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Why travelling to Yamunotri is just not a pilgrimage!


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Yamuna river at Sayanachatti

When the District Tourism Officer of Uttarkashi, Prakash Singh Khatri told me that before taking us to Sayanachatti rest house in the evening, he wants to take us to a majestic waterfalls, enroute Yamunotri, which is hardly visited by anyone, I was thrilled. There were two reasons to get excited, having been to Kempty Falls in the morning, I desperately wanted to see some real waterfalls. Secondly, I wanted to explore the non-mythological aspects of this fantastic valley. That was also the brief for us during Uttarakhand Tourism’s first ever Blogger Bus in the state.

First view of the Narad Falls

Yamunotri has got all sort of mythological importance. It is indeed known as the source of river Yamuna. Although the actual source of river lies somewhere 14 kms up in the mountains, river Yamuna is worshipped at Yamunotri. Besides the mythology associated with the story of Yamuna itself, this place has many references to Mahabharata. Moreover, places like Janaki Chatti and Hanuman Chatti also associate this with epic of Ramayana. Every year, the annual Char Dham Yatra starts from Yamunotri and then proceeds eastwards to Gangotri, Kedarnath and finally Badrinath.

Narad Ganga river flowing down to Banas

But the charm of Yamunotri is not limited to this pilgrimage. There are many places around worth visiting, and above all, this also acts as a base for many treks in this region. Visit to Narad Falls (Narad Ganga) was actually just the prelude to the potential this region holds for the adventure seekers. I have trekked earlier in adjoining Tons valley. But both the valleys are well connected through trekking routes and also to other parts of state as well as neighbouring Himachal Pradesh.

Closer look at the Narad Falls

Narad Falls on Narad Ganga river was very interesting. This river is a tributary of Yamuna and meets Yamuna at Banas, where the road diverts to this place. Banas is between Hanuman Chatti and Phool Chatti on way to Yamunotri. Janaki Chatti is hardly 5 kms from Banas. Trek to Yamunotri starts from Janaki Chatti. Falling under Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand, Banas is a small village in Naugaon block and also has a girls middle school. Mythologically Banas (बनास) is said to be a place which is abode of trinity of gods- Brahma (ब), Narayan or Vishnu (ना) and Shanker or Shiva (स). Well, you might not find too many references to it, its word of mouth and either you believe it or not.

Hot springs at Narad falls

Also read: Faith sees no fear at Yamunotri!

Colour of water has been changed due to high presence of sulphur
You can imagine how hot this water from the natural spring is

Narad Falls isn’t very high but has tremendous force that makes it look very beautiful. It is hardly a couple of hundred metres aways from the main road leading to Yamunotri but it is slightly hidden off-route. Hence not many people take notice of it. It was also the first time, I was noticing any natural destination dedicated to mythological saint Narad. There was another phenomenon. The falls had a natural stream of hot water running along the river at this place. Hot springs are not uncommon in this Himalayan region. But they certainly add to the charm of a place. Here at Narad Falls, the hot water from the spring has also been mixed into the cold freezing water of river into a pond to make it suitable for taking bath. This small valley thus has a falls, a hot spring, a temple, a bathing pond and a small trek to the base of the falls—thus making it fit for a small adventure trip.

Temple at Banas
Another view of Banas temple from the Yamunotri highway

You can watch a video of Narad Falls and the hot springs along it on my YouTube channel by clicking on the link below

But this place is actually base for many bigger adventures. Actual source of river Yamuna at Saptrishi Kund itself is a tough trek of 14 to 18 kms from Yamunotri. Base for many of such high altitude treks is Kharsali village. This village also has a history. Kharsali is just across the Yamuna river from Janaki Chatti. Janaki Chatti is base for Yamunotri as last road head. Here the trek starts. During the Yatra season, Janaki Chatti is heavily crowded with thousands of pilgrims, ponies, porters and palakis and hundreds of vehicles parked there. For all those who are aware of this, Kharsali village provides a lot of relief as you can altogether skip going to Janaki Chatti on way to Yamunotri. Road to Kharsali takes a diversion from main road a kilometre before Janaki Chatti, hence you can escape the traffic jam that usually happens just before Janaki Chatti. You can park your vehicles at Kharsali and just cross a foot bridge on Yamuna towards Janaki Chatti and head to the trail to Yamunotri. Kharsali also has a few resorts to stay. 

Yamuna temple at Kharsali, this is the newer construction

Also read: World Environment Day – Where even the source is threatened

Front view of the Yamuna temple at Kharsali
Idols of goddess Yamuna at Kharsali temple

But there is lot more about Kharsali village. Locals take pleasure in claiming it to be the last Indian village on this side of the border towards China. But Kharsali is also known for its Yamuna temple. Every year in winters when Yamunotri temple is closed down, Yamuna is worshipped at the temple in Kharsali. On second day of Diwali on Bhaiya Dooj (भैया दूज या यम द्वितीया) Yamuna’s idol is brought down in procession to Kharsali temple. It is than worshipped here for next six months until Akshaya Tritiya (अक्षय तृतीया) when it will be taken again in a procession to Yamunotri temple. Kharsali also has s Someshwar Shani Temple. Shani (शनि) is said to be the Yamuna’s brother from her father Sun’s second wife. Shani temple at Kharsali is five storied and said to be 500 years old. 

Kharsali village

Kharsali is also the base for the proposed ropeway to Yamunotri. It also has a helipad which is used by helicopter services for Char Dham Yatra. On a clear day, you can view Swargarohini peak, Kalindi peak, Kalanag (black peak), Bandarpoonch range and few other mountains from Kharsali. Black peak is also said to be the source of Hiranayabahu river which meets Yamuna at Kharsali. Kharsali has developed itself into a trekking base with facilities for camping, porters, guides, equipments and lot more. Kharsali has many apple orchards as well as herbal gardens for traditional herbs of medicinal values. 

View of the Kalindi mountain range

Trekking routes

One of the most prominent trekking route from Kharsali is the one which links Tons valley to Yamuna valley via Bali Pass (4800 metres). This trek is done from both the sides. One can ascend either from Kharsali in Yamuna valley or  from Seema in Tons valley. Bandar poonch range is said to be source of another river Hanuman Ganga which meets Yamuna at Hanuman Chatti. From Hanuman Chatti, there goes another trek along the Hanuman Ganga river upto the Dodital. Kalanag (6387 metres) in the Bandarpoonch range is said to be the highest peak in Ruinsara-Yamunotri region. Normally this peak is done from the Osla-Ruinsara side. Seasoned old man Jayendra Singh Tomar of Kharsali village also told us about a beautiful trek from Yamunotri to Gangotri, This trek starts from Kharsali and goes through Sunapada, Mala, Sangasoo, Kanatal, Chaya Baamsaru, Dayara Bugyal and Bharsu towards Gangotri. A long but beautiful, unexplored trek. 

Sneak a view
Another view of the snow peaks on the way

So next time you think about Yamunotri, be sure that there are many things that you can do else than the routine pilgrimage to make your trip a bit adventurous. 

Have you trekked in the Yamunotri valley? How was the experience. Please share with us in the comments section below.

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World Environment Day: Where even the source is threatened

How often when we talk  talk of polluing rivers we discuss about the ways big cities are pushing their dirt into it. While talking about rivers, we cherish, how pure the rivers are at their source and then get polluted down the stream. In that sense, it was indeed painful to see the source of one of our most sacred rivers Yamuna at Yamunotri. It was pristine all around–weather, nature and the faith, but the condition of river was not at all that healthy. We have probably ourselves to blame.

Bottles, plastic and other garbage that river threw out at Sayanachatti, just 25 kms from Yamunotri.

Problem is, we are unwittingly perhaps encouraging what should have been discouraged downrightly. With the increasing connectivity, increasing number of travellers all the stops on the way are being converted into mini city hubs. With hundreds of buses coming daily during the Yatra time, we can just imagine the pressure being put on this fragile ecosystem. With this pressure comes the associated evils that target the environment. That needs to be checked or we will be letting things go out of control. Talking about cities? Condition of Yamuna just few odd kilometres from Yamunotri  had gone pathetic. We could see piles of garbage along the river. And that was what river had spewed out, what it swallowed and took along with it downstream couldn’t be seen here.

Shops along the Yamunotri trail

All along the almost six kilometre trail to Yamunotri from Janaki Chatti, you will find  countless number of shops and all of them selling bottled water, soft drinks and all other things in plastic bottles. Then there are other hazardous items too in tins and cans. It is anybody’s guess that a big number of bottles out of the ones used here will find its way to the river stream. And it could actually be seen clearly.

Remains of the faith!

Situation was more alarming at the source itself, the Yamunotri where the crowd converges. It has to bear the most of the pressure and without tough handling with some path-breaking moves, we won’t be able to control the situation. There are more shops at Yamunotri, cooking everything from rice to samosas and selling everything from coke to toffees.

People taking bath in Yamuna at Yamunotri

Not just the count of the travellers, this pristine area also has to bear equal number of animals, support staff, shopkeepers, administration and infrastructure. And that all is constantly increasing. How are we going to check this? How can we restrain, when it comes to the matters of faith? Something to ponder about on this World Environment Day!

What can we do to stop this pollution? Share your views in the comments section below!

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Earliest sacrificers for sake of environment!

On the World Environment Day, one of the most inspiring stories of environment protection. Story of one of those rare incidents in the world, when people sacrificed their lives for the sake of the environment. A story that happened more than hundred years ago before the famed ‘Chipko Movement’ of Uttarakhand led by legendary Sundarlal Bahuguna. This particular story is from area just bordering India’s great Thar Desert in Rajasthan. This story is from close to Jodhpur, from a place made famous by that infamous episode of Bollywood actor Salman Khan and others hunting a black buck and then finding themselves under the wrong side of law.

A place where sights like this are common and so pleasing-

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This is story of Khejadi Kalan, a village 25 kms from Jodhpur on the Sardarsamand road where on a monsoon day almost 190 years before 363 people laid their lives to save trees. A memorial at that place is the reminder of that heroic story. An incident unparalleled in environmental history and what more, that historic movement was led by a woman Amrita Devi Vishnoi.

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Vishnois of this area are firm believer of protecting every life including trees. That is how Salman Khan landed in trouble when he along with his fellow actors hunted down a blackbuck. Since there are no predators or big wild cats here in this area, hence the deers and especially the blackbucks have a free run here. You can see them running everywhere around.

But the Vishnois of this area are equally sensitive to the plant life. Thats how that historical event took place. The then king of Jodhpur Abhay Singh ordered cutting down of Khejadli trees to get prepare limestone for the construction of his fort. He asked his minister Girdhar Bhandari to get the wood. But the local Vishnois will not let them do that. Vishnois of 84 villages got together to challenge the King’s order. They decided that they will embrace the trees and won’t leave them even if their heads are cut down. And, they actually laid their lives, not just one but 363 of them. When the news of this people’s revolution reached the king, he had to bow down. He then ordered a total prohibition of cutting down trees in the land of Vishnois. The tradition still continues.

People in this region are so much sensitive about tress that although they are hindus, they bury their dead because they will not like to burn wood with dead bodies on the pyres. The martyrs of that revolution were also buried and there is a memorial at that place today. Peacocks and the blackbucks welcome people in the area, although not many tourists coming to Jodhpur go there or even know about it. Seldom their operators or hotels will tell them about this place. But it is something not to be missed when visiting Jodhpur.

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Very close to Khejadi Kalan is another village Guda Vishnoiyan, which has now been converted into a eco tourism spot. This place has rich density of black bucks because of a big pond, which is also home to many migratory and domicile birds and turtles.

Milking a lake and killing it too!

Its the story of the ‘goose that laid the golden egg’. Quite similar to my earlier post on Hills: Don’t we need them anymore. But irony is, while the earlier story was about a place some distance from Delhi, this one is right from the heart of the capital. This too is about something equally crucial or perhaps more in the immediate future. This also had a bit more of emotional connect as it relates to the place which I visit almost daily. Another fact that it is also the place, where I had some of my very memorable photographs. So this was the scene yesterday (image below), that saddened me and prompted me to write about it. And honestly, I had thought about writing on this a number of times earlier as well, but couldn’t muster the will.

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As could be made out, this image and the images below are of a lake. We can see, how the water has been covered completely by the weeds and the algae. This is Sanjay Lake in east Delhi and it is among the biggest waterbodies in the national capital besides the river Yamuna itself.

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I have been regular to this place for 16 years now. Lake and the adjoining forest area cover almost 170 acres and is often mentioned as biggest lake park in Delhi. Area is constantly shrinking and so is the natural habitat in the region. In this one and half decade, I have seen worse conditions of the lake and I often feel that there is nobody in the government establishment which actually feels about preserving it for the nature’s sake. Everybody wants to milk it for benefits.

Till some years ago the whole are seen above was good enough for paddle boating. People used to enjoy that. That boating system was managed by Delhi tourism. But later on due to poor management of the whole system and poor maintenance of the lake and the boats made the boating inoperative because of perhaps huge losses. Boat and the jetty turned into junk (see this image).

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Nobody cared for years altogether, besides uselessly demolishing the old park boundaries and constructing the new ones in most unprofessional way.

Sometime ago DTTDC (Delhi Tourism) and DDA cut off another area of the lake park and developed it as an adventure park (e-o-d) separately, by putting up an entry fees. In just three months of the opening of this ambitious project, it too seems to be going the same way as before.

That was the condition of the water puddle of the adventure park just a few days back (image below). Probably that made the officials sit up and do something to clean it.

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Now (as seen yesterday in the image below) the operators at the adventure park after cleaning a bit of their water have created a partition in the water to let not the algae and the weeds spread in their part of water (who cares for others!).

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Delhi Development Authority (DDA) created this lake in 1970. It is mostly a rainwater lake but now lot of sewage water flows into it.

Well thats, not the only part of the story. Sometime last year, DDA leased out the major part of the lake to a private operator for fish farming. Locals say that it used to happen long ago. But it was later stopped. So, after more than twenty years this lake has been leased out for fish farming. and it is a long-term lease. The big part of the lake leased out for the fish farming is the one beyond the puddle used by adventure park for paddle boating, till the end at Khichripur. So that part of the lake is now practically left to the mercy of the private fish farming operator.

The operator has been allowed to pitch tents inside the park for its employees (see image below)

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What these people do? They take care of the water in their purview, we can say fishes. This lake naturally breeds fish in huge number. Since this lake has been haven for migratory birds since many years, naturally these birds feed upon fish in the water. Now the operator who has the lease of the lake for fishing will obviously not like to have these birds come here and feed upon fishes which he plans to sell in the market for profit!

Hence, he has hired people who will roam around the lake in the boat and let not the birds come and rest at the lake (see the image below).

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So, who cares for the migratory birds and their natural habitat here! Effectively, now this lake has been divided into three parts- first one the smaller main area which is surrounded by the main parks where most of the visitors, morning walkers and joggers come. This is under the DDA and is in worst state despite of huge staff of DDA employed for the park itself. Second, smallest one is with adventure park, they occasionally clean it, but who knows till then they will be motivated. Largest one at the far end is with fish farming lease operator whose only motivation is its business.

This lake and forest has been natural habitat of some very exciting migratory birds, domestic birds, owls, reptiles, butterflies, flowers, etc. I have been capturing them in my camera for years. I have written many posts on them such as these ones recently on painted storks or this one on mallard ducks.

See some images of the natural life around here-

Last year there was a big event at the lake sponsored by big names such as The Times of India and the Hero group. There was a huge plantation drive and the Lieutenant Governor of the Delhi was himself there. It was a huge plantation drive, a big brand event. Being from media, I can understand the truth behind such brand events. Nobody, who attended that event, actually cared about the lake. None of the plants are there any more from that drive. None of the organisers ever turned back to the lake to see that what happened to all their efforts. For all of us this lake is one milking cow.

This lake already has its share of destruction because of so-called development. The site of this new metro station (image below) has been usually a shelter place in winters for migratory great egrets.

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But their number have dwindled since the construction began and they have switched to a smaller place (see the image below).

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With this huge apathy towards nature in the system, tough to say that how long will they keep coming here and how long will we be able to see the sights as beautiful as this one.

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Millions of Amur Falcons return to Doyang

Two tagged falcons complete two rounds from Mongolia to South Africa

Amur Falcons at DoyangAs two of the three Amur falcons tagged with satellite tracking chips last year returned to the north-eastern Indian state of Nagaland, central government has now decided to develop Doyang Lake as an ecotourism spot for bird-watchers across the world to have a wonderful and rare sight of Amur Falcons. Doyang lake is famous as a roosting site for longest travelling raptors Amur Falcons. They come every year at Doyang lake during their flight from Mongolia to South Africa.

Pangti is now Amur Falcon capital of world

Snow-white Amur FalconThe two falcons – named Naga and Pangti – tagged in 2013 have already done two rounds from Mongolia to South Africa via Nagaland and have again returned to Nagaland this year. Amur falcons, weigh just 150 grams, cover 5,600 kms, flying non-stop in five days from Mongolia, to arrive in Nagaland.  Amur falcons come to Doyang every year in millions. Until recently, Naga tribesmen used to hunt thousands of Amur falcons for meat. But last year, after a vigorous campaign by wildlife activists, they pledged to protect the bird and since then, not a single bird has been hunted in the area. Today, the world has recognised Pangti village in Nagaland as the world’s Amur Falcon capital, as more than one million birds can be seen in just 30 minutes. It is a very rare and exciting sight.

Doyang to be developed as ecotourism spot

Amur FalconsMinister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Prakash Javadekar has become the first Union Minister to have a bountiful view of Amur Falcons that arrived in Doyang Lake area in Nagaland on Monday morning. Enthused by the sight of millions of Amur falcons in just half an hour, the Environment Minister declared that four or five other birds from other roosting in Nagaland will also be tagged, giving the name of the area to which the roosting relates. He added that the Centre and State Government would jointly take measures to promote infrastructure and eco-tourism in the entire Amur Falcon area.

Conservation helped at various levels

Amur FalconsThe conservation of Amur falcon is a great success story for India, as it has happened with peoples’ participation. People who were earlier killing the bird (Amur falcons) earlier, are now working for its conservation, thanks to proper motivation, training and mindset changes effected by various wildlife conservation bodies, activists and the Church. With proper conservation methods, the birds will be attracted in larger numbers.

 

Biggest elephant capture operation in decades

Elephants crossing a highway in Karnataka. Photo: indiasendangered.com
Elephants crossing a highway in Karnataka. Photo: indiasendangered.com

Karnataka state in south India has initiated ground work for the biggest operation to capture wild elephants in the country. Forest officials have held talks with experts from Africa and within the country to begin trans-locating  a heard of 25 to 30 elephants in the district of Hassan,225 km from Bangalore. ” The operation will take place early next week” a forest official said. But many environmentalists are already crying foul over this attempt.

Farmers have been complaining for more than two years seeking action against the elephants who often go on rampage destroying crops. More than 25 people have died due to elephant attacks in recent years in what experts call human-elephant conflict zone. The High Court has given its nod for the capture of these elephants. The last such operation to catch elephants took place in 1971 near Mysore.

A wild elephant charges towards people standing on a building in Mysore, in Karnataka. Photo: ibnlive.in.com
A wild elephant charges towards people standing on a building in Mysore, in Karnataka. Photo: ibnlive.in.com

Several environmentalists and wildlife experts like Raman Sukumar, Chairman of Ecological sciences,Indian Institute of Science, said the government had no option but to capture the elephants and relocate them.  The intensity of the human-elephant conflict was serious and could be resolved only by trapping the elephants, he said.

Ofcourse, there are many wildlife observers who are opposed to the move,saying it was extreme and could endanger the elephant habitat. But with the high court,which consulted experts, agreeing to the proposal to capture the elephants, the protests against the operation has died down. There are many who want to the elephants captured to be moved to Cauvery wildlife sancturary.  Forest department may domesticate the elephants and put them in zoos.

Elephant on the loose in Indian state of Karnataka. Photo: AFP/Getty images
Elephant on the loose in Indian state of Karnataka. Photo: AFP/Getty images

State forest department officials had taken expert opinion on capturing the elephants  from officials in Kenya, South Africa and other African countries. Villagers  have been holding demonstrations demanding shifting of the elephants for the last two years. Elephants have been invading their farms and destroying crops on a regular basis.

Environmentalist Yellappa Reddy blamed fragmentation of the elephant corridor due to human encroachment for the animal-human conflict in the forest areas of Karnataka. ” Translocation will give rise to problems and not solve them. Instead, the government should initiate awarness campaign among farmers and get them invovled in eco tourism.” said Reddy