Kareri Chronicles : Kareri Lake trek, Dharamsala – For beginners

HELLO HELLO HELLO!

I know it’s been AGES since I last updated my blog, and I also apologize for being very ignorant with replying to comments too, but this post is my way of saying that I’m back and I won’t be missing in action again!

Now that this mandatory and much-needed apology is out of the way, let’s skip to the topic I’ve been dying to discuss! My very recent trek to Kareri Lake in Dharamsala!

Mornings like these 🙂

I want to start by saying that this was the first trek I’ve done in the last 2 years (third trek overall – after the Living Root Bridges & Triund). Now, you might wonder why I am emphasizing so much on my inexperience as a trekker. That’s because if there is anyone out there who is keen on taking this trek, but feels demotivated because it sounds difficult / taxing, don’t give it a second thought and just go for it. Like I always say – if a tiny, petite girl like me can do it, so can you, and lucky for us, so did some of my friends from Bombay & Chandigarh (some had never been on a trek before)

 

The happy Kareri crew!

 

Having said that, yes – the trek is taxing (if not difficult), mainly because the terrain is quite rough and wild including a lot of heavy climbing (STEPS!!!) for a very steep part of the way. If I am being honest, I did try to turn around and return once during the trek, but like all the best tour guides out there, mine too did not let me give up, and I willingly agreed to fall for the “just a little more” trap laid out before me. Was  it worth it? Why don’t you take a look at the pictures and decide for yourself 🙂

All pictures in this post have been shot using Google Pixel XL 2! It’s the first time I traveled without a DSLR, and I swear, I did not miss it for a second!

You will find the details of the trek (relevant contacts, itinerary etc) below the pictures.

Views enroute the scenic drive to Kareri Village

 

I swear I could’ve stayed back at the village and not regretted it at all! Such a beautiful place 🙂

 

Touchdown: Kareri Village, Dharamsala

 

My room with a view on the first night in Kareri village

 

And we’re ready to go!

 

Scenes from the start of the trek!

 

Still on the road to the trail. I have a thing for tree canopies <3

 

The first dhaba you encounter on the trail, right next to a beautiful stream. You can also get in touch with the dhaba owner for paid assistance for the trek (guide / tents/ food etc).
If treks did not have steps, I’d go for one everyday!

 

Shameless Wildcraft plug cuz free shoes!

 

Gorgeous ancient tree on the trail. I fell in love with this one! Look at the roots.

 

Manan of the Jungle 😉 Isn’t this tree just marvelous? We all took turns to climb this one.

 

Monkey’ing around! That’s our tour guide Amit, who is also a bouldering enthusiast.

 

Mera Highway wala ghar <3

 

When you can finally see your destination after 5 hrs of trekking. First view of the site.

 

Pic after trek fateh toh banta hai, boss! With Latha and Manan <3

 

First view: Panorama of the lake!

 

Panorama – Part 2! (With Arjun spoiling it)

 

Abhi captured this beautiful moment on our return from the lake. In the picture – me, Arjun and Manan 🙂 Picture credits: Abhinav Chandel

 

DETAILS:

Trek level: Beginners
Start from: Kareri Village, Dharamsala (1.5 hours from Dharamsala main market)
Trek duration: 5-6 hours (Going up) 4-5 hours (Coming down)
Brief Itinerary:
Day 1 (suggested, can be done without this too):  Instead of traveling to Kareri early in the morning and starting the trek immediately, we chose to reach Kareri village a day early, and stayed at a village homestay for the night. The homestay had 3 rooms, and we were 9 people, so Arjun and I ended up setting a tent in the verandah for ourselves. This (in my opinion) turned out to be a good prep for the camping we had to do the next day.

Day 2: Wake up at the crack of dawn to see a very beautiful sunrise right outside our tents. If I can be honest, with Arjun snoring next to me, and Abhinav and Stuart snoring from the rooms behind me, I hardly caught a peaceful shut-eye throughout the night, and so the idea of it becoming brighter outside really came as a welcome escape for me. While everyone started segregating their essentials into trail backpacks and night bags (to be loaded on the khachchars), our house hosts busied themselves in preparing our breakfasts, enabling us to to start the trek on the right note! We left our homestay at approximately 8 am, and reached the lake at 1 PM. Whatever happened in-between can be seen in the pictures below.

Day 3: Another early start and this time we divided our group into two – 1) the ones who wanted to stick back and do some photography and 2) the ones who wanted to reach the toilet first! I was in the first group, and on leaving around 11 AM, we reached the village at 4 PM. It shouldn’t ideally take this long, but this was partially my fault, as I wandered off on the wrong path and that was an easy 1 hour penalty. I also tend to stop a lot on the way, talking to trees and soaking in the views, as opposed to most friends who can just run back to the destination.

If you need a tour operator to organize your trek (relieves you of the tension of carrying your own tents, food etc), you can contact Amit: 85797 20373

We were a group of 9 people, and we each Rs. 3,000 per person – this included the cab pickup and drop (ex-Dharamsala), the dinner + accommodation at the village, breakfast, trail food, and dinner the next day, and a simple breakfast on day 3, payment for the animals, tents & sleeping bags.

Trying to soak it all in!
Picture Credits: Fatima Sana Shaikh

A living wonder – Living Root Bridges of India!

The Umshiang Double Decker Living Root Bridge at Nongriat in Cherrapunjee - Meghalaya, India.
The Umshiang Double Decker Living Root Bridge at Nongriat in Cherrapunjee – Meghalaya, India.

Nestled in the North Eastern state of Meghalaya, is the humble little treasure of waterfalls called Cherrapunjee. A quick google image search of the city is enough to win you over with its incredible waterfalls and mind-blowing natural beauty.

But while the waterbodies of Cherrapunjee are the obvious attraction for tourists, I visited the city after monsoons when most of these water bodies were dry, and I still bought back memories for life! Why? Because hidden deep in the heart of Cherrapunjee, in a tiny little village of Nongriat, is a UNESCO heritage site, the single and double decker living root bridges!

Now a disclaimer before you read any further, visiting these bridges is not for the lazy/ casual tourists. It’s not a very difficult trek in the technical way, but it does need you to climb a lot of steps which will put your will-power and stamina to test, and I would not advise it for people with weak knees. But what I will promise, is once you make the resolve and go for it, all the effort will be totally worth it! Not just for the novelty of the destination, but also for the lovely sights and surprises the entire trek beholds. And the experience of walking on live root bridges that are grown – not built, is a memory that will always stay fresh in my mind, just like these bridges that grow stronger with age!

So, it was a fine Sunday morning when we started our trek from Tyrna village entrance, which was a 30-40 mins drive from our guesthouse (highly recommend this guesthouse too, warm hospitality and calm surroundings). I wish someone had warned us, but no one did, and we didn’t carry any food with us hoping to buy something on the way. But Cherrapunjee is completely cut-off on Sundays and we couldn’t find a single shop. Excited as we were, we still went ahead with the daunting trek.

Our lovely cottage at Sai Mika Resort, Cherrapunjee, Meghalaya
Our lovely cottage at Sai Mika Resort, Cherrapunjee, Meghalaya

Now I can possibly divide this trek into three parts: Reaching the first bridge, finding the others, crawling our way back home. Reaching the first living root bridge was comparatively the easiest, as we were going down the steps and we were all so eager to see this natural wonder that we really didn’t care about anything else. Throughout the trek, walking steeper and deeper inside the forests of Nongriat, trying to spot the elusive bridges at every turn we made, we were accompanied by interesting spotting of exotic birds and butterflies, giant spiders even, and water bodies that just take your breath away!

Giant Aragog-ish spiders enroute the living route bridges.
Giant Aragog-ish spiders enroute the living route bridges.
One of the many beautiful sights you encounter on the trek to the double-decker living root bridge.
One of the many beautiful sights you encounter on the trek to the double-decker living root bridge.

After walking for about 45 mins, we finally saw it! The longest root bridge, Ritymmen – beautiful as it was, it was also intimidating. The sheer length of the bridge and how strong it looked, with those roots all tangled up with each other to form the most trippy bridge you can expect, this is definitely a sight to behold.

The longest living root bridge - Ritymmen Root Bridge at Cherrapunjee, Meghalaya.
The longest living root bridge – Ritymmen Root Bridge at Cherrapunjee, Meghalaya.

We chose to relax by the rocks near the lake here for some time, for a much needed break for photography and other important things, like giving our calf muscles some rest. After we thought we had soaked enough of the beauty in our minds, we made our way back through the same route to go find the famous double-decker bridge!

Now, if given a choice to do things differently, I would surely choose to not do this trek on a Sunday as we felt more and more demoralized each time we crossed a tea/food stall that was on a Sunday break, and we literally had to pull off the whole trek on an empty stomach, surviving only on Electral water. Enroute the double-decker bridge, we crossed a few smaller root bridges, but this time we didn’t stop for photographs, having already seen Ritymmen. But what is worth mentioning about this part of the trek, is the few steel suspension bridges over gorgeous waterbodies, which can sweep you off your feet and make you forget about the double-decker bridge and just set camp right here! Watching the pristine blue water of the lake flowing below your feet at a lightning speed, while you try walking on the bridge so many feet above, I must admit the experience can be a little nauseating and scary, but very overwhelming and adventurous at the same time.

Even though I'm not afraid of heights, walking on this bridge did make my head spin!
Even though I’m not afraid of heights, walking on this bridge did make my head spin!

After walking for what felt like 4 hours, but actually was only two, we finally finally found a food stall that was open (yayy!) Stopping for a quick maggi, we stocked up on biscuits and chips for our return trek, and just 5 mins from there was the gorgeous double-decker bridge – one of its kind the world over! We walked across both the levels of the bridge, and then took refuge by the side of the lake below, just sitting and admiring how gorgeous this place was. Unfortunately a few drunks around us were totally spoiling my moment of tranquility, so we chose to leave sooner than I would’ve liked.

Umshiang Double Decker Root Bridge at Cherrapunjee, Meghalaya.
Umshiang Double Decker Root Bridge at Cherrapunjee, Meghalaya.
Shot from the second level of the Umshiang Double Decker Living Root Bridge at Cherrapunjee, Meghalaya.
Shot from the second level of the Umshiang Double Decker Living Root Bridge at Cherrapunjee, Meghalaya.
Shot from the lower level of the Umshiang Double Decker Living Root Bridge at Cherrapunjee, Meghalaya.
Shot from the lower level of the Umshiang Double Decker Living Root Bridge at Cherrapunjee, Meghalaya.

Now it was time to go back and this has to be the worst part, and not because I wanted to stay and camp. Trekking onward to your destination is always easier as you’re excited about the adventure and experience, but the return trek is what kills you. This has to be the toughest trek I have ever done, trekking down a 2500 odd descent and back up, with around 7000 steps to cover back and forth, is no easy task. But once you complete it – there’s no happier feeling in the whole wide world!

The steps that kept magically increasing after every turn. Enroute the trek back from the living root bridges of Cherrapunjee, Meghalaya.
The steps that kept magically increasing after every turn. Enroute the trek back from the living root bridges of Cherrapunjee, Meghalaya.

A little intel on the living-root bridges: These natural root bridges were such guided by the early-war Khasis to serve them for crossing massive streams. They are made from the roots of an ancient rubber tree – Ficus Elastica – that is native to the rivers and streams of North East India. They take 10-15 yrs to develop, and are so strong that some of them can carry 50+ people at one time. They are said to have a life span of around 500-600 years, and in fact, become stronger over time as they are live bridges.

 

Notes:

  • One can choose to visit the living root bridge in the village of Mawlynnong too. Now I couldn’t go there, but that place is also famous as the cleanest village in Asia. So it’s surely worth a trip! Also, for people who choose not to take the deathly trek, this one is your best bet as it’s easily accessible from the village. However, you won’t find a double-decker bridge here, that one’s only in Cherra!
  • If you’re staying at SaiMika Resort too, don’t forget to ask the manager Ataanu, to show you the secret waterfall at the back of the resort. It’s quite small, but it’s really beautiful and calming.
  • We hired a cab from Guwahati to Cherrapunjee, for Rs. 3000 per day. I wouldn’t recommend our driver, but what you can do is visit the Guwahati market in the morning from where you easily get shared cabs for Shillong. You can  then hire a car from Shillong to Cherrapunjee, as Shillong drivers are better acquainted with the place.

The entire North Eastern stretch of India is known for how well its people stay in harmony with nature, and they strive to preserve its cleanliness. If you’re traveling here, please make sure you respect their efforts, do not litter, and motivate your friends to do the same.