To go to a place no one has gone before is hardly my dream. I am not an adventurer and like to walk on trodden paths. However, even with my love for civilization, I do fear to walk a well-beaten track. I am forever hunting for those lesser known abodes where I could find a hotel room, yet not be disturbed by a crowd of vacationers. May be that’s why I am inclined to travel off-season.
So this year I chose a destination seldom seen on a tourist map. I heard of it from my parents, who had stayed a night there during their char-Dham trip in Uttarakhand. They seemed enamored, and I was sufficiently intrigued by the single photo they had taken of the place. The place was a Himalyan hamlet, Harsil, on the bank of Bhagirathi, 23 kms away from Gangotri.
It was difficult to find the best way to get to Harsil. A hired taxi from Delhi could be a comfortable way, but I have not had great experience with Delhi drivers in extreme hills, especially in places where there is likely to be snow. Besides, the cost of hiring a 4-wheel drive for 8 days is high. So after landing in Delhi, we decided to take an overnight volvo to Dehradun in Uttarakhand and then explore options for onward journey. It would have been a comfortable journey, had the driver not been a maniac who loved to brake and horn. So it was a very sleepy and annoyed group which alighted the bus at Dehradun, 4:30 in the morning. The air was crisp, sharply so – a foreboding of the holiday to come. At the bus stand that we got off, ISBT, there were buses available to go Uttarkashi at infrequent intervals – the schedule was not advertised or displayed. At 5:15, in the middle of a tea-break, we were rushed into a bus that was leaving for Uttarkashi – there was no time to think of options. Apparently choice comes with homework.
The bus ride was not bad, except that it went on for 6.5 hours and the last 2-3 hours were on a rough road which circled the same valley endlessly – we believed we were in throes of hell, bound to circle the river forever. But the worse was not yet over. From Uttarkashi to Harsil we had to cover another 70 kms with another maniacal driver who had a terrible taste in music. After two hours of a back breaking journey, we alighted with relief, happy to have finally arrived to the possibility of a bath, food and some space to move our crampled legs. The temperature at Harsil was a shock (9 deg), lowest I have seen in April. The evening slumbered in a sumptuous meal, a warm bath, a quiet admiration of the beautiful river and a long bon-fire in the GMVN Tourist bungalow lawn. We were ill-equipped to deal with the cold and had to buy some local woolens, not to mention a local sim since BSNL was the only working network in the area.
The next day was sunny and we could finally see the beautiful snow-capped peaks that surrounded us. It is difficult to describe how such a beautiful valley affects the city-dweller, who even despite the cold wants to go out and soak in every bit. We decided to do the Sattal trek, the area of seven lakes which was about 4-4.5 kms from Harsil, almost 800 m above the village.
The trek is a little steep, especially if you are not used to the thin air. We had a good time climbing up, with frequent breaks. The path goes through thick (and rich) Deodar forests, passes through another village (Dharali) and is lined with many blossoms, some blooming, other dry like a dying old man. On the way we were stopped by a very drunk farmer, who insisted that we come inside his place, have tea and lunch with him. We accepted the invitation to visit his house, declining the food and tea. The women of his house seemed embarrased of his drunk and boisterous behavior. They were also sad about having to live in this small, cold village, just having arrived from Uttarkashi which is their warm, urban, winter abode. It was easy to understand their distress, as it was easy for them to understand why we had chosen to holiday here. Sometimes it is easy for people to exchange shoes.
On the way to Sattal, we often found heaps of snow which looked fresh. When we arrived at the first lake, we found the path to other lakes covered in thick sheets of snow and decided to end our trek there. Sattal is a nice place to trek to – there is no civilization in the vicinity and the place is soothingly calm. The sound of a small stream of water and flutter of the wind are the only things you hear. In an Urban existence, such moments are only a handful.
By the time we returned from Sattal, the weather turned to cold and windy. It soon began to rain – so after a hot maggi at a local restaurant, we hid in our rooms and in the comfort of quilts and heaters.
The turn of the weather continued to the next day, with most of the day drenched in rain. We set abode in one of the glasshouses in the lawns of the tourist bungalows, enjoying the surrounding scenery through glass. It was one of those days ordained for Pictionaries, Dumb charades, poker and banter. Soon after lunch, the rain turned to snow and the whole place covered itself with a white sheet. The snowfall continued for four hours; for a few moments we were worried about road blocks and being snowed in for a longer time than we had planned for. The mundane urban worries.
To be continued…