Legend has it that there was a priest at the Kedarnath temple in Uttarakhand, India who used to do the morning puja at the mentioned temple and the evening puja at the Badrinath temple. He was the first person to do the reverse Panpatia Trek.
Physically and geographically, this is impossible because the shortest distance between the temples is through the Himalayan passes and through inhospitable terrain. The crow’s distance itself would be around 40 kms, not to mention that a route would first have to be found amongst the snowfields and glaciers which can go up to a height of 4800 mtrs. But then that does not stop an apocryphal story from becoming a legend.
We, a few trekkers, set out to recreate the mystical priest’s journey between the two temples. It took weeks of prepared anticipation to get ready for the journey. My other expedition members Ananth, Sathya and Vish were experienced trekkers and climbers and each was accomplished in his own way. Kaverappa was the youngest and had some time back taken off for a year to trek in Nepal.
We all met on a hot June day in Haridwar and left for Joshimath in a hired Tata Trekker. The idea was to regroup in Joshimath, meet up with the guide and the high altitude porters and buy the rations. But we bumped into problems which delayed our departure for Badrinath. The guide we had engaged ultimately did not turn up which was extremely unprofessional but Hardev Singh, his father ultimately turned up as our guide. This was the same person who accompanied Tapan Das when he first discovered the route in 2008 along with Debrata Mukherjee.
The route we planned to take was not the Khirao route which is what the few groups which have attempted this expedition were taking but the Neelkanth Col route as describe below.
Drive to Badrinath 3100m.Trek to Dumkal Kharak, camp
Cross Nilkanth Khal (Holds worth’s Pass, 4650m), camp
Trek to snout of Panpatia glacier (3840m), camp
Trek to moraine camp of Panpatia glacier (4450m), camp
Trek to Panpatia plateau (4950m), camp
Across Panpatia Col (5260m), camp at Sujal Sarovar (4750m)
Trek to Madmaheswar (3292m), camp
Trek to Ransi (2073m), village guesthouse
Trek to Sanera (2743m), camping
Trek to Paturi cave (3414m), camp
Trek to Thouli, camping (3901m)
Cross Duara Khal (4140m), trek to Mandani (3536m), camp
Camp below Yeonbuk col (4420m)
Cross Yeonbuk col (4663m) and Bisali col (4754m), camp
Cross Kedar Khal (4602m), reach Kedarnath (3581m), village guesthouse
We reached Badrinath early morning and set out for our first camp which was Dumkal Kharak. My Garmin device showed Badrinath to be 3003 mtrs. We hiked up to 3490 mtrs along a defined path which took us past Charan Paduka and a few tributary glaciers which had still not melted in the June heat.
The hike up to Camp 1 was when I discovered that I had not acclimatised to the altitude. I never faced this problem before but this time my breathing became quite laboured and I was not in good shape breathing-wise. After we pitched Camp 1, I was panting hard to do simple tasks. I did not anticipate that it would be difficult for me to trek on Day 2.
The night was spent peacefully in the tent and the next day the clouds cleared up to reveal the nearby Neelkanth mountain at its best behaviour. After breakfast, we started for Camp 2 which would have been around 4300 mtrs, and I started to trudge along the ridge so that I could reach the glacier at the bend of the valley at the base of Neelkanth.
That was when I discovered that it was becoming difficult to walk without halting every few metres. The whole expedition team including the porters had by this time overtaken me. My rucksack which would have been around 14 kgs, was not the heaviest but because of the lack of acclimatisation, it was proving to be quite a burden.
I had to take a decision. It was a walk of another five hours to Camp 2. I could most probably make it in my own time but I was not sure if I could go further ahead as I could not guess in what state I would be. I definitely did not have symptoms of AMS(Acute Mountain Syndrome) but I was more concerned if I would become a liability to the team. I did not want to go to Camp 2 and then discover that I was not in a physical condition to go forward which meant that I might need the assistance of a porter to go back to Badrinath.
I did not want a porter to be sacrificed, as every porter was important on this journey. I sent a message to Vishwa who along with Ananth came back to consult with me. I told them of my decision to go back. Ananth suggested that I stay back at Camp 1 for one more day along with a porter so that I could attempt Camp 2 again the next day. On hindsight, I should have done that because this was one journey I had been waiting for a long time and also because by the next day I had totally acclimatised to the altitude. But a prudent decision had to be taken and in the expedition’s interest, I returned back.
Thus I trudged along to the Camp 1 site and then back to Badrinath.
After I reached Hyderabad, Vishwa informed me that they did the trek successfully though one of the members had dropped out after Camp 2 because AMS had set in. The rest of the team made it to Panpatia even though there were white-out conditions on a few days. The team did not proceed to Kedarnath but dispersed from Ransi because it was late June and the monsoon had set in and it was not advisable to do the second leg of the trek.