GANGOTRI NATIONAL PARK
The Gangotri National Park is situated in Uttarkashi District of Uttarakhand State. This Park covers an area of 2390.02 sq. kms. and extends over the upper catchment area of River Bhagirathi. The area offers a scenic view of several waterfalls. The northeastern boundary of the National Park is on the borders with China. This Park was established in 1989.
The Park is named after Gangotri, which is famous as one of the four pilgrim sites (Char Dhams). This Park is a vital link between Kedarnath National Park and Govind National Park. The river Ganga originates from the Gaumukh glacier which is in the Park. The altitude of the ranges which are craggy with high ridges, deep gorges and narrow valleys ranges from 1800 to 7083 metres above sea level. The area from Gangotri to Gaumukh is interspersed with landslides that have created an irreversible isolation and trees and shrubs are seen in patches. The view from the Park is enchanting with snow clad mountains and springs along with the dense forests and plains.
The flora mostly consists of moist Himalayan forest consisting of chirpine deodar, fir, spruce, oak and rhododendrons. These forests add to the grandeur of the subalpine coniferous forest at lower levels and Western Alpine shrub and verdant green meadows at higher levels. The other added beauty is the glaciers like the Gangotri glacier.
The animal inhabitants consist of Serow, blue sheep, snow leopard, brown bear, black bear, Himalayan Thar, ibex, Himalayan Barbet, musk deer, Koklass, cheer pheasants, doves, pigeons, parakeet, partridges, bulbul, monal and Himalayan Snow Cock among others. There are some 15 species of mammals and about 150 species of birds.
PLACES TO VISIT
- Gangotri Glacier: This glacier is between 4120 and 7000 metres above sea level. The glacier feeds River Bhagirathi which is a major tributary of River Ganga. Situated in Dev Bhoomi of Uttarkashi District it is 28 kms. long and 2 to 4 kms wide in places. The glacier flows northwest and ends in a place called Gou Mukh, meaning cow’s mouth. The name is derived from the shape of the mouth of a cow at this juncture. Gou Mukh is situated between the base of Shivling peak and the Tapovan meadow. A beautiful place culled out by nature, it is a treat for the eyes of the visitors. This is the largest glacier in the Himalayas. The glacier is made up of a number of small glaciers. The Gangotri temple, one of the Char Dhams is 17 kms. from Gou Mukh. The pilgrims to this place take a bath in this ice cold water before they perform the rites for the dear departed souls. The best time to visit this place is from mid April to early June and from September to November. Visitors to this place are advised to carry heavy woolen clothes on their trip.
- Yamunotri: This is the first ever place where the pilgrims converge on their pilgrimage to the Char Dhams. This place is also in Dev Bhumi of Uttakashi district. The temple is dedicated to Goddess Yamuna and is located at an altitude of 3165 metres above sea level. The temple is located on the banks of the holy river Yamuna. There is a hot water spring here where the water is used to boil rice and cook potatoes which is offered to the Goddess. It is believed that a sage, Asit Muni lived in Yamunotri. The best time to visit the place is during the festival in the temple which is generally between May till October. The place is inaccessible during winter and monsoons bring landslides. Places in Yamunotri that are to be visited are:
- Hanuman Chatti: The famous lore is that Lord Hanuman disguised as a simple monkey placed its tail on the path Lord Bhima was taking to pluck a flower for Draupadi. The tail was laid on the path to test the strength of Lord Bhima who boasted of his strength. Lord Bhima could not move the tail and later came to realize that it was Lord Shiva in the guise of Lord Hanuman who had come to bless him during the exile of the Pandavas in the Dwapar Yuga.
- Ranachatti: This beautiful town lies 16 kms. from Yamunotri and is a place where the pilgrims rest on their route. There is an ancient temple of Shani Maharaj and the Lake Bugyal Dhinara about 3.5 kms. from Yamunotri
- Syanachatti: This place is about 18 kms. from Yamunotri and lies on the bank of the holy river Yamuna. This is another beautiful village.
- Lakhamandal: 70 kms. from Yamunotri is believed to be the place where the Kauravas conspired to make the lac house for the immolation of the Pandavas.
- Surya Kund: This is the place of the hot springs near Yamunotri where pilgrims boil rice and cook potatoes as offering to the Goddess. The cooked rice is taken back home as Prasad.
- Divya Shila: This is a huge rock pillar near the entrance to Yamunotri temple. Pilgrims worship this pillar before entering the temple.
- Janaki Chatti: There is hot springs in this place where the pilgrims take their bath. Janaki is the other name of Goddess Sita, the wife of Lord Rama who was the incarnation of Lord Vishnu.
- Kedarnath: At an altitude of 3581 metres above sea level, it is situated in Rudraprayag District of Dev Bhoomi Uttarakhand. An ancient place, it is located at the head of the River Mandakini. The place is one of four chota dhams, one of the 12 Jyotirlings and one of the five Kedars dedicated to Lord Shiva. The Linga here is pyramidal in shape and at the entrance of the temple sits the favourite rock bull of Lord Shiva. There are statues of the Pandavas, Draupadi, Lord Krishna and Virabhadra. It is believed that Adi Shankaracharya achieved Mahasamadhi at this place and the Samadhi mandir is behind the temple. The temple is open from April / May till October and is the best time to visit. The monsoons are horrible and many have died during the deluge in 2013. Places nearby that can be visited are:
- Ukhimath: The place is 1317 metres above sea level from where there is a majestic view of the Himalayas. Kedarnath closes for winter and worship of Lord Kedarnath and Madhyamaheswar is done at Ukhimath in Rudraprayag district. There are old temples of Usha, daughter of Banasur, Lord Shiva, Goddess Parvathi, Aniruddha and Mandata.
- Badrinath: This is one of the char Dhams in India and one of the four chotta char dhams in Uttarakhand. It is also known as one of the Panch Badris, the Badri Vishal. There is a one metre tall black stone figure of Lord Vishnu stated to be one of the eight self manifested statues in India. The form is a Shaligram and it is said that a very conservative woman named Brinda cursed Lord Vishnu because he changed form as the husband of Brinda and had physical relations with her. Later when she came to know that she had slept with a man who had the identical form of her husband, Jalandhar, she cursed him that he should manifest in the form of a stone, tree, herb and as shrub. It is also said that Lord Vishnu came to Badri ban and sat in a meditative pose for long. The heat was exhaustive and seeing that her husband was suffering from the heat, Goddess Laxmi came and stood by him as a banyan tree so that he could endure the heat.
ACTIVITIES IN THE PARK
Visitors to the Park have various activities that are organized by the authorities. Some of such activities are Hang Gliding, Hiking, Jeep Safari, Mountaineering, Para Gliding, River Rafting, Skiing and Trekking.
HOW TO REACH
The nearest town is Harsil, 30 kms. from Gangotri. The nearest railway station and the Jolly Grant airport are in Dehra Dun, 210 kms. away. Taxies are frequent and can be hired from Dehra Dun.
The best time to visit the Park is from April to October. Summers are best for trekking and sightseeing and the most favoured months are from April to June. Trekking could be risky and dangerous during the monsoon from July to September and there would be frequent landslides. Nature walks are preferred in the months preceding the rains in October and November when the scenery around would be fresh with lush growth of grasslands and meadows. Winter from December to March is too cold.
There are no rest houses in the Park but there is a Forest Rest House at Harsil, Gangotri and Bhjaironghati. The Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam has Tourist Rest houses in Uttarkashi, Bhaironghati, Lanka, Gangotri and Bhojwasa. Permission for accommodation can be availed from The Director, Gangotri National Park, Uttarkashi, Uttarakhand; The DFO, Uttarakashi or Chief Wildlife Warden, Uttarakhand. For bookings in Harsil, log on to : firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
The other hotels are:
- The Chardham Camp at Harsil is another good place for stay. The tariff rates start at Rs.3600/- per day.
- Himalay at Harsil is a low budget hotel with tariff at Rs.600/- per day.
- The Shivalik Hotel is another low budget hotel with the tariff starting at Rs.400/- per couple per day. It is situated in Dharali village near Harsil
- Hotel Shiv Parivar Resort is situated on the banks of River Bhagirathi. The tariff starts at Rs.5800/- per night.