World through my eyes
It’s the time of the year again, when Raithal village in Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand gets ready for a unique festival. A festival celebrated to welcome the cattle folk as well as shepherds back to village after months of rearing and grazing in higher meadows of Himalayas. It’s a Holi celebrated not with colours but with butter and curd milk.
More about Butter Holi of Raithal, read: Get ready for a Holi with Butter at Dayara
Raithal is also popular as base for many treks originating from or concluding at Dayara Bugyal. Truly, Raithal is no ordinary village. Besides its locational value just on the footsteps of Dayara Bugyal and its unique Butter Holi, it is also a historical village. It has got some very old traditional Garhwali homes. Many of them are now being converted into home-stays for authentic local experience.
Raithal is also known for a many centuries old five storey historical residence of Rana Gambhir Singh. It is not a palace, as you would presume a king’s residence to be. It is more of a haveli like but not presume it to be like all those grand havelis of Shekhawati. But it is indeed special. It was still great for a ruler of this region. If you haven’t guessed so far… this post is going to be about the story of Rana Gambhir Singh.
Nobody here knows the exact years, or for that matter time period of his life. But he was indeed a just and popular king, so much so, that he got place in many a folklores. There are many legends about his life and death. In local language he was called as ‘Bhad’, simple translation for what can be made as a person with valour. He used to have a control over the region (may be nearby villages). In those times agriculture and cattle rearing used to be the main source of livelihood for the common people. Persons like Gambhir Singh, who had more number of cattle will be the rulers. Cattle and farming were then only points of contention and matters of jurisdiction. House he built was a five storey one, hence it was called as panch-pura (a five storey building). He had two wives but had kids from only one of them.
According to a legend popular here, once Gambhir Singh went to Gidara Bugyal (ahead of Dayara) with his sheep. He used to play flute while cattle kept grazing. Shepherds will keep instruments like flute or morsing with them to play when they are alone up there. Once when he was playing his flute, the fairies of forest got infatuated on him and kidnapped him to take away with them (not his body, but his life soul). When they were taking him away, he requested them to let him meet his family for the last time. Fairies agreed and let him go. He came back to his family and old about the whole episode to his wives. He told them that it is now time for hime to leave his body, hence he asked his wives to come with him (by becoming sati or immolate themselves in his pyre). One of them refused to do so, while the second one agreed. Although people of the village didn’t want her to become sati, therefore they tried to persuade her against this but she didn’t relent. Later on, a temple was built in her memory. There are many folk songs telling the story of Rana Gambhir Singh.
There is a granary just opposite the Rana Gambhir Singh’s haveli. It was used to store the grains as well as fodder for harsh winter season. The wooden door to this granary was attached to a bell at the haveli through a iron chain. So, whenever anyone tried to open the door, the bell at haveli will start ringing and thus they will know that someone is there. The grains and the fodder will remain preserved here. The descendants of Rana Gambhir Singh used to live in this house until last decade. But as the family kept getting bigger and the house structure grew weak, they moved on to newer places.
But the technique used to built this particular house was said to be very unique. This centuries old house even survived the very strong earthquake of 1991. And it is said that experts from IIT-Roorkee visited this place and studied this particular construction which then helped them in designing model earthquake-resistant houses for the region. This house is still a private property and there were talks of this being converted into a museum of local heritage.
How to reach
On the way to Gangotri from Uttarkashi is a village named Bhatwari, which is 32 kms from Uttarkashi district headquarters. There is a diversion on a winding road that goes up the hill. Raithal is almost ten kilometres from that point. That is the last road head. One has to trek from here to Dayara Bugyal for at least eight kilometres to the point from where the meadows start. You can travel by your own transport upto Raithal. You can also take any bus going towards Gangotri from Uttarkashi and get down at Bhatwari. Then you can ride some shared taxis for Raithal.
Have you ever been to Raithal village and Dayara Bugyal either to witness the heritage or to be part of the Butter Holi or to just enjoy a trek? Share your experiences with us in the comments section below.
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