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Solo DIY trek in the Himalayas

Updated: Jul 11, 2023


Image source: Liftnwander.com

Humans are weird creatures. They need to embark upon uncharted territories in life to grow their mental and physical potential in order to get better in anything they do in life. While all this seems like a cliched process, yet most people are too held back because of several reasons. If you happen to be obsessed with self-growth and love to travel as well, you will be aware how travelling on your own expands your boundaries, grows you as a human and opens up thousand other possibilities in life. I had one such enriching experience in the Himalayas where I decided to explore the Har Ki Dun valley in Uttarakhand on foot on my own.


The journey started back in July 2022 when I saw Indiahikes's post on DIY treks in the Himalayas and how "real" trek experience occurs when the trekker carries all his load on his back, manages the trails, the camp and the food and all the challenges that come with it all by himself! I had a prior experience of half a dozen Himalayan treks in groups, mostly the moderate and difficult genre and wanted to challenge myself to try the DIY style of trekking which will require me to be self-sufficient and manage everything by myself. While this was not intended to be solo and my friends were supposed to join, but I had already assessed the challenge last year and the criteria to pass for the registration was a 5k run in under 30 min. This is because not only will you be on your own, you will also need to carry your load. Below I will describe what exactly is to be carried for a successful DIY trek. However, life happened and I ended up going alone ;).


I had considered couple of other treks for the DIY - Kuari pass and Deorital Chandrashila, however, looking at the lesser number of days these treks take, I looked for a moderate level longer trek. Har Ki Dun (HKD) had always been on my mind just because of the sheer beauty it possesses which I saw in pictures and it didn't take time before I finalised it for the DIY.


The physical prep

While I am pretty much into strength and conditioning and train regularly, couple of months prior to the trek, my prep was more focused with distance runs (10-15km+ runs once or twice a week), rucking (walking with a heavy load on my back) with 20-25 kilos for 5-10 km, strength training and crossfit. The work load was quite high and it prepared me well to carry that heavy load on the mountains.

To support this physical activity, I was fueling my body with high protein (roughly twice my bodyweight) and supplements that boost recovery like Magnesium, Ashwagandha and Vitamin D.


The technical prep

After going through the detailed itinerary of the HKD-RT(Ruinsara tal) on the IH website, I had understood the terrain, the length of each day, campsites and the route. Basically I prepared my own itinerary map jotting down the altitudes, the distances between campsites and other details. Other than the physical preparations you do, studying the map, the terrain, the altitude and the minute details, prepares you mentally because you understand where you are heading and what can impose a challenge. More so, I downloaded the Gaia app (GPS) and recorded a route in the city where I live and traced it again as practice.


Image source: Liftnwander.com

Other than the physical preparations you do, studying the map, the terrain, the altitude and the minute details, prepares you mentally because you understand where you are heading and what can impose a challenge

Indiahikes DIY kit:

I approached the Indiahikes DIY team to inquire about the Har Ki Dun trek and understood that there are two approaches which I could take :

  1. Choose any date in the season (basically from mid March till May end) but take a mandatory local guide along with you. In this case, your load will be shared by the guide and you both will stay in a single tent.

  2. Choose the same date as another group and go solo!

The sheer thought of managing everything myself was so exciting that I opted for the second approach.

To take things forward, I needed information on hiring the DIY kit from Indiahikes. The kit includes the below:

  • Oximeter

  • Liner

  • Sleeping bag

  • Cooking stove

  • Butane gas canisters x 2

  • Cooking utensils x 2

  • Measuring cups

  • Dehydrated food (for 1 person, 6 days) - Dal rice, kadhi, fried rice, upma, poha, kheer, thukpa and manchow soup.

  • Spatula

  • Eco bag

  • Crosstrek lite tent

  • A GPX file (.kml)

  • Trowel (for the morning business)

  • A pdf of the portions/measurement of the food provided


A day before leaving for Kotgaon. Image source: Liftnwander.com

Renting this DIY kit costed me INR 950 per day with a security money of INR 10,000 and this kit was supposed to be collected from the IH Dehradun office a day prior to the start of the trek. Since the group was travelling in vehicles arranged by IH, I decided to tag along with them. Luckily I could manage a seat in the tempo traveller. If you don't wish to tag along with others, you can take an early morning bus to Kotgaon (basecamp for HKD trek) from Dehradun. But, it is infrequent and if you miss it, you will have to break your journey multiple times to reach Kotgaon. Another positive part about travelling with the group was that my trek permit was taken care of by IH along with the group.


Day 1

We reached Kotgaon by 5pm as we started pretty early at 7ish am from Dehradun. The weather was deteriorating and it started to rain. I had paid for the night's stay and food at the basecamp which was approx. INR 250 for a bunk bed in the dormitory and INR 100 for dinner. I collected the gaiters and tarp sheets from the basecamp and went off to sleep excited for the next morning.


Day 2

The journey started early morning as we hopped on to the SUVs towards Taluka - the place where we start the hike officially. Taluka is roughly 12km from Kotgaon. This ride gave a chance for me to connect with the other trekkers in the group. The trek started with an overcast sky and huge excitement in my heart. It was supposedly 8-9km overall today and I should be camping at Gangaad or Chillurgad in the afternoon. While I started off with the group, we soon parted ways and I was all alone on the trail. A series of slushy paths, dense jungle, local dhabas and some rain was where I was. 5km became 8 and it was 3 in the afternoon. No sign of a campsite. I identified a clearing near a small water stream and decided to have my lunch there. On a stable rock, I had set up my stove and canister and cooked my veg fried rice.


Preparing lunch at Gangaad. Image source: Liftnwander.com

The feeling was exhilarating! I had always admired explorers and adventurers who venture out in the wild and beat the odds. This was probably a step closer to that life :). Moving on, I reached a bridge that would take me to Gangaad village where the locals offered homestays. But, I wished to camp so I continued towards Chillurgad. The best part was I could't get lost, even if I did, I had the Gaia GPS app in my cellphone which was guiding me. The rain started to pour in and I luckily found a place to camp. It was near to a water source which was required because I needed water for cooking as well as drinking. A wet camp was ready and a little messy, but this is how nature is, you cannot have everything go your way. I managed to get into my tent and got a sigh of relief. This was the first time I was camping alone and I was quite happy. After an hour or so, the rain stopped and it was coffee time. What better than clouds atop the hills and piping hot coffee. The rain had only halted momentarily and started pouring again, this time even faster. I sneaked into my tent listening to the raindrops falling on it. It was a peaceful setting :). Dinner was cooked inside the tent as there was no option as such and sleep was on my lids. Luckily the rain stopped again and I had a look outside. The clouds were almost gone and sky was pitch dark with shiny stars. I walked outside soaking in the beauty of the night and dozed off uncomfortably under the sleeping bag ;).


Chillurgad campsite. Image source: Liftnwander.com


Day 3

I had to reach the Kalkatiyadhar campsite today. While the distance was roughly 8 km, I started off late. Up early saluting the rising sun, I enjoyed my coffee, washed up and unpitched my tent. The entire set up was wet from last night and it was a good opportunity to dry it up in the sun. I finished up my breakfast and warmed up for the next day. First day's hike of roughly 11km with a 20kg ruck was quite demanding but now my body knew what's coming. The trek to Kalkatiyadhar went through a small village setting with few dhabas on the way offering tea and rhododendron juice. It was a series of up and down but not too steep. Chit chatting with the trekkers along the way, I reached a huge meadow and separated from everyone. I saw a little water stream nearby and a beautiful mountain view - the perfect setting for a camp. It was a sunny and windy afternoon and it took a while for me to set up my camp as the entire tent and sheet were hovering in the air :D. Relaxing for a while, I walked a few hundred meters to meet up with the IH group just for chit chatting. The sunset was pretty special today. I boiled some water for the coffee and enjoyed the receding sun on Mt.Bandarpooch. It was a full moon night and I literally turned off my headlamp and could see everything. It was so bright under the moon that the mountains around me were shining and a slow cold breeze caressed my face. Eating a hearty dose of rice kheer with dry fruits, I dozed off well.


Coffee with the receding sun. Image source: Liftnwander.com

Day 4

Today was the Summit day. Yes! the plan was to reach Boslo campsite just in time so that I could attempt the HKD summit or view point which was another 2km from Boslo. I started off at around 9ish am from Kalkatiyadhar and the first one hour was a steep climb. This climb was the most challenging in the entire trek mostly because of the slushy trail and my rucksack pulling me down. But somehow I managed to get through this challenge because of the uber beautiful wilderness to my right - the snowy mountains with the dense pine trees on them and a beautiful white mountain range in front. Once the climb was over, the remaining hike was a treat, it was mostly a flat trail with such a majestic scenery. I captured a ton of them. On the trail, I saw bridges, waterfalls, dhabas and greenery due to the recent rain. At roughly around 11am, I reached Boslo. It was still pretty early for me to have lunch, so I decided to climb to the HKD summit. I was more excited because I didn't have to take my entire load there, only the day-pack with a water bottle and a poncho and with this light weight I could fly :D. I kept my ruck near the IH campsite for safety purpose and went on to the summit.


Awestruck with this wilderness. Image source: Liftnwander.com

Har Ki Dun summit

While the journey was roughly 800ft high from Boslo, it was quite evened out. Through a series of ups and downs, butterflies and snow patches, clear mountain views and water streams, I finally reached the summit. There it was, the grand Har Ki Dun peak right over me, one of the most beautiful peaks I have witnessed. A little ahead there was this huge valley of snow peaked mountains - Mt.Swargrohini, Mt.Kalanag (Black peak) and Mt.Bandarpooch. Under them was this giant snow laden valley with a stream flowing in the centre. This was indeed a treat to watch. While there were other people around, I took a sweet spot away from everyone hopping from boulder to boulder, walking in snow and capturing the valley from many angles. I soaked into this perfect wilderness setting which is unmatched even for the likes of Alaskan mountains. I was there for quite a while before heading back to the Boslo campsite.

That night I had one of the most satisfying sleep having seen such a beauty. Life came full circle. The preparation, the decisions, the food, the way you have trekked, everything was worth the money!


At the HKD summit. Image source:Liftnwander.com

HKD valley view. Image source: Liftnwander.com

Life came full circle. The preparation, the decisions, the food, the way you have trekked, everything was worth the money!

The Ruinsara Valley adventure - Day 5

Because of the bad weather in the last 3-4 days, I had discussed about the possibility of trekking till the Ruinsara lake initially with the IH trek lead and the local guides and it was almost clear no one would attempt it. But in the last two days, the sky was bright and sunny and I saw the possibility of venturing into the wild on my own and hopefully see Ruinsara. The IH trek leader Deepak helped me in understanding the challenge as he had opened the route for this year's HKD trek and he guided me about the snow patches and how to tackle them. But in reality, almost none of the trek teams were attempting Ruinsara because of the possible difficulty of the terrain. All packed and loaded, I started my journey into the dense jungle towards Ruinsara valley. After crossing couple of patches of deep snow which I tackled using my trekking pole and gaiters, I came across 2-3 snow patches which had foot prints of wild beasts - leopard and bear. I was scared but one of the locals had already asked me to play songs or shout on the trail to ward off these wild animals. I am not sure how much this tactic helps ;P. but traversing through that forest was one of the most scary and liberating experience of my life. I was determined and watchful yet very excited to have decided to venture out alone in the wild.


Footprints of beasts. Image source:Liftnwander.com

After crossing the dense jungle, I reached the rain shelter (a set campsite on my GPX) - Rainbasera, which was a concrete hut built to provide shelter from rain. While I had taken plenty of rest, I walked on towards the final campsite of the Ruinsara valley - Untigaad. The valley was one of the most serene and untouched I ever saw. The snow laden peaks, white stones and a blue river in between two giant mountains. It was a treat to trek alongside such a beauty.




This part of the trek posed a technical challenge. There were patches of snow on the river overhangs and ridges and I had to be extra careful with my footing so as not to slip into the valley. I used my trek pole well and crossed each one of them with utmost care. It was scary, but I knew that I had to move forward. Staying at one place means your chances of slipping increase, esp. when the sun is on top and the snow is melting.



Towards Untigaad. Image source: Liftnwander.com

I came across snow patches which had foot prints of wild beasts - leopard and bear. I was scared but one of the locals had already asked me to play songs or shout on the trail to ward off these wild animals. I am not sure how much this tactic helps ;P. but traversing through that forest was one of the most scary and liberating experience of my life

The broken bridge

This was a long trail from Rainbasera to Untigaad and I had covered most of it before I came across a huge landslide and a broken bridge. This bridge was made of two tree logs covered with flat stones to cross, but due to a large landslide in that region, one of the logs fell down towards the valley and was hanging. There was no way I would have traversed that section with a heavy rucksack on my back. Landslide prone sections can aggravate further landslides because the rocks are loose and nearby tree branches have weaker roots. Being alone there and looking at the fallen boulders off the mountain, I decided to head back towards Rainbasera for the day's camp. It was unfortunate that I couldn't see the Ruinsara lake, but it is always best to be safe and come back another day.



That broken bridge due to land slide. Image source:Liftnwander.com

Rainbasera was one of the most beautiful campsites that was overlooking the huge valley. I met one more local group of trekkers but was really not in the mood to chit chat. I pitched my tent and dozed off for a while before preparing coffee for the evening and an early dinner to say goodbye to this long and eventful day of my life :).


Rainbasera campsite. Image source: Liftnwander.com

The journey back - Day 6

The next day, I started by 9ish after "drinking" my breakfast of rice kheer and dry fruits. It felt good. The trail was pretty straight forward towards Devsu thatch (meadow) and my Gaia was guiding me well. Another long patch of dense jungle with snow in between and steep climbs awaited me, but I crossed it pretty quickly. Reaching the huge meadow of Devsu in about an hour was a relief as it was a level walk for another 1-2 km before it was a descend down into the valley. As per the initially planned itinerary, I was supposed to reach Devsu in the afternoon from Ruinsara lake, but as I camped at Rainbasera the day before, Devsu came pretty early and there was no point in staying there for the entire day, so I was headed towards my next destination - Osla.


Devsu Thatch. Image source: Liftnwander.com

Osla

After a relaxing descend amongst the trees and boulders, I was back on the same trail that led me towards Kalkatiyadhar. I was now headed towards Osla village which I had heard was pretty special esp. the houses and the people there. After another two hours I ate at a local dhaba - eggs after 6 days ;P. I comfortably reached the Osla village and wanted to stay in one of the local homestays there. Luckily I found Anand's home towards the end of the village. Anand works as a cook with the trek teams and is a regular trekker himself. He offered me a room and rotis with mattha (buttermilk) and we chit chatted for quite some time before dozing off for the afternoon. I took an evening stroll in the small village clicking photos of those unique 600 year old properties and observing the locals. That evening was fantastic, it was dinner prep time and Anand's family invited me to their kitchen. A local saag was being prepared. It felt like I had all the time in the world observing the preparations of boiling the vegetables, kneading the flour for the rotis and adjusting the wood for fire. That night I ate hearty and slept like a baby.

Osla village. Image source: Liftnwander.com

A lovely evening with the locals. Image source:Liftnwander.com

Back to base - Day 7

The kind locals showed me a shortcut through the village towards Chillurgad (my first campsite). After half an hour I reached there and met with the IH group I started the trek with. Everyone was content and happy and ready to head back to base. The return journey was mostly descend among dense trees along side flowing fresh water, few dhabas and boulders. By around 2pm, I was back in Taluka, in the zone with reflections of what just happened in the last 7 days.


While this was my first ever DIY trek in the Himalayas and probably the topmost adventure of my life, here are a few points that can help you plan yours:


  1. I chose DIY because I wanted to see if I can handle the challenges of trekking alone with the entire load on my back and how I handle the trails and weather. It was always a means to find the parts of myself which were unexplored and I am glad I did it.

  2. I didn't just choose a DIY trek. I had a prior experience of trekking with groups starting with basic treks like Kedarkantha and experiencing the rugged mountains of Warwan valley.

  3. The DIY trek wasn't easy. Treading trails with a heavy load tests your endurance, esp. when your footing needs to be on point and distance needs to be covered during a certain time frame. An easy trek becomes moderate and moderate becomes difficult if you "DIY" it :).

  4. You will need rigorous preparation as mentioned initially in the article. The physical prep should have you go beyond what a standard trek requires. You should push your body to go beyond 5km runs. A good distance to hit regularly is 10km and sometimes even more than that. You should also prepare for the heavy load on your back, so strength training and simulating the heavy load with rucking is a good option. Technically, you must read the detailed itinerary, make notes and understand what can impose a challenge.

  5. While the DIY kit from IH was more than enough, for a single individual you can make a few modifications like - single utensil instead of two, doing away with the trowel and using a stone instead to dig up the pit, using one canister instead of two (I couldn't even finish one canister in my 6 day trek, but I ate on dhabas twice. For emergency you can keep the second one), if you have a good assessment of measuring food intake maybe you can leave out the measuring cups also. But all this only when you are on your own alone. If you are with a partner or couple other folks, you can very well divide the kit.

  6. If you want to do a DIY trek then earn it! You need to have prior experience of Himalayan treks to know the intricacies of acclimatisation on high altitude, proper footing, walking with heavy loads and navigation. Of course, the preparations will help you a lot in the process.


Kotgaon. Image source: Liftnwander.com


Big thanks to Indiahikes

Special thanks to Suhas Saya for guiding me on the DIY process.

Special thanks to Deepak (trek lead) for guiding me on the trail.

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References:


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Hi,

Thank you for reading this article. I hope it added some value to you and inspire you to go on that adventure you seek!

I am Vidhu Mahana, an avid traveller and a certified fitness coach. You can follow my travel journey on Instagram @outlaw_wander and my fitness related content @outlaw_lift .


Happy adventures!

Be The Outlaw!


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2 Comments


Khalander Sharief
Khalander Sharief
Apr 21, 2023

Absolutely brilliant and hats off to the commitment.. really inspiring, Vidhu..

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Liftnwander
Liftnwander
May 08, 2023
Replying to

Thank you so much :):):)

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