Dhanaulti is a small hill station, at an altitude of 7500 ft, situated at the foothills of the Garhwal Himalaya located 24 km (15 mi) away from the very popular hill station Mussoorie . There are few hotels and GMVN tourist rest house for the tourists. There are few good restaurants too for the day travelers who come from Musoorie or Chamba.
I went to Dhanaulti from Chamba via Tehri Dam . As I could not manage to go to Nelang valley so I had two days extra which I decided to spend in Dhanaulti. There was Sarkanda Devi temple which I visited on the day I arrived. Sarkanada Devi is a Sati Pith where the scull of Sati fell. Next day I just idled away walking on the roads and visiting the two Eco parks watching people enjoying leisure time with their families. The weather was pleasant even in the end of May.
Dhanauti is full of deodar and ceder trees, orchards of apple and walnuts , fields full of green vegetables on the slope of the mountain. It is away from the hustle bustle of the crowd not being so popular as Mussoorie. It is a pleasant place for those who want to spend peaceful leisure time.
I enjoyed good food there. The hotel owner was a congenial person. He arranged a jeep for me to go to Sarkanda devi temple. He was quite worried and concerned about me because I was traveling alone. He asked me to go down to Mussoorie because public transport was uncertain from that place and advised me that I should not take risk to reach Haridwar from there on the day of my return journey to catch train. So after spending two relaxed night there I came down to Mussoorie by a shared jeep that was going to Dehradoon.
I received a message in the early morning from IRCTC that Kumbh Express would start at 8 PM instead of 1PM. I felt a bit disturbed and anxious. Thank God! The train was not cancelled. As it started late it reached at 7-30 AM after two nights’ journey. I did not want to waste time in Haridwar though I had accommodation, booked previously in GMVN’s Rahi Motel. I got the last bus for Joshi Math from the bus stand and boarded immediately. I could not get a window seat but it did not matter much to me because it was not my first journey towards Joshi Math. When the bus dropped me at Helang the sun had already set down behind the hills. I lodged in a hotel on the highway.
Next day I waited for shared jeep at Helang since 7 o’clock in the morning till 12 noon. When at last the jeep came I forcefully stuffed myself within the jeep in a desperate manner and reached Devgram. I trekked quite fast and reached Kalpeshwar temple, though construction work was going on, the workers helped me to cross the difficult parts. I came back at 3PM and then went for Gopeshwar.
I spent the night at Gopeshwar GMVN. I went to Chopta from there at 12 noon by a bus that plied from Gopeshwar to Ukhimath. I spent the night at Chopta. Early morning I started for Tunganath. As it rained heavily at night so there was haze. I could not capture sunrise on the mountain range. There was plenty snow on the top. The weather in Himalayas is absolutely unpredictable. I did not expect so much haze everywhere in the month of April. After coming down from Tunganath I went to Sari village taking lift in Lakhpat Singji’s car who owned a hotel also and I was acquainted with his name through the travel vlog of Chinmay Nath in You Tube.
After visiting Deoria Tal I went to Ukhimath. Luckily Kedarnathji and Madmahewarji had been staying in Omkareshwar Temple at that time. I felt myself blessed visiting them. Then I went to Kanakchauri via Rudrapyayag.
After coming back to Rudraprayag I thought to go to Pauri and Khirshu. I spent one leisurely day at Khirshu and another day at Kaudiyala. The end was not very smooth and pleasant as the tour was. Kumbha Express left Haridwar at 7-30 in the morning instead of 11 pm at the previous night. The co-passengers were terrible. They were two students of Doon Valley school who had appeared for 12 class board examination. They were extremely smelly in every way and very much ill behaved. I came to know that one’s father was a politician of Mughal Sarai and other’s father had real estate business at Patna. They were the burning example that money can not buy culture. When they got down I felt a bit relieved but they left their smell till I came back home and washed all my clothes.
Manimahesh Kailash is a pilgrimage in Himachal Pradesh which is considered as the abode of Manimahesh Shiv, it is not so popular like Kedarnath for its difficult accessibility. The altitude of the Manimahesh Peak is 5653 meter and the height of the Manimahesh lake is 4040 meter ( 13, 390 ft) which is a high altitude lake situated at the foot of the peak. The lake is the venue of a highly revered pilgrimage trek undertaken during the month of August/September. Hadsar is the last motorable point, after that it is a 17/18 km (app) trek. Pony is also available. But one has to walk time to time on the way because at some places slopes are very steep.
When I planned the trip I planned for visiting Kugti Village. It’s an Eco village. There is Kathik Swami temple 7 kilometer up hill from the village. There is no motorable road up to Kugti. It is 10 km from Hadsar. Shared jeeps ply from Hadsar to Kugti. One has to walk 2 km to reach the village. There is no hotel, only one forest rest house is there but locals give shelter for night.
I also planned to cover a major part of Dhauladhar circuit of Himachal pradesh. After visiting Kathikswami I went back to Chamba to complete the circuit. I could not see Dhauladhar range in this trip because it was all covered with cloud and mist. From Chamba I went to Khajjiyar. Kajjiyar looked mystic with clouds. Dalhausie is a typical Himalayan hill station established by British. In dalhausie I did local sight seeing in a car sharing with another tourist. Then I went to Dharamsala. Dharamsala is a large town. One has to hire car to go to Masroor rock cut temple, Kagra Devi temple, Kangra fort, Chamunda Devi temple, Jwala devi temple etc. McLeod-gunge is very near to Dharamsala and a very beautiful place to stay. There also I had to hire car sharing with another tourist for sight seeing and visited Dahl lake, Vagsu nag, Vagsu Nag falls, Dalailam’s house etc. The market of McLeod-gunge is alluring for those who love shopping.
The end of the trip was a fiasco for me. When the car reached near Pathankot, the driver informed us that all the trains had been cancelled due to political chaos. On that day the verdict against Baba Ram Rahim was announced, he had been accused for several crimes. His disciples started breaking government properties, attacked press and media people. Curfew was declared in several places, transport services were detained for unlimited time. Communication services were withheld. I became too much worried and called my son over phone. He was in Bengaluru then. He asked me which was the nearest airport. The nearest airports were Chandigarh and Amritsar, but it was not possible to travel within Punjab so I preferred Jammu airport to get flight to come back to kolkata. I went to the interstate bus terminus to inquire about the bus service to go to Jammu from Pathankot. When I came back the flight tickets of next two days were already sold, so I went to Jammu and waited there two days to get the flight. It was my 4th Jammu visit, so there was nothing much left to see. I went to the Raghunathji temple and roamed around the market, and had Kebabs from Papa Di Hatti.
Tirthan is a beautiful valley in Himachal Pradesh near Kullu. Normally I read a lot before planning a trip. But sometimes those information do not work. It happened in the Tirthan trip also. According to the information, which I received from a travel forum, I took HP tourism’s Volvo bus “Himsuta” from Delhi ISBT for Manali to get down at Aut. It was instructed that one should get down before Aut tunnel, where the road bifurcated, to get a bus for Banjar. The Volvo started at 6 PM from Delhi. My co-passenger was an old man from Bhuntar. When I informed him that I had to get down before Aut tunnel he discouraged me to do so saying that it would not be wise to get down there as the place would remain absolutely deserted at 5 AM in the morning. He instructed the conductor to drop me after crossing the tunnel where there would be light and locality.
It was completely dark when the bus dropped me on the highway at Aut at 5 o’clock in the morning. It was drizzling. I found an ATM booth where there was light. I walked in front of it with my luggage. Three dogs came running towards me. I had an old newspaper in my hand. I thought to sit there spreading it on the floor in front of the ATM booth. One of the dogs snatched it and two others started sniffing my bags. I felt scared. I entered into the booth to avoid them. Then suddenly the burglar alarm of the booth started ringing. I felt completely bewildered. I came out and became victim of the dogs again There were vehicles on the highway which passed by very fast.
After sometime I saw a car was coming down slowly along an unmetalled road. As soon as it slowed down to take a turn in front of the ATM booth I shouted desperately for help. If it was a big city I would have preferred to be bitten by the dogs than to ask help from two strangers. But it was Aut, so without any hesitation I accepted the lift. They took me to a nearby tea shop, offered me tea. They were two civil engineers who were on duty for some construction work. They came down to the tea stall to have morning tea and snacks. They knew it opened early.
In the shop there were three men sitting and having tea, two of them also experienced the same like me taking shelter in the ATM, and later came to the tea stall. I waited there for the local bus to go to Banjar. In the mean time I had my breakfast there. Then a taxi came for distributing news paper in the morning which would go to Banjar. The tea stall owner negotiated with the driver and managed a lift for me up-to Banjar instead of hundred rupees. The taxi driver dropped me at Banjar bus stand. He suggested me to stay at Sairopa instead of Nagini. I boarded a local bus and reached Sairopa. It was a nice place.
There is Himalayan National Park in Sairopa. It is also famous for trout fishing. One has to get permit for fishing and to trek in the forest from the Forest office. There is a Forest Rest house in Sairopa. Himalayan Magpies are in plenty in this valley with other species of birds. I enjoyed the serenity because there was no tourist at that time. I roamed around, watched beautiful birds and blooming plum fruit trees and Tirthan river.
Next day I went to Banjar by local bus and from there I went to Sojha and Jalori pass by shared jeep. Sojha is also a beautiful small hamlet in Tithan Valley. I wanted to trek to Serolsar lake from there but locals dissuaded me because there was 5/6 feet high snow. Jalori pass was also blocked due to snow. I could not reach Jalori Mata temple. So I decided not to waste time in Sojha staying there another day. From Tirthan Valley I went to Bhuntar by bus to go to Parvati valley.
Gangotri and Yamunotri are two important pilgrimages of Uttarakhand. The temples there normally open on the day of Akshay Tritiya. In the year 2016 it opened on 9th May. According to that I planned my trip in the next week to avoid opening rush. But then summer vacation already started. This was my second solo trip. I did not have much idea that how much the rush would remain during summer vacation.
I reached Haridwar in the evening by Kumbh Express. It was 3 hours late. I kept my luggage in GMVN tourist rest house near the railway station which I booked from kolkata. Then I went to the bus stand to know when could I get the bus for Barkot. I came to know that no bus was going to Barkot from Haridwar then. In the season getting public transport was quite difficult. Jeeps and buses were mostly hired by the pilgrims. Only one bus plies to Barkot from Dehradoon which leaves at 7 o’clock in the morning and the first bus for Dehradoon leaves at 5 AM from Haridwar.
I woke up at 4 o’clock and got myself prepared to catch the first bus. when I went to the bus stand and was asking for the bus, a guy, who seemed to be a conductor of a bus, was clearing his account there. As I told the attendant in the counter that I must not miss the first bus for Dehradoon because I had to catch the bus for Barkot from there, then that person said that his bus would go to a place which was just 10 km away from Barkot. I could easily go to Barkot from there by shared jeep. I went with him and he offered me his seat just beside the driver as all seats were already filled up. I started the journey. As soon as we reached the destination the driver showed me the bus from Dehra also reached there. He shifted my luggage and asked the other driver to drop me at the proper place.
At Barkot I stayed in GMVN annexe. There I met an intellectual happy couple from Chennai, Sunil and Swati. The former was an IAS officer who was also an engineer from IIT Madras and his wife, a professor of Hindi. They had two daughters and their parents with them. I had a nice chat with them. Next day I went to Yamunotri by Shared jeep. There I hired a pony, did darshan and came back. What really hurt me was offerings of saris in the river Yamuna, which I considered not only a cause of water pollution but also a wastage of money, in a poor country like ours,, which could be utilized in a much better way.
I spent the night at Hanuman Chatti as I did not get accommodation at Janki Chatti. Next early morning I went back to Janki Chatti by a matador truck to catch the bus for Uttarkashi. In Uttarkashi I visited Viswanath temple. Then in the next morning I went to Gangotri. In the afternoon I booked for a pony and made my permit with the help of my guide for Gaumukh and watched Ganga arti. I spent one night at Bhojobasa GMVN rest house. Next day I came down to Gangotri and took a shared jeep to reach Harsil. Harsil is a beautiful hamlet on the way to Gangotri from Uttarkashi, established by an absconded British army officer Mr Wilson.
From Harsil I went to Chamba via Uttarkashi. I went to Tehri dam hiring a jeep from Chamba. Tehri dam had a huge reservoir cum lake where I had a water scooter ride. The same jeep dropped me at Dhanaulti. I visited Sarkanda Devi temple and came down to Mussoorie and then caught train from Haridwar.
The trip was full of incidents. I enjoyed all of them whether good or bad, they enriched my experience. I saw forest fire while going to Uttarkashi from Barkot. One can not imagine it without watching the destruction caused by the nature. For more than an hour the bus went through the hghway where in both the sides forest was burning. The heat could be felt and there was burning smell all over. After Harsil I wanted to visit Nelang valley but could not manage it alone, instead I went to Dhanaulti.
Valley of flowers is a unique place in the Garhwal Himalaya at the altitude of 3658 meters from the sea level where hundreds of variety of flowers bloom only in the monsoon season. They start blooming in the month of July. They bloom in different phases and wither away gradually till the end of September. Rest of the years the valley remains covered by snow. It is a world heritage site and no camping is allowed there. One has to trek 7 km up hill to visit the valley from Ghangharia.
Hemkund Sahib is at the altitude of 4,633 meters which is a famous Sikh pilgrimage. It is 10 km from Ghangharia. Ponies and porters are available for them who can not trek.
I booked a package of GMVN for Valley of flowers, Hemkund Sahib and Badrinath in July 2015. Unfortunately, or I can say now fortunately, the package was cancelled due to natural calamity. I decided not to cancel my train tickets and try on my own. So I boarded the train on time . It was a great experience for me. I realized that in Himalayas no one is alone and if one comes out alone on the roads of Himalayas with a bit of courage the path automatically opens. I did not expect I could make it but when I came back from the valley tears came rolling out unceasingly with joy from my eyes. I felt the blessings of Almighty.
From Haridwar I went to Joshimath by a shared jeep. At Joshimath I stayed in GMVN tourist rest house. Next morning I took another shared jeep from jeep stand and reached Gobindghat. I was quite late to reach there as it took almost 3 hours to get 10 local passengers. Normally those who go to VOF reach Gobinghat directly from Haridwar and stay there at night. They start early morning for Ghangharia. I felt quite fortunate that there was one pony-owner with his two ponies. I had to hire both because there was none to share. I reached Ghangharia at 3 PM and lodged in a hotel. I arranged a porter cum guide for VOF asking the hotel manager.
First I visited the paradisaical valley because I had to walk there and I wanted to go there with full energy. Second day in the early morning I went to Hemkund Sahib by pony. I came down from there at 1 PM and happened to meet the same pony owner boy in front of my hotel. He asked me whether I wanted to go back to Gobindghat. I went back with him and spend the night at Gobindghat. Next early morning my hotel owner arranged a jeep for me who took me to Badrinath. I did my darshan very peacefully, watched morning aarti and got kheer prasaad as there was hardly 15/20 pilgrims there. I did “pind daan” for my late parents. Actually it was a tribute to their memory. As it was my second time Badrinath darshan I did not want to stay there. It was raining also, so there was a fair chance of land slide again. I came down to Joshimath.
After covering the places planned by GMVN I found I had few days in hand which I utilized staying in Auli, Karnprayag, Rudrapayag and Rishikesh. I went to Auli GMVN rest house by Gandola and chair car.I spent one noght there and came back in the same way. It was a divine experience staying there.Then I went to Karan Prayag. I stayed one day there. It is a place where Alaknanda and Pindar river meet. I stayed another day in Rrdraprayag. There I visited Jim Corbett bark where he killed “Man eater of Rudraprayag”. Then I spent one day in Hrishikesh and one day in Haridwar. When I came back successfully my confidence increased and I decided to travel alone in future.
I always wanted to visit Amarnath since my teenage years. When I got the opportunity in July 2014 then I crossed 50. I was hesitant to plan this trip alone. So I took help of a reputed travel agency of Kolkata. Vaishno Devi was also included in that package. I liked their plan because they had been starting from Chandanbari and ending at Baltal. I was happy that I could be able to travel both the routes.
That was the first year when medical checkup from fixed nominated government hospital and issuing of fit certificate was introduced and the yatra permit had to be taken from the assigned bank paying a nominal sum as fees for yatra. We reached Pehelgham. The manager of the tour arranged doli and pony for us. But they took Rs 7500 from us though they only paid 5000 to the pony owner, they made profit of Rs 2500 for each horse. Everything went fine otherwise. Reaching the cave at the height of 12,756 ft was a unique as well as spiritual experience. I was fortunate to witness not only the huge ice Shiva but also natural ice made Sri Ganapati and mother Parvati beside Him.
On the way back to Baltal I fell from the horse 4 times due to the negligence of my syce who did not tie the saddle on the horse back properly, it was really a terrible experience. I became very much scared and panic stricken. The last time I started shouting as soon as my saddle tilted from the horse back. Indian army, everywhere on the way to Amarnath, was very active and helpful. They rescued me in the forth time and threatened the syce to take care of me. Then he checked and tightened the saddle properly.
We rested two nights in Srinagar and enjoyed local sightseeing, boating on Shikara in the Dal Lake, and shopping as well. Then we went to Katra . Vaishno Devi trip was nice, though the day was quite rainy. After that we all came back to Jammu and caught our train.
Traveling through an agency gave me some good and bad experiences. I got few good friends from that package though they are not in contact now. It is beneficial for them who can not make a trip on their own, specially aged people. One doesn’t need to bother about hotel booking or arranging food when one is dead tired. There are few members who are always discontented and complaining even on trivial issues which is disturbing. There are always few people who are very curious and keep on asking personal questions which is annoying. These travel agencies normally provide trips to conventional places. For off beat places one has to take initiative on one’s own.