Trekking guide for the Rupin Pass trek. Route details, logistics and more.
Traditionally the Rupin pass trek starts from the village of Naitwar in the Tons river valley region of Uttarakhand. From Naitwar the trail goes along the Rupin river valley to the villages of Dhola (reachable by Jeep now) and Sewa. After Sewa the trail crosses into Himachal Pradesh (always following the course of the Rupin river), first to Gosangu (its not a village but a central spot in the valley where the roads connecting the villages of Dodra, Kwar and Jiskun coverage) and then on to the hanging villages of Jiskun and Jakha on slopes above the Rupin. After Jakha the wilderness starts, taking you along the river through dense pine forests, across and over multiple snow bridges and meadows to the imposing 3-tired Rupin waterfall. Above the waterfall the trail finally leaves the river and veers left climbing steeply over a ridge and then over gentle undulating snowfields/meadows (depending on the reason) to finally reach the Rupin pass. An unmistakable half tube cut straight across the dip in the ridge line of the Dhauladhar range.
Choosing the trailhead (Uttaranchal or Himachal)
Option 1 - Naitwar (Uttaranchal):
Naitwar is reached by a 10 hour bus ride from Dehradun. There are two buses a day from Dehradun to Naitwar & Sankri one at 5:30am and the other at 7:00am. Both the buses start from the main road opposite the Meedo hotel just outside Dehradun Railway station.
Option 2 - Gosangu (Himachal Pradesh) :
As for Gosangu, it is a 12hr bus ride from Shimla. The locals say that there are straight buses from Shimla but i do not know about the timings or frequency of the buses. In the worst case you'll have to change a couple of buses. And please ask for buses going to Dodra-Kwar and not Gosangu. As Dodra-Kwar is much more popularly known in the state over Gosangu which is not even a village.
Starting the trek from Himachal pradesh has its advantages. You will save one day of trekking, avoid the permit and camping charges that would be levied at Naitwar and more importantly, it can help keep your costs down by arranging guides & porters from the villages of Jiskun or Jakha. I'll explain more about it in the next section.
Dangers and Difficulties on the Route
As for the dangers, it depends on the season when you are doing this trek. If you are doing it in early summer then you will have to traverse many snow bridges and steep snow fields on the way. Early in the season there won't be any trail cut over these snow fields and you'll have to be extremely careful while crossing them. The snow would be hard and slippery and any fall would take you straight down the slope and to the river below. Its not life threatening but there's good chance that you might break a bone or two.
As for life threatening dangers. There are couple of steep snow slopes while climbing the Rupin waterfall (in the section between the bottom and the middle water falls). Any fall here will take you sliding straight down to the snout over the bottom waterfall and there's a good chance that you'll fall down it never to emerge again.
And climbing the Rupin pass is also fraught with dangers especially when it is covered by snow and ice early in the season. Both the pass and the flanking slope leading up to it are very steep and they hang a couple of hundred meters over a glacial cirque. A fall might take you sliding all the way down to the base of the cirque. I don't think that the injuries would be very serious in this case but there is always the chance of twisting something on the way down and the fall would almost certainly take the fight out of you making the climb back up seem almost impossible. Actually you cannot climb back up from the base of the cirque, instead you'll have to back track about a kilometer or so to where the slopes are not so steep and climb it to rejoin the trail.
Rupin pass trek in the fall after the monsoons :
The locals say that August/September is the best time for doing the trek as there would be a profusion of wild flowers in the valley all the way up to and over the pass. Almost all of the snow
(and the snow bridges) would've melted by now making going relatively easier. There is a bridge a few kilometers outside of Jakha which you can use to make the first crossing over the Rupin. However you'll have to cross the river again while climbing the waterfall. The locals say that you'll have to wade through waist deep water and that its an easy crossing but unless you have more clear details i'd urge you to play safe and hire a local guide to show you the proper way across the waterfall.
Once you are on the Himachal Pradesh side (or if you are starting from here), you don't need any permits to go further up the Rupin valley towards the pass.
Arranging Guides and Porters
Option 1 :
The first option is to arrange the logistics from the village of Sankri (located close to Naitwar and the trailhead for the massively popular Har-Ki-Dun trek). The village is teeming with guides and agencies (aka middle men) who would arrange the entree trek for you down to the smallest detail. But all this come at a price and in my limited experience i found that the men of Sankri are fond of charging exorbitant prices for their services (I heard of a quote for 19000Rs for arranging this trek for 2 people).
Option 2 :
A better & cheaper option is to find your way to Jiskun and Jakha (easier if you start the trek from Gosangu) and hire your guides and porters from there. Pretty much everyone in these villages is familiar with crossing the Rupin pass as it is the fastest way for them to reach Sangla and even Shimla before the road was built over the Chansal pass. You can get porters for about 400Rs/day and they'll double up as guides as well.
If you want to do the arrangements in advance then you can contact Mr.Nar Singh (+919459992099) the owner of the (yet to be named) Rupin Guesthouse at Jakha. He says that he can arrange porters, cooks and even the basic provisions for your trek to the Rupin pass. You'll just have to bring your tent, sleeping bag and other climbing equipment as you deem necessary.
A word of warning though. The people you'll find at Jiskun & Jakha will not be as experienced at being guides as the folks from Sankri some of whom are established mountaineers. The experienced guides can cut steps in the ice and run ropes for you to climb up some steep and dangerous sections of the trail especially if it covered in ice and snow. But i'am not quite sure how helpful the folks from Jakha would be in similar situations. In the end you do get what you pay for.
If you are doing this trek after the summer (and after the monsoons) then the snows would've melted and it doesn't matter much who you take with you on the trek.
The route in Detail..
Naitwar - Dhola (1450m - 1515m, 12km by Jeep, 30 mins)
- Dhola is reached by a Jeepable road from Naitwar. You can catch shared Jeeps (@ 30Rs/seat) running to Dhola early in the morning from Naitwar. You can also book a Jeep to take you there for about 300 - 400Rs.
- The drive is beautiful with the road going along the right (orthographic left) bank of the playful Rupin river.
- The Dhola village and the trail is located across the bridge (near which the Jeep will drop you off). There is a tea shop at Dhola which also serves Maggi. And you can buy some biscuits and other provisions at the small store next to the tea shop.
Dhola - Sewa (1515m - 2000m, 11km trail, 5hrs)
- From Dhola you take a dusty road (being cut towards Sewa) for a few kilometers until it ends and you come across a clear well used trail meandering along the valley slopes above the gentle Rupin which flows on a wide river bed below.
- After about 6km, you'll see the trail turn left and climb up towards a clump of houses. The Rupin river also leaves the wide valley and rushes out from the narrow gorge to the left with towering cliffs. At the top of the climb the trail evens out and goes along the mountain side to the periphery of the Sewa village.
Note : Near the top of the climb you'll have to watch out for a fork in the trail, one path will go up (to the village of Dogirya) and one would go slightly down (to Sewa). Take the trail going down.
- It will take a couple more kilometers to reach the Sewa temple. Rest by the open grounds around the temple and the shop beside it (if open)
Sewa Temple to Gosangu (1900m - 1900m, 3.5km trail, 1.5 hrs)
- From the Sewa temple the trail goes down towards the Rupin river. First you'll walk through fields and then enter a thick forest which will take you all the way down to the river bed.
- Walk along the river bed for a few hundred meters and you'll come across a stream coming down from the left and a wooden bridge to cross it. This stream is the Horli Gad and the bridge marks the state boundary between Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh.
- Follow the trail along the river and after a while you'll see a well work trail branching off to the left and climbing up the slopes. Take it and after 10-15 minutes of climbing you'll come upon the road.
- Follow the road down towards the river to the tea shop at Gosangu where you'll see lots of villagers waiting for buses to take them to their respective destinations.
Gosangu to Jiskun (1900m - 2250m, 9km, 4.5hrs)
- From Gosangu there is a road being built towards Jiskun. You can follow the road along the Rupin (dont take the ones going up or going down), almost all the way to Jiskun. As of June 2012 only about 500m or so of the road remained to be cut in the mountains.
- If the road is not finished, then most likely you'll have to take a long diversion. There will be markers guiding you down to the river, where you'll have to cross to the other side over a bridge. On the other side you'll have to climb up a steep trail to join the trail coming from Katol and follow it down again to the river (there is a steep cliff in between, so you have to climb up and climb down). Once again you'll need to cross a bridge over to the other side and then follow the trail climbing up to Jiskun.
- First you'll reach the village of Batwa (it is also a part of Jiskun but the locals refer to it by a different name) where you'll find a homestay. After Batwa the trail climbs a bit to go around a ridge and then comes to the main village of Jiskun.
- Jiskun is a large village with many shops and even a post office. It is the best place for you to stock up on any supplies before moving on to Jakha and the wilderness beyond.
- There is a homestay available at the main Jiskun village as well. Just ask for the house of Narendra Singh, the panchayat president.
Jiskun to Jakha (2250m - 2650m, 4.5km, 2.5hrs)
From Jiskun its a straight forward trail to Jakha. As you leave the village you will be able to spot Jakha in the distance hanging up on a steep mountain side.
From Jiskun the trail is flat for a couple of kilometers and drops down to a bridge over a stream running down to join the Rupin. After the bridge the trail climbs steeply for about 2.5 kilometers before reaching Jakha.
- Half way into the climb you'll have to watch out for a similarly wide and well worn trail going left. It goes up to the village of Dhara, do not take it and continue along the original trail which continues on to Jakha.
- The Rupin guesthouse is located at the entrance to the village (ask for Nar Singh's house), if you prefer to camp then continue up the trail for a kilometer or so till you reach the school ground right at the edge of the village.
Jakha to Saribasa Thach (2650m - 3250m, 7.5km, 4.5hrs)
This is where the excitement starts. From Jakha you walk along an even trail out of the village for a couple of kilometers till you reach a thick pine forest. Do look out for Bears while walking through the Pine forest and the trail soon drops down to the Rupin river and to the surprising snow bridge across the river.
- All this while (since Dhola) you've been on the left (orthographic right) bank of the river. But now you'll need to cross the snow bridge to get on to the other bank. If the snow bridge has melted away then you'll find a wooden bridge just some 50 meters ahead to cross the river.
- Once on the other side, you'll just need to walk along the river. Mostly on the boulder strewn river bed. After a few kilometers you'll come across a lush area called Buras Kandi, recognizable by a rivulet gushing out of the meadows themselves.
- After Buras Kandi, the trail climbs up into a forest and then goes along the mountain side with thick vegetation (of mainly Rhododendrons) on either side of the trail.
- Soon you'll reach a open area with the Rupin gushing out of a gorge and then spreading out on to a wide river bed, creating small islands here and there with Birch trees growing in them. This area is called Saribasa Thach and you'll find some place to camp here.
Saribasa Thach to Danderas Thach (3250m - 3550m, 4km, 2.5hrs)
- This is a short but interesting stretch with lush meadows and a couple of snow bridges to traverse (you don't have to cross them but just traverse the snowfields above them and stay on the same side of the river).
- After traversing the second snow bridge you'll climb up to a flat open area where once again the Rupin flows gently over a wide river bed. Its a serene spot, ideal for camping if not for the fact that the meadows of Danderas Thach are just under a kilometer away.
- To reach Danderas Thach, you'll need to walk along the river, traverse another snow bridge and climb up a grass slope to get up to the flat meadows at the top.
- The meadows at Danderas Thach are vast and wide stretching all the way to the base of the Rupin waterfall. And a view back towards the Rupin valley is also spectacular. This is a day to relax and enjoy the beauty all around you.
Danderas Thach to Waterfall Top (3550m - 4000m, 4km, 3hrs)
The climb up the 3-tiered Rupin waterfall is exciting to say least. From Danderas Thach its about 2km of mostly level walking to reach the base of the waterfall. Once there the fun starts.
- The waterfall is to be climbed in 4 stages. Early in the season the slopes would be covered in snow and i'll explain the route considering the snow fields. The climb would be much more straight forward later in the season without the snow.
First, staying on the right (orthographic left) bank of the river, you'll have to climb the snow slope leading to the top of the bottom waterfall. You'll have to climb straight up the slope for a considerable distance and then cut across the slope to reach the solid ground above and to the right of the bottom waterfall. Please note that the slope is steep and you'll need a ice axe to cut steps in the snow to safely cross them.
- The second stage is probably the most dangerous. You'll have to traverse across two steep snowfields to get access to the firm ground leading to the top of the middle waterfall. This traverse is dangerous because any uncontrolled slip would take you straight down the icy slope to the top of the bottom waterfall and possibly down the it. Again cutting steps here is essential.
- The third stage is the most fun. Crossing a large snow bridge at the top of the middle waterfall to get to the opposite bank of the river. Its an easy and safe crossing and its wonderful to stand in the middle of the snow bridge and watch the top waterfall cascade down from dizzying heights above.
- Once on the other bank, the last stage of the climb begins over the flanking slope to the left of the waterfall. It is a steep climb over a rocky trail, slippery and slick with water. It takes about 20 mins to get to the top of the climb and you'll have to walk along the mountain side to reach the meadows above the Rupin water fall.
- It is best to camp here to get acclimatized to the altitude before going on to towards the Rupin pass.
Waterfall Top to Rathi Pehri (4000m - 4400m, 2km, 1.5hrs)
- Rathi Pehri is another beautiful camping spot located some 400 meters above the Rupin waterfall. From here it is a gentle walk along undulating snow fields all the way to the pass. Camping here would make the climb to the Rupin pass less tiresome, but its not recommended for people coming from Danderas Thach to directly camp here as the change in altitude is almost 900m and there is a danger of getting altitude sickness if you directly climb up so high and camp here.
- To get to Rathi Pehri, it is a long hard climb to the top of and around a ridge immediately to the left of the waterfall top. The trail starts besides a very long snow field and climb along it for a while before veering right to go around the top of the ridge.
- During the climb to Rathi Pehri, you'll come across a few water sources. It is better to fill up you water here as there would be no sources of water (i didnt find any water at Rathi Pehri as well as everything there was buried under deep snow) till you get across the Rupin pass and get below to Ronti Gad.
Rathi Pehri - Rupin Pass - Ronti Gad Meadows (4400m - 4680m - 4100m, 9km, 6hrs)
- From Rathi Pehri, its pretty impossible to miss the trail to the Rupin pass. You'll just have to walk along the undulating snow fields towards the dip in the ridge line of the Dhauladhar range where you'll find the Rupin pass gully. An unmistakable half tube cut across the ridge line by mother nature.
- To reach the base of the Rupin pass gully you'll have to climb and traverse across a very steep snow slope. The icy path is very slippery and a fall would take you sliding down to the base of the glacial cirque some 500 or so feet below. You'll have to cut steps on the snow using an ice axe to safely traverse it.
- Once at the base of the Rupin pass gully, its a 200m steep climb to reach the top of the pass. Both the flanking slope (leading to the pass) and the pass hang over the glacial cirque and its a long way down in case of a fall. Use extreme caution while climbing both.
- In late summer, you may be lucky to find the Rupin pass gully devoid of any snow. Instead it would be covered with loose gravel. The climb would still be tricky and you'll have to scramble up on all fours sometimes and watch out for falling stones. But atleast there would be no danger of falling down.
- Once at the top of the pass, you'll get your first glimpse of the Sangla valley region. A series of gentle snow covered slopes leading down to the valley of Ronti Gad. You could see the Ronti Gad river glimmering in the distance and by its side below the snow line are the famed meadows of the Baspa valley. And towering behind the valley itself are the jagged peaks of the Kinner Kailash range.
- You'll have to walk towards the meadows below the snow line. Its a long walk along gentle snowfields. Be careful as you get lower as the snowfields get thinner and you are more prone to slip and fall on thin snowfields than on the deeper ones.
Ronti Gad Meadows to Sangla Kanda to Sangla (4100m - 3500m - 2550m, 12km, 7hrs)
- From Ronti Gad you'll have many trails leading to Sangla Kanda. Follow any of them, but dont follow any trails leading down to the river. You'll be walking along lush meadows and would encounter many herds of Sheep grazing here.
- The trails would go along the mountain side above the Ronti Gad river. And after a few kilometers the trail would turn left rounding around the mountain side where the Ronti Gad meets with the Rukti Gad.
- After a while of walking along the meads with the Kinner Kailash towering in the background you'll be able to see the tiny hamlet of Sangla Kanda with its prominent lake shimmering in the distance. Now leave the main trail and take the smaller ones going down directly to the Sangla Kanda lake.
- Sangla Kanda is a temporary summer settlements for the villagers of Sangla and the Baspa valley. They come here during summer to grow their crops and graze their herds. As such there are no tea shops or eateries at Sangla Kanda. But the villagers are kind and friendly and would invite you for a cup of tea to share with them.
- The trail to Sangla starts from near the Sangla Kanda lake. It goes around the lake and dips down under the tree line. Its a pretty steep descent, some 5-6km long. There is also a big wide trail running through the Sangla Kanda village, the first beginnings of the road between Sangla Kanda and Sangla. Avoid taking it as it is much longer (about 8km) than the rough trail starting from the lake.
- Once down, you'll cross a strong bridge across the Baspa river and then its a long steep climb to the Bazaar at Sangla. The trail is well marked, you just follow the arrows in the opposite direction (the arrows point the way down to the bridge, so you go up following them in the opposite direction). At the bazaar you'll find many decent guest houses and eateries where you can take a long hot shower and treat yourself to some delicious piping hot food after days of camping in the wilderness.