Brahmatal, A snow wonder in the Himalayas

Shishir Jain
Apr 6, 2017 · 14 min read

It all began with the notification from Indiahikes for new Kedarkantha trek route. With Holi holidays approaching and having missed the snow in last Kedarkantha trek, I immediately registered for it. Then started exploring other trek options and I hit upon Kuari pass and Brahmatal Trek and I was confused which one to choose. Having interacted with Swathi earlier, I shot an email to her right away, asking about her opinion and she unequivocally voted for Brahmatal and thus the decision was made and I made train bookings. Being Holi holidays, it seemed impossible to get the train ticket at such a short notice, but was lucky to get one in Tatkal.

Couple of days before the trek, it became cold in Delhi and I was interacting with an old friend who did Brahmatal in January to take some tips and he commented that just check whether, it is snowing in the region. I didn’t take him much seriously, as there is hardly any snow expected in the month of March. Then came a message from Anuja, to pack an extra layer, as it is very cold up there.

Not expecting much, I packed an extra layer and my thickest jacket and boarded the train. At Haldwani, was greeted by driver Vikky (whom I had met on Chandrashila Trek) and fellow trekkers and began our long journey to Lohajung. On the way received message from Anuja and pictures of Lohajung with snow and that added to the excitement of all of us.

On the way, stopped for breakfast of regular Aaloo Parantha and Bun-maska and lunch at the restaurant in a tea-garden at Kausani. Not a single mountain peak was visible at Kausani as the clouds were covering the whole region.

We began our journey further to Baijnath, asked Vikky to stop at the Temple complex and the small barrage on the river. Baijnath Temples were built in the 9th and 10th century. I had visited it earlier and there used to be lot of fish in river, which you could feed. On this trip found none and upon enquiring got to know that all the fish here had died. Don’t know whether it is the pollution or barrage or cold. Couldn’t get proper answer.

Baijnath Temple Complex
Barrage at Baijnath Temple Complex

Having spent some time we resumed our journey and after traveling for few minutes, someone realized we have left two of our fellow trekkers behind at the temple. Immediately requested Vikky to turn back to pick them up and we all had a good laugh about it.

As we traveled further up, the weather started turning grey and sunlight diminished and as we ascended we were greeted with snow fall even before we reached Lohajung. We all were so excited at the fresh snow falling on the wind shield of the Traveller. Reached Lohajung around 5–5:30pm and it was almost sunset time. As we were settling in our rooms, it started to snow again and the Lohajung started turning from green to white.

At Lohajung, we were greeted by our Trek Leader Aashey, Trek guides Heera Bhai and Gopal Bhai and they briefed us on the Trek, took our vitals and recorded it on Health card. There was speculation, that if it kept on snowing like this we may not be able to begin our trek. Having checked the weather forecast, I informed everyone that weather is supposed to clear up by tomorrow to bring the cheer to everyone’s face. By dinner time, it stopped snowing and thus rose the hope that maybe there is still hope.

Having finished the dinner, I along with Shravan, went for a stroll on the road outside. Couldn’t go very far as it was dark, slushy and wet on the road. I continued my walk in the long corridor of the lodge in the company of the dog Susti who kept on blocking my way. Having completed 40 minutes of my walk, I decided, probably, it’s time to call it a day and retire.

I was woken up by my regular 5:45 am alarm, wore my shoes and came out to witness the most amazing landscape outside. It must have snowed overnight, with the fresh snow still on the leaves and roof and a mesmerizing mix of white and green all around.

At around 6:15 am, saw the first rays of sun falling on mount Nanda Gunti and it was an absolutely amazing sight. It was also clear that weather prediction was right and there were not a single cloud in the sky. It was amply clear that we would be able to begin our trek.

Morning Sunrays falling on Nanda Gunti at Lohajung
LohajungTown covered in fresh Snow

The Morning tea was served by then and all of us were gathering in the courtyard, greeting each other, sipping our hot tea, chatting and excited to begin our trek.

At sharp 8, the breakfast was served and after packing our bags we were ready to leave at 9. Gathering at the courtyard we were given gaiters to be worn, as there was enough overnight snow to cover the whole path with snow.

Wearing Gaiters to get ready for Snow Trek.

The trek from the Lohajung to Bekaltal was very beautiful, passing through the village and then Oak and Rhododendron jungle. Fresh snow was still on the trees and it was a beautiful sight all along. The trek was gradual climb and on the way while we stopped to take rest some of us started to make snow ball and throw at each other. Snow was bringing out child in each of us.

On the way to Bekaltal

We reached the Bekaltal Campsite around 3 pm. Bekaltal campsite is amidst beautiful meadow.

View of the Bekaltal campsite

We were given tea and afternoon snacks. After settling into our tents we decided to go and visit Bekaltal Lake. Walk to Bekaltal was a short but a little steep. As we approached Bekaltal, it was a sight to behold.

Various facets of the Bekaltal

After coming back to the camp, we were given hot soup and the delicious dinner and the day came to the end with Aashey, our trek leader announcing the timings for next day of 7–8–9. 7am Tea, 8am Breakfast and 9am departure. We all retired to our tents, hoping the night would not be very cold, as it was the first night in the tent.

It was a full moon night and the whole campsite was filled with soothing, moon light. It was a bright moonlit night and you wish you could just sit outside and relish the moment and don’t want it to end.

As expected, the night was cold, very cold, but the tents were cozy, with extra layer of fleece lining and a silk lining in our sleeping bags, kept us warm and cozy. Woke up at 6am and got the first shock of the morning! The shoes were frozen overnight, the water in the bottles froze and that made us realize how cold the night was. I got up and walked around the camp and in the kitchen tent to warm myself, eagerly waiting for the morning tea and warm water to drink.

Slowly, sun came out and with it the warmth and everyone. Morning greetings and exchanging how the night went, the time passed quickly and everyone rushed to get ready to leave for the next leg of the trek to Brahmatal lake campsite.

Next morning, we were slightly late to leave the campsite and while we walked for 15 minutes, got a news that two of the fellow trekkers have decided to go back. While it was sad to know that, it was a good decision to turn back, at the right moment. As someone quoted, “Going to the top is optional, going back is mandatory”. So, from the original 20, we were reduced to 18 on the way to Brahmatal camp.

Trek from Bekaltal to Brahmatal was to first ascend to the local maxima, called Jhandi top, and then descend to Brahmatal. Jhandi Top is about 3400m and on a clear day, one could get a very good view of Nanda Ghunti and Trishul. This was also the point where we were to do our lunch.

The trek to the Jhandi Top was through the forest and snow, gradually ascending. We reached Jhandi Top close to 1pm, but stopped about 100–150 meters before the Jhandi top as there was too much snow on the top and not a place to sit and have lunch. We settled on the rocks and had our packed lunch, Pulao.

While we were having our lunch, there were messages were being exchanged over walkie-talkie and we got to know that our further trek to the Brahmatal camp is in doubt, due to excessive snow on the way and is all dependent upon whether the ponies would be able to wade their way through the snow to reach the camp. All our rations was coming on the pony and if the ponies refuse to go down we would have no option but to go back.

Eagerly waiting for the ponies to arrive, we relaxed a bit longer at the top in the warm sun. Then came the ponies. The pony-man assured Aashey, Hari Bhai and Gopal Bhai that he would take the ponies to the campsite and we all admired his grit.

Ponies wading throught the knee deep snow on the way to Brahmatal camp

And thus packed our bags and got ready to leave following the ponies. The descend was steep with almost knee deep snow. The trick was to follow the foot steps and thus began the last leg to the Brahmatal camp.

Trek from Jhandi Top to Brahmatal Camp

After over an hour and half we reached Brahmatal camp. Its another sight to behold. Large meadow with the trees on the fringe, it is as beautiful as it can be. In the evening, witnessed a mesmerizing sunset behind the trees.

An Evening at Brahmatal Camp

With the whole day walking in the deep snow the water seeped inside the “water proof” shoes. I guess it has its own limits. The feet were tired and it felt so good to take off your shoes and wear the sandals. There was still sun out there and put our shoes in sun to dry them. Though sun was out for more than an hour, it helped only a little to dry them up.

While we were all busy drying our feet and shoes, a group of young trekkers decided to shovel the way from the tents to the loo. They even created their own spot to sit and enjoy. It was a big help to everyone, as now, we could go to the loo without wearing our shoes.

Next day was supposed to be the big day, the summit day. We were all given instructions to be ready on time as the weather on the top could be unpredictable and there was a lot of snow on the way to the Brahmatal summit. Next day timings were 6:30–7:30–8:30

Another beautiful night, clear sky, moonlit, with snow glistening all over, I wished I could capture the sight in my camera, but without the tripod, decided to give up and instead captured it in my memories.

Another cold night, frozen shoes. But we were better prepared mentally this time. Wore extra layer of clothes, filled warm water in a thermos.

Woke up slightly early to the beautiful morning. There was still moon in the sky. Had couple of cups of hot tea and decided to get ready. As the sun came, so as the warmth and thawed the shoes a little. Today, we were all ready almost on time to begin our big day.

The trek starts going inside the jungle and then the tree line is over and all you can see is the snow and some rocks around you. Few minutes into the trek and a young fellow trekker started to bleed from his nose and he decided to go back. Good decision, as we go up the air is thinner and pressure is lower, causing one to bleed. Its best to know when to stop and turn back.

On the way caught the glimpse of Himalyan eagle. It was a beautiful flight that was witnessed.

Flight of the Himalayan Eagle

The climb to the summit was gradual, but there was lot of snow, fresh snow and to make your path in the knee deep snow is not easy, it takes so much energy and kudos to our trek guide, Heera Bhai, to make the way for us.

As we ascended we caught the glimpse of the Brahmatal lake, which we would visit in the evening.

Brahmatal Lake, a view from the way to Brahmatal summit

As we were ascending, the snow was becoming deeper and there were few crevices covered with snow. A wrong step and your whole leg was down in it. Sun was out and shining brightly, melting snow and making it slippery around the rocks. There was a big patch of cloud which was approaching us and now it was becoming amply clear that in case it begins to snow, we would turn back.

Heera Bhai and Gopal Bhai continued to help and make way for us and lending a hand at slippery spots. The summit was in front of us and we wanted to reach there quickly.

On the way to summit

Treading carefully and with positive attitude all of us reached the summit and what a view, even though the peaks were covered with the big patch of cloud, we could get a peek at the Nanda Gunti. Heera Bhai narrated the list of peaks visible from the summit and also showed us the path to the Roopkund trek which is visible from the summit.

Panoramic View from the Brahmatal Summit
Aashey, me, Heera Bhai, Gopal Bhai at Brahamatal Summit

Weather was turning bad and we were advised to quickly pack up and get ready to descend. There were few snow flakes and it had started turning a bit windy. Snow fall was imminent and we had to reach the camp before it became nasty. As we started to descend, it became clear again. Descent was easy, though had to be more careful in the slippery patches.

View as we were descending

We reached back at the camp at around 2pm. Having taken the hot lunch, some took a nap, some played in the sun and snow and some of us just lazed around soaking the sun. By this time, the following batch also reached the camp. We greeted them batch with a round of applause. Their Trek leader was amazing Karthik. I have hardly met anyone with so much energy.

While the other batch was settling down, we were just lazing in small groups and the plan was that we would go to the Brahmatal lake after tea. I was looking forward to it. As Aashey declared that we are ready to go to the lake, there were very few volunteers, as the plan was that we would anyway be passing through the lake the next day. A few wanted to make Snowman, few wanted to just relax and very few wanted to go to the lake.

After prodding finally a small group of us were ready to go to the lake, which was about 15–20 minutes away. Meanwhile the weather was playing hide and seek and the cloud started to engulf the whole valley. While we were speculating whether it would snow or not at night, we could feel the little specs of snow flakes. After a brief snow fall it stopped and we started towards the lake.

Walk to the lake was pleasant, untouched snow and the view of the lake was beholding. Semi frozen lake, white pristine snow, it is a sacred one with a small temple of Brahma. Apparently, there is a regular festival when the locals visit the temple and lake to worship.

Panoramic View of the Brahmatal lake
Brahmatal — A lake so beautiful
Temple of Brahma Ji at Brahmatal Lake

Evening turned out to be even better, light snow fall, snowman, game of Mafia, songs etc…One couldn’t have asked for more…

As the evening progressed the clouds dispersed and the moon came out filling the whole valley with its light. Another beautiful night under a billion stars…and the last one for this trip. Next day is trek back to Lohajung.

Trek back to the Lohajung was supposed to the longest one and it turned out to be the most tiring one too. We started at around 9:30am, on to the same path we took while coming to Brahmatal camp, i.e. to the Jhandi Top. It was a bit of a steep climb.

Forgot to mention a small bit, there was a dog which came with the next batch from Bekaltal and after going a bit forward to the summit with them, it decided to come back to the camp and it started with us to Lohajung. It was amazing to see the dog sniff out the bone hidden under the snow, play with it and then leave it to go ahead with us. It kept us company all the way.

With snow hardening and turning into ice at places and melting under the sun, this leg of the trek was the most difficult and tiresome. At places it turned into slush mixed with snow, mud and water.

We reached Jhandi Top around 1pm and the batch coming from Bekaltal was to meet us at the Jhandi Top, but it probably got delayed.

The view at the Jhandi Top was marvellous with Nanda Ghunti and Trishul visible in its full glory and so is most of the range. So, what we missed at the Brahmatal summit was made up at the Jhandi Top.

View from the Jhandi Top
Panoramic View from Jhandi Top
Collage of the Jhandi Top, with Aashey, Alakh, Nikhil, Pramod and me.

Descent from the Jhandi Top was tricky. It was steep, slippery but was the shortest. It required lot of patience and support from Heera Bhai, Gopal Bhai. I’ve tried to capture the tricky slope in few pictures.

Tricky and slippery descent from Jhandi Top, almost more than 45 degree steep.

As we descended from Jhandi Top, it was a mix of forest green, snow, mud, water and slush. Though it was easy to walk, it was also slippery. Few of us slipped on the way, though no one got injured.

The dog kept us company all the way. Here are few snaps of the dog with our dog lovers.

Pramod and Preksha playing with the (unnamed) dog.

As we descended, snow started to thin and by the time we hit the first village, there was no snow and it was difficult to visualize that it was the same path we had taken just 4 days back.

The last leg of the walk became quite tiresome, it was hot, the path was rocky and the shoes were hurting. Reaching the lodge and taking off the shoes and getting a hot shower was what we so badly needed. Few were lucky though that they could get hot water for bath.

Now was the time for the for the final assembly to share the experience with everyone, collect the completion certificate and thank the team and the group photo. It was so much fun to take a burst of pics and to bring the child out in the open. Enjoy!!!

Brahamatal Trek Group of 11th March 2017

On the final day after the breakfast, bid adieu to everyone and started our journey back to Kathgodam and from there to respective destinations carrying a bagful of memories and experiences and new friendships made to be cherished for life.

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