It was a never-ending bus journey we had traveled for more than five hours and were yet to reach our final destination. As I looked out the window of the bus all that I could see were large shadows of mountains against an equally dark moonless sky. Only some blinking stars were always following our bus as if to accompany us on our journey across Uttarakhand. The dark winding hill roads were only illuminated by the headlight of the bus and I could see a signboard with the words “Raithal – 0 Kilometers”. I looked at my watch and the time was 11.30 PM and by then the entire village had gone to bed as is the norms in the hills.
The bus entered the Tourist Rest House at Raithal and I was surprised to see people waiting to greet us. Two brightly dressed Garhwali women welcomed us with traditional tilak and marigold garlands. I was extremely tired and headed straight to my room and after freshening up headed straight to the dining room for a Garhwali meal. After dinner, I hardly had any energy and headed straight back to the room for a comfortable sleep.
The morning was unusually peaceful and surprisingly I woke up at 6 AM sharp considering how tired I was last night I expected to sleep for another two hours at least. It was cold and I could see the sun rays behind the window curtains so I just slid them to let the sun in. The scenery outside the window was completely breathtaking. Rows and rows of lush green hills and snow covered mountains in the distance. The sky was bright blue and clouds were just sporting around creating the perfect picture postcard moment.
I walked out of the room and from the second-floor balcony could see Rangan Dutta already prepared to explore the village with camera in his hand. The local team led by the District Tourist Office Prakash Khatri had the day’s activity planned for us. To start with we did some Yoga and trust me the fresh mountain air was more than oxygen for me it was like breathing in life from nature itself. We had Namita Kulkarni (Radically Ever After) with us who is a Yoga instructor herself and gave us a brief demo about some basic Yoga postures. With so much of traveling this was a relief as the postures shown by her helped me to relax my muscles a bit. The breathing exercise was the most helpful to me as I had faced some issues with shortness of breath while trying climb up the steep slopes.
After the brief Yoga sessions, we were in for a delight as we got the opportunity to ride Mountain Bike. These were brand new bikes with 21-speed settings. I am an avid motorcycle rider and getting a chance to ride a two-wheeler that too on hills was something special. It reminded me of school days when I used to go for long rides with my friends on my Hero Ranger bike. The morning was just perfect as the weather made it ideal for a trip around Raithal village. Joining me for the bike ride around the village were bloggers Anindya Sundar Basu (Pickturenama), Swati Jain (Buoyant Feet) and Amrita Das (Travelling Ides of March).
Before going further let me just tell you about this tiny village called Raithal which is located in the hills of Uttarkashi in the state of Uttarakhand. Its located at a comfortable height of 1800 meters thus making it ideal for treks for all ages. The main attraction of Raithal is its close proximity to Dayara Bugyal. In fact, Raithal is the base camp and many villagers work as guides and porters for trekking groups. This is one of the main earning sources for the local population along with limited farming considering the terrain.
Dayara Buguyal is considered a low-medium trek and children as old as 8 years can come. You can expect snow from December to April above the bugyal. Dayara Bugyal was mainly used by the shepherds once. The track from Raithail takes you through the lush forest as well as rocky terrain and finally to a relative flatter top from where you get perhaps the best view of Mount Bandarpoonch.
We parked our bikes and headed down the stone and gravel roads towards the village led by Dinesh Bhatt. Being a heritage lover I was told that this village has something that is much more than just a heritage. This village has some old wooden houses some of which age somewhere between 400 to 500 years and are still standing. To make things more interesting some of these have been converted into homestays. I am sure I will be coming back someday and spend a couple of days at one of these old heritage houses.
A little down was another masterpiece which was a 500-year-old five storied wooden house owned by Rana Ghambhir Singh known as Panchpura Bhavan. This house is made with deodar wood and had withstood five earthquakes.
Rana Ghambhir Singh played a very important role in establishing the village of Raithal as he was one of the most powerful people since he had the maximum number of sheep’s thus making him a landlord of sorts. As per legends he once went up to the mountains along with his sheep’s and up in the bugyal, he started playing his flute. The goddess of the forest was impressed by this and ordered him to come along with them to the heaven. He then requested the goddess to give him some time to say a final goodbye to his family. He then returned back to his village in Raithal and asked his two wives to be a Sati (die along with him in the same funeral pyre). One of the wives agreed while the other backed out so the one who had agreed died with him and a Sati Mata temple was built in that spot.
The main village temple has a folklore associated with it. Located in the heart of the village this temple is set to be located at the very spot where once many hundreds of years ago a fight between a tiger and a goat took place. This fight lasted for a full night and the goat fought on face to face in front of the fierce tiger. The local villagers lit up a lamp on top of a pole at this spot and the light never stopped flickering despite limited fuel supply the lamp mysteriously remained lit. Considering this as a good omen the villagers decide to build a temple at this spot.
The original temple was built around 400 – 500 years back and what we saw was a renovated version with traditional Garhwal style architecture. Every year during a particular season this temple becomes the center for a special religious ceremony which lasts for days and villagers from five villages (Raithal, Chark, Bandrani, Bhatwari & Natin) participate in the festivities.
Bees and Flowers
The villagers have also started looking for alternate earning sources and one of them is beekeeping. Considering the abundance of wildflowers in the mountains this was a wise decision and the production of honey gives the village an additional income source. Do not forget to buy a bottle of fresh and pure Raithal honey when you are here as this is the best of the best that you can get.
The 1000-Year-Old Temple
Around 4 kilometers down from the village lies another incredible structure which actually changes the whole dynamics of the village for me. I am like a heritage junkie and anything that is old has a special place in my heart and when I was told by the villagers that there is a 1000-year-old temple I honestly did not believe them. Upon reaching the site I was speechless as in the middle of farms lies an old temple which the villagers refer to as the Shani temple. This Shani temple is a newly constructed one but the structures surrounding this central temple is very old. This site is protected by the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) and the old rusted board only stands testament to this.
The old stone structures are badly damaged and out of the four only two stands. Rest one has only a few stone structures visible and the fourth one has no existence anymore. The uniqueness of these structures is that it faces the west and not east which is the norm.
The Journey Continues…
It was time for us to move on to our next destination and our bloggers bus was ready for departure. I was so mesmerized by its beauty that I completely lost track of time and kept on clicking landscapes. My friends kept calling me to come back to the bus but I simply kept pressing my shutter button. It was then that someone tapped me on my shoulder I kept ignoring and the tap slowly turned in to violent shake. I turned back and found my office colleague. Was initially surprised to see him at Raithal only to realize that I was back in the office and was daydreaming about my dream trip to Uttarakhand. The memories will forever be remained etched in my heart and will remind me of the fun time that I had with Anindya, Amrita, Rangan, Swati, Upendra (Vagabond Images) and Namita. I have stuck the group photograph on the soft board at my office table just to remind me of this.
Important Contact Details for Raithal
Village Homestays – Prithviraj Singh Rana (72488 76566) (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Locally Produced Honey – Himalayan Apiary (80576 12248) (email@example.com)
Trekking – Dinesh Bhatt (80576 12248) (firstname.lastname@example.org)
TRH Raithal – Book Online at http://www.gmvnl.in/newgmvn/