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Uttranchal, also called "Abode of Gods", abounds in places of sanctity. Every year thousands of devotees visit the state by braving the challenges that the mountainous region offers, treading the arduous trails and hence reinforcing the triumph of the faith over adversity.


The Plan
We undertook a picturesque pilgrimage in the hinterlands of Himalayas on June 12, 2003. To make it adventurous we planned it to be a Mobike Safari. I got hold of a few road-maps, scoured the net for information on the 'Char Dham Yatra' and charted our itinerary for the journey. We packed some warm and some comfortable clothings, rain-gear, slippers, toilet-essentials, camera & rolls, napkins, driving licence, papers of Bullet, etc. The biggest mistake that we did was not to carry two spare tubes to save us from a flat tyre.

The Man, The Woman & The Machine
Myself & my wife Vandana, we have a 1989 Model Standard 350cc Royal Enfield Bullet having 6V electrical system, with luggage accessories (carrier stand on both sides and back), high but straight - bar handle and a military leg-guard.

The Kick-Off
As we set-off for a package of both an adventurous and spiritual experience, our hearts were pounding for we had absolutely no idea of what is in store for us. We were as much excited for the journey ahead as we were curious to know what riding a loaded Bullet two-up will be like. As we left NH-58, we embarked on a bumpy road to Saharanpur. The road ended on a slanted T-point at which we took a right turn towards Dehradun. Then we headed straight for Dehradun. Reward of braving the bad road to Saharanpur was that we reached Dehradun about 30 minutes early with a less distance covered in comparison to continuing on NH-58 to reach Haridwar and then from there proceeding to Dehradun. In Dehradun we got changed the chain and both sprockets (front and rear). Then we reached Mussoorie after an hour's not-so-steep climb and moved to Yamuna Bridge via Kempty Falls (KF). Falls are small but very popular amongst the tourists. There was literally a jam as it took us full twenty minutes to cross the KF stretch and that too, imagine, on a bike! The place is mostly thronged by honeymooners :-) As we proceeded further, we saw three more, absolutely deserted, similar falls. One of them, we saw, was used as a flour mill!

First Night Halt
We finally took a night-halt at Nowgaon. This is a pilgrim route and all the small townships dotting the way offer accommodation which is good for one night halt and food with mostly north-indian cuisine. We were particularly interested in the security of our mobike so we chose a motel-type of guest-house and booked a double-bed room for Rs. 200/night. Food in a 'dhaba' nearby was tasty. We both are vegetarians but even otherwise, the 'dhabawallah' informed us that it is difficult to find non-vegetarian food during yatra period. Boozing is also out of question. By the way, we are teetotalers :-) In the night we looked towards the star-studded sky - impossible to view in delhi. The river Yamuna was roaring down in the valley and we could hear the flow hundreds of feet up at our hotel. Driving of about 400 kms, which includes more than 135 kms on hill road, on the very first day of our journey made us dreary so we called it a day.

Janakichatti (JC) Route
We started early morning and via Barkot, Ranachatti & Sayanachatti reached Hanumanchatti (HC). View is picturesque throughout from Mussoorie. From Yamuna bridge the road follows the course of river Yamuna. Even in night that we spent at Nowgaon, we could hear the roar of river water-flow hundreds of feet up at our hotel room. Despite its beauty and a recommended one by the Uttranchal Government for visiting Yamunotri shrine, this route is not preferred by pilgrims who mainly visit the Yamunotri Shrine by following the Haridwar-Rishikesh-Narendarnagar-Chamba-Tehri-Dharasu route. We guess convenience and familiarity with Haridwar as the main reason for adopting the Haridwar route. This route merges with our route (Mussoorie-Yamuna Bridge) at an uneven turn & a check-post little ahead of Barkot. HC is the final point for all the pilgrims & travellers who come by HTVs/MTVs like bus, truck, etc. A very small township sprungs-up there during the season. But there are no good or very basic accommodation facilities. There is no tar road then onwards, however a jeepable road with very steep and dangerous turns is there on which only cars & jeeps ply. We thought and thought and thought. Fight between heart and mind is invariably won by heart and we moved on - the man, the woman & the machine. It was no road for faint-hearted. One had to really struggle to negotiate the turns with the bike skidding only on rounded pebbles and mud. It often rains there and you can well understand the situation then. But mostly jeeps (99% Mahindra Brands) were found to be plying on this route and drivers were quite comfortable or at least they seemed to be.

The Bang-I
As soon as we reached Phoolchatti, the rear tyre went flat. It had a deep cut. I got the puncture repaired by coming all the way back to Ranachatti by jeep. Got back and then we reached JC. JC is hardly 10 minutes drive from Phoolchatti and has two manned parking spaces on a small plateau. We parked the thumper there and proceeded to search for the accommodation.

Second Night Halt

JC is seemingly a more permanent inhabitation but the residents are mostly oblivious of the yatra crowd. They don't mingle with or even care to do so. However, JC is the most suitable place to stay for night as the accommodation facilities are really good and cater to all sorts of basic needs. Communication facilities are missing though as only one hotel has a telephone and that too is personal. Therefore, once you cross HC, you are severed from rest of the world as so far (12-12-2003) no cellular network works there. Water & electricity is not a big problem though, with electricity cuts only occasional and mostly to avoid electrocution due to heavy rains. Yes! It rains here almost daily in the afternoon period. We took a basic but comfortable room for Rs. 200/night and had food in the same hotel. The food quality was good. It was a moon-lit night and all the surrounding hills appeared as if standing at guard to protect us. Vandana was very tired so she chose to be rather on bed while I proceeded for a very short hike on the way to shrine just to have a look at the snow on the Banderpoonch massif. After walking around 100 steps, snow was visible. With the chill of the night, it was lovely to see the snow reflecting the moonlight. The roar of the flow of river Yamuna was the integral part of night's silence at JC. Thinking of next day's trek, I returned to hotel and we retired for the day.

The Yamunotri Shrine
Next day early in the morning, we started our trek for Yamunotri alongwith hundreds of other pilgrims. The route to the shrine is not good. Mud, pebbles, in some stretches unevenly arranged stone pieces and the mule-shit are all that you will be treading throughout. In some stretches it is good also but they are very few. Apart from its poor state, this 5 km hike is seemingly a never-ending journey. Consider this - you gain a height of around 747 m and see what? Just in 5 kms! as JC is at 2576 m and shrine is at 3323 m above sea-level. Appreciable is that spirit with which even a fifty-year old climbs just to be in the proximity of what he/she calls the divinity that the source of river Yamuna is! Truly amazing! Numerous waterfalls can be spotted on the way which eventually merge with the river Yamuna as tiny streams.

The whole route is dotted by temporary/makeshift type of tea-shops which also offer biscuits, bread, etc. This picturesque route which seems to be engulfed by the high-rising mountains ended at the Yamunotri Shrine. As we took the last few turns, the Yamunotri temple was visible from quite a distance which must be more than a kilometer. The total hike took around 3 hrs. with medium pace. The temple is small as compared to other three 'dhams' and is at the base of a mountain of Banderpoonch massif, supposedly. The Yamunotri Shrine is worshipped by hindu devotees as the source of River Yamuna. Technically speaking, the actual source is believed to be a frozen lake "Saptarishi Kund" (SK) of the Champasar Glacier located on the 'Kalind' mountain at the height of 4421m above sea-level.

As we face the Goddess Yamuna's idol (made of black marble), on our right flows the freezing waters of river Yamuna coming from our back. Just beside the temple, there are a few hot-water springs gushing out of the mountain cavities. The most important of them is Surya Kund. It is said to be containing medicinal properties. Pilgrims wrap rice & potatoes in a cloth and immerse it in the water. We followed the tradition. The water of the spring boiled-down the contents in a matter of minutes. This is the Prasad of Yamunotri. The hot water is congregated at two main tanks which serve the two genders for bathing purposes. We both took sauna and we bet nothing in life felt that refreshing ever. It sucked away all our aches. Therefore, if you are there we recommend the bath. We were very hungry so after 'puja' we had a little rice from Prasad alongwith Rajma-Rice at a local restaurant though there is not much choice. The total establishment at the shrine is not of more than 15 houses.

Accomodation facilities are bare minimum and most pilgrims/travelers prefer to do up-down from JC. There are two Dharamshalas and a Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam (GMVN) Rest House. The location of Rest House is good and worth visiting/staying. If you wish to stay in the GMVN Rest House, advance booking is a must during season which can easily be done at Rishikesh's GMVN office. There is way from shrine to Saptarishi Kund (SK) which is technically the source of Yamuna river. We were confused whether to trek further to SK or head back and travel to Gangotri. The decision was made in favour of Bike safari rather than a trekking sojourn in high himalayas. In any case, the way to SK is said to be extremely difficult and we were not equipped. We were further convinced of our wrong thoughts when we asked a local for the way to SK and he and other overhearing gave us a peeving glance - "Aap dono!......SK ko jaaooge!". As if they want to say - Forget it man! Therefore we descended back to JC and started for Gangotri.

The Bang-II
It was raining heavily at that time. While taking our bike out of the parking one jeepwallah did not budge from its place and finally when it did it banged into my hand brake. The lever (yoke) was on the ground the very next moment. I controlled my temper and thought it to be a blessing in disguise as the road was very slippery due to rain and front brakes may have increased the risk of a skid. Finally we started with a very very steady pace and crossed that rough terrain with great difficulty but without a halt. On such a terrain we were forced to think why the h**l other three gears are there when only first is sufficient.

Picturesque Ride
To reach Uttarkashi, we left our earlier route at barkot checkpost and picked-up the Gangotri & Haridwar road. This route was full of scenic beauty. Adding to the glamour were the small drizzle & the sun was just in the setting mode. We rode throughout in the pleasant hill evening, smelling the 'Chir' fragrance all the way. It turned out to be our most enjoyable ride so far as the road condition was very good and the traffic was moderate. From a T-point 3 km off Dharasu we took a left while those who take right go to Rishikesh & Haridwar.

Kashi of Uttranchal
Uttarkashi is a big township comparatively and not inappropriate if considered a mini city. It derives its name from an ancient Shiva temple which is located on the right bank of river Bhagirathi and also in the heart of the city. The town has a Nehru Institute of Mountaineering which is worth a visit. It has a museum. We reached there on a holiday - Bad luck! There is a small temple of 'Kuteti Devi' - a goddess from Kota (Raj.) on a hill-top. We particularly visited that temple as we have our moorings in Kota. For mobike repairs, we found Uttarkashi the ideal place in that region. It had plenty of shops and lot of mechanics. Though our bike was not giving any problem, I purchased hand-brake lever from a local shop at a reasonable price. We reached uttarkashi late in the evening and took our third night halt at Vandana's aunt's place.

On the Bhagirathi Trail
Early morning we started for Gangotri but I was worried about the cut in the rear tyre. With god's prayers on our lips we soon started to Dhug-Dhug-Dhug, the man, the woman and the machine. As in case of Yamunotri, here also the whole route basically follows the course of river Bhagirathi, except few detours to the hill-tops. From Uttarkashi, as we moved further, the view of the mountains improved and the scenic beauty reached the climax at Sukhi-Top. From here we had an excellent panoramic view of the snow-clad Himalayas. Several peaks were visible but our untrained eyes could not identify any of them. A little ahead is Harsil, a small township, which is almost a valley as here the river's both banks are farthest from each other which can then be seen only at Rishikesh. Full of Deodar trees, the place is perfect shoot location. Nature's bounty was unfolded to us. Fortunately, the climax did not end as we moved on to the shrine with Bhairon Ghati equally beautiful and so is the shrine itself. We travelled around 100 kms as we touched the shrine and the road is very good. Parking space is on the main road before the temple and is less compared to the volume of vehicles visiting the place daily. Vehicle influx surpasses the capacity during the noon-time. Fortunately, Bullet doesn't need sky to get parked. Just to avoid vandalism being practiced on our bike we parked the vehicle before a Prasad shop and requested the owner to keep an eye over the vehicle for which he readily agreed.

The Gangotri Shrine
The Gangotri temple like Yamunotri temple opens on the auspicious day of 'Akshaya-tritiya' which falls in the month of April or May and closes on the day of Diwali which falls in the month of October or November. The Gangotri temple is a complex of sanctum sanctorum and few rooms on the periphery. The idol of Goddess Ganga was covered with flowers & garlands and only face-part was visible. A few stairs from the temple lead to the bank of river Bhagirathi. The flow of the river is mighty terrifying and so is the freezing water. When we saw Bhagirathi for the first time at 3 km off Dharasu, we could term the river Yamuna as 'TINY'. The flow of river Yamuna is no match for river Bhagirathi. At the shrine, the river Bhagirathi is wider and the basin is boulder-laiden. What? What did you ask? Did I venture into the icy waters? Forget it, man! No ordinary man can withhold her flow & freeze for just 30 seconds and that too at the bank, forget about little towards the middle of the river. Interestingly nothing can defy religious spirits as people were taking bath out in the chill. Situated at an elevation of 3100 m above sea-level, the place becomes very cold as the evening sets in. Warm clothing is a must.

Excursions We Will Do!
Popular excursions from the Gangotri Shrine are Gaumukh (The snout of the Gangotri Glacier - the physical source of the holy Bhagirathi), Tapovan (beautiful meadow that encircle the base of Shivling peak), Nandanvan (base-camp for Bhagirathi Peaks and also to have a superb view of Shivling peak) and Kedar Tal (crystal-clear water with Sphatikling and Thayalasagar peaks forming a splendid backdrop). But we had no choice as I had to join back at my office the day after. So after spending around four hours at the shrine we drove back. While coming back we took a brief halt at 'Gangnani', a very small township which seems to be actually there because of hot sulphur springs. I took bath while Vandana kept watching/snapping me :-)

The Bang-III - Oh No! Not Again!

Two kilometers short of Uttarkashi the tyre again went flat. Fortunately it had enough air for me to drive to Uttarkashi. I left Vandana (a huge risk) at a local shop-cum-hotel as there was no police station nearby and I was losing air from the tyre. I drove faster than usual (again a risk) but reached safely in the uttarkashi township for the tyre shop. This time we placed a comparatively thicker tyre piece at the place of the cut. I knew this would increase the risk of skid at the turns but it was manageable if driven very carefully. We were not at all ready for another flat tyre. After repair I brought back Vandana and we took our fourth day's night halt at Uttarkashi town.

Back to Pavilion!
Fifth day morning we drove-down straight to Delhi while touching Dharasu, New Tehri, Chamba, Narendranagar and Rishikesh with a brief halt at Haridwar for a late lunch. When we were at Narendranagar a full-fledged rain started and forced us to take shelter while the machine enjoyed the rain alone and loaded. After the clear-sky, the view from Narendranagar hills of the Himalayan snow-clad peaks was mesmerizing, reminiscent of what we saw over our heads only a day before.

Paraj Shukla
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