Everything you wanted to know about Roopkund...But were too confused while browsing the internet!

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If you are planning to go to Roopkund and its been on your bucket list for a while, but you have no idea how to execute your plan. Here are a few quick things I can tell you about Roopkund to dispel some common misnomers about the trek during your planning phase of the trek. Roopkund is basically a high altitude glacial lake located in the Himalayas in the state of Uttrakhand, India at a documented height of 5,029 metres (16,499 feet). Which of course you already know by now if you're planning to visit! It is usually reached on foot by scaling the mountains of Chamoli district using a trekking path laid out and maintained by the forest reserve department. There are various ways in which you can undertake the trek. Firstly, by paying third party trek organizers the trek fee that they charge and rely on them entirely for food, tents, itinerary etc. Some of these third party organizers are "India Hikes", "Trek The Himalayas", "Yuva Shakti Pune" to name a few.

Secondly, you can go on the trek without them and undertake it independently by hiring a local guide and/or a porter to carry your stuff. I personally prefer the second form of trekking for various reasons that I'll mention when I talk of the pros and cons of third party organizers.

Now coming to the the Q and A of Roopkund:

  1. Can I go on the trek without a third party organizer?

Hell yeah! I think I already mentioned that but I'll still take up the question to give you a comparison of the two methods. I may have said I like independent trekking better but by no means does it mean that a company like India Hikes is not good when it comes to doing what they do. They take utmost care in ensuring that hikers take back a good experience with them and do not come in harms way.

Third party pros:

  • They will plan everything for you. Your itinerary, accommodation (read tents), base camps, route, food, water availability, pace of the trek etc.
  • You may meet lots of new people like you.
  • If you are trekking for the first time, you will not have to  plan anything at all except for your travel to and from the first base camp.
  • Their medical staff is really good.

Third party cons:

  • There is no independence when it comes to how you want to trek and the first pro may become a con for you depending on the kind of person you are. For example, when hiking in large groups the pace at which you walk will depend on the slowest person in the group. They make people trail one after the other and that is sometimes annoying.
  • You don't get to interact with locals at all.
  • You can't deviate from the group and take shortcuts. Or can't deviate from the group at all. I have made some amazing memories with locals on my travel by letting them guide me through a shortcut.
  • If you like hiking in smaller groups, third party is a terrible option
  • If you want to experience the fun of pitching your own tent and sleeping in your own sleeping bag and decide where you want to eat and what you want to eat. Plan your own travel
  • The duration of trek can't be adjusted according to your needs. Third party organizers take at least 6 days to summit. You can adjust your duration from 3-5 days depending on your pace. I finished the trek in 4 days and this was the biggest reason I did it independently.
  • They are expensive.

From here on I will mostly talk of independent trekking options, so if you don't prefer this form of adventure I suggest you visit http://www.roopkund.com/

2. Can I hire equipment like tents and sleeping bag somewhere?

I mostly bought things like sleeping bag, waterproof hiking shoes, Quechua Forclaz 60 rucksack, and a tent for future expeditions. But there are shops at Lohajung (The start point of the trek) where you can rent tents and sleeping bags. You'll have to buy a rucksack for the expedition under any case. Whether you go independently or with third party organizers. So I would suggest buy a bag from either Decathlon or Gopinath Bazaar, Delhi Cantt.

*NOTE: Please don't go to the shop RUGGED in Gopinath Bazaar. They mark their prices at 1.5 of the market price and don't give proper bills. They will provide an estimate and dupe you off of your money. Visit "Battle Fatiques" for the best, most competitive prices.

Rent rates at Lohajung:

  1. Sleeping bag rs. 50 per day
  2. tent (any size, any capacity) : rs. 200 per day

security charges of rs. 2000 apply to the above. However if you can ask your local guide to act as a personal guarantee, the security charge may be waived off.

3. How should I travel to and from Lohajung?

The best way to travel is to book a train in Tatkal or otherwise from Delhi to Kathgodam. Ranikhet express starts from Delhi at 10:30 pm and reaches Kathgodam at 5:30 am. If trains are not available, take a bus to Kathgodam.

From Kathgodam, pre book a taxi to Lohajung or find a taxi upon arrival. The only difference is, pre booking will cost rs. 5500 and upon arrival taxi may cost upto rs. 7000. I would highly recommend that you don't take a bus from Kathgodam to Lohajung, no matter what your budget is. The distance is long and it takes atleast 9 hours to reach. Bus journey will prove too exhausting before the trek.

4. Do I need to purchase trekking shoes or regular sports shoes will do?

I've seen people trekking in shoes as bad as slipons and surviving the trek. So sports shoes don't hurt. You'll be able to climb for most part of the trek in them. But personally I was quite happy with my purchase of Quechua waterproof hiking shoes. The grip was excellent and in times when it rained, my feet did not get wet. But again it is a matter of personal choice. One of my team mates wore regular sports shoes and faced no problem. If you don't want to invest in expensive shoes at the moment. You may skip it, no matter what other websites will have you believe.

5. Where do I arrange food and water from?

At every base camp that you stay at, there is a provision for cooked food and running supply of water. Cooked food will range from Dal Chawal, paratha, maggi, omlette, egg maggi, roti sabzi etc. The only place where food is not available is Roopkund. But you won't stay at the summit for over an hour. Also, bottled water is available at every base camp. But I would recommend that you carry your own bottles and fill them up with natural water. Don't purchase bottled water unless absolutely necessary because a bottle will cost over rs. 50 as you go progressively higher. If you want to cut your trip cost you may carry ration and kerosene burner to cook. But that will unnecessarily increase your burden. I'll cover food and lodging cost in another post.

6. What is the best time for the trek?

Best time is june and sept-oct. It rains during months of July and August. But I know people who have been bold enough to climb even in that season.

7. Is it difficult to find a guide and a porter?

Mostly, no. You reach Lohajung and ask around a little and will be directed to one easily. My guide was a 16 year old lad named Gopi. Guides normally cost rs. 800 per day and you may have to rent a tent for them depending on whether they have one already or no. The terms of hiring a guide varies from negotiation to negotiation.

8. Is a guide required?

Most certainly yes. Even if you know you wouldn't get lost. A guide can help you figure out what pace is best for you. What camp you should stay at. Where can you buy food from and where is the nearest source of water. Especially for the last day of the trek, a guide is very helpful.

9. Do I need to hire a mule/porter?

Depends, on whether or not you are comfortable carrying 30 kg of weight on your back. I was very enthusiastic about carrying my bag, but realized after completing the trek that the mule we hired at the start was the best decision my group took. None of us were in top shape to carry it ourselves. Also, on the second day of the trek we covered almost 18 km. With the bag that would have been impossible.

10. Should I carry something to eat with me?

Only very light things that provide instant energy. Like chocolates maybe. And even if you don't carry anything, it will work just as well. At every base camp things like, chips, chocolates, biscuits are also available.

11. How do I prevent AMS?

Apart from Acclimatization, to prevent AMS, eat 250mg of diamox every day. Half a tablet in the morning and half in the evening. With diamox however, it is necessary to drink lots of water. By lots of water I mean, atleast 5 L of water. Water is a diuretic and thins the blood out to fight the effects of pressure. So it's an absolute must.

These are most of the things I could think of at the top of my head. Comment if you have more questions!