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My Fourth trek to Roopkund: Reflecting on the highs and lows

As a Green Trails Intern, I’ve had the rare opportunity of going on several Himalayan treks including Hampta Pass, Roopkund and Kedarkantha. Having done some of these more than once, I can say that each time in the mountains is a brand new experience. This was going to be my fourth time on the Roopkund trek. I was excited as soon as I saw the team at Pathar Nachauni. I couldn’t wait to get back to the Skeleton lake!

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Standing at Junargali with Nanda Ghunti to my left and Mt Trishul on my right

Work at Roopkund base camp

For the past 2 months, I’d been at Lohajung. I had been planning clean up campaigns, working on rainwater harvesting, setting up a Bio-digester, researching viable upcycling projects and most importantly training our local staff on green practices. As local staff and mountain men, they have always venerated the mountains. But they didn’t quite know the dangers of plastic and pollution. That’s where Green Trails came into the picture.

Roopkund-Waste seggregation at the camp-Indiahikes
Waste seggregation at the camp

Observations on the trail

When on the trek, I felt a deep sense of satisfaction to see our local staff members sustaining green practices they had learnt. Mahi chotu, Viruji, Yashpal ji and Tari bhaiyya knew how to maintain a compost pit, toilet pit and handle various types waste.

But the happiness didn’t last long…

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Classes on waste segregation at the camp

In spite of having cleaned the entire trail last season, there was garbage everywhere. Everywhere!

Every time we climbed down with sacks of garbage we knew that the slopes would not remain clean for long. It is heart breaking when educated people from cities come to the mountains and leave their trash behind. But we keep cleaning up behind them, trying to spread awareness in the locals and keeping the trail clean.

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Ruthlessly littered Kelu Vinayak temple

The sorry plight of Kelu Vinayak temple

Holy places on the trail often end up becoming the most polluted places. Ironically, credit for most of the litter goes to devotees. With its surroundings strewn with agarbatti covers and match boxes, the Kelu Vinayak temple looked like a helpless mess when we got there.

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Kelu Vinayak temple-Pollution in the name of worship

 

It’s funny how we take pride in our faith yet carelessly leave our filth behind. What’s funnier is that many trekkers have come and gone but none bothered cleaning up this place of worship. We were not going to leave it that way. My batch mates participated in the clean up activity. It took us a lot of time and effort to clear the temple premises.

Roopkund-Trekkers cleaning up the mess at Kelu Vinayak temple-Indiahikes
Trekkers cleaning up the mess at Kelu Vinayak temple

Solving water issues at Bhagwabhasa camp

I even got a chance to help with the water shortage problem at Bhagwabasa. As I was setting up the Rain Water Harvesting system, it started raining. I was contented to see water flowing down the pipe at a decent rate. Perhaps it wouldn’t give them all the water they needed. I just hope it reduces the number of 2 hour long trips they make to get water.

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Simple rainwater harvesting system at Bhagwabhasa

Besides all this satisfaction, we were blessed with a double rainbow at Bhagwabasa, just above the campsite! We also got to experience light snowfall while descending from Roopkund.

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Double rainbow at Bhawabhasa campsite

Roopkund itself had dried up almost completely leaving skeletons exposed on the lake bed. Some of us even heard a glacier cracking at Junargali. It sounded like the cracking of ice in the world’s largest ice tray when it is twisted. It’s amazing how the same trail, the same set of mountains and the same destination can reward you with a new experience every time!

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Dried up skeleton lake

Interested in being a Green Trails Intern?

Send an email to lakshmi@indiahikes.in and a questionnaire will be sent to you. You will receive a call for a Skype interview if you are selected for the next round. Following the interview, you will be notified with further details.

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roopkund-boys-carrying-the-gerican-back-to-the-campsite-indiahikes

Roopkund: An untold story in the Himalayas

Last season, I spotted a small yet fairly significant story during the Roopkund trek. The two salient points about this photo story are – environmental change and industrious people, who are the backbone of this trek.

In the year of 2015-16, due to the El Nino effect and rising global warming, the Indian Himalayas experienced very little snowfall. This practically disrupted everything – from low agricultural produce to further receding of glaciers. Glacial run-off in the Himalayas is the largest source of fresh water.

After speaking to our staff at all the campsites on the way to Roopkund, I came to know that Pathar Nachauni and Bhagwabasa were the most severely affected campsites when it came to availability of clean drinking water. Up until last year, our boys at Pathar Nachauni never struggled to fetch water. This year, the task was monumental.

Pathar Nachauni itself is quite a notorious campsite – with extreme wind conditions and torrential rains. I was told that the underwater springs were drying up due to less snowfall. Hence, Narendra, Santosh, Dhan Singh, Dishu and Raviraj had to go to the bottom of the valley to find a new source.

This summer they had spotted one good source, which dried up within a month!

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Water being filled from a new found underground source at Pathar Nachauni campsite on the Roopkund trek. PC: Anuja Gupta

They were shocked to see this change. Finally, one day, while cleaning the campsite surroundings, they  spotted a source at the bottom of the valley. After much discussion with other trekking groups at Pathar, they finally decided on fetching water from there.

For smooth running of operations at a campsite, facility of water for toilet and drinking purpose is crucial. Nathu Seth and Tanni Seth were the most efficient camp managers at Pathar Nachauni and Bhagwabasa.

The boys had to make 50-60 trips down to the bottom of the valley, one after another, with a gerican of 40 litres saddled between their shoulders. It was a sight to see. Most trekkers wouldn’t know how arduous it is to carry a load of 40 litres up and down 60 times in a day, everyday for 60-70 odd days. On learning this, I quickly went up to Santosh and Narendra, young lads of 20, to find out more about this painstaking task. For them, work is worship. It in their blood to be untiring, but they were worried and saddened by the state of nature.

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Our staff carrying the gerican back to campsite. PC: Anuja Gupta

They asked me to inform the trekkers to understand the water situation, and use it judiciously. I gathered my trekkers for an acclimatisation walk and Green Trails work only to show them a reality which isn’t a scene from an environmental documentary. They were flabbergasted by the sheer grit and back-breaking work of our support staff.

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The boys filling water at Pathar Nachauni campsite. PC: Anuja Gupta

The following morning, one trekker caught fancy to the idea of attempting to lift the gerican of water. After a few feeble steps, he gave up, deeply embarrassed. He was filled with respect for our young chaps at the campsites. He also later shared his moment of truth with fellow trekkers.

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On the left is Santosh Bist, 18 yrs old, who is a helper at Pathar campsite and religiously fills water. On the right is Narendra Bist (Nari), 20 yrs old, who plays multiple role at Pathar campsite. PC: Anuja Gupta

The Himalayas are surely the most formidable and unrelenting mountains in the world. They constantly teach us to be most humble and egoless, but knowingly or unknowingly, we are disrupting their kingdom and plunging towards the stairway to hell. We have to learn to respect the resources Mother Nature has given us. Without being preachy, I as a global being, urge our trekkers to be respectful and diligent towards our environment and its umpteen resources – so that the Himalayas and its bounties can be enjoyed for centuries to come.