Harsil is a quaint hamlet in Uttakashi district at an altitude of 7,860 ft. Its beauty is still unspoiled. Spending some days here can rejuvenate mind as well as health of a nature lover.
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 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. 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 very morose including their children. Only the man said “hello” to me when the manager introduced us at the time of dinner. 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.
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
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 which was 10/15 km away from Janki Chatti. Hanuman Chatti had been the last motorable point for Yamunotri few years ago. 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.
I reached Gangotri at 1-30 PM after waiting from 6-30 to 10 AM with few young stars in Uttarkashi until the shared jeep filled up. As I was walking towards GMVN guest house, a man came to me. He introduced himself as a guide. Initially I hesitated and refused saying that I had to hire a pony because I was unable to walk 15 km and the syce would guide me, but he persisted on following me saying that he would carry my luggage as well as arrange my pony and permit, and one has to walk on feet after Bhojobasa, so syce would never go to accompany me till the snout point. After a long bargain I agreed at the cost of Rs 1000, I said to him to leave me at Bhojobasa after visiting Gaumukh. He made my permit in the evening and booked a pony. He said he would come next morning at 6 o’clock.
I started in the morning at 6 AM, I rode the pony. After going for a while the pony denied to go ahead and turned backward. It seemed that she was unwilling to carry me. Somehow the syce and the guide made her going on the way. Then I came to know that the pony was a very young one and the syce was a new one. This is his first trip on the way to Bhojobasa. The guide said that there was nothing to worry because he was quite acquainted with the region. But I had not been comfortable on the back of the pony and had a feeling that my seat was moving. The syce said to me not to get afraid and stick on to the seat. Then suddenly the saddle tilted completely and I fell from the pony where the path was hardly 3 feet wide and river gorge was straight 200 metres deep beside the path. Suddenly the guide came, as I was slipping down under the horse, he caught my legs and saved me from falling. I was terribly scared, he asked to rest, then I walked about one and half kilometer, after that I somehow reached Bhojobasa on the back of the pony.
I talked to the guide while walking on the way to Gaumukh. He informed that he has 2 children, wife and parents in a village of Nepal which was completely devastated due to the earthquake of 2015. Previous day he had no money that is why he was so persistent. I agreed to pay him for another day and also to provide his food. I asked him to accompany till I return to Gangotri. It was a beautiful experience to see the snout point and coming back. I stayed that night at GMVN rest house at Bhojobasa and came back next day by another pony which was well trained as well as it’s syce.
N.B. To reach Gangotri one can catch bus directly from Hariwar or reach Uttarkashi by shared jeep or bus from Haridwar to break a long road journey. Till Bhojobasa, which is 10 kilometer from Gangotri, pony is available for those who can not walk so long, but after Bhojobasa it is now 5/6 kilometer trek. At Bhojobasa there are very few accommodations for stay.
It was 2015 July 15th, I boarded on Doon express, and settled down on my berth. The train started on time, everyone had their dinner and slept. I was pondering whether I was crazy. It thus happened that my GMVN package for Valley of Flowers, Hemkund Sahib and Badrinath had been cancelled due to natural calamity. I am always crazy about traveling. Once I make up my mind to go somewhere I become mad if it is cancelled. So I decided to move on my own. I was a bit scared and skeptic if I should be able to manage it. A family of four with a kid was my co-passenger. The kid became a very good friend of mine. His parents were teachers of Woodstock school in Landour and his grandmother was also there. The day was well spent with them.
Next early morning I got down from the train in Haridwar and asked a rickshaw puller to take me to the bus stand from where I could catch the bus for Joshimath. The rickshaw puller took me to the shared jeep stand instead of bus. He told the jeep driver that I wanted to go to Joshimath. I sat on a jeep and waited till it was filled up. On the way to Joshimath the leaf spring of the car broke 3 times, at the last phase the driver drove in such a reckless manner, that made me panicky, because he had to reach Joshimath before 6 o’clock in the evening. Ultimately it reached. I found the GMVN Tourist rest house, and lodged there. I was mentally as well as physically fatigued. After a shower and dinner I cried bitterly and prayed to God that it didn’t matter whether I could complete my tour, but I must reach home safely. God heard my prayer and not only I finished the tour safely, but also enjoyed everything to my heart’s content.
In the next morning when I reached Gobindghat it was quite late as it took time to get the shared jeep filled up. But Providence was with me, so there was a pony owner, who could not get any customer, and was waiting with his two ponies. I waited for sometime so that he could get another customer, but none came. At last after a little bargain I agreed to pay for two ponies. When we reached Ghangharia it was 4pm. I settled in a hotel and asked the manager to arrange a porter cum guide for me to go to Valley of flowers. Next day I started early in the morning after breakfast for Valley of Flowers. The first phase was difficult to climb. But after reaching the valley it was a steady slope. I took many pictures but later got tired and enjoyed the beauty of nature only which was surreal. When I came back in the afternoon my legs were shaking but tear rolled down from my eyes with joy.
Next morning I went to Hemkund Sahib by pony. This road was tougher and steeper than Valley of flowers. There was a Gurudwara at Hemkund. The water of the lake was partly frozen though pilgrims were bathing in it. I visited the sacred lake and the Gurdwara, sat there for sometimes, then had food from langar and waited for the other two Sikh pilgrims who came with me on ponies. There was a temple of Lakshman behind the Gurdwara. Laksman Ganga flowed by its side. I visited that temple. When I came down to Ghangharia it was 1 pm. In front of my hotel I found the same pony owner who brought me to Ghangharia. He asked me if I wanted to go back. I asked him to wait for me a while. I packed my things and came out. I wanted to leave the place because mobile net work was not available there, and I was afraid that if any disaster happened again I should be trapped there, and my son would get terribly worried for me.
I came down to Gobindghat at 4pm. I stayed there that night. Next early morning I went to Badrinath by a jeep arranged by my hotel owner. I reached there early in the morning. Due to the spread of the news of natural calamity all tour packages of that area had been cancelled. So the temple was almost empty. I did “darshan” and watched “aarti” of the holy deity. I got the ambrosial “kheer prasad”. I offered “pind” to my late parents. After taking breakfast I decided to come back to Joshimath because it had been drizzling since last evening and I was expecting another landslide. So I came back to Joshi math. I was in the ninth cloud for the mission was successful and decided to spend the rest of the days in different places on the way back. I spent one day each in Auli, Karprayag, Rudraprayag and Rishikesh.
N.B. To reach Valley of Flowers one has to reach Haridwar. Buses, shared jeeps and hired taxis ply to Joshimath from Haridwar or one can go directly to Gobindghat. One has to walk or go by pony from Gobindghat To Ghangharia which is 12/14 kilometer distance. From Ghangharia Valley of Flowers is 7 kilometer trek. There is Hemkund Saheb too, which is a pilgrimage of Sikhs and a worth visiting place. One can avail pony to go there. It is a 10 kilometer trek.