Bali pass trek (4850 m.) goes through the mountainous ridge-line which divides the valleys of Ruinsara and Yamuna. It is also known as Yamunotri pass. This ridge-line works as the barrier between the catchment areas of Yamuna river and its main tributary Tons. Tons river is a combination of three main rivers Rupin, Har-ki-doon and Ruinsara. Interestingly, Tons carries more water than Yamuna itself.
Historically it is a common practice to attempt the pass from the Ruinsara valley to enter the Yamunotri region. This provides an opportunity to ascend gradually throughout the trek, especially while approaching the base of the pass before final crossing.
Following is a brief day to day itinerary for Bali pass crossing –
Day 1 : Taluka(2000 m.) to Seema(2500 m.) :– Taluka village is an hour’s drive from Sankri. It is Taluka where you will leave the motor road for the last time before entering deep into upper Tons valley. From here, walk through the well established trail that follows the gushing Supin river closely. Your trail lies on the true left side of Supin and it will never cross the river during first two days. Initially the trail goes down a little and in half an hour it starts climbing gently. Datmir village is visible to the right, but your trail heads straight through a series of ups and downs towards Ghanghar village. The rugged beauty of the Garhwal himalaya will slowly unveil itself with each step of yours. After hiking for approximately 4 hours (I assume you will walk at a leisurely pace as it is the day one of a high altitude trek, so you’ll take your time for proper acclimatization ) you will see Ghanghar village to the left , nestled on the other side of Supin river. The village , with its old wooden houses and stone structures in a background of rocky unforgiving slopes look surreal. Here I should mention that Supin river is the combination of two main watercourses, the previously mentioned Har-ki-doon nalah and Riunsara nalah. Do not cross the river here. Hike for another hour and half and you will start to see the beautiful Osla village perched precariously on near-vertical cliffs, on the other side of the river. Another short hike from here for half an hour will bring you to the Seema village (2500 m.). From here , Osla (2650 m.) village to the other side of river is a pretty site. An evening hike to Osla could be a rewarding experience as it hosts mesmerising ancient Garhwali architectures.
Today was a longish day and almost 1800 feet net elevation gain was involved. Rest your legs at the Seema rest house or pitch a tent of yours. You may get an odd shop here to buy grocery or kerosene (or other useful stuffs) but this will be the last of its kind on this entire trail.
Day 2 : Seema to Debsu Bugiyal (3000 m.) :– Today is a short day of hike as you will climb to Debsu bugiyal and camp there which is not very far away. As you start from Seema, you can see the bridge that crosses over Supin nalah and goes to the other side of it. But it isn’t your route. It goes to Har-ki-doon valley. So don’t cross , just keep the river on your left and hike up through the true left bank of Supin. The trail is a combination of rocky patches and river bound soil that gets washed down the slope. Yearly flood plays a big part in shaping and reshaping the trail. However in general this section is not tricky. As you climb higher you could feel as if mountains are still getting bigger and the river valley floor rises too which makes you feel that the valley is widening. After going through patches of conifer (mainly Spruce,blue Pine) and broad-leaf (mainly Rhododendron, horse-chestnut) forest you will hit a continuous grassy plain; the Debsu meadow. Walk along the meadow and proceed the east, as the clearing widens you will be able to see the mountains to the north and east both. To the north the faraway faint trail is visible which goes to Har-ki-doon. Towards Har-ki-doon direction you can see the Atta peak, a snow clad peak that incredibly resembles a human face. To the east you can see, above the tallest of the trees, the faraway giants like Black Peak, Ruinsara peak etc. To the south, the meadow rises to a deeply forested group of high hills in the direction of the sacred Maldaru tal.
Debsu is a truly pretty camping site. In the month of September the lush green meadow will have a carpet cover of tiny blooming flowers with an array of dazzling colour. In pre season of April-May the green meadow will be surrounded by blooming Rhododendrons.
Debsu bugiyal is a great place for birders! I spotted Himalayan Woodpecker, Himalayan Blue-tail pair, flocks of rose finches, a lone Red billed blue Magpie, Blue whistling thrush and many more in a very short timespan.
Important: You will get water here, either from a local made watering hole which keeps getting filled up by some hidden spring in the shades of the huge spruce trees(To the north of Debsu), or from any other small stream running down to meet the river to the north.
Day 3 : Debsu to the Birch grove before Ruinsara Tal (3500 m.) : — Today you start early. Take the trail that goes downhill to the north through the dark and dense forest to the river. After hiking down for approximately 10/12 minutes you will reach the white-water gushing through the rocky river bed. But the river is not Supin any more, rather it is Supin’s tributary the Ruinsara nalah. This river valley is adjacent twin valley to Har-ki-doon valley and only through this valley you can make an approach to the Bali pass. Immediately after reaching the river you’ll see the simple bridge that crosses over the river and the trail continues eastwards through the other side of the nalah. Cross the river for the first time in this trek. The trail goes up pretty gradually. Small up and down sections will keep coming but nowhere they are very steep for the first 3-4 hours of your hike. The trail winds its way up to higher altitudes but never leaves the river. Gradually as the conifer forests on the slopes of north and south cease to exist , the majestic peak of Ruinsara and sister peaks come to view. Slowly the river valley widens and at last you enter a Birch grove. This flattish and lush valley presents an outlandish setting sure to touch your heart and soothe your eyes. I have never seen such a rich congregation of silver Birches anywhere. This place , however will indicate that the Ruinsara tal is just an hour away.
We camp today in this grove. River flows nearby , so there is no dearth of water for cooking and drinking.
Day 4 : Birch grove to Thanga (4000 m.) : — Start early. Hike to the end of the birch grove through a series of twisting pathways, crossing small streams and boulders. Start climbing steep sections through bare rocky patchs with dark brownish soil. In an hour you will reach in front of the the grassy ridge that runs in the middle of the gorge separating Ruinsara Tal and Ruinsara river. From here take the trail to the right that goes down to the river. View of the massive massif of Ruinsara peak dwarfs all the others things here.
A simple wooden bride is there to cross over to the other side. Now you are on the true left of the river again. Here , try to imagine your position with respect to Bali pass and the Ruinsara nalah. The Ruinsara nalah comes straight from the east originating at the bottom of the Ruinsara peak. If you stand on the river valley facing the Ruinsara peak, then the pass lies on the high ridge to the right hand side of yours, which is south. Your camp Thanga lies in that very direction.
So you start climbing to the south aiming the ridge-line which lies 6000 feet higher than the river bed. This section is steep and you may need to negotiate long patches of snow even in early summer. There is no trees in this section except for a few scattered, stubborn birches clinging to the slopes. Juniper bushes are found in abundance. As you hike upwards , the river looks tiny at the bottom and to the east the vast glacial moraines come into view at a great distance. The great and gorgeous Swargarohini massif to the northeast comes in full view as we hike up the trail.
Eventually you reach the higher reaches of the river gorge, following the moderately prominent trail that leads to the pass. The river is out of sight here, but you’ll feel the presence of the great gorge to the north. From here there is a series of small ridge lines that eventually take the trail to the base of the pass. You climb through the initial small ridge which follows a melt water stream coming from the higher reaches. You reach a flat, partly grassy section which provides excellent option for camping. The small stream widens up here and flows through a maize of shallow channels. To the true left bank of this stream is the Thanga campsite which lies beneath a high rock wall which can provide shelter from the gale wind .
Thanga is a place with stunning views of Swargarohini massif. Water is no problem here in summer. Pitch your tent , cook , finish dinner and hit the sleeping bag early, as tomorrow you’ll have to have an early start. Tomorrow will be a strenuous and long day!
Day 5 : Thanga (4000 m.) to Lower Damini ( 3500 m.) via Bali top (4950): — Start early , preferably by 6 in the morning. In early summer the stretch of the trail from here to the pass remains covered by a blanket of snow. To safeguard your eyes from the reflection of the sun while hiking on snow, wearing an Ultra-violate protecting sun-glass is a must. Even in overcast condition the reflecting glare off the fresh snow could prove deadly for unprotected eyes. Hike up slowly but steadily , aiming the distant white ridge line to the south. In half an hour, your trail will start to climb another ridge that is stretched in the direction of the pass. As you hike up, the Bali pass gap and Bali top in the distance becomes visible. This is a region with a ghostly white surrounding. Nothing moves. Only the the sound of your own breath and breaking of snow under your boots is all that is heard. In places, the white snow slopes reflecting the morning sun turn bluish. In other areas blackish, rotten rocks peeks out of the heaps of snow. Walking the ridge is fun; and even if someone loses perch on hard snow and slides down right or left wont be seriously hurt. While on the ridge , you have to climb three slightly protruding sections before you can reach the base of the pass. By now you have walked for approx 2.5 hours. After the ridge, move to the bottom of the pass by walking on the flat snow field. It will take you more or less half an hour to reach right at the bottom of the wall beneath the ridge. As you turn back and take a break , savour the magnanimous view of the Swargarohini massif to the north.
This section of climbing the pass-ridge is steep with 65-70 degrees inclination. Start climbing with small steps and keep following the footsteps of your lead climber or use an Ice axe for making footsteps. A twenty minute’s hard climb will allow you to step on Bali pass. Coming from north, as you step on the pass you will immediately realise that in front of you is a vast emptiness. In reality , the southern side of the pass-ridge goes down steeply and almost nothing can be seen except for a sea of clouds. The pass ridge is narrow. After climbing to the pass turn left i.e east, to the direction of Bali top, the highest point that you will touch in this expedition. The stretch of 100 meters from the pass to the top is still narrower and in early summer, the snow is covered with hard ice. This bluish icy step on the ridge is clearly the only place on this whole trek where you should deal your stepping really cautiously. To the north, (from the direction that we came from) if somebody has a slip, will hit the flat snow field at the bottom of the pass, without much of chance of life threatening injury. To the south , it is a different story. A slip , and a fall to that direction, while not being roped up and not properly anchored will call for disaster. This problem has proper solution too. Use walking crampons! Use a rope for safety! Little precaution will take you a long way.
Once you have negotiated your way the top of the ridge, you will see spectacular views on both sides of the ridge. To the north lies the unconquered massif of spectacular Swargarohini behind the Ruinsara gorge. To the east Kalanag, Ruinsara, Bandarpoonch I & II jostling together in a grand natural amphitheatre of extraordinary magnitude. To the south one can see the unending mountain-scape stretching towards the Shivalik range. Darwa top and Dodital region to the south is visible on a clear day.
Depending upon your pace of progress, it should have taken you 3 to 5 hours of time to reach Bali top from Thanga. Spend some quite quality time on Bali top, to admire the beauty, to freshen up your soul , then prepare for climbing down.
First we will climb down to the southern base of the pass through loose craggy rocks. Be careful not to dislodge them, take steps slowly and use both your hands to support your weight before stepping on loose boulders. Once you climb down this rocky section, a pristine snowfield will welcome you. Nearby you will observe a small icy lake. Keeping the lake to your right , follow the long stretch of snowfield towards south-east. By now , it should be 11/12 o’clock and the snow should have become mostly soft and non-slippery. One can glissade down the snow slopes in places, but definitely need the approval of the local guide before doing so. This area does have hidden crevasses. The area just below the snow field is strewn with uneven rocky humps and bumps where any uncontrolled glissading from a wrong place could easily lead to minor/major injury. Carry an Ice axe with you to break any uncontrolled fall.
As you descend farther, the inclination will increase and the trail will become spiral. Take your time and stay cautious with your steps. This area is known as the upper Damini (4000 m.). If the area is snow bound, use walking crampons or use rope in places just to ensure a safe descend.
From here the lush green Yamuna valley can be seen. The famous Yamunotri temple is situated right at the bottom of the Bandarpoonch glacier at the foot of Bandarpoonch II peak. You can see the whole area in a priceless bird’s eye view while the presence of imposing Icy grit Peaks to the east keep you spellbound. As you hit the grassy green meadows of Damini and walk down the steep zigzag you start to see the jungles of Lowe Damini.
Lower Damini area (3500 m. and lower) is a forested area consisting almost exclusively of broad leafs. It is an unusual looking forest with steep slopes, with craggy rock walls of upper damini hanging from above. Camp here and rest, which you fully deserve after the 10 hours long, challenging pass crossing activity.
Day 6 : Lower Damini to Janki Chatti (2550 m.) : — Start going down through the generally steep forest trail for an hour and hit the concrete made secondary pilgrim trail coming down from Yamunori temple. You descend for another half an hour and the concrete trail meets the bigger and busy primary trail that comes from the temple. Continue to descend along the flowing Yamuna for another 45 minutes to reach Janki Chatti, a busy small town during Char-dham yatra season.
You can hire a jeep or book seats in a regular local cab to reach Barkot. It takes only 2.5 hours to reach there. Stay in a hotel. Morning buses for Dehradoon are available from Barkot.
1) A prior knowledge of rope handling, use of Ice axe is definitely going to help if attempted in early summer. Or else you have to be dependant on your guide and porters for the crossing of the pass which is not ideal.
2) Carry extra fuel to boil water for drinking.
3) Carry the essentials like Rain proof, Sunglass , sleeping bag, torch , map.
4) Carry walking crampon , Ice Axe , at least 50 meters of rope if attempting in early summer/winter.