Even tough camping near Brahma Tal at 3200m altitude in the midst of frozen snow the night was surprisingly warm and comfortable inside the tent in my Bluebolt quilt. Late evening I heard the sound of a deep growl, as if a larger animal got surprised by human presence in this remote winter spot. The skies were clear and I took a long exposure shot revealing a zillion stars in the night sky above. Below in the valley I could see the lights of the villages.
Daylight broke, packed up and resumed South towards the ridgeline from where to descend back into the valley. No sign of any trail below the thick frozen snow blanket so following the directions of the GPS recording in my phone. Passed by a mandir on the upper side of the lake. From here the trail gradually contours up to towards the top of the Southern ridgeline. Shoes were frozen, snow was frozen, feet were ice cold, had to keep walking fast to keep the blood flowing and keep them warm.
Finally reached the top of the ridgeline, one step at the time through deep, frozen snow. Sat on an exposed rock to enjoy the warmth of the morning sun and defrost my feet. Saw a group of trekkers approaching from the other side. Appeared to be a commercial group climbing up from Bekal Tal. To my surprise they had cleared a path through the snow making it easy to walk. My pace multiplied now not longer sinking inside knee deep snow.
Exploration and commercial hiking are opposite poles. Hikers were carrying a small day pack walking in one line behind a guide doing short daily hikes between fixed campsites with fresh cooked food. A bit further I reached an open flat place on the ridgeline where three different commercial groups had pitched up bright colored tents contrasting in the white winter landscape. Greeted the local cooks and porters who gave us some hot black chai. Spacious sleeping tents, cooking tent, dining tent and toilet tents spread across.
Mules were carrying large loads of gears and food uphill for the clients. Continued downhill along a clear path in the snow. Hundreds of footsteps had made the snow hard, icy and slippery. Hit Bekal Tal at 3020m, a frozen lake inside the forest with a small mandir. Serene water body. A little further down at 3000m we hit another commercial camp site around s small frozen lake encircled with tents and even a few dhabas. From here there are three exit trails – Lohajang (main tourist route), Ratgaon (opposite valley) or straight down along the ridge.
Hungry and out of food we drop down to Lohajang along a wide forest path. Tourist groups are making their way up and down the path. Mules carry supplies and food between village and campsites. Snow quickly vanished as we descend to lower altitudes. The path widely contours the valley slope and finally exists the forest entering into farmlands and settlements. We finally hit Lohajang where we indulge in chapattis and alloo sabji at 3pm after our last meal the previous night.
I now make my way back to Wan village along the ancient pathway in the valley below the road. The path takes me along tiny settlements and isolated forest. Parts are destroyed by landslides caused by new roads above. Friendly locals greet me along the way as they engage in their daily routine. I touch the stream near Bedni Ganga from where a nice path climbs up to the opposite side towsrds Bedni Bugyals. I continue on the same side towards Wan to resupply food and charge up my depleted electronics.
The path joins back on the road some 3km before Wan. I continue walking while shortlisting photos, blogging, messaging and posting. My Airtel prepaid SIM is useful in this part of Uttarkhand where JIO has not yet reached. I reach Wan by darkness and indulge in black tea, cream rolls, egg Maggie and chocolates to restore the lost calories. A Skype call to mom in Belgium and off to the village school to pitch up my tent.