Hiking to Har-Ki-Dun (Uttarakhand)

Beautiful Gharwal Himalayas

Seema to Har-Ki-Dun

It was the day to visit Har-Ki-Dun! We were up early, and expected to leave by 6 am. But things did not go as planned, for a number of reasons. Some of it was related to the poor infrastructure at the GMVN guesthouse. There was no running water, and this delayed not only Bahadur and his men, but as us as well. It is hard to be productive in extreme cold. One generally yearns for hot water/chai to start the day. Due to the water situation, Bahadur couldn’t prepare breakfast on time as well. When we finally packed and left, it was 7 am. The sun was out and the weather was great. As usual, my wife and I left first. We crossed the bridge that connects Seema to the village of Osla and beyond. Osla is towards the left, while our destination is towards the right. The bridge looked well constructed, but immediately after that was a bad patch. We had to navigate through some large rocks, which was irrigated by a constant trickle of water. It was an upward climb, and by the time we scaled this path, Bahadur had caught up with us. It was treat to watch him tread the same path as we did, but with much more ease. He eventually overtook us while we paused to catch our breath. Any ascend was a stress-test on our hearts and lungs.

Village of Seema after the first ascend

Village of Seema after the first ascend

After this challenging stretch, we reached a well paved mountain path that seemed flat for as far as our eyes could see. This boosted our spirits, and we also came across locals from Osla who were on the same path, walking towards fields. The mud trail ran through a relatively flat stretch of valley, and parallel to the river. On one side was the river, and on the other, parts of the land was in cultivation. The villagers were friendly, and also mildly amused by us. I am not sure how many of them had even seen other parts of India, especially big cities from were strangers like us come from. During small talk with one of the ladies, we were offered porter services for a fee. I was carrying my camera rucksack, and my wife had a small day pack. The lady said she would come with us to Har-Ki-Dun, and return the same day to Osla. I was surprised because it was the first time I heard of someone capable of doing a round trip to Har-ki-Dun from Osla in one day. However, a little later, one of our porters told us that some trekkers don’t stay in Har-Ki-Dun, but instead do a round trip in a day from their base camp at Osla. Osla offers camping opportunities, and is preferred for those carring their own tents. Seema is good only for the good-for-nothing GMVN guest house. To us, visiting Har-Ki-Dun in a day sounded like making a round trip from Bangalore to Chennai. The ladies made it sound like a round trip from Bangalore to Mysore. However, this didn’t matter to us as long as we were on the flat stretch that we were enjoying currently. In fact, at one point I was a little optimistic of doing a round trip myself.

So the thing about trekking in the Himalayas is that as soon as you start feeling all mighty, the mountains soon show you who is mightier. Ahead of us was this steep ascend, and to get to the base of it, we had to cross a stretch that had recently been affected by a minor landslide. This stretch was only about 100 meters, but one wrong step and we would go sliding down with the rock and dirt to the river below. On the bright side, this fall didn’t look fatal. Maybe only requiring an airlift due to broken bones. But we had the lovely ladies of Osla for company, and they encouraged us to follow them confidently as they showed us how to cross broken bridges and steep cliff-sides like a boss. However, once this feat was accomplished, they decided to

carry on, probably to achieve the aforementioned feat of making a round trip to Har-Ki-Dun in a day. They soon disappeared around a bend, and just

River at Seema

River at Seema

as we were about to follow them, Bahadur shouted from higher ground, indicating that we had to climb up, instead of walk straight. So we started to walk up, taking small easy steps and using the walking sticks for support. In about 20 minutes that we took to reach the top of the mountain, we used up most of the energy that we had gathered from breakfast. But here we were, much higher from Seema, and just a little closer to Har-Ki-Dun. It felt great! Two more mountains, and we would reach our destination. Our porters spoke encouraging words and overtook us. The time was 8.30 am.

The beauty around us was overpowering. The intangible reward of beautiful sights after a tough climb is probably best received by city blokes like us. I wondered what the locals, and men like Bahadur think of the Himalayan beauty. We were now away from the valley, and in high open Himalayan ground. To a distant we saw beautiful snow-clad mountains. There was fresh snowfall just above Seema as well. Pine, cedar and other alpine trees dotted distant mountain sides. My wife indulged in a mountain peak identification exercise with Bahadur. Seema was still within visible distance, but not for long. Soon, we were to make a complete left turn to leave all sights of civilization behind to hike towards Har-Ki-Dun. We had one more challenge ahead of us, and this time the magnitude of it was very much measurable. This is how it looked:

The last bend. After a left turn, Seema and civilization is out of sight. This stretch may look small in the photograph, but isn't easy!

The last bend. After a left turn, Seema and civilization is out of sight. This stretch may look small in the photograph, but isn’t easy!

I had a fruit or two and started the ascend. It was tiring, and mostly due to exhaustion. I was hoping my body could run on solar energy. We were well past the tree-line, and the bright Himalayan sun beat down on us. We look like ants, on the side of the humongous mountain. We finally made it up after an hour and a half. The sights from this height were even more rewarding. The air was cooler, and mild breeze teased our tired bodies. It really felt like heaven! We were told that the toughest part was behind us, and I believed this naively. Just as we were to make the final left turn, we were greeted by two locals coming down with a horse. They turned out to be the Har-Ki-Dun GMVN manager, and his man-Friday. The manager, a pudgy man wearing traditional attire looked a little funny. The two were going back to Osla, as no tourist had turned up at Har-Ki-Dun, as yet. I began to make some calculations to make sense of this. Do much capable trekkers and local ladies leave Osla by 7 am, check-in at Har-Ki-Dun by 11, and return home by sun-down? How else could the manager have a cut off time of 10 by when to expect trekkers at the GMVN guest house? And here we were, at 11 am, still half way through.

Alpine trees and snow-clad mountain tops

Alpine trees and snow-clad mountain tops

We finished our check-in formalities at the mountain side. Over conversation while entering details in the register (the man did not know how to write), we inquired about the weather at Har-Ki-Dun. Like most mountain people, he answered in riddles. The wind was blowing strong as we spoke, and I feared that the manager’s pen would go flying into the deep valley next to us. The horse was impatient, and one snort and my hat would probably fly away as well. I was not looking down into the valley, thanks to my vertigo. But we had to complete the formalities. I optimistically said we would stay at Har-Ki-Dun for two days. Why not? The weather was great where we were, and we had covered all the distance to enjoy exactly this. Bahadur even paid the manager the requisite amount. The manager in turn asked the boy to accompany us, and we bid farewell. I was careful to stand on the side close to the mountain, and let the horse cross over from the side close to the cliff-edge. And in the process, we had to brush against each other. Yes, that was exactly the width of the path.

From here on, to Har-ki-Dun was an exercise in patience. The GMVN house keeper mentioned to Bahadur that we had to pay extra for firewood, but our guide confidently replied that his men would collect the required materials from around. This statement meant that even Bahadur wasn’t aware of what was in store for us. But currently, the scenery changed dramatically after we first crossed an alpine forest. The hard part was mostly behind us, although we were just too exhausted to feel this welcome change in effort. At the forest, we saw a bunch of vultures feeding off a dead animal at a distance. We were told that this was the kill of a Himalayan tiger. The prey was most likely a horse, belonging to one of the locals. The remains was just a bunch of bones, so we couldn’t tell. I liked the sound of tiger, and hoped to see one. I reckoned that Himalayan tigers wouldn’t be man-eaters, and I would get a few rare photographs in exchange to making this encounter. Unfortunately, we never came across any tigers. Just beautiful sights, and lots of birds enjoying the same. We were so engulfed by the beauty of the place, that we presumed that we were already in Har-Ki-Dun. I had read a lot about the famed beauty of the Gharwals, and the place we were in matched what my imagination had cooked up.

Pretty sights of Gharwal Himalayas

Pretty sights of Gharwal Himalayas

 

Entering the beautiful valley before Har-Ki-Dun. We mistook this valley for HKD.

Entering the beautiful valley before Har-Ki-Dun. We mistook this valley for HKD.

Green pastures leading to Har-Ki-Dun

Green pastures leading to Har-Ki-Dun

 

Birds enroute to Har-Ki-Dun

Birds enroute to Har-Ki-Dun

Unfortunately, Bahadur and his men were nowhere in sight, and we just continued walking, hoping to find the GMVN guest house sooner or later. We knew that the GMVN guest house was the only sign of civilization beyond Osla. There are no villages or settlements after Osla. But for almost two hours of hide-and-seek, we never found GMVN. Because we assumed that we were already in Har-Ki-Dun, we were walking slowly and taking photographs. However, we soon had to leave the beautiful valley behind, and start ascending in search of the elusive GMVN guest house. A few more steps ahead, and lo, behold! In front of us was a huge patch of snow! I was totally unprepared for this. There were no footprints or trail in the snow. I did not know which direction to take. Exhausted and feeling lost, I decided to just continue straight. But the snow was slippery! We had to take calculated steps, and it was all upward. Luckily, two of our porters saw us from ahead, and gave us directions. They had disappeared when we got there, and ahead was more snow. The path was such that we couldn’t see too far ahead due to

Boots Falling Apart at Seema

Trouble brewing

huge rocks blocking our view. We just kept treading on, and shortly later we saw a tiny guest house at a far distance.

First patch of snow

First patch of snow.

This was it! The guest house was at the base of a huge mountain. This sight was majorly dramatic. The tiny GMVN guest house and nothing but huge mountains, glaciers and a frozen river beyond implied that we were in the middle of nowhere. The snow was deeper here, and luckily for us another porter came with an ice pick to rescue us. He dug

out a path, as we slowly walked to ensure we don’t slip and slide away into the cold stream that was flowing by the side. After about half an hour of walking this snow trail like on a tight-rope, we reached the guest house. There was no way we could explore what lay beyond Har-Ki-Dun without the necessary equipment – ice picks and snow chains for our shoes. It was breathtaking, overwhelming, and extremely disappointing all at the same time. To add to my woes, my shoe started falling apart after I hit the snow trail. A grand arrival, this was.

 

 

GMVN guest house at Har-ki-Dun in the middle of nowhere. Also seen is the forest guesthouse which was locked.

GMVN guest house at Har-ki-Dun in the middle of nowhere. Also seen is the forest guesthouse which was locked.

Inside the guest house, the cold was biting. The problem with cement structures is that they trap the cold inside. We chose to stay in the dorm, because the deluxe double bed room did not have a working toilet. All this and the thought of not being able to move in any direction without the help of someone with an ice pick made us feel crippled. But here we were – at a destination that was totally nothing like what we had imagined. For better or worse, this was mother nature again showing us to accept things for what they are.

Approaching storm. Just outside the GMVN guest house at Har-Ki-Dun

Approaching storm. Just outside the GMVN guest house at Har-Ki-Dun.

The co-ordinates of Har-Ki-Dun as per MotionX GPS app on my iphone is as follows:

Latitude: 31º 09′ 12″ N
Longitude: 78º 25′ 51″ E
Altitude: 3,650 m

This is different from what Google Maps shows up when you search for GMVN Guest House. I guess whoever recorded the coordinates did not do so correctly. Below is the correct location (green arrow):


View Larger Map

 

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5

14 Comments

  1. M S Gupta
    September 10, 2014 @ 5:25 am

    Dear Friend,

    Could you please give me the phone number of Bal Bahadur since I am planning a trip to Har-Ki-Dun next year in April or May. I will appreciate very much. Also, any special tips or advice would be most welcome.

    Reply

    • Pratap J
      September 10, 2014 @ 8:27 am

      Balbahadur: 9411399316

      I don’t have any special tips, but I would request you to respect the Himalayas and keep it as pristine as possible. Have a good trip!

      Reply

  2. Pankaj Samel
    February 22, 2015 @ 12:17 pm

    Nice Blog

    I am planning to visit HKD in December 2015. Can you please tell me things to carry for this trek?

    Thanks in advance.

    Reply

    • Pratap J
      February 26, 2015 @ 10:01 am

      Pankaj, do carry warm clothes and good trekking shoes. Also carry a walking stick or get one locally. I am not sure if the GMVN facilities have been rebuilt after the floods, so please check current situation before planning the trip.

      Reply

  3. femida
    April 6, 2015 @ 5:15 am

    HI
    would like to know if the climb is steep or gradual.

    Reply

    • Pratap J
      April 6, 2015 @ 2:47 pm

      Not a very difficult trek. Suitable for beginners too.

      Reply

  4. bhawna
    May 13, 2015 @ 2:40 am

    can children of 4 yrs go on the trek?

    Reply

    • Manu Khandelwal
      September 19, 2016 @ 11:21 am

      It would be better, if you wait for some years.

      Reply

  5. lalit
    December 4, 2015 @ 3:35 am

    Hi, me and more friends are going for kedarkanth trek and if possiblenhar ki doon as well, i want to know whether i need a guide or not for this trek. And of anyboy wanna join. Us can contact us @7838158278 before 5 dec

    Reply

    • Pratap J
      December 14, 2015 @ 8:50 am

      I have not done the Kedarnath trek. So I don’t have any useful information.

      Reply

  6. Bijeta
    December 24, 2015 @ 9:28 am

    Pratap, it was wonderful to see your pictures. Which month did you do this trek? Can you recommend a trekking agency? We are planning to do this trek in the first week of March.

    Reply

    • Pratap J
      December 28, 2015 @ 5:53 am

      Hi Bijeta, you can contact India Hikes for trekking to Har-Ki-Dun.

      Reply

  7. Manu Khandelwal
    September 19, 2016 @ 11:22 am

    You have captures amazing pictures. Great!

    Reply

  8. Arpit Jaiswal
    November 24, 2016 @ 11:16 pm

    Can i get tents on rent at har ki dun trek? and if yes what is the price? or should i carry one ?
    What will be suitable tent camping out in snow ? do i need good expensive tents?

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *