Day 1- November 10th as the alarm buzzed at 7 am in the morning, I geared up for one of the most exciting trek of my life. It was Kuari Pass Trek in the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve. Famous for the its ski slopes in winters and 360 degree panoramic views of numerous Himalayas peaks, this trekking trail was incidentally discovered by British viceroy Lord Curzon in the early 19th century.
We reached Auli hardly 15 kms away from Joshimath in our jeep loaded with trekking equipments, camping gears and food stock. My friends, guide Sanjay and I visited the Auli Ski Resort and had lipsmacking Parathas (Flatbread of North Indian origin) for breakfast. I had already been to Auli in March for a short skiing trip. Auli in November looked very different from that in March. It was now lush green contrary to the snow covered spotless white back then. I was brimming with excitement as three cinematographers (My friends- Tathagata, Krishna and Ravi) had accompanied me on this trip and we were going to shoot the 5 day trek.
We started our trek from the rope-way stand on the backside of the Ski resort heading up along the ski slopes. The summer slopes were barren and the snow guns appeared like lamp post along the slopes on either sides. In a short time we reached the highest point of rope way and took a short break. Mt. Nanda Devi which was not visible clearly because of the dense cloud cover and as the weather turned gloomy as we began moving towards Gorson and finally entered the forest area in an hour.
Walking through the pine trees we came across a temple on the way indicating that we are about to reach the bugiyals (high altitude meadows) of Gorson. We walked through the forest and entered the meadows which had lost most of its greenery during the winters. We threaded the trail in the meadows and reached the top of Gorson in another 45 mins. The top is well known for its spectacular views of the snow capped peaks however the hovering clouds and weather had a different plans for us.
Me with Tathagata, Ravi and Krishna
Negi ji our porter guiding the donekys through the barren ski slopes
Snow guns are used for making snow for skiing when adequate snowfall is lacking during the winters , with Krishna
Through the jungle trail heading towards Gorson bugiyal
Temple on the way
Heading towards Gorson
The group posing for a picture
Post lunch we began to descend towards our campsite in Tali which was another 3 kms.The slopes gave way to a steep narrow gully through which we had to descent.The mountain side gave us a panoramic view of the Kuari Pass(4260 m) on one end and Pangarchula peak (4700 m),Mt. Trishul (7120 m) and Mt. Nanda Ghunti (6310 m) on other side to complete the 180 degree of mesmerising picturesque. Wading our way through several narrow curves we finally reached the Tali Lake which serves as a great summer campsite. We had planned to camp inside the forest as it would be relatively less windy in the winters. As we crossed Tali Lake it began to snow and we had to hurry through the forest trail at our best possible speed. We reached our campsite at around 4.30 pm. The camp had been set up and we huddled around the campfire and had tea and snacks followed by dinner. Our organiser Dinesh Uniyal had also come along with his family and shared his experiences from last 20 years of conducting treks in this region. We retired to our tents at around 8 pm.
Clouds swapping around the Gorson bugiyal
At dusk at campsite- Tali
Tali lake first view
The trail cutting through the mountain towards Tali camp
Campfire at Tali
Clody day with Pangarchula and Kuari pass in one frame
Day 2 – 11th November
I woke up to my alarm clock’s continuous ringing, it was 6 in the morning and I could see plenty of fresh snow outside due to last night’s heavy snowfall. We decided to hike 500 metres to the Chitrakantha top (3310 m) to get a sunrise view as the weather had surprisingly cleared out. In 20 mins we reached the top which provided a clear view of the Dronagiri group of peaks with Nanda Devi (7816 m)in the centre, Nanda Ghunti (6309 m) and Trishul (7120 ) on the far east, the north being dominated by the Hathi (6727 m), Ghori (6708 m) and Palki peaks. We took some snaps and headed back to our campsite literally freezing in the subzero temperatures.
Early mornin rays striking Hathi, Ghori peaks
Nanda devi effect, from Chitrakantha top
Greenery all around
Ravi and Krishna enjoying the sun
Dronagiri peaks and the rays
After breakfast we started our trek towards Kuari Pass. We retraced our morning path and reached Chitrakantha top. We followed the trail with the majestic mountains unleashing themselves with each step with which we moved forward. In an hour we reached the Jhindidhar top from where we could clear see Mt. Chaukhamba (7138 m) in the far east with Mt. Kedarnath, Mt. Kedardome followed by Mt.Neelkanth. Mt Kamet, Mt. Mana, Mt. Amigabin were at distant north. The rest were already accompaning us from Chitrakantha itself. The best part of this trek is that the snow capped peaks will always be with you all along the trek as your comrades. After a short photo break we headed down towards Gailgarh and reached in another hour. From here one trail heads up to the Kuari Pass and the other heads down towards the khullara campsite . We followed the trail towards the Kuari pass and in 30 mins there came an ice zone where even one careless step to could throw us a few hundred feet down the cliff. We had to gauge the ice zone carefully and crossed a frozen stream with great caution.
Towards Jhindidhar Top
Chaukhamba peaks from Jhindidhar viewpoint
Kamet, Mana, Abigamin from Jhindidhar viewpoint
Hathi Ghori peak from Jhindidhar
Taking a break with a spectacular view is not bad
Ice formations on the way
Icy zone making life tough for us
Snow stretch on the way to pass
We continued our ascent and reached the Pass at 2 pm in the afternoon. It leads to the trail to Roopkund. A sense of satisfaction enlightened up our hearts and the scenary around us made it even feel like heaven.We had our lunch and gradually descended to Gailgarh in an hour and moved further towards Khullara for our nighstay. Khullara campsite is an open ground with ferocious winds invading the site. We directly headed towards the campfire which was already lit . It was sunset time and we had our cameras on tripods ready for capturing timelapse. The northern ranges of Mt.Kamet, Mana, Amigabin had turned from white to orang-red hue. And as the Dronagiri range received the last rays of the day, we gathered around the campfire with soup and chips to quieten our ravishing stomachs. Tango (Tathagata) could smell something burn, something too close to him and everyone soon realized that he out of excitement had hurriedly sat so close to the fire that his shoe sole was almost burnt. After all the drama ended, we had our dinner and headed straightaway to the tent and dozed off within seconds.
At Kuari pass, lunch break
A raven observing our progress
Last rays of the day striking the Dronagiri range
At the pass
Mt. Nanda Kot from Kuari Pass
Campsite at Khullara
Beside the campfire under the starry sky