Uttarakhand: The hills are alive!

The tents at Chardham Camp in Harsil are cosy retreats from the cold
Photographer: SUPRIYA KANTAK

Snuggled up to the mighty Himalayas, the hills and plains of Uttarakhand have always been popular with travellers for the range of experiences they have to offer, but the state has also held some cards close to its chest. We asked frequent travellers to share their fave experiences in Uttarakhand with us

The Himalayan peaks are darker than the night sky, their imposing silhouette guarding the Chardham Camp at Harsil when we arrive. Even the moon isn’t allowed to peek through. The only light is the warm glow of an electric bulb inside my tent, which is sparsely furnished but spacious. There’s a very inviting hot-water bottle sticking out from under the cover on my bed, and my tummy notices a basket of fruit and a plate of butter biscuits that would make a good midnight snack. More grateful is my bladder for the attached bathroom on this chilly winter night.

At daybreak, the campsite reveals its true colours. Sunbeams burst through the apple trees, lighting up the shades of autumn that are beginning to show. The dark waters of the Bhagirathi River, which had gushed past ferociously through the night, now seem to have calmed down to an icy shade of blue.

I could easily spend the day here with a book, with an idle stroll through the orchard (note: there is a fine for plucking the fruit); maybe I’ll even go down the road through the rudimentary market place and visit the half-submerged Kalp Kedar Temple five minutes away. That is exactly what I did do, but after a blessing from Goddess Ganga, of course.

The holy Hindu site of Gangotri is less than an hour’s drive away, making this camp a great base from which to visit it. The gently-winding road takes us from about 2,600 metres to over 3,000 metres. While an aarti right beside the holy river completes our visit to this pilgrim town, it is a pity time doesn’t permit the trek to Gaumukh, the glacial source of the Ganga.

This just means I must return when the mountains beckon next!

When snow descends upon the town of Gangotri, the shrine becomes inaccessible, and the goddess moves to her winter home in Mukhba, close to Harsil. The best way to visit her, then, is to take the path hewn into the hill across the river from Harsil. It’s a largely easy climb with a few steep portions. I set out by late afternoon, all the better to take in the setting sun casting its soft light on the villages in the valley. The cluster of brightly-coloured homes stands in contrast to the fading greenery, with the Bhagirathi River flowing by, and my trigger finger’s firmly glued to my camera.

When the first few homes of Mukhba come into view, the wooden cottages seem haphazardly fixed together. But, as I get closer, I notice the intricate carvings on their doorways and on the arches over the balconies. No one seems to mind if you sneak a peek inside out of curiosity – in fact, you will probably be welcomed in for a cup of tea! So hospitable are its people that I almost forget to enter the temple to pay my respects. I’m sure the Goddess Ganga finds it hard to leave Mukhba when summer comes. When she does, I wonder if she, too, gets an offering of crisp apples, like I did, to sweeten her journey back.

Supriya Kantak, Sheena Dabholkar, Radhika Lalla and Amrita Das shared their Uttarakhandi experiences… Get yourself the whole story in LPMI’s January 2016 issue. Pick up a copy from your newsstand or click to subscribe via Zinio or Magzter.