Travel Bucket List: India – Utarakhand Part 6

One of the Panch Kedars in the world, Rudranath is a place religious significance and is situated at an altitude of 2300 meters above sea level and covered in thick forests. The town hosts a large Lord Shiva temple which requires a 21 km trek to reach. The temple also has idols as well as statues of Kunti, Pandavas, and Draupadi. Devotees take a bath in the holy Narad Kund situated near the temple before going inside the temple. According to the legends, the Rudranath Temple was built by the Pandavas. After the war, Pandavas went to the Himalayas searching for Lord Shiva so that they could be forgiven for their sins which they had committed after killing their relatives in the war. Since Lord Shiva was convinced that they were sinners and did not want to meet them, he took the form of a bull and escaped. He then appeared at the Panch Kedars, now known as the Panch Kedar Temple, his arms appearing at the Tunganath Temple, hunch in Kedarnath, face at Rudranath Temple, hair at Kalpeshwar and the navel and stomach at Madhyamaheshwar. Lord Shiva is worshipped as ‘Nilkanta Mahadev’ in Rudranath Temple. It is said that Lord Shiva jumped into the earth and appeared in Rudranath. However, the angry face of Lord Shiva is his temporary mask, and one can witness his pleasing beauty when it is taken off from the face while giving him the holy bath.

Our next destination is Guptakashi about 22 km west of Rudranath.

Also close to Kedarnath at a distance of 47 km, the temple town of Guptakashi is perched at an elevation of 1319 m and is framed by the snow-covered peaks of the Chaukhamba mountains. It houses two ancient temples namely the Vishwanath Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva in the form of the Lord Vishwanath or the Lord of the Universe and the Ardhnareshwar Temple. The Vishwanath temple is made out of regional stones and the tower is adorned with a wooden frame. In fact it resembles a lot to the kasha Vishwanath in Varanasi. Situated on the left of the Vishwanath Temple, the Ardhanarishwar Temple is also dedicated to Lord Shiva with the presiding deity being half man and half woman representing Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. The Manikarnika Kund located within the complex of Vishwanath temple is another popular destination in the town. Here the Shiva Linga is bathed there from two source of water namely the Ganesha’s head and the cow’s head. The most fascinating thing is that it is considered that the water from the two sources is coming from two holy rivers i.e. River Ganga and River Yamuna. Guptkashi serves as a perfect stopover for those travelling to Kedarnath.

Nandprayag, our next destination is about 97 km southwest of Guptkashi.

One of the panchprayags, Nandaprayag is at the confluence of the rivers Alaknanda and Nandakini. Nandaprayag is one of the five meeting points of Alaknanda River with other rivers flowing into it Located at an altitude of 900 m surrounded by the mountains and beautiful scenery, the town used to be the capital of the erstwhile Yadu Kingdom whose king built the famous Nanda Temple. The Nanda Temple and the point of confluence of the Alaknanda and Nandakini rivers are the major tourist attractions & religious landmarks of the town. Close to Nandprayag at a distance of 20 km is Karnaprayag, the confluence of the Alaknanda with the Pindari River and is surrounded by an array of peaks like the Trisul, Dronagiri, Narad Ghunti, Mrigathuni and Maiktoli.

Close to Nandprayag, about 53 km west lies another temple town, Rudraprayag.

Lying at the confluence of River Alaknanda and River Mandakini, Rudraprayag is one of the panch prayags and a place of great religious significance. Offering spectacular views and spellbinding panoramic vistas, the town derives its name from Lord Shiva who is said to have appeared at the place in the form of Lord Rudra. Rudraprayag is sprinkled with several ancient temples and serves as a gateway to the two major pilgrimages towns of Kedarnath and Badrinath. It is believed that the celestial sage, Lord Narada performed intense penance to please Lord Shiva to teach him the mysteries related to music. Lord Shiva was pleased by his penance and appeared in the form of Rudra, teaching him music in the Rudra Temple. This is why the place came to be known as Rudraprayag. You can see pictures of Lord Narad with a Rudra garland around his neck, singing praises of Lord Shiva.

Moving on, let’s now travel 67 km west to Devprayag.

Marked by the confluence of the rivers Alaknanda and Bhagirathi, Devprayag is situated amidst rolling Himalayan ranges and is a popular pilgrimage centre. With ancient temples amidst lush green surroundings, this place oozes serenity. One of the panch prayag, the name Devprayag literally means the Confluence of the Gods as this is where the Alaknanda and Bhagitathi rivers join to become the mighty Ganges. One of the oldest temples of Lord Rama, the Raghunathji temple is believed to be around 10,000 years old and is made up of huge rocks and is located on the confluence of Bhagirathi and Alaknanda rivers. Also known as Tirukantamenum Kadi Nagar, it is one of the 108 Divyadesam that are dedicated to Lord Vishnu. This temple is dedicated to Raghunathji or Rama, an avatar of Lord Vishnu. The main shrine has an idol of Raghunathji in standing position facing the east direction. A Deula or conical roof crowns the sacred shrine of Rama. Apart from the chief deity, the temple also houses Sita, Lakshman, Badrinath, Adi Shankara, Shiva and Hanuman. The temple made its name in 4 of the 18 holy Puranas with the Saraswati river flowing directly below the idol of Lord Rama and on certain days, a small puddle of water is found near the deity. The temple was believed to have been established by Adi Shankarachya during the 8th century and expansions were made later by rulers of the Garhwal dynasty. The present temple structure is said to be established in 1835 by Maharaja Gulab Singh, the founder of the empire of Jammu and Kashmir. In summers, the temple is open from 5 am to 12 noon and then again between 5 to 9 pm while in the winter months, it is ope from 6 am to noon and between 4 to 8 pm. Dedicated to Goddess of Power, the Chandrabadani Temple enshrines an idol of the Goddess Sati along with ancient statues and iron trishuls placed outside the temple. The temple is atop the Chandrabadani Mountain, which is 2277 metres above sea level. Unlike other temples, the main shrine has no idol of the chief deity. Instead, Shri Yantra is engraved on a flat stone surface shaped like the back of a tortoise. Goddess Sati is worshipped in the form of Shri Yantra. Once a year, the temple holds a puja in a manner not seen anywhere else. The priest is blindfolded and a cloth canopy tied on the ceiling right above the yantra. The Dasharathachal Peak is another popular attraction here.

From Devprayag, we make our way 75 kms south to the temple town of Rishikesh.

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Located in the foothills of the Himalayas where the Ganga and Chandrabhaga rivers meet, Rishikesh is a small town about 45 km south of Dehradun and located very close to Haridwar, Rishikesh also called Hrishikesh, is known as the Yoga Capital of the World as well as being the gateway to the Garhwal Himalayas and also a pilgrimage town and one of the holiest places for Hindus. Rishikesh is divided into two main areas, the downtown area known as Rishikesh town which is where the popular Triveni Ghat is situated. 2 km upstream from the popular Ram Jhula and Lakshman Jhula is the other side of Rishikesh where most of the popular ashrams, cafes, accommodation and tourists can be found. The city has hosted the annual International Yoga Festival on the first week of March since 1989.

The Neelkantha Mahadeva temple is one of the most revered Hindu sites dedicated to Lord Shiva, and is located about 20 odd km from the centre of the town. Visitors can also cross the Laxman Jhula to get to the temple. Pilgrims offer water from Ganga to this temple. One of the most ancient and sacred temples in Rishikesh, the Bharat Mandir’s presiding diety of Lord Vishnu carved out a single piece of Shaligram, a fossiled black shell with markings, was reinstalled by Adi Shankaracharya in the 8th century. The inner canopy of the temple contains Shree Yanthra while the architecture and interiors of the temple has been detailed in the ancient record of Kearkhand. The present structure was reconstructed on the ruins of the original temple destroyed by Tiamur Lang. The Trimbakeshwar or Tera Manzil Temple is a thirteen storey temple situated on the banks of river Ganga and located opposite the Lakshman Jhula. The temple enshrines several deities under one roof and is popular for its striking architecture. From the topmost storey, the temple also offers panoramic views of the town. Perched atop the Kunjapuri hill, the Kunjapuri Devi temple is dedicated to Goddess Parvathi. Besides being one of the fifty two Shaktipeeths in the state, the shrine is popular for its locale which offers panoramic views of the Shivalik range and the majestic peaks of Chaukhamba and Bandarpunch. The Raghunath temple is situated near the Triveni Ghat in the heart of the town and is dedicated to Lord Rama and his wife Goddess Sita. The temple premises also houses a tiny pond or kund known as Rishikund. The Virbhadra temple is a 1300-year-old temple dedicated to Lord Shiva in his fierce avatar which he took when his wife Goddess Sati, jumped into a burning yagya kund, to immolate herself because they were dishonoured by her father Daksha Prajapati, when he didn’t invite them for the yagya. The festival of Mahashivratri, the most important one here, is celebrated at the temple with great enthusiasm each year. A fair or a mela is also held at the temple on this occasion.

The Lakshman Jhula is a famous hanging bridge across the river Ganga that connects two villages, Tapovan and Jonk. Located 5 km to the northeast of the town, the bridge is made up of iron and is 450 feet long at a height of 70 feet from the river. Lakshman Jhula is well-known amongst tourists because it is believed that Lord Lakshman, the younger brother of Lord Rama, had crossed the river Ganga at this same site. The bridge is open from 5 am to 10 pm daily. Note that as of July 2019, this bridge is only accessible for pedestrians and both sides are blocked to prevent vehicles. Built in 1986, the Ram Jhula is a suspension bridge that connects Shivananda Nagar to Swargashram. The bridge spans 750 feet and offers a splendid bird’s eye view of the mighty Ganges. Situated on the banks of the holy river Ganges, Triveni Ghat is the biggest ghat in Rishikesh where the Ganga Maha Aarti happens every evening. Playing an essential role in Hindu mythology and is also mentioned in the Ramayan and Mahabharat, Triveni Ghat is also where the chattri of Lord Krishna was constructed and the ghat is considered to be the cremation ground for Lord Krishna. Devotees also make offerings to the river in the form of milk, while feeding the fishes in the ghat too. The evening aarti also called the Maha Aarti is conducted from 6 to 7 pm daily and is the most popular and well-attended rituals of the town. The Maha Aarti is performed by chanting bhajans in praise of the lord and is celebrated by beating electrifying drums and rhythmic bells. Devotees release small floating leaf boats with oil lamps or gleaming diyas in them. The entire river is dotted with these little burning flames and the beauty of yellow flames in the dark water under the twinkling night sky is unparalleled. Although the Ganga Aarti is performed at several ghats, the most popular ones are performed at the Parmath Niketan and Triveni Ghats. The prayers are made to Agni, the God of Fire.

Rishi Kund is a natural hot spring pond which is considered as a sacred water body and is believed to be filled with water only after a sage was blessed by River Yamuna. Locals also believe that Lord Rama had bathed in the kund during his exile and that the rivers, Ganges and Yamuna meet each other at this point. Muni ki Reti is considered as the gateway for the pilgrimage of the Char Dham. Literally meaning the sand of sages, Muni ki Reti is believed to be the place where King Bharat performed penance. Vashishta Gufa is an ancient cave where the human son of Lord Brahma, Sage Vashishta meditated. A legend states that the sage was extremely depressed after losing all his children and decided to commit suicide, but River Ganga didn’t allow him to die. He, therefore, decided to stay and meditate in the cave.

The alpine meadow of Kuari Pass has been attracting backpackers from around the globe for decades. Being in close proximity to Nanda Devi biosphere, Kuari Pass is at the center of the most remarkable regions of Garhwal known for its unique wild grandeur. In the background below the valley is the entrance to the formidable Rishi Gorge which until 1934 was considered un-penetrable. Kuari Pass is at a relative moderate altitude of 12,200 feet. The beautiful camping grounds of Gulling, Chitrakantha & Tali are the key attraction of the trek. The trails leading from Tali Top to Kuari Pass gives an impression of doing a full scaled Himalayan alpine expedition in truck loads of snow. At 380 m high, Kaudiyala is a popular rock climbing destination surrounded by dense forests. It also offers white river rafting tracks, and the sports is organized by the camping facilities around the place.

The Neer Garh waterfall is a beautiful narrow stream of cool water cascading down a rocky terrain in the midst of a dense green forest. It requires trekking a distance of about a kilometre through the forest and down a cliff to reach the waterfall. The Garud Chatti waterfalls is one of the most majestic and beautiful waterfalls in Rishikesh. Situated around 5 kms away from Lakshman Jhula, the waterfalls cascade down the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple. At the base of the trek to the waterfalls, there is also a revered Garud Temple. The Patna waterfalls is located next to the Patna village with the highlight of the waterfalls is also a limestone cave situated right next to it. The Himshail waterfall is popular for yoga and meditation practices because of the peaceful environment. There is also a Tat Baba Cave situated right next to it. The Phool Chatti waterfalls are located between the Garudchatti and Neer Garh waterfalls and are hidden away from view between dense trees and bushes.

Haridwar which lies just 25 km or a 45 minute drive from Rishikesh is our next destination.

Haridwar, considered to be among the seven holiest cities in India, is an ancient city situated on the right bank of the Ganga river, at the foothills of the Shivalik ranges. Dotted with temples, ashrams and narrow lanes across the city, Haridwar is one of the only four cities in India which can host the Kumbh Mela which takes place every 12 years and where millions of devotees take a dip in the holy Ganges. Brahma Kund, the spot where the the amrit or the elixir of immortality fell, is located at Har ki Pauri or the footsteps of the Lord and is considered to be the most sacred ghat of Haridwar where it’s believed that taking a dip in the holy Har Ki Pauri relieves a person of all their sins. Every evening, Haridwar witnesses a set of rituals for the famous Ganga Aarti at the Ghats where thousands of devotees come together to pray to the river. The modern name of the town has two spellings: Haridwar and Hardwar. Each of these names has its own connotation. In Sanskrit, Hari means Lord Vishnu, while dwar means gateway. So, Haridwar translates to The Gateway to Lord Vishnu and earns this name because it is typically the place where pilgrim’s start their journey to visit a prominent temple of Lord Vishnu – Badrinath. Similarly, Hara could also mean Lord Shiva and hence, Hardwar could stand for Gateway to Lord Shiva. Hardwar is also a typical place to start a pilgrim’s journey in order to reach Mount Kailash, Kedarnath, the northernmost Jyotirlinga and one of the sites of the smaller Char Dham pilgrimage circuit, all important places for worship for Hindus. According to legend, it was in Haridwar that Goddess Ganga descended when Lord Shiva released the mighty river from the locks of his hair. The River Ganga, after flowing for 253 km from its source at Gaumukh at the edge of the Gangotri Glacier, enters the Gangetic Plain for the first time at Haridwar, which gave the city its ancient name of Gangadwara.

Located near the Chandi Devi temple, the Gaurishankar Mahadev Temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is in a beautiful location with the Ganges flowing next to the temple and the Himalayas as a fitting backdrop. Devotees believe that wishes get fulfilled by praying at the temple. The Bhuma Niketan shrine houses magnificent idols of several gods and goddesses but the highlight are the sculptures of Shiva and Parvati adorning the entrance gates of the shrine. Located on the Haridwar Rishikesh highway, the Doodhadhari Barfani temple is a cluster of several small shrines dedicated to various Hindu Gods and Goddesses. The temple is built of white marbles and has attractive interiors and elaborately carved exteriors. The Bilkeshwar Mahadev temple is situated in the valley of Billa Parvat near Har ki Pauri and is dedicated to Lord Shiva and his consort Parvati. It is believed that the site at which the temple sits is the same spot where Goddess Parvati worshipped Lord Shiva and he accepted to make her his wife. The temple complex also houses smaller shrines for Lord Hanuman, Lord Ganesha, Mata Rani and Mahadev. There is a Bilva tree located in the complex and it is a tradition to offer the Bilva leaves to Lord Shiva and do his abhishek with the water of the pious River Ganga.

Situated on the outskirts of the city in Ranipur near Haridwar, the Sureshwari Devi temple is dedicated to Goddess Durga. Located in Haripur Kalan, the Adbhut Mandir is a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. The Chandi Devi temple is a charming temple dedicated to the Chanda Devi Goddess, perched on the Neel Parvat of the Shivalik Hills. Also known as Neel Parvat Teerth, the temple is one of the five pilgrimages of Haridwar and is also known as Siddha Peetha, a place where devotees worship to fulfil their desire. Pilgrims can also reach the temple zenith by the means of a ropeway, the view from which is exhilarating. The Mansa Devi temple dedicated to the goddess Mansa Devi, who is considered to be a form of Shakti and is believed to have emerged from Lord Shiva’s mind. This temple, which is one of the Panch Tirths or the five pilgrimages is also popularly known as Bilwa Tirth and is perched on the top of the Bilwa Parvat on the Sivalik Hills. The word Mansa means wish, and devotees believe that the goddess Mansa fulfils all the wishes of the dedicated devotee. The Bharat Mata Mandir is dedicated to India as a country and that’s how it gets its name as the name translates into the Mother India temple. The multi-storey temple is not a temple that worships gods or has any religious inclination, but one that stands for the many freedom fighters and patriots of the Indian Struggle for Independence. The temple stands at a height of 180 feet and has a total of 8 floors each with a specific theme. The temple has a massive map of the Mother India on the ground, denoting the statue of the mother of India depicted as a four-armed Hindu goddess wearing saffron-coloured robes, holding a book, sheaves of rice, a mala, and a white cloth. The statue has a design that indicates the Goddess of India for all the religious deities, freedom fighters and leaders.

Located in Kankhal, the Daksha Mahadev temple is one of the oldest temples for Shaivites. The chief deity of the temple is Lord Shiva and Goddess Sati and the temple is named after King Daksha Prajapati, the father of Goddess Sati. Also known as Daksheswara Mahadev Temple, it houses the Yajna Kund and the Daksha ghat on the left of the main temple where devotees take a dip in the holy Ganga River. The walls of Daksheswara Mahadev temple depict the various episodes of the yajna story of King Daksha and the entire history of the temple. A replica of the Vaishno Devi temple in Kashmir, the Vaishno Devi Temple of Haridwar is marked by tunnels and caves that lead to the inner sanctum containing the shrine of Goddess Vaishno Devi. The divine temple houses three deities, Lakshmi, Kaali and Saraswati. Apart from its architecture and tunnels, this temple bears no resemblance to the original Vaishno Devi Temple. After climbing a flight of steep stairs and crawling through a narrow tunnel, the devotees are blessed with the sight of the idol of Maa Vaishno Devi and the replicas of the 12 Jyotirlingas in India. This is also one of the Shakti Peethas temple. Built in the 11th century, the Maya Devi temple is one of the oldest in India and is dedicated to Goddess Maya and is one of the three Shaktipeeths, believed to be the place where the heart and navel of Goddess Sati fell. Goddess Maya is considered to be a form of Adi Shakti, who is believed to be the Goddess of divine power. Maya Devi is considered by many as the chief Goddess of the city and no pilgrimage is complete without meeting her and taking her blessings. Along with goddess Maya, the sacred temple is graced by the idols of goddess Kamakhya and Goddess Kali who are also a form of Adi parashakti. It is a common belief that the holy temple is a Siddha peeth which means that the presiding goddess has the power to fulfil any desires or wishes of the person seeking her blessings.

Regarded as one of the most sacred Ghats in Haridwar and India, Har Ki Pauri is a revered landmark and is a highly visited place to seek the blessings of the Holy Ganga. Literally translating to the Steps of Lord Shiva, a dip in the Ganges at the Har Ki Pauri is believed to wash away one’s sins and according to mythology, it is one of the four places where the drops of elixir were accidentally spilled by the celestial bird Garuda. Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu are believed to have visited the place in Vedic times with the large footprints on a stone wall believed to have belonged to Lord Vishnu. The river is filled in a golden hue of countless diyas offered by devotees floating along the river. The Ganga Aarti that takes place at the bank of river at the Har Ki Pauri ghat is a ritual of light and sound where the priests perform prayers with bowls of fire and the ringing of the temple bells. A sight to see and experience, devotees float diyas or small candles and flowers on the river. The Saptarishi or the seven sages Ashram was established by Guru Goswami Dutt in 1943. Famous for having hosted 7 great sages, Kashyapa, Vashishta, Atri, Vishwamitra, Jamadagi, Bharadwaja and Gautam, this ashram is well known for its tranquil atmosphere ideal for meditation. It is also believed that Ganga split herself into seven currents at this spot so the sages were not disturbed by the sound of gushing water. Because of this, the ashram is also called as Sapt Sarovar or Sapt Rishi Kund. Vishnu Ghat is among the most serene and tranquil ghats of the city and is situated close to Hari ki Pauri. Comparatively less crowded and visited mostly by Vaishnavites as this ghat is named after Lord Vishnu. Being one of the cleanest ghats in Haridwar, people often come to this ghat to take a dip in the holy River Ganga and absolve their sins. The Birla Ghat is an ancient ghat located adjacent to Vishnu Ghat. Here, there is a flight of stairs that lead towards the water, enabling devotees to take a dip with security barriers installed near the flight of stairs to prevent people from drowning while bathing in the Ganga River’s strong water current. Gau Ghat is located on the southern part of Subhash Ghat and is relatively less crowded. The ashes of Mahatma Gandhi, Indira Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru were cremated at this ghat. It is a common belief among Hindus that killing a cow is a sin equal to killing a Brahman. Devotees visit Gau Ghat to cleanse themselves of the sin of killing a cow, hence the name. Believed to have been constructed in the 18th century by the Maratha queen Ahilyabai Holkar, Kushavarta Ghat is considered the most sacred and auspicious ghat of the city. The final rites and rituals of the deceased are performed at the banks of the river including the Shraddha rites, after which the devotees take a dip in the holy waters of the Ganges.

Our next destination is the Roopkund Lake.

Perched at an elevation of 5,029 m above the sea level in the lap of Trishul Peak and Nanda Ghunti is a place full of mystery, Roopkund. Also called as Mystery Lake, owing to the discovery of human skeletons and horses remains from Paleolithic age here. Surrounded by mesmerizing scenic beauty of lush green mountains and rocky glaciers, the lake is a perfect end to a trek. The human and horse skeletons found around Roopkund are believed to be about 500-600 years old and the lake remains frozen almost throughout the year. The trekking trail to Roopkund in itself is quite fascinating including the trek through rustic villages, bewitching alpine meadows and a beautiful sacred pond, Bedni Kund with its crystal clear water.

The Nelong Valley lies 45km away from the Indo-Tibetan border and is considered to be one of the most thrilling mountaineering treks in India. At a height of 11,000ft, the view from here is breathtaking. The valley offers a clear and surreal view of the Tibetan Plateau. Gartang Gali, a wooden walkway, is a main attraction of the valley said to have been built in the 17th century. It was known as one of the main routes for trade between India and China in 1962. The valley was closed to visitors upto 2015 and has only been recently reopened. Controlled by the Indian Government very stringently because it used to be a route for trade between India and China till the 1960s, this route, popularly known as Gartang Gali, was originally discovered by the Pesawar’s of Pakistan in the 17th century. Visitors wanting to get to Nelong Valley need to get a permit from a court and produce a fitness certificate in Uttarkarshi, the closest town. The valley is only open to domestic tourists.

The Gangotri National Park owes its name to the Gangotri Glacier. Challenging treks, crushed snow, beaten trails, whistling woods, and ruffled leaves are what makes this park unique. One will easily encounter some of the oldest settlements, the holiest pilgrimage sites and the source of the river Ganga while traversing through the Park. Idyllically situated in the natural surroundings of the Garhwal region, this National Park is a famous high-altitude Sanctuary. The park is spread over an area of 2390 sq km in the upper catchment of Bhagirathi river and was established in the year 1989. The Bhagirathi river flows from inside the park, and it provides nourishment to countless bird species and animals. Legends from the epic Mahabharata come to life here and places associated with the epic seen during treks or visits to the temples in this region. The northeastern part of the National Park shares an international boundary with China. The Park includes a considerable stretch of mountains clad in snow and glaciers and visitors can find variations in biomes from subalpine conifer forest to Himalayan alpine shrubs and meadows. The Park is surmised to be a pivotal link between the Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary and the Govind Pashu Vihar and . It comes under the biogeographical zone 2A of West Himalaya and provides a home-like feel to the wild creatures inhabiting the region. The National Park has the typical high-altitude ecosystem and is influenced by the trans-Himalayan elements to an extent. A unique feature of this National Park is the Alpine scrub. This park is famous for its myriad activities. From rugged terrains to adventurous sites, this National Park has everything to offer. Nelong Valley, Bhojbasa, Gaumukh trek, Tapovan Trek, Kedartal, Gangotri Temple, Chirbasa, Gangotri town, Bhoj Kharak, Kedar Kharak and Gangotri glacier are the prominent spots here. The entry fee for the park per person for three days is INR 150 for Indians and INR 600 for foreigners. For each extra day, Indians are will need to pay INR 50 per day and foreigners INR 250 per day. There is no charge for a camera and video camera for non commercial purposes while if you are there for a commercial use, its INR 500 for an Indian and INR 1500 for foreigners. To enter the park, visitors will need to get a permit from the District Forest Officer at Uttarkashi before entering the Park and on the form the areas to be visited has to be specified with the dates. The permit is then given which needs to be submitted at the Forest Check Post.

The Kedarnath Wild Life Sanctuary, also called the Kedarnath Musk Deer Sanctuary’s primary purpose is to protect the endangered Himalayan musk deer. Consisting of an area of 975 sq km, it is the largest protected area in the western Himalayas and is famous for the alpine musk deer, Himalayan Thar, Himalayan Griffon, Himalayan Black bear, Snow Leopard and other flora and fauna. It is internationally important for the diversity of its flora and fauna, particularly of the ungulate species. Located in the Himalayan Highlands with an elevation ranging from 1,160 m to the Chaukhamba peak at 7,068 m . The sanctuary straddles a geographically diverse landscape and transitional environment. The sanctuary takes its name from the famous Hindu temple of Kedarnath which is just outside its northern border. The entire 14 km route from Gaurikund to the Kedarnath temple passes through the sanctuary. The sanctuary is reputed to be one of the world’s richest bio-reserves. It is host to temperate forests in the middle altitudes with higher elevations dotted by coniferous, sub-alpine and alpine forests, and further up by alpine grasslands and high-altitude Bugyals. The sanctuary is reputed to have many high value medicinal and aromatic plant species, of which 22 species are rare and endangered. Most visitors to the sanctuary are mostly Indian pilgrims on their way to the various temples as the approach to Kedarnath Temple is only through the sanctuary with a few international tourists. Visiting season at the sanctuary is from April to June and again from September to November.

The Valley of Flowers is near Badrinath and was discovered in 1931 and today is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its wild untamed blooms surrounded by white peaks. At the meeting point of the Himalayan ranges, Zanskar and the Western and Eastern Himalayas, the valley of flowers discovered by Frank S Smith in 1931 is famous for its exotic varieties of medicinal herbs. It is believed that Lord Hanuman brought the Sanjivani herb from here to the ailing Lakshmana injured in the battle with Ravana in Sri Lanka. Combined with Nanda Devi National Park, the two of them together constitute the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve. Initially known as Bhyundar Valley, its name was changed to Valley of Flowers by the British mountaineer Frank S Smythe in the year 1931. Gifted with a diverse range of flora and fauna, this picturesque beauty is one of its kind. No human settlements are present inside the park and grazing is completely banned. Situated in the transition zone between Eastern and Western Himalayan flora, seven restricted-range bird species are seen in this part of the Himalayas. The entire valley is covered with flowers of every colour and type which gives a magical quality to the place. It has more than 650 species of flowers present including Blue Poppy, Cobra Lily, and Brahmakamal. The area is also home to several rare and engendered animals. A diverse population of fauna can be found in the valley including the Asiatic black bear, blue sheep, brown bear, blue sheep, black and brown bears, and yellow-throated marten. A variety of birds too can be found here including the Himalayan golden eagle, Himalayan snow cock, sparrow, snow pigeon, and Himalayan monal. Spread over an area of 71,210 hectares, the park has a buffer zone surrounding it measuring 514,857 hectares. Since the valley of flowers is covered by the Himalayan mountains, it remains covered with snow most of the year. Heavy rainfall and dense fog can be witnessed at the place during the late summer months as well. The ideal time to visit the place is from mid-July to mid-August as colourful flowers start growing in this season with the settling snow and the climate is pleasant with warm days and cold nights. The valley opens up on June 01 and closes on 21 October and is open from 7 am to 5 pm with the last entry inside at 2 pm. The entry fee for a three day pass is INR 150 for Indian tourists and INR 600 for foreigners with each additional day costing Indians INR 50 and foreigners INR 150.

In proximity to Nanda Devi, the second highest peak in India, the Nanda Devi National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most biodiverse regions in the world. It is home to some of the rarest and unique high-altitude flora and fauna in the world with the breathtaking views, coupled with the richness of biosphere, making this national park unique amongst all others. Given the national park status in 1982, the park is one of the most important ecological hotspots of the world and is home to a variety of birds, mammals, plants, trees and butterflies. The trek to the base camp at the park is considered to be one of the most challenging ones. The park is open to visitors for only six months in the year, from 1 May to 31 October. The Valley of Flowers, Badrinath Temple and Hemkund Sahib, located in the vicinity of the national park are famous tourist destinations. The increasing popularity and fame of the region led to an excess of expeditions here, and consequently, the amount of ecological damage to this pure and pristine area also increased. Following this, it was decided to shut down the national park in 1984 and reopened in May 2013, but under extremely stringent rules and policies, such as entry to only two groups of five people in a single day, and no more than the visits of four such groups each week. Abundant in wildlife and home to a wide variety of plants and animals of various species, the forest cover in the park is being restricted to the Rishi Gorge, the primary vegetation comprises of fir, birch and juniper. In the inner parts of the sanctuary, the conditions are comparatively drier, with almost zero vegetation near the Nanda Devi Glacier. A total of 312 species of flora are found here, of which around 17 are considered to be rare. Animal species like the snow leopard, Himalayan black bear, brown bear, leopard, Himalayan musk deer, Common Langur, Goral and Bharal dominate the area. Approximately 80 avifaunal species have been found here, including Indian tree pipit, Blue-fronted Redstart, Rose Finches and Ruby Throat.

The Govind Pashu Vihar Wildlife Sanctuary came into existence in 1955 as a part of the Upper Tons Valley. The area, where this national park lies, is rich in its past and certain legends are associated with it as well. During the colonial rule, the British used this area to extract timber, providing forest rest houses and building roads throughout the region for easier access. Post-independence, there was a decrease in timber extraction. The name of this wildlife sanctuary was Tons and it was later renamed after an eminent Indian politician and freedom fighter, Govind Ballabh Pant. Lying in the higher reaches of the Garhwal Himalayas, the park covers a total area of 958 sq km and manages the Snow Leopard Project started by the Government of India. his project aims to provide special conservation measures to protect the snow leopard. This endangered predator is threatened by the decline in wild animals on which to prey, by being poached for its skin and body parts, and by being killed by farmers to protect their livestock. It is one of the remaining strongholds in the Himalayas of the bearded vulture, a vital ecological catalyst. The altitude in the park ranges from 1,400 to 6,323 metres above sea level. Within the park is the Har Ki Doon valley which is a known spot for trekking, while the Ruinsiyara high altitude lake is also a popular destination. The sanctuary contains western Himalayan broadleaf forests at its lowest elevations, transitioning to western Himalayan subalpine conifer forests and western Himalayan alpine shrub and meadows at its highest elevations.

Encompassing the Shivalik mountain ranges, the Rajaji National Park is abundantly rich in flora and fauna and is famous for its wildlife, especially tigers and elephants. Named in the honour of C. Rajagopalchari, this national park is enriched with valuable fossils which date back to 10 million back. The sanctuary is a unique combination of three sanctuaries, namely Chilla, Motichur, and Rajaji. After a name change in 2015, the national park is now known as the Rajaji Tiger Reserve. The Chilla Sanctuary is huddled against the eastern bank of the Ganga, about 10 Kms from Haridwar. The Motichur Sanctuary is 60 km fromDehradun and is also known as Kansro. It’s best known for its leopard sightings. The forest area is popular for sal, teak and other shrubs and the park is predominantly formed from dense green jungles, forming a habitat for a number of animals. An amalgamation of three different forests with distinctive life forms, Rajaji national park houses an enormous variety of land and fauna. The park is at the northwestern limit of distribution for both elephants and tigers in India. The park can be explored through a jeep or elephant safari. Asian elephants, tigers, king cobras, panthers, and other animals can be found here including migratory birds after the monsoons. The tiger reserve earns its name from Shri C. Rajgopalachari, a popular leader, first and last Governor General of independent India, and a revered statesman. He was famous among the masses as Rajaji. It was his wish to turn the vast stretch of wilderness into a sanctuary as he was awed with its diverse flora and fauna. That’s how Rajaji Sanctuary came into being and later got its name to the unified Rajaji National Park. Entrance fees to the park per person is INR 750 for Indians and INR 1500 for foreigners. For the jeep safari its INR 1500 per jeep and INR 150 per person. The safari timings are 6 to 11 am for the morning session, 11:30 am to 1 pm for birdwatching sessions inside the forest, and 2:30 to 5:30 pm for the afternoon sessions. The timings change depending on the season.

The oldest national park in India, the Jim Corbett National Park is set amidst the foothills of the Himalayas near Nainital. Known for housing the endangered Bengal tiger, it is part of the larger Corbett Tiger Reserve. Famous for its wildlife safaris, the park has multiple resorts set on the riverside. Home to more than 650 species of rare and migratory birds, it is a haven for bird watchers. The most popular attraction at Corbett National Park is Dhikala, a forest lodge located on the border of Patil Dun Valley, which is known for the stunning location and rich wildlife. Only 180 vehicles are allowed to enter the national park in a day and the park remains closed from July to October during the monsoons. However, the Jhirna, Dhela and Sitabani tourism zones remain open for tourists throughout the year. Safaris are organised in all the zones by two shifts by the forest officials in all the zones. Established in 1936 as Hailey National Park, the Jim Corbett National Park is named after Jim Corbett, a famous hunter and naturalist. The park is spread over an area of more than 500 sq km and is divided into 5 zones: Bijrani, Dhikala, Jhirna, Domunda and Sonanandi. The park jeep safaris, elephant safaris and canter safaris with the jeep safari being the most popular one and is allowed in all the five tourism zones. It can carry six adults and two children along with the driver and a guide. Indians pay INR 4500 per jeep while foreigner pay INR 9000 per jeep. The jeep safari is available between 6 to 9:30 am and then again between 3 to 6 pm. The canter safari is the only option to explore the Dhikala zone which is inhabited by the most number of Bengal tigers. The canter safari, which is an open-air vehicle, larger than a jeep is conducted in two shifts, and the best option for large groups of 11-12 people. The price for the canter per person is INR 1500 for Indians and INR 3000 for foreigners and the safari is open between 6 to 11:50 am in the mornings and from 12 noon to 6 pm in the evenings. Tickets for the safari has to be booked 45 days in advance by Indian and SAARC visitors while foreigners have to book it 90 days in advance with their passport details. In order to enter any part of the Corbett National Park, a permit needs to be obtained from the forest department with the permit for the day safari obtained directly at the entry gate of the zone to be visited. The mesmerizing and luscious green coverage of Jim Corbett is credited to the flowering trees which can be found in huge numbers. The park is home to a significant population of endangered and critically endangered species of animal including the Asiatic elephant and Ghariyal, but the star attraction of this reserve is the majestic Royal Bengal Tiger. The park also has an astounding 600 species of birds.

This series on Uttarakhand, the last for 2020 comes at a time when travel is not possible. I now know why it is called Dev Bhoomi or the Land of the Gods and hopefully I get to visit all these wonderful places once in my lifetime. I hope this journey through the state enthralled you as much as it did to me!

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