Located at an altitude of about 16,500 feet, Roopkund is one of the most popular treks in India for a plethora of reasons. What makes it so attractive to adventure seekers is the mystery surrounding the scores of human skeletons that lie at the bottom of the lake. Easily visible in their resting place when the crystal-clear water is not frozen, the remains have consistently provided fodder for several fireplace stories. The British in 1942 initially mistook these to be from a Japanese invasion force, but eventual DNA tests indicated that these were people from the 9th Century CE instead.
A large part of the trail is used during the Nanda Devi Raj Jat Yatra – a pilgrimage that takes place every 12 years where people climb up to Roopkund and further up to Homkund.
There are two routes that people use –– the first of which begins at Didna and the second starts at Lohajung. If you choose the latter, Gharoli Patal is your first campsite. You spend your first day climbing the steep and lush forests of Uttarakhand, with stray Himalayan dogs keeping you company in the hopes of getting food (tip: they love biscuits!).
The locals are friendly, with children greeting you on your way up. At the right times, the rhododendrons are in full bloom, and Trishul –– the highest Himalayan peak visible on the trek –– popping out of the clouds at dawn or dusk.
Your next day takes you to Ali and Bedni Bugyal –– two of the largest alpine meadows in Asia, and one of the highlights of the trek. As you continue ascending through the forests, you can see the point at which the trees from the forests you’ve camped in abruptly stop and give way to an endless blanket of green.
Ali Bugyal is the less crowded of the two meadows and arguably the more breathtaking. The most common phrase you hear about Ali Bugyal is about how you’re looking at the real version of the legendary desktop wallpaper –– but I can promise you that being at Ali Bugyal is better in every possible way.
Bedni Bugyal is where most trekkers camp for the night –– where the views, while different, are equally spectacular. Depending on the weather, this is where you get your first glimpse of Kali Dak, with Trishul and Nanda Ghunti further behind.
At Bedni Bugyal, you’re also above some lower lying clouds, which in the right conditions can make for a surreal sight. If you’re in luck, you’ll see the clouds dance during dusk as the sun sets, making for the most spectacular sunset you’ll ever see.
From Bedni Bugyal, your next stop is at Patar Nachauni. Situated within a valley, this is one of the coldest and windiest camp sites, but also one of the most stunning.
The steep path you take to your next campsite is visible up to Kalu Vinayak, a small temple that marks the point at which you’re about 80% of the way to Bhagwabasa. This essentially means you can clearly see how the terrain goes from green, grassy meadows to a rockier, less forgiving landscape.
Patar Nachauni is also the first campsite where we were able to spot the Milky Way at night, which, needless to say, was a phenomenal experience in itself.
Tip: If you’re taking your mobile phone with you, download the Star Chart app on iOS or the Sky Map app on Android to help you spot constellations and the Milky Way itself. Both apps should work without connectivity.
The last campsite before your ascent to Roopkund is Bhagwabasa –– notoriously known for its unpredictable weather and rocky terrain. If you arrive on a clear day, you’ll get a good view of your final ascent route up to Roopkund and Junargali, with Trishul still peeking over the mountain you’re going to climb. Nanda Ghunti is visible further behind to the left, and the sunset view from here is also to die for.
And finally, summit day. You leave early in the morning at around 3:30am, taking the path thousands take every year to reach your the famed Roopkund lake.
Depending on when you go, the route up and the actual lake may be icy and frozen, providing two different summit experiences. Regardless of when you go, however, summiting is still no mean feat for most. This is where going with a trek group that has technical guides to help you through the tricky situations can be handy.
But the most compelling reason to go with a trekking group isn’t the summit to Roopkund; it’s going further up to Junargali. While this might be the toughest part of the entire trek, Junargali is a must-do if you’re fit enough and up for the challenge. The short and steep trip up is doable with the right equipment and technical guides to help you with ropes on the trickier parts.
But why is Junargali a must-do? Simply put, the views. Junargali is the best place to view both Trishul and Nanda Ghunti –Trishul is, quite literally, right in front of you.
This might seem obvious, but it isn’t everyday you get a chance to see a 7000 m+ Himalayan peak from base to summit – especially so when you’ve been seeing the same mountain on your way up for almost a week now. Junargali was unquestionably the best part of this trek, and if you get the chance to do Roopkund, make sure you find a way to get up there!
The Roopkund trek gives you everything you want from a Himalayan trek in a matter of days – the verdant forests of Uttarakhand, arguably the best alpine meadows in India, and a summit push that you can truly be proud of.
All photographs are by Adi Manjunath