Kuari Pass – India’s serenest winter trek

Himalayas – the sheers name of it send waves of excitement down my nerves and ignite hundreds for beautiful memories. Ever since I trekked Surpass in 2013, I longed to return again and thanks to perfectly placed weekends in the last week of 2015, I planned to trek Kuari Pass. Although it is at a relatively moderate altitude of 12000+ feet but Kuari Pass trek is undoubtedly one the best winter trek in India full of beautiful view and constantly changing landscape.

Here is a comprehensive guide for Kuari Pass –

Import Information

  • Kuari Pass comes under easy to moderately difficult trek but when the weather deteriorates, it becomes difficult. Anyone with average level of fitness can do this trek but I would advise to have a good guide in group who knows to read weather.
  • Trek with an organization of good reputation. Trekking market is getting dirtier these days.
  • Don’t compromise on safety and trekking gears. A good trekking shoe is most important of all. I trekked with Quechua Forclaz 500 high ankle shoe but if one is short on cash, I found liberty warrior jungle boots to be good enough (a guy in our group trekked with it). Don’t buy army hunter shoes. Feel free to reach out to me for a comprehensive list of gears and things to carry on the trek – vivekkumarenzo@gmail.com
  • Be careful of all hidden terms and conditions, we saw many groups being cheated. Insist on including transportation to and from Haridwar and food at Joshimath in package. Ask for experience profile of guide beforehand.
    We booked at Rs 8750 per pax (including tax) and our group comprised of 14 trekkers.
  • Kuari Pass trek is a highly commercialized trek. The route witness around 250-300 trekkers daily. If you are looking for solitude – this trek is not for you.
  • Carry garlic capsules (for a good night’s sleep in mountains), Baidyanath Piorhoids tablets (for better nature’s call), basic necessary first aid kit and of course OLD MONK

Day 1: Haridwar to Joshimath

The day begins for most at around 3-4 am for most trekkers as the all night trains from Delhi reaches Haridwar at that time except one – MUSSOORIE EXP (14041) which takes around 8 hours and reaches around 6 AM, meaning a good night’s sleep. We chose the better option – Mussoorie Express.

Most trekking agencies provide a bus for transportation from Haridwar to Joshimath which takes minimum 12 hours for the journey of 270 km. Discuss beforehand with your organisers if you want a SUV or traveller. If you are coming on your own, I would suggest hiring a SUV for a comfortable ride, however daily government buses also ply from Haridwar and Rishikesh.

The roads to Joshimath are in good condition barring few small stretches. The road journey is long and tiring but scenic, passing via Devprayag, Rudraprayag, Karanprayag and Chamoli.

We reached Joshimath at around 7 PM where another shocker awaited us – the hostel had cancelled our bookings made by our trekking agency forcing us to travel another 20 KM to reach Govindghat where surprisingly a beautiful resort (Hotel Bhagat) in middle of nowhere awaited us with complimentary buffet dinner.

map of govindghat

Dos & Don’ts
  • While coming from Haridwar, take a right window seat or cabin seat
  • This route is a nightmare for people with motion sickness. Carry required medicines and eat less
  • If you wear glasses, start using contact lens with polaroid goggles instead
  • Carry a portable bluetooth speaker if you have one

Day 2: Dhak Village to Gulling Campsite

After having breakfast at 6:00 AM in our hotel, we left with a determination to conquer KUARI PASS. A XUV dropped us at the starting point of trek i.e. Dhak Village which is at a distance of 12 km from Joshimath. Our trek leader briefed us about the route and change in plan due to some unavoidable circumstances. Initial plan was to start from Dhak and end at Auli but now we had to start from Dhak and return via same route to Dhak itself. Well it was not the ideal start for the trek but all I can say is to be prepared for such abrupt changes.

Original Route

Joshimath – Dhak Village – Gulling – Chonter Gatta – Bor Tal – Tali Campsite-Chitrakantha – Khulara Meadows-Kuari View Point 1- Chitrakantha Top – Lord Curzon Trail – Puli Dhar Col – Auli via Tali and Gorson Bugyal

Revised Route

Joshimath – Dhak Village – Gulling – Chonter Gatta – Khulara Meadows – Jhandawala Point – Kuari View Point – Chitrakantha Top – Kuari View Point –  Jhandawala Point – Khulara Meadows – Chonter Gatta – Dhak Village – Joshimath

With a bit of disappointment we started our hike of  6 km on a dusty path full of enthusiastic trekkers. The rapid change in landscape dissolved all disappointments in the euphoria of being back in the lap of Himalayas. This I believe is one the few treks where snow patch is available from first day itself. The trail is well defined with a series of steep and gradual ascents and passes through numerous villages – Karchi, Plaogeta, Tugasi and few more whose name I forgot. The trek distance may vary as per the camping destination selected by the guide. Ours was 6 KM to Gulling campsite. We reached the camping destination by afternoon (around 2 PM) where we were served welcome drink and hot lunch (kichdi, salad and Papad).

Trekking like these gives you lots of time for self introspection. The calm atmosphere of with little bit of late afternoon chill  and one small spot with nothing but amazing views gives you ample moments to rekindle your thoughts and ponder over life goals. Trekking has changed a lot in me for good.

Dos & Don’ts
  • It is recommended to get your bags packed in the first night at hotel only and also take a shower in order to avoid last moment panic.
  • While on trek, wake up early in the morning to witness a mesmerising sunrise with the famous Hathi and Gauri Parvat in the foreground
  • Or wake up early to attend your morning call while others are still sleeping and make it a habit for the rest of the trek as the camping ground are overcrowded.
  • Don’t litter, clean up your tent, and fold the sleeping bag before leaving. Needless to say make these a routine.

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Day 3: Gulling Campsite to Chonter-Getta Campsite and short trek of Bor-Tal

The third day’s trek is the easiest of the all, if your camping site is same as ours – Chonter-Getta. It is just an hour of steady climb from Gulling camping site. Ideally this site used to be the lunch point with higher grounds of tali as camping site but due to heavy influx of trekkers, it is now a camping-point for various trekking agencies same as ours for next two nights.

Although, the schedule is not tight for the day but it is recommended to get up early at 6:00 AM to get the first glimpse of sunrise with hot tea. Believe me, you would not afford to miss it.  After a lazy and heavy breakfast, we left at around 10 for our next camping site.

We reached the Chonter-Getta by noon itself and in lunch we were served wonderful hot pahadi pulaw. Since we had nothing to do in the later half, the guide organised a small detour of Bor tal for us. Bor Tal is a semi frozen green colour pond alongside a small temple dedicated to “Naag Devta”.

It was already dark and temperature was falling rapidly by the time we returned, so we quickly collected some dried logs to light up a bonfire and once the bonfire was on we spent time around it chatting and singing around it. Night was cold, since we had a big tent with a sleeping capacity of 8-9 people, the temperature inside the tent was quite comfortable .

Dos & Don’ts
  • Stay in bigger tent which can accommodate large group. It is often more comfortable than triple sharing quechua tents
  • Clip your toenails as it tend to cause trouble while descending
  • Pack the stuffs for next day’s trek – two bottles per person (must), chocolates, candies, extra socks, walking sticks with snow stoppers, etc., leave the rest in the tent itself

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Day 4: Chonter-Getta Campsite to Kuari Pass and Back

This is a strenuous day, the day of ascend and descend of Kuari Pass. Since we were at lower campsite, we had to start early in order to finish but thanks to other co-groups we could only start by 7:30 AM. The role of guide is very critical today as unlike YHAI, there are no sherpas to accompany you. Weather and snow conditions assessment is very critical, if weather deteriorates then the plan to trek to the pass should be aborted or deferred.  At the start of trek, we were instructed that we would start descend at 12 noon irrespective of where we would be.

The trail passes through beautiful rhododendron forest with snow scattered all around giving it a mystic look. The forest ridge gives way to the higher grounds of Khullara with nothing but snow all around. That was our first long break point and a lot of photo session point.

We then continued the ascend coupled with few level walking ridges and few steep climbs to reach beautiful Khullara meadows. By the time we entered the meadows, we could see some our group mates has already reached the jhandewala point (I am not sure what was called). We reached there in another 45 minutes hike. What a wonderful spot it was with a complete 360 view of Himalayan peaks. We had lunch there. Many of other group decided to stay there and return to camping sites but we still had an hour left before 12 PM, so we continued on. The trail descents briefly and then some level walk on the slippery ridge. The trail takes a U turn and ascends rapidly up the mountain ridge for 15 minutes of hike. The trail momentarily relaxes with a 10 minute level walk to enter a birch forest with Chitrakantha Top in front. We decided to sit and relax for a while and return from there. Ankit from our group went ahead with Pankaj, our guide to reach the Chitrakantha Top. The wind blowing at the top is something you would have never faced in your life. A bala calva is must.

As you ascend higher, it get lot more risker. When Ankit reached at top most point he went a bit casual and kept his bag on the edge. In the high velocity wind bag fell 200ft and where he lost his mobile. Somehow the guide, Pankaj could get back the bag.

The return trip was a lot more windier coupled with slippery tracks due to melting snow – one has to be a lot more careful. We trekked down slowly enjoying brief breaks to absorb the beauty around and to slide along the slopes. We finally reached back to camping site by 5 PM and were treated with Maggie. The campfire in the night was much needed relaxation with everyone was sitting silently, lost in their own memories and getting cosy after a tiring day.

Dos & Don’ts
  • Pack two bottles of water per person and utilize it wisely; there is no water source beyond camping site. Leave some for return journey; someone might actually need it on the way.
  • Everyone is supplied with crampons for better grip on ice. You can buy your own from here. Do not use crampons while trekking inside forest. Use it only on ice/snow.
  • Needless to say pack few bars of chocolate and candies along
  • If you feel that you have lost the trail, which you certainly will, wait for other group members to come or shout for help. Don’t get overconfident.
  • Don’t use earphone on trek, it’s a very bad idea
  • Wear sufficiently; wind on the top is very chilly. I wore a body warmer, a t-shirt, a fleece, double layered wind proof quechua jacket.

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Day 5: Chonter-Getta Campsite to Dhak Village

We lazily started our day, had a heavy breakfast, bid adue to kitchen staff with customary bakshish and started our return journey to dhak village.

While descending, Tushar collected plastic wrappers on the way in a bag hung out of his backpack – a practice which learned in shahyadri treks. I plan to do the same from next trek onwards.

We reached dhak village by late afternoon and headed straight to food plaza in Joshimath for a chicken feast

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Day 6: Auli

This was everyone’s own day. Some decided to return while some of us decided to stay back in the same resort and celebrate 31st night. The hotel owner was the most excited person of all. He arranged amazing food, bonfire and music system for us. It was one the best New Year’s Eve for all of us.

Next morning we hired a cab for Auli, the famous skiing destination. Another way to go there is by taking ropeway from Joshimath. Auli was a bit of disappointment not because it not beautiful but because it had snowed properly this season and skiing slopes were bare wet slopes. Also this place is very costly. The famous Auli resort cost INR 10,000 per night.

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Day 7: The lazy Return Journey

The only worthy thing worth sharing for this day is the chai parathas which we had in the morning breakfast:

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Here are few more photographs from the trek:

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3 thoughts on “Kuari Pass – India’s serenest winter trek

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