Uttaranchal: Switzerland of India - Part 1

Nanda Devi

Excerpts from Capt. M.S. Kohli’s book

The enchanting land of Uttaranchal, with legends of lord Shiva,Guru Gobind Singh and goddess Nanda Devi, has all the Himalayan assets—nurnerous snow—clad peaks, enchanting rivers and glacial lakes, ancient shrines, ski slopes, beautiful hill stations, national mountaineering institute, camping meadows, and hundreds of trekking trails.

Uttaranchal, comprising of the Garhwal and Kumaon Himalaya, interlocked in an eternal embrace that in the adventurer’s eye all demarcatjng lines disappear making it djfficult to discover where one ends and the other begins. The single uniting factor is the snowline that rums along the horizon in the north like a golden wave, west to east. No surprise our ancestors divined in this scrawl the signature of God and named it as Dev Bhumi, Land of Gods.

The Survey of India, in its scientific division of the Himalaya, called this slice of territory the Kumaon Himalaya obviously because the Kumaon mountains predominated in the Surveyors elongated eye. 

Kenneth Mason in his celebrated book Abode of Snow describes:

"The Kumaon Himalaya is bounded by the Sutlej on the West and North, and by the Kali [at Mahakali] on the east, which here forms the western boundary of the independent State of Nepal. In its passage through the Siwaliks at Tanakpur the Kali becomes the Sarda river of the Gangetic plain before joining the Gorgra in the old province of Uudh. Between them are the Himalayan basins of the Jamuna—with its source near Bandarpunch, and its right-bank affluent of the Tons; of the mountain feeders of the sacred Ganges—Bhagirathi, Mandakini, Alaknanda, and Pinder; and the small Ramganga, which drains the lesser Himalaya in the districts of Almora and Nainital.”
DevoPrayag, confluence of Alakanand & Bhagirathi rivers, forming greater Ganga

Topographically, Uttaranchal like Kashmir and Himachal, reveals the same unmistakable architectural pattern—three giant steps. The first begins as you enter from the plains subtropical Siwaliks (the lower hills]. Next you step into the lush-green valleys and the lesser (or inner) Himalaya, beyond an the third step, lies the barren grandeur of the outer Himalaya, the towering wall above the lush plains of the Ganges.

Instead of straining ears to catch echoes from the Puranic past extolling the fabulous beauty of Uttaranchal, thereby stretching your credulence too far you can listen to what recent foreign explorers have said of this land. Tom Longstaff has this to tell you:

"After six visits to the snows, I still believe that Uttarakhand is the most beautiful country of all high Asia. Neither the pristine immensity of the Karakoram, the aloof domination of Mt. Everest, the softer Caucasian beauties of the Hindukush, can compare wirh Uttarakhand. Mountains and valleys, forest and alp, birds and animals, butterflies and flowers, all combine to make a sum of delight unsurpassed elsewhere."

Another extraordinary Englishman, Frank Smythe, who made several happy journeys in Uttarakhand, said in the same vein in his famous work The Valley of Flowers: 

"Is there any region of the Himalaya, or even of the world which excel this region in beauty and grandeur! Where else are to be found such narrow and precipitous valleys and gorges, such serene vistas of alp, forest, snowfields and peaks? This ’Abode of Snow‘ is rightly the goal of the heat-enervated people or the plains. Never was there a Pilgrimage of finer accomplishments. It is the perfect antidote to a static life, and it cannot fail to inspire in the dullest a noble conception of the Universe”.

Perhaps Dr. Paul Bruton, the modem hermit in the Himalaya, who ensconced himself in the heartland of Garhwal, paraphrased all the poetry composed down the ages in praise of the incomparable beauty of Uttarakhand and compressed essence in a single sentence:

”The Gods who made this land must have been beauty drunk.”

The thing to he remembered about Uttaranchal is that it is a variegated land. To savour the full perfection of its beauty, one has to explore it in its greater variety and depth. Depth, yes, as otherwise you would be not unlike that bird-watcher who fascinated by the plumage forgets to watch its owner.

As you set your sights, a breathtaking spectacle settles before your vision-cyclopean mountains, range beyond range, stride away into the horizon along white highways of glacial ice. Your eye may miss the skyscrapers of neighbouring Nepal but the grandeur is there, an opulence on a grand scale. The magic of seven thousand and six thousand metre mountains fills the panorama around. Superlatives roll off your tongue as you begin to identify and single out peak after peak. In the Zaskar range, dividing lndia from Tibet, you see the majestic Kamet glowing golden, morning and evening, reflecting the fires its surrounding glaciers burn with.

Then, its satellites—Abi Gamin, Deoban, Mukut Parbat and Mana—reveal themselves. Towards the East, the Great Himalayan range lies studded with such rare gems as Nilkanth, [Frank Smythe described it as the Queen of Mountains because of its anatomical symmetry], Satopanth [pathway to truth] and Chaukhamba [four mighty pillars on which rests the throne of Badrinath). Further southwards your eye would encounter a lovely vision in the Sky—Goddess Nanda rising to her full stature, announcing her presence in the fascinating realm she rules over, an acknowledged masterpiece of wilderness not found anywhere in the world, showing such lovely jewels from her treasure trove as Dunagiri [a high lance of ice thrown in the sky, raking the very edge of space), Mount Trisul [the three headed guard of the Goddess), Changabang [the shining mountain—-‘a sheer precipice a granite floating in the air’). Then here is a unescapable Panchchuli (gleaming indeed like ’five kitchen-fires’ of the five Pandava brothers, heroes of Mahabharata). Your roving eye would not of course miss the Trisuli group with Hardeol [God's lamp] holding its own.
Shivling, above Gaumukh, source of Ganga

To be continued...


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