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Friday, March 27, 2009

Things to see and do at Harsil - 2

Harsil is thus far untouched by tourism, because the majority of travellers move on to Gangotri. There are plenty of good walks in this area along the river and into the surrounding forests. Two kilometres from Harsil is Dharali Village, from where a 7-km trek brings you to Sattal, a group of seven lakes, set amidst beautiful surroundings and an excellent camping site. People can also explore the large Tibetan settlement at Bhagori and Harsil.

Gangotri (24 km)
The road, carrying on from Harsil, enters the dense green gorge of Bhairon Ghati. After crossing the Jadh Ganga River beyond Lanka, the road winds its way to a halt at Gangotri, which is a small pilgrim town based around the confluence of the rivers Bhagirathi and Kedar Ganga at an altitude of 10,000 ft. All along this route you are surrounded by dense green pine forests with wonderful views of the snow mountains around. A temple dedicated to Ganga was built here by Gurkha General Amar Singh Thapa in the 18th century.

Gangotri has an awesome natural setting and is the starting point of quite a few treks in the area. The two most popular ones in the region are the Gangotri-Gaumukh-Tapovan route which carries on towards Badrinath and the Gangotri-Kedartal trek along the Kedar Ganga Valley. People wanting to stay at Gangotri itself can chill out at Gaurikund, a waterfall on the Bhagirathi River.

The gates of the Gangotri Temple are closed on Diwali and are opened again after six months in May. During this time, the idol of the goddess resides at Mukhba Village, near Harsil.

Gangotri has no big hotels but there are many lodges, including the the GMVN Travellers Lodge (Tel:013772-22221; Tariff:Rs. 380-950) open from April 1 to October 31 and Forest Rest House (Uttarkashi Tel: 01374-222444; Tariff: Rs 100-300). Food is available at numerous cafes along the main Gangotri street.

Gaumukh (21 km from Gangotri)
Gaumukh, source of the Bhagirathi River, is at an altitude of 12,769 ft. After passing the main temple in Gangotri, one emerges into a small clearing where steps connect you to the main trail to Gaumukh. The path, all along the Bhagirathi to the true right of the valley, is a gradual ascent and one soon leaves the tree line behind. Chirbasa (9 km from Gangotri), situated amidst the last clump of trees, is nothing more than a few scattered shacks set up to serve the hundreds of pilgrims who visit Gaumukh every day in the season.

Along most of the route there's a stark, dry quality to the landscape, accompanied by close views of peaks going up to 19,685 ft. The peaks remain in sight throughout the trek. Near Chirbasa, the Bhagirathi Valley swings to the right, opening up a grand view of the peaks and Bhagirathi I, II and III at the head of the valley. Also seen are Bhrigu Parvat and the Manda group.

Bhojbasa (12,467 ft), providing the only solidly constructed accommodation on the route, is a further 8 km from Chirbasa. Four km ahead of Bhojbasa is Gaumukh, where the Bhagirathi emerges from the snout of the Gangotri Glacier. Leading up to Gaumukh, the path forks with the lower path going towards the glacier and the higher towards Tapovan. Approaching the glacier, one gets fine views of Mount Shivaling (21,456 ft).

Most people prefer to stay at Lal Baba's Ashram or the rest house at Bhojbasa. There is a canteen here, besides countless other cafes which also serve food. Most of these cafes at Bhojbasa and Chirbasa charge approx Rs 100 per night.

Tapovan (6 km from Gaumukh)
Although Shivaling Peak can be seen from all around Gaumukh, its footprint lies at Tapovan (14,632 ft), a beautiful high-altitude meadow above Gaumukh. The route from Gaumukh involves a lateral traverse of the Gangotri Glacier, moving from the true right to the true left of the valley. Following this a short but steep and strenuous ascent leads you across a dip in the ridge above (marked by a flag), and into the glorious meadow of Tapovan.

Pahari Wilson rides again
A legend prevails in the mountain villages of a holy trail in the Garhwal Hills, that the restless ghost of an angrez raja rides his horse across the rocky trails on moonlit nights. The ancient Ganga weeps in sympathy at Harsil as she listens to the retreating hoof beats swing by the dilapidated bungalow on the road to Gangotri. It was here that Pahari Wilson, or Raja Wilson as he was referred to, settled down with Gulabi, a local girl. Mystery still shrouds F.E. Wilson's origins. Some believe that he came from Lancashire others say that he left the British army in disgrace and found refuge in this far corner of Garhwal.

In time, Wilson's entrepreneurial spirit endeared him to the local Garhwalis. But when Wilson built the suspension bridge at the Bhairon Ghati Gorge over the Jadh Ganga, the locals were too petrified to venture onto it. Leaping on to his Arab, Wilson galloped up and down the bridge to allay their fears. Even today on a full moon night the locals believe that Raja Wilson rides again.

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