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Don’t be a Gamma in the Land of Lama

Updated: Jun 14, 2020

A mysterious trail in the Garhwal region of the Himalayas in Uttarakhand which offers a collection of scenic landscapes, Asia’s largest meadows, sunset views, and at the summit a lake with human skeletons, is Roopkund. A 7 day long exhausting trail which starts from a village called Lohajung, covers 55km (approx) round way. It’s a summit trek which means, we trek till the summit in a trail and after the summit, we return back the same way. Like a lap around the track. Only here the checkpoints (campsites) are located at even 14500ft. Almost every day of the trek, we walk around 7+ km from one campsite to the other. 

The summit day is almost the dreading and the longest of all days. We cover around 12km on this day. This day starts off at 2 in the night and the summit is reached in 4hrs and then the day ends by 4 in the evening. The Roopkund lake is at 16000ft above the sea level. This is a very demanding experience with the cold weather and the altitude kicking in.

In a nutshell, it's a hell of a trek. There is plenty more about this trek which I will explain further in this blog. I had written the gist of the trek to those who haven’t heard of the trek before. Roopkund is not advisable for the beginners especially for the ones who haven’t been at high altitude before and aren’t physically in great shape. Again, with no prior preparation, Roopkund was my first ever high altitude trek in the Himalayas.

In this trek, I first heard this phrase,” Don’t be Gamma in the land of Lama”, and became an example too.

6:30 in the morning at Roopkund

Personally, this trek has taught and tested me the most. And yet it’s my favorite in its own aspect and I am ready to do it again for the 5th time with no second thoughts.

Click here to view my first blog on how Roopkund made me decide for a career in the mountains!

A wrong step comes with the cost of your life

This was on Oct 2nd, 2017. All set on the first day in Lohajung. Everyone was pumped with energy, motivation, and excitement for the trek. My friends and I along with the group, a total of 20 trekkers were heading off to the first campsite after the briefing by the guide and breakfast at the homestay. We left around 7 in the morning from the homestay.

So 3 years back, I was a person who had spent most of the time playing on the football ground. After reading the itinerary, I just thought how hard was it going to be and packed my bags, and reached Lohajung.

This was taken right after we started from the basecamp
The first day of the trek

Now I know, I didn’t have the right gear, I didn’t practice for the trek, I didn’t pack my bag in the right manner, I had no knowledge on mountain sickness, I didn’t know the walking etiquettes on the trail, and most of all I had my earphones on throughout the trek. If I was the trek leader, I would have kicked me out of the group on the very first day.

Anyway, that didn’t happen. Getting back to the trail, I was happily taking pictures along with my friends, enjoying the loud songs, and nodding my head all along, taking in all the moments and capturing the huge mountains that amazed me always. After an hour of walk, we reached the shady forest trail to escape the scorching sun. We had plenty of water sources all along the way. It was a relief to just drink that sweet water from the streams after the walk. We had another 4 more hours to trek that day. All this while I was with my friends and on pace with them.

So, the first day of the trek involves trekking in the forest trail most of the time. After the first break, I thought it might be fun to be the first person with the guide. I always wanted to know more about the life the mountain people live in. I was very curious so I paced up and took the fast lane. In a few minutes, I was with the guide (Prathyuban bhaiya) and conversing with him about the exciting adventures he had experienced living his whole life in the Himalayas. His stories about leading Roopkund batches more than 30 times had shocked me. He was doing his job of motivating the trekkers very well!

It was nearly an hour and I couldn’t find my friends behind in the trail for some time. I took a halt and thought I will catch up with them. After a couple of minutes, when I turned back and saw, in-between the trees I could find them. They were around 2-3 minutes behind. So I thought, I will start walking and they will catch up with me. I remember these details accurately because I would never forget what happened to me later in another minute.

I got up. I took my rented trek pole and backpack on, wore my sunglasses, and put my earphone back. I walked for a couple of yards and saw a huge bridge on my front right side and saw that my guide was sitting there waiting for everyone else to join up. So it was a valley that we were trekking so far in and there was a huge river called the Neel Ganga. I thought, “Wow, this is river and the bridge along with the trekkers is an amazing sight to capture!”. I balanced the trekking pole on my right leg and took the phone from my pocket to click the picture.

I clicked the picture, took the trekking pole, and was trying to keep my phone back in the pocket. What I didn’t notice was that I was just a few inches from the edge of the trail. I started to walk while trying to keep my phone and there was my right foot on no land. Out of shock, I tried to balance my body on the trekking pole and the pole wasn’t on a tiny rock which tripped me down in the valley. Five rolls to be correct. I went and fell in a bush of thorns and had hurt myself. Luckily, nothing was broken.

Easily 40 meters down beneath a huge rock I was trying to figure out what happened. My backpack tore, my phone lost, the earphones had cut my ears a little, my sunglasses broken and I lost my water bottle. I really needed some water at that time. I couldn’t think much. I was just wondering if I can get myself up because it was still a slope and down below was freezing cold river. Luckily a guy from our group had seen me falling and called for help. Everyone gathered but they couldn’t figure out where I was amidst those bushes. Guess I rolled not exactly down. I had thrown a bit here and there and I also couldn’t remember how to reach up because of the huge rock on top.

On top of all this, I was there worried about my phone. It’s very natural once you realize that not much damage has happened to yourself, you start worrying about your belongings next. I knew that I would be out of it. But I just didn’t know-how. At first, I tried sliding down till the river bank and then walk till the bridge and then climb up. But as I started sliding, I figured it was a steep slope and I couldn’t control my speed. So it was not an option anymore. The only thing I was left with was to walk diagonally to reach the top. Meanwhile, my guides tried getting down and reaching me but it was quite hard for them too.

Through the thorny bushes, bruising myself a bit more I reached the top after 20 minutes of a struggle which I swear felt a lot more for me. I came up! I had done it! My first ever trek and I was almost about to go home the first day with a broken arm or a head injury perhaps.

Lucky thing was that I had gotten my phone alone back. Our sweeper guide had gone and taken it for me somehow. He then came and just said, “Sir Ji, Don’t be Gamma in the land of Lama”. There I needed no explanation for what he said. I just kept thanking him.

With our guide who helped me get my phone. This picture was taken after the fall and that's the bridge in the background.
The one after the incident

Until the day I signed up to be a Trek Leader, I didn’t have any knowledge of trail etiquettes, eco-friendly trekking, the safety gears used in treks, layering, mountain sickness, hygiene, and backpacking too. I believe for any trek, this basic knowledge is mandatory to keep yourselves safe. Wilderness isn’t supposed to be taken lightly. In the course of time, I had seen people dying, causing an injury to themselves or putting their friends or the staff in danger. In the wilderness, being minimalist and creative helps. Improvisation is the key aspect to survive in bad situations. Also, the mountain staff always do their best in providing resources. So it’s better if we not overuse it and be self-sufficient as well.


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