When the snow-capped mountains, blue waters, meadows and quaint little hamlets start making an impression in your mind, it is always one which is pristine or heavenly. You have an urge to make that instant move to visit such a place and savor the whole experience first-hand.
But what if you were told that there could still be a place that may have skipped your attention so far, that there exists a heaven which even the best of the explorers may not have truly discovered. Today, we take you through a journey of one such magical place nestled amidst the mountains. Located in a remote part of the Garhwal region of Uttarakhand, this heaven on earth is called “HARSIL”.
HISTORICAL NARRATIVE AROUND HARSIL
It is perched in a remote corner of Western Garhwal Himalayas near the border with Himachal Pradesh and Tibet. If you are heading to Gangotri dham, you will be crossing a section of the Harsil valley. The whole aura of this place is so magical that even the Gods had a tryst with this place. The legend has it that Lord Vishnu (also known as Hari) was requested to come to this place to mediate between the 2 rivers (the Bhagirathi and the Jalandhari). Each river was trying to outweigh the other by showing it might. This was surely causing a problem to its inhabitants. And therefore, Lord Vishnu turned into a mountain (Shila) right at the confluence of the 2 rivers to tame them and calm their waters. “Hari” + “Shila” = “HariShila” or ‘Harshil / Harsil’. That’s how this place got its name. So even the name is deeply rooted in the mythology.
DRIVING TO HARSIL FROM UTTARKASHI
It’s a scenic route all-throughout as you drive along the Bhagirathi river crossing the beautiful towns of Netala, Bhatwari and Gangnani. Netala is famous for its Sivananda Ashram where people flock for meditation and Yoga, Bhatwari connects you to some famous trek routes including the Dayara Bugyal and Gangnani is famous for its Hot Springs. If you are looking for a decent restaurant/dhaba to have something to eat, Bhatwari and Gangnani offer multiple options.
As you continue to drive, the landscape sees a sudden change after Gangnani. The towering mountains with those snow patches on top, the lush green forests and that sensation of cool breeze hitting your face, you start to experience all of it. The next you encounter are the Apple Orchards around you. And if you are lucky to be there during the season time, I am so sure that you will be tempted to stop and take a walk in the orchards. You will find many vendors on the road selling apples for as little as Rs. 30 a Kg. When was the last time you bought apples for this price? I doubt it.
The Sukhi top gives the first charming vista of the Harsil valley down below and you get that instant urge to quickly snake your way through the winding roads and get to the valley. The Bhagirathi river now joins you on the left (at your elevation) all the way to Harsil. This experience is something that cannot be described in words and inch by inch you feel yourself entering a heavenly abode.
The mist swirling around the deodar and the pines trees, the sound of wind humming into them, they seem to absorb them all and then, as you enter this quaint little town, they transit it to you, to the excited pilgrim, who is here to discover and unleash the magic and mystery of this hamlet.
Distances between key towns on this route
|S.No.||Distance between 2 destinations||Distance in Kms||Approx. Travel time|
|1||Uttarkashi to Harsil||73 Kilometres||2.5 hours|
|2||Harsil to Gangotri||28 Kms||1 hour|
|3||Harsil to Bhaironghati||20 Kms||40 mins|
|4||Harsil to Mukhba (via Dharali)||8 kms||30 mins|
IMPORTANT EVENTS THAT HAVE MADE HARSIL FAMOUS
a) The movie ‘Ram Teri Ganga Maili’ – the famous Raj Kapoor’s film ‘– Quite a few scenes were shot here, the most famous of them was the regular visit by the actress Mandakini to a post office – yes, that post office still exists albeit in a dilapidated condition in Harsil.
b) The Brad-Pitt starrer “Seven Years in Tibet” – The famous movie which narrates the travel experiences of the famous Austrian mountaineer ‘Heinrich Harrier’ (played by Brad Pitt) has a connection with this town. Heinrich, captured by the British during the WWII, escaped to Tibet through this route. He eventually met the 14th Dalai Lama and became friends with him. Perhaps one of the few foreigners to have had access to Tibet at that time.
b) Namami Gange Project – Under the ambitious “Namami Gange Project” of Govt. of India , Bagori village (adjacent to Harsil) was declared the 1st “Ganga Village” on 23rd December 2017. The project is aimed at effective abatement of pollution, conservation and rejuvenation of the River Ganga.
c). Hulsyen Sahib – Harsil owes a lot to this English sahib and a series of events in the 19th century brought this quiet town in some limelight. I thought to write a separate section on this gentleman (refer the next para).
FREDRICK E. WILSON OR RAJA WILSON OR PAHARI WILSON OR HULYSEN SAHIB
There is a saying that Fredrick E. Wilson was Rudyard Kipling’s inspiration for the main character in the famous book “The Man Who Would Be King”. Fredrick finds reference in the history of Garhwal during the 19th century when the East India Company had made a strong foothold in India and had even entered Garhwal after defeating the Gurkhas in the Anglo-Gurkha war of 1815. During the Anglo-Afghan war of 1839-42, it is said that an English soldier named Fredrick Wilson deserted the army and ran away to Dehradun. And somehow he eventually found himself in this part of Garhwal away from the preying eyes of his masters. He eventually did some negotiations with the East India company officials and in return he promised them to supply wood from the jungles of Harsil. Wood was a precious ingredient to make the Railway sleepers at that time and Wilson found a huge business opportunity in this.
He supplied wood to the British and made huge amount of money (The wood logs were thrown in the Bhagirathi and eventually collected by his men faraway in Haridwar). The inhabitants who otherwise were poor suddenly found themselves prosperous. It is said that he even introduced his own coin (Wilson coin). Wilson also introduced potatoes and apples to this region. He eventually settled here, even married a woman from the neighbouring village of Mukhba and had 3 children. He surely was a successful businessman of those times and had business interests far and wide (all the way upto Mussoorie – the famous heritage hotel – The Rokeby Manor in Landour was once owned by Fredrick Wilson). The British cemetery on the Camel Back Road – a loop trail off the Mall Road is where Fredrick Pahari Wilson’s resting place can be found.
INDO – CHINA WAR OF 1962 AND ITS CONNECTION WITH HARSIL
The Nelong valley (just ahead of Harsil) shares its boundaries with Tibet region. It used to be a flourishing business center and had a well-established connectivity with Tibet region. The villages of Nelong and Jadhung are ethnic Bhotiyas, who have lived in these difficult dry cold terrains since ages. However, during the war, the army had to seek control to protect our territorial boundaries. The villagers were therefore re-located near Harsil (Village – Bagori) and to Dunda (a few kilometres ahead of Uttarkashi).
Nelong Valley is another touristy area in the neighborhood of Harsil and the district administration has recently allowed limited travel (with due permits) in the region to promote tourism. The famous, Jad Ganga (the river with turquoise blue waters) flows in Nelong valley and its surely worth a drive.
THINGS THAT MAKE HARSIL UNIQUE (A TRAVELLER’S PERSPECTIVE)
- Bagori village – Post the Indo-China war of 1962, the people from the Nelong valley were re-settled here by the Govt. This is adjacent to the Harsil town. The architecture of houses is very unique and the people in this village are skilled artisans. The natives of this place (the Jadh Bhotiya community) were a semi-nomadic tribe of the trans-himalayan region whose primary occupation was sheep rearing and trade. While, they have well integrated into the society now, many of the inhabitants still continue weaving. One can buy handmade – Woollen Shawls, Blankets, jackets, caps and sweaters from here.
- 3 rivers crisscross the small town of Harsil. These are;
- Jalandhari Gad (remember the mythological story of the competition )
- Kakora Gad
The waters of these 3 rivers is so clean and clear and with the quietness of the town, it’s only the sound of the gushing waters that somewhat disturbs the eternal silence. You will find small foot bridges over Jalandhari and Kakora, and they offer the perfect selfie picture for you with the roaring waters and green forests setting as a backdrop. Jalandhari and Kakora eventually drain out in the Bhagirathi that flows at one end of the valley.
- Mountains – Western Garhwal region is home to some of the tallest peaks in our country. The majestic Mt. Srikanth and Mt. Gangotri (I, II & III) can be found in the vicinity of Harsil. However, to get a good view of these mountains require some hiking into the Taknaur valley (the route that follows the source of the Jalandhari Gad). However, the hill mountains are all around this majestic Harsil Valley.
- Valley view – Along with the Harsil Valley, you also have Taknaur Valley and the Nelong valley in this region. Taknaur valley starts from Harsil and goes all the way upto Upper Kyarkoti region. Nelong valley is slightly further ahead of Harsil and has characteristics of a cold-arid region.
- Trekking – Harsil is one of the ends of the famous Lamkhaga Pass Trek with its other end being Chitkul in the Baspa Valley, Himachal Pradesh. The trek passes through lush green Taknaur valley, reaching the alpine meadows of Kyarkoti followed by a high mountain Pass (Lamkhaga). This treks traverses 2 states eventually leading to a beautiful hamlet of Chitkul. It’s a 6-7-day trek covering a total distance of about 75 kms. Some people undertake a shorter hike upto Kyarkoti also. There is a small lake at Kyarkoti and this trek can be completed (to and fro) in 2-3 days.
- Ring the temple bells at Mukhba / Gangotri – Gangotri is the summer abode of the idol of Goddess Ganga and is one of the 4 dhams in Uttarakhand. It is an hour’s drive from Harsil. During the winter months when Gangotri witnesses huge snow fall, the idol is placed in the temple at Mukhba, which falls between Harsil and Gangotri. The Goddess therefore spends her winter time at Mukhba Village and stays at Gangotri during the summer season.
WHERE TO STAY IN HARSIL & HOW TO REACH HERE
While I have been to Harsil twice but did not stay there overnight. The town offers limited options for food and stay. However, I do see some popular homestays on the web and people have written good reviews about them. While, I am yet to stay there and write about the experiences, I can still list some of these known homestays for your reference;
- Sunder Homestay
- Nelong Homestay
- Home Stay Himalaya Vista
I am sure with a simple google search you will be able to find more information about these homestays.
How to Reach here
Road transport is mostly used by people to arrive at Harsil. If you have your own vehicle nothing better than that, however one can also take taxis that ply from Uttarkashi on per seat basis. If you are planning to travel from Dehradun or Rishikesh, I suggest to hire a vehicle. A 7 seater bolero will cost you around Rs. 6000/- (one-way fare).
Recently, helicopter services have also begun from Dehradun to Gangotri, primarily catering to the religious tourists. The helipad is close to Harsil town. So this option can also be considered. It takes about one hour of heli ride from Dehradun to Harsil.
I feel good that this heavenly abode has so far escaped the preying eyes of urbanization. In the lap of nature, Harsil continues to maintain its aura that is so difficult to express in words just like the sighting of that elusive Himalayan laughing thrush whose dulcet tone you clearly hear.
Indeed, a paradise on earth.
It’s beautiful and great information. I’m adding to my bucket list. Thanks for sharing.
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I am happy you enjoyed reading it. tks
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That was such a comprehensive post, a fabulous introduction to Harsil. I’ve heard a great deal about the place but never been there. I loved the mythological story behind its name and the legend of Pahari Wilson. Super post!
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thank you very much. Harsil is indeed a heaven.
Harshil is really heaven on the earth. I visited this place 2 yr back. It is comparable to Europe. its beauty is amazing. You gave deep information about the place. really I like your blog.
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I really appreciate your feedback. thanks a lot.