The mountains are calling, and I must go! Often people have said this and we have pondered, why would anyone want to stress out on a vacation and travel to far off places in the hills where there is nothing, unlike the beaches and other easier accessible destinations where one can relax, have a beer and chill out on their holiday. But as we started traveling more and more, the call became more heard, an intense longing to travel deeper, seek solace and breathe more! Myself and my wife traveled to Uttarakhand last month and had a trip of our lifetime. It was monsoon and the mountains were at their mighty best. There were landslides at many places, thanks to the unregulated development activities. Still it didn't deter us in any way and we proceeded to Dehradun. From there we went to Mussourie, a beautiful hill station, but a touristy place. The winding roads were a refresher and the fresh smell of earth just after the rains were so welcoming.
Mussourie is often called as Mansoori by the locals. The name is derived from a shrub called Mansoor which is indigenous to the area. A perfect holiday spot for family, there are many places like Kempty falls, Bhatta falls, Clouds end, Lal Tibba etc which are unique and beautiful. Kempty falls is the main attraction and at any time of the day you are sure to see atleast a 100 visitors in the waterfall! Frequent "Excuse me bhaiya, please move, need to take a photo etc" need to be digested while taking bath. Still it is a nice experience considering the cool weather. We had a hot plate of maggi just after the dip and it was heavenly!
After two days of relaxing in Mussourie we proceeded to Rishikesh, the yoga capital of the world. The city situated in the Himalayan foothills beside the Ganges river is a holy place for Hindus. We took a bath in the freezing cold Ganga river in the rain. I was skeptical initially as the surrounding place was shabby and there was no proper changing rooms. But the rains and the river was too inviting and we jumped into the river. The place is famous for the Ganga aarthi which takes place every evening as a respect to the holy river. It was a spiritual and a very divine experience. Just when the sunlight went down, the whole place was lit with the jyoti and prayers were sung by everyone, you really start to feel your spiritual high even though you are not really inclined to it. Rishikesh is also the adventure capital of India, but no activities are open during the time of monsoon. Not really the place to go during the rains.
We also visited the famous Beatles ashram also known as Chaurasia Kutia by the locals. The place gained international recognition after the Beatles came here to learn Transcendental meditation from the famous Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. The place is located on the banks of the river Ganges inside the Rajaji Tiger Reserve. The place is now abandoned and the old remnants of the buildings are surrounded by trees and shrubs. When you step inside, you feel a very different vibe, as if you are the only person in the world after an apocalypse. Lots of graffiti work can be seen on the walls which were mostly done by Beatles fans after the place was abandoned. A very calm place amidst the chaotic Rishikesh which has so many insta-worthy spots.
After Rishikesh we proceeded to Joshimath, another religious place where the famous Kalpa Vriksh, under which Adi Sankara got enlightenment is located. A local belief is that whatever you wish for under that tree actually happens and it is still carried forward till today. Joshimath is the base for going to a famous hill station called Auli in Uttarakhand. There are two Auli's in India, one in Uttarakhand which is the best ski destination in India. The other is Auli in Himachal Pradesh which is just another small town. Auli is best enjoyed in winters when the place is fully covered with snow and they host international ski events. The temperature is very cool and often rainy during July - August. From Auli there are so many trek routes, the popular being Nanda Devi peak. The place is so lovely, you wouldn't feel like leaving it. You can reach Auli via road from Joshimath or take a cable car, which is termed Asia's second longest ropeway after Gulmarg. It offers panaromic views of the Garhwal ranges of Himalayas. As we approach higher and higher the temperature begins to dip and the place is fully covered by fog. One can see apple trees below and it is so full of greenery.
From Auli we proceeded to Badrinath, again another religious place for the Hindus. We didnt do the Char Dham yatra as we were short of time. The famous Valley of Flowers trek is on the way to Badrinath. Also a religious place for Sikhs called Hemkund Sahib is nearby. Valley of flowers season starts from July and goes till September. It is a 2-3 day trek and is one of the best things to do here. On the way to all these places we can see the Prayag of rivers Alaknanda, Mandakini, Bhagirathi etc. The place is really Devbhoomi and feeds our soul!
The last leg of our tour was the small village called Mana which is the last village in the Indo-China border. The place is around 4 kms from Badrinath and the famous mythical river Saraswati is supposed to be seen here. There is a trek route and as per folklore, Bhima of the Pandavas moved a rock as per Saraswati devi's request and let her free for a certain limit after she got a curse from Vyasa while he was authoring the famous Mahabharata.
There are still so many places left in Uttarakhand and it can never be completed in a short time. The place should not be travelled as a tourist, it must be experienced! Even small villages look so beautiful. As you travel along the Himalayan roads, you come across so many small hamlets, which practically have no road networks, electricity connection or even basic facilities. Still people live here, a very different life altogether without any outside world contact. These are the little things which we live for and it indeed is one magical place to be!