"Let your life lightly dance on the edges of Time like dew on the tip of a leaf. " ~ Tagore


Family Trek to Dodital

Sumanta Roy Chowdhury is a regular trekker with several high altitude treks to his credit. A keen photographer, he shoots both still and video. His visit to Auli was prompted by his love of high places and the desire to learn skiing.

Sumanta with Tania and Dipa It was going to be a trip to Gangotri - Gaumukh - Tapovan. At least that is what we thought when we left Calcutta. It was June '97: the heat in the plains was unbearable and the journey by Doon Express in a smelly and dirty 3 - tier compartment was pure hell. The train ran out of water at Mughal Sarai, mid-way through the journey. By mid-afternoon, the heat had sapped us of all energy. I was feeling sorry for Tania, my 9-year-old daughter, who was at a loss to comprehend the meaning of all this. After all, we were supposed to be going on a vacation.

Our ticket was till Rishikesh, but when the train pulled into Haridwar, we could not leave the train fast enough, and elected to catch a three wheeler for the 24 km ride to Rishikesh. At the Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam (G.M.V.N) tourist lodge, my friend Harsh and his wife Hemal, from Delhi, were waiting for us. The lodge is on a small hill and spares you the pollution of Rishikesh.

More on Uttarakhand

Kailash Yatra
Valley of Flowers

Discovering Auli

Adventure activities
Rock climbing
Scuba Diving

stream near Bewara Our original plan was to go up to Gaumukh, from where Harsh and I would proceed to Tapovan, leaving the rest at Bhojbasa. The two ladies derived strength from each other to say a firm 'NO' to our plans. They decided that wherever we went we would go together. While we tried to voice our feeble protests my daughter came out strongly in support of her mother and that was the end of it.

Gaumukh minus the trek to Tapovan somehow lost it's appeal and we decided to change track. A local tour operator suggested Dodital - a pristine lake at an altitude of about 10,000 feet, nestled in a densely wooded region on the old yatra route from Gangotri to Yamunotri. The description sounded inviting and preparations were immediately embarked on.

We hired two tents and a pressure cooker from the tour operator. We went to the local market to buy provisions and a stove. Leaving Rishikesh in the morning, we passed through the towns of Narendranagar and Tehri before reaching Uttarkashi at lunchtime. We hired three porters from a local agency to carry all our stuff. After lunch we took off for Kalyani, the road head in this direction,11 km from Uttarkashi. The porters followed in a bus. Porters and ponies can also be hired from here. At 2:00 p.m. we were ready to start our trek. Our destination for the day was Agoda, 7 kilometers away. A pony was hired for Tania in consideration of it being her first trek.

Clouds were beginning to form when we crossed the small bridge on Asi Ganga and started the steep ascent to Agoda. The path is largely through jungles and has some good short cuts. As we gained altitude, sights and sounds of the mountain stream on our right got lost in the depths of the gorge. It became increasingly silent. Tania, confident of the fall-back arrangement walked merrily along. I was looking at the sky and getting worried. The rain came as we reached Agoda. There was still daylight left and Harsh suggested that we trek 2 kilometers ahead to Bewara. The porters encouraged us saying that Bewara is an ideal camping ground and has a stream close by. We waited till the rain lessened in intensity. The jungle became denser and daylight faded quickly. Soon we were trekking in the dark. I was particularly worried about Tania who was on the pony. It started to pour. Our raincoats were in our rucksacks, which were with the porters.

Tania taking a short cut Soon we were on a downward path and the porters said that Bewara was close. The path took a sharp right turn to cross a wooden bridge over a gushing stream. We walked the short distance to what now seemed like five star accommodation. The shopkeeper was about to put his fire out for the day when we walked in shivering. Except Tania, the rest of us were soaked to the skin. When the porters finally arrived and pointed to the camping ground some distance away we realised that pitching tents in the downpour was not going to be fun.

The shop, on the other hand, had two rooms with a connecting door. The porters returned to Agoda, promising to be back in the morning. Dinner consisted of rice, dal and a local vegetable that Harsh had noticed the village women collecting in the jungles. They called it lingri and it looked like curled up beans. We soon retired into the comfortable cocoon of our sleeping bags. We were all exhausted from our transition from civilisation and went to sleep early.

campingI am an early riser and caught the first glimpse of the sparkling morning that held promise of a glorious day ahead. Tania had her first initiation to unbridled nature and delighted in the mountain stream, our source of water. We didn't wait for breakfast, but left as soon as the porters came from Agoda. The path beyond Bewara is an easy, flat trail. The remaining distance of 16 km didn't seem threatening. The path slowly winds up, beside a deep gorge. Most of the path passes through dense forests and rhododendron trees can be seen a little way up. The ascent is very gentle and trekking here is a mild enjoyable exercise. En route, are a couple of roadside tea stalls.

We stopped for lunch of excellent aloo paranthas. After that, however, the trek became rather difficult for all of us. Hemal started getting stomach cramps and was falling behind. Tania offered her pony, but Hemal couldn't ride that for too long. We were approaching a settlement called Manji. It was a small hamlet of people who share their accommodation with their cows and buffaloes. Both the ladies sat down to rest. Writ large on their faces: enough trekking for the day.

The village looks dirty, but has one of the finest camping sites that I have come across. A small ledge scooped out of the mountainside overlooks the gorge. A stream nearby provides clean water. Clouds had already formed overhead and while we were pitching our tents a strong wind started. All our chances of cooking outside the tent vanished when the wind brought along the rain. Getting ready to light the stove I discovered that the circular piece of metal ring surrounding the burner was missing - must have fallen off on our way up. We were resigning ourselves to a meal of biscuits and water when one of the porters, Preetam, offered to run to the village and look for the missing piece.

He was back within five minutes with the necessary hardware - a piece of junk to city dwellers was a treasure for us. Incessant rain forced us to cook inside our 4-person tent while Harsh and Hemal were giving instructions from their tent for 2, 10 feet away. The taste of rice and dal cooked inside a nylon tent in a leaky pressure cooker at 9,000 feet is something to be experienced, not described. After dinner we came out of our tents to sit under a clear starlit sky. The small stream nearby sang it's own melody - it was all anyone could ask for.

Next day we woke to a clear morning and hurriedly readied ourselves to cover the remaining 5 km to Dodital. The path is very easy and can be covered in less than 2 hours even with kids. We met a group of students from Mumbai aged 8 to 12. Their teachers were having a tough time controlling their sheer enthusiasm. We were approaching a chasm between two cliffs and the gushing stream was also rising, as if to meet us in Dodital. We walked along the streambed over level ground to arrive soon enough at the first teashop of Dodital.

The lake is a visual treat. The forests are deep and cover the high mountains on three sides while a stream feeds the lake, and another one is born of the overflow. Arriving there, you cannot help wondering why on earth people spend time and money on overcrowded tourist places only to come back swearing never to visit them again. Harsh, who had been here 15 years earlier, lamented the loss of the 'real Dodital' - one minus the five or six ugly tea stalls with multi-coloured plastic chairs. But even in it's present state it is still pristine enough. We debated the question of where to stay, the only flat ground available for pitching tents being beside the forest rest house (FRH), which had been damaged in the Uttarkashi earthquake that rocked the region a few years ago. The place was like a set from a horror movie but somehow spelled romance to me. Our tents were far from being the best one could expect. The porters looked distinctly relieved when we told them to keep our stuff inside the FRH.

Dodital LakeA circular path by the side of the lake takes you to where the feeder stream meets the lake. Shining red spotted Himalayan Golden Trout can be seen in the crystal clear waters. The government's enthusiasm in providing ugly concrete benches for tired trekkers is typically unimaginative. We passed the day idling beside the lake. Harsh even took a swim in the freezing cold waters. My attempts were limited to taking off my t-shirt and wading heroically into ankle deep water before allowing Dipa to talk me out of it.

I could sense that Harsh was getting restless. He is used to much tougher treks and his fit body affords him the luxury of torturing it for greater highs. There is a trek route to Yamunotri from Dodital via a pass called Darwa Top (13,553 feet). The pass affords a fabulous view of the Bandarpunch range. Next morning we set out with Preetam Singh as our guide. The ladies peeped out of their sleeping bags to say good bye and promised special lunch on our return.

The path, if it can be called so, starts from the feeder stream of the lake and passes through dense forests before emerging on a trail which is close to the upper level of the tree line. The trek tests your ability to cross mountain streams, as the stream has to be crossed no less than seven times on your way up. At one point we left the stream and took a sharp left turn to head straight up for the top of the range. Harsh was moving very fast. I told Preetam to keep close to me as I was finding it difficult to keep pace with anyone. Slowly we crossed the tree line and passed the foot of a glacier. Little higher on the trail we found a group of Gujjars, cutting grass on a near vertical cliff face, singing in their deep, mellifluous voices. When I reached the top of the pass, Harsh was laying out a breakfast of aloo paranthas and chocolates.

I sat down to catch my breath; the view was out of this world. The entire range was glowing in the mid - morning sun. Darwa Top was a short distance away. We had to walk over fields, covered with ice. Some of these had steep inclines and it was difficult to negotiate without an ice axe, so we decided to access it from a different direction. On our return path down, we lost our way by crossing the stream at the wrong places. Preetam Singh's Search and Rescue course from Nehru Institute of Mountaineering came in handy, bringing us back to a delicious lunch at Dodital.

Nights at the FRH were an adventure, with the wooden floor under the carpet giving way to allow menacing rats to come out scurrying all over the room. Hemal and Tania decided to keep their torches on to ward off any possible attacks. Next morning, while packing we looked fondly at the lake and wistfully remembered the past few days. I had never come on a trek with my family. The worries involved pale into insignificance once you see your little daughter having the time of her life washing utensils in the mountain stream.

On our way down we camped at Bewara, where it rained heavily. Our tent was old and the three of us fought gallantly to keep it from collapsing. When the fly sheet came loose from its moorings and water started seeping inside, Tania went out with a torch to fix it, sensing that I was needed to hold the tent upright. Back at Kalyani, she proudly announced that the next time around I shouldn't even think of hiring a pony for her.

peaks from Darwa top

Home | Back | Top | Feedback

Editor: Romola Butalia       (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.