The legendary Kishore Kumar would have changed the lyrics of his famous song at our plight-cum-adventure in 2008.
Earlier, we had come till Gaumukh twice, but could not attempt beyond it. We had also planned to go for Kedartal after Tapovan. We decided to seek the blessings of the mighty Shivling at Tapovan and from Kedartal we wanted to catch the reflection of Sphatik Ling in the beautiful crystal clear lake at its foot.
It was raining in Gangotri when we arrived. In the shivering cold and wind, I was frantically searching for a guide and porter for taking us to Kedartal the next day, but no one was available. Some said it was the end of season, some commented that we should have booked one beforehand.
Dodital is crystal clear lake in the midst of thick forest at an altitude of about 3,030 mtrs. The route is through thick forests of oaks, rhododendrons, firs and deodars. The lake is the starting point for several rivers in this region. One side of the lake is guarded by a high ridge called the Darwa Top, which gives a panoramic view of high peaks of Garhwal. The trek route is less visited; yet it is not very tough and very near to Uttarkashi. It is more popular as a winter trek when the whole area is covered with a thick blanket of snow.
I was bitterly surprised as that was not our first visit in that region. The second week of October — I knew it was a pretty good time to do this trek. During our last two visits in this region at the same time of the year, I always found lots of porters and guides present in the bus-stand itself to help the trekkers. Then the truth emerged. I came to know that there was an expedition going to Shivling by British and French mountaineers, and most of the guide and porters had been hired off by them. Porters are happier with foreign expedition team as they earn better. I recalled that while coming back from Tapovan, we had seen many porters going upwards with tents, rations, folding tables — and you won’t believe this — commodes. A perfect “sahib style” of expedition indeed!
So there we were — two poor desi Bangali trekkers, our dreams of Kedartal shattered to pieces — sitting on the banks of Ganga maiya trying to console each other. My husband was very upset. Our return ticket from Haridwar was one week later. And the prospect of going back to Haridwar and staying there with the maddening Durga Puja tourist rush was sickening.
Then, I remembered another trek route nearby that I had read in some travel forum. I vaguely remembered the name Dodital and accordingly started to query locals about the route. But even they could not say anything about it. Only the priest of Gangotri temple had some information. He told me first go back to Uttarkashi and there ask the locals. Getting at least something to work upon, I told my husband that we are not going back to Haridwar. A thousand-watt lamp lit up his face.
Next morning before sunrise, shivering in cold, we bid adieu to Gangotri and boarded the first Uttarkashi-bound bus. We reached Uttarkashi by 11 am, took our lunch in the nearby small dhaba in the bus-stand and started our query for Kalyani, the place from where the actual trek for Dodital starts. By 12-30 we managed to hire a jeep till Kalyani. The 12-km. road was less travelled by the usual tourists. A beautiful waterfall was adding charm to the sylvan serenity
We reached Kalyani at around 1.30 pm. Kalyani, also known as Sangam Chatti, is a sleepy hamlet bathed by a river flowing with its all force and glory. Here at last we found some porters who double up as guide-cum-cook. They were ready to take us to Dodital. We negotiated with one of them and started towards the unknown.
As it was only 2 p.m, we decided to trek the first 6 k.m without wasting any time and reach our first night halt at Agoda. In the meantime, I had gathered the description of the route from our porter, who said it was a very easy route of only 22 km and we could reach just in two days. But I knew he was a local and the easy route for him often turns out to be a never-ending rigorous trek for people like us.
From Uttarkashi share jeeps are available till Kalyani or Sangam Chatti. Sangam Chatti to Agoda (2,250 mts/7,380 ft) is a gradual 7-km climb through woods, fields and small villages on a mule track. There is no mobile connectivity from Sangam Chatti to Dodital.
The trek from Agoda to Vebra Gate is a 3-km steep climb through thick forests. At Vebra Gate, you can pitch your tent. During the season, you can also find some dhabas. Vebra Gate to Kacheru is 4 km away, where you can refresh yourself with fresh cold water coming from the mountains.
Kacheru to Manjhi is 3 km. Manjhi is a small make-shift home for villagers in summers. You can enjoy tea or have lunch at the dhabas, but this is for only during the tourist season.
First we crossed a bridge over the Asii Ganga river and then started to ascend further. Actually, there were no defined pathways, only a mule track ascending upwards. A small stream running on the pebbles made the way very slippery. We continued cautiously and soon entered a forest. Tall trees prevented sun rays to enter inside, making the path dreamy with different shades of lights. The sun was setting slowly, numerous birds were welcoming us with their chirping and we were slowly immersing in the beauty of the forest. After 6 km of moderate trekking through the dense forest, we reached Agoda by evening. We pitched our tents. The porter started making khichdi for dinner. After a hearty meal, we went to sleep by 9 pm. Not a soul, not a sound — this was called serendipity, we told each other.
Next morning, we woke up very early to get ready for the remaining 16-km uphill trek to Dodital. This was particularly tough, more so because there was no dhabha or food stall on the way. The area was very remote and it was almost the end of tourist season. From Agoda, the trek was steep uphill, winding through a dense forest of oaks, deodars and pine trees. We had never seen so many beautiful springs together.
We reached a place called Manjhi where we got a refreshing cup of tea in a very small shack. The shopkeeper told us to stay there as it was almost 3 pm and the forest is much dense after this place. Our guide assured us about the forest path and told us not to worry. We could still reach Dodital by evening. It was only 5-6 more km away.
Just after crossing Manjhi, the forest was so dense that visibility dropped with every footstep. I timidly asked the guide whether there were wild animals in the forest. His cool reply chilled me to the bones: “Han medamji, bhalu hay or kala cheeta hay par koi dar ki baat nahin.” As if bhalus and kala cheetas have signed a memorandum with him not to attack his tourists!
Every now and then I kept throwing that “aur kitna door?” question at him, and I got the same response every time: “aur bas aa gaye medamji“. We lost the sense of time and kept walking. Just as the last rays of sun were saying good-bye, we saw a huge lake in front of us.
We were awestruck by the beauty of the lake amidst the dense forest surrounded by huge mountains. No one, just nobody except us, was present there. We just sat beside the lake, thanking God almighty who had given us the opportunity to experience such a beauty on earth.
Tents were pitched; the guide arranged some wood and lit a small fire near the lakeside, we sat by the fire and soaked in the tranquility. After some time the full moon came out with all its glory and started a light and shadow show in the lake. Lord Shiva had sends us to his son’s abode in Dodital.
‘Dodi’, from which the place draws its name, is the local name for trout fish. Many varieties of trout are found in this lake and hence the name of Dodital. It is because of this reason that the government has been running a fisheries centre at Kalyani, which we crossed en route to Dodital. Dodital is also the source of river Asi Ganga that joins the Bhagirathi 4 km north of Uttarkashi. Like most high-altitude tals, Dodital also has a legend associated with it — it is the birth place of Lord Ganesha and his abode.
Next morning we woke up and saw the place in daylight. But it seemed that we were still in our dreams in a fairyland. The forest, the lake, and the peaks all made the place surreal. We thought of spending another day there. After breakfast we started towards Darwa Top. It was a very steep climb with ice patches on the way. This route was even more beautiful with numerous frozen streams and snow-capped mountains. It took us quite a lot of time to reach Darwa Top, the highest point in the area. The wind was blowing so hard that we even could not stand properly. Our guide showed the way to Dayara Bugyal, which is a long 32-km. path going through dense forest and meet Janki Chatti of the Yamunotri route. After a small puja at the top we started back for Dodital.
While coming back suddenly it started snowing. We were back by afternoon and were very happy to see the green surroundings of the lake became white with the mini snowballs. We went to the Ganeshji and Ma Annapurna temple just beside the lake. In the evening we saw aarti at this temple.
Next day, it was time to go back. We trekked back to Agoda. This time the dense jungle was crossed in daylight and I was less scared, having done it once. We watched beautiful flowers grown abundantly everywhere. While going up we had seen a place where some of the most beautiful streams were flowing. We had decided to take a night halt at that place.
The place was beyond description. Just beside the stream, there were abundant broken huts with enough place to pitch two-three tents. There was a small bridge where, if you stand, the stream water sprinkles on your head as if blessings from the heaven. The place was called Vebra Gate. It was Laxmi Puja day. A full moon upon our head, the whitest white stream flowing by and the whole place flooded with moonlight, we lived another day in paradise. We did not ever require any artificial source of light that night, not even for dining.
Next morning we came back to Kalyani with a promise to go back with our near and dear ones to Mother Nature again whenever we get back a chance.