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GARHWAL - For The Glimpse Of Himalayas

This summer if you want to get away from the heat and dust-to cooler climes, make sure to choose lesser known places in the hills. This is so because in the overexposed hill-stations, you'll find it hard, at times, to even get water to quench your thirst. Forget those hoardings with attractions like water-beds thrown in. Some places you'll be lucky to get enough water to brush your teeth! And honestly, last season tourists had to look around for soda for reasons other than whisky.
As for another hill-resort in the north, the visitor had to be in good jogging practice: last time traffic jams had cars stranded six kilometers away from the glitter of the hills.
Safer get-aways are the yet undiscovered places of the glorious Garhwal region, such as: DHARALI, CHOPTA, DUGGALBETTA, CHAMBA and CHANDRASHILA.
If you prefer to get away from it all without hauling a mountain of equipment then DHARALI is a place for all reasons. How many of us have wished to camp out in a comfortable tent, along a river, gazing at the stars, with not a worry in the world. And, ofcourse, no hassles getting there either. I was to discover all this and more along the banks of the gentle river, the Bhagirathi, just twenty kilometres before Gangotri. Indeed, still a place in the world untouched by the machinations of man.
This tented colony has all the creature comforts you've got used to and after a single day of undisturbed rest, you'll awaken just before dusk in a scene straight out of the Arabian Nights, with a blazing log-fire (strictly of driftwood only!) alight on the tranquil sands of the river. And you won't have to pay with an arm or leg either: there are dormitories for students or others on a shoe-string budget as well as fully carpeted tents at Rs. 500 a night for sheer luxury.
What will you do there? Of course, all those things you've dreamt of and never really got down to doing. Lie awhile, with the soft turf as a couch, a gnarled root as a good pillow, and a bubbling stream singing a soothing lullaby. Slowly but surely your thoughts drift overthe hills to the plains far away as if it were a world well forgotten. Indeed there shall be time to see the flowers at your feet: kingcups by the water forcing their way through the slush of melting snow; and add to this the promise of many more yet to come.
Nearby are the lost temples of Mukba, mentioned for the first time in the summer of 1860, by James Hulme: "At Derallee, the highest of villages on the Ganges, I found Wilson's camp. It is the nicest camp ground, with the village's noise and dust out of sight in the rear, the apricot trees forming a nice shade, with a carpet of fresh green beneath, and the river running close by. A few yards from my camp, halfburied in the sands of the river, were three temples, two very small and the other with a tower about thirty feet high." And so they emain to this day. No attempts have been made to excavate these glorious reminders of a time when Shaivism merged with Buddhism in the land of Uttarakhand.
Upstream, at a point where three mountain torrents merge into each other, is HURSIL, which was once home' to Raja Wilson, who married a local girl and settled down in what is now called 'Wilson Hut'. Certainly not a hut this; but a magnificent bungalow. A harmonious blend of stone and wood, which is a permanent reminder of the freebooter F.E.Wilson from the middle of the last century. The vast tracts of virgin deodars attracted his attention.
He leased these very forests from the Raja of Tehri in 1859, for a period of five years. The lack of roads did little to deter him and he floated timber down the Ganga to fill the gap in providing sleepers for the railways. In a very short span of time, he made a huge fortune.
The old forest rest houses at Dharasu, Bhatwari and Hursil were his staging posts along the narrow trail that snaked its way from one village to the other. As if this were not enough, he introduced the apple into this area, and if you are offered a large, red, juicy apple you can be sure you have stumbled upon a Wilson apple.
Bridge building was another of Wilson's interests. One of these was meant to faciiitate travel between Hursil and the holy shrine at Gangotri. The most famous of these was a 350 ft suspension bridge over the Jadhganga at the stupendous gorge of Bhaironghati - over 1,200 feet off the valley floor. This shaky contraption was at first a source of great terror to the locals, and none would venture across. To reassure the hillfolk, Wilson mounted his grey stallion and galloped too and fro across the planks. The original bridge has succumbed to the march of the Sandman but people will tell you that the hoof beats of his horse can still be heard on full-moon nights.
Wilson's life is fit for a romance. His legend lives on and though no attempts have been made to glorify him, the residents still speak of him in awe and admiration, as if he had just passed by yesterday. Some men give their spirit to a place and become a part of its love and legend.
If you go further up the river you will arrive at GANGOTRI, the source of the mighty Ganga. But do make sure you return to the splendid solitude of your tent at Dharali. Nothing much to commend the place, unless you are the type to revel in the milling crowd or garbage.
Sometimes I wonder how much longer do we have before these little out-of-the-way places get over-run or be able to retain their charm?
"It's all in the hands of the Gods and the politicians." chuckles an old-timer.
I leave him standing there, looking fresh and happy on the left bank of the immortal river. I know full well he could be right. Haven't you heard a saying in the mountains:'The higher you stand, the further you see.'
On the road between Kedarnath and Badrinath, just past Ukhimath, is a remote corner of the Nanda Devi Sanctuary. You will get a clear idea of how things would have been if men had let the forests be. Mighty oaks, feathered and festooned with moss and ferns; wiry birch, pine and rhododendron; and the forest floor a veritable carpet of flowers. This is how the early Commissioners of Garhwal must have found DUGGALBETTA where they built an imperial bungalow fit for an emperor.
It sits squarely, as if in an armchair, facing the eternal snows. You'll find it painted pink, like a rare orchid embowered by its own green leaves. To stay. here you've got to get prior permission from the District Magistrate at Gopeshwar, the official headquarters of the Chamoli District.
During your stay, don't jump with fright if you hear an occasional shriek at night. Be assured it's just those sirens of the night, the Frest Eagle-Owl out on a primal hunt.
Just six kilometres away is Chopta, where the Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam have a prized spot. It is clean and cheap to boot and very few people have discovered the place just yet. Above Chopta, the trees vanish most abruptly, as if a surveyor had laid an invisible line and forbidden any tree to sprout.
And beyond the treeline lies the windswept TUNGNATH. If you don't feel like climbing, you could hire a sturdy pony from Chopta to get to this, the highest shrine in the inner Himalayas.
What is Tungnath known for? Well, too many things to put down here. But I prefer to believe that it is for the priests - those who are called 'Friends of the stars' and are reputed to cast great horoscopes and nativities.
Don't forget to tarry a while as you come down the great mountain. Surrender yourself to the quaintcharms of Chopta. Watch the light begin to glint from the rocks that lie along the path as the road to Tungnath seems like a ladder to heaven.
For the more daring, above Tungnath is CHANDRASHILA- unique in the annals of religious folklore. For centuries, the inhabitants of the high mountains have gone there to pay oblations to their forefathers and to leave behind the horoscopes of those who have gone to the other Kingdom. You'll find little piles of rocks, like Buddhist chortens, with old fading horoscopes fluttering in the wind.
As you look at the amphitheatre of the gods, you'll begin to get an inkling as to why Time, they say, is the child of Eternity.
On the day I was there, there was not a soul around. An old parchment weathered by the elements, caught in a chimul bush fought to set itself free. A sudden gust set it free. Trapped in the eddies of the breeze it flew thousands of feet away till it was lost to sight. I came down the face of the mountain, lost in thought, musing on the march of Time....

ACCOMMODATION
Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam has hotels and Tourist Rest Houses at over 60 places in this region. From mid-April to end of June (referred to as the 'Peak Season') accommodation is on the higher side.
Your typical budget would be as:
  1. Deluxe Room Rs. 400 to 600/-
  2. Deluxe (non-Ac Rs. 350 to 500/-
  3. Executive Rs. 250 to 300/-
  4. Family Suite Rs. 500 to 630/-
  5. Dormitory Rs. 35 to 80/-
  6. Tent/Huts Rs. 40 to 200/-
TRANSPORT
A variety of Deluxe Coaches are available with the Nigam. A 15 seater (AC) Coach charges Rs. 3500/- per day for 250 kilometers in the plains or 200 kilometers in the hills.
Taxi rates vary according. to road conditions, so while a plain metalled road is Rs. 4/- per kilometre in a diesel car, a petrol driven Contessa is Rs. 8/- per kilometre. The rates go up in forest or rough roads.
BOOKINGS:
DELHI
PRO GMVN, U.P. Tourism
Office,Chandralok Bidg.
36, Janpath NEW DELHI
TEL: (01 1) 3326620, 3322251,3711296
FAX: 91-011-3711296

DEHRADUN
The G.M (Tourism)
G. M. V. N. Ltd.
74/1, Rajpur Road,
Dehradun
TEL: (0135)

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