Tag Archives: Garhwal

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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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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Photo of the day – Seems Surreal!

Beautifully laid untouched snow on top of the hill! An amazing 360 degree view of natural splendour in clear blue skies. Gorgeous unhindered spectacle of himalayan ranges from Himachal to Chaukhamba to Trishul and Nanda Devi right in front of your eyes. No mess of a tourist place. Calm and seclude and above all this altitude of almost 10 thousand feet so approachable as a just 45 minutes cool trek from main motorable route. Seems surreal, isn’t it! And it is in India.

Wanna be there? Drop down at Kaddukhal on main Mussorie-Chamba road in Uttarakhand and take a one and half kilometre trek through to top, to Surkanda Devi temple. Its amazing!

DSC_9771

देवी के धाम से हिमालयी नजारा

Surkanda Templeबड़े हिल स्टेशनों की चमक-दमक में अक्सर हम उनके आसपास की ज्यादा खूबसूरत जगहों को भूल जाते हैं। सैलानी ज्यादा लोकप्रिय जगहों पर ही आकर अटक जाते हैं। ऐसी ही बात सुरकंडा देवी के मंदिर के बारे में भी कही जा सकती है। सुरकंडा का मंदिर देवी का महत्वपूर्ण स्थान है। दरअसल गढ़वाल के इस इलाके में प्रमुखतम धार्मिक स्थान के तौर पर माना जाता है। लेकिन इस जगह की अहमियत केवल इतनी नहीं है। यह इस इलाके का सबसे ऊंचा स्थान है और इसकी ऊंचाई 9995 फुट है। मंदिर ठीक पहाड़ की चोटी पर है। इसके चलते जब आप ऊपर हों तो चारों तरफ नजरें घुमाकर 360 डिग्री का नजारा लिया जा सकता है। केवल इतना ही नहीं, इस जगह की दुर्लभता इसलिए भी है कि उत्तर-पूर्व की ओर यहां हिमालय की श्रृंखलाएं बिखरी पड़ी हैं। चूंकि बीच में कोई और व्यवधान नहीं है इसलिए बाईं तरफ हिमाचल प्रदेश की पहाडिय़ों से लेकर सबसे दाहिनी तरफ नंदा देवी तक की पूरी श्रृंखला यहां दिखाई देती है। सामने बद्रीनाथ, केदारनाथ, गंगोत्री, यमुनोत्री यानी चारों धामों की पहाडिय़ां नजर आती हैं। यह एक  ऐसा नजारा है तो वाकई दुर्लभ है। गढ़वाल के किसी इलाके से इतना खुला नजारा देखने को नहीं मिलता। एक इसी नजारे के लिए इस जगह को मसूरी, धनौल्टी व चंबा जैसी जगहों से भी कहीं ऊपर आंका जा सकता है। और तो और, चूंकि सुरकंडा का मंदिर लगभग दस हजार फुट की ऊंचाई पर है, इसलिए यहां बर्फ भी मसूरी-धनौल्टी से ज्यादा गिरती है। मार्च की शुरुआत तक यहां आपको बर्फ जमी मिल जाएगी। फिर कद्दूखाल ठीक राजमार्ग पर स्थित होने की वजह से पहुंचना सहज होने के कारण भी यह जगह ज्यादा आकर्षक बन जाती है।

Surkanda Temple2सुरकुट पर्वत पर गिरा था सती का सिर जब राजा दक्ष प्रजापति ने हरिद्वार में यज्ञ किया तो पुत्री सती व उनके पति शंकर को आमंत्रित नहीं किया। इस अपमान से क्षुब्ध सती ने यज्ञ कुण्ड में प्राणों की आहुति दे दी। पत्नी वियोग में व्याकुल व क्रोधित भगवान शंकर सती के शव को लेकर हिमालय की ओर चल दिए। इस दौरान भगवान विष्णु ने महादेव का बोझ कम करने के लिए सुदर्शन चक्र को भेजा। इस दौरान सती के शरीर के अंग भिन्न जगहों पर गिरे। माना जाता है कि इस दौरान सुरकुट पर्वत पर सती का सिर गिरा तभी से इस स्थान का नाम सुरकंडा पड़ा। चंबा प्रखंड का जड़धारगांव देवी का मायका माना जाता है। यहां के लोग विभिन्न अवसरों पर देवी की आराधना करते हैं। मंदिर की समस्त व्यवस्था वही करते हैं। पूजा-अर्चना का काम पुजाल्डी गांव के लेखवार जाति के लोग करते है। सिद्धपीठों में मां सुरकंडा का महातम्य सबसे अलग है। देवी सुरकंडा सभी कष्टों व दुखों को हरने वाली हैं। नवरात्र व गंगादशहरे के अवसर पर देवी के दर्शनों से मनोकामना पूर्ण होती है। यही कारण है कि सुरकंडा मंदिर में प्रतिवर्ष गंगा दशहरे के मौके पर विशाल मेला लगता है।

Surkanda Temple3सुरकंडा में चढ़ाई के लिए नीचे कद्दूखाल से ऊपर चोटी तक सीढिय़ां बनी हुई हैं। सीढिय़ाँ ख़त्म होने के साथ ही ढ़ालनुमा पक्का रास्ता शुरू हो जाता है ! चढ़ाई काफ़ी खड़ी है इसलिए बहुत जल्दी ही थकान महसूस होने लगती है! मंदिर जाने के रास्ते में कुछ स्थानीय लोग खाने-पीने का समान और मंदिर में चढ़ाने के लिए प्रसाद बेचते हैं! रास्ते में जगह-जगह लोगों के आराम करने के लिए व्यवस्था भी है। जो लोग पैदल जाने में समर्थ नहीं है उन लोगों के लिए यहाँ खच्चरों की व्यवस्था भी है। एक तरफ के रास्ते (चढ़ाई) का खच्चर पर अमूमन 400 रुपये का खर्च है।

Surkanda Temple4कहां रुके

सुरकंडा या कद्दूखाल में रुकने की कोई बढिय़ा जगह नहीं। कद्दूखाल के पास कुछेक छोटे-बड़े गेस्टहाउस हैं, लेकिन कायदे की जगहें या तो धनौल्टी में हैं या फिर चंबा में। ज्यादातर सैलानी मसूरी में रुककर दिनभर के लिए सुरकंडा आने का कार्यक्रम बनाते हैं। मेरी सलाह में मसूरी में भीड़-भाड़ के बीच रुकने के बजाय धनौल्टी में रुकना बेहतर है। धनौल्टी व कद्दूखाल के बीच सड़क पर ही अच्छे रिजॉर्ट हैं और सस्ते गेस्टहाउस भी। वहां रुककर आसपास की जगहों को आसानी से घूमा जा सकता है। यह इलाका अपने सेब के बगीचों के लिए भी बहुत प्रसिद्ध है। इसलिए भी मसूरी की तुलना में यह जगह ज्यादा सुकून देती है।

कैसे पहुंचे

सुरकंडा देवी के मंदिर के लिए कद्दूखाल से एक-डेढ़ किलोमीटर की खड़ी चढ़ाई है। कद्दूखाल उत्तराखंड में मसूरी-चंबा राजमार्ग पर धनौल्टी और चंबा के बीच स्थित एक छोटा सा गांव है। कद्दूखाल धनौल्टी से सात किलोमीटर दूर है और चंबा से 23 किलोमीटर। चंबा व मसूरी से यहां जाने के लिए कई साधन हैं जिनमें टैक्सी व बसें आसानी से मिल जाती हैं। मसूरी यहां से 34 किलोमीटर और देवप्रयाग 113 किलोमीटर दूर है

रोपवे

सुरकंडा मंदिर पहुंचने वाले श्रद्धालुओं को जल्द ही रोप-वे की सौगात भी मिलने जा रही है। पांच करोड़ की लागत से 600 मीटर लंबे रोपवे का निर्माण पर्यटन विभाग पब्लिक प्राइवेट पार्टनर (पीपीपी) मोड से कराएगा। निर्माणदायी कंपनी दो साल में इसका निर्माण पूरा कर देगी। मां सुरकंडा देवी के दर्शन को हर वर्ष दूर-दराज से सैकड़ों श्रद्धालू पहुंचते हैं। अब कद्दूखाल से देवी मंदिर को रोप-वे से जोडऩे के लिए शासन से मंजूरी मिल गई है। पांच करोड़ रुपये की लागत से बनने वाले छह सौ मीटर लंबे रोपवे का निर्माण एक कंपनी करेगी, जो 30 साल तक इसका संचालन भी करेगी। तीन साल से सुरकंडा देवी मंदिर रोपवे प्रोजेक्ट फाइलों में कैद था। सिद्धपीठ सुरकंडा देवी को रोपवे से जोडऩे का प्रस्ताव पर्यटन विभाग ने वर्ष 2012 में तैयार किया था। संभवत जून माह में रोपवे का काम शुरू कर दिया जाएगा। रोपवे प्रोजेक्ट के बनने के बाद वहां पर रोपवे संचालन के लिए स्थानीय युवाओं को वरीयता दी जाएगी। पर्यटन विभाग ने इसके लिए प्रस्ताव तैयार किया है। नॉन टैक्निकल कर्मचारियों के काम स्थानीय युवाओं से कराए जाएंगे। इस प्रोजेक्ट की खास बात ये है कि इसमें एक भी पेड़ नहीं काटा जाएगा। सिर्फ बड़े पेड़ों की लॉपिंग की जाएगी।

सुरकंडा देवी के मंदिर की एक खास विशेषता यह बताई जाती है कि श्रद्धालुओं को प्रसाद के रूप में दी जाने वाली रौंसली (वानस्पतिक नाम टेक्सस बकाटा) की पत्तियां औषधीय गुणों भी भरपूर होती हैं। धार्मिक मान्यता के अनुसार इन पत्तियों से घर में सुख समृद्धि आती है। क्षेत्र में इसे देववृक्ष का दर्जा हासिल है। इसीलिए इस पेड़ की लकड़ी को इमारती या दूसरे व्यावसायिक उपयोग में नहीं लाया जाता।

Surkanda Temple5आसपास

सुरकंडा देवी (कद्दूखाल) से महज सात किलोमीटर दूर धनौल्टी है। धनौल्टी एक पर्यटक केन्द्र के रूप में पिछले 10-12 सालों में विकसित हुआ है। महानगरों के भीड़ भरे कोलाहलपूर्ण एवं प्रदूषित वातावरण से दूर यहां की शीतल ठंडी हवाओं का साथ पर्यटकों को फिर तरोताजा बना देता है। यहां के ऊंचे पर्वतों व घने वनों का नैसगिर्क एवं सुरम्य वातावरण धनौल्टी का मुख्य आकर्षण है। यहां स्थित आकाश को छूते देवदार के वृक्ष किसी कवि की कल्पना से भी आकर्षक और धनौल्टी के आभूषण हैं। टिहरी-गढ़वाल जनपद के अंर्तगत आने वाला यह मनोरम पर्यटक केन्द्र समुद्र तट से लगभग 2300 मी. की ऊंचाई पर है। धनौल्टी को देखकर लगता है, जैसे प्रकृति ने अपनी छटा के सभी रंग इस क्षेत्र में बिखेर दिए हैं। जो पर्यटक मात्र प्रकृति की गोद में विचरण के उद्देश्य से कहीं घूमने जाते हैं, उनके लिए यह जगह स्वर्ग के समान है। आजादी से पहले तक धनौल्टी पर्यटन स्थल नहीं था। यहां टिहरी नरेश की इस्पेक्शन बिल्डिंग होती थी। सन् 1950 में टिहरी नरेश की रियासत के राज्य में सम्मिलित होने के बाद यह बिल्डिंग तहसील के रूप में कार्य करने लगी। धनौल्टी तहसील में नायब तहसीलदार के संरक्षण में सभी सरकारी कार्य होते हैं। सर्दियों में धनौल्टी में अत्यधिक ठंड और बर्फबारी होने की वजह से यह तहसील थत्यूड़ (ब्लाक मुख्यालय में स्थानांतरित हो जाती है। धनौल्टी में सरकारी कार्यालय के नाम पर तहसील के अतिरिक्त एक बैंक, एक छोटा पोस्ट ऑफिस और एक जूनियर हाईस्कूल ही हैं। इंटर कॉलिज यहां से चार कि.मी. दूर भवान में स्थित है। धनौल्टी की मूल आबादी मात्र 400-500 है। ये सभी गढ़वाली लोग हैं, जो आसपास के गांवों से यहां आकर बस गए हैं। प्रत्येक वर्ष ग्रीष्म ऋतु में लगभग 25-30 हजार से अधिक पर्यटक धनौल्टी में डेरा डालते हैं। धनौल्टी में ठहरने के स्थान बहुत सीमित होने की वजह से पर्यटकों को कई बार रात बिताने मसूरी वापस जाना पड़ता है।

Traditional dance of Garhwal- Jhora at Waan

Jhora at WaanTraditional folk dance at Waan during Nanda Devi Rajjaat Yatra 2014. Last inhabitated village on Rajjaat route towards Bedini Bugyal, Waan is famous for its Latu temple. Latu is considered to be brother of Goddess Nanda Devi. Here onwards Latu leads the Yatra till Homkund.

The video here is of traditional ‘Jhora’ in Nanda Devi’s praise by men & women in traditional attire. Most special are women ornaments,  these ornaments also reflect their social status. Sung in local dialect, group of men first recite a couplet, which is repeated by the women folk. This can go on for hours, the flow of words and rhythm (steps as well) of dance keep on changing, but tempo remains the same.

Normally it is a slow paced dance. People keep on joining or moving out of the sequence as per their convenience. Men and women dance and move in a same circle formation but as two different groups. Men will never hold hands of women during the dance. Such ‘Jhoras’ are now a rarity, seen only in times of Yatra or big religious festivals.

Nanda Devi Rajjat yatra from 18th August

Procession of Gods
Procession of Gods

After two years of postponement the eagerly awaited Nanda Devi Rajjat Yatra will finally take place from 18th August to 6th September this year. The Nanda Raj Jat takes place once every twelve years – the journey starts from Nauti village (Karnaprayag district of Uttarakhand state in India) accompanying a mythical four-horned sheep and Doli and all sorts of gifts for Nanda Devi, who is treated as a daughter revisiting her mother. Last Yatra happened in 2000. Hence it was originally scheduled in 2012 but was postponed due to Malmaas (one inauspicious month) in that year. Hence rescheduled to happen in 2013, again last year it was postponed due to natural catastrophe (flash floods) in Kedarnath area, which created widespread destruction and huge loss of life and property across Himalayan region. Now, if everything goes as per plan, then Yatra will bring cheers to the many.

Raj Jaat Yatra at Roopkund
Raj Jaat Yatra at Roopkund

Nanda devi – the daughter of Kings of mountains, and the consort of Lord Shiva – is the supreme spiritual goddess of the locals of Garhwal and Kumaon region. She visits her maternal dwelling in these Himalayan heights in the Bhadrapad (months of August – September) – and this festive break is celebrated by the natives. The 280 kilometres and 19 days trek starts from Nauti Village and reaches Homkund via the amazingly picturesque Bedini Bugyal, Roopkund (4501 m) and the very difficult Jyura Gali pass (4620 m), on Nandashtmi. The trek passes through some of the most beautiful and some very tricky landscapes in the area. It is said that four-horned ram is born once every twelve years, and this very ram leads the procession. People do not go beyond Homkund, from where the ram takes the gifts and disappears in the glaciers. Once the ram is released, no one looks in its direction and the procession immediately heads back home.

Yatra on the route, File Photo
Yatra on the route, File Photo

One can attend the ceremony at Nauti village and then proceed to other places of interest before joining the procession again via Wan. It is at Wan that some 300 idols and decorated chhantolis (umbrellas) are assembled and the journey continuous all the way to Homkund.

Besides, Nanda Devi (7816 mts) is also the second heighest peak in India, located in Chamoli District of Uttarakhand. The route of Yatra passes through beautiful and mysterious lakes of Roopkund & Homkund and slopes of Bedini Bugyal. Besides Yatra, this route is also considered to a trekker’s paradise for its mesmerizing natural beauty, but it is also tough and challenging. Trekkers around the world dream of going to this area. The Nanda Raj Jat passes through places, that don’t find mention in most tourist maps and well-hidden inlands. This religious trek is meant strictly for the die-hard trekkers. Simultaneously this trek presents one the prospect of exploring a real Uttarakhand – its culture, traditions, people and authentic cuisine.

 

Tourism worst hit by calamity

Tourism has been worst hit in flood-ravaged Uttarakhand in northern India, with pilgrims fleeing the disaster-struck state and tourists cancelling their bookings. May and June are considered peak season for tourism in the state with hotels registering 100 per cent occupancy, but now, most wear a deserted look and several have also been washed away in the floods. “Every year, 23 to 24 lakh pilgrims arrive in the state for the Char Dham Yatra — Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri. The disaster has hit tourism badly.

A view of damaged houses is seen following floods and cloudburst in Srinagar, Uttarakhand, India
A view of damaged houses is seen following floods and cloudburst in Srinagar, Uttarakhand, India

“If we consider government figures, thousands of hotels, inns and residential houses have been severely affected by the flood and hundreds among them have been obliterated,” Joint Director, state Tourism Department, A K Dwiwedi said. State Tourism Minister Amrita Rawat, said, “The disaster has affected tourism in the state badly and it will take a long time to assess the damage caused thereby.”

The natural calamity has temporarily forced closure of the annual ‘Char Dham Yatra’, considered the backbone of Garhwal economy. Some hotels in worse-hit areas like Rudraprayag, Chamoli and Uttarkashi districts have been completely swept away in the deluge.Tour operators claim that due to the tragedy brought about by torrential rains last week, business in this sector in cities like Mussoorie and Nainital has come down by 20 to 30 per cent.

Ganga Singh Bhandari, a Delhi-based tour operator, said the next two years might be very difficult for tourism sector.   “My hotel beside Kedarnath temple got washed away in the torrent. Of 12 buses we had sent from our centres in Delhi and Rishikesh, some are yet to return. We also lost three pilgrims and people are very scared now.” “Even if people want to go there, how will they go? The roads have been destroyed, hotels and inns have been ravaged. I wait every day in my office to see a tourist but I don’t think we’ll seem them for another two years,” Bhandari said.

S P Kochhar, manager of a group of hotels said, “Now, only corporate customers are staying in our hotels or those who aborted their Char Dham Yatra midway.” Around 9,000 people are still stranded in the state and rescue operations are going on with Indian Air Force having launched its biggest ever helicopter-based rescue operation in the state. Tourism officials are advising tourists and pilgrims to stay away from state tourism circuit for at least one month.

Mass cancellations of bookings have prompted travel operators to change their plans and they are asking tourists to visit the state after September. “For the time being, we are asking tourists to refrain from travelling to Uttarakhand but we are building new and better travel plans for them in the upcoming months,” Rohit, an employee of a travel company, said.

Crisis in Himalayas

After deluge of last week, agencies are facing a herculean task of saving as many lives as possible before weather strikes again in Uttarakhand state of Indian Himalayas. Still few thousands are stranded waiting to be either airlifted or trekking down the hills to safety. Deads are still countless. Calculating casualty figures is still a distant possibility. With rain catching up again in coming days, its a race against time to save the remaining ones.