24th February 2015
It was still dark when I stepped out of my bed in the car in Barkot. Few clicks of the car and I was away for early morning rituals. Barkot looked very beautiful in the early morning hours. Instead of having morning tea in Barkot bazar I drove towards Dharasu Bend. Few kilometers later found a shack on the road. A women from Nepal greeted me with a smile. Freshed up. Had tea with bread and moved on.
Early morning drive to Radi Ghati was very scenic. The road wound up through pine scented air. The green of the forest was giving pinkish red look as burans (Rhododendron) was beginning to bloom. After about 18 kilometers drive from Barkot I was on deserted Radi Ghati. Radi Ghati is 2200 metres (7200 feet) above sea level. It is a narrow pass with sharp bend on the road to the left. From here the road descends to a valley.
Uttarkashi is 65 kilometers away from here. There was a temple and a closed tea shop. The views from the other side of the top were just awesome. Parked the car on one side of the road. Walked a little to soak in fresh air and take few pictures. soon I was on my way down to Dharasu bend. Found a nice dhaba on the road. Put the battery of camera and laptop on the charger. Had nice egg omelette with bread and tea.
Just before Uttarkashi I noticed sudden increase in traffic. I came to know that there was a fair going on in Dunda and Chief Minister of uttarakhand was expected to arrive any time. Curious, I decided to have a look and see what was going on.
After a nice time at the fair I continued towards Uttarkashi. Uttarkashi bazar was bustling with activity. Uttarkashi, a district headquarter, situated on the river Bhagirathi, is also known as Kashi of the north. It is home to Nehru Institute of Mountaineering. Sangam Chattii, the starting point of Dodital trek, is 12 kilometers from Uttarkashi.
Went to GMVN office. The officials at GMVN, Uttarkashi were very helpful. They gave me lot of good information, pamphlets and a very useful large map.
Pilot Baba Ashram….Astha, Kaya Kalp Peeth, Saing Kumalti near Bhatwari was an interesting sight. Large statues of Deities in the backdrop of snow clad mountains were good to the eyes. I came to know later that the ashram was run by Pilot Baba, Kapil Advait, who was a wing commander in Indian Air Force.
Missed going to Dayara Bugyal as well. This being February, not the appropriate time for the trek. The road to Dayara Bugyal branches off from here. Vehicles can go up to Barsu (9 km) from where a trek of about 8 km leads to Dayara. Dayara Bugyal is covered with lush green grass and alpine flowers of different varieties from September to Mid October and is the best time to go for this trek.
The pilgrimage to Gangotri was suspended due to winters. It was getting dark. Road was deserted. It started drizzling near Sukhi Top. Drizzle got converted into light snow flakes. The flakes started getting thicker. Soon it was snowing. With every passing minute it was getting heavier. The road was full with white snow. My car started slipping and skidding. At times I felt like it was skiing. It was becoming difficult to control the car. Just before Harsil I saw few shops open. Did not feel like stopping though. Continued skidding and skiing in the dark. Some how reached Harsil gate.
Harsil village and cantonment is a little diversion to the left from the main Gangotri road. Turned left towards Harsil village. The road was almost buried in snow. Since it was a descend car was able to move forward and did not stop. An army personnel assured me if I did not find any hotel, food or help at Harsil, I should come back to them and they would help. Somehow crossed Harsil bridge and reached Harsil market.
The sight of Punjab National Bank was a big relief. It always is…as I have served in this bank for 28 years. In case of need I was sure to find some help. Since it was dead winter only few dhabas were open. Tariff quoted for the room was very high. It was around 7pm. BSNL machine had developed some problem. So there was no mobile network. Little later I met few young boys. They also landed here few minutes earlier on Hyundai i20 and a bullet. It was reassuring as I knew I had some company.
Out of the two dhabas open, Mini Swiss Restaurant had more rush. Besides the three young boys, there was a group of teachers who were staying here too. Few of them were on inspection duty and got stuck here due to snow. The teachers posted in the school having rented accommodation in Harsil village, were here to entertain the guests. The boys however chose to eat at another dhaba. Still there was quite rush at the dhaba.
Most of the people were having drinks. I, too, opened my bottle and started enjoying light drinks. Later Mr Panwar, the owner of the restaurant and Mr Rana, the Manager of the bank joined me. We had nice time chatting about so many things but the best one was to know each other better. Few bouts of drinks later we were friends. After the dinner both of these friends insisted that I should not sleep in the car as it was too cold, too lonely and scary. In Fact Mr Panwar put a key of the room in my pocket and insisted that I should sleep in the room for free.
I don’t know why……I wanted to sleep in the car. May be I was wanting to test myself. May be I wanted to check my will. May be because of thrill of it. The thing I was missing that day was…I had not spoken to my wife. There were lot of negative news going on in TV about bad weather in the mountains. I knew she must be worrying. I was concerned too….knowing that she must be worrying. Because I never missed saying goodnight to her.
The other factor was…….it was freezing cold. Temperature on that night was around -9 degrees. Harsil bazaar was giving a deserted look except for a gang of big mountain dogs.
Still I was able to sleep well in the car……despite feeling cold for the first time in the trip!!!