Yamunotri – Gangotri
May 2-16, 2017
Day 1 Delhi – Dehradun
Day 2 Doon – Janakichatti
Day 3 Janakichatti
Day 4 Janakichatti – Hanumanchatti
Day 5 Hanuman chatti – Maneri,Uttarkashi
Day 6 Maneri
Day 7 Maneri – Gangnani – Harsil
Day 8 Harsil – Lanka – Bhaironghati – Gangotri
Day 9 Harsil
Day 10 Harsil – Uttarkashi – New Tehri
Day 11 New Tehri – Rishikesh – Dehra Dun
The Doon valley was always ‘idyllic’ space, if only in the mind. The approach is green & wooded arousing expectant hope in a first time visitor; hope that is soon belied. For it’s the same old story that is the bane of all our towns & cites. Tales by Ruskin Bond made one expect litchi trees at every bend & turn but you are hard put to find a single one.
Dehradun became the state capital of the newly formed Uttarakhand in 2000. It is a classic example of opportunity lost: not only to create something beautiful & new but to re create, decongest & improve.
The Doon – Janakichatti stretch is what I looked forward to. A 6 hour drive, the road was good & the first 2 hours – up to Yamuna bridge – scenic. Denuded forest-land took over thereafter with trees giving way to shrub & barren rock. And a scorching sun beating down upon sun burnt faces. We pass a gas station which is purported to be the last en route to Yamunotri. It is a little short of Barkot. There are roadside eating joints & places to stay all along the way but we go right up & halt at the GMVN guest house, Janakichatti. There are 2 of these, both very basic & functional & we opt for the lower one as it is closer to the parking. The cook turns out to be really good, serving fresh, hot vegetarian food; a welcome respite for the weary, especially at 15 degrees C.
The ride up was pollution – litter free. A strong stench of horse dung now assails the senses. There is noise & traffic too with bus loads of pilgrims trickling in steadily. The 5 km trek to Yamunotri (3291 meters) will be tomorrow.
The next day dawns bright & clear with rain forecast for late afternoon. As we begin the climb it becomes abundantly clear that the yatra this year is disorganised. There are people from all over the country & all walks of life. Walking up a narrow mountain track, men & women, palkis, basket bearers & ponies jostle for space with multitudes coming down the same way. Sudden death strikes early in the day causing panic, making some call it off altogether while others plod on. A pilgrim has been hit by a rolling stone fallen off the mountain side & he has succumbed to the injury.
It becomes the talk of the day.
( Govt rates: Palki Rs 4000/- Basket Rs 1200/-)
River Yamuna at Janakichatti is a clear bubbly stream that flows beside the GMVN. I take a leisurely walk down to the temple by the river. It is smothered in wild flowers & boasts a hot spring not many know about. Our next stop, Hanumanchatti, is a mere 10 km away. We drive down after lunch, in the middle of rain, & cold & arrive just as the lights go off. Electricity does not return for another 4 hours so we sit comforting ourselves with tea & pakoras.
Hanumanchatti is a small nondescript town with a few houses & a row of tiny shops. It’s main feature is the Sankatmochan temple atop a hillock overlooking the river with barren rocks all around. That must be how it derived its name – Hanuman for the temple & chatti, as in rocks.
The priest turned out to be highly erudite & knowledgable, with wide interests ranging from the ancient to the modern. He had a view on everything – spiritual, historical, local, political, scientific – and a well informed one at that. Like an emperor surveying a kingdom he pointed out distant geographical features : “ that snow capped mountain peak is the Kalind parvat. Legend has it that Parvati……….. That is the holy sangam, the confluence of the Hanuman Ganga & the Yamuna. The two rivers part here & continue on their individual path, to meet once again at the sangam at Allahbad…..”
I had so far, been starved of factual information. Now here was a gobful !
The temple was inside a cave with a corridor connecting it to another that served as living quarters. And what do you know ? Along with roses transplanted from Darjeeling & Himalayan Kedar Patti, Panditji had all the trappings of modernity. Just name it – gas, solar panels, dish antenna, mobile, TV, water, electricity, internet – he had it all. I was enthralled.
It was a strange encounter of a rare kind. Strange, because the place was so remote & far out. Panditji had an aura & a ‘presence’ & he did something quite strange. When about to leave we were asked to wait while he went into the cave & came out with 2 Hanuman Chalisa’s. One was given to my husband but he held on tightly to the other while I looked expectantly on. Should I have asked for it? I didn’t & he did not give it to me. I wonder why. Because it rankles.
From Hanumanchatti it took an hour reaching the Barkot Bund, then a detour via Radi Top to Uttarkashi. Great road, dense pine forests, lovely weather, scenic drive. We halted at a Gurkha dhabha at Radi Top. Lunch consisted of rajma–chawal, salad, pickle, vegetable, all for a measly Rs 35/- The Dharasu – Uttarkashi stretch is a bit drab but gets better a little further. And lo & behold, there is the Ganga, a mere trickle at Uttarkashi.
The entrance to the town has a new tunnel but we go another 7 km past to halt at the beautiful GMVN guest house at Maneri. It is newly built & is beside the lake. Truly quite lovely, the perfect place to rest & recoup from the rigour of the trip. To laze about, walk around & to read. I have Khalil Gibran. Pure bliss!
And onwards to Harsil via Gangnani, a 3 hour drive passing by giant Deodars, fresh water springs, waterfalls & the Ganga, which is a constant right up to Harsil & beyond. There was some kind of a traffic snarl at Gangnani – known for its sulphur springs. Except for that the views got more & more scenic with tall snow capped peaks, meadows & bugyals, the closer we got to Harsil.
There is nothing quite like a military camp in the middle of nowhere. We were guests of the Unit stationed there, a true home coming. The camp had poor connectivity but it was located in a thick forest beside the river, the waters icy cold & brimming. Harsil, among other things is famous for apples & its unique wind–chill factor. Harsil ki hawa, as locals call it. Day breaks with clear blue skies & winds that still around 3pm, after which comes the storm – rain, dark & cold.
To Gangotri ( 3200 meters), penultimate destination today, via Lanka – Bhaironghati. With an excellent road it does not take more than an hour. The drive up is phenomenal & overwhelmingly beautiful with fantastic glacial views all along. Parking, is about a km short of the ivory white, gold domed temple dedicated to Ma Ganga. One either trudges up therefore or hires a wheel chair. Beggars line the route, displaying small change ( for everyone’s convenience) while a myriad shops sell puja samagrihi. The atmosphere is both festive & religious. A mela. Faith, seen to be believed.
Back from Gangotri, the next day which is also our last, is spent enjoying the place, walking to Wilson’s cottage & to Bagori, a village a km away. 7 picturesque little culverts have to be negotiated to get there. It is a sweet little hamlet of 400 families & old wooden houses. Most of the inhabitants leave during the harsh winter months & return in time for the sowing. Mountain streams have been channeled & pucca canals built for the purpose – a pretty cool picture. (Harsil – 2620 meters – offers a panoramic view of peaks, Bhagirathi 1,2 3 & Shivaling. It must also be the only place where pasta – mamma mia – is stacked & sold from open gunny bags.)
A Bagori knit
Off to New Tehri tomorrow, then back home via Rishikesh – Dehradun. A long, uneventful drive. The Sainik guest house at New Tehri is at a commanding height & offers a birds eye view of a town that could have been. Another wasted opportunity? After Old Tehri was submerged & residents relocated to make way for the largest dam in Asia, this was the chance – like Bhuj after the earthquake. But that requires imagination & foresight. Leave alone creating a beautiful new town they have not as yet given it a proper name.
New ??? Uhh!!
Tehri Lake & Dam