Rupin Pass - rated among the top 3 treks to do in India
The Rupin Pass trek is like an edge-of-the-seat Hollywood thriller. So sudden are the changes in scenery that it makes you always walk a little further just to see if there is another surprise round the corner. Not many trekkers challenge themselves with this trail. Yet, it is one of the best treks you will ever do in your life.
Your trek starts at Dhaula, a sleepy hamlet of a dozen homes and the last road head of Uttarakhand. Dhaula overlooks the river Rupin curving down a gorge. In the evening step down to the cable drawn sway bridge and catch a wall of mist hanging over the gushing Rupin. The stillness of the mist in contrast to the rush of the river right under is the start of many surprises in store.
Day 1: How to get to the base camp - Dhaula
Dhaula (5500 ft) is the base for the Rupin Pass trek. It is a sleepy hamlet of a dozen homes and the last road head of Uttarakhand.
2. The other way to get there is to take a bus from Dehradun to Sankri, get off at Naitwar and take a shared jeep to Dhaula. The bus from Dehradun leaves at 5.30 am from Gandhi Road, just outside the railway station.
4. If you prefer trains you can also take an overnight train from Delhi to Dehradun.
1. Nandadevi Exp -- Train No 12205 (Departure -23.50;Arrival - 5.40am)
2. Dehradun Exp -- Train No 12687 (Departure -21.10; Arrival - 5.00am)
Day 2: Dhaula 1560 mts to Gosangu 1920 mts via Sewa
Day 2 is an easy undulating walk, with short climbs and drops. Take the trail that starts at the village and heads up the valley to Sewa Gaon. Past a cattle shelter and an enormous collection of dung, the trail starts to climbs sharply 200 mts outside the village – a gentle reminder of more such climbs to come. The climb eases out in 20 minutes into the first change of scenery: The Rupin fans out 500 ft below you into a wide river bed. Friendly villages hang out of the hills on either side. Village kids scamper about with their shy smile and a gentle Namaste.
A curve in the trail and the next change in scenery: The Rupin careens out of a gorge. A sheer cliff face towers over the river so high that clumps of clouds hang about its face immobile, listless, and undecided. On the other slope, the trekking trail snakes its way up through apple and apricot trees.
Half an hour into the ascending trail, stop by at a road side eatery and the only one you’ll find before getting to Sewa. If you are lucky a friendly thirteen year old girl-woman will take your order for tea and biscuits. She is the owner, manager, cook and the washer boy of the place. Sip the much welcome tea and enjoy the view of the cliff face looming over you and the sound of the Rupin pounding at the bottom of the gorge many hundred feet below.
Sewa at 2040 mts is an unattractive place to camp, though the camp site is at the entrance of the village. Stop at the village temple adorned with medals and an electric clock – a sight so out of place that you need time to get used to it.
The two storey temple combines local and Kinnaur traditions, not surprising with the Himachal border so close. Buy a few biscuits from a shop near the temple, swig from your water bottle and head out of the village.
The trail cuts across a mixture of barley and potato fields and suddenly dips into a deep dark jungle, so thick that the darkness is overpowering. The descent through the mixed forest over a slushy and often smelly trail pops out into the bright river bed of the Rupin. A change so sudden and different that you need to look back just to check your bearings. For the first time on the trek you actually trek on the river and not alongside it.
Gleefully hop and crisscross across the many rivulets of the river. Veer to your left and join the trail that goes over a small wooden bridge across a stream that flows into the Rupin. Spend some time on the bridge because this is no-mans land. On either side are the states of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh.
In fifteen minutes you get down to the bank of the river where you can easily pictch 7-8 tents. This place is called as Haldi Khad. The next day's trek carries ahead along the trail until you climb up from the banks to the road head of Gosangu.
The village of Dodra, the remotest Tehsil of Himachal is above Gosangu and takes an half hours climb to get there. If you decide to break your trek at Gosangu you can get buses to Rohru and then to Shimla from Dodra. The other end of the road climbs up to Kitwari, where there’s a BSNL tower coming up.
Day 3: Gosangu to Jhaka via Jiskun
Take the road towards Kwar, cross the wooden bridge and head towards the iron bridge over the Rupin. Just before the road takes a dip to meet the river, take any of the trails on the left that climbs and meets up with the overhanging trail to Jiskun.
Once on the main trail to Jiskun, the changing sights start to assault you relentlessly. First, the trail itself: what was until now a wide bodied path suddenly turns into a narrow trail. The mountain slope no longer gentle, but a towering precipice, climbs interminably. The trail hangs out of the face, like a lip. As you peer over the edge, far below, the Rupin glistens as the sun catches its rapids.
A bend in the trail, a short clamber over a narrow section and you stop short: a sight least expected. A picturesque waterfall cascades down on the trail, its source so high above that you can’t see it. The water so gentle and fine, yet with so much volume, that you want to take in a shower. Spend a while taking pictures -- and perhaps even a refreshing swipe under it.
Another few anxious moments of over-hanging trail walk and you come to a rapidly flowing stream, the Raj Gad. This is an ideal place to take a breather -- after this there is a long climb to Jiskun village. Take off your shoes to cross this stream. You don’t want to get your feet and boots wet at this stage.
The trail forks immediately as the Raj Gad vanishes from view behind you. Both trails look suspiciously similar. Take the trail heading up. It is a long hour’s climb to Jiskun village.
Jiskun high above the confluence of Nargani and Rupin is a village in two parts -- lower Jiskun is now called Bawta. For a trekker it is a welcome break. You sight a friendly tea house for a much welcome rest. Soon after the trail winds endlessly up, until you reach upper Jiskun half an hour later. Cross the first post office of Himachal Pradesh, and take a break at the many eateries here. Jiskun is a good place to replenish your supplies if you are running short. There are local stores where you can stock up on your rice, wheat, sugar, spices and vegetables.
It is a further 3½ km walk to Jakha, the highest and the last village on the Rupin pass trek. The trail out of Jiskun descends rapidly through a forest of deodars and walnut until it reaches an enchanting dark fold in the mountain. The fold’s upper reaches are dark and beyond human touch. Sight the remains of an old wooden bridge, almost hidden in the foliage. Below at eye level, cross the new wooden bridge and crane your neck up to an eerie trail cut out of the rock face. So out of place and strange, you need moments to fathom how this was built and who made them.
The next one hour climb to Jakha is through one of the best trekking trails. The scenery changes frequently. The trail initially zig-zags up on the ridge line of the slope. Looking up from below, the trail appears ominous, reaching out to the sky. Once you start climbing it isn’t as monumental as it looks. The trail winds through an enchanting mixed forest – with cliff faces on the other side of the valley and whistling birds keeping you company on this side. Two thirds of the way up, watch out for an equally broad trail that forks to your left. The other trail heads up to a village, Dhara, higher than Jakha. Stick to the trail that veers to the right.
Day 4: Jhaka to Saruwas thatch via Uduknal
Mostly climbs with one gentle walk in between. Jakha is a village completely enveloped in the ways of the Satsang. No meat is taken here. Avoid asking for any live animals or eating meat out of canned tins. The campsite is just above the village and doubles up as the children’s playground. An alternative campsite is to camp in the courtyard of the school itself.
Jakha is the last stop to replenish your supplies and also look for porters if you are running short. For the next few days of your trek, there is rarely a soul you are likely to find on the route, except shepherds tending to their flocks. This is how it is until you reach Sangla.
The well defined trail ascends past the playground, passing through fields of the upper Jakha village before entering a magnificent fir forest. The entry to the forest is again so sudden that it is almost like someone has opened up a gate to let you in. The towering blue pines, each more than few centuries old, takes you through a civilization that is pristine and untouched. If you have a keen eye, catch a few maple trees within the pines, their golden orange leaves strewn amidst the pine cones.
On the other side of the trail, high above, cliffs hang over the V-shaped valley. In their crags you notice the first patches of snow. An hour into the descending walk through the fir forest, and around a bend in the trail is the biggest surprise of the day.
Stretched under is a vast snow bridge across the Rupin – the last thing that you would expect on the trail. With no trace of snow earlier and only glimpses of snow patches at higher ground, finding a snow bridge at a lower height will make you gasp. If you are the naughty type, wait at a corner to catch the quick draw of air from your trek mates when they catch the first sight of the snow bridge.
Run down to the snow bridge, put on your sunglasses, and for the first time on the trek feel snow under your boots. The snow bridge is magnificent with the Rupin carving out gaps and holes through it. Climb up to the higher reaches of the snow bridge, cross the Rupin and get on to the trail on the other side.
Note: During some blistering summer years the snow bridge melts with no chance of crossing. But don’t worry, the original trail, after a brief crossing of a tributary stream over wooden logs, continues further until you come to a wooden bridge that gets you to the other side of the Rupin.
The trail is no longer wide but a narrow foot trodden path made by passing cattle and the shepherds. Follow the trail until you get to a wooden bridge I’ve just mentioned above. Do not cross the bridge, but carry on with the Rupin on your left.
The bridge has its advantages though. Higher up, to the right of the bridge is the first open grassland of Uduknal. Trekkers often camp here. But 2½ hrs out of Jakha is hardly the time to camp. Carry on further for more excitement stored for the day.
The scenery is rather different to what you have left behind. Most times the trail follows the course of the Rupin. Little tributaries from the upper reaches of the mountain flow into the Rupin. Their bottom characterized with perennial snow patches. Often you are walking on the boulder strewn river bed. The Rupin changes colour to a glorious icy blue – the water clear as crystal. No need to look for water to quench your thirst – just dip into the Rupin.
After an hour and half of intermittent boulder walk, and hoping over many cascading streams that feed the Rupin, the trail climbs and heads to the right, heading for a clump of forest. Just before the trail enters there forest, you are met with a small open grass land. It is easily recognizable by a big rivulet that gushes out of the hill side – the water pure and clean. This is Buras Kandi and an excellent place to camp if you don’t mind the many cows that graze in the bounties of nature here.
Below, the Rupin thunders on. On the opposite bank huge snow patches cover the gullies that once were part of glaciers feeding the river. A clump of forest starts just outside the camp area, and before you know it, you are in deep foliage.
A small clearing and the Rhododendrons now adorn the slopes, the plants climbing a few thousand of feet into the air. Walk a bit further to a bigger clearing and get hit by the second surprise of the day. You are in a glade with the Rupin on your left forking to give away to a little island. The island has a carpet of green grass, lush with its life. Right in the middle are a few Silver birch trees completing a picture of utmost serenity. Just as you thought that the glade was a pretty sight, for the first time on your trek you catch a glimpse of the famous Rupin waterfall in the far distance. You can’t help but gasp. The sight of the U-shaped valley and the Rupin climbing down from the clouds above will make you hold on to something just to steady yourself. Bet on excitement to set in as you relish the prospect of an amazing adventure in store.
This is Saruwas thatch.
Day 5: Saruwas thatch to Dhanderas thatch (lower water fall camp)
The day’s walk is perhaps one of the best you’ll ever do. What’s amazing about Saruwas thatch is the sight of the Rupin gushing out of a gorge just ahead and to your left. While everyone’s seen a gorge from above, very few can claim to see a gorge at eye level.
The heady sight behind you, walk along an even trail with snow patches on the mountain side to your right getting bigger and lower around you. Silver birches (Bhoj trees) are common, their barks peeling off to reveal the sacred Bhoj leaves. Collect a few as souvenirs. The legend goes that the epic Ramayana was written on these leaves. Climb to a bump on the trail – and let the big surprise of the day hit you.
The climb through forest and shrubs makes way to a grand amphitheater of green. You stand on the edge and enjoy front row seats of a grand scale production. As you peer from the lip of the U-Shaped valley you notice thousands of waterfalls cascading down its brown walls to meet the Rupin. In contrast, laid out in front of you are miles of green meadows, dotted with thousands of yellow marigolds. And in between the undulating meadows the Rupin gracefully snakes its way up to its waterfall source. To top the scenery you have white snow patches lying scattered all along on the edges of the meadows.
Climb down to the valley of yellow marigolds. Enjoy the gentle undulating walk to the first hurdle of your trek: a snow bridge over the Rupin. The slope of the snow bridge is much steeper than you can anticipate. Get a good grip and try to climb upward and higher. The steep bit isn’t for long and the flat of the snow bridge is a thrill to walk on. Crossing the snow bridge is easy and soon you are on the left bank of the Rupin.
The walk climbs gently through the lushness of the meadows. Every few steps tiny brooks gurgle under your boots as you hipety hop over them. Wild flowers sprout everywhere. This time they are blue, purple, green, yellow and white. The Rupin, gently makes it way down the valley, an icy blue.
Cross a big boulder sitting on the edge of the river and find the Rupin fanning out into a wide river bed. Step on the river bed and walk along its edge and reach the base of another snow bridge, the biggest of all you have come cross. Climb on to the snow bridge and cross the Rupin once more bringing you to the base of a short climb that leads to a plateau above.
The climb is like inching along near the top of a roller coaster ride, waiting, anticipating for the view next. It doesn’t disappoint you. You have arrived at the prettiest meadow of the trek, a site so beautiful, that you want to setup camp right there. And you do, for no Himalayan camp site can better the location. You are in the middle of the valley’s bowl. Ahead, the Rupin thunders down its three stages of waterfall. Beyond the waterfall is the alpine Dhauladar Range looming large. On your two sides are the snowy valley walls with their numerous waterfalls.
Water isn’t a problem. You just have to walk in any direction to find a crystal clear icy rivulet passing by. Pitch tent but sit out on the grandest landscaped lawn that nature can serve up. This is Dhanderas Thatch.
Day 6: Dhanderas thatch to Upper Waterfall camp or Rati Pheri camp
This is perhaps the most important day of your trek. The acclimatization climb to the top of the waterfall will help you no-end for a super successful climb of the Rupin pass.
It is about a kilometer to the base of the waterfall from Dhanderas Thatch. On the way you’ll get plenty of streams to hop and jump over and the wild display of yellow marigolds. Sometimes, the marigolds are laid out in a carpet and you just want to lie down on them.
(Note: the step cutting is invaluable and can save your life from a slip or a fall)
Crossing over to the other side of the Rupin, it is a steep climb flanking the slopes that leads to the top of the waterfall. It is like climbing a series of ledges (and a minor snow patch) before getting down to the meadow at the top of the waterfall.
Day 7: Upper Waterfall camp to Rupin Pass via Rati Pheri, further on to Ronti Gad
Steep climb to the pass followed by a sharp descent. This is the longest day of your trek and the most grueling – and perhaps the most exciting too. It has enough adventure in store to haunt your memories for a long time.
Start your day even before sun up. Make sure you are out of the camp by 5 am. Carry breakfast with you. You’ll need the energy boost for your brief halt at the top of the pass.
The Rupin valley that has been your companion for the last six days is lost to view, and the alpine Dhauladar range takes its place to your right and across the valley. It is now snow fields and alpine country till you get to the Rupin pass. This is a good time to put on your gaiters if you are carrying them.
From Rati Pheri, for the first time, across vast acres of snow fields, you get a glimpse of the Rupin pass, a tiny gap on the ridge line of the Dhauladar. It looks so far away, that the thought of actually climbing through the gap does not register.
There are no tracks on the snow and you need to keep a general sense of direction towards the Rupin pass gully. The good news is, there are hardly any chances of losing your way, and if you keep your sight on the pass and a direction towards your right you will eventually, after an arduous trek of an hour and half, come to the foot of the Rupin pass gully.
Crane your neck up to the mouth of the gully. Multitude of prayer flags flutter in the high winds that blows across. You are looking at the Rupin pass.
Hundreds of little stone cairns line up the ridge line of the Rupin pass. Multicolour prayer flags flutter in the high winds of the pass. All around are the many branches of the Dhauladar ranges, like a spider’s legs branching off from the Rupin pass.
You are again in meadows land – but the scenery is different. Towering, snow capped mountains lean over the campsite. The visual is a blend of whites of the snows and the greens of the meadows. A just reward for a hard days trekking, starting at 13,120 ft, climbing to 15,500 ft and then dropping down to 13,500 ft. At Ronti Gad you are going to spend your coldest night of the trek, so dive into your sleeping bags early for a well deserved rest.
Day 8: Ronti Gad to Sangla Via Sangla Kanda
The descent to Sangla is hell on your knees and toes but makes up for everything with its ever changing scenery. For the first time you get to view the Kinner Kailash range and the blue pines of the Baspa valley.
Start the day leisurely but not too late. The descent will make you lose height rapidly and it can get rather warm near Sangla (that’s all comparative with the chilling height of the Rupin Pass)
There are many trails that lead out of Sangla Kanda to Sangla. Ask a villager for directions or take any trail that turns right. Most trails would join the main trail that skirts its way around and below the lake. After days, you get below the tree line – and almost welcome it.
Footnote: From the bridge over the Baspa, it is a steep 20 minute climb to the motorable road at Sangla. There are many concrete lanes that you can take to get to the main road and some wind their way without seeming to go anywhere. Ask for directions to the bus stand, though the route is clearly marked in paint.
At the bus stand, there are restaurants where you can eat and places to stay. Most of them are good and offer basic bed and bedding. Charges are reasonable and quite negotiable. The last bus to Shimla leaves at 5.00 pm and gets to Shimla at 3.00 in the morning.
(Includes all costs of the trek from Dhaula to Sangla)
*Service Tax of 3.09% applicable on Trek Fees
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Day 1: Pick up from Dehradun railway station and proceed towards Dhaula
Day 2: Dhaula 5,100 ft to Gosangu 6,299 ft
Day 3: Gosangu 6,299 ft to Jhaka 8,700 ft.
Day 4: Jhaka 8,700 ft to Saruwas thatch 10,250 ft.
Day 5: Saruwas thatch 10,250 ft to Dhanderas thatch 11,680 ft (lower water fall camp)
Day 6: *Buffer day. Dhanderas thatch 11,680 ft to Upper Waterfall camp 13,300 ft.
Day 7: Upper Waterfall 13,120 ft to Rupin Pass 15,250 ft to Ronti Gad 13,420 ft.
Day 8: Ronti Gad 13,420 ft to Sangla 8,800 ft.
* Day 5 or 6 is used as a buffer day. It is possible to trek from Saruwas Thatch to Upper waterfall in a day. In case of bad weather the team uses either Day 5 or Day 6 as buffer day. The total number of days of the trek remain the same.
Moderate-Difficult. See link for details.
Cross over trek. Starts in Uttarakhand and ends in Himachal.
Rupin Pass: 15,250 feet (4,650 mts). 3 camps are above 11,000 feet.
Dehradun. You can reach Dehradun by an overnight journey from Delhi. New Delhi Dehradun AC Special leaves New Delhi station at 11.55 in the night to get to Dehradun by 5.40 in the morning. Indiahikes pick up is lined up with the AC Special.
Dhaula near Naitwar in western Uttarakhand.
May 3rd week to June end; Mid September to October end.
Temperature in May, Jun.
Day: 15° to 20°C. Night: 4° to 7°C. Temp at highest camp, Rati Pheri: Day 5°C to 10°C. Night: 3° to -2°C.
Temperature in Sept and Oct.
Day: 13° to 20°C. Night: 2° to 7°C. Temp at highest camp, Rati Pheri: Day 3°C to 10°C. Night: 3° to -5°C.
Rains start early July until mid September. Approach road landslides common in late August and early Sep. Usually repaired in a few days.
High snow in May from Saruwas Thatch onwards (3 days of the trek has considerable snow). Decreases in June. Comfortable snow during the last half of June. September has little snow. In the first week of October, the first winter snow is likely to fall in the upper reaches. Usually melts in a few days.
Physical preparation mandatory. See link for more details.