Yamunotri, By Default

Unable to head for the mountains, for reasons beyond me, I recall this saunter through Garhwal during the rains …

I am not a religious person, though not an atheist and certainly not an anti-theist. If I would have chosen to go to Yamunotri, it would have been for the Himalayan panoramas it offers, the testing journey that provide opportunities for my challenged perfection, and the culture the region particularly fosters.
On this day, the 28th of August 2011, I had not chosen to proceed towards Yamunotri. My general desire was to visit the ” Kaurav County ” in the northwest-most region of Uttarkashi district, including Netwar and Mori in Tons Valley along the route to Har-ki-Dun in the middle of Govind Wild Life National Park, up northwest of Mori.
Mori is a sleepy hamlet of amazing scenic beauty, surrounded by greenish and yellowish paddy fields at this time of the year, on the banks of Tons River. The place lies in a region that has a uniquely Vedic culture and a history that local folks trace back to Kauravas and Pandavas, the royal warriors and kings in the epic age of Mahabharata. It was said that if one had to learn Sanskrit and true Vedic practices, in their detail, there was no better place to go to than this region in Uttarkashi.
Mori seemed to be a perfect vacation retreat to me, with its seclusion and high mountain solitudes. It had the tallest pine trees that thickly populate its forests. A primary curiosity of mine was this ancient historic temple dedicated to Duryodhana, who is generally reviled in the epic and by people in the rest of the country. In Netwar, 11 km up ahead, there is a temple with Karna as the local deity, another character from the epic who is better regarded but still an anti – hero compared to the Pandavas, the ultimate victors who had the support of Krishna. And, the villagers follow a tradition that includes polygamy !
The cultural diversity of the region then seemed fascinating to me… full of legendary temples, architecture, mythology and that ancient culture that still seemed alive to me in its texts. And thus I rolled out for Kaurav County that early morning before dawn, covering the potholed roads onto the tolled highway of recent construct. I noticed the morning sun when I had to stop for relief some distance before Muzaffarnagar.
That’s also when I was charmed by the paddy and sugarcane fields all around.
There was nothing exciting on the way up through Haridwar on to the bypass at the left, before the ancient town and world’s famed yoga capital of Rishikesh, that passes through THDC Colony and meets the National Highway 94, gaining about 700 m in height at Narendranagar. Unawares, I had given up the option of passing over the hanging bridge called Laxman Jhula and of visiting the Vashisht Ashram and Cave, located about 25 km away on the way to Devprayag.
The Greens …

It had gotten exciting, the drive pleasurably demanding, mountain sides intimately pleasing and views… clouds rubbing against the hill sides and the tops … and the houses yonder !

The road remained undulating but gradual, by and large. It wasn’t in the best of shape. The entire region seemed to be terribly neglected in terms of infrastructure. Frequently, there would stretches without metal top on the roads. People were generally disadvantaged with little work opportunity, and seemed severely depressed economically.

But, if anything, the Himalayas represent a continuity. There’s a cultural togetherness and homogeneity that shared beliefs inculcate in people’s outlook… to each other, to other beings, their animals, trees and vegetation, the mountains, temples, river and streams. There were enough of water lines, thick and thin, flowing down the mountain slopes.

The altitudes… 1000 m at Narendranagar… 1200 m at Hindolakhal Village… over a hump of 1600 m before Agrakhal at 1400 m… down to 800 m after Jajal… up again through 1200 m, Mohanchatti, to 1400 m, 1600 m, and 1676 m at Chamba, where I called it a day.
Chamba is situated at the junction of roads converging from Mussoorie, Rishikesh, Tehri Dam/ Lake and New Tehri. It  is a beautiful town, in the heart of Tehri district. Chamba is well-connected and just 60 km from Mussoorie. For travellers from Delhi, Chamba is an ideal interlude on the way up to Gangotri, Yamunotri and north-western parts of Uttarkashi.Some places of interest nearby are Dhanaulti, Surkanda Devi Temple, Ranichauri, and Kanatal, midway through Chamba-Dhanaulti road.

It was still cloudy when I click started the next day. I was heading for Barethi, Dharasu, on to Barkot, Naugaon and Purola, where I intended to halt. It was to be my base for forays into the Kaurav County of Netwar and Mori and, perhaps, the closest I could drive up to Har-ki-Dun. It turned out to be a wrong choice… due to landslides and road construction projects ! On hindsight, I should have taken the left branch off from NH-94 at Chamba, through Dhanaulti – NH 123 – Nainbagh – Kuwa – Naugaon – Purola.

Barely 10 km up Chamba, the National Highway 94 comes close to the bank of the Tehri Dam Reservoir on Bhagirathi River, down at 800 m altitude above sea level, and remains almost parallel right up to Dharasu at 1200 m. A little ahead, the highway forks into NH – 94 on the left and NH – 108 on the right, which continues to run along with the River Bhagirathi to Uttarkashi.

I took to the NH – 94 from Chamba. At Barethi too, I had the option to take a left branch – off to NH – 123 and on to Naugaon. But I was not aware of it and, frankly, felt no need to review my travel plan just then, even though the indications were there of roads being blocked or under construction. So on I continued towards Dharasu, rising up to 2200 m through some of the worst stretches, holdups, soft soil and treacherous mud… down to 1400 m at a sharp bend from where a branch – off to left went to Barkot barely 2 km away.

The place at the neck of that sharp bend, identified from a small signboard, was called Dobatta. The entire area was in a mess, with construction work. I stopped to look about. To my left, I could see school children crossing over a stretch of road paved with large boulders. There was a trekker jeep waiting about 50 m away, beyond the rough un-motorable stretch, to transport the public and the school children. I could only ” sigh ” and resume my way on the main to Yamunotri… to let the disappointment pass.

The road up from Dobatta ( Barkot, 1280 m ) remained difficult and neglected in patches… gaining altitude through Gangani to Sayanachatti ( 2135 m ), where a young man flagged my car. I stopped, curious, when he suggested that I stay the day at his place ! It was drizzling. The landslides and road conditions on the way had been tiring to negotiate. I dropped anchor at his rather basic ‘ hotel.’

The lodge had no food preparation facilities. There was a ‘ dhaba ‘ down the way I’d come, where I could have a simple fare. It was too early for a meal right then and I did not want to step out in the evening when I might be hungry. So, the only alternate was for me to buy something now that I could retain for later.

I went out for a stroll. The place had few houses, mostly villagers from far away who had built by the roadside to participate in the commerce that tourists to Yamunotri bring in. There was a tea stall where a few people sat gossiping… smoking, browsing through the newspaper, sipping tea or simply gazing. I joined them… had a no-sugar tea, made to order. There was sadness on the faces and reeked of depression when people spoke.

The tea stall did not have the eggs I was looking for. Almost the whole of Uttarkashi is supposed to be a sacred zone and non-vegetarian preparations were generally barred from local cuisine. Someone suggested I try a smaller stall across the road. I did find the eggs there and a couple of buns for my evening meal.

Back at the hotel, I tried calling up home but there was no network. I was told only the Govt owned telecom company had it here ! The gray evening passed into a dark night.

Next morning, I started off with a washed car… not toward Yamunotri but return to Chamba, where about I intended to stay overnight before starting for the home leg. Alas, traffic was held up barely a few miles down, due to landslide. The bulldozer came after 3 hours ! Tour operators found it convenient to handout lunch cooked for the tourists they were carrying. And travellers had their wash in the mountainside stream flowing half a furlong up.

The mess cleared up around 1 PM. I spent those 4 hours chatting up occassionally, listening to music most of the time, and gazing at a mule pair grazing in front of me !

On my way back, I followed the Yamuna River until Dobatta ( Barkot ).About 10 – 15 km before Chamba,  I stopped at a ‘ Guest House ‘ that I later discovered was a poor, dilapidated homestay run by a father – son duo. However, the lady of the house had cooked some wonderful chicken curry. But I did take the precaution of calling up the local Police Station and informing them of my stay there !
The next day, I made it home, by late afternoon.

Alternate Destinations. Authentic Experiences…

English: Draupadi and Pandavas
English: Draupadi and Pandavas

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