On the Wild Side – Part 1

A piece written by Mandip Singh Soin, published in the Economic Times as part of a series on the outdoors in the early 1990s.


The reverberating sound of a thousand crickets ripped through the still air. We had been in the jungle for well over two hours now. And though we knew the jeep track would be abuzz with flies, we had taken this route from Sankri through the thick coniferous forests because it’s an easy, four-hour trek, almost on level ground.

We were on the Har-ki-dun trail. It’s a demanding trek – one that should be attempted only after gaining confidence with shorter trails. But the longer walking hours are more than made up for by the rich flora and fauna encountered along the way.
Getting to the trail itself had taken us on the road linking Delhi and Dehra Dun. The cows and potholes had inevitably made a difference of a few hours to our schedules. We had passed through Rajaji Sanctuary area, crossing paths occasionaly with a spotted deer.
The overnight halt at Dehra Dun brought welcome relief from the heat. We could feel the change in the climate, and the light nip in the air set the tone for the days to come. The next day took us through Naogaon, Purola, Jermola and Naitwar up to the roadhead at Sankri. The climb was steep at times and we had not bargained on coming across the occasional landslide. Nor had we anticipated having to meadner through flocks of sheep.
While our overworked limbs protested, the mind followed the eyes and was overawed by the breathtaking view in front of us. On the slopes I espied quaint village houses huddled together to fight off the strong mountain winds. The winding track continues to Sankri.
Just before Taluka we came upon a hair-raising river-crossing. We managed by essaying a Houdini-like act on the narrow tree trunk that had been thoughtfully laid across the rushing waters. Situated at a height of 1900 m, the Taluka bungalow commands an imposing view of the hills. Usually, accommodation is not a problem. This bungalow also has an interesting feature in the form of a canopy perched at the edge of the valley. From here, you are afforded a bird’s eye view of the hills of Har-ki-Dun.
The walk from Taluka to Seema, at a height of 2560 m, takes between six and eight hours and is all ups and downs. The trail hugs the river at times, often going into the coniferous forests. Here the trekker needs to be alert. one wrong step and the mossy undergrowth can be cruel. At Seema, a second dak bungalow is being built. This place was earlier called Osla though the village by that name is across the river, a km away. As the valley widens from here, more terraced fields come into view. the colours are in stark contrast to the diverse flowers and crops. The walk from Osla to Jar-ki-Dun at 3570 m entails another river-crossing – fortunately over a proper bridge.
The steady incline is not perceptible. At a distance, the Banderpunch and Swargarohini ranges come into view. As do the profusion of flowers like anemones, buttercups and scores of primulae. This road leads to the last bungalow at the head of the Har-ki-Dun valley and takes about six to seven hours from Osla.
Though dak bungalows are available, tents are a good insurance policy. Also, it is good to move in the Ruinsara-Tal direction. There are two routes to approach this picturesque lake, a popular base camp for expeditioners, from Har-ki-Dun. A high altitude trek over a pass that drops off near the Swargarohini peak is a good option but would require some skillful manoeuvring over snow.
The other is to back-track toward Osla until the river crossing and then follow the Ruinsara trailalong the Tons river. Before crossing, amidst tall deodar trees and a abundance of rhododendrons, lies a nomad’s hut where you could rest your back.
The next day, we descend from here to the bridge. The trail meanders close to the river. The walk is long, ridge after ridge, but the end result is a definite treat for the trail enthusiast.