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Harsil – a mystical gateway to other world

Harsil is a land of mystique. Although it still doesn’t have that tourist rush but it has already collected many adjectives, more than many other places in the region. It is often dubbed as mini Switzerland of India. But it indeed is more than that. It is surely one of the most beautiful places in whole of Uttarakhand, but it is actually a gateway to something more beautiful than what we see at Harsil. It opens to some uncharted territories, yet to be explored- some spiritual and some natural.

View through the Harsil valley

I had heard and read lot about Harsil. But never had been able to go towards Gangotri valley, until in summers this year riding the first ever Bloggers Bus of Uttarakhand Tourism. It could have seemed like a mission accomplished but actually it left me wanting for more. Its not a place to be seen in hurry, but it is a place where you need to come to spend some time to relax your mind and body, to detox yourself.

View of Himalayan peaks fro Harsil

When Raj Kapoor got hooked to Harsil

It actually seems strange that Harsil remained relatively unknown and unspoiled even after all the eyes it was able to capture in legendary Raj Kapoor’s superhit film Ram Teri Ganga Maili (राम तेरी गंगा मैली). Perhaps Raj Kapoor has earlier visited this place and he was so mesmerised that he decided to shoot his next film here. Film was extensively shot in Bagori and Harsil (हर्षिल) and there are a few spots around that got there name as well as fame for some famous scenes of the film, such as Mandakini Falls. To a lay man, Mandakini Falls would have got its name because of river Ganges, which is also known as Mandakini, and Harsil is in Gangotri valley. But this waterfall is named after the iconic bathing scene of the lead actress Mandakini in the film.

Harsil post office that got featured in Ram Teri Ganga Maili

Even the Harsil post office got a fair deal of exposure on silver screen as Mandakini will be regularly going there to enquire whether there is any letter in her name. You can find many posts on social media of travellers posing in the front of that post office. But interestingly you don’t find many authentic pic of Mandakini falls. 

Beauty of all seasons

View from GMVN TRH at Harsil. You can see the helicopter flying

Nevertheless, nothing can undermine the beauty of this tiny hamlet which has go different charm for different seasons. Winters are pretty white here, its so cold and taxing that you will hardly find anybody here in the village. But those who are courageous enough to brave the cold and rich there in winters vouch for its unparalleled beauty. But than you have to face the dreadful situation of being all alone to manage yourself. But actually, we found out that the Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam (GMVN) Tourist Rest House at Harsil remains functional even in the harsh winters. So, you can find solace here.

Unspoiled beauty of Harsil

A Britisher who turned king here

Credit of bringing Harsil to fore actually goes to Frederik E Wilson who was supposedly a sepoy in East India Company. It is said that after the mutiny of 1857, he deserted Company and settled in Harsil. In some accounts it is said that he left Army even earlier in 1841 at the time of the First Afghan war. He is said to have spent some time in Mussoorie before moving further up and following the course of the Ganges, till he reached Harsil. He is said to have introduced apple seed, potatoes and green bean to this region. You can still find apple orchards everywhere in the region. There is said to be a local apple variety in his name. He also cashed on abundance of Deodar trees here. Wilson sold the Deodar logs to Britishers who turned them into sleepers for expansion of railways in India. It is said that he brought richness for the local people of Taknaur valley. But he was also fond of hunting and it is claimed that he alone was responsible for introducing large scale hunting in the region and make money out of it. He will trade in fur, skin and bones. He married a local girl (Gulabi as per some stories) from village Mukhba. Mukhba is the winter abode of goddess Ganges and is just a few kilometres from Harsil. 

Wilson cottage at Harsil as it was before getting burnt

There are numerous stories, folklores, legends about Wilson, his struggles, his skills, his richness, his love & hate story with rulers of Tehri-Garhwal and hostilities that he later developed, incurring even a curse from local deities. That apart, locally he was also referred to as Raja Wilson or Pahadi Wilson. Wilson had constructed a huge mansion for himself at Harsil. It was known as Wilson cottage. It was built in 1864. It remained an attraction for visitors until decades after his death. But the cottage got burnt in a fire sometime back. The place is now under the forest department, which has built a Forest rest house here. 

What now we see in place of Wilson cottage
Lama Tekri. Wilson cottage was built right on the base of this hill.

Away from spoils

Harsil is now a cantonment town. Way back in May 1973 a detachment of the Defence Agricultural Research Laboratory run by DRDO was established here. It is also a base for army unit. Currently a battalion of Mahar Regiment is stationed here. Proximity to China border has made it strategically very important place. Being a cantonment area, it is governed by cantonment board rules. Hence Harsil has been prevented from being turning into a mess of regular hill stations. This is the place where valley has bit widened up, which makes it favourable location. It also has a helipad nearby on the way to Dharali. This helipad is used for helicopter services for Chardham Yatra. Due to being a border area, earlier foreigners were not allowed to stay overnight here. Even Indian tourists needed a permit to visit he area. These curbs were placed immediately after the 1962 China war. But last year all these restrictions were lifted. No permits needed and even foreigners can stay overnight at Harsil.

Vishnuganga flowing down towards Bhagirathi

The legend of Hari Shila

Harsil or Harshil, as it is pronounced in Hindi is also a mythological town. It is also said to have a confluence of three rivers- Bhagirathi (Ganges coming from Gangotri), Vishnuganga and Jalandhari. Hence it is said to have a similar religious importance as of sangam. Harsil derives its name from two words- Hari (हरि means Lord) and shila (शिला meaning rock). It is said that here Lord Vishnu is in rock form in the river. He became rock because of a curse of the wife of a local demon king Jalandhar.

Jalandhari river coming down from Tankaur valley

Actually there are many mythological stories about Jalandhar. Most common one is his being a son of Lord Shiva and then becoming so powerful that Gods started fearing him. Only way to kill him was to weaken him by making his wife submitting to somebody else since his biggest strength was chastity of his wife Vrinda. To play a trick, Lord Vishnu disguised himself as Jalandhar and reached in front of his wife. She believed him to be her husband and lost her chastity. When resultantly Jalandhar was killed and his wife came to know of the truth, she cursed Lord Vishnu to turn into a rock. That happened here at Harsil and hence it got its name. Harsil also has a Laxmi Narayan temple built in 1818 at the banks of the Bhagirathi river.

Laxmi narayan temple at Harsil
Blackish rock in the centre is the one known as Hari Shila

Gateway to Kinnaur

But to me, Harsil is more importantly a gateway to another beautiful world which is largely unexplored. Harsil is actually an important transit point. Along the Jalandhari river goes a trek to Kinnaur via Kyarkoti in Tankaur valley. This trek goes to Chitkul in Kinnaur, which is last village in the Baspa valley. This is said to be the classic route from Gangotri to Kinnaur, which was reportedly first crossed by Marco Pallis in 1933. This is said to be one of the most remote areas of Uttarakhand and arguably one of the most beautiful as well. One has to cross Lamkhaga Pass (5282 metres) to go to the either side. Actually, there are routes connecting both the Yamunotri valley as well as Gangotri valley to Kinnaur. Another trekking route from Chitkul via Borasu Pass (5360 metres) takes to Har-Ki-Dun valley and Sankri. Or you can trek further till Yamunotri from Har-Ki-Dun via Ruinsara Tal and Bali Pass (4900 metres). Well, though feeling tempted to write more about that, will do it sometime later. 

Route that goes towards Kyarkoti
Views from Kyarkoti. Photo credit: anvancy.com

An unending charisma 

While coming from Uttarkashi as soon as we turn towards Bhagirathi valley from Jhala-Purali (where Sian Gad meets Bhagirathi river), we feel like entering into a new world. Going back is always tough as you feel like leaving a part of you here. But that perhaps is the motivation to be back, so shall be.

View on way to Sukki Top

Attractions close by

Apart from treks, Harsil can also be base for all excursions around, and there are plenty to keep you busy for long. Harsil itself is located at an altitude of 2620 metres, higher than many other popular hill stations of Uttarakhand and Himachal.

Gangotri: Source to river Ganges is just 20 kilometres from here. So even if Gangotri is important part of itinerary, you can plan it as a day visit from Harsil.

Jag Ganga gorge in Nelong valley. Photo credit: Pallavi Sharma Duffy

Nelong: Nelong valley is 30 kilometres from Harsil towards the Tibbet border. It was a prohibited area until sometime back. But now tourists can visit this amazing valley after taking due permission from (Uttarkashi) district administration. That can also be planned as a day visit from Harsil.

Mukhba: This is just a kilometre or so from Harsil. You can even walk down to this village. This is winter abode of Ganges and every year when the Gangotri temple is closed, the idol of Ganges is brought down in a procession at Ganges temple in Mukhba, only to be taken again in similar procession in next summer.

Ganga temple at Mukhba

Sat Taal: A chain of seven unexplored lakes just five kilometres from Dharali at altitudes raging from 9000 to 10,000 feet. A beautiful half day trek can be done to these lakes and come back. Each lake has a story. (Read: Exploring the unexplored Sat taal near Harsil)

Kyarkoti: Even if you don’t go for the trek to Chitkul, you can go on a short trek upto Kyarkoti lake which is just 14 kms from Harsil. Have a night camp in the lap of majestic Himalayan ranges around and come back to Harsil the next day. It would be a great adventure.

trekking route to Kyarkoti. Photo credit: anvancy.com

This autumn, Harsil can be your dream destination. What are you waiting for!

Have you ever been to Harsil? Share your experiences in the comments section below.

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Get ready for a Holi with Butter at Dayara

Holi in monsoon and that too with no colours but butter and curd milk! Well, nothing to be surprised. India does have such a vivid culture that there are scores of different festivals held every now and then. Many of them are unique and few of them have roots in remotest of places. Some of these places, which were not known so far are slowly getting popularity due to increased tourist activities. Raithal in Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand is one such place.

Dahi-handi at Dayara. Photo: Sarvesh

Raithal is popular among adventurers as it is also the base for trekking expeditions to Dayara Bugyal and further. Raithal is also an ideal tourist village also known for its rich history and cultural heritage. Included in this heritage is this festival which is almost unique in Indian traditions. And interesting thing is that festival is celebrated kms away from the village in the high meadows.

Dayara

View of Raithal village

Dayara Bugyal is almost at an altitude of 11 thousand feet. It is indeed one of the most beautiful alpine meadows and one of the biggest as well in this part of Himalayas. It is spread in almost 28 square kilometre area. There are many small glacial lakes and few of them are known for their colourful fishes. This bugyal also turns into a flower carpet in spring time every year, after the melting of snow. There are also many herbal plants found here, which had been used by locals as medicines for generations. 

Dayara Bugyal  Photo: Sarvesh

During the spring time the meadows get covered with lush green grass cover. At that time the villagers of Raithal will send their cattle to graze in the meadows along with some shepherds. They will stay there for months. Shepherd will construct small temporary huts over there. Villagers believe that with rich grass and medicinal plants in abundance, their livestock will get healthier and in return the quality and quantity of their milk will also improve immensely. They continue to be there till the start of the rains. 

Also read: Faith sees no fear at Yamunotri

Festival

Traditional dance at butter festival  Photo: Sarvesh

Now when cattle get healthy and fit to return, than in the Hindu month of Bhadrapad (mostly August, but might vary), the villagers of Raithal will go to Dayara to bring their cattle back. Their return is celebrated as the Butter festival. The festival was traditionally called as Anduri. This is a way for them to thank the nature for its blessings, to take care of their cattle folk and making them healthy. Although the festival is celebrated for a day, but its preparations go on for weeks. Villagers will invite their near and dear ones to join them for the festival, thus they tell everybody that their livestock is returning to the village. They will decorate the houses and the barns or sheds with flowers. Pooris (deep fried puffy Indian bread) will be hanged on the doors as a tradition.

Decorating with flowers. Photo: Sarvesh

Earlier they used to throw cow dung on the guests but later on that was replaced with butter and butter milk. As this festival has now started attracting tourists, many other things are increasingly added to the celebration to make in visually more impressive. A fair is held and just like Janmashtami celebrations of Maharashtra, Dahi-handi is also organised. All villagers will gather at Dayara with lots and lots of butter and butter milk. They will apply butter on faces (as we use colour in holi) and butter milk will br thrown and poured on each other. Water guns filled with butter milk will be extensively used. Now with tourism department involved in the festival, the festival has got more diversified atmosphere. Folk music and dances like Dhimai and Mithi will be organised, people will be dressed in traditional clothes. 

Spraying butter milk with water guns. Photo: Sarvesh

This year, this festival is being held on 17th August.

Folk singers and dancers at Butter festival. Photo: Sarvesh

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.

View from the house pf Raja Gambhir Singh of Raithal

Dayara is lush green and beautiful from May to October. It receives heavy snow from December to March. The whole meadow turns white.  With that much of snow and due to its long gentle slopes, this place is also ideal for skiing activities. 

Also read: Why travelling to Yamunotri is just not a pilgrimage

Where to stay

A traditional home is now a homestay

Raithal now has many homestay options where you can stay with locals and enjoy the traditional hospitality and know more about local cuisine and culture. Few of these home-stays are in huts which are hundreds of year old. A lot of work is being done to promote Village Tourism. This is also attracting many foreign tourists to the region. Those who love adventure, can also opt for camping at Dayara. There are may people in Raithal who work as trek guides and can arrange for camping at Dayara. There are a few professional tour operators. 

What else

Raithal has got some amazing views of the Himalayan ranges, and that gets better and better as we keep moving up towards Dayara Bugyal. You can see Srikanth, Draupadi ka Danda, Gangotri peaks amen many more. It is rewarding to get up early and see the sun rising behind these glorious peaks. On the way from Bhatwari to Raithal, in the fields lies a historical Sun Temple, known as Sun Temple of Kyark. Raithal is also famous for its Goat Village project. You can visit the Goat Village and witness a unique goat farming initiative. Harsil is also not far away from Raithal. Actually, when you have come so far, then always advisable to go to Harsil as well. 

Sun temple of Kyark near Raithal

This region is very fertile. It is famous for its apples, rajma (kidney beans) and potatoes. Don’t miss any of them, when you go there.

Also read: Exploring the unexplored – Sat taal near Harsil in Gangotri  valley

Have you ever seen the Butter festival at Dayara? Share your experience with us in the comments section below.

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Whispering winds, hovering clouds and a ghost which wasn’t there!

If I would have been believing in ghosts than I could have said that this ghost certainly loved nature and he lived in most exotic of locations. Ghosts or not, this place known as Abbott Mount certainly had a captivating charm. It did create a magnetic pull on us. As soon as I came to know that there is this haunted place, in no time I was just running on the mountain trail towards that spooky mansion on the top the mountain along with two others. I felt just like a member of ghost busters team on a mission. Other members of our Bloggers Bus team stayed back, few may be because of fear, few due to disinterest and remaining for hating to walk so long.

Prelude

Gate to the mansion just before the long walkway is now closed

But there is very interesting prelude to this visit. We reached Lohaghat on fifth night of our roadtrip in Kumaon region of Uttarakhand, and all through the first five days of our journey we were pulling two young ladies in our group through various ghost stories. Hardly any of us had an idea of what was coming through our way. When all this was happening, on the third day just out of interest, while searching internet on my mobile phone I came across a mention of haunted house of Lohaghat. I knew that we had a night halt scheduled at Lohaghat, but still I had no idea whatsoever that we were actually supposed to visit the mountain where this haunted house was located. Hence, when we finally did, our enthusiasm was simply uncontrollable.

Beautiful walkway to the mansion in thick woods

Ironically, in our seven nights on the trip, Lohaghat was the only destination where we were not staying at a Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam (KMVN) property. When we reached hotel at Lohaghat in the evening, we felt like a complete meltdown in comparison to our previous four nights stay at various locations. But it was all well compensated next morning, when we visited two very interesting locations around Lohaghat- one was the Advait Ashram at Mayavati and second one was Abbott mount.

Event

Its quite dense forest around the campus

SO, as it stands, on this hill just around five kilometres from Lohaghat remains buried one of the biggest mysteries of our times at a place, which is now known as one of the most haunted in India. Its not a very old story. Everything happened less than hundred years ago. A winding road takes you to the hill top at Abbott Mount at an altitude of over 1650 metres. This place has got some splendid views. Beauty of this place was discovered by an Englishman John Abbott, that’s how the place got its name Abbott Mount. He built up a mansion here known as Abbey Mansion. That was approximately a century ago. Later in 1942 he built a church here in memory of his wife. John himself died in 1945. 

Turn left from the main walkway towards mansion

Our narrative started as soon as we reached the last road head at Abbott Mount. Our first story teller was the one of the staffs of District Tourism Officer of Champawat district who met us at Lohaghat. He told us about the ‘story’ behind Dr Morris Hospital. Abbey mansion was turned to a hospital later. There are many loose ends in the story. There is no detail on when exactly the hospital started in this building, after the death of Abbott or in his lifetime itself? Also, whether Abbott himself lived in this mansion as long as he lived? Actually in all these years, the story of Dr Morris overtook that of John Abbott.

History

The Abbey mansion or the Morris hospital as seen from distance

A doctor par excellence, Morris was known to do some unusual experiments on his patients. Some people say he was a physician, some say he was a neurosurgeon. As per the stories going round for decades, Dr Morris was keen to know the mystery of death. He wanted to understand, what happens in human mind exactly when the moment of death comes. It is said that he will do occult surgeries. It is also said that he used to predict the exact day of death of his patients. But, was he capable of doing that? 

The passage that leads to the mansion in the front

Now the evil spirits enter the story. All such patients, about whom the prediction were made, were allegedly sent to a different building alomost a kilometre away, now known as Mukti Kothi. They were found dead on the pronounced day! Interestingly, all such patients were normally the ones who won’t have any near or dear one to take care of. People claim that Morris used to murder his patients to boast of his predictions. 

Its lush green all around, the beauty looking very organised

The another part of the story is about the death of Dr Morris himself die. Its being told that there was another Dr named Evert (we don’t know whether in the same hospital or outside). He loved a local girl. Now it is said that Morris wanted to do some experiment on that girl. Evert objected to it. Morris attempted to inject the girl and in the ensuing fight between Morris and Evert the syringe got injected to Dr Morris himself, which took his life. Quite Bollywood type. Isn’t it! But that’s how the story goes. This was the story that I had not read so far about this place. This still does not solve all the mysteries. There are many questions still unanswered and will perhaps remain so. 

This garden seems to be very neatly done as if taken care of very regularly

Decades passed by, and the stories of spirits started roaming around. Spirits of Dr Morris and his patients. Nobody has seen them but many claim to have heard them whispering, calling! But still, there is more than meets the eye. Mukti Kothi is now a privately owned property. Mukti Kothi is almost a kilometre from the Abbey mansion on the other side of the hill top. Visitors and cameras are not allowed inside the property. The church built by Abbott is now abandoned. This is third important place in this real life drama. This is the church, where Abbott, his wife and Dr Morris were laid to rest. You still see the graves on the other side of church. Many of them look ruined but a few still have stones with the names and other details. 

A piece of small white cloud hovering around looks so spooky

There are many other plots and subplots attached to this place. The last road head of the Abbott Mount has a plateau at the top. It has a grown as big as a football field, which now tourism department wants to develop as a helipad. On the other end of the ground is a small temple. But even this temple looks like abandoned. It is also said that this hill top was the abode of deities which got angry when John Abbott constructed a mansion here. This anger is also said to be the reason behind place becoming haunted.

This place has got some beautiful views around

Interested in ghost stories? Read: Bhangarh – Nothing spooky about it

Postscript

We also came across another aspect of this place, so far unheard and unread as well. (Since it is all unverified, so I am not taking any living names.) This one came from a person who worked as a caretaker with a property nearby which now works as a guest house, probably the only running one currently at the Abbott Mount. He and his wife claim to have heard the ghost of Abbey Mansion a number of times (but have never seen it). According to that person after the death of Dr Morris, this place was reportedly taken over by Good Shepherd Agricultural Mission (GSAM) established in 1948 by Maxton Davis Strong and his wife Shirley. (This orphanage is still doing some extraordinary work in Kumaon for long and is still active with its base at Banbasa. They now also have The Maxton Strong School at Banbasa. Banbasa is approximately 97 kilometres from Lohaghat at the Nepal border.) Mission used the Abbey Mansion as residence for many of its orphan children. These children will visit the church regularly where mass was held every Sunday. Christians from nearby areas will also come here. But some time back (probably two decades ago) mission left this place along with children, allegedly when some locals (including a lawyer with the mission) tried to take the control of the property at Abbott Mount. They succeeded probably.

Abbey mansion as seen from the back side
This message written on back wall looks so creepy
Long corridor on the front side of the building. Walls look like cemented not a long ago. All doors and windows are jammed
What looks like a barrack is bit away from the main building on the hill side
rooms in the barrack look like this from outside
A view of room from inside. Looks like a quarter

GSAM has actually seen many ups and downs in its 70 years history in this part of India (I tried to, but was not able to contact the GSAM to know whether there was any truth in the story). Since than the place is in shambles. Its ownership is not clearly known, but outer structure of the Abbey Mansion was renovated about a decade ago. Inside, it is still in ruins. Mukti Kothi area has got a very newly constructed mansion. We don’t know who stays here. Church is all in ruins, clearly nobody has take care of it for decades. Who knows, all the ghost stories might be the part of any property tussle here!

Ghost on road? Read: Loops of the haunted

Visit

We trekked down to the Abbott Mount cottage or Abbey Mansion or Dr Morris hospital, whatever it is called. There is a long walkway amidst thick tree line from the main entrance till the building. Main gate before the walkway is locked and barricaded. Iron grill gate has two big cross on both sides. We jumped inside through the fencing. We could hear strong breeze blowing, there were all types of birds making strange noises. Small pieces of white clouds were hovering around quite low through the trees. There was no human being besides we three. All rooms of the main building were locked. I could see the darkness inside through some holes in the window grills. 

Church that John Abbott built in 1942
Church is now abandoned
A view of the prayer hall of the church. Mind it that there is no way to go inside the church.
The graveyard on the other side of the church
Where John Abbott was buried in 1945
Mukti Kothi is the building on the left. Building on the right looks like a newly built cottage

There were two other buildings on one side of hill, close to the main building. They looked like a row of barracks. Few rooms here were open, but the long grass and loneliness of the place prevented me from going inside. We were at the property for almost 30 minutes but didn’t encounter anything strange here, besides the solitude, seclusion and the remoteness at this place. That would have been enough to install fear in any weak mind. But there was another strange thing that struck me. Few images I had seen of this mansion were different. The outside are looked quite dry and abandoned in those images. But when we were there, it was all lush green, with lots of flowers, trees and various plants. It came to my mind that could this have been maintained this way all naturally, without any human care! 

Tourism

Log huts built by tourism department at the Abbott Mount ecotourism resort
The ground on the top, where a helipad is supposed to come up

Undoubtedly this is amazingly beautiful place. From October to May we can have a unhindered view of Himalayan ranges from West to East, from Pir Panjal in Kashmir to Panchachuli. It has got lovely weather, charming surroundings. To develop this place an ecotourism project was launched here few years ago by tourism department. Tourist log huts are almost ready and might be working from next season. Easily accessible and even a helipad coming very soon. What else! You might also have some ‘ghosts’ for company!!

You can see the full video of my visit to this Haunted House of Lohaghat on my YouTube channel by clicking on the thumbnail below-

Have you ever been to Abbott Mount? Did you experience anything strange there? Let us know your experience in the comments section below.

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Myth and mystery of the cave 90 feet deep

Patal Bhuvaneshwar temple was in and out of our itinerary for the Bloggers Bus at various points. It was no where in the initial plans, but  when a fellow blogger asked for it than it was included in the programme. By the time we reached from Kausani to Chaukori, KMVN official in-charge of our trip came up with the information that it wasn’t safe to go inside as there would be lack of oxygen inside the cave and it was also raining continuously in the region. There was another catch, we were told that cameras are not allowed inside and all phones and cameras have to be deposited at the counter outside the cave. Most of our interest got diffused because of that too. Going to a new place and not able to photograph it was somewhat turn-off. 

Here starts the walkway to the cave after the road ends

It rained whole night at Chaukori and that already disrupted our morning schedule. Rain had stopped by the time we left. Having already missed all other activities at Chaukori for the morning, the idea of Patal Bhuvaneshwar again propped up as it was on the way towards our lunch destination at Gangolihat. Just seven kilometres before Gangolihat there is a diversion towards the Patal Bhuvaneshwar cave and it is further seven kilometres from that point. So we all, finally decided to take a chance.  It was 12 noon by the time we reached the village. This village would have got populated in later stages because of this cave temple. Cave is further  half a kilometre from the road-head on a paved walkway.

The gate that welcomes, but cave is still further

It is a beautiful place undoubtedly. At an altitude of 1350 metres (almost as Gangolihat) this cave is located on a hillside in the middle of thick jungle laced with deodars, pines and oaks. This cave is actually in the middle of the hill as the river flows another few hundred feet below. It is therefore very calm and serene here. A lovely place to be for whatever reasons. We had another reason to be happy and that was being able to take the photographs inside the cave. Armed with the information that just a few days back ASI had allowed photography inside all its monuments/sites, we managed to convince the personnel there to allow us to take cameras inside. But all that not before many hectic calls, getting order copies online et al.  All this episode consumed another half hour, but all in good spirit and for a cause, and with a better end result.

Bells lined up on the way to cave. You will find this at many of the temples in Uttarakhand. This is one of the way to pay obeisance to the god after some of their wishes are fulfilled!

Patal Bhuvaneshwar is said to be one of the most revered cave temples in India and perhaps the most mysterious as well. It is located in Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand.  This limestone cave is just 160 metres long and 90 feet deep. Having seen many other caves in India, we can safely say that natural cave systems are one of the most intriguing geographical feature of this planet. India has many bigger and majestic caves. Most of them have very interesting stalactite and stalagmite rock figures. Many of these figures got myths associated with them in the long term.

Mythology associated with the cave temple at Patal Bhuvaneshwar.

Similarly Patal Bhuvaneshwar cave temple is said to have a deep association with Hindu mythology. Undoubtedly it has some very amazing stalactite and stalagmite figures carved out by nature on limestone rocks. But this relatively very smaller of all caves has got hidden some biggest of the mysteries and myths, one being that this cave is as old as the earth itself.

Entrance to the cave

We were fortunate on two counts that day. Firstly we got to take the cameras inside and secondly, there was no crowd that day, may be because of the rains. We were told that normally there are hundreds of pilgrims waiting to visit the cave at all times and it takes quite few hours for your turn to go inside.

Way to go down the cave

What is different here from other caves that I have seen is the cave mouth. It is tough to go inside as there is a narrow tunnel like passage going down the cave where one has to slide down with the help of chains. At some point there are stairs and at other there is just rock face to slide.

Not an easy task by any means!

Oxygen inside is less, hence there is a chance of suffocation or breathlessness, mostly during the rainy season. Hence going inside is tough for all those who are oversized, have stiff bodies, problems in knees or back or those who suffer from claustrophobia. And mind it that it is a long way down. Cave is almost 90 feet deep from the mouth.

A look back towards the cave mouth

It is said (and is written on the boards and plaques here) that this cave was first discovered by King Rituparna of Surya Dynasty (सूर्यवंशी राजा ऋतुपर्ण). That has been mentioned in chapter 103 of Manas Khand of Skanda Purana. That happened in mythological ‘Tretayuga’ (त्रेतायुग). Than in Dwapar Yuga (द्वापर युग) Pandavas again reached here while they were in exile. And then in Kalyuga (कलयुग) in 822 AD Adi Shankaracharya (आदि शंकराचार्य) rediscovered the cave. Later in 1191 AD Chand Dynasty kings started maintaining this place and they brought priests from Bhandari family of Kashi to perform puja here. Since then same family has been doing that continuously. Currently their 18th generation is presiding the prayer rituals here.

Fellow bloggers sliding inside the cave

For those who love adventure, it is a very interesting to be in. This narrow passage suddenly drops you to a large cave. Though, still this is not very big as other caves but it is comfortable for few people to move and be there. Once you are in, you start feeling better because getting in or out of the cave is more energy-sapping.

Group of bloggers inside the cave

The cave takes you to a mythological world. Tourists are not allowed to go inside the cave without an authorised guide as there are many blocked passages. One also needs to understand mythology behind this. This guide takes you to the journey of belief inside.

Passage inside the cave. The wave like structure on the base is said to be the rib cage of snake god Sheshnag!

It starts right from the place where one gets in, where you see a rock in form of snake hood (शेषनाग). Mythologically it is said that this earth is placed on the hood of snake god. Since this cave is down inside the surface of the earth, hence it is termed as Patal (पाताल).

Narrow passage wet with flowing water nside the cave

Once you move in, you can see two closed passages. That particular junction is said to have four entrances- Randwar (रणद्वार), Paapdwar (पापद्वार), Dharamdwar (धर्मद्वार) and the Mokshadwar (मोक्षद्वार)। We are told that Paapdwar was closed at the time of death of Ravana and Randwar was closed after the Mahabharata war. Dharamdwar is the one through which we enter and the Mokshadwar is the one where we proceed, where all the gods are present inside the cave in various forms.

Four Dhams of Shiva inside the cave

It is said that all Hindu gods (33 कोटि देवता) that you have heard of, reside here. So besides Sheshnag, you have Kal Bhairav, Ganesha among others. Many myths are taking form here including the four Yugas and also the coming of Ganges on the earth (गंगावतरण).  Many pilgrim destinations take shape here including Badrinath, Amarnath, Somnath and Kedarnath. You can see feet of elephant of the gods- Airavat (ऐरावत) and hairs of Shiva.

Said to be thousand feet of Airavat elephant
Idol of King Bhagirath on one side, the small pond is said to have holy water and all other Hindu gods on other side
Jata of Shiva, through which he held the force of the river Ganges, when it came to the earth

And, actually they are few to mention. There are many more legends associated to these rock formations. They are indeed amazing. With so many myths associated to his place and a temple still there pilgrims from near and far come here to seek the blessings, making it one of the most sacred places of the region.

Temple of Patal Bhuvaneshwar inside the cave at the far end. It is said that it was established hundreds of years ago by Shankaracharya himself.

Its indeed worth going there. For me it was entirely different from the all my earlier cave visits. It is always interesting to explore when belief and nature combine to give birth to many mythologies.

You can see the entire video from inside the cave on m YouTube channel by clicking on the link below-

This Bloggers Bus trip happened on an invite from Uttarakhand Tourism. Seven travel bloggers from across the country participated in it including me for an eight day road trip to some unseen destinations of Kumaon. This was the third Bloggers Bus of the Uttarakhand Tourism for the season. I was also the part of the first Bloggers Bus to Garhwal. You can read the amazing stories from this journey of Bloggers Bus 3.0 by going to the blogs of my fellow bloggers- desi traveler, travelure, Voyager, Anamika Mishra and Ghoomophiro.

Have you ever been to Patal Bhuvaneshwar temple? How was the experience? Tell us about your experience in the comments section below.

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Faith sees no fear at Yamunotri


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Yamunotri temple on the foothills of the Kalind mountain

Rubbing your shoulders against the ponies, fear of being hit by wooden sticks protubering out of palakis (पालकी), getting squeezed between rush of pilgrims on one side and rocky hillside on the other and a long tiring journey–nothing deters you from your faith that drives you to reach the Yamunotri temple on the foothills of Kalind mountain.

Janaki Chatti as seen from Kharsali village
Another view of the Janaki Chatti village during Char Dham Yatra season

Here faith sees no fear. And you have enough of motivation to do that, even if you are not a traditional pilgrim type–a breeze of fresh air, song of the river flowing deep in the beautiful lush green valley on your right and a majestic sight of snow-clad peaks of Garhwal Himalayas.

THE YATRA
Yamunotri is the westernmost shrine of this region. Hence it is traditionally the starting point of the Char Dham Yatra of Uttarakhand which then goes to Gangotri and then Kedarnath and finally concludes at Badrinath. There is a pattern in this pilgrimage–you keep moving from west to east. Two of these Char Dhams are the source of India’s two most important rivers- Ganges and Yamuna, which themselves meet down at Sangam in Allahabad. Other two are dedicated to two of the most important deities which happened to be source of two streams of Hinduism- Shaivite and Vaishnavite, i.e. Kedarnath dedicated to Shiva and Badrinath dedicated to Vishnu.
Waiting for the riders
Also all these four dhams are at almost same altitude zone- Yamunotri being lowest at 3293 metres and Kedarnath being highest at 3553 metres. Factually speaking, all these four dhams have trekking routes connecting each other. No doubt, these would have been the travel routes centuries ago for the pilgrims until the roads came up. Not just the route, there are many legends connecting these dhams, few of them dating as back as times of Mahabharata.
View of the Kalind mountain in backyard of Yamunotri
But another existing fact of interest is that out of the two dhams with river sources, only Gangotri is accessible by road, whereas there is a almost a six kilometer trek from Janaki Chatti to Yamunotri. Similarly, in the other two dhams of deities only Badrinath is accessible by road, while Kedarnath has to be reached by a arduous 18 kms trek from Gaurikund.
THE EXPERIENCE
A lot has changed in this region after the devastating floods of 2013. Being in the same region, all of them had to face to fury of the nature. Immediate after effect was the reduced number of pilgrims. But these four dhams command such a respect in the Hindu mindsets that, five years down the line, the number of pilgrims coming for Char Dham yatra has reached back to the pre-2013 levels. We were told that as many as 7000 pilgrims go to the Yamunotri temple from Janaki Chatti daily.
Happy with what life gives. Two porters with their dolis
That’s how the palakis are carried on the four shoulders

Personally, rivers always fascinate me and honestly speaking I will try not to let go any chance to jump in the lap of nature. Hence an invitation from the Uttarakhand Tourism Development Board to be part of its first ever Bloggers Bus was indeed a blessing in disguise. We were seven in all, four from Kolkata–Rangan Datta, Amrita Das, Subhadip Mukherjee and Anindya Basu; Namita Kulkarni from Mysore and besides me Swati Jain from New Delhi. (We will know more about my co-travellers in later posts. In the meantime you can click on their names to go to their lovely blogs). We travelled for six days in a bus in Yamuna and Ganges valley of Uttarakhand, exploring some so far unexplored areas. Yamunotri was the first major destination of the trip.

Walking trail alongside the valley
THE ROUTE
The trek to Yamunotri is a mixed bag. The trail is paved and has a protective railing towards the valley side throughout the trail. Although regular trekkers will find it easy, six kilometres is a no mean task at such altitude. At times it is steep enough to make you sweat and breathless, more so if you are not habitual of walking and being at an altitude of over 10 thousand feet. There are shelters every half kilometer or less. There are sitting places in these sheds. There is facility of drinking water and there are numerous shops on the way selling food, snacks and drinks. Walkers can even purchase a stick to support as a third leg. Down at Janaki Chatti, there is a well developed market selling almost everything of daily need.
Time to quench the thirst
Kalind mountain in full glory
Corns for the time pass!

There are other ways to cover the distance and most common is a riding a pony. You can hire a pony either for the round trip or the one way. Then there is a palaki where you are lifted and carried by four people on their shoulders in a seat. Then there is a doli, generally for kids and lighter people in which one people carries you on his back in a seat carved inside a basket. Now the problem is that everybody has to share the same walking trail to go and return from Yamunotri. At times and at certain narrow points the trail becomes quite crowded and there are instances of traffic jams, and even walking becomes tougher and bit of ordeal. Moreover, the cemented trail also becomes somewhat uncomfortable for the ponies and gets slippery. Imagine, there are around 2000 ponies at Janaki Chatti to take pilgrims to Yamunotri. But one thing for sure, despite few grims and whims here and there, everybody is fine with everything and considers it as a part of their journey to the deity.

THE SOURCE
Interestingly, just like Gangotri, the actual source of Yamuna river is also not at Yamunotri. As Gaumukh is further 18 kms from Gangotri, similarly actual source of Yamuna rives is said to be the Saptrishi Kund which is a small glacial lake fed be Champasar Glacier in the Bandar Poonch massif. This lake is said to be some where between 14 to 18 kms far from the Yamunotri temple at an altitude of over 16,500 ft. Saptrishi kund is also named so because of its mythological association with the seven great sages– Kashyapa, Atri, Bharadwaj, Vishvamitra, Gautama, Jamadagni and Vasistha.
Bridge just after the Bhairav temple
Shelters for the pilgrims on the trail to take much needed rest
Time to move again with the crowd
Pilgrims from all corners of the country converse here
Views like this keep you fresh and energised

Treks to this place are very less and hence very little information is available about it. It might be bit tough but not impossible one. Actually this is indeed a very beautiful trek and legends connect it to even Ramayana and it is often said locally that this was the place where Hanuman came search of Sanjeevani all the way from Lanka. Not for the legend, but certainly for its charismatic beauty, I hope to do this trek some day. Legends say that the actual source of Yamuna being so tough to reach, temple to worship Yamuna was built down in the valley at the present site. As the secretary of the Yamunotri Temple Committee Kriteshwar Uniyal said to us, that it was impossible for the lesser mortals reach at the original source.

THE SHRINE
Yamunotri temple has three-four main parts. First one is the sprout in the rocks from where river Yamuna emerges. That is the place where the river is worshipped by the devotees ritualistically. The sprout is covered by a cage to protect it. Then there is a proper temple nearby which has three idols- one of the Yamuna, second one of the Ganges and third one too of Yamuna which is taken out during the procession and festivals. Between these two sites is a hot spring called as Soorya Kund (Yamuna is believed to be the daughter of Sun god). The water in this spring is so hot that it is used to cook rice which is taken back by the devotees as a Prasad (blessing). We have seen this phenomenon at many places in Himalayas.
With the uphill journey over, time to hand the palakis
Porters having time to rest after a tiring climb
Meanwhile these innocents wait for turn to go downhill again
Remains of faith polluting the river!!
Temple and the river flowing alongside
Where Yamuna sprouts beneath the rocks inside the shrine
The main temple of goddess Yamuna

Then there are also bath ponds for the devotees to take bath before the pooja where the hot water is mixed with cold water of Yamuna to make it more bearable. There are separate baths for men and women. Besides, there are numerous shops lined up selling food, snacks, drinks, prasads, offering and souvenirs. There are also few options of stay for the devotees who are late and might not be able to return Janaki Chatti before dark.

 
Fast Facts
1. Janaki Chatti to Yamunotri temple is a trek of 5.5 kms. A normal person will take 2 to 2 and half hours to walk down the trail.
2. Ponies charge 1200 rupees one way and a palaki 4000 rupees one way.
3. Travelers are normally allowed to leave till 5 pm in the evening from Janaki Chatti towards Gangotri.
4. There is enough of water and food available on the way.
5. There are also sheds for the shelter from sun, rain and wind.
6. Always walk towards the hillside to be safe as there are lot of pulls and push from various elements.
7. Avoid travelling in dark on the walking trail.
View from the bridge that leads to the shrine across the river
How to Reach
Yamunotri is located in Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand at the far end of the Yamuna valley in westernmost Garhwal Himalayas. Janaki Chatti is the last road head. One can reach to Janaki Chatti by public transport i.e. buses or any private means- buses, taxi, personal cars, two-wheelers etc. All of them have to be parked at either Janaki Chatti or Kharsali village.
Walking back to Janaki Chatti
It becomes really crowded at times
Turning back for some lasting views
Meanwhile, he has found the best place to have a undisturbed power nap
A fulfilling journey comes to an end

Nearest rail heads are Haridwar, Rishikesh and Dehradun. Nearest Airport is Jolly Grant Airport at Dehradun. Dehradun to Yamunotri is roughly about 180 kms. Roads are generally very good up till Janaki Chatti baring for a few landslide zones. Route from Rishikesh to Janaki Chatti goes through Dehradun, Mussorie, Yamuna Bridge, Naugaon, Barkot, Syana Chatti and Hanuman Chatti. It is almost an eight hour journey from Dehradun to Janaki Chatti.

You can see a video of this trek to Yamunotri from Janaki Chatti on my YouTube channel by clicking on the link below-

Have you ever been to Yamunotri? How was the experience? Please share with us in the comments section below.
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