Tag Archives: Uttarakhand

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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Exploring the unexplored : Sat taal near Harsil in Gangotri valley


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Himalayas are filled with glacial lakes, actually a lot of them at various altitudes and in different sizes. All of them have their own distinct beauty. Their are many lakes which are single and many others attached to a single system. Many are mystical and a lot mythical as well. So having seen most majestic high altitude lakes in Indian Himalayas from Kashmir to Sikkim, it wasn’t a surprise at all to have heard about seven lakes known as Sat taal (सात ताल) in Gangotri valley of Uttarakhand, just above the village of Dharali. But what kept my interest was the fact that these lakes have been largely unexplored. Hence, despite very limited time to squeeze out of the hectic schedule of our Bloggers Bus trip organised by Uttarakhand Tourism Development Board (UTDB), we were off to the lakes.

Starting the trek from Dharali village on main Gangotri road

Trek was’t tough, somewhere in scale between easy to moderate. Lakes would not have been too majestic but were very interesting. Trek starts from Dharali village which is just three kilometres from Harsil on the road to Gangotri. Let’s do a photo journey to the trek.

Climbing through the Dharali village. You can see a now abandoned old house in the image below-

A view of Bandarpunch massif amidst the cloud cover as seen while trekking towards the lakes (below)

A closer look of Bandarpunch or Bandarpoonch (बंदर पूंछ) literally meaning tail of a monkey for its shape. Mythologically this reference is to Hanuman. This massif actually has three peaks- Bandarpunch-I (6316 mts) in the centre, Bandarpunch-II (6102 mts) towards west and Kalanag (6387 metres) towards north east.

Some huge rocks on the way to lakes (below). Presumably such rocks would have been used as shelter from rough weather. Tourism department now plans to develop such rocks as attractionLeaving the village behind and moving towards lakes through the forest trail (below)

Right opposite on the hills across the river Bhagirathi we can see the Mukhba village and the Ganga temple (below). This is the village, where Goddess Ganga is worshipped in the winters when the temple is Gangotri is closed.

Ganga temple at Mukhba

While right above the hill that we are climbing, we can now see snow  peaks above the tree line (below)

…and a closer look!And finally we reach the first of the lakes after almost one and half hours of trekking (below)

This is Mridunga taal (मृदंग ताल) also called locally as Madunga taal (below). It is at an altitude of 9600 ft. It is called so perhaps because the trees around the lake make a sound similar to ‘mridunga’. Though not big, but this is the most beautiful of the lakes.

The trail from first lake to the next one is slightly steep, but not tough one.

After trekking for another 15 minutes, we reach the second of the lakes. Actually, here we have two lakes close to each other. One of them has been now covered with stones and boulders rolling down from the mountains during rains and slides. This second lake is called as Dabria taal. Dabria refereed to here as stones. But the third lake is very interesting. Area wise, this is the biggest of all the lakes. But it is a lake in disguise. On the first lake, you will wonder where is the lake! As you won’t see a pool of water anywhere. What we see is a big meadow surrounded by deodar trees around. This setting will remind you of Khajjiar in Himachal Pradesh. But actually, this whole meadow rests on the lake bed. There is water beneath this green carpet (below) and as soon as you put a foot on this meadow (more towards the centre of it) you will feel the ground shaking (you can see the fellow trekkers jumping on this meadow to get that feeling of ground going up and down in the video linked at the end of the post)

This is called as Chadkia Taal and it it is at an altitude of 9918 ft. This name comes locally from this grassland based on lake water.

Looks like Khajjiar! Isn’t it!

Another two lakes are close by. Next one is the Rikh taal at an altitude of 9962 ft (below). The name Rikh comes from hindi name Reech (रीछ) for sloth bears. Presumably this area might be having a good number of sloth bears around.

The fifth lake is called as Bakria taal (below) and it is located at an altitude of 10,034 ft. It might have got its name as one of the favourite locations for cattle to graze.

These are the only lakes that can be seen. But that makes only five. We were told that other two lakes still remain unexplored and they are bit higher in the mountains. Still, legends say that there are seven lakes and hence they are called as Sat Taal. Most importantly all these seven lakes are perhaps fed with a single system. Since they are at different heights, water from the highest lake flows down to the next one and that continues. Water from the lowest one the Mridunga taal flows down to Bhagirathi river near Dharali (below). But changing weather and less snowfall has reduced these lakes into  small ponds.

Besides enjoying these lakes, this place is beautiful for trekking, hiking and may be camping. You have carpet of flowers at various places like the ones below-

You will largely see rhododendrons in red or orange colours in this region. But here you can even find rhododendron flowers in a mix of purple and while colours, like the one below-

As you go up, view keep getting better and better. This particular area is just behind the Srikanth and Draupadi Ka Danda peaks. On a clear day you can have a very clear view of these ranges while going up. But even on a cloudy day, you can have views like this to mesmerise you-

More from Bloggers Bus 1.0!

Read: Why Travelling to Yamunotri is just not a pilgrimage

Also Read: Faith sees no fear at Yamunotri 

Quick Bits: Dharali is just three kilometres from Harsil. So, though Dharali has a few hotels and guest houses, you can make Harsil as a base for the trip to the region. Trek from Dharali to Sat taal is a moderate one. A round trip will take at least three hours, depending on pit (photo) stops. You can even think of camping up in the mountains. Few operators at Dharali will arrange a camping and hiking trip for you. You can get in touch with Tourist Officer at Uttarkashi (GMVN rest house, Uttarkashi) or Sanjay Singh Pawar at Dharali (Mobile no 9410521508) for any help in this regard.

You can watch a video of all of these lakes and the trekking to them on my YouTube channel by clicking on the link below

Have you ever explored such new areas on a trek in Himalayas? Share your experiences with us in the comments section below.

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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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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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Malwa Utsav starts in Indore but lot more to do this month!

Malwa Utsav started last night at Indore’s Lalbagh palace. There are still five more days to go and you can certainly catch some action. So has India’s most awaited yearly pilgrimage- Char Dham Yatra, which commenced on 28th April with opening of doors of Gangotri and Yamunotri shrines. But there are host of other events which can prompt you to some quick travel plans. With soaring temperatures, hill stations like Mount Abu and Ooty try to chill out with their annual festivals. Then there are a few church festivals also in Kerala, besides the all famous Thrissur Pooram. Here are some quick ideas for the month of May- first of India’s traditional two months of summer vacations. Time to pack!

Malwa Festival, Indore

Celebrated with great enthusiasm, Malwa Utsav is one of the biggest and most spectacular events of Madhya Pradesh. The festival restores the age old culture and the tradition of India through its various classical dance performances and traditional music. Performers and entertainers from different parts of India charm the cities of Indore and Ujjain for a remarkable five day celebration of art, music, dance, drama and culture. Festival is organised at Lalbagh Palace in Indore. One can say that the festival is a storehouse to the culture, spirit and the essence of the state. There is a huge gathering of locals and tourists coming from all parts of India and across the globe. Well-known artists, excellent performances, colourful ambience and a mélange of various programs form the prime highlights of the festival. In-addition, the festival also exhibits a rich display of art and craft workshops and one can savour the delectable cuisines of different variety. This year more than 400 artists from 19 states will take part in the festival. This year the festival is being held under shadow of plastic ban imposed in Madhya Pradesh from 1st May and also new phenomenon of cashless transactions for the small shopkeepers.

When: 2nd-8th May, 2017

Where: Lalbagh Palace, Indore, Madhya Pradesh.

Thrissur Pooram

The grandest of all Kerala temple festivals this is more than two hundred years old. The Thrissur Pooram features a procession of around 30 colourfully decorated elephants and ensemble of 250 musicians. Other attractions include drum concerts, ornamental parasol displays, and fireworks. The festival is a huge cultural event that runs through the night with exuberant celebrations. Special viewing areas are provided for foreigners at the festival. The temple is a classical example of the Kerala style of architecture and has many murals and pieces of art. Majestic looking elephants adorned with ornate golden nettipattoms on their foreheads, the captivating beats of the thunderous music of the panchavadyam (five traditional instruments), spectacular fireworks, teeming millions intoxicated with the festive spirit – its all this and more that makes the world-famous Thrissur Pooram an unforgettable experience for any tourist.Had been in news recently for its treatment with elephants with issue even landing in court. Still, a festival worth a visit.

When: May 5, 2017

Where: Vadakkumnathan Temple, Thrissur, Kerala.

Ooty welcomes the summers with flowers

 

Photo: indiaeve.com

Every May Ooty comes alive with the Summer Festival. The 121st flower show will be celebrated on May 19th 2017, around 200 countries national flowers will be displayed on this year show. Flower show is conducted every year in the month of may in botanical garden Ooty. In this festival large varieties of flowers are displayed and organised activities like floral arrangements, vegetable carvings, flower rangoli etc. The flower show at the Ooty Botanical Gardens, which will take place on May 19-21, is particularly stunning. There will be nearly 15000 flowers of various types on display. The 59th fruit show at Sim’s park in Coonoor will be on May 27-28. Vegetable show will be on 6-7th May, Rose show on 13-14th May and Spice show on 12-14th May 2017. Other activities include cultural events, boat racing and trekking. There is also a Dog show at South of India Kennel Club (SIKC). Ooty Botanical Gardens covers an area of 22 hectares.It is a treasure house of temperate flora, consisting of flowering trees, beautiful shrubs, colourful lilies, bulbous planets, enchanting orchids, curious cacti and succulents, pleasing pteridophytes, breath taking glass house plans and charming annuals with bright colours.

When: 6th-28th May 2017

Where: Ooty, Coonoor and surrounding areas.

Buddha Purnima at Bodhgaya

Buddha Jayanti, also known as Buddha Purnima as it falls on the full moon day, celebrates the birthday of Buddha. It’s the most sacred Buddhist festival. Actually Buddha Purnima is day of his birth, his enlightenment and his death as well, making it a very rare day. It’s the most sacred Buddhist festival. Activities include prayer meets, sermons and religious discourses, recitation of Buddhist scriptures, group meditation, processions, and worship of the statue of Buddha. Across all monasteries in India including major Buddhist pilgrim centres like Dharamshala, Sarnath and Bodhgaya and predominantly Buddhist regions such as Sikkim, Ladakh, and Arunachal Pradesh as well. At Bodhgaya, the Mahabodhi Temple wears a festive look and is decorated with colorful flags and flowers. Special prayers are organised under the Bodhi Tree (the tree under which Lord Buddha attained enlightenment).

When: May 10, 2017

Dhungri Fair, Manali

Hadimba temple is one of the most famous sight-seeing destinations at Manali in Himachal Pradesh. This mythological goddess from epic Mahabharata has this only temple to her credit in India. This temple is revered by locals and other ‘gods’ of the nearby villages alike. Every year her birth anniversary celebrations are held for three days in summers as per hindu calendar. More than a dozen ‘gods’ from the valley come here in procession to take part in the celebrations. Many events are held which make it a big cultural event. There is lot of dancing, singing, and sports activities. Whole of Manali will anxiously wait for this festival as they believe that after this festival normally tourist season will start peaking at this hill station. Many tourists from all over the world take part in this festival.

When: May 14 to 16, 2017.

Where: Hadimba Temple, Manali, Himachal Pradesh

Summer festival at Mount Abu

The only hill station of the Aravali ranges welcomes tourists for the summer with a festival. The summer festival is held every year during the month of May on Budh Poornima. The festival celebrates the warmth and cheerfulness of the people of hill station, who welcome the tourists from the depth of their hearts. Mt. Abu Summer Festival kicks off with ballad singing, followed by regional folk dancing. The festival also offers sports such as boat racing on Nakki Lake, and a roller skating race. It concludes with a fireworks display. The highlight of the festival is the Sham-e-Qawwali musical show, which features some of the most renowned qawwals from various parts of India. The hospitality of the people, their colorful culture and exotic locations made this festival a-never-to-be-forgotten experience. The festival begins with a ceremonial procession, which starts from the RTDC Hotel Shikhar and gather at the Nakki Lake Chowk followed by folk performances of Rajasthan and Gujarat states. The grand finale of the festival display dazzling fireworks. This two day colorful festival is organized by the Rajasthan Tourism, Municipal Board, Mount Abu & District Administration. Both the days of festival are interesting because of various competitions that take place the whole day. Skating Race, skater’s Show, CRPF Band Show, Boat Race, Horse Race, Tug of War, Panihari Matka Race and Deepdan add to the excitement of the celebration.

When: 9th-10th May 2017

Moatsu at Nagaland

Moatsu Festival is celebrated by the Ao tribe of Nagaland. Moatsu is celebrated in the first week of May every year. Various rituals are performed during this period. The Aos observe Moatsü Mong after the sowing is done. The Moatsu festival provides the Aos a period of recreation and entertainment after the stressful work of clearing fields, burning jungles and sowing seeds, cleaning up the Tsubu (Wells) and repairs and construction of houses by elders of the Putu Menden, stretching over a week. This tribal festival is marked by peppy songs and dances. The whole festival with full of merry making and fun is observed only for three days from 1st to 3rd of May. During this festival one of the symbolic celebrations is Sangpangtu, where a big fire is lit and men and women sit around it. Men & women putting on the complete best attire and the womenfolk serve the wine and meat. The natural customary practice of the forefathers was competing in making the best rice-beer and rearing the best possible pigs and cows to be slaughtered during the festival. The women weave the best of traditional garments and adorn themselves with all their finery. They join the men in dancing, eating and drinking and composing warrior songs. Singing songs in praise of the lover and the village as a whole is done and the older men encourage the young people to be bold and heroic to defend and protect them from enemies as head-hunting was practiced during their fore-fathers time.

When: 1st-3rd May 2017

Perunnal at Edathua Church

Nestled on the banks of River Pamba is the Edathua Church, a massive church that resembles the churches of medieval Europe. Established in 1810, the church is dedicated to St. George and is famous for the annual perunnal or feast which starts on the 27th of April and concludes on the 7th of May. During the perunnal, the statue of the saint, decked in gold, is taken out on a procession and is placed on the dais in the centre of the Basilica. The devotees turn up in hordes from far and wide to join in this procession and offer their prayers. Cultural performances are held on all days and a spectacular display of fireworks form an integral part of the festive occasion. Edathua Perunnal is actually one of three church festivals that takes place in Kerala during these days.

Photo: navrangindia.blogspot.in

Others are, Palayur Church Festival (6-7 May 2017 at St. Thomas Church, Chavakkad in Thrissur) and Puthupally Perunnal at St George Orthodox Church, Puthuppally in Kottayam District. Among these two the St. Thomas Church at Palayur near Chavakkad is believed to be one among the seven churches established by St. Thomas, the apostle of Christ. The annual festival at the church lasts for two days and is attended by thousands. With vibrant pageants, orchestra, and fireworks, the festival resembles the Hindu festivals held in and around Thrissur. Established in 52 AD and with a history spanning two millennia, the church is definitely worth a visit.

When: April 27-May 7, 2017

Where: St. George’s Church, Edathua, Alappuzha. Cochin International Airport is about 85 km from Alappuzha.

Belief and adventure at Chardham Yatra

The most popular pilgrimage in India, Chardham yatra is going to begun in its full swing with the opening of doors of the famous Badrinath temple after a six-month winter break on 6th May. The doors of Kedarnath shrines will be opened for pilgrims three days earlier on 3rd May this year. With all the four shrines located above 10,000 feet in Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, the temple doors remain closed in October-November owing to low temperatures and heavy snowfall, and are reopened in April-May. The pilgrimage season of six months witnesses hundreds of thousands of pilgrims and tourists travelling to Dehradun, Haridwar or Rishikesh for an onward journey to the four shrines, making it the economic backbone of Garhwal region. However, there was a dip in footfall in 2013 following the natural calamity in the region. According to government figures, while the number of tourists visiting the state in 2012 and 2014 stood at 2.84 crore and 2.26 crore respectively, the figures stood at 2.09 crore in 2013.

When: 28th April 2017 onwards

Sipi Fair, SIpur, Mashobra

One of the unheard festivals in the list and bit weird too, but great occasion to understand the local culture and flavour. Two kilometre from Mashobra, a Shimla suburb lies Sipur which is known for its centuries old Sipi Fair. The fair is named after Seep, a local deity. The legend has it that the temple existed here prior to the deity’s visit to this place. According to the locals the place commands profound religious and mystical significance. No one spends the night here. The depth of the faith can be gauged from the fact that the visitors even dust their clothes before returning to the homes so that even a minute particle of the dust, a property of Seep deity , is not carried away. The tradition to visit the Sipi Fair is centuries old. It also finds special mention in the periodicals published during British regime .The place earlier belonged to the erstwhile Koti state. The star attraction of this fair is deity’s visit from the nearby hamlet Deothi .The deity pays as much as three visits to this place throughout the year.The venue also become a makeshift market during the fair when the stalls of goods are decorated to attract the visitors.

When: May 2017

 

Dhanaulti is more serene than its famed neighbourhood

While getting down from Mussoorie, just around the so-called Mussoorie Lake area the traffic jam was really scary. It was abnormal and the jam of vehicles going towards the ‘Queen of Hills’ stretched for more than two kilometre on that winding hilly road. I knew that scenes would have been almost similar or worse in the Kempty falls area in the other side of the city. Although, contributing to this chaos was the fact that summer holidays were about to end in the north and weekends are the favourite times for the north Indians to hit the hills, specially the nearby ones. But still, I was more than relieved on our decision to avoid Mussoorie for this brief sojourn. More so, that we witnessed this traffic chaos when we were coming downhill and luckily escaped that when we were going to Dhanaulti a couple of days back.

Dhanaulti1

I have always felt that Dhanaulti is far better place to relax than Mussoorie, however popular among masses later one would be. Mussoorie lost its favourite charm may be few decades ago. It is overcrowded, highly commercialised and at times suffocating. So first-timers will certainly have a lure to the big name but regular ones will certainly like to avoid it and move towards greener pastures, still away from the gaze of the maddening crowd. Dhanaulti is a place like this and will perhaps remain so atleast for the another decade.

Dhanaulti2

On altitude front, Dhanaulti  (2286 metres)is higher by good 281 metres than Mussoorie (2005 metres). Hence, better weather amidst less crowd. Not too far as well, just 24 kms ahead of Mussoorie (an hours drive) on the Chamba road. Quiet and serene amidst alpine forests of Deodar, Rhododendron and Oak. This tiny himalayan resort is placed on a ridge with valley on both the sides. Hence it has limited space to expand, which goes in its favour.

Dhanaulti3

Dhanaulti has two Eco-parks, “Amber” and “Dhara”. They have been developed recently by the Forest Department of Uttarakhand with the help of local youth. Dhara is just before the town towards Mussoorie while Amber is just after the town on the Chamba side. They are the prime place for the tourists in Dhanaulti to engage themselves. The adventure sports facility is available for visitors in the form of walking over the flying fox and burma bridges and riding horses. There is also a facility for visitors to plant a sapling of tree species in the memory of their beloved, which is called as memory sapling plantation. There are few other adventure sport spots nearby run by private operators and resorts.

Dhanaulti4

No big hotels but a few descent ones in the mid-range and in the budget range. Dhanaulti Heights is owned by Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam Limited and has the best location, space and the rooms in whole of Dhanaulti. Mussoorie Forest Department is running Eco-huts for the tourists come to enjoy serene landscapes of Dhanaulti. These are built by green technology and are Eco-friendly. Personally, I feel that these eco-huts are the best ones and they are cheaper than the GMVN rooms.

Eco huts right in front of the GMVN rest house- Dhanaulti Heights
Eco huts right in front of the GMVN rest house- Dhanaulti Heights

As I said, eco parks are the favourite pastimes in Dhanaulti. They have mini adventure zones. ‘Amber’ also has a dedicated place for Yoga and meditation. You can walk upto the top of the hill in the park for some fabulous views of the step farming and then valley on the other side. Its really beautiful up there. Worth spending few quiet hours. There is also a maggi and tea shop for the tourists.

Area has many walking trails and apple orchards. One can go for many mini treks. Their are pony rides available. But Surkanda Devi temple (five kilometres from Dhanaulti towards Chamba) is best place for a short trip nearby. There is a small uphill trek of around two kilometres for the temple. Temple is located at an altitude of 9995 feet. Surkanda is the most revered deity of the region.

It takes around an hour to reach the temple. The trek starts from Kaddukhal village on the main Chamba road. Its an easy to moderate trek. Still there are ponies available for the climb (Rs 400 per person, one way). Even for those who are least interested in temples, this is trek worth doing for its sheer beauty. Being highest point in the region, you can have a 360 degree view of the area. But that’s nothing, in clear weather you can have one of the best views of Garhwal Himalayas from here. I have been here in February once and it was spellbinding.

You can see the images from that trip by clicking here.

And actually even Dhanaulti has a very commanding panoramic views of snow-clad Himalayan ranges. Their are many mountain-view spots specifically for that.

In Dhanaulti, weather changes very quickly, as I said it is on a ridge. Windy at times because of this and often you are in the clouds. The misty landscape makes excellent background for the evening strolls. That’s when you are most relaxed.

Dhanaulti is a nice place to be. Interestingly, with many winter adventure activities developing here, its turning out to be a round the year tourist destination.

Weighty traditions – Golden views!

DSC_7413It is said that ornaments worn by women in Uttarakhand have much resemblance to states like Rajasthan. But, as is the practice these days everywhere else, in Uttarakhand too women wear jewellery mostly on functions, marriages and religious occasions & festivals.

Traditional jewellery of Uttarakhand are very intricately designed. There are two major parts of these ornaments- a nose ring (this is called ‘nath’ locally and almost in every part of the north). It is more popular in the Kumaon region. But they are worn in Garhwal region as well. It is at many times attached to the similarly big ear rings. Overall it becomes very heavy but they wear them with relative ease.

Another major ornament is a big necklace like jewellery called locally as ‘Galoband’. Galobands made of gold will be smaller and bigger ones will be often silver made. Many traditional family jewellery will be passed on to the next generation. Jewellery is often worn very boldly during functions and festivals. They are also the symbol of social and economical status. More the work, higher up in the strata are you so considered.

So here is a gallery of women of Uttarakhand during a religious function for Nanda Devi at a himalayan village Waan in remote area of the state, some time back.

We find it heavy, but you want to see these women dance with all this jewellery on, then see the video below on my YouTube channel-