Gangotri, an important shrine of the Char Dham Yatra in Uttarakhand will open on the auspicious day of Akshaya Trithi on May 9, 2016. I visited the shrine last season just a week before it closed down for winters. I had been delaying the trip for quite long. Though this would be my second trip to Gangotri, first was in 2006 . However, back then I witnessed a completely new angle of Gangotri – I visited the shrine in December when the main temple was closed. There was absolute pin drop silence for miles and there wasn’t even a bird fluttering. Snow lined roads, zero traffic, no overjealous yatris, and only pristine beauty of Gangotri stood magnanimous. I shouted standing in front of the closed temple and the mountains responded with a thunderous echo. Magical it was!
So, this time I wanted to go during the season, after all I am a God fearing person at heart. What will the Gods think? I only came for winter tourism and not to offer my prayers. Well, it was a purely religious trip this time. However, being a travel writer at heart how could I miss a chance of not internalizing the changes and new experiences? It’s like you read a book and then you re-read it again. It is deeper and you understand the latent meanings too! Quite a lot had changed since then, especially the 2013 landslide had a major impact. All through the way one could see BRO (Border Roads Organization) working relentlessly to ensure a smoother ride till Gangotri.
How To Reach Gangotri?
Well, for starters, closest airport is either Delhi or Dehradun depending on where you are coming from. You must reach either Rishikesh or Dehradun by train, flight or road and then from there uphill is completely road drive. From Rishikesh it is approximately 170 kilometres and 4-5 hours drive till Uttarkashi. From here the scenic journey towards Gangotri begins. You can decide to pull it off in one go or stay overnight in Uttarkashi especially if you are coming from Delhi. Uttarkashi is a district town and has almost all the amenities you would require though at a basic level. From here you can hire a taxi or board a bus for onward journey. It is best to start your journey towards Gangotri early in the morning for not only the traffic is lesser but also the rising sun spreads a beautiful hue over the mountain villages.
Gangotri is merely 100 kilometers from Uttarkashi and akka Google says you can cover the distance in 2 hours 12 minutes (hats off to such precision). However, Google doesn’t take into account the narrow hill road where you have to stop to let the vehicle coming from opposite side pass first (a rule not followed by majority of people driving cars with DL name plate) and time consumed to click selfies. So, in reality it takes around 3.5 hours excluding the selfie clicking time.
Ok, now let’s come to the main focus of the article – the major pitstops that you can experience during the scenic drive.
11 Pitstops On The Way To Gangotri
1. Khedi Waterfall
It is a simple waterfall but an enigmatically quiet place with some panoramic views for photography enthusiasts. The green shade of water, the backdrop of mountains, and a gushing waterfall is a perfect recipe of a good shot.
2. Maneri Dam
Turquoise blue still water of the dam extending over a few kilometres along the highway is a sight to behold. It is the calmness of water that is enchanting here. Otherwise all through the route you will find gurgling and gushing water for you are inching closer towards the source of mighty Ganges.
3. Pilotbaba Ashram
This is an interesting stop with a bit of trivia – there was a pilot who became a sadhu and resided here. Since then, this ashram has been named as pilotbaba ashram. Huge entrance gate and statues of God will welcome you here. However, frankly I was expecting an aeroplane here J
Gagnani has hot water springs that are known to have therapeutic value. You can see a stream of hot water with steam rising upwards trickling down a mountain. This water then collects in what has been made into a small swimming pool. Take a dip in this and all your tiredness will simply evaporate.
There are a few religious trinket shops around – the usual books, CD, pictures etc. There are 2-3 small restaurants that serve amazing pahad wali Maggi with mirchi ka tadka and extra sweet cup of tea. Don’t miss those.
Harshil is a small Army cantonment area that used to be the summer capital during British times. These Britishers surely had an eye for beauty. The place is quite well maintained as is expected of an Army cantonment. Deodar and pine trees, beautiful valley, river winding around, mountains standing tall – Harshil is a scene right out of a painting. Everywhere you look it is a perfect frame.
Harshil is also famous for the stories of ‘Pahadi Wilson’. In the words of Rudyard Kipling,
“He lived a life that would have been the envy of kings”. He was the first white man to permanently settle in the Bhagirathi valley. Driven by personal ambition, Frederick Wilson introduced commercial timbering to the Himalayas and became India’s first timber magnate. An avid hunter, ornithologist and botanist, he settled at Harsil, near the source of the Ganges, and shared the lives and destinies of the Garhwali people. He acquired enormous wealth – becoming the richest man in northern India – and famous as the ‘raja’ of Harsil before falling into disfavour – termed a pariah for plundering Garhwal of its wildlife and natural resources.
This British guy married a pahadi lady (a local) here, had children and was infamously popular for having many affairs around the town. According to local lore, Wilson angered the powerful deity, Lord Someshwar, by hunting the wild animals almost to extinction and desecrating the forests. Someshwar was said to have laid a curse upon him, declaring through a medium that Wilson’s bloodline would die out after a single generation that his three sons would squander his fortune and once their bones had turned to dust no one would talk anymore of Pahari Wilson. The curse came true, as within a few decades of his death Pahari Wilson was virtually forgotten, his descendents either dead or untraceable. If you are intrigued enough by this mysterious raja then get your hands on the book: The Raja of Harsil: The Legend of Frederick ‘Pahari’ Wilson by Robert Hutchinson
Sunrise here is beautiful. Enjoying hot breakfast in morning sun is an experience that will be etched in my memory forever.
6. Sukhi Top
This is a viewpoint from where you get the best look of the valley and the mountains around. A good place to get down and pose around. I had the good fortune to be at Sukhi Top during the first snowfall last season.
Dharali is famous for Apple orchards. You can see rows of apple trees and if you are lucky you can spot the trees in full bloom which is a rare sight. Seeing apples hanging from trees in their original form especially for city dwellers who have seen apples only in supermarkets is an experience. You will see crates of apple lined and being packed and prepared to send all over India. Do buy some apples here. You will never find them so cheap and juicy. Once you eat apples from here then you will know the difference between the pricey apples of supermarket and, fresh and juicy apples right from the tree. This is a gastronomical experience that everyone should indulge into once in lifetime.
Bhairoghati is a dark valley for it falls on the other side of the mountain. It remains dark and chilly almost always. It is a valley so the wind gushes in from all sides making the place really cold, dry and windy. There is a famous Bhairoji temple here. It is said that after Gangotri darshan one should stop here to offer prayers and only then is one’s trip complete in terms of religiosity.
Mukhba is the winter house of Gangotri Mata. When the Gangotri shrine closes after Diwali to be reopened in April-May, Mother spends her interim period, the winter vacation in Mukhba. It is also known as Gangotri Maa ka mayka. So, if you are visiting Gangotri during off season then you can always offer your prayers in Mukhba. Though the grandeur will be lesser but the shrine remains the same.
10. Mandakini Waterfall
This waterfall is famous for infamously bathing the sultry actress Mandakini for a scene in Raj Kapoor’s movie “Ram Teri Ganga Meli” song and movie sequence. Since then this unknown spot shot to glory and has been named Mandakini waterfall. Nevertheless the spot is scenic and you may also take a bath to emulate the epic scene.
11. Meeting The Charsi Baba
This is the bonus point! There is a baba ji ka cave, basically a hole in the huge mountain just a few kilometres before Gangotri temple. He also has a tin shed right across the road, more like his entertainment hall which has solar light connection. This baba is famous for staying all 12 months even when the harsh winters send off Gangotri mata; he continues to stay. I asked, “Kaise (how) babaji?”, and he replied with eyes closed in trance and taking a big puff, “sab maa ki kripa hai”. Well, Maa or chillum, this baba is surely an interesting pitstop on your way to Gangotri.
Well, Gangotri is a great place to visit even if you are not overtly religious. The scenic and pristine beauty is truly welcoming. Gangotri opens on May 9th this year so pack your bags now.
P.S: 18 to 20 kilometers trek up the glacier from here and you will reach the origin of Ganga, Gomukh. I couldn’t go there as it is a tough trek but of you are still young and enthusiastic you must take this trek and have an experience of your lifetime.