Harsil – A detailed travel guide

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Harsil is one of those villages that truly represents how unglorified Uttarakhand is. I have been a long-time advocate of the beauty that is Uttarakhand and that tourism needs to pick up its pace in the region. For Uttarakhand is divinity, and people need to experience this magical wonderland, often called Dev Bhoomi.

An integral part of the Gangotri National Park, Harsil is classified is an army area, though does not have a full-fledged cantonment. The ideal companion in Bhagirathi river makes gives this sleepy little town more life, more colour and allows you the luxury of taking things at your own pace. Scanning the landscape of Harsil, you’ll be able to spot many temples in the town nestled in between the forests of Deodar, Pine and Oak trees.

Gangotri and Yamunotri Closed for Winters 2011-12
Gangotri and Yamunotri Closed for Winters 2011-12

About Harsil

Harsil is perched at an elevation of 2623 meters and is known for its proximity to Gangotri. But, this little town should be on your list individually, not because of Gangotri only. The village has apple orchards for as long as 70 Kms! That kind of views are not only uncommon, but damn near rare! Surrounded by very famous hill towns, Harsil has been overshadowed by the grandiose of places like Gangotri. But, it deserves its own recommendation.

Geography

Located in a picturesque valley, Harsil is around 72 KMs after Uttarkashi enroute Gangotri. Dense Deodar trees, the beautifully flowing Bhagirathi river and the migratory birds form the highlight of the place.

Mythology of Harsil

It is believed that two rivers, Jalandhari and Bhagirathi were always up in arms with each other, fighting a lot and wanting to prove their supremacy over the other. Al this fighting led to a lot of havoc on the nearby villages and settlements. Therefore, having no other choice, the local residents prayed to Lord Vishnu to help resolve the fight between Jalandhari and Bhagirathi. It is believed that upon hearing the prayers, Lord Vishnu transformed into a ‘Sila’ or stone. He placed himself in the middle of the confluence of Jalandhari and Bhagirathi. Therefore, the place was named as Harshil which is essentially Lord Vishnu in the form of a rock.

Weather in Harsil

Being a hill station in Uttarakhand, the weather is always pleasant – even in the winter months. Winter months experience an average high of 15 Degrees with the lows hovering around 0. Summer months can be in the higher 20’s with extremely pleasant nights. Monsoons are always tricky in the hills, with landslides expected.

That viewpoint of Harsil
That viewpoint of Harsil

Best time to visit

While Harsil is always accessible, April to October is the best time to visit Harsil when the plains are getting too hot to handle. Summers are the epitome of pleasant Himalayan weather, where evening are cool and the mornings are bright. IT is must to dress in layers when visiting any hill town. It is always advisable to be a little alert if choosing to visit in the monsoon months.

How to reach Harsil

Well connected by road, Harsil can be reached easily. While Dehradun is the closest location of railway and airport, there is still a substantial distance of 200+ KMs from Dehradun to reach Harsil.

Distance Chart

LocationDistance
Delhi to Harsil 468 Kms
Dehradun to Harsil 215 Kms
Chandigarh to Harsil 377 KMs
Shimla to Harsil 370 KMs
Harsil to Dharali6 Kms
Harsil to Gangotri 25 KMs
Harsil to Gangotri National Park30 KMs
Harsil to Nelong Valley42 Kms

By air

Jolly Grant Airport, Dehradun is located at a distance of 232 KMs from Harsil. Cabs are available for hire to Harsil.

By rail

The nearest railway station is in Rishikesh, 215 KMs from Harsil. However, railway station situated in Dehradun, at a distance of 217 KMs from the hill station is also a viable option. Cabs are available for hire, both private and shared, to Harsil. However, given that it is a small village – likelihood of a lot of travelers will be limited. You best bet for a shared cab will be to arrange your travels for people heading to Gangotri.

Harsil-snow
Harsil-snow

By road

Well connected by road, Harsil lied on NH 108 and regular buses to Rishikesh/ Dehradun is easily available. Upon reaching these places, one will need to change buses to reach Harsil. From Delhi, the total driving distance is 470 Kms and takes a total driving time of 13 hours. Thus, it is often suggested to break your journey and you may choose to spend a night in Dehradun.

If you’re planning on taking a bus, do note that you need to reach Dehradun/Rishikesh early in the morning to be able to catch a bus for Harsil. There are no afternoon buses available.

Places to see in Harsil

Harsil has beauty in terms of the never ending apple orchards, the meeting of Bhagirathi and Jalandhari river and the scenic backdrop. When you’re in Harsil, one more place worth visiting is

Wilson Cottage

Set up by Mr. Wilson in 1864, this cottage was built by a deserter of the British Army who me the Raja of Teri. When the Raja refused to give him shelter, Wilson moved to Harsil and built this property. Upon finding this out, the Raja started receiving a certain profit for “leasing” his land. Wilson build a 350 ft long suspension bright over Jagdanda for the local people. In fact, so loved he was, that the locals still affectionately call him Pahari Wilson.

Gangotri Dham
Gangotri Dham

Places to explore nearby Harsil

Dharali

A tiny hamlet, Dharali has many stories to tell. Located merely 2 KMs from the Harsil village, Dharali has beautiful apple orchards that will captivate you. There are many mythological stories from this place – including Bhagirath meditating here to wish for Ganga to flow from heave to Earth. In fact, so strong is this belief that there is an ancient Hindu temple with Shivji’s shrine at the very location.

Mukhwas Village

Travelling merely 1 Km from Harsil leads you to Mukhwas village. It is believed to be the winter home of Goddess Gangotri. Gangotri is usually engulfed by snow in the winter months and the people tend to visit here in large numbers in the winter months to fulfil their devotion.

Sattal

A group of 7 lakes (sat = seven, tal = lake) of fresh water provides a home for migrating birds and panoramic views for the travelling souls. Perched at a height of 1370 Mts above sea level, the interconnected lakes are surrounded by lush green forests of oak and pine trees. A short trek away from Dharali, Sattal will keep you engrossed for a long time, thanks to the insanely beautiful views and the bountiful flora and fauna.

Gangnani

Located approximately 25 KMs before reaching Harsil, this little settlement is well known amongst the locals for its hot water spring. Especially when visiting in the winter months, this is a must have experience and should be top on your priority list. The views of the surrounding Himalayan peaks will leave you wanting for more.

Gangotri

A place needing no introduction, Gangotri is the reverential Dham for it is the home of Goddess Ganga. A place where the holiest river originates has to be a beautiful and peaceful spot- and it is. There is a beautiful temple at a height of 3048 Meters which is a lifetime wish of most Hindus to visit. Gangotri is located at a distance of 20 Kms from Harsil. The place is more than worth a visit as the cascading games of the Himalayas and the Bhagirathi rivers will leave you speechless.

The Gangotri Dham set amidst the snow peaks which one can see at the start of trek
The Gangotri Dham set amidst the snow peaks which one can see at the start of trek

Other things to do

There are many unexplored trails in the region which you can explore on your own leisure time. Most of these trails will lead you to spectacular views of gushing waterfalls, beautiful lakes and everything in between. It is a great way to learn the value of natural living.

The village in itself boasts of highly eco-friendly tourism where you can partake in the calm environment and enjoy meditation, yoga etc. I highly recommend speaking and interacting with the locals to understand their way of life and appreciating how easy they make it feel to survive without most of the amenities we take for granted!

Where to stay

Uttarakhand Tourism is amazing and of course a GMVN is available with luxury views. While the rooms might be minimalistic, the food and the views make up for everything. Nelangana Resort is a beautiful property located in Harsil . A trek from this place takes you to Nelong Valley and also provides breakfast! Another decent option is a budget friendly Airbnb called Harsil cottage.

Where to eat

Given the size and the isolation of the village, it’s no wonder that there are no restaurants in the village. However, there are a few road side dhabas that will serve tasty, though basic, North Indian food. In-house restaurants of hotels are your best bet. Also, Indo-Chinese food such as momos, thupka are available aplenty. But, I would recommend trying the Garhwali cuisine of Gahat Dal, Sisunak Saag, Chainsoo etc.

Gangotri, Yamunotri and Kedarnath Closed for Winters
Gangotri, Yamunotri and Kedarnath Closed for Winters

Conclusion

While it is lovingly known as the Mini-Switzerland of Uttarakhand – I disagree. India is a beautiful, breathtaking country with lots to offer. Personally, I tend to hate when anyone refers to places in India as “Doesn’t feel like we are in India, it is so beautiful!”. As Indians, we should have gotten used to knowing there are gorgeous places for us to enjoy in our very own backyard.

Harsil offers a lot of natural beauty that will want you to explore more and be present in the moment. The magic of villages like Harsil is that it connects you with the rhythm of nature. You forget to be on the clock and breathe as you’re supposed to. So, relax, unwind and explore the beauty of Harsil. Believe me, this little village has lots to tell.

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About Author

Shefali spends most of her time day dreaming about her next big vacation. A happy-go-lucky personality, she is an amalgamation of all the places she’s lived in and experienced! She is always confused as to where to call home, having lived in Chandigarh, Shimla, Dehradun, Mumbai, Hyderabad in India and Vancouver, Abbotsford in Canada. Her love for travel is only challenged by her love for reading and eating delicious food! In order to sustain her dreams, she brought out her inner geek, got an MBA and has a job in the corporate world crunching numbers. Do follow @notravelplans on Instagram for updates on her next great adventure.

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