- 20th April – Dehradun – Purola
- 21st April – Purola – Taluka
- 22nd April – Taluka – Osla
- 23rd April – Osla – Har-Ki-Dun
- 24th April – Har-Ki-Dun – Osla
- 25th April – Osla – Mori
- 26th April – Mori – Purola – Mussoorie
- 27th April – Mussoorie – Dehradun – Delhi
Har-Ki-Dun had been on my mind ever since I visited the Valley of Flowers in August 2010. I knew it would be my next destination. I generally visit the Himalayas once a year, so technically I should have gone in 2011. But a couple of things happened in the years in between, including a trip to Bhutan, and I finally made it to Har-Ki-Dun this year in April. Right from the beginning, I was focused on making this trek as photographically fruitful as possible. I wanted to capture the beauty of the Himalayas in all its glory. To be able to do that, I knew I had to carefully plan the itinerary. I also needed the necessary support system – so I can focus on photography and not have to worry about survival in the hills.
So as a first step, my wife and I began contacting hiking guides to find out their rates. The Internet was our main resource, and we got the numbers of a few guides from discussion forums and blogs. Most of the guides quoted similar prices – and yes, they were all equally expensive. We learnt from the Har-Ki-Dun Protection and Mountaineering Association (http://www.harkidun.org/) that the rates were fixed for guides who lived in those parts. I casually contacted Bal Bahadur – the guide I knew from my Kuari Pass trek. Surprisingly he too quoted a similar rate, even though he was from Uttarkashi. We settled for Bal Bahadur since we grew tired of following up with other guides and bargaining with them. To their credit, they were all very polite and respectful, but I just happened to be comfortable trusting someone I had traveled with before. Bahadur quoted a flat rate of Rs 35,000 for 2 of us, including food, stay, permit charges and taxi from Purola to Taluka and back. This was a tad bit heavy on our pocket, but at the same time we couldn’t find a third companion which would bring the cost per head down.
Delhi to Taluka
I chose to travel to Delhi by Rajdhani, and it was a unique experience by itself. Indian Railways uses food as a means to pamper the travelers, and for obvious reasons. All I can remember from the trip was eating, and waiting. Waiting for Delhi to come that is. Since I was alone, the trip was really boring. But I was spared the ordeal of beggars, the heat and dust – constant companions on most Indian sleeper class trains. I couldn’t escape noisy kids though. The train was full of them.
I spent less than a day in Delhi, before catching an overnight train to Dehradun. My wife joined me at Delhi, and we were glad to get out of the oppressive heat. Dehradun was a lot cooler, especially when we reached at 5.30 am. We used the train compartment toilet to freshen up, so we were ready to go to Purola directly. But it wasn’t as easy as we expected it to be!
Bahadur had asked us to catch a bus (bada gaddi) to Purola. He made it sound like it would be as easy as traveling to Majestic, in Bangalore. Our first surprise came when we didn’t find a tourism booth at the railway station. We asked some guy at the railway inquiry booth, and he hadn’t heard of Purola. He used his general knowledge, and asked us to go to the Inter State Bus Terminus (ISBT). But at the ISBT, the guy at the inquiry counter asked us to go back to the railway station! Apparently there are buses from the railway station to Purola. But since we just paid 100 bucks to travel from the railway station to ISBT, we were in no mood to go back. So he suggested we take one bus to Vikasnagar, and another to Purola from there. The confidence with which he spoke fooled me again – I thought Vikasnagar was within Dehradun. After more confusing directions from people, we managed to find a bus from ISBT to Vikasnagar, but it ended up being a 1-hour journey. Luckily the bus was not crowded as it was still 7 am. So we had ample space to keep our bags and travel comfortably. Vikasnagar was just a transit town, and we immediately found a bada gaadi to Purola. It was a 6-hour journey, up the mountains, and we reached Purola by about 2 pm. The bus stopped at a small town fly infested town for breakfast. It turned out to be more like brunch because we were served rotis and rice along with dal. Soon we realized that this was going to be the drill everywhere in the hills. We were in the land where choice of food was limited to “roti and dal chaawal”. Luckily for us, we had Bahadur as our guide. His reputation for serving good food on treks preceded him. Our intention of halting in Purola was to buy supplies for the trek. We told Bahadur to spare us the ordeal of having to eat potatoes on all days. He actually heard us out, and we don’t remember eating a lot of potatoes, or suffering its consequences during the 7 days we were in the mountains!
After an overnight stay in a stinky and tiny hotel at Purola, we took a taxi (chota gaadi) early next morning to Taluka. It was a good 5-hour journey, and we left at about 6.30 am. Along with our supplies, the taxi accomodated Bahadur, 3 porters, a cook and us. I know, a huge support system for just the two of us! I was so glad to get out of Purola, because it was a dirty town where there was a man spitting on the road every moment. Actually this spitting business was kind of epidemic in that part of India. Everywhere, everyone was doing it.
The drive just beyond Purola was breathtaking and beautiful. The morning light through the mountains added to the magic. Good roads cut through tall pine trees and green hillsides. Just outside Purola, golden light lit up green paddy fields in the plains below. We stopped for breakfast at Mori, where we ate tasty radish parathas made fresh in front of us. The middle-aged couple running the eat out were very friendly – typical of folks from the hills. We didn’t find this kind of warmth in other places, but we did see a lot of resoluteness as we climbed higher. The man at the eat out was very excited when he learnt I was from the South –and told me that he had worked in Salem and Coimbatore for a few years.
Before entering Sankri, where most trekkers stop their taxi journey and then continue on foot, we registered our names at the forest check post. Scanning the register, I saw many names of foreigners and was happy to note that people from all over come to these beautiful parts. The hills are nice to be in only as you go away from civilization. Almost all villages with road access are filthy. That is when you look far away at the distant mountains to find beauty. There was practically no road from Sankri to Taluka, and our jeep was rocking like a boat in the high seas. The jeep passed waterfalls, landslides and thick forests to finally reach Taluka.