Two mountains and a river

Dayara Bugyal & Dodital trekA photo/video blog of our 50kms trek across two mountains. [1] From 7k feet base camp (Raithal) to 12k (Dayara top), then down the other side to the Assi Ganga river at 9k (Satghadi). [2] Crossed the river and climbed up again to 11k ( Dodital Lake) and finally down to 8k to reach the final road head (Agoda).

Day 1 (Bangalore to Dehradun)
* We’ve arrived at Dehradun and spent the night at a lovely Airbnb near Jolly Grant airport. the host has created a tastefully done up cottage at Thano jungle in the foothills.

Video walkaround of Thano retreat

* It’s blazing hot in Doon, even at the outskirts. We are told Bangalore is at a cool 19 deg and roll our eyes. But it cools off by evening and the place turns out to be a haven for bird watching. Feels like a place we could have spent more time in. Preferably in the winter.

* Next morning starts with a bone jerking car ride from Dehradun to Uttarkashi and then to Raithal, up in the hills. 7 weary hours, battling the “yatri” traffic. Can’t wait to get away.

 * Multiple checkposts insist we register as “yatris”, even though we explain we aren’t on a pilgrimage. Traffic jams at many junctions. Road work, dust and landslides mar the green landscape. It’s almost like a preview of how humans can screw up nature, before we get away from it all. 

Day 2. Start of trek (7km, steep uphill to Chilapada campsite)

* Our climb starts from the last road head via Uttarkashi.. Raithal Village at 7000 ft. Urban ills have caught up with Raithal and it isn’t that pretty any more. Too many buildings. We are happy to start climbing away from it. 

The team at the start. Jitu bhai, Prof Samir, Jagga, Sandeep, Srinath, Vimal, Manju, Sathya & Kamal da

* Steep climb through mixed Oak and Pine forests. Two lovely mountain dogs join us. One white and the other black. A handsome couple that we named Heera and Moti. They follow us for a while. And then return with another group to Raithal. Seems to be their regular routine.

* Plenty of bird life, especially around the small grasslands and shrubbery in between

* First camp is at just under 11000 feet. Everyone is tired and AMS hits a few as we have ascended almost 4k feet quickly on day 1. Diamox to the rescue!

* Saw our first yellow throated marten going up a tree and a pheasant that looked like a Monal, but hard to say for sure in the low light.

Day 3 (6km up to Dayara Bugyal and then down to Nimdhaar campsite)

* Left the tree line and ascended to Dayara top at 12000 feet. 

Dayara Bugyal – An ocean of green, high altitude meadows

* Rolling grassland meadows all around. Covered in a carpet of summer flowers. Absolutely stunning 360deg views. Snow-capped Bandar Poonch mountain and Gangotri 1,2&3 in the background

Video: 360 degree view of Dayara Bugyal with snow capped peaks in the background

*Crossed the top and made camp on other side at 11k feet again, next to a mountain stream. First body wash in ice cold stream water. Hands went numb for a few minutes, but felt great.

*Bandar Poonch mountain with its snowy resemblance to a monkey lying down watches over us.

Majestic Bandar Poonch mountain

* Hailstorm starts, followed by pouring rain. It’s freezing cold! Stuck in our tents the whole afternoon. Kitchen folks go out of their way to send tea in flasks to the tents. Luxury!

Video: Its freezing at camp Chilapada

* Weather clears up by evening, but it’s biting cold with wind chill. Amazing views of snow capped mountains makes up for the harsh weather.

* All the wood is wet and can’t build bonfire. We discover a gujjar camp nearby that has just been set up. They warmly invite us to their dera and sit with us around the campfire with tea. They offer us buttermilk and we arrange to buy paneer for dinner.

* Fascinating people. Islamic community that lives and moves with their buffaloes across the landscape. Warm and welcoming. “insaan hi insaan ke pas aata hai” is their simple philosphy. Living totally off the landscape with no external support or technology. 

*Every 3 days, someone from their “dera” does the entire trek down to Uttarkashi to sell the Paneer they make and comes back. Humbling to realise our “trekking” is their weekly routine 🙂

* Some last minute birding in the morning. Good sighting of black & yellow grosbeak, blue throated flycatcher, rose finch etc

Day 4 (7km steep downhill to Satghadi camp)

* Today is a descent down to “Assi Ganga” at the bottom of the mountain. Apparently 80 streams merge to form the Ganga tributary at this stage.

* The tree line starts again. It appears we are one of the first groups to go down this way. Trail is wiped out in some places and very steep. Need to slip and slide down some tricky slopes.

Wild Strawberries.. small but yum!

* Signs of wildlife appear. leopard and bear scat etc.

* Lots of small wild strawberries everywhere. Eat as much as you can bend and pluck 🙂

* Can hear the roar of the river and our camp is nearby, but we have lost our trail. We back track for some time and finally make it.

* When we finally reach camp, it is spectacular. We are on a grassy ledge with the forest on one side and a sheer drop to the glacier fed river on the other. A stony cliff rises up on the opposite bank and towers over the campsite. all the tiredness of the trek melts away and we literally shout in glee. There is no human in sight for miles of pristine jungle.

Sathghadi camp. Spectacular, raw and wild!

* We again sight 2 martens and I photograph several specialist riverside birds like dippers, redstarts etc.

* Weather swings between cold, rainy and windy. But allows us to get a nice fire going. Hot soup and roasted papad seem divine. We are now back down to 9K feet from 12k.

* Dinner includes “lengda” or fiddlehead fern sprouts foraged from the wild. A lovely, unique taste. You have to be able to identify which ferns are edible. Not all the curly stuff is safe to eat.

Day 5 (8kms first steep then moderate uphill to Majhi)

* We cross Assi Ganga river and start climbing again. Now it’s steep and slippery, but bursting with birds. Some of us hold up the group. While they patiently wait, we scramble around the hillside, chasing photos of laughing thrushes.

* We start climbing towards Manjhi on the way to Dodital. The cameras are starting to magically weigh more every day. Must be some gravity thing.

* We reach half way and find a bakarwal who tells us that the trail ahead is washed out. So we must circle around the mountain and add a km more to the route. but its less steep. So it should be ok.

* At Manjhi, we find a deserted village, save for one old man who must be at least 90. He’s been staying alone there for over a month & is happy for some company. A hookah appears and the nicotine deprived partake of it gratefully.

Camp Manjhi

* Manjhi turns out to be the best camp for birding. Rose finches are scattering all around, interspersed with woodpeckers, warblers and flycatchers. 

More photos on Instagram

* As dusk draws, a langur starts giving a harsh alarm call around the camp. The mule drivers get very worried and the animals are spooked. A leopard is afoot! The mule drivers build a huge fire that must burn through the night.

* Dinner includes creamy white mushrooms foraged from the wild. Absolutely yum.

Day 6 (5km moderate up/down to Dodital lake)




* We start climbing the final leg towards Dodital at 11k feet. We can now see the mountain that we have just climbed up and down on the other side. At 12k feet+ it looks massive and impossible to climb. Thank God we did not have this view before we started.

* Dodital is supposed to be the place where Ganesha fought with Shiva as he was guarding Parvati while she was bathing. And hence ended up with his elephant head. Thankfully the spot hasn’t caught mass attention yet and it’s still very remote.

* We are greeted by a pristine glacial lake at Dodital. The landscape on one side is marred by some ugly shacks and buildings. Only the old temple is aesthetic and quaint. The shop cum dhaba and forest dept huts are eyesores. But the other side is pristine with sheer forest and a stony glacial melt trail leading into a crystal clear Lake. Must be around 1 km in circumference.

Dodital Lake

* Gujjar kids come running up. Cute lil tykes with hands outstretched. “Mithai” they lisp. Looks like the tourists have got them into the habit of asking for chocolates. But who can resist. We comply half guiltily.

Video: The view around Dodital


* Camp is set and the challenge is thrown. How many will brave the biting cold and take a dip in the lake fed by glacial melt water. Five people, including yours truly say yes. We take a deep breath and jump into the water. After the first shouts  of shock, the effect of the freezing lake water is magical. All tiredness melts away. 

* Later we go for a walk along the pretty track that circles the lake and settle down for a hour long wait for the beautiful Monal, a spectacular multi coloured bird that is the state bird of Uttarakhand. But it decides not to show itself, though this is a common spot for it. That’s what usually happens to birders with cameras in tow.

* Dog #2 joins the group. A cute white female who seems to be the local shop keepers pet. 

* The Poojary invites us to the evening arti at the temple. All of us cluster around on the old wooden floor as incense smoke, lamps, bells, conch sounds and mantras fill the air. I’m not usually a religious person, but there’s something spiritual about small remote temples.

The temple at Dodital

* It seems the white dog knows the temple and the sweet prasad well. She starts nose bumping our hands as soon as we emerge and I guiltily give her my share, wondering if it’s sacrilege. But hey, she’s God’s creation too and needs it more than me.

Day 7 (14 km moderate downhill to Bebra)

* We start going down to our final camp at “Bebra” village in the valley. It’s going to be a long walk of 14km today. But mostly downhill on a well-defined path. So should be doable.

* The white dog seems to want to leave Dodital and come with us. The shopkeeper says she’s not his pet. Seems to be lactating, so where on earth is she going? We are worried, but after a while she takes off ahead on her own.

Sheer falls and narrow trails



* The views on the way down are breath-taking. Narrow paths with steep falls of thousands of feet in one side and towering mountains, across on the other side. 

* We hear a rustle on the steep grassy slopes and look up to see a herd of “Goral” running away. A sort of cross between a goat and an antelope, they are extremely shy. I scramble up the steep slope, but spook them further. When I give up and come down, I find a female curiously looking at me from a higher ledge and manage to squeeze off a few pictures.

Himalayan Goral

* The tree line starts with Oak, Maple and Pine and then slowly shifts to Fir and Rhododendron. Some old and gnarled rhododendrons are clearly decades old and the size of big trees. We’ve been drinking Rhododendron (buransh) squash along the way. Can’t say I’m a fan. Bit like a watered down Roohafza.

* Bebra turns out to be just ahead of Agoda, which is the final road head. An alternative campsite for those who want a last bit of solitude, away from the road access.

* The local dhaba gives us a campsite by the river. And A dry roofed platform to congregate at in the evening.

* The white doggie reappears. Proudly bringing along her fat and cute puppy to introduce him to us. So the mystery is solved. she’s actually from here and does the up down to Dodital with groups.

Easily the best singer in the group


* Our treks with Wildrift & DeepDiveIndia always end with an evening of song and celebrations around the camp fire. Today is no exception. The entire team of cooks, guides and staff joins in and we spend a mellow night listening to pahadi songs and crooning along to “thando re thando… mere pahadon ki pani thandi, hawa thando”. A magical evening indeed. We have been trekking with them for a while and they have consistently given us great experiences.

Day 8 (3km easy downhill to Agoda)

* Our final day. The mandatory group photos are taken and we set of on the final 3km to Agora, which is home for some of our trek leaders. 

* Agoda turns out to be another version of Raithal. Roads do something to villages. it’s hard to say whether they are the better or worse for them.

Video: Just another jeep ride in the hills


* A jeep is waiting to take us till Uttarkashi as the road is still under construction and only jeeps can do the route. We are packed to the rafters. Luggage on top and 9 people in the long Jeep. But it’s just a 2 hr ride so we should be ok.

* Within half hour of starting, we find two desperate village women on the road with a baby. The baby is sick and they need to reach the hospital in Uttarkashi. There’s no choice but to squeeze ourselves in further and somehow accommodate them.

* We reach Dehradun that night and check into our final Airbnb. It’s not so great and we want to get out for the evening.

* We are recommended “The Bungalow” for Doons fanciest experience. Or “Kalsang” Tibetan restaurant for yummy authentic food. We opt for the latter as neither our wardrobe nor our system was ready for a fancy restobar. 

* Kalsang is packed! To the rafters. A traditional Tibetan eating place under siege by the Punjabis (there seem to be a lot of them in Doon) in their fanciest clothes and pushiest personalities. We stand around like deer in headlights, until Tenzing kindly rescues the southies and gets us a table.

 * We over-order. And we over-eat. Now we know why the place is packed. Fantastic authentic food at reasonable prices. Dishes that we haven’t heard of. New flavours. All good.

Kalsang.. amazing Tibetan and Asian food

* Over to Bangalore.

More photos on Instagram


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