And Independent Winter trek to Har Ki Dun – The Valley of Gods!

This is my journal of an independent winter trek to Har Ki Dun in the last week of December 2014. If you have any questions and would like to get in touch, please feel free to message me on my Instagram handle: @mountain.affair

The trek to Har Ki Dun (HKD) is among the most popular winter treks in India. Not just in winters, this trek is extremely popular in summers too. It is one of those treks where you don’t reach the summit of a mountain for the endless views, but you actually traverse a valley enclosed by mountains on all sides. The total trek distance (roughly 50 km) might seem daunting but it doesn’t involve a lot of uphill trekking. The trail will be a level walk or downhill at many places.

I will be sharing the exact plan that I followed. It is slightly different than the usual itinerary that you will come across on the internet. No particular reason. We changed our plans on the go!

Secondly, I always prefer to do treks independently (without joining a group / hiring a guide or porter) and this time too, a friend and I did the same. HKD can be done independently provided you have some experience hiking in the Himalayas and are fitter than an average person. If you have no experience hiking in the Himalayas, then I would suggest you take a guide who would arrange everything. It is best to not take chances when it comes to the mountains!

Day 0:
Bus from Delhi to Dehradun

To reach the trailhead (Sankri) of Har Ki Dun trek, the most convenient way is to first reach Dehradun (not Rishikesh) from Delhi via an overnight bus/train. We booked our tickets online and took a bus from near Anand Vihar ISBT around 10 in the night.

Day 1:
Dehradun to Purola (130 km, 6-7 hours)

You should aim to reach Dehradun by 5 or 6 AM so as to catch the earliest bus/shared taxi going towards Sankri. Shared taxis are available at Natraj Chowk which is about 15 mins from the bus station by an auto. There is although a small caveat when it comes to shared taxis. These taxis will not start their journey unless and until they get at least 8-9 passengers. If you don’t want to wait that long, you also have the option to split the remaining costs among all the travelers (if they agree that is). If you want to sit more comfortably, you also have the option to buy 2 seats and sit without getting too touchy with the others.

In all probability, you will get a shared taxi from Dehradun to Purola. From Purola, you might have to change for Sankri. The route will be Delhi > Haridwar > Dehradun > Mussoorie > Nainbagh > Naugaon > Purola > Mori > Netwar > Sankri. Assuming you reach Dehradun by 6 AM and leave around 7 AM, expect to reach Purola by 2-3 PM and Sankri by 5-6 PM.

Almost every itinerary that you’ll come across on the internet for HKD trek, no one bothers to spend a night at Purola. They make their way directly to Sankri from Dehradun. In our case, we started from Rishikesh early in the morning with an aim to reach Sankri by evening. But a few hours later we both realized we were too tired to reach Sankri, hence decided to break the journey at Purola and head to Sankri the next morning. Finding a lodge at Purola wasn’t difficult and we were just glad to put the road journey behind us…for now.

Day 2:
Drive from Purola to Sankri (55 km, 3 hours)
Drive from Sankri to Taluka (12 km, 45 mins)
Trek from Taluka to Gangaad village (9 km, 4-5 hours)

Next morning around 8 we got hold of the first cab heading towards Sankri. We reached just before noon. Sankri is a small village at an altitude of about 6,300 feet above sea level. In the past few years, Sankri has seen much development due to it being the trailhead for two of the most popular treks in Uttarakhand – Har Ki Dun and Kedarkantha trek. Quite a few lodges and homestays have sprung up here apart from the Forest Rest House and the GMVN Guest House which has always been there.

As soon as we reached Sankri, we spotted a Tata Sumo car packed with people and about to leave for Taluka. There was no space inside the car, so we were given permission to sit on the roof of it! The ride was thrilling, to say the least, and took almost an hour. Taluka is a much smaller village and is at a distance of 12 km from Sankri. The road to Taluka changes from bad to worse, then incredibly awful. The actual trek to Har Ki Dun starts from this tiny village.

Once at Taluka, we immediately commenced our trek towards Osla village which is roughly 13 km away and takes 6-8 hours. Considering the distance and time required, we knew we will not be able to reach Osla before nightfall, and were prepared to spend the night Gangaad village, which is about 9 km from Taluka.

The trail from Taluka is very well marked and goes downhill all the way till you reach the riverbank. Be it summers or winters, you will almost definitely come across many villagers on this trail. The trail is very well-trodden all the way till Osla and is a mix of uphill and downhill walks. Since we started the trek from Taluka quite late in the day, we were only able to make it till Gangaad village before it started to get dark. Gangaad village is about 4 km before Osla and has no lodges or homestays. But as soon as we entered the village, we were offered a room at a local’s house for the night. The kids at the village were quite excited to see a couple of trekkers making a stop at their village and were in no mood to give us any privacy even in the tiny room that we had to ourselves! The room in question was an 8ft x 8ft room built with wooden planks and sitting on top of a buffalo stable. Apart from the two of us, there was just enough space for our backpacks, a large battery, and an old sewing machine. The smell wasn’t very pleasant, to be honest, but it still felt like a luxury considering the isolation of the village and all we paid for the room and dinner was Rs.100! All of this adds up to the trekking experience. 🙂

Day 3:
Trek from Gangaad village to Osla to Har Ki Dun (15 km, 10-11 hours)

Realizing we had a long day ahead and had HKD as our final destination, we left from Gangaad village around 7. The trail is well marked even on this section of the trek and the river is always to your right. Barring few sections, most of the trail is a level walk. Keep following the trail which seems the most trodden and you shall find yourself in Osla village in less than 2 hours.

Osla is a tiny, pleasantly scruffy village. It seemed to me definitely better organized and slightly cleaner than Gangaad village. The trail cuts right across the village through the maze of lanes. Just ask any villager and they will point out the correct path to take. There are a handful of small shops which stock on basic food items and also a telephone landline in case you would like to make a call since there is no mobile reception unless you are using BSNL. The trail also takes you to a small but beautiful Someshwara temple which is supposedly 300 years old. The roof is adorned with bird motifs and the entire temple is built of wood.

Osla village is situated on the true right bank of the river. And right cross the river, on the true left bank is Seema, comprised mainly of the Forest Rest House and a couple of houses. A huge cement bridge links these two banks in case you wish to go to Seema for whatever reason. From Osla till HKD, the river will now constantly remain to your right. Keep walking the trail and it will take you through wheat fields, small bridges to cross streams, waterfalls (frozen in winters), and dense Pine and Rhododendron forests. While on this trail and facing straight ahead, you should now be able to spot the Har Ki Dun peak at the end of the valley. The base of that peak is HKD.

Considering it was the last week of December when we did this trek, it was surprising that there was absolutely no snow at Osla village. But a couple of hours out of the village, we noticed sporadic patches of snow here and there. Gradually those little patches got larger and eventually, the entire region was bathed in white. Walking on snow, it finally felt like a winter trek! As we got closer to HKD, the snow got deeper and our pace got slower. The last light of the day had surrendered to the gathering dark clouds and we were yet to reach the Har Ki Dun GMVN. It was probably around 7 in the evening, well into the dark, that we spotted a faint light couple of hundred meters away. Slogging in complete darkness and a foot deep snow, we finally reached to spot to find a small group camping. We were informed that GMVN is still further 300 meters up the trail. Before sending us off, they used their headlights to point us in the direction to walk and also gave a steaming cup of tea!

And eventually, we reached our final destination of the day – Har Ki Dun GMVN. We had already booked a room at Har Ki Dun GMVN online at www.gmvnl.in. GMVN here is in a very poor shape with cracked walls, no water supply, walls covered with soot, and dirty blankets. Even if you have a confirmed booking at any of the GMVNs on this trek, you still need to make sure that the GMVN caretaker knows about your arrival so that he can get to the GMVN and unlock the doors on time! Hence, if you have a booking for Har Ki Dun GMVN, I strongly suggest you ask at every passing village for the contact number of the current caretaker. When you do get hold of his number, call him and inform him of your arrival time and that you have a confirmed booking. The last thing you’d want is trekking all the way to HKD GMVN only to find it locked. We did none of this stuff. The caretaker told us that we were really lucky to have reached just on time. He was planning on closing the premises in an hour and spend the night at a relative’s hut a kilometer away. Lucky we were!

Day 4:
Har Ki Dun Exploration

Since we reached the GMVN when it was dark, we had no idea what surrounded us. But the moment we stepped out in the morning, within a moment we decided to rest and spend the entire day simply admiring the gorgeous sky-high peaks all around us. The peaks I had been looking under the grey banner of the moon last night, were at last dressed in sunlight.

You can easily see the snow clad peaks of Swargarohini – l, ll and lll, Bandarpoonch, Kala Nag and Har Ki Dun striding into the sky. They are jagged and seemed fierce, and the clouds peeled back from them in slices. GMVN is situated right at the base of Har Ki Dun peak. The trail heading to the left of the HKD peak goes towards Bali Pass and Maninda Tal, while the trail going to the right of HKD peak takes you to Ruinsara Tal. Follow the trail leading straight next to the HKD peak if you want to visit Jaundhar glacier. We simply used up our day taking plenty of pictures, basking in the bright sun, and strolling on trails covered in snow.

Day 5:
Har Ki Dun to Osla to Seema (12 km trek, 5-6 hours)

Even in the freezing cold of December, it was really hard to convince myself to leave Har Ki Dun and trek back to civilization. I could only imagine how beautiful it must be in September when the region is bathed in the deepest of greens, with a marvelously rich variety of growth in these pristine valleys.

Anyways, as it always happens with the good things in life, they do come to an end. After spending almost 40 hours at the Har Ki Dun campsite, with a heavy heart we decided it was time to return. Taking the same trail to head back, we slowly made our way towards Osla.

Just before Osla, I bumped into a small group of friends I had met during my solo trek to Roopkund couple of months earlier. We were glad to have some company on the trail and readily tagged along with them. They were headed to the Forest Rest House at Seema and so did we. The FRH at Seema is quite clean, spacious and has all the amenities that you would expect from a decent Rest House. Conversations revolving mostly around the mountains, and a sumptuous dinner later, we retired for the night in our cozy sleeping bags.

Day 6:
Trek from Seema to Taluka (13 km, 6-7 hours)
Drive from Taluka to Sankri (12 km, 1 hour)

Early morning we packed our bags and were out on the trail. The trail from Seema to Taluka is on the left bank of the river and very exposed! The trail almost entirely follows the white tumbling course of the river. Most of the trail was covered in ice and made it extremely uncomfortable for all of us. Everyone slipped and tumbled on the ice that day. Slipping on ice also means there is no way of arresting the fall unless you are carrying ice axes. Adding to the frustration, there were significant stretches on the trail where there was a drop of several feet. In fact, a couple of hours out of Seema, while we were still toiling on the trail, we came across two porters who were visibly quite disturbed. And then we noticed fresh blood on the trail and an injured mule that had slipped and fallen several feet down the valley. It was a heartbreaking sight but we were not equipped to help the poor mule in any way. The porters told us that they have called for backup and hope to rescue the mule. As we couldn’t help, we continued walking even more cautiously now. I just hope the mule was alright and they were able to rescue him.

You have an option to avoid this treacherous trail from Seema to Taluka. This side of the valley receives very less sun and hence the snow turns to ice, and the ice never goes away completely. When we began our trek, we took the trail from Taluka to Osla which is on the right bank of the river and receives plenty of sun. The trail had absolutely no signs of snow or even ice. To take this trail, you will need to take the long cemented bridge out of Seema and the make a sheer climb of roughly 500 vertical feet going in a zigzag up the mountain. Once you reach Osla, you can then follow the well-trodden trail to Taluka.

It was late afternoon as we finally reached Taluka. A short break later we immediately found a TATA Sumo vehicle that was heading to Sankri. At Sankri, we found a very reasonable dorm room which could accommodate about 15 people. The group we tagged along were headed to Kedarkantha trek the next day. My friend and I caught the first bus out of Sankri for Purola. From Purola we changed buses and made our way to Dehradun while putting one more memorable trek in our kitty.

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