Trek to Dodital: Journey is as good as the destination!

This is my account of the Trek to Dodital, again. (Jun 2nd to 6th June, 2024). I had done this trek over 30 years ago in 1991.

I had long been planning a trek in the Himalayas, but it became a must-do, soon as I shifted base to Chandigarh in July, 2023.  We were in the foothills of the Himalayas after all.

I decided to redo the trek to Dodital since it was a relatively easy trek and I had to re-validate a lot of things and take minimal risk. I had to validate my knowledge & skill, but more importantly, I had to re-confirm my fitness. It had been more than 30 years since I last did a proper Himalayan trek.

The Team and the Preparations:

Trekkers

I was also concerned about the fitness levels of my potential trekking partners: Ranjan and Shreejan. At 57, Ranjan & I were ageing, and Shreejan was too young at 13.5 years.

I did work on my fitness over 20-25 days before the trek. 3-4 km of running on Sundays, stair-case running once a week, squats, sit-ups, planks, yoga, etc. It did help build strength and stamina, and did hold out well during the trek. Ditto for Ranjan. He, too, was worried about his back, but eventually carried through without any problem. Shreejan was slightly low on strength, but his fitness was good. But, he was definitely not sure about how he will meet the challenge. He would search the web and get filled with self-doubt. Nevertheless, my confidence-boosting and his own excitement of experiencing something new, won the day.

It seems we were not quite sure about ourselves, and that alone explains that most of the preparation was left to the last three days before we departed: buying the equipment like sleeping bag, mat, etc. And packing the provisions in our rucksacks.

The Journey Begins

Finally the day was upon us, and we took the cab to the station at 1:30 am, 02/06/2024. We (Shreejan and I)  slept through the journey and were in Dehradun at 9:45. We took a shared auto to the ISBT, which was the rendezvous. Ranjan was to arrive at 11:30. Dehradun at 10:30 was just as hot and oppressive as Chandigarh.

We met Ranjan at the ISBT gate and went to the taxi stand from where we were to get the MUV, as we were told. However, we learned that there weren’t enough passengers, and the wait could be long. We moved to the Parade Ground, and got the bus at 1:30 pm. Finally, the whole group was together and we were truly on the way. The drive was reasonably pleasant though slightly warm. The driver was an expert, and the view of the valleys was captivating. By the time we reached Uttarkashi at 7:00 pm, we were really tired, and were glad to get off the bus, and stretch.

Shreejan was hungry and quickly gulped down a Maggi at a small tea-stall. We grabbed a cup of tea as well. We walked up the road to get the vehicle to Sangam Chatti, and I had a familiar feeling from time that almost seemed like previous life. Though we planned to start the trek the next morning, we were told that there were no vehicles to Sangam Chatti, but we could go to Gangori, which was midway. We convinced him to drop us to Sangam Chatti only to realize that we had got into a misunderstanding. The driver told us that there was nothing in Sangam Chatti now, no village, no bazaar, no place to stay and no place to camp! We were totally confused. Anyway we decided to stay back in Gangori and the driver would drop us at Sangam Chatti at 6:00 in the morning.

Plans Revisited

With the revised travel plan settled, we put ourselves in a Home-stay at Gangori, and had a refreshing bath and a home-made dinner. Slept well, all three of us, and were up early, freshened up and soon we were on the way to Sangam Chatti. The 30 minute drive was quiet, as we were in our own world, our own thoughts. But we were aware of the breathtaking sights around us: the beautiful river (Assi Ganga) flowing beside us, and the sky-high mountains on both sides of the valley.

Sangam Chatti did not look like a village anymore. There were 2-3 dilapidated-abandoned structures, witness to the tragedy that had struck the village in 2013. Everything had been washed away in the flash flood. There was no habitation there. Sangam Chatti: sangam/confluence of two small rivers Assi Ganga and Varna, was all but abandoned. A new bridge had been built, though, over the Assi Ganga, and a large gate welcomed us, “Welcome to the trek to Dodital”

June 3, Day 1 of the Trek

Sangamchatti to Agoda

We, the three of us, spent a few minutes near the starting point, took photographs, savoured the beautiful surroundings, and we were ready to go. Soon we were making an ascent, and in the middle of nature: pristine, breathtaking. Soon enough the demons in our minds, each one of us, were banished, and we started enjoying the trek. Ranjan and Shreejan looked more assured and confident of what they had to negotiate, and I felt I was in familiar territory.

The trek to Agoda was most enjoyable, and we covered the 6 km, uphill, in very good time; about 2 .5 – 3 hours.  It was much later, it struck me that since Agoda had a road-head now and there were no regular vehicles to Sangam Chatti, Agoda had become the starting point for Dodital treks. No wonder, we did not find any tell-tale signs of previous trekkers on the way to Agoda. There was not a single soul and the whole area seemed totally unblemished. Only the chirping of the birds and the Assi Ganga gurgling in the valley below.

We had a few plums and apricots which I had picked up on the way to Uttarkashi. It was very refreshing. By the way, there was one more validation: we had sattu in the morning with a pinch of salt and masala, and topped it up with some dry fruits. It was fast and very efficacious. We felt light during the treks and gave us enough energy to see us through the first half of the day. It became our staple breakfast during the whole journey.

At the outskirt of the village we were called out by a villager to drop by for a cup of tea. We just could not refuse, and we stopped by. We spent a good 30-40 minutes with the family, had a cup of tea, a photo session and we were ready to move. The next one km from Agoda was uphill, but we were refreshed and walked at decent speed. Thereafter, it was an easy km or so, and we enjoyed this leg as well, and reached Bebra by 12:30.

We were well on time, and could afford to laze. Ranjan took a refreshing bath, while Shreejan and I just put our feet in the cool-refreshing water. We had Maggi for lunch and another cup of tea. After a good hour or so, we were ready to move. Refreshed, and  reasonably full. We still had more than half a day ahead of us, sunset was due at 7:30. 5-6 km to Majhi and then we take a call. Most likely we will camp at Majhi and then it will be leisurely trek to Dodital the following day. But, there was a catch, was it 5-6 km to Majhi, from Bebra or was it 7-9 km, as told by a villager at Bebra. We were confused, we had not studied the map closely. But it was the least of our worries. We were still feeling on top of the situation, and the time was with us.

We quickly climbed the uphill portion and reached what is called the chhatri.  From there on, it would be relatively easy trek, per our knowledge. But, just wait.

The Challenge Begins

It started drizzling, and we felt a little concerned. Monsoon is still a few weeks away, it will only be a shower, we felt. We waited for a while at the chhatri but decided to move, once the drizzle stopped. Due to the clouds, it was already dark and 3:00 pm seemed like late in the evening.

First few minutes of the trek, it was drizzling, and things seemed within our control. However, soon enough it transformed into a heavy downpour, with hailstorm. It became dark and heavy within minutes. The thunder and lightning seemed so near, so frightening. We sheltered in a crevice for a few minutes, but soon enough we gave up. A villager had also joined us, but he had no baggage on him, and he had a small plastic sheet to give him some protection. We were totally unprotected. Totally exposed to the elements.

We realized that it may not stop raining, so we must keep walking. We had to reach Majhi anyhow. There would be no shelter on the way. We had covered about 4 km distance since Bebra, but Majhi was still some distance away, about 4 – 5 km! After about a km, we came to the tree with Hanuman ji’s flags on it, and I told the team that this is the highest point of the trek, and it is now downhill all the way to Majhi. We walked at reasonable pace but Shreejan started complaining that it was still uphill. It was really not uphill, but a gentle roller-coaster. Actually a very pleasant trekking route under normal circumstances.

What’s your baggage!

But this was far from normal. It was only 5 – 5:30 in the evening, but already dark. It was raining intermittently, but the thunder and lightning was so close that it sent the chills down our spine. The major challenge, however, was our rucksacks: they had absorbed a lot of water and had become heavy, may be 5 – 7 kg more than the usual 12 – 14 kg. Ranjan’s bag was relatively water-resistant, but his jacket had become very heavy, we were to learn later. Shreejan’s young shoulders must be aching, and started to panic. Ranjan and I were also struggling, but we did not show.

The next 2-3 hours seemed like ages, as we kept lugging on. Shreejan was clearly struggling because of the weight, but would refuse any help from me. ‘You, too, have a heavy load on you.’, he would say, and keep moving. Ranjan kept up the steady pace, I kept prodding Shreejan to keep Ranjan in his sight and not keep too much distance. All along, I just behind, young, Shreejan to give him support.

At around 7 – 7:30 we came upon a few huts, but were not sure if it was Majhi. Ranjan was confused, and I was scratching at the bottom of my grit. But, sure it was Majhi and we were soon pulled into a room with a nice fire. Our fingers were all numb, and minds were a bit in a daze. It took us well over 30 minutes to recover our bearings. We ate dry fruits and jaggery for instant energy, and had a hot cup of tea. Ranjan could find a dry pair for himself, while Shreejan could manage a track pant. I did not have a single dry garment on me. Had to wrap myself in a thin blanket, till my shorts got dried up in the heat. We had a decent meal of rice and dal cooked on the fire-place in the room, and started getting back to our normal self.

I was so tired that I could not sleep well. I think Shreejan slept reasonably well and was much relieved to see him safe from the experience of the previous night. It was challenging, and could have been dangerous if we did not have the grit, and the common sense to keep walking and not let hypothermia set-in. Having the right equipment is important when you challenge the elements. And, mountains can be unforgiving.

I had felt that Ranjan had made a mistake in not buying a rucksack of the right choice. However, that was lesser of a problem, and we were challenged on account of another mistake that we had made: not bringing a poncho along. I had not accounted for rains in this season, it was a huge mistake. Weather in the mountains can be very fickle, and you should be prepared for all eventualities.

June 4: A Day in a Remote Village

We woke up to a bright morning, early at around six. Ranjan and I were soon busy putting all our stuff in the sun, and hope they will dry before the clouds come in. Shreejan was late out of bed, but he was fit and fine. We decided to laze out and decide on our next course of action, later during the day.

Shreejan’s spectacle was broken, and he was not confident how he will negotiate the trek. Also, we were not sure of the weather. We could not handle another wet evening. We wanted to make a dash to Dodital, it was only 5 km of easy trek from there, before we headed back. However, the decision was made when the rains arrived in the afternoon.

Better safe than sorry!

We had had our fill of getting wet in the mountains. The temperature when the sun was out, was a pleasant 12 – 15 degrees, but soon as it was overcast, the temperature would plummet to 8-9 degrees.

Majhi Village Goats

We lazed out the whole day. Shreejan playing with the goats, and Ranjan enjoyed the bidi, with Rawat, and generally we enjoyed the whole day with practically nothing to do, true ‘Lotus Eaters’. It seemed bizarre and natural at the same time! We enjoyed the company of the cow and the goats in the adjoining shed (It was half open on our side, so your could say that it was a shared accommodation!!)

June 5: The Journey Back

The next day we left early, as was our plan. We realized that it would rain in the second half. We were in Bebra before 11:00. The same trek had seemed so painful the other day. It was a breeze today, and very pleasant, too. We spent almost an hour and a half at Bebra, bathing in the waterfall, having tea and a decent lunch. Bebra will remain in our memories for long. We left Bebra at around 1:00, and planned to camp at Agoda.

Crossing the waterfall at Bebra also became a small challenge on account of the increase in the water flow, courtesy the pre-monsoon rains of the previous days. Soon as we crossed the stream, it again began to drizzle. The demons in the mind of Shreejan started to play. Ranjan and I were also worried, but we played stoic, after all, there was little we could do. Agoda was only 2 km from Bebra, so we could manage anyway, whatever the challenge.

Nevertheless, when we stopped worrying about the weather, the weather, too, stopped worrying us.

The trek to Agoda was pleasant, and we did it in good time. We decided to camp at the primary school just outside Agoda, beside the  house of the villager who had offered us tea on our first leg.

This was the same location we had camped when I had first done this trek. I recalled my friends from IIFT who had been my partners; Deepak Dhingra, Atul Sood and Suneet Sood. Sent a message to Deepak to reminisce. (I had wrongly felt it was May/June 1991. Actually, October, 1991!! No wonder it was a bit colder, and drier!!!)

No sooner did we put up our tent, that it started to rain. The view from the location was beautiful, one moment you would see the clouds floating by, the other moment thick clouds will obliterate your view, and you can hardly see a few meters. Late evening, we went for dinner at Raj Pal’s house. It was good to know his family, and learn more about their life. Soon we were back in our camp, for the first time in our trek. Another validation, the tent was just fine for 3 people, housing 4 people may be a problem. Anyway, we slept well and woke up at 5:45 as per plan.

June 6: Journey Back Home

We got the shared Mahindra camper to Uttarkashi, the 40 km ride taking us almost 1.5 hours. At Uttarkashi, we learnt that there were only 2 seats available on the bus to Deradun, that too, in the drivers cabin. Next bus would be at 12:00, a good 2 hours of later. There was another bus to Haridwar just about to leave. We immediately decided to split, and quickly said goodbye. Ranjan was off to Haridwar, and Shreejan and I were off to Dehradun. From Dehradun to Chandigarh we got the NeuGo bus which was very comfortable, and reached home at around 11:30 pm. Ranjan, too, must have reached Delhi about the same time.

Shreejan was glad to unite with his mother. Mona had panicked when she saw the news about the casualties on the 3rd of June. We could not connect after around 3:00 pm soon after we left Bebra, since there was no signal. We were truly out in the wild for the next 2 days, with no network. It was only when we had returned to Agoda that we had learned about the casualty of 9 trekkers. They had faced the same challenges of weather conditions, we had, but at a higher altitude of 5000 m. They had been ill equipped to meet the challenge of unpredictable weather in the mountains, just as we had been. Luckily for us, the risk was lower on account of the lower altitude of about 3,200 m.

But, we had learned a lot, and experienced a lot. Trust this would be the first of the many treks that we would do. Have to make up for the lost time.

I invite you to join us whenever you feel like connecting with the mighty and mystical Himalayas!


Comments

One response to “Trek to Dodital: Journey is as good as the destination!”

  1. […] The gateway to reaching Uttarkashi can be either Haridwar or Dehradun:* Nearest Airport: The Jolly Grant Airport (Dehradun) is the nearest airport. Uttarkashi is another 150 km of ghat roads that can be traveled by taxi or bus.* Train Connectivity: The nearest railway stations are Dehradun and Rishikesh.* Road Transportation: Uttarkashi is another 150 km of ghat roads from Dehradun and around 170 km from Rishikesh that can be traveled by taxi or bus. Here’s a detailed account of one of our treks by Sumant. […]

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