Satopanth Tal is located in the midst of snow-capped peaks at an altitude 15,000 feet above sea level. One has to trek 22 km from mana village to reach the lake. The lake remains under the snow from the end of October to the middle of May or sometimes till end of June. The normal summer temperature remains around 12 °C in day and −5 °C in night, while the winter temperature may drop to even −25 °C in day and −36 °C in night. This is the only trek route in himalayas where trekkers are allowed to walk 22 km in the interior himalyan range near the Indo- Tibetian border.
According to Hindu mythology, it is believed that TriDev – the creator, the preserver & the destroyer eternally exist at the three edges of this triangular lake. Also there is another belief that Gandharvas guard this lake against evils. So no wonder this trek will give everyone a special feel and exciting experience. This trek is very special because the path touches the base of mount neekanth and mount parvathi on the way to the lake. Also while resting in the lake, one can visualize 360 degree panoramic view of Chaukhamba, Satopanth, Neelkanth and Parvathi peaks which makes this trek one of the best in Himalyas.
Ever since we returned from our last year Badrinath trip, We had been thinking about carrying out Swargarohini-Satopanth Tal Yatra this year., the path used by pandavas to reach swarga for the salvation of their sins.
Luckily for us, our last year Vasuki Tal trek leader Santosh along with his friend Vineet had started an organization named “Himalayan Trek n Tour” in badrinath and operating treks in utharkand. When we approached them with our aspiration for undertaking satopanth yatra, Santosh had charted out a five days-trek plan which included four nights stay in tents in high altitude. We agreed with his plan and asked him to make arrangements for carrying out the trek from Monday to Friday during last week of September 2017. Also we insisted him to accompany us during this spritual yatra.
Surprisingly, six members of our VTC had showed interest to join the trek. We all reached Badrinath on Sunday with some land slide issues on the way due to heavy rain earlier. Our cab was stopped near a hydro electric power station in Govind Ghat by Police vehicles and we had to trek a short distance of one hour to bypass the land slide zone. Santosh came on the other way to receive us and picked us in another cab. He explained about our trek plan and told that he had arranged a team of eight supporting members for helping us, which included a lead (himself), a chef and six porters with all emergency evacuation measures.
According to the epic Mahabaratha, Satopanth Tal lies on the mythical route used by the Pandavas during their Swargarohini Yatra. At the starting point at Mana, 3 km away from Badrinath, lies Bhim pul which is a natural rock bridge. Here, Bhima is believed to have made the bridge over the river Saraswati for Draupadi to cross the river during their yatra to heaven.
On Day1, Our team along with our lead Santosh reached the Army camp near Mana Village(10000 ft) by cab and started a brisk walk on the left side of Alakananda river banks. Initial one hour trek was a gentle meadow walk without any difficulty and then we reached a point where all our moblie phone signals had stopped. We got a feel as if we were disconnected from the whole family and the entire world. After walking for nearly two hours we sighted Vasudhara water falls on the other side of the river banks. By this time we gained 1000 feet elevation and enjoyed the view of Alakananda running in a gorge. Around 1 pm, we sat near a glacier stream and finished our packed lunch of Stuffed Parotta. Santosh had worked out a wonderful food arrangements for all days of our trek. We rested in that place for nearly half an hour and continued our trek. Around 3.30 pm we reached a beautiful plain grass covered region called Laxmivan (12000 ft) and by that time support team had already pitched the tents for us. The place was calm and still. It was amazing to watch a glacier in front of us melting its water into Alakananda river. We had Ginger tea followed by cup of hot soup to acclimatize the evening cool climate. By 7 pm we switched on tent lights and Chef along with our lead served us hot Sambar rice with curry and pappads. That was more than enough to fall asleep in the tents. Inside the tents I was not feeling that much comfortable with the heavy sleeping bags and we all slept early on the first day. But around 2.00 am in the mid night I woke up and was not able to continue my sleep.
My tent mate another professor was also awake and was telling me that he was also not at ease inside the tent. Then we somehow managed to sleep with disturbance and by 6 am support team gave us wake up-black coffee. We were very happy to come out and to get the warmth feel of sunlight in the morning. I was not having any appetite and explained my discomfort to the Lead Santosh.
Lakshmivan is a scenic location which lies at an elevation of 12000 feet in the Himalayas. This grassy plain looks like a golf ground and is ideal for camping. As per hindu mythology, Goddess Lakhshmi offered prayers to lord vishnu amidst the shola forest near the banks of Alakananda river here.
At Lakshmivan, Draupadi is believed to have breathed her last. Draupadi is the first person to depart her life. When Bhima asked Yudhishthira why Draupadi died early and couldn’t continue the journey to heaven, Yudhishthira answered that Draupadi lived with the vice of partiality, in her affections for Arjuna. Others continue their journey.
On day2, we started our trek around 8 am and planned for 8 kms stretch walk to reach a resting place called Chakratheerth. Since I didn’t eat well in the morning, I felt very weak during this trek period and was not enjoying like the previous day. I understood that my lack of sleep the day before was due to anxiety and home-sickness. We halted near a water stream at the beginning of sahasdhara water cascade for our early lunch and I took digene tablets along with the lunch. I explained the lead that I might not be able to walk till chakratheerth. Adding to the trouble my shoe’s sole got torn open and we were not having any adhesive to paste it. I told the lead if such issues continue I would rather prefer to return to mana the next day. Santosh and my team members were shocked to hear such words from me. The lead convinced me that he had oxygen cylinders and evacuation team with him and comforted me not to worry about fatigue and distress. Then somehow we reached the end of Sahasdhara water cascade and pitched our tents around 3 pm. Lying on the ground, I was staring deep into the sky. The most worrying factor to me then was missing my family without any calls & messages. Some old Babas were passing by our tents, asking us why we were all resting by 3.00 pm and were insisting us to continue for another 4 hours trek to reach the lake where we would get divine blessings of the eternal Tridev. Suddenly I felt a flash change in my mind and from then onwards I started to focus my thinking about only reaching the destination. My mindset changed then from withdrawing the yatra to carrying blessings from the divine trinity lake to my kith & kin. I told myself then: All is well. A simple psychology that I learnt from this experience, is that with your whole thoughts anchoring on the source you could no way reach your destination. With that zeal I managed to sleep that night for six hours.
Sahastra-dhara is a picturesque location which lies at an elevation of 13000 feet in Himalayas. Sahastra-dhara means stack of 50 water cascades which stretches for nearly one kilometer distance. One needs to reach there to believe this bounty of beauty.
Next, Sahadeva dies next on the way. Yudhishthir explains that Sahadeva lived with the vice of pride about his wisdom. The brothers continue their way to Swargarohini. Nakula dies next. Yudhishthira explains that Nakula also suffered from the vice of pride of his handsomeness. Arjuna is the next person to die without completing the journey. Yudhishthira explains to Bhima, Arjuna too suffered from the vice of pride about his archery skill. Yudhishthira, Bhima and the dog continue forward.
On day 3, we woke up early in the morning and started a fresh uphill trek by 6.30 am with packed Breakfast. The lead explained about climbing high altitude with ease. I was feeling very much comfortable to climb from 12000 feet to 15000 when few in my team complained about having mild headache and breathing difficulty. The lead was comforting all of us. He was helping me to tie my shoe sole bottom with plastic threads. On the way we sighted Himalayan tiny rabbits called “Pikas” and clicked some shots. We reached the base of Neelkath glacier then and offered prayers. We crossed its glacier stream after taking a few snaps. The ambience near Neelkanth base was breathtaking and one gets the heart fulfillment while standing there. From there we reached Chakratheerth and took our breakfast around 9 am.
Chakaratheerth is another resting palce during uphill trek to Satopanth tal. It lies at an altitude of 14000 feet and looks like a huge football ground surrounded by beautiful small stream of frozen water. It is believed that Vishnu rested his chakra here and hence named Chakra theerth.
Bhima tires and falls down. He asks his elder brother why he is unable to complete the journey to heaven. Yudhishthira explains his brother’s vice of greediness for food. At Bhimbar, the rock pillar reminds Bhima’s exit from mortal life.
After finishing our breakfast, we climbed a steep ascend of 500 feet high ridge for nearly 1 hour and we reached the top of the ridge where there was a flag post indicating our penultimate destination. We rested at the top for 15 minutes and took photos in plenty. One side of the ridge falls in to the gorge of glacier crevasses and the other side of the ridge touches the base of mount Parvathi. We saw little birds in plenty here and took photos.
Next came the challenging task for us: walking on boulders and small rocks lying over glacier crevasses. We tried our maximum to negotiate with crevasses and the lead told more alarmingly that we were crossing the land slide zone. It took nearly 2 hours for us to complete this difficult stretch. My torn shoes cooperated with me very well. I along with two others reached another ridge with a flag post indicating that we had reached our ultimate destination. The lake appeared in front of us in all its sheer beauty and serenity. At last, we finally reached the triangular lake and rested in our tents in front of a Tridev stone temple. Our souls experianced triumphant excitations and celestial vibrations on reaching our destination! After a short rest, I and another trek mate again continued to climb up and reached the Swargarohini view point. We took shots in plenty and enjoyed the amazing glacier panoramic view from there. We came down to the lake and waited for others to reach the camp. After nearly 2 hours, others reached the lake with the support of our lead Santosh. We had hot Ginger tea, Hot soup and hot gruel with pappads. We sat near the camp fire for nearly two hours and relaxed. We went to bed late by 9 pm. We slept and woke up by the thunderous sound of glacier fall once in a while. All members missed their slumber not only because of the crashing sound of breaking glaciers, also because of less oxygen as well as sub zero temperature at that altitude of above 15300 feet.
Satopanth tal is a triangular lake, located at an altitude of 15300 feet amidst snow clad mountains. From here Swarga rohini view is rather amazing. Trekkers with sleeping bags use caves as shelter in Satopanth tal. There are plenty of caves found in all resting places.
Yudhishthira and the dog continue their journey to swargarohini. Indra appears with his chariot, suggesting him to enter the chariot alone. Yudhishthira refuses to go into the chariot, explaining he cannot abandon the dog who is his companion. The dog, watching Yudhishthira’s commitment for his friend, transforms as deity. The deity Dharma then praises Yudhishthira for his virtues. Yudhishthira enters heaven in his mortal form on Indra’s chariot at swargarohini.
On day 4, we offered prayers in the lake, finished our breakfast and started our downhill trek back to Mana. We crossed the danger land slide zone by hopping over the boulders and moving rocks. Climbing down was much easier for all that we reached charatheertha around 1 pm and had lunch there. During the return trek we saw all water cascades near Sahasradhara overflowing with huge flow of water. After trekking nearly for 11 kms we had reached our camp site near Bhimbar. The support team had arranged plenty of woods for the night camp fire. Basking near the fire we finished our soup and last supper! We rested near fire till 10 pm and enjoyed old hindi songs played in mobile phones. Then we had a good sleep in the tents.
On day 5, we woke up by 6 am with hot black coffee and we thought of crossing the Alakanantha river near laxmivan. Later we dropped the idea, since the river was flowing 4 feet high with huge current. We reached the same glacier stream in front of Vasudhara falls around 1 pm and had our lunch. Then we walked towards mana village and Santosh, moving at the front told me that there was mobile signal. Eureka, I made the first call to my family and delighted to hear the breaking voice of my wife as well as my daughters. Then we reached mana by 3 pm. We all cheered each other on reaching mana village and boarded a cab to Badrinath hotel. At the end, we all felt so excited that we did complete a difficult and memorable mighty Himalayan trek. We offered prayers and thanks to lord Vishnu at Badrinath chanting Jai-BadriVishal. With memories in the heart, blessings in the soul and frost bytes in the lips as well as in the palms we returned home after two days of hectic travel.
Team Members: Prof Elango, Prof Baskaran, Mr Ganesh, Mr Ingersal, Mr Karthick and Mr Vembar rajan. Trek Leader : Mr Santosh “ Himalayan Trek n Tour”, Badrinath.