I came across the name Khirshu while planning my Tungnath trip, so I decided if everything went smoothly according to my plan I would visit Khirshu. Khirshu is a small hamlet in Pauri Garhwal district of Uttarakhand. This serene place is for those travelers who prefer off beat destinations. I came to know that buses for Pauri ply from Srinagar in regular intervals. I reached Srinagar from Rudrapayag by morning bus and caught anther bus for Pauri. Pauri is the district town of Pauri Garhwal district. I took a shared Jeep from the jeep stand to reach Khirshu from Pauri.
There is a GMVN tourist rest house in Khirshu. It is hardly half a kilometer walk from the main road where the shared jeeps drop their passengers. It is a good and peaceful place. There is a forest behind the rest house where many types of birds can be found. One can say it is a bird watchers’ paradise.
The range of Himalayas and snow peaks can be seen from Pauri and Khirshu, but I was unlucky. There was forest fire all over the hills at that time. At night fire could be seen in the far away hills. In some parts there was natural fire, in some parts it was man made. Locals put fire in the forest to increase their grazing field or making land for cultivation. The whole atmosphere was full of smoke and haze. No peak was visible, but still Khirsu seemed very beautiful with it’s natural beauty and every garden was full of different types of roses. Chirping of birds woke up everyone in the morning. It is a good place for some days repose.
Kaudiyala is a small village on Badrinath Road or National Highway 58. It is 40 kilometer away from Rishikesh. It is famous for adventure tourism like river rafting, rock climbing etc. On my first solo trip I came across this place when our shared jeep broke its leaf spring here for 3rd time and was impressed by its beauty. I had breakfast here and roamed around for sometimes while the driver had been busy for repairing.
I planned to spend here one night in April 2018 when I was coming down to Haridwar to catch the train. presently Haridwar and Rishikesh have become too much crowded. I came to Kaudiyala from Pauri. There is a GMVN luxury tourist rest house which is at the bank of the river. I wanted to do river rafting but could not because it was organized only in the weekends as they informed. I was not very much interested for it so I did not make further inquiry in other places. River Ganga is very clean here though wide and in full force. At some places it is quite deep. It takes a sharp turn here towards Rishikesh after Devprayag.
The colour of the water was greenish blue then. One can spend hours here watching the panoramic beauty of the place from the garden of the tourist rest house. I roamed along the river in the evening. It is a very suitable place to spend leisure time. There are few hotels, trekkers camps etc for stay. Since early morning the roadside restaurants remain opened till the late night for the travellers who take a break here on their journey to Chardham .
Harsil is a quaint hamlet in Uttakashi district at an altitude of 7,860 ft on the way to Gangotri from Uttarkashi. Its beauty is still unspoiled. Spending some days here can rejuvenate mind as well as health of a nature lover. This village was established by a British named Mr Wilson who was a deserter from the British army after 1857. His cottage is still there.
I went to Harsil from Gangotri on the way back to Uttarkashi. I came down from Bhojobasa in the morning and caught a shared jeep at around 12 noon which was going to Uttarkashi from Gangotri jeep stand. It dropped me on the highway at the entrance of Harsil. There were few staircases and then crossing a bridge on the river Bhagirathi I reached Harsil.
GMVN tourist rest house is in the interior of the village. It is located at the bank of the river Bhagirathi. I kept my luggage in the room and went to the backyard of the rest house beside the bank of the river. I sat there for a long time. The beauty of the place was addictive. In the month of May the water was muddy due to the fast melting and breaking of huge ice blocks from Gangotri glacier at its source. There were woods on the both side of the river. Snow peaks could be seen from there.
I roamed around the village in the afternoon. It was month of May. There were many apple orchards with very tiny green apples on them. I found young shepherds with their flocks of sheep coming back home. Village dogs were following me, they looked handsome, as many tourists would feed them biscuits they were expecting some food from me too. I was scared, one local rescued me from them. As the manager came to know that I was from Kolkata , he offered me egg curry in the dinner, which I denied. I met a family from Gujrat, all of them looked gloomy including their children. It was an exception that even the children looked morose in such a beautiful place. Only the man said “hello” to me when the manager introduced us at the time of dinner. I had to talk to him because the GMVN tourist lodge manager arranged a lift for me in the jeep which they hired to reach Uttarkashi the next day. I regretted later that I agreed to leave the place with them. At that time no other boarder was there in the guest house.
Harsil is the gateway of several trek routes. One can reach there directly from Haridwar or from Uttarkashi. There are few hotels and road side restaurant at the market place. I wanted to visit Nelang from there but could not manage the permit.
Harsil was full of apple orchard. That was not the season of apple but there were small green raw apples on the trees. Though the place was full of cloud and mist still it looked like a heavenly place.
Karanprayag is a place on the confluence of Alakananda and Pindar rivers. It is on the way to Badrinath. Pindar river is also called Khuni ( Killer) Ganga because it flows with so much force all over the year and there are so many huge deadly stones in the stream that nobody remains alive if falls into it accidentally.
I was coming down from Joshimath in a shared jeep to Rudrapayag. I did get seat neither in the front nor in the middle row. The travel made me uncomfortable and dizzy for some reason. So when the jeep reached Karanprayag I decided not to proceed further on that day. There was a hotel in front of the jeep stand. I entered into that hotel and asked in the reception if there was any accommodation. I planned to stay there one day. The hotel’s position was good. At the rear side of the hotel there were large balconies on every floor from where the sangam ( confluence) of Alakanada and Pindar rivers could be seen.
I rested there after having lunch. In the afternoon I went out to buy some medicine. The owner of the hotel was sitting in the lobby. I asked him if it was going to rain and how distant the medicine shop was. It was very much cloudy and there had been frequent lightning. I could see that it was raining heavily in the distant hills. The owner assured me that it would not rain and I could go to see Ganga Aarti at sangam which was very near to the hotel. As soon as I reached sangam it started raining heavily. I took refuge at the lodging of the temple priest. There were two or three sadhus. I talked with them for a long time. When the rain stopped I went out to buy medicine. When I reached the hotel it was quite dark. I severely reproached the hotel owner for misleading me. He bore that with a patient smile.
While having my dinner the manager expressed his regret that due to the spread of the news of natural calamity at Badrinath Highway the rush of tourist decreased in such a way that previous day there had been eight boarders, but that day I was the only boarder. I became a bit scared and expressed my feelings. The hotel was large and three storied. The manager gave me assurance that there was nothing to be afraid of being alone as they were there for security. I found the people of Himalayas always simple, honest and sincere.
Next early morning I went to the temple of Karan, the son of Queen Kunti as depicted in Mahabharata. There were many mythical stories about the place. There was a place called the seat of Karan beside the river Alaknanda where he worshiped the Sun god. There was another temple of Uma Devi or Parvati which was also an ancient temple. After coming back I had my breakfast and left the hotel. An employee of the hotel put my luggage in a shared jeep for Rudraprayag. When I was waiting in the jeep I saw a political banner of a party where I saw the photo of our hotel owner whom I had scolded severely the previous evening. I asked the driver and came to know he was the MLA of that place.
Kalpeshwar is the 5th Kedar among the five Kedars. The temple of Kalpeshwar is situated near Urgam village from where Nandadevi peak can be seen. It is at an elevation of 7,250 ft (approximately). There is a very small temple. previously one has to walk 10/12 km from Helang, which is few kilometers away from Joshimath. The beauty of Devgram and Urgam village is still pristine as Kalpeshwar is not as popular as Kedarnath. I visited Kalpeshwar and Tunganath in the year 2018 April. Now a days one can reach directly by car up to the temple of Kalpeshwar, but I had to walk 2/3 km from Urgam Village.
Kumbh Express was 15 hours late. I reached Haridwar at 7-30 in the morning instead of 4-30 PM in the previous afternoon. I had booking at Rahi Motel for one night stay. I did not feel to waste another day staying there. I went to the bus stand directly from the station. The last bus of the day for Joshimath was standing there. The driver was calling out for passengers. I boarded the bus. In the evening when I reached Helang, which was 20 kilometer away from Joshimath, it was 5 oclock in the evening. The sun light at Helang was fading out. I took shelter in a hotel where the road bifurcated for Devgram.
The hotel owner informed that the shared jeeps would come from Joshimath at around 7-30 in the morning. It was 3rd week of April. Chardham Yatra season did not start yet. So there was no rush of pilgrims, except locals. Kalpeshwar is not a very popular pilgrimage like Kedarnath or Badrinath. I took my breakfast early and got ready before 7-30. I kept on waiting. I met a Swiss traveler who came back from Kalpeshwar staying 2/3 days there. He could speak very good Garhwali and Hindi. He informed that Uttarakhand was his favorite holiday destination. I talked to him for sometime. He was going to Anusuya Devi temple from there.
Devgram is 12 kilometers from Helang. Previously People would trek from Helang. After a long waiting till 12 noon the jeep came. It was full with passengers. I somehow forcefully managed some space for myself, there was no other option. I reached Devgram at 1 PM, Kalpeshwar was 3 kilometer walking from Devgram. I stared walking with a local woman. She lived in Devgram. She informed that she had three sons and two daughters. Sons and daughters were all married. She went to Joshimath to meet her daughters. Their husbands were Jeep drivers. She had some land in Devgram where she grew crops with the help of her daughter in laws. Her sons grazed cattle.
When I reached Kalpeshwar temple the bridge on Kalpganga had been broken due to natural calamity, instead repairing it, a motorable road and bridge construction was going on. I visited the temple going downward crossing a temporary wooden bridge. I came back in haste with the fear of missing the last shared jeep to reach to my next destination.
I had a strong desire to visit Mayavati ashram since a long time. My father visited the place twice and had unique experiences. I missed the chance to accompany him because of my personal problems. My family is influenced by the ideals of Lord Ramakrishna and were initiated into R K Mission. I am also not an exception. As soon as I planned to visit Kumayun I included Mayavati in my itinerary. To go and stay at Mayavati one needs to get permission from Advaita Ashrama ( Entally, Kolkata ) which is a wing of R K Mission.
I went to kolkata branch of Advaita Ashrama. Initially Maharaj, who is the assigned in charge of booking, was hesitant to give permission to a solo female traveler for stay and tried to dissuade me. After a long argument when the in charge was convinced that I am quite determined to visit the place he informed me about the procedure to book accommodation.
When I got down from Lalkuan express I came to know that the best way to go there is through Berily( UP ), but it was too late to mend. I felt puzzled for some time. Few locals rescued me by giving information. At last I reached Mayavati on time via Tanakpur and Lohaghat.
It had been a unique experience staying there. It was pretty cold in March after a thundershower. Within 3 kilometer periphery of Mayavati there is no village, only forest, leopards are often seen there. We were instructed not to walk alone. The guest house is half a kilometer walk from the ashram. One has to walk 4 kilometers daily up and down to have breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. The ashram is self sufficient, they produce food crops, vegetables and there is also a dairy farm. They run a charitable hospital where local people come for free treatment. Normally guests are not allowed to stay there more than 3 nights but doctors are allowed to stay more on condition that they have to give voluntary service in the hospital.
It was 12 o’clock at noon when I reached Tanakpur. Tanakpur is a small transit town in the foot hill of Kumayun Himalayas. I went there for going to Mayavati Ashram. I had booking for a night stay at KMVN tourist rest house. As I lodged there and asked for afternoon meal, they said it was not possible for them to provide food without previous notice. They informed that the market area was not far away from the place and it would cost 20 rupees by tuktuk to go there where I could get lunch . So I hired a tuktuk, and reached the market area where there were few places for lunch. After having lunch I started inquiring about the places of importance there.
I heard that there is a famous temple called Punyagiri or Purnagiri. I wished to visit there and got a shared jeep for that purpose. After a long wait it filled up and started. When it reached in front of the temple gate the sky was covered with thick cloud. The taxi driver told me that he would go back as soon as he got required number of passengers, and there was no hope for next taxi. I came to know that Holi was celebrated there with great grandeur and a fair was organized during that time. The preparation was full on for the festival. I started walking, after few minutes I realized if I went to the top of the hill where the temple was, it would take at least 3 hours to come back. It was almost 3 km uphill trek. I decided to return because if I could not come back in time I would be in great trouble. As I turned I found the taxi driver standing there, I told him why I planned to return. He was very enthusiastic and devoted, he said he would accompany me, so that I would not miss the taxi, he forced me to visit the temple. It was a tedious walk for me, I felt tired, but he was persistent.
When I reached the last phase it started raining, but that part of the stairs was covered with tin shade. I reached the temple. I feel blessed, it was a beautiful sight of the Kaligandaki river that I witnessed from the temple. When I came down it was raining cats and dogs. The driver started his jeep. Lots of people were waiting under different shelters. As soon as he started they rushed into the jeep.
N.B. From Lalkuan I took auto-rickshaw to reach Kichchha. From Kichchha bus stand I took a local bus by which I went to Khatima. From Khatima I got a shared taxi which dropped me in front of the KMVN guest house at Tanakpur. Buses ply in regular intervals from Berily to Tanakpur.
I had never heard about Sarkanda devi before I reached Dhanaulti. I went to Dhanaulti from Chamba via Tehri Dam. On the way to Dhanaulti I saw a place where there were few shops on the highway, cars and motorcycles were also standing there. It seemed that there was a temple. I asked the driver, he informed that there was a famous temple of Devi Sarkanda on the hill top, which was two and half kilometer uphill walk from that place. I reached Dhanaulti and lodged in a hotel. After having a sumptuous lunch with chicken after a long vegetarian diet, I asked the hotelier about the temple. He arranged a local shared jeep which ply regularly taking the teachers of the local government run school from Dhanaulti to Chamba. The jeep dropped me at the same place which I had seen while coming.
I started walking. I found few people walking down who said that they could not reach because it was too long a walk. I was in full confidence after coming down from Gaumukh, so I continued. There were steps and railings. I got tired after sometime and thought that I should not go forward. I sat on a rock beside a rhododendron tree. A boy and a girl came up, sat beside me to take rest, they were friends, one from Hyderabad, another from Mumbai. They came to Mussoorie for trekking. I told them that I had given up and thinking of going down. The boy said, “I will take you.” I objected saying that I can not walk fast, specially uphill. He took me up holding my hands and I reached the top and visited the shrine. I felt blessed. According to Indian mythology Sarkanda Devi temple is a Shakti pith where head ( sar ) of Sati had fallen during Dakhayagna.
N.B. Sarkanda devi is on the way to Dhanaulti from Chamba or Mussoorie
Hanuman Chatti is on the way to Yamunotri, one of the pilgrimages of Chardham of Uttarakhand. It had been the last motor-able point, from where the trek would start for Yamunotri, until when the road did not extend up to Janki Chatti. It is also the starting point for Dodital and Darwa Top trek. It is situated at the confluence of Hanuman Ganga and Yamuna river.
I was late to book accommodation at Janki Chatti GMVN Tourist lodge. I preferred to stay in Government run tourist rest houses in my initial days of solo traveling. I had to book the TRH at Hanuman Chatti. Since road has been extended to Janki Chatti, it has lost its previous importance. I came down to Hanuman Chatti, from Janki Chatti, after visiting Yamunotri temple.
It was afternoon and the GMVN rest house was in the gorge of Yamuna which was quite a down hill walk from the main road. None was there. I entered and saw a person who requested me to wait as he was going to inform the caretaker. The caretaker came, he was a morose person, checked all my documents, and allotted a room. The flush of the toilet and the bathroom light were not working, he smiled ashamedly and repaired them with quick efficiency. He asked if I wanted dinner, I said that 2 roti and any vegetable would work for me. There was no mobile network. He informed that as the rest house was in the deep gorge, so to get network I have to go to the main road. I went up, messaged my son and called at home to inform about my night halt. Then I visited Hanuman Mandir and had a cup of tea and snacks from a roadside tea stall.
At 8 o’clock in the evening the caretaker called me in the dining hall and served roti and Aloo-tomatar. It was tasty and healthy with less spices and oil, I was very hungry. After having dinner I told him that the vegetable was very tasty and at the same time healthy. His eyes flushed with satisfaction. It seemed that he had been working for long there. He saw the glorious past of that tourist rest house when it had been always filled up and on great demand. Presently he was the only employee there. I left the rest house in the next early morning.
After finishing my target of Valley of Flowers, Hemkund Saheb and Badrinath I found that I have 4 days extra in my hand. I booked a package of GMVN which had been cancelled due to a natural calamity, so I came out alone with my mission. As it was a package and there was always a chance for landslide during monsoon in the Himalayas, I kept 2 buffer days within my plan and as I had shortened my stay at Ghangharia and Badrinath I had another 2 days extra. Now I thought to utilize them. I came down to Joshimath at 12 noon. I inquired about Auli and whether it was possible to go by rope-way which was very famous due to its length. This cable car holds a record of the longest in Asia for covering total length of 4.15 km. I was informed by the counter that the cable car would run only at 3 pm because it was off season. I kept my luggage under their custody and had my lunch. At 3-30 PM the cable car dropped me on tower number 8 as I wished to stay at GMVN tourist lodge. I got down from the tower and reached the point descending about 200 staircases from where the chair car plies for that tourist lodge. It was drizzling. The operator said that he could not run the chair car for a single traveler. He needed at least two. I was desperate, there was no other option for me except buying two tickets. The experience was unique, it was just like a dream where I was the queen of the place.
I reached the tourist lodge. None was there in the reception. I called if someone was there. One person came out and asked me to wait, and called the manager, who allotted me an economy room. The room was good and cozy with basic amenities of geyser, room heater, et cetera. I put the geyser on and removed the blanket from the bed to rest for a while before bathing. I found that the bed was wet at one part. I was going to call the attendant but saw that he himself was coming with another key. He said that the manager had asked him to shift me to the super deluxe room beside the reception. I objected because I could not afford such a costly room. He comforted me saying that it didn’t matter. It was quite a luxury room. In the morning when I woke up it was raining, it was a rare moment of my experiences because I realized that the whole tourist lodge was within the cloud. I enjoyed every bit of moment in Auli, the memory is still fresh in my mind. It was cloudy so I could not get the view the Nandadevi peak.
After breakfast at around 10 o’clock the manger informed me to avail the chair car and to go to the tower number 8 to go back to Joshimath again. I went back to Joshimath and started for Karn Prayag.
N.B. Auli is accessible from Joshimath by car or by ropeway.