Uttarkashi: the quaint shiva town

The Power Trip, Pioneer. 2002 (Excerpt)

Soon as you cross the city boundaries of New Delhi, you begin to notice the difference. It is suddenly more colorful. The red, green and yellow veggies of early morning farmer's market grip your attention, as you spot villagers emerge from thatched huts to brush their teeth; and milkmen dole milk into vessels of different shapes and sizes.

This time the road led to Uttarkashi, a small upbeat town nestled alongside river Bhagirathi in the Garhwal Himalayan region, 96 miles from Rishikesh. It is a venture land of pilgrims since the time of legendary king Bhagirath, and a connection to several pilgrimages, including Gangotri-Gaumukh-Tapovan, Nandanvan, Badrinath and Kedarnath. After a five hour drive from Delhi, as one enters the zone of Rishikesh, an upsurge of a different energy is sensed. Perfectly synchronized with this sensation, the approaching hills make their presence felt.

Halting briefly at Chotiwala for a lunch thali, as we began the climb towards the town of Uttarkashi, the veils lifted over the mystical charm of Garhwal with each circular rung. Ear drums shut as heights grew closer. It was sure sign that Uttarkashi was approaching when the color orange and matted locks started to dot the landscape. This region seemingly shelters more sadhus than householders! City eyes locked with those of village folks and slanted downward with admitted envy. A sudden drizzle was a welcome sign, and looking at the sheer immensity of the hills, I knew beyond doubt that I was standing on the land of Shiva.

Checking into a nature resort in Uttarkashi (scenically situated on the banks of river Bhagirathi, with luxurious Swiss cottage tents with attached baths and fresh linen), I headed straight for the embrace of the Ganges. The sight of the gushing, moving river makes one wonder why you were not moving for so long! When and where did you loose your playfulness, movement, and flow? The sound of the Ganges indeed contains it all. The past, the now and the yet to be.

The town is lined with more than a hundred odd temples, each situated amidst the hustle and bustle of the town yet retaining palpable individual power. Kashi-Vishwanath temple commands greater attention, since it remained unmoved when the Ganges moved over and across to the other end. My question about why this town had been named Uttarkashi did get answered by the temple priest at Kashi Vishwanath temple. The partnership of Varuna and Assi Ganga flowing along this town makes it as holy as Kashi (or Varanasi), and Uttar means to the North. An emergence of a natural Shivalingam at this temple commands awe as the evening aarti does the rounds. Right across is a 13 ft. high Shakti stamba (pillar) with its head culminating in a trident and is believed to be resting on Sheshnag's (the king of serpents) head. A small hut inside the temple complex shelters few nag-babas and the aroma of their chapatis cooking on slow fire rises higher than that of prayer incense.

After taking a curious round of few, a leisurely bath was due. It was precisely the motivation to take a 26 mile drive up to Gangnani for a dip in the natural hot springs, discovered by Rishi Parashar (father of Rishi Vyas) on his visit to establish Vedic religion in this region. This spot has long been considered the original source of the Ganges. Returning after sunset to our campsite and lounging across the river, I could almost touch the natural elements in their pure unadulterated form. Just then the element of silence made its presence felt, with its own strong scent.