The Himalayas are often considered the abode of Gods. The Hindu deity like Shiva has his holy place in these high reaches. Lord Shiva is one of the most prominent God in the crowded Indian pantheon. He is one of the most complex characters among Indian Gods and maybe that is what makes him so interesting. This complexity is well known throughout the long Indian tradition where he started as a peripheral god by the name of Rudra, living outside the society and gradually he grew into the center of Indian hearts. Shiva is deeply associated with the Indian Himalayas, so when you travel in these regions, you will be aware that you are wandering in Shiva’s domain, Shiva’s castle and home. As most of the Indian Mythologies (especially the Shiva Purans) refer to the Himalayas as “the abode of Shiva”
Niti village the last Indian village before the Niti pass that connects India to Tibet is home to 29 families of mostly Bhotia tribe. These tribes where the early nomads who roamed between India and Tibet for trade till it was closed down in 1962. This village and other villages around the valley thus turned into temporary villages which migrate to the lower hills in the peak winters and return with the onset of summers, mainly for farming. These people are closely related to their culture and customs and are very religious having their own Deities, God and Goddess.
But Lord Shiva being the prominent has found his home in these barren and peaceful surrounding as well. During the peak winter season from February till April, a natural phenomenon where the dripping of water into a cave like structure on the mountain causes the formation of an ice stalagmite representing an ice lingam of Lord Shiva.
The journey starts from Joshimath towards Malari-Niti road. The route is scenic throughout with Gaints hanging all around the entire route. Passing the hot-water spring of Tapovan to entering the Lata-Raini village road head. These quite hamlets are quite surreal. The roads are done well for most of the part and is bumpy only at quite a few places. The mountains turn higher and higher and the Dhouli Ganga river turbulent, as one goes deeper into the valley. The apples of the Jumma and Jhelum village are one of its kind. The Dronagiri view point (the mountain from where Lord Hanuman lifted Sanjeevni for Lord Lakhsman as per the Hindu mythology) is quite a place to soak up the beauty and tranquility.
Malari is a village and a world heritage site and also the army settlement. Everyone passing from here has to enter quite a few details viz Name, address etc., since the area marks the entry of Inner Line Area. Few kilometers from here, don’t miss the right turn that takes the road to Niti village, the other one leads to other forward posts and is closed for civilians. The drive gets more and more scenic from here. The area falling under the Nanda Devi National Park is beautiful beyond words. These are unspoiled beauty,with the least human interaction and presence. The nature here is lively. The glaciated river water is cold throughout the year. Further, the valley has beautiful camping place with gaints wall all around and the swiftly flowing river along. The peace and scenic beauty are both incomparable.
After reaching Ghamsali village, the road to Niti is quite treacherous. The Timmersain Mahadev temple is a small hike of 2 kms from the road head opposite to the gate of local deity temple just before the Niti Village. The walkway is well paved and is relatively easy gradient. The place is raw. With small few idols of ‘Nandi’, the sacred bull calf, gatekeeper and vehicle of Lord Shiva. The dripping of continuous water over Shivling like stones naturally after seeping through the mountain, adds to the charm of this place. And if you are as lucky as we were, the chances of spotting the Himalayan Thars are high on these upper reaches and home to these shy animals.
The distance between Joshimath and Niti is around 90 kms one way. There aren’t much accommodation and fooding options available after Joshimath apart from small Tea shops at Tapovan, Suraitota, Jhelum & Malari. So, carrying one’s own supplies is a fair deal. We packed our stuff and camped on the way to this temple. Spent quite a few hours with these giants watched a beautiful sunrise at around midnight and made a fresh start next morning. Hiked till temple, felt a strong connection and a strange energy that recites at such higher places.
The temple falls under Inner Line Area therefore isn’t open to all, many times. Also, the valley remains closed down during peak winter season i.e. from November to April. The villagers respect their customs and culture very much and therefore, anyone who visits should try not to obstruct their sentiments.
Getting there: –
There are no hotels or shops available. However, new government guest house is built in the valley at Gamshali. No permission is required to visit till Ghamsali except the last village “Niti” which can be obtained from SDM office Joshimath.
Various jeeps and sumo do ply to Malari and Niti from Joshimath daily during the season. Distance between Joshimath and last village “Niti” is around 87 Km by motor road and a two kilometers hike (one way) from there till the cave. One can reach and take accommodation at Joshimath and can take a day excursion to the temple.
Nearest Airport is Jolly Grant Airport on Rishikesh-Dehardun Road at 352 Km. Nearest railway stations are Dehradun (378KM) and Haridwar (361KM).