Tougher Than Everest Base Camp: Project #100DaysInHimalayas in Uttarakhand

On taking the road less travelled.  
Mashar Tal Uttarakhand Camp
Camping at Mashartal. “The thumb rule is to try and finish the day’s trek before 12.30-1p.m.,” Mukherjee says, “The weather in the mountains after that is bad.” Photo: Dhritiman Mukherjee

It wasn’t easy making music on the icy road to Khatling Glacier, but as Bollywood composer Shantanu Moitra says, “it felt unforgiveable not to come up with a composition.” Between February and December 2016, Moitra will make a series of trips in the Himalayas with top wildlife photographer Dhritiman Mukherjee for their Project #100DaysinHimalayas. By the end of it, they will have covered the range from Jammu and Kashmir to Arunachal Pradesh, even in the neighbouring foothills of Nepal and Bhutan.

Bhilangana Valley Uttarakhand

Bhilangana Valley in the Garhwal Himalayas of Uttarakhand. As trekkers ascend, they pass birch forests until Tambakund, when the tree line gives over to high-altitude meadows, and then rocky glacial moraine and scree. Peaks such as Thalay Sagar and Mandani glisten along the way. Photo: Dhritiman Mukherjee

Kalyani Bugiyal Uttarakhand

Kalyani “bugyal” or alpine pastureland in Uttarakhand. Snowclad in winter, the meadows erupt in flowers during the summer. Photo: Dhritiman Mukherjee

Their last trip was to Uttarakhand, where they did the 10-day trek from Reeh to Kedarnath, past high-altitude meadows and across gushing mountain rivers. The trek was demanding but frequented by avid hikers, save for the three-day detour they took via Mayali Pass. The section looked untouched since the devastating floods in Uttarakhand in 2013. “We were the only people on the trail,” Mukherjee said referring to their trusty guide and porters from Nepal, Garhwal, and the Northeast. The landscape was gorgeous, studded with three lakes, but also with nearly vertical cliffs and loose boulders. Mukherjee remembers “It was a nervous job crossing the Bhilangana River because there was no bridge.”

For Moitra, the trek felt tougher than going to Everest base camp in Nepal for one simple reason: “there was no route. It was beautiful but visually scary,” Moitra said, remembering sections of the mountain at a 45-degree incline. “This was not trekking, this was climbing.”

Uttarakhand Trek

Moitra makes his way up a steep incline en route to Chowki. He said he was humbled by “the simplicity of the Himalayan people: your life comes before theirs.” Photo: Dhritiman Mukherjee

They couldn’t have done it without their guides, who used a harness and ropes to help cross the river. Occasionally, the guide would throw a stone across frozen patches to determine if the iced-over river could take their weight. At one point, the ice axe fell during a river crossing. “Only the Nepalese khurpi—an L-shaped knife—remained,” Moitra recalled, “These guys were so skilful, they cut as many as 500 steps at a time to help us climb in the snow.”

Perhaps the best was saved for the day’s end, with the tents pitched and the group rested. “The night skies, oh my god,” Moitra exclaimed, “With the Milky Way just shining out there, the snow-clad mountains gave the feeling of an amphitheatre.”

Keep posted for updates from Mukherjee and Moitra, as this mountain bromance yields stunning photos of the Himalayas’ stark beauty, and stories of its charming people. Missed the previous dispatches? Read more on #100DaysInHimalayas.


    Dhritiman Mukherjee is as elusive as the animals he photographs. His photographs have appeared in National Geographic Traveller, The New York Times, Lonely Planet, WWF, UNESCO, Birdlife.


    Saumya Ancheri is Assistant Web Editor at National Geographic Traveller India. She loves places by the sea, and travels to shift her own boundaries. She tweets as @Saumya_Ancheri.


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