends abruptly by the roaring RSR. We crossed the river over a small wooden bridge. We could see the first glimpses of yamunotri range of mountains from this bridge.

After the bridge, we took the path that goes towards our right. After nearly an hour (around 11.a.m) from the bridge, we could spot a trekkers hut. The path so far was mostly on a level ground. Malli was giving me company and also keeping me full with his Badams and Energy-Bars. Trekkers hut is a small Concrete structure, which can house 8-10 people. As we approached the hut, Basu, Choodi and others were ready to leave. We learnt that we were around 20 mins behind them.

Malli and I decided to stay in the hut until the rest of the gang(Manu, Veena, Esha, Vikrant) arrived there. The weather by now turned very cold, sun hiding behind clouds and the mountain peaks disappearing in the fog. It started drizzling and the weather was ice cold.

After a much needed rest for 20 mins at the hut, we continued on the path next to RSR. It was a fairly level path with occasional climbs initially. Atleast 20 water falls in the initial half an hour. We could also see a very huge water falls on the other side of RSR. After an hour or so, the rains got a bit stronger and I could see the group of trekkers in front of me falling apart. Basu, Porters and Choodi were in the front (not to be seen), pramod around 5 mins behind them and Vishnu sitting on a rock with dejected face. Priya and kausthub walking slowly. Basu and I had Walkie-Talkie with us and we used to share the status once every 30 mins. Our watches were synced so that we wont miss the time, and so were the watches of Manu and Vikrant. Around 12.30 p.m, the mountains around us were invisible due to the fog/snow. We could see that the rain was lashing the Tons Valley behind us. We felt that reaching RST would be a risky thing to do and decided to picth a tent at a suitable place. Conveyed this to Basu over radio. The front team were a solid 30 minutes ahead of us now.

Last half an hour walk was a bit risky at places, quite a number of land slides due to rains. Sometimes we had to negotiate these patches for about 20 mtrs. I would rate this as the most riskiest part of the whole trek. A slip in the step would mean free fall on the river bed (on boulders). Most of us (including me) crossed this using knees, hands, elbows etc etc. The thing about these patches were that the ground was clay like mud, and not gravels. This made us to cross the patches safely.

Around 1.20 p.m the rains started to come down a bit heavy, luckily i could see tents being pitched from our leaders at a distance. Another 10 mintues, and i was at the camp site inside a fairly warm tent wearing a fleece jacket. Caved inside a sleeping bag and stayed inside for 30 minutes without moving. It was a crazy kind of rain, we could see drops of ice showered around us, snowflakes. For a brief duration of about 30 mintues, rains subsided and the porters cooked lunch, which was much needed after a tiring day.

The camping site was around 3 kms before RST and we decided that we shall trek RST the next morning. This can be done without any luggage as we had to come back the same way. Around 4.00 p.m the weather cleared out and all of us came out of our tents to shot some pics and to explore the place around us. The location of the campping site was awesome. Next to RSR, Yamunotri range on the other side of the river. A stream dancing over the boulders just next to us.

Two rounds of chai, a serving of bisuits, hundreds of photographs, hangman-game and it was time for dinner. Rice & rasam was prepared, rasam was a bit spicy. We went to sleep around 10. Night was horribly cold. One stupid decision of mine was not to get thermals. I suffered a lot in the night due to this. Was shivering the whole night. Hardly slept in the night. This was the case with most of us, it may be due to altitude also (3200 m). Manohar harldy could sleep and so was Pramod. Vikrant accomponied me to campfire once at 12 in the night. The only reprive in the night was that it didnt rain. Later, our guide mentioned that the tents that we got was not made for this kind of cold. Lots of mesh like opening in the tents. The temperature would have been around 4-5 degrees.

I would suggest people to carry a 4-season tent when venturing into Himalayas.

May 5 : Trek, Ruinsara tal to Seema

Got out of the tent in the early hours of morning, was very happy that it was 5. Already our cook (Ganga) was preparing tea for everybody. The plan was to start trekking by 5.30, reach RST and come back to the camp site for breakfast.

A nice Chai and off we were towards RST. The path is along the RSR, till we reach a stream with bed full of boulders, joining RSR. It takes around 45 minutes to reach the stream. Its advisable to cross the stream in the early hours of the morning. As the sun starts shining, the glaciers feed the stream, hence very difficult to walk across. After crossing the stream, a path leads to the adjoining mount on the left. The initial setup is full of barren trees and the wonderful Yamunotri range snow mountains in the background. We could see Bander-Pooncn and Black peak from this spot. We could also see Swargarohini-2 on our left hand side. It was like we were walking into the snow mountains.

A 45 mins climb from the stream took us to a level ground, and the scenary from this place was breath-taking. A trekking hut (RST) on the left side, yamunotri in the background and snow mountains on the right. 10 minutes walk from here and we could see RST. As soon as we approached RST, a blizzard from nowhere engulfed us. Pramod, Ashwat and I were in the middle of it and we just wanted to go near RST and click some snaps. Priya and Kausthub joined us and we clicked some photos hurriedly. We made a run towards the trekking hut to cover ourselves.

We met a person, Rajiv Menon, a professional photographer and a climber. He and his team of porters were getting ready for the Black-Peak summit. He was suppose to summit it within 5-6 days. We shared our experiences with him. We had to wait a long time before Esha and other arrived. By this time the blizzard had subsided and people allowed to click more beautiful snaps. Vikrant, Pramod, Choodi, Ashwat and I decided to ascend the RST and return to the camp. It took us 50 minutes of brisk walk/ running to reach the camp site.

Hot breakfast was ready by the time we reached the site, we packed our stuff waited for others to join and started our trek towards the next camp site. The plan was to pitch a tent overnight after crossing Tons river. This would make our next day's trek to HKD very short (by 4 kms).

Started from the camp site around 10.00 a.m, we knew that we had to walk fast to reach the camp site before it starts raining. In Himalayas the weather gets bad in the afternoon. So we had only 3.5 hours to reach the next camp site. Our first aim was to reach the Trekkers hut near the RSR before 11.15 a.m. We did walk pretty fast (the whole group) and were able to meet the deadline. As soon as we reached the trekkers-hut, it started pouring. Trekkers-hut is open on all the sides (except the top), it was not very warm inside. We tried to start a fire but in vain. Guide and the porters made a head starrt in the rains so that they could reach a small cave like structure and start a fire.

The rest of the gang started from the hut 10 mins adrift and reached the cave structure within 30 minutes. This was not a cave per-se, but a rock standing at an actute angle enough to protect the people under it from getting drenched. Guide and the porters had started fire, which was a nice thing. It took 2 hours before rains subsided.

Pavitra and Sharath were supposed to meet us near the camping site around noon, and we were stuck on this side of Tons river. We were pretty much concerned about their position. Around 3.00 p.m we decided that we have to go back to Seema as the camping site will not be good enough in the rains. Ramlal decided to head towards the place where Sharatha and Pavitra would be held up and the rest of us and porters headed towards Seema. Ramlal carried a walkie-talkie and kept us informed about the whereabouts of the couple.

The decision to stay overnight at Seema was due to the weather, none of us wanted to spend the night in the tents and suffer the same as the previous night. The cozy white beds and blankets in Seema motivated us to trek without even thinking about lunch. We had to cross the small bridge over RSR and climb DT from the other side and then descend to Seema. It took 2 hours for us to reach Seema, but all of us were very happy that we would be sleeping inside a concrete building instead of a tent.

We met Ramlal, and the Couple in GMVN, exchanged our experiences with them. Sharath and Pavitra were stranded during the rain in a partially roof thatched hut. They were not lucky to get a fire going and had to get into sleeping bags.

The rest of the day at GMVN was spent persuading Pavitra to come for the next day trek, for which she was against understandably due to the experience of the present day. I remember we had a big discussion about Adventure-Films, I ended up narrating stories of "In to Thin air", "Everest Imax" and "Into Thin air".

Got the Dormitories and two family rooms this time. Very happy to get into the thick blanket. I got fever that night and could able to eat very little. Thanks to Manohar and Vikrant for bringing me food and water.

May 6 : Trek, Seema to HKD

May 7 : Trek, HKD to Taluka


Route Map

Important Phone Numbers