They say, travel leaves you speechless and then turns you into a story teller. Here I am with some of mine, from the Himalayas.
It was the last leg of my trip to the Dev Bhoomi – Uttarakhand (UK). I was in Rishikesh and still had 4 days in hand before heading back to Delhi for the return journey home. Having spent well planned time in Haridwar, Rishikesh, Dehradun, Mussoorie as a tourist, it was time to get in to the traveler shoes.
After considering few options I chose to follow Ganga mayya all the way up to her very source, Gaumukh (mythologically speaking). Trek to Gaumukh starts from Gangotri. So I had to first sort out travel and stay arrangement up till Gangotri. On learning about this plan, my sister thoughtfully connected me to her friend, Sajish GP(S), Bengaluru guy who had found his roots in the mountains of Dev Bhoomi. An avid trekker in this region, he assured that plenty of buses and shared taxi ply on the Rishikesh-Gangotri route and hotels would be available at dime a dozen. Reassurance about travel safety in the state readily came from enough sources, giving flight to my plan.
Although there were direct bus from Rishikesh to Gangotri, they were ‘day’ buses and so I decided to take it easy and break the 12 hour journey into 2 days: Day 1, reach Uttarkashi and halt for night. Day 2, take another bus for Gangotri to reach there leisurely in time for the evening’s Ganga aarti on the banks of river Bhagirathi. Day 3 was to start the mystic trek to Gaumukh, the melting glacier from where Bhagirathi originates, considered the source stream of the Ganga.
There was just one more task in hand – I didn’t want to be weighed down by my excess luggage! The regional Tally office came to rescue and guided me to a local Certified Partner who was more than happy to keep my bag at his office. So, here I was, all set for this solo trip, to get closer to not just Ganga mayya but also the mighty Himalayas.
Day 1: Sitting on the front seat of bus to Uttarkashi, I was in complete awe of unspoiled beauty of the mountains. Roads were surprisingly in good shape for an area prone to frequent landslides. The bus was equally packed with locals and pilgrims. During a conversation with the co-passengers I learnt that pilgrims on ‘Chhota Char Dhaam Yatra’ start with a visit to Yamunotri, followed by Gangotri, Kedarnath, culminating at Badrinath (moving clockwise). From Uttarkashi the road for Yamunotri and Gangotri branch out. Kedarnath and Badrinath are on a slightly separate route, even though geographically Gangotri is within 50 km of Kedarnath.
Eight hours later, covering less than 200 km, bus reached the sleepy town of Uttarkashi at around 4 PM. I checked in a tiny room of a very basic hotel near the bus stop and immediately stepped out to explore the place. Uttarkashi is bestowed with plenty of natural beauty, but there was nothing much to do, not even a quiet place on the banks of gurgling river. For the first time in this month long trip it felt lonely! Hmm.. This was the farthest away from home I’d ever been.
Wandering the streets, I came across Ramlila (yeah, it was Dasara time). Ravan was impressive with his dialogues just before the dramatic ‘Sita Haran’. Bit tired and bit bored, I retired for the day quite early that night.
Day 2: The morning was cold enough to get the woolens out. Standing at the bus stop with my backpack, I turned left and right, looking for the conspicuously missing shared taxis. Just then a jeep stopped and the driver inquired where I wanted to go. I said Gangotri and he asked me to hop-in. I grabbed the usual front seat, greedy for even more spectacular views today.
Roads were narrow now, due to on-going repair / expansion work. Tree were also different from what I saw on way to Uttarkashi. Barely 10 km into the journey, I spotted a few sheep on the road. Not unusual for up-country. But before one could spell SHEEP, our taxi stopped behind a long line of stationary vehicles. Hundreds of sheep were marching down. When it seemed unending, I stepped out of cozy taxi in the cold morning to find that there were not hundreds but thousands of them! It was not the daily exercise of taking them grazing but migration from hills to the plain of Rishikesh for next few months. O boy, winter was coming!!
Our journey resumed once the road cleared. Snow peaked mountains, glowing in the morning sun, started to show up. Soon we were in the middle of unending mountain peaks. It was stunning. On the way scores of high school kids tried getting a lift from our already packed taxi. We could accommodate only two girls, who seemed to have befriended the driver by regularly getting him some apples from their farms. The not-so-lucky kids had to walk the 10 km to school! And they apparently had an exam that day!! Unthinkable for me, but it was just another day for those kids.
By now, I got talking with a co-passenger. Soon I learnt that the taxi was going only up till Harshil, a village 25 km before Gangotri. This took the wind out of me. I argued with the driver for having misled me but it was too late. We reached Harshil by 10 am and my co-passenger offered to be my guide. When life gives you lemons make lemonade. I decided to spend a few hours in Harshil, which turned out be the highlight of this trip. Harshil seemed a small village with not more than 200 houses, with sizable Tibetan population living peacefully with rest of the crowd. They were offered this place by Government of India when they were escaping from China (hmm… I don’t know exactly when). Buddhist influence is visible at the very entrance of village with multi layers of colorful ‘prayer flags’.
No mention of Harshil is complete without reference to apples. I had never seen an apple tree in my life before and here I was in the middle of apple orchards, with the mountains in the background and bubbling river in the foreground! To me, this was the place where heaven meets earth. No wonder legendary Raj Kapoor chose Harshil for shooting Ram Teri Ganga Maili.
After a few hours, I left Harshil with some apples in my bag and the Ganges by my side who kept me company all the way till Gangotri and later till Gaumukh.
When you leave a beautiful place, you carry it with you wherever you go. Harshil is one such beautiful place.