Harshil: A Quaint Hamlet

Shubham Pokhriyal

Like all travel tales which goes great at planning and terrible at executing, is the most common phenomenon we all come across in our daily lives. This journey and place were one such of those things.  Making plans and then finally abandoning them for one reason or the other but this is one of those valleys that can’t be put on hold for a long. So when the final execution of the trip happened this became indeed a solo trip. For many travellers, however, a solo trip is still seen as an intimidating, daunting venture; top concerns are generally cited as safety and boredom. And yet the benefits of solo travel are extensive. The potential for self-growth is enormous, and pushing through your comfort zone is guaranteed to result in greater self-esteem and resilience.

Harsil is an unspoiled and hidden jewel of Uttarakhand offering ample scope for people seeking peace and serenity in the lap of Himalayas. A village and cantonment situated on the banks of Bhagirathi River at an elevation of 2620 Meters above sea level. This quaint hamlet has become popular in recent years among travel enthusiasts and nature lovers. Dense Deodar forests, gushing water of Bhagirathi River, chirping birds, salubrious environment and serene environs are the highlights of this little secluded destination.

This wasn’t one of the only places this trip was meant for. It included covering a rather vast range of the district of Chamoli, Tehri, Uttarkashi and Dehradun. Apart from seeing Harsil, this road trip consisted of taking the roads least popular covering small villages, terraced fields, forest and those narrow state highways experiencing and seeing the actual Garhwal. This was also an opportunity to visit and see Chirbaitya, a very small village in the Rudraprayag district which is to be developed as an Eco-tourism village.

With all those things in mind, the luggage was tied to the bike and a new story was lived. Day first was indented to reach the settlement of Ghansail and Chamiyala (Tehri) at most. Following the NH-07 till Rudraprayag, than taking the Kedarnath route till Tilwara turning left to Mayali all the way till Chirbatiya. This small settlement at the top of the hill separates Tehri and Rudraprayag districts. Terraced fields, mountainous valleys and pine forests are the only major companion on these roads. The life on these sides of the mountains is a slow one. With no heavy influx of traffic and vehicles, the life plunges its own pace here at these valleys.

Between Ghansali and Uttarkashi

When on roads I hardly sleep till late, so the next day was started a little early than planned. The destination for today was to reach Harsil following the State Highway again till Uttarkashi. The roads here were even less travelled than the previous day and quite newer to me since I never had heard or seen these parts. The first part of the day was to reach the upper reaches of the valley, passing along the terraced fields and villages. Then the roads entered the forest all the way till Uttarakashi. The drive was pretty scenic all along. The ranges of mighty Himalayas would show their presence and left spellbound with its beauty. After reaching Uttarkashi I rejoined the NH-34 that reaches Gangotri. The drive from here is mostly along the river Bhagirathi.

I passed across the Maneri-Bhala power project to Bhatwari after which the roads turned a little awful. As this time of the year is one of the least visited times, so there was hardly any traffic. The roads were empty but the narrow roads and sharp turns with an incoming vehicle keep the nerve on tips. And special attention is to be kept for the army convoy’s movement which happens at large scale as this falls closer to the Indo-Tibet border and at times the roads become so narrow that passing an army truck and a bike becomes impossible. Towering mountains and their silence, where at times the only companion on the roads. The view from Sukhi top of the adjoining valleys is breathing taking. The villages near Harsil valley welcome with their apple orchards, for which these valleys are pretty much famous for.  These valleys are one of the largest producers of apple in Uttarakhand. A Britisher, Mr Wilson planted the first apple at Harsil in the 19th century, A Government Forest Rest House is named after his honour here.

Harshil

Reaching Harsil, a short excursion to Gangotri shrine is a must. This shrine is situated at an elevation of 3048 Meters, amidst sylvan surroundings, constitutes one of the most important pilgrimages for the devout Hindus and emits a highly pious aura. According to mythology, Goddess Ganga, the daughter of heaven, manifested herself in the form of a river, to absolve the sins of King Bhagirath’s predecessors, following his severe penance of several centuries. Lord Shiva received her into his matted locks to minimize the immense impact of her fall. She came to be called Bhagirathi at her legendary source. At a distance of 9 km from Gangotri and 16.5 km from Harsil, Bhaironghati or Bhairon Ghati is a small settlement situated close to the confluence of Jadh Ganga and Bhagirathi River. The colourful Bhagirathi (Ganga) is seen at the Bhairon Ghati where it is joined by a blue river Jahnavi or Jadh Ganga coming from Nelong range. There is a Bhairav Nath Temple surrounded by dense forests at Bhairon Ghati which is worth visiting About 3 km after Bhaironghati is another small town called Lanka Chatti, which boasts of Asia’s highest bridge over the Jahnavi River at an elevation of 2789 m above the sea level.

Gangotri Temple

Harsil is a tiny yet scenic, surrounded by dense Deodar, serene environ with apple orchards. In the vicinity of Haril lies Bagori village which is another must-see here. The village is inhabited by the local Bhotia tribe. The people here were once indulged in trading with Tibet when the trade flourished between the two countries via the Nelong valley.  their wooden houses and culture is a mixed of Indo-Tibetan culture, apart from many Hindu temples this valley also has a Buddhist temple. The wooden houses here have a great detail of wood carving done on them.

Seeing and exploring all these around in the following days, it was time for another part of the journey. I started a little than usual since I wanted to escape the cold chilly morning. The destination for the day was New Tehri. Following the same route back till Uttarkashi and then joining the NH-37 till Tehri. For this day I was excited to see the newest arch bridge built over backwaters of Tehri reservoir at Chinyalisaur.  This bridge was highly important for the people of villages living on the other side of the mountains since every monsoon, with rising water level the only bridge across the reservoir which now stands as Uttarakhand’s longest steel arch bridge. But pretty of my surprise, the roads had surprises much more than I thought.

Chinyalisaur

The first of them was Chinyalisaur itself. Named after a nearby village called Chinyali. ‘Saur’ is the Garhwali word for “plain” area. Surrounded by small mountains on the banks of the river Bhagirathi this place was at its best with its yellow fields of crops ready to be harvested opposed to my anticipation of this very place. And the sight of bridge is aesthetically built with its surrounding, giving this landmark worth visiting. And above all what moved me were the backwaters of Tehri Lake and the captive landscape it has created.  The dam creates a reservoir of 4.0 cubic kilometres (3,200,000 acre-ft) with a surface area of 52 km2 (20 sq mi). Driving past the beautiful valleys and villages I reached Chamba, situated at the foothills of the Himalayas, overlooking the snow-clad peaks on one side and offering a magnificent view of the valley on the other (not to be confused it with Chamba in Himachal Pradesh). The day ended up being at New Tehri for the night.

Somewhere between Tehri-Uttarkashi road

Reckoned to be the only planned city in Uttarakhand, New Tehri boasts one of the world’s largest hydroelectricity projects. Adorned by an emerald reservoir that is formed by the cascading of Bhagirathi and Bhilangana rivers, New Tehri is a beautiful place to be. The city is also the headquarters of the Tehri Garhwal District, and thus, seems of more importance to the state. For tourists, apart from its imposing dam, the city offers water sports like jet skiing. There are a few Hindu temples that dot the city and add an aura of spirituality. Walking through and watching the final rays of sun setting down from the mighty Himalayan range was a perfect end to the otherwise running day.

Views from Tehri

The final day plan was to reach Dehradun to end this epic journey but how come one be at Tehri and miss the seeing the Tehri dam and try some water sport at its reservoir.

Surkunda Devi Temple

The Tehri Dam is the highest dam in India and one of the highest in the world. It is a multi-purpose rock and earth-fill embankment dam on the Bhagirathi river. It is the primary dam of the THDC India Ltd. and the Tehri hydroelectric complex. Phase 1 was completed in 2006. The Tehri Dam withholds a reservoir for irrigation, municipal water supply and the generation of 1,000 megawatts (1,300,000 hp) of hydroelectricity. After visiting the Tehri dam, I got a ride for myself on the waters of the Tehri Lake. Finally saying goodbye to this place I drove back to Chamba again and then took the route that goes all the way from Kanatal. A quick tea break and solitude at Kanatal was unmatched. What followed as a quick hike to Surkanda Devi temple at an altitude of 3303mtr it offers a 360-degree view of the surrounding region along with the major Garhwal Himalayan peaks.

Driving pass Dhanaulti and its silent roads, I entered the bustling streets of Mussoorie and ended this once in a lifetime journey at Dehradun.    

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