Harsil Uttarakhand, popularly known as the mini Switzerland of India, is among those charming places hidden in the folds of Garhwal Himalayas that are fortunately preserved from the maddening tourist crowds.
The picturesque hamlet, however, has everything that can weave a fascinating fairy tale – a legendary love story between an Englishman and a local girl, mythological sites authenticating the presence of divinity, a Bollywood filmmaker’s obsession for the untouched natural beauty and the invigorating village life which is far more gratifying than the so-called modern lifestyle.
The fact that Harsil Uttarakhand lies on the pilgrimage trail to Gangotri and several trekking routes further adds to its recognition.
About Harsil Uttarakhand
On the bank of the holy River Bhagirathi, Harsil religiously adheres to the description of a Himalayan village with snow-capped peaks (Bandarpoonch, Srikanth, Himvan, Sumeru etc.) in the backdrop, traditional wooden houses and smiling faces engaged in simple chores and activities.
At an elevation of about 7,860 ft., it promises pollution-free fresh breeze to the lungs and visually stunning panoramas of pine, oak and deodar forests to the eyes. It is a part of Uttarkashi District in the state of Uttarakhand and is primarily inhabited by the Bhotia Tribe (believed to have originated from Tibet).
There are temples and monasteries, rivers that meet to form a customarily sacred confluence, sprawling apple orchards and red bean (rajma) fields and several untold tales.
You might plan a small stopover at Harsil while pursuing the Char Dham Yatra.
However, the place definitely deserves exploration through extended devotion of time and efforts.
How to Reach Harsil Uttarakhand?
Just like other hill attractions in the state, Harsil too is accessible only by road. If, however, you are travelling from far-off places, prefer to board a flight/train to reach the nearby airports/railway stations and then take the road route to reach here. Here’s how to plan:
- By Air: Jolly Grant Airport of Dehradun is the closest one, about 241 km. away. From the airport, you can hire an independent taxi (might cost you around INR 4,000) till Harsil or prefer a shared taxi (might cost around INR 300 per head) to reach Uttarkashi. From Uttarkashi, you may again choose a shared taxi/jeep or bus to reach Harsil (distance is about 75 km.).
- Harsil Helipad: The town also has a helipad which operated during the annual Char Dham Yatra. Pilgrims fly from Dehradun or Yamunotri helipads to Harsil helipad and further reach Gangotri dham by road.
- By Rail: The closest railway stations are at Dehradun (216 km.), Haridwar (267 km.) and Rishikesh (240 km.). From each of these railway stations, you again need to hire an independent taxi till Harsil or get into a shared one till Uttarkashi.
- By Road: Harsil lies on the National Highway 108 leading to Gangotri. From Dehradun, regular buses (starting as early as 04:00 a.m. till 01:00 p.m.) ply to Uttarkashi. Vishwananth Seva bus service starts from the Parade Ground in the city and takes route via Mussoorie (shorter, cost INR 220) or Rishikesh (longer, cost INR 260). A new road via Mussoorie and Suwakholi further shortens the distance by about 40-50 km. You may also board a bus from Rishikesh till Uttarkashi. From Uttarkashi, buses and shared taxis are available till Harsil.
Also, there is a direct bus from Delhi ISBT (Kashmere Gate) to Uttarkashi which starts at 09:00 p.m. and reaches Uttarkashi at 09:00 a.m. the next day.
You can also prefer to hire taxi from the national capital till Harsil Uttarakhand.
Weather at Harsil Uttarakhand
- April-June: It is the summer period with temperature rising only to the moderate levels. It means that the clear and pleasant weather allows enjoyable sightseeing during these months. The nights may experience a drop in temperature and coolness.
- July-September: Heavy rainfall may occur in the months of July and August while September may also receive moderate rain. Landslides are quiet common on the route to Harsil.
- October-March: These months constitute the winters in Harsil. October and November promise pleasant weather, while chances of snowfall are moderate in December and February and high in January. March begins to experience the transition from winters to summers.
Best Time to Visit Harsil Valley
April-June and October-November are the best months to fully explore the place.
Harsil valley turns a paradise with booming greenery during rainy months, but there are chances of getting trapped due to landslides.
If you wish to enjoy snowfall season, plan a trip from December-February, though limited accommodations are available during this period and roads might be blocked due to snow.
Top Attractions in Harsil Valley
- Hari Shila: The sacred blackish rock that provides the place its name is believed to be Lord Vishnu (Hari) himself in the form of a shila (rock). As per the mythological tales prevailing in the region, the lord took the form to end the argument between the rivers Bhagirathi and Jalandhari, each claiming to be the superior one. One can see that after meeting at this rock, the turbulent flow of the two rivers all of a sudden become gentle.
- Another legend states that Vishnu was turned into the shila as cursed by Vrinda, the wife of demon Jalandhar. The demon, protected by his wife’s chastity, was invincible. Vishnu, disguised as Jalandhar, tricked Vrinda who lost her chastity as a result of which, Jalandhar was killed.
- Laxmi Narayan Temple: This small yet stunning temple is built on the bank of River Bhagirathi. It is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and his consort Devi Laxmi.
- Buddhist Monasteries: Harsil and the nearby village of Bagori have Buddhist monasteries with some interesting Buddhist inscriptions. Don’t missthe chanting at these temples that accompany soothing music of cymbals and drums.
- Mandakini Waterfall: Who can forget the iconic song from the Bollywood movie ‘Ram Teri Ganga Maili’ in which the beautiful actress baths under a waterfall? You would be surprised to know that it was shot at this location which later became famous after the name of the actress Mandakini. In fact, one can find other shooting locations of the movie, like the old Post Office, at Harsil. The director Raj Kapoor stunningly presented the virgin beauty of the place on the silver screen.
- Wilson House: What seems like a story from a Bollywood movie is the love story of the Englishman Frederick E. Wilson and a local girl named Gulabi. Wilson, after leaving the British Army post 1857 Revolution, took refuge at Harsil and came to be known by the names like ‘Raja Wilson’ and ‘Pahari Wilson’. He introduced the apple orchards in the region and fell in love with a 16-year old girl Gulabi. His bungalow, which is now in sad ruin state, is definitely a great attraction to visit.
- Dharali: Just a short distance from Harsil is the village of Dharali which is known for rajma cultivation and spectacular views of snow-crowned Himalayas. It also has a Shiva Temple called Kalp Kedar on the bank of River Bhagirathi. Interestingly, the temple architecturally resembles the famous Kedarnath Temple.
- Another interesting aspect of the temple is that only its dome is visible while the rest of the temple remains submerged in water (believed to be that of Bhagirathi). According to the mythology, the temple was built by Pandavas who later cursed that it would remain under water as Lord Shiva denied meeting them after the Mahabharata war.
- One can also find Mahaprayag which is the confluence of as many as 10 rivers, including Bhagirathi, Jalandhari, Vishnuganga, Tilangana, Him Ganga, Pawan Ganga, Lakshmi Ganga, Bhim Ganga, Kheer Ganga and Hatya Harini. It is believed that Bhim Ganga originated when the strongest of all Pandavas, Bhim, hit a rock with his mace. Hatya Harini is the stream in which the Pandavas bathed to get rid of the sin of murder (hatya).
- Mukhba (Mukhawa): Another beautiful village near Harsil is Mukhba which is also the winter abode to Goddess Ganga. Before the Gangotri Dham shuts down due to heavy snowfall, an idol of the goddess is brought to a temple at Mukhba and worshipped here for 6 months. There is an old temple made of deodar wood and brass and a new one made of marble in the village.Mukhba is going to be one of the four destinations of the proposed Winter Char Dham pilgrimage circuit as it is the winter seat of Goddess Ganga.
Tourist Attractions near Harsil Valley
- Bhaironghati (about 20 km. away): Surrounded by thick forests, the place is known for the old Bhairav Nath Temple located near the confluence of Bhagirathi and Jadh Ganga. It is believed that one must visit the temple on the way back from Gangotri Temple.
- Gangnani (about 27 km. away): It is home to Rishikund, a thermal water spring. Bathing in the soothing water of the spring has rejuvenating effects on the body and mind. There is also a temple dedicated to Sage Parashar.
- Sukkhi Top (about 10 km.): The place is actually a vantage point from where one can enjoy the spectacular views of the towering Himalayan peaks.
- Bhatwari Waterfall (about 44 km.): Surrounded by thick green forests, this gushing silver cascade is absolutely captivating.
- Uttarkashi (about 75 km.): As holy as the main Kashi (Varanasi), Uttarkashi is known for its Kashi Vishwanath Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. There are many other notable temples in and around the town, including Kandar Devta Temple and Kuteti Temple. It is also home to Nehru Mountaineering Institute and Nanda Devi Institute of Adventure Sports and many scenic dams.
- Gangotri (about 25 km.): The holy dham of Gangotri is home to Gangotri Temple which is dedicated to Goddess Ganga. It is believed that King Bhagirath performed tough penance here to plead the goddess, who resided at her celestial abode, to come down on Earth and grant salvation to his ancestors. Fulfilling his wish, Ganga descended on earth in the form of River Bhagirathi and began her journey from Gomukh (few miles from Gangotri). Apart from the white granite temple, other attractions here include Jalmagna Shivalingam (a rock lingam submerged in the holy water of Bhagirathi), Bhagirath Shila (the rock on which Bhagirath performed penance) and Surya Kund spring.
- Gangotri National Park (about 30 km. away): Home to subalpine coniferous forests and alpine meadows, the park is a treasure trove of rich Himalayan biodiversity. One can find animals like musk deer, snow leopard, blue sheep, Himalayan Tahr and black bear and birds like Himalayan barbet and Himalayan monal here.
- The park opens from mid-April to mid-November. Entry fee (applicable for 3 days) is INR 150/600 per Indian/foreigner. One needs to obtain inner line permit to access the park.
- The park is also home to Nelong Valley which was reopened in 2015 after it was closed down during the 1962 Indo-China war. The valley boasts of atypical landscapes resembling those of Ladakh in J&K and Spiti Valley in Himachal Pradesh. Only Indian tourists are allowed to visit the valley after obtaining the permit. Forest Department jeeps escort tourists from Bhaironghati near Harsil to the valley. No camping/night stay is allowed. A must-see attraction of the valley is the handmade wooden bridge called Gartang Galion which clings to a cliff and was once the route to China.
Top Things to Do in Harsil Valley
- Trekking: There are many trekking trails that originate from or near Harsil. Some popular ones include:
- Sattal: A 4 km. trek from Dharali takes one to this cluster of Sat Tal (seven lakes) that are interconnected and located amidst unexplored natural magnificence.
- Kyarkoti Lake: The high altitude lake in the pristine Taknaur Valley is accessible by a trek of about 14 km. from Harsil.
- Chitkul-Sangla Valley: One of the most exhilarating and difficult treks in the Himalayas begins from Harsil in Uttarakhand and reaches Chitkul-Sangla Valley in Himachal Pradesh via Lamkhaga Pass. The trek length is about 75 km. and it passes through the natural wonders like glaciers, snow fields, streams and verdant valleys.
- Gaumukh Glacier: The 18 km. trek to the originating point of River Ganga begins from Gangotri and passes through Chirwasa and Bhojwasa. The thrilling trek can be further extended to Tapovan and Kedar Tal. Find in advance whether you need permit to access these places.
- Village Tourism: It is a memorable experience to roam across the village, watch women engaged in knitting and weaving and admire the stunning architecture of the wooden houses. You may also buy the hand-woven woollen gloves, caps, mufflers etc.
Rejuvenation: Harsil offers the perfect environment to practice yoga and meditation. The locals would advise you to drink directly from the crystal clear streams that are believed to be rich in minerals and digestion-improving qualities. Enjoy plucking fresh apples from the orchards or simply laze around enjoying the mountain sceneries.
Where to Stay in Harsil Uttarakhand?
Accommodations in Harsil are limited to 9-10 properties which include hotels (both budget and luxury), resorts, lodges, homestays and a government-operated tourist bungalow. Here are a few details:
- Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam (GMVN) Tourist Bungalow offers deluxe and super deluxe rooms. It also has a restaurant. It is one of the few properties open during the winters as well.
- Sky Lark is a deluxe hotel with adequate parking space as well as travel assistance for tourists. Harsil Retreat is another good deluxe hotel on the bank of Jalandhari. It offers deluxe rooms as well as cottages.
- Nelangana Resort is among the top-rated properties in Harsil, located on the bank of River Bhagirathi. It has rooms as well as luxury camps, apart from a suite, for guests.
- Sunder Homestay has become a popular option with tourists. Bedrooms with kitchen and beautiful lawns and friendly hosts make it a home away from home. Snow Valley Hotel is another family-run option with good accommodations.
- Himalayan Eco Lodge offers deluxe rooms as well as Swiss style cottage tents and is located in the outskirts of the village. Char Dham Camp boasts of cottages with thatched roofs and stupendous views of lofty peaks and lush green surroundings.
What to Eat in Harsil Uttarakhand?
Most of the hotels in Harsil offer multiple cuisines prepared from the fresh and organic produce. In addition, you can find dhabas promising delicious Punjabi and Garhwali dishes. You may also find venues offering Chinese/Tibetan preparations like noodles and momos.
Willing to spend quality time at the serene and stunning Harsil? Plan a customized tour package with us today.