Panwali Kantha Winter Trek

Route : Rishikesh - New Tehri - Ghuttu - Panwali Kantha
Time : January 2011
Submitted By : Annu Bahuguna
During Peak winter season, I always want to go in the lap of Himalayas because here in Roorkee, temperature is around 4 to 50C, everything remain hidden under dense fog, Visibility not more than 25-30 mts. and it's almost a month gone when I saw the sun rays. While in mountain we used to bask the sun whole day and used to chase the sun rays until sun set, of course nights are cold and sometimes it's cold in day also if weather turns bad.

Himalayan meadows have always been attracting people and many mountain lovers visit these meadows in summer & rainy seasons but the hidden winter beauty of these meadows incites me to visit these places in winter. Panwali Kantha Bugyal is located at an altitude of 3000 to 4000 mts. in the Garhwal Himalayas. It's spread in 6-7 km. and habitat by locals in summer. The whole area is no man land from Dec. to March and rarely visited by adventurous mountain lovers during this period. During our last summer trek, winter beauty of this meadow was discussed many times by negi sir & sharma ji, as they had visited this place 3-4 times in winter, so I decided to visit this in coming winter. 26 Jan 2011, was Wednesday, so I need to manage only 2 leaves and I Planned the following itinerary :
Day 1: 22/01 (sat.) - Dep. from Roorkee by 2:00 PM and arrival at New Tehri by night
Day 2: 23/01 (Sun.) - Tehri to Ghuttu by Bus (3-4 Hrs.) & 7-8 Km. trek to Paubhagi
Day 3: 24/01 (Mon.) - Paubhagi to Panwali Kantha (9-10 km.) trek
Day 4: 25/01 (Tue.) - Panwali Kantha to Ghuttu Trek (17-18 km.)
Day 5: 26/01 (Wed.) - Ghuttu to Roorkee by Bus (9-10 Hrs.)
I shared itinerary with team and everybody was ready but I became nervous when everybody canceled his program in last moment due to personal works. But I had decided, so I didn't cancel my program and didn't tell anything to Amit who had to join me from Mohali. Amit had already accompanied me in 2008 during our Tungnath - Chandrashila & Madhymaheshwar trek, But he was still waiting for a snow trek.
We started our journey around 02:00 PM from Roorkee by roadways bus and boarded on a TGMO bus at 05:00 PM from Chandrabhaga Bridge, Rishikesh. We reached New Tehri by 08:00 PM and booked a room in hotel near bus station. Sharma ji came in hotel and guided us for the trek. we had decided to leave early so we had early dinner and went to bed. We got up by 05:30 AM and reached bus station by 06:15 AM but had to wait there for some time as first bus for Ghansali was at 07:00 AM. We reached Ghansali by 09:30 AM. Ghansali is a big market of this area and lies in Gangotri - Kedarnath yatra route so hotels for night stay and food are easily available here. As this is a market to 30-40 nearby villages so all the necessary things for day to day life are also available in the market. To save our time, we hired a Tata sumo & left for Ghuttu by 10:00 AM.
Ghansali is located in a narrow valley and the valley widens when we go towards Ghuttu. Valley was looking beautiful in these days. "Parched mountain with snow capped Tops, waving yellow mustered on fields and river bhilanagana was flowing in the center" definetely we were in a new world. Ghuttu is a cool place in winter as compare to summer. It's crowded by trekkers in summer as it's base of Mayali Pass & Khatling Glacier trek. Population of Ghuttu is appox. 300 and a small market is also available to fulfill the basic requirements. It's better to keep ration for trek from Ghanshali and reach Ghuttu for night stay than you will get enough time in evening and next morning to search the porter & guide.
We arrived Ghuttu by 11:00 AM and started porter search. We both were visiting this area first time so wanted an experienced porter cum guide but till the next 2 hrs we were even unable to find a newbie. We took lunch in a hotel and requested hotel owner Mr. Joshi to help us. He called his brother from his village, as per him he works as a guide in this area. His brother reached Ghuttu by 02:00 PM but he demanded for INR 500/ Day and wasn't ready to carry anything but ready to cook the food. We were not carrying tent, stove and other utensils so weight was not the issue. We also didn't want to waste our today’s time in Ghuttu and want to utilize the remaining hrs. of the day so we had no option except to accept his demands.
Actually as per our earlier plan we had to keep tent, stove & other materials from New Tehri but when all the members canceled their program, I decided to stay in chhani, where we could get dry wooden pieces for fire & food preparation. Negi Sir has a long winter experience of this area. He had already given the complete information about route & availability of chhanies. First Chhani at Gwan Manda, approx. 4-5 km. from Ghuttu, Second chhani after 2-3 km. at Paubhagi, third after 2-3 km. at Dophan, forth after 4-5 km. at Bijuli and last after 4 km. at Panwali. So I was confident for warm night stay & when I talked to joshi about night stay and natural fuel he was also confident. It's already 03:00 PM when we started our trek from Ghuttu, so we had only max. 3 hrs. for today’s trekking and our target was Paubhgi. We crossed Bhilanaga River in starting of the trek and the trail goes via villages from here. Joshi's village was just 1.5 km. from Ghuttu towards Panwali. He tooks his sleeping Bag & mat from there. From here stiff climb started and soon we entered in the forest area. At the entrance of forest area two foreigners met us, who were coming back from Panwali area & they were there for last the 4-5 days. They were worried about us. In their words "Whole region is covered by 4-5 feet snow. Avalanches are coming from Top, we saw pugmarks of Big Cat and definitely big cat is there. You don't have even shoes for that snow condition, if you want we can give you our sleeping bags, night temp. is -200 C”. The Boy was looking little frightened. But now amit was looking more excited and said proudly, "We haven't even tent for night stay and stove to prepare the food". 

I assured them that we are mentally prepared for this situation. We will stay in Chhani where we'll lit fire and we'll have more comfortable nights than tent. After that short discussion we continued our journey and now we were following a well defined trail in dense forest which is also called 'Chhafuti' in Garhwali. I was tired and breathing fast, which was due to my Lazy daily life. 8-10 hrs. sitting before computer & no exercise…. with these thoughts I was moving slowly slowly. Suddenly I heard voice of wild pigs. Amit & Joshi were walking fast so I fasten my speed and after few meter I saw Amit & Joshi were waiting for me. Joshi told me that we are near to Gwan Manda Chhani but I didn't want to move without eating biscuits. Channi's were approx. 200 mtr. from this place and it was just becoming dark when we reached there. Joshi checked all the chhanis and then we selected first chhani for night stay. 

Chhanies remain empty in winter and we can get dry wooden pieces for fire, which increase temp. and works as fuel. But one should check all the chhanis first because wild animals can also be inside it. These chhanies were surrounded by dense forest which was opened in valley side and the surrounding land was covered by snow so water was not the issue. We melted some snow and prepared soup. Joshi started preparation to cook 'khichadi', He was a clever person and took full benefit of shortage of utensils. He melted some snow, mixed rice, spices, salt and oil in melted snow…, So you can imagine about the dinner. After taking that testy dinner we tried to sleep but mercury was really down in midnight and was quite able to quench the fire. Soon I heard Amit's voice, Joshi please lit the fire. Joshi might be waiting for such requirement from our side, he immediately came out from sleeping bag and lit the fire.
We got up early and planned to leave as soon as possible after breakfast, but it's almost 08:00 AM when we left chhanie. Route was still going through dense forest and it was still steep climb. Now we were getting some snow patches in route. After 2 km. from Gwan manda we reached in an open area, that was Paubhagi. Only one chhani was available here. We took a little break and soon we were back on trail again. After few meters ahead from Paubahgi, whole route was covered by approx. 1 feet of snow layer, but we were not facing any problem because we were walking on footsteps, made by our foreigner friends. After 2-3 km. from Paubhagi we reached in an open area, A nice snow covered slope with some beautiful trees and around 9-10 beautiful chanies. Amit told, sir ji you have shown paradise this time. Small Dophan bugyal was looking like Eaden. This is a best place for night stay during winter trek. Whole bugyal was covered by Snow, open Bhilangana valley in the front and some snow capped peaks in one side. But only one problem was there, Mobile network was available so we were helpless and started calling at Home.

We stayed here for around 1 hrs & took biscuits in lunch. This place was inviting us for night stay but our target was still so far. We caught the trail again. Footsteps of our foreigner friends were ending approx. 100 mts. from here and there was no sign of the trail from this point. Suddenly Joshi started traversing a 60 degree slope in the thigh deep snow. I asked him, Are you sure this is the route ? He replies 'Yes Sir'. We had no option except to follow the route after his successful crossing. I was worried about Amit but he showed a good courage. After 2-3 km. from here we were in wonderland and beauty of this place can be imagined only after visiting this place. Panwali top was visible but still 3-4 km. from here. Now I had understood that it would be requiring min 3 hrs. to reach there. Trail was not visible & we were chasing only Joshi's footsteps. Joshi was opening the route in approx. 2 feet deep soft snow. Now I was thinking that INR 500/day was not a big amount for this job.
After every 15-20 steps, my legs were taking a short break and during the break my neck was taking a round and finger was pressing camera button. This process was continued for some time & could ended only when I saw Joshi, who was crossing a tricky portion, which was approx. 60 degree slope and It's a challenge to cross this soft snow patch without rope. I thought about an alternate route from upper side but it was looking impossible without technical gears and the same was the lower portion, slop was ending around 700 to 800 mts. below in a dense forest. 

Joshi knew the actual trail which was hidden under 3-4 feet deep snow so he was following the right route. We followed his steps & crossed this portion safely. After few minutes we were in the Bijuli Bugyal. That bugyal had the maximum snow of the trek. At one place when Joshi followed the actual trail his complete leg went inside the snow. It's risky to cross this area from actual trail so we decided to cross it from upper side of the bugyal. We had to open a route on thigh deep snow to cross this bugyal. Crossing of this small area took too much time. After crossing this we were tired and took a biscuit break to get some energy. After ½ hrs. we were back on the trail again but Panwali top was still 1.5 km. from here and the route has become more challenging due to boulders & snow and this was the most slippery portion of the trek. I was tired now but when I looked back, the whole snow covered bugyal & snow covered nearby tops rejuvenated me and I followed the trail again. It was almost 04:00 PM when I reached at the Panwali top. Joshi & Amit had reached here around 30 minutes back. View from Panwali top was amazing but clouds had covered the Himalayan tops. Whole Panwali bugyal was covered by 4-5 ft. snow. Winter beauty of Panwali is speechless.

Panwali was still 2 km. from here. & snow condition was demanding min 2-3 hrs. to reach there. Due to time constraint we had to reached back guttu at any cost by next day but we had doubt that we’d reach Guttu in one day from Panwali in the current snow condition. We had already enjoyed more than our expectation, so we decided for night stays at Bijuli Buyal from where we could easily reach Guttu before next day evening. We stayed at top for approx. 30 minutes, then we got down at Bijuli Bugyal before sun set and entered in a beautiful chhani. Today Amit was looking happy because he had a complete day on snow which he had never enjoyed earlier. Now he knows how to survive in this type of snow condition. Definitely this all was more than his imagination which he had two days back before leaving Chandigarh. Today we again prepared Khichadi in dinner but in a new style.

Next day we had planned to leave early morning so we got up timely and left the chhani by 07:30 AM after having maggi in Breakfast. Our first challenge was to cross the Bijuli Bugyal and than the tricky slop after bugyal. But our previous day’s steps helped us and we easily crossed the bugyal in 15 minutes, while previous day we took more than 1 hour to cross this area. Now we had to traverse the trickiest portion of the trek, again we got the benefit of our previous day’s steps, It was a morning time and dew had already frozen these steps so now we were enjoying this traversing. That was a windy morning and we were crossing it without rope. I thought to takeout my camera to shoot the video but speedy winds didn't allow me. Crossing of this patch gave me the maximum adventure of this trek.

After few hours we reached at Dophan. We stayed here for 30 minutes and caught the back trail again. In a turn suddenly we were welcomed by a group of Monal, I was not hoping for this. All the monals disappeared before I took out my camera from bag and but couldn't see it again. Suddenly a great Himalayan wall attracted me and that was the Mount Thallayasagar. It forced me to stay there for some time. We reached at Ghuttu by 02:00 PM, we had enough time to reach New Tehri. We took lunch and again booked a sumo for Ghansali, from where we caught the TGMO bus for New Tehri and we were in GMVN New Tehri by 07:00 PM. Negi sir reached at hotel and we had a good discussion on the trek. It was a short 
trip but whenever we'll discuss on winter treks, this trek surely will be part of that discussion.

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