Have you felt that some places have a curious ring to their names? They fascinate so much that you are ready to pack and explore. Harsil has been one such place for me. While screening a paper map of Uttarakhand many years ago, a small dot on the way to Gangotri depicted this town. And since then the fascination grew.
When I finally visited this Garhwali town this summer, it lived up to each expectation. Emerging from a thick forest of deodar, Harsil is popularly known as ‘mini Switzerland’. Though, I felt, its rustic beauty was five times more.
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The word ‘Harsil’ comes from ‘Hari’ and ‘Shila’, where Hari refers to Vishnu and Shila means stone. Legend has it that the king of demons, Jalandhara, reigned over this region and was made invincible by his wife’s, Vrinda (another name of Tulsi), devotion and chastity. Vishnu disguised himself as her husband and broke this boon, which made Shiva win over Jalandhara. Vrinda cursed Vishnu that he would become a stone in the form of Shaligram. Today, the black stone lies prominent at the junction where River Bhagirathi meets River Jalandhari in Harsil.
The two rivers- the fierce Bhagirathi (a name of Ganga) and Jalandhari— complete Harsil’s picturesque panorama. The two rivers meet only at the black stone, from where their turbulence takes a sudden gentle flow.
As I stood in front of the main river, looking at Har-shila, my eyes naturally drifted towards the majestic grove of deodar that we drive across. Adding to the beauty of its landscape are the numerous apple orchards that blossom in the valley.
A few steps away from the riverbank, is the Laxmi Narayan temple. Established in 1883, the main shrine houses the god and goddess. The temple bore a striking resemblance to the ones built by the Katyuri kings, who ruled Uttarakhand between 6th and 8th centuries.
Harsil still remains hidden away for pilgrims on their way to Gangotri, but it has made itself significantly prominent to young adult adventurers who stop here while trekking along the Lamkhaga Pass. It is also a sought-after destination for mountain bikers.
About two kilometres from Harsil, in Dharali, we stopped on the main road to pursue a hike to Sattal or Seven Lakes. As our five-kilometre (one way) walk begun, the turns from typical village houses on stone laden path progressed to forest trails under a shady pine forest. A few steps beyond, we approached a lively deodar forest. The scenes were drastically different from where I had begun. There was absolute silence and at times the trail was difficult to find.
Crossing a few streams and fields, I finally reached the first lake which was so clear that it reflected the sky.
Getting there: Harsil is well connected by road. It is about 25 kilometres ahead of Gangotri, on Uttarkashi-Gangotri highway.
Stay: GMVN’s Tourist Rest House (TRH) is beautifully located with very friendly staff. They have rooms across categories. For information and online reservation, visit http://gmvnl.in/newgmvn/index.aspx
Food: There are a handful of restaurants in the town serving Tibetan food. For local Garhwali food, check in advance with GMVN TRH.