Himalayan Mountain Challenge 2018

(written by S Parthasarathy, Head – Alumni Relations)

A group of 69 students and four IIMB faculty/staff participated in a trek to “Dayara Bugyal” in Uttarakand as part of the HMC 2018 course during the first week of Dec 2018. The trek was organized by India Hikes. The HMC course was introduced in 2017 as a non-credit course (not considered for overall CGPA) and has been made open to students across programs. Last year, we had less than 35 students. Based on last year’s feedback, more students enrolled for this program. The students were split into two groups – I and II.

Prof. Bringi Dev and Prof. Hema Swaminathan are the course coordinators. Dr. Sugami Ramesh and I accompanied the students on behalf of IIMB. Prof. Hema and I were part of group I.

The Trek

During the first week of Nov, all of us participated in an acclimatization local trek to “Chanagiri Hill”, a mountain near Nandi Hills in Bangalore. The Channagiri trek was a 4-5 hours trek and was steep. I have a knee problem and I had a tough time while descending in Channagiri. After reaching the top of the mountain, I realized I had done a night trek to Channagiri from a different side 25 years ago with a couple of my batchmates in IIMB!

We had couple of briefings by the India Hikes team for all the participants and we had a WA group that was formed to address queries of participants. The course design, projects and activities were also finalized in consultation with the IIMB course coordinators and IH.

The Drona hotel in Dehradun was the meeting point for all participants of the trek.  The term had got over on 24-25 Nov and many students headed home for a few days before joining at the meeting point in Dehradun. Drona hotel is centrally located buy is poorly maintained. We stayed in Hotel Ashrey. Many other students stayed in other hotels.

Group I largely constituted students from PGP(27), EPGP(4) and PGPEM(2). We took an early morning bus on 30th Nov and headed for Raithal, our base camp. It took us 8 hours of travel through winding roads, via Uttarkashi. The Bhagirathi river was a constant companion throughout the journey and we passed Tehri dam on the way. We reached Raithal at 3 pm.

Raithal is a village of around 1500 ppl located around 7000ft above MSL. A well connected village with a 10 bed hospital, school and temple, Raithal is one of the two base camps (the other being Barsu) that is used for the Dayara Bugyal trek.  The IH team briefed the group in the evening and participants rented accessories/equipment from India Hikes. I rented the Poncho (for the rain) for Rs 100 for the trek (Rs 300 deposit). We had a large team from IH already there at Raithal who were very professional and friendly. Roshini, Hari and Izzat were familiar IH faces from Bangalore. Dushyant was our trek leader and Roshini was the game master. Other game coordinators were Gurupreet Singh, Gayatri, Geet, etc.

At Raithal, we were put up in GM (Garhwal Mandal) guest house and it was a very comfortable place.  It was very cold in the evening/nite and we could see the lovely greater himalayan range at a distance. Sri kantha, Gangothri 1,2 & 3 and many other peaks were visible. We had a brief session on star gazing in the night with a few interested people. I got to know about this terrific app called Star Chart from Karthik  (trek leader for group 2). Since I have some basic knowledge on this subject, I shared some gyan with others on the zodiac and coordinate systems. The group was split into 5 teams with names such as Swaragarohini, Nanda devi, Trishul, Chokamba, etc. (names of mountains).

Day 1

3-4 hours steep trek to the camp called “Gooee”. This camp was located at 9400 ft above MSL and it got very cold by 3:30pm. The night temperature was around -1 to -3 degrees. The toilets were very clean (toilet pits) and well maintained. Students had do to a host of activities such as tent pitching, sleeping bag rolling and disassembling the ten. The group was split into 5 teams with approx 6-7 people per team. Points were awarded to teams based on various parameters. Each team was given mountain money to spend and track. The green trail is a IH initiative that entails every participant carry a pouch for picking up all kind of waste such as plastic, recyclable waste, etc. Teams are awarded points based on the waste that is picked up during trekking.

Day 2

We trekked for 3 hours to camp Barnala, located at 9800 ft. The treks on day 1 and 2 was through thick forests – largely of oak and rhododendrons. The Uttarakand govt had recently passed an order that refused camping above the tree line. Hence we had to camp below the tree line instead of the Bugyal (Bugyals are meadows above the tree line). The Bugyals can be windy because there is no tree cover for protection.

The Barnala camp had a small stream passing through the camp. All camps are set up near water sources – that is used for cooking and washing. Students had to buy rations from their mountain money, bid for points, and cook food. This activity took almost 4-5 hours. The students had great energy and enthusiasm. They also had to pitch their tents. Washing vessels in cold water (almost frozen) was a task that no one enjoyed :))  The top layer of the stream was frozen. Night temperatures was around -3 degree.

Day 3

We started trekking at 8:30am and were scheduled to visit the summit and be back to the next camp before 3pm. This was the longest day of the whole trek and was the steepest too. We had to cross the tree line and walk through the Bugyals. In some places, we had to walk on ice and this had to be done carefully. After a 3 hours steep climb, we reached a place with a few uninhabited log houses (at 11500 ft). A couple of trekkers decided to stay behind out here and look after the trekking bags and the rest of the trekkers proceeded to Dayara Bugyal which was another 75 mts away (each way). My knees and back were hurting and I managed to trek for 40 mts before discontinuing. My back started aching and I did not want to take a chance. The rest of the trekkers proceeded to Bugyal summit and had to walk through 2-3 ft deep fresh snow for around 10-15 minutes to reach the summit. Bandar Ka Poonch and other summits were visible from this point.

After a stay for 45mts at the summit, the team returned to the place where we had kept the bags and proceeded to our next camp – Chillapada. Chillapada was located at a height of 10,720 ft and got very cold by 3:30pm. The cooks at various camps were local people/from places nearby. There were some very experienced trekkers from these villages. Ajit Singh Powar (called Chattan Singh) showed us videos on his mobile of his treks at 24,000 ft – between Gangotri 3 peak and some other place. Exotic videos. We could see constant snowing with a frozen lake nearby. There was another interesting person – Dilip Singh Rawat from Raithal who had also scaled 24,000 ft peaks. They were our local guides and were so nimble and sure footed during our trek.  They have the reputation of completing the Dayara Bugyal from Raithal and back in 3 hours!

Day 4

The descent from Chillapada to the base camp Raithal was very steep. We had to pass through our first camp – “Gooee”! My knee gave up midway and I had a tough time coming down. Despite taking pain killers and wearing knee caps, my knees hurt badly. I was the last one to reach Raithal! All in all, it was a great experience for all of us. For many students, it was a first time himalayan trek and I am sure they will treasure the experience for the rest of their lives! Incidentally, I had done the “Sar Pass” trek in 1998 with my wife – that was a trek to 14,000 ft. Personally, it was a satisfying trek that was more a function of will power than physical fitness.