Travelogue: This is just the summary of experiences of my first high-altitude trek of moderate to tough difficulty, stories of magical heaven, and friendship of a lifetime
On a trek, the days pass with the wind, the sun, the stars; movement is powered by a belly full of food and water, not a noxious tankful of fossil fuels. Also, you’re less a job title and more a human being. A periodic trek is most needed, it not only stretches the limbs but also reminds us: Wow, there’s a big old world out there and without knowing, we can be someone new and someone better.
“It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.” — Sir Edmund Hillary
Preface: I was in no shape to do any physical task in 2020, covid had wrecked me real bad. And then the Startup and City life had taken over! uh! There are always many meetings to attend, multiple notifications to respond to, too much traffic to maneuver, a lot of chaos to deal with, infinite things to do while jumping between mobile screens to laptops from excel sheets to code, from interfaces to presentations — what a funny life I thought. When I planned for this trek, many except for1 or 2 said that I won’t make it, it was too tough, this is high altitude and impossible to many, etc… somehow, thanks to the support of friends and family I made it
I was thinking about these things and how it all started while I was standing amidst the mighty Himalayas. It was then, I took this picture (above). I had done something I thought I could never do. Wait, I had in fact, reached the summit! I had made it to the base camp!, all the way to the top and I m still standing, still alive! and renewed!
Thanks to Vikram (my childhood friend) who advised me to do it. He had titled that this trek as “Transformational”, but for me, it was beyond that.
You can see Vikram (in the pic above, he was my trekking partner and my personal Bear Grills, he is an adventurer role model ) standing and telling me how the last 5 days had gone by so fast, we lived through those days without any network signal on the phone, without internet, without power, without a solid roof but a simple tent yet how calm and fulfilling the days have been as they had brought me back to life.
It all started a few weeks ago when we planned an ambitious 17-day bike + Trek trip. I will cover the biking part of it on another blog. In this one, I want to cover the experience of trekking the Swargarohini.
We took our bikes from Delhi and rode them all the way to Badrinath here I share a minuscule of what could be a pretty big travelogue by limiting it to only part of the trek.
Swargarohini Trek as they call it the the “Path to Heaven.” The altitude of the highest point of this trek is -17,987 feet, Swargarohini is a mountain massif in the Saraswati (Bandarpunch) Range of the Garhwal Himalaya. It lies in the Uttarkashi District of the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand, west of the Gangotri group of peaks. It comprises four separate peaks, the main peak Swargarohini Trek is the subject of this article.
History of this place
The Himalayas is full of many mysteries. To this day, only 4% has of this vast mountain spread has been explored, the rest of it is untouched. Swargarohini derives its name from the legends associated with it from the Hindu epic Mahabharata. In the final section of the epic, the Pandavas give up their kingdom and travel northwards in the hope of reaching heaven. The peaks are said to be the stairway to heaven that was followed by Pandavas, but only Yudhishthira, the eldest of the Pandavas, is able to reach heaven. According to the legends, it is believed that this is the only way one can go to heaven without dying and is attributed to a magical portal that is a gateway to a parallel world. The location of this portal is hidden somewhere in this mountain and how to activate open it was with the only man Yudhishtira. The details of which were shared to the Pandavas by Krishna, who in turn had received it from Jambuvantha, who had received it from Naradamuni.
We took the same route as the Pandavas did, but the legends further get complicated as many claims that the Pandavas had taken a route from the present town of Badrinath in the eastern part of Garhwal, Uttarakhand, which is very far apart from the Swargarohini peaks in the Sankari range of western Garhwal. Ahead of Badrinath, Mana, and onwards to Satopanth Lake, one can see the Swargarohini Glacier ( no relation to Swargarohini peaks ) and Yudhishthira and the dog ( form taken by Yamraj ) had climbed the Swargarohini glacier to the top and not the Swargarohini peak.
But, what a story to start the trek! I felt like Indiana Jones! (lol)
It is believed that Lord Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesh take bath in the waters of this Lake on the Ekadasi of Navratri, so it is considered holy and pure. Coincidentally and almost unplanned we ended up here on the very same day and managed to take a dip as well. More on that later.
This trek is also a pilgrimage, transformational to many as devotees believe that a holy dip in Satopanth Lake will wash away so every year thousands of people visit this place. But the trek itself is exhilarating in terms of experience and tiring in terms of effort or difficulty.
And because of that, only about 150 people in a year make it to the lake, and of that, only about 20 people dip in the sub-zero waters. I am glad I was one among them and this remains the highlight and a sense of achievement of this trek along with the bonus from it being a holy lake
It takes 5 days to complete this trek at a minimum and here is the itinerary.
We were in Badrinath and there is one trekking agency legally approved and is famous and known for their skill, safety, preparation, hospitality, arrangement and came with a very high recommendation from all of those whom we spoke is www.himalayantrekntour.com and their founder Santosh Rana who was also our trek guide (we got lucky in finding him as our guide and he is just amazing and we highly recommend him)
PS: This is a moderate to difficult trek. It requires you to be able to be at a certain level of fitness to fully finish this high-altitude trek.
Day 1: Mana village to Lakshmivan Campsite — 7Km Trek, 11,900 Ft
We drove 3km from Badrinath till the Mana village (last Indian Village) and the trail starts after a temple
We started walking the picturesque trail next to the beautiful Alaknanda river
The trail is very well laid out till Lakshmivan despite the landslides
You get to see these amazing reeks and water that is frozen along the way
Uphill, uphill and more uphills! It just goes on endlessly!
“If you’re on the right path it will always be uphill” — Henry B. Eyring
We made it to the Lakshmivan Campsite! Phew, that was tough but so rewarding for the legs.
The sleeping bags are cozy, and so are the tents. However, you only sleep for 3–4 hours. Your body is under stress from here on and your heart rate is about 50% more than usual. And because of that you also will end up urinating more often, hence drinking more water, staying hydrated is key to being ready for Day 2. Santosh and team had made one of the best dinners to date, it tasted so different, so special. Warm grub in the belly and starry sky (too bad I didn't have a DSLR to capture the bright stars in the sky), me and Vikram shared a tent, within minutes we fell asleep only to wake up at 3:30 AM.
Day 2: Laxmivan to Chakrateerth 9 km. At 5km view of Alkapuri junction of Bhagirathi and Satopanth glacier. 7 km Sahashradhara. Altitude around 13,800 ft.
We started from the campsite at 6 AM and headed towards Chakrateerth. It's a 7km trek but takes about 7 hours to completely finish the distance. Check out this image above, it is actually very uphill and you can see how tiny we look from a distance and how much more we have to go. It is definitely not a walk in the park, your footsteps are smaller, your walk will be slower, you will be breathing harder, your body will be burning more calories per step but you will be lost in the view giving no heed to any of that. Alternate climbings and stepping down, crossing creeks and rivers along the way amidst many waterfalls — such is the beauty of this trek.
The altitude started increasing and the vegetation from the thick forests of Lakshmivan started disappearing.
Finally, we made it to the campsite. It was 4:30 PM, we wandered around and had some refreshments of tea and snacks and around 7:30 PM this is how dinner was done: fun and filling
Day 3 Chakrateerth to Satopanth. 5km, 17,800 ft
Reaching the highest point on the trek is daunting, walking amidst boulders and climbing a 70-degree cliff, and getting down on the other side with an 80 degrees drop!
Check out Santosh Rana (our guide) standing in the picture below and on his top and notice 3 guys (appearing like tiny dots when you look closely) climbing uphill.
Then we walk on large shaky boulders with no trails (I call this the toughest part of the trek). There is absolutely no route, no trails but other fellow trekkers’ markings they left behind to point the direction. Amidst a lot of rubble that covers the ice-bed underneath.
After a daunting 2.5 km of boulder walking, we reached the peak of Satopanth and the reward is to take a dip in the holy waters of the lake.
This lake is a triangular turquoise-colored crystal clear lake. Brahma, Vishnu, and Maheshwara ascend to this lake on the holy Ekadashi of Navratri to take a dip, and what a coincidence, we were at this lake on the very same day, we got to dip here too. (we sure did not get to see any of the gods as we slept after a very daunting trek)
I then sat and meditated. I thought I would meditate for 20 minutes, however, I sat there with eyes closed, without any thoughts in my head for 2 hours. The mountains of the Himalayas can do this to you and hence one would notice not only increased number of sages who live here, walk around without any hiking gear even in sub-zero temperatures or rocky trails, but they also become very yogic and mentally strong.
When we slept that night, it was a different type of calm. Amidst the crackling of the glaciers nearby, I slept feeling the most grateful I ever felt. I also felt closest to my late father, it was weird as I could see him, I even held his hand, I felt him rub my hair, I had tears in my eyes, I was smiling at him and he was at me, I don’t remember if we spoke anything, I felt like it was all so real, but then, it wasn’t, it was just a dream, I woke up from it. I meditated again and took this pic. Nothing of that sort ever happened to me. But the feeling of meeting my Dad, albeit was a dream, but for me, it was real and will remain so.
Our life isn’t measured by time!
I learned something new from Maharaj-ji (A sage we met in the mountains), — Did you know, our life isn’t measured by seconds or minutes or by time itself? Time is a clock figured out by us for our own operations. It is linear, arguably may not be linear. Passing days may not be progressive or consecutive but just connected. So what is the timing of our life measured by? Our life is measured in the number of breaths we take. It sounded absurd when I heard it first but think about it. Breath is the thin line between life and death.
I did not believe it at first although it made sense, it sounded scientific and logical, but the researcher in me came back and found many scientific and deeply researched, published papers about it.
With correct breathing, you can reduce your risk of disease and improve your health. Deep breathing and long complete exhalations bring physical, emotional, and spiritual benefits.
We begin our life when we draw our first in-breath. We leave our human body on our last out-breath.
Breathing not only reflects but can also guide the state of our body and mind.
Hence all meditations start with breathing. I am constantly researching and talking to many experts including physicians about this now and will be shortly rolling out my findings.
Back to trek.
Day 4 Satopanth to Laxmivan 14km
We then started heading back after an exhilarating experience. Each of us felt a sense of being that is newly transformed, we couldn’t help but notice how we spoke less than what we did about one campsite earlier; even our thoughts were lesser than usual and I was breathing a lot slower. I have no words to explain the entirety of the feeling. The incredibly beautiful mountains, a break away from the noise of the city, short few days with no notifications or phone calls, the sight of no traffic but the stillness of the Himalayas, a new sense of calm and peace had taken over. I wish I could stay longer, or perhaps stay there permanently, but, that’s wishful thinking. I have to head back, what am I thinking?
D5 — Laxmivan to mana and Badrinath 7km
It started snowing and I had never been out in the open mountains and many miles away from civilization during a time of snowfall. But I was. Life felt so bleak and so beautiful at the same time.
Returning home is the most difficult part of long-distance hiking. You have grown outside the puzzle and your piece no longer fits.
Just when we thought everything was about to be over as we walked back, the snowfall turned into a hailstorm.
It went from amazing to crazy to incredibly adventurous. Snowfall turned into a hailstorm and then as we kept walking down hailstorm turned back into the snow and then to very heavy rainfall. So much so that we saw landslides and a part of our trail getting washed away. We had no idea that we were actually amidst the floods.
We could see craters I do not have the video but hopefully my friend has covered the part of the adventure we had to endure before we got back to safety in Badrinath, while we were going through our own adventure, here is what was going on outside in the cities of Uttarakhand of which we had no clue! It was the 20th of October!
Luckily, we made it safely to Badrinath, thanks to our hero, our trek guide in the pic below. He quickly made certain decisions on our route, his intuition to pick up speed at crucial times and preparedness led us to reach safely. We heard about a few other hikers whom we met while heading down who got lost in the glaciers and some of them were found dead and some are still missing.
Finally my reward: The certificate of completing the trek
A sense of achievement, pride, from being at my lowest low of fitness and mind to reach a level of fitness required to conquer these mountains at low oxygen, high altitude, difficult trek and to go all the way and make this possible, I am grateful to many friends and family. I had prepared an entire year to do this trek. Every dumbell I lifted, every step I took, every rep of every workout and every advice I got, everybody who helped, everything led to this.
Thank you, Santosh Ranaji, and HimalayanTreknTour, you guys truly justified why you are so famous and so amazing. You guys deserve global recognition. You’re not only helping people like trek, but you are actually warriors of climate change, economic protection, bettering the Uttarakhand State and so much more. I highly recommend anyone reading this blog to reach out to HimalayanTreknTour for all your Himalayan trekking requirements.
Thanks to my childhood friend, Vikram, he is my own version of Bear Grills, he is the one who brought adventure into the DNA of our gang. I was here, I could do this because of him.
Special thanks to Mukesh (person in the pic below) who gave me his raincoat, as I had misplaced mine, and an unplanned heavy rainfall in subzero would have killed me, I am alive thanks to Mukesh. I will be forever grateful to him.
Also thanks to our crew, special mention of Fauji uncle who kept the rhythm and energy going with his paratrooper and Indian army motivations. Thanks to the porters from the Mana village, who carry 200kg+ of the tent, cooking material, tools and more up and down the mountains. I saw what hard work, under tough conditions, is all about and how much they value every rupee they earn.
My best friend from school and the now-famous Doctor Dr. Sree Harsha whose personal guidance to fitness helped me prepare for this trek, I have probably asked him a few thousand questions to which he always has patiently answered. He gave me the right direction, goals, and path to achieve. I am also thankful to my wife, who supported me throughout, held the fort at home while I could do this feat. Also thanks to my family, my Ambee Family, and my co-founders, who let me do this while they took all the workload. This was my first long vacation in 18 months.
Watch this space in a few days where I will post about the learnings for the life I got from this trek. (pulling them out through my notes. I made a lot of it along the way)
Contact details of the trek organizers
“Himalayan Trek ’n’ Tour
Ganga Palace, Govindghat, Village & P.O. Pandukeshwar District, Govind Ghat, Uttarakhand 246443
094109 84988 https://g.co/kgs/mpf3LZ”
A mystery story, away from routine, amidst mountains, an adventure, meditation, fresh air, dip in a holy lake, snowfall, starry skies, waterfalls, food, friends, meeting my dad in a dream, adventure, self-learning, balance, and so much more. I can’t seem to sum up this trek, but I’m renewed and all set to welcome 2022. I also think I am more balanced and more responsive (than reactive), I am calmer and have started valuing many things that I should have been valuing.
Hiking is a bit like life: The journey only requires you to put one foot in front of the other…again and again and again. And if you allow yourself the opportunity to be present throughout the entirety of the trek, you will witness beauty every step of the way, not just at the summit
My next one will be “Bali Pass” it's difficult to very difficult trek and I am preparing for it. I plan to do this in June 2022.
Until then, please watch this space as I will also share some key learnings I got from this trek followed by another story on the experience of our bike ride amidst the landslides and unknown people helping us out as if they’re family! Please clap this article or share it or revisit this for more updates.