The Sunderdhunga Valley Trek: The undiscovered valley of Uttarakhand
The Sunderdhunga valley is one of the most beautiful and remote valleys I have been to. Located in the Kumaon region of the Uttarakhand near the outer sanctum of Nanda Devi, the valley is relatively hidden. I first heard about the valley in Eric Shipton’s classic ‘Nanda Devi’ where he and his team traverse the valley after their expedition to Nanda Devi in 1939. The Sunderdhunga Valley also finds a mention in Jim Corbett’s ‘Man-Eaters of Kumaon‘.
The Sunderdhunga Valley gets its name from local folklore and roughly translates to the ‘Valley of Beautiful Stones’. Legend has it that a Shepherd found a stone and it turned out to be gold thus beautiful. The Valley is neighbours with the Pindari Valley and shares the same start point with the Pindari Glacier Trek. Our team at Adventure-Pulse first got the opportunity to visit this spectacular valley on our expedition to Tharkot (6099m) and Bhanoti (5645m).
Best Time: April to June and September to October
Duration: 07 Days
Max. Altitude: 4450m
Getting to the start of the valley and trek is quite the journey. From Kathgodam, the nearest train station or Pantnagar, the nearest airport, it’s an 11-hour drive to the start of the trek which is the village of Kahrkia. I would recommend that you break the journey up by first travelling to Binsar and spending a night at the beautiful Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary and then making the drive to Kahrkia. The route passes through Bhageshwar and is a 6-hour drive from Binsar.
Day 1 Bhageshwar-Kahrkia-Jatoli
The first day of the trek starts from the moment you reach Kahrkia. After a scrumptious meal at a restaurant at the road end, we start our journey following the route to the village of Jatoli. The trail follows lush forest, streams as it makes its way up to Jatoli. On the way, we cross numerous smaller villages and a couple of suspension bridges. The locals here grow a variety of crops such as lentils, hemp and much more. It’s a good idea to stop en-route and interact with the locals to learn about life in the mountains. The trek to Jatoli should take close to 5 hours and is on the easier end. The trail starts going uphill after we cross the second suspension bridge over the confluence of the river and the continues till Jatoli. The village of Jatoli is spectacular. Nestled between the mountains, Jatoli is my favourite place on the trek and I highly recommend befriending the many friendly dogs there.
Day 2 Jatoli-Kathaliya
Day two takes us to Kathaliya. This is one of the harder days of the trek and it is best to start early to avoid reaching late in the evening as the route passes through a lush forest known for leopards and black bears. The trail for day 2 begins by moving deeper into the forest for about 3 hours. There are many streams on the way make sure you take a moment to refill your bottles with fresh glacial water. The trail then disappears as we hit the riverbed. The moraine filled area follows the river as it bobs and weaves through the valley. The Last section involves a steep hike to the Kathaliya. Kathaliya has a small hut by the forest department that we will stay in.
Day 3 Kathaliya-Sukhram Caves
The third day of the Sunderdhunga trek is where we cross the forest and tree line and make our way to Sukhram Caves. The trek to the cave has two routes, one following the riverbed and the other involving a steep ascent followed by a gradual walk traversing a ridge. Today’s trek is on the harder side as the altitude gain is quite significant. While going up, we take the riverbed route. The trail involves a short descent to the riverbed which is marked by the scattered moraine brought down by a glacier many hundreds of years ago.
As you make your way crisscrossing through the moraine, you get a chance to see the majestic mountains of Maiktoli, Panwalidwar, Baljouri and Nanda Kot. These 6000m peaks stand tall towering above the valley and is a true testament to the architecture of mother nature. The faces of Maiktoli and Panwalidwar are the most treacherous faces I have seen. Once we reach the bottleneck, where the valley narrows, we cross the stream and begin a steep ascent up to Sukhram Caves. The ascent takes around 2 hours and from Sukhram caves, we’ll get a chance to see the Sunderdhunga Glacier. It remains one of the most intimidating glaciers I have ever seen, and I can only imagine what Eric Shipton and team would have gone through to cross the glacier after completing their expedition to Nanda Devi. We set our camp just above the caves under the protection of Tharkot, Tent Peak and many ice-laden peaks.
Day 4 Devikund Lakes
Today, we will journey to Devikund, a high-altitude lake. The trek involves a steep ascent to the lake and combined with the altitude, the day’s trek is difficult. But we’ll break the climb up and go slowly which will make it doable. There are two main routes to the lake, and both get you up close and personal with the mammoth mountains that stand guard watching you closely. The climb takes close to 4 hours and once you reach Devikund Lake, you can have a bite next to the lake. Keep your eyes out for blue poppies that can only be found at that altitude. Once you make your way back, we will shift the campsite below the caves as it makes the next day’s trek easier.
Day 5 Sukhram Caves- Balooni Top-Kathaliya
The last day in the high-altitude lands of Uttarakhand and Sunderdhunga valley. We start our journey back, using the second route to Kathaliya. The route involves a steep ascent of about 20 minutes and then is a flat traverse to Balooni Top. Keep your eyes open as you may spot some Thar and foxes. If we are lucky, we might find some snow leopard pugmarks. From Balooni top, we’ll get a panoramic view of the outer sanctum of Nanda Devi. After saying goodbye to the majestic mountains, we start our steep descent to Kathaliya back to the rhododendron forests and the comfort of the hut.
Day 6 Kathaliya-Jatoli
From Kathaliya, we follow the same trail through the lush forests back to Jatoli. The trek is much easier as our body is accustomed to the high altitude and walking the long distances. With tall oaks, beautiful rhododendrons, the forest is transports you to a different world.
Day 7 Jatoli-Kahrkia-Bhageshwar
Our last day in the Sunderdhunga valley. We trek to the start point of Kahrkia. The trek takes close to 5 hours and is the perfect parting shot to one of the most beautiful treks.
I visited the Sunderdhunga valley on my expedition to Tharkot and Bhanoti. The valley has cemented itself as one of the most desolate and majestic valleys I have been to. It is perfect for people wanting to test themselves mentally and physically. Mentally, the sheer magnitude of the mountains and isolation is truly mesmerizing and physically the trek up is difficult and not recommend to Novice trekkers.