I never thought I will complete this trek. It rained heavily the night before and trekking in Uttarakhand rains is no joke though it has its own charm. The trek was a walk through the swampy dense forest and then up the straight mountain at 8000 feet. The expected reward on completing the trek was meeting a Sanyasi who has been living at Shikhar Varnavat for 18 years and a surreal view of the mountains.
Uttarkashi, a district town in Uttarakhand has many good treks. In fact, you can just climb any mountain or walk the offbeat route and you are bound to explore something fascinating. On a bright Sunday morning I set on my trek to the Shikar Varnavat which is Mahidanda. There are two ways to reach Shikar Varnavat – one the normal path which takes more time and the other through the restricted land of ITBP (Indo-Tibetan Border Police) and is more scenic.
I, being among the privileged lot (courtesy husband in Army) got permission to trespass through the ITBP land. As it has rained the previous night, the forest area was marshy but beautiful. Small waterfalls and rapids were almost everywhere. The sounds of falling water on stones, cutting through the forest amidst pitch quietness is the genre of music that every Nature lover cherishes. The water was absolutely crystal clear, tress were bright green and wild foliage underneath made the trek an unforgettable experience.
I spotted pines, wild flowers, a local tree whose flowers are good for diabetic patients and even a red mushroom plant. With my umbrella serving as a walking stick, I enthusiastically marched ahead. While others were trying to save themselves from water, I intentionally choose the water path for I love to tread through the fresh flowing cold water. And mind you! It was not all dreamy there is a practical reason to walking in water – it is less slippery than the muddy grass which is also quite deceptive with leeches and flies.
After around an hour of fun walking through the forest, the real trek began. The gentle slope of the mountain, cool water and shade of dense forest; everything vanished. Now it was a steep mountain climb with sporadic trees and pebbles that were precariously rolling down the slippery ground. It was a tricky trek. I took a few sips of water and continued my trek; huffing, puffing, falling and all through trying to save my camera, “jaan jaye to jaye, camera ko kuch na hone paaye”.
After another hour of exhausting uphill trek I could spot a flag. This flag meant that the destination was just around the corner. With renewed energy I took long strides for the excitement was building. I was making a mental note of questions I wanted to ask the sage. The views, will it be worth the trek? I could wait no longer. Walk fast, Gitanjali, the inner voices nudged me.
The moment I walked past the flag, I saw a few stairs and a compound that encompassed a temple, a huge tree and a humble house. I was super excited. I had completed the trek. But wait what about climbing down? It is going to be tougher, remember the slippery, watery ground and crumbling stones. Well, we will think about it later. Now is the time to soak into all this dreamlike beauty.
There was a small Maa Kali temple and we were greeted by Swamiji who came sprightly to receive us. He was delighted to see us and offered a glass of fresh nimbu paani and asked us to sit for a while. After regaining our breath and some energy from Vitamin C, we started to chat.
Shankar Swamy has been here since 18 years. He is a very learned man who is now busy writing his third edition of book on Tibetan Mysteries.
Shikar Varnavat is famous of two reasons, one for the temple of Mata Kunti (mother of the five Pandanvas) who accordingly to the mythological story spent time at this place meditating. Secondly, this place offers the best views of prominent mountains. Sadly, it was a cloudy day and we couldn’t see the peak clearly. However, I was told that on a clear sky day you can see (from left to right) Bhandarpooch, Bhaghirathi Mountain 1 and 2 (I never knew mountains were numerically named until now), Gomukh, Kedar range, Neelkanth range and back of Badri range – all of these mountain peaks in a beautiful half circle. Another interesting thing to see was Mount Mandar, a mountain that stands independent and straight not touching any other mountain (a rare phenomenon) at a height of 11,000 feet.
Swamiji suggested that one should stay here overnight on a full moon night with clear sky to appreciate the real beauty of this place. You can see the snow capped mountains reflecting the moon light creating an out of the world panoramic sight. Surely, a sight to behold! I will come here again, I promised myself.
I saw many red chunnis tied around the temple and inquired about them. Once in a year in the month of April on an auspicious thrithya around 30,000 people trek all the way and come here to offer their prayers. That is the day when Shikar Varnavat is at its lively best with fair and lots of people.
Swamiji also showed us antique coins that he excavated from nearby places while wandering around. These coins were more than 2300 years old.
After some more chit-chat, I excused myself to enjoy the surroundings. The view from this place was splendid. One can sit for hours here doing nothing and still not get bored. From here you can see the complete Uttarkashi town with Bhagirathi River beautifully traversing through.
It was now time to leave. With memories of an adventurous trek, breathtaking sights and meeting with an enthusiastic Swamiji, I was content.
How to Reach?
Reach Rishikesh or Haridwar. Board a bus, hire a car or if you are in your personal vehicle then drive around 150 Kilometers uphill to Uttarkashi city in Uttarakhand. You will take around 4-5 hours to reach Uttarkashi city. From the Uttarkashi market asks for Mahidanda. Once you reach this place start your trek to Shikhar Varnavat. If you wish to trek thorough the ITBP route then call up your fauji friends or relatives to get access.
Though Uttarakhand was devastated by floods last year and roads are a bit difficult to traverse yet the beauty of place is beyond words. Come , enjoy trekking in Uttarakhand and explore the new paths.
My next trekking in Uttarakhand will be Nachiketa Taal in Uttarkashi, a walk through dense forest ending up in a lake with mountains standing tall on all sides. Stay tuned.
Which is the most adventurous trek you did?
This entry has been shortlisted for Holidify’s Travelogue Writing Contest in association with Linger. The content and pictures may not be used without prior permission of the author.
Submitted by: Gitanjali Banerjee
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