4 people – one Maruti WagonR – 1100 kms epic journey through new Delhi to Harsil. New Delhi to Harsil by WagonR in three days in first week of March, 2017. First hand account of journey of 1100 kms through Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
Second month of 2017 was coming to an end and I hadn’t yet traveled anywhere this year. So something had to be done about it. I needed to fix the mistake and set the tone for rest of the year.
So after a lot of thinking, I zeroed in on Garhwal. Mainly because I hadn’t gone beyond Rishikesh until now and this would be my first trip to legendary hills of Garhwal. Amanda, Kyle and Loonie were in on this one and plan was to take my Maruti WagonR for the trip.
Almost everyone thought about Harsil, so we decided to keep that as the destination of the trip. Though nothing was set in stone and even at last minute, we could change the plan. I didn’t want to do the research this time around, even though I was traveling to a new place. I did ping Ravi Bhai, hoping to meet him at Uttarkashi.
Now the question came of planning the initial pickup. Loonie and Kyle live in Eastern Dehradun, Amanda lives in Rishikesh and I live in Mussoorie Road. Fortuantely, all of us were going to be in Delhi on 3rd March. Last thing we wanted was to waste time while starting from Delhi. Traffic in Delhi is really so unpredicatble. So Amanda and I decided to meet at Hauj Khas and Loonie and Kyle would pick us up from there, if they managed to leave Gurgaon before the Summer House Cafe got closed. Otherwise we would travel to their hotel and begin the journey from there.
With initial plan and idea in place, it was time to start packing.
March 3, 2017, Delhi to Harsil
Amanda and I had decided to meet at Summer House Cafe at Hauj Khas, once her office got over. Loonie’s meeting would end anytime between 10:30pm and 11:30pm; so we weren’t sure when we would begin our journey. Add to that, I wasn’t sure if Summer House was closing on time these days (11:30pm) or was remaining open until late at night (1-2am).
I reached Summer House Cafe at around 8pm and 15mins later, Amanda arrived.
It was time for coffees and explanations. Coffee for us, explanation for the staff; on why I hadn’t visited Summer House Cafe in such a long time. Thankfully, I learned from them, that they will remain open till around 11:45pm.
Around 11:10pm, Loonie and Kyle arrived and our journey and leg pulling began.
Even though none of us had slept, all of us were charged up for the trip. And chit-chat session continued until early hours of the morning.
Initially roads were good and we traveled at a fairly fast speed. The first plan was to get few hours of sleep at Mount Valley Mama’s Cottage on High Banks in Rishikesh. However, once the toll road ended (there is only one toll between Delhi to Gangotri, cost Rs. 75) before Roorkee, traffic chaos began. Crossing Roorkee and then Haridwar took plenty of time (thanks to traffic, plenty of diversions and bad roads with really amazing pot holes) and by the time we reached Rishikesh, it was already 4:30am. We thanked our lucky stars for having started early from Delhi, since today was Saturday and later on, traffic would have been even thicker and clumsier.
There was no room available at Mama’s Cottage but as it is called Mama’s cottage, we were welcomed with Masala Tea (Mama is always generous with her guests) and she opened here drawing room for us to get some rest (Free of cost). We gave some rest to our back on sofa, carpet and a small bed and went for a quick nap of few hours. Our eyes were opened with giggles of a russian group already sipping tea in drawing room and they were really amazed to see strangers sleeping here and there in always well managed drawing room of Mama.
We washed the face, did our natural rituals in haste and settled in Verandah for a quick breakfast of Omlette and Porridge. Getting a car in and out of high banks is tricky as road is very narrow – just 7 feet in width. Loonie was our driver till high banks and it was my turn to tackle the curves and angles ahead. After a careful drive of 5 minutes to cover 200 meters, we were back on main road.
Before the beginning of hills, we stopped at a small restaurant for tea. After having some much needed kick and first break of the trip before hills, we began our journey once again.
Mama’s Breakfast and lure of hills had energized us quite a bit. And with sun slowly making its presence felt, we began to really enjoy the journey and our next break came after Bemunda, for tea. Bemunda is almost offbeat place with few restaurants around a swift and clean stream. Soft gurgling sound of water envoked our strings.
After a sharp climb of Chamba and than going down again to Chinyali saur, we started moving along with Bhagirathi. Another hour and a half of driving on good hilly roads and we were at Uttarkashi. Even though it was March and there was chill in the air, sun was blazing hot. We kept the windows open and yet, were sweating a little under our light woolens.
At Uttarkashi, we met Ravi Bhai and his lovely dogs, Tammy and Tiger.
Over tea we chatted about travel and got advice on what we should see in Harshil Valley and where we should stay. We also came to know Harsil had received snowfall just couple of days back and there was still snow and ice on the road. Amanda in the meantime was busy playing with Tammy. After spending some quality time, it was time to once again resume our journey.
Harsil was still couple of hours away and we also had to stop for lunch.
The only issue was, pretty much all the places were closed, either due to off-season or because of tricky weather.
Finally we found a small restaurant at a village and stopped there for food. Only maggi, chowmein and buns were available. So we ordered all three along with tea.
Suddenly, WagonR came to a screeching halt and then a sharp u turn was taken, since Amanda had forgotten her purse at the restaurant (ok things weren’t that dramatic and we actually made fun of her, before heading back.)
We reached the restaurant and the owner kindly handed back the purse, which he had kept safely, after he spotted it, once we had left.
We thanked him for this and once again, began our journey towards Harsil.
At Maneri Dam, Bhagirathi looked so beautiful, that we just had to stop for photographs.
Once we had taken a few photographs, we began our journey again. Now the road had started to deteriorate. With a few landslide zones and road widening work being done, we had to stop at times for a few minutes for the BRO workers to clear the road.
On the plus side, views were fantastic.
After driving cautiously on a continuous bad road, we reached Gangnani and without wasting a single minute, we parked the car on almost empty road and headed towards the hot water pool at Parashar Temple. Water was really hot and after submerging ourselves for good 40-45 minutes in balming hot sulfur water, we were feeling recharged.
Slowly snowline got nearer and nearer, as we gained altitude and entered Harshil Valley.
There was good amount of snow, though thankfully road was mostly clean except a few section where snow and black ice could be found.
With temperature and sun going down, our target was to reach Harsil as soon as possible and find accommodation. Since as per Ravi bhai, only GMVN Guest House (Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam) was open in Harsil and beyond that at Dharali, no accommodation or food was available.
We reached Harsil at around 5pm and started looking for GMVN. Only, we couldn’t find it. Turns out, we had to park the car in the parking lot in the middle of town and then walk to GMVN Tourist Rest House, situated couple of hundred meters away.
This was the first time I had seen a government tourism rest house, located so far away from the road.
Amanda and Kyle went to check out the guest house, while Loonie and I enquired from the locals about other guest houses. Turns out, everything else was closed.
Amanda and Kyle returned after a while, and told us, GMVN guest house was closed as well.
There was no way; they had spent so much time there, if the guest house was closed. However, we decided to play along and as we got ready to get inside the WagonR, they told us, they were fooling us and they had actually booked couple of rooms.
We picked up our bags and walked to the GMVN TRH. The walk itself felt like a walk back to past, with old houses and path along the way. It seemed, not much had changed in Harsil in past few decades, barring the army cantonment surrounding the town.
For Rs. 1650 + taxes per room, it seemed like a poor deal. While it might have been a good place once upon a time. Now, the Harsil GMVN TRH wasn’t that great. Views for the most part were blocked and the rooms itself weren’t that great (no heaters either). To sum it up, I found it really surprising, that a government tourism hotel could be located at such a non-scenic location.
Anyways, we ordered pakodas and tea and then rested a while.
Guest House had been a disappointment for most of us. While the valley itself was beautiful, Guest House was situated in fairly narrow corner of it and wasn’t as scenic as one would have hoped it to be.
After an okish dinner, I tried to shoot a few photographs in the backyard of the guest house, since night sky was really clear and stars beautifully visible.