Valley Of Flowers, Hemkund Sahib, Badrinath, Mana Village, Auli..so many dreamy destinations are nestled in a close proximity of the North-East corner in Uttarakhand. Arrange 8-10 days of leaves and you can have a fantastic trip to the heaven lies in this side of Himalayan Mountains. However, this parts of Uttarakhand has some natural constraints that you should need to consider while planning a trip.
Best Time to Visit: During the winter, Joshimath and the adjacent areas receive heavy snowfall, that makes the region and other prominent places nearly inaccessible ( well , not inaccessible, but difficult to travel) for about 6 months from December to May every year. During this period, Badrinath shrine remains closed, Valley of Flowers National Park doesn’t issue any visitor’s permit and it is not advisable to trek to Hemkund Sahib. However, the heavy snowfall brings the life alive at Auli, 12 kms away from Joshimath. The small town of Auli is considered as one of the best Ski destination in India.
Summer is the season, when tourists and pilgrims throng to the valley of the Himalayas. From Late May to Late October, thousands of pilgrims visit the holy shrines of Badrinath, Hemkund Sahib and Panch Prayag; hundreds of trekkers proceed to the beautiful treks like Swargarohini , Neelkantha, Valley of Flowers, Kuari Pass and all.
In between, Late June to Late August is considered as the most critical month to visit this area. Torrential rains, cloud bursts, heavy landslides and frequent road-blockages are very common in the month of June and July. But, this is the best time to enjoy the breathtaking beauty of Valley of Flowers, where thousands of full bloomed flowers present a spectacular vista of the nature. We also trekked to the Valley of Flowers National Park in the third week of July and the natural beauty of the valley was beyond our imagination.
What areas are possible to visit in this region during a single trip?
Badrinath: One of the holiest Hindu shrine, One of the holy Char Dham .
Mana Village: Last Indian village on an Old India-Tibbet Road.
Vasudhara Falls: A spectacular waterfall, just 1.5 kms from Mana Village.
Valley of Flowers: A national park and a spectcular heaven of blooming flowers.
Hemkund Sahib: A revered Sikh Gurudwara in a picturesque setting in the high mountains. Devoted to Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh Guru.
Auli: One of the best Ski slopes in India.
And Many more..
If few days are still left in the vacation, take a detour from Karnaprayag towards Haldwani and easily explore beautiful places like Baijnath, Almora, Nainital, Ranikhet etc to keep you busy for few more days.
Introducing Joshimath: Joshimath, also known as Jyotirmath, is a fairly large town that can be considered as the base station to visit many attractions in this area. Over the years , the town grew up at large scale and have many modern amenities like hotels/guesthouses, modern shops, and even a cinema.
Since the shrine of Badrinath remains snowbound for nearly six months during the winter season, most of the residents from Badrinath arrive here to spend that harsh season. The idol of Lord Vishnu i.e., Lord Badrinarayan from Badrinath also brought dowm to Narasimha Temple at Jyotirmath (Joshimath) by the priests in a spectacular ceremony. That’s why Joshimath can be considered as the winter shrine of Badrinath.
Few Other Religious Places in Joshimath:
Shankaracharya Math: Shankaracharya Math is situated on a uphill road near the GMVN hotel. A narrow lane leads from a side of the hotel towards the Math. It is believed that the Math was established by Shankaracharya, who established four prominent mathas in all four corners in India, the others being those at Sringeri, Puri and Dwaraka. Their heads are titled “Shankaracharya”. According to the tradition initiated by Adi Shankara, each Matha is in charge of a veda, hence this matha is in charge of the “Atharva Veda”. Interestingly, being in the close proximity of much revered shrine of Badrinath, Jyotirmath has never been an active matha regularly. Many people also believe that the original northern matha was established at Badrinath.
The Kalpavriksha: More than 2500 years old (as per the belief), The Kalpavriksha tree is believed to be the oldest tree of India. When Adi Shankarcharya arrived here at Joshimath, he used to meditate in the shades of this beautiful tree. The cave where he spent his days at Joshimath is also there. The circumference of this mulberry tree is 21.5 mts. The tree is now only able to bear flowers and not fruits, but the leaves are still young and fresh. Millions of people visit Badrinath every year unknowingly that the tree they pass through is about the same age as the Badrinath temple is.
Narsimha Temple: When the Badrinath Temple is closed in winter, devotees throng to worship at the Narsimha Temple ,which is the winter adobe of Sri Badrinath. The temple is about 1200 years old. Dedicated to Lord Vishnu, the presiding deity of the temple is Lord Narsimha, the half-man, half-lion and fourth incarnation of Vishnu. The characteristic feature of the deity is that its left wrist is very thin and is shrinking day by day and it is said that the day when it will fall, the route to Badrinath will get closed permanently by a major land slide. Situated some 30 yards from the Narsimha Temple, the Vasudeva Temple is one of the most famous Vishnu temples in India.
How to Reach Joshimath? Joshimath is accessible from two sides of Uttarakhand:
First and most preferred route is via Haridwar and Rishikesh that further connects the city like Srinagar, Rudraprayag and Karnaprayag. Haridwar (Station Code: HW) is well connected with the rest of India by fairly good number of the trains . Few of these trains extend upto Rishikesh. The nearest airport is at Jolly Grant Airport, Dehradun (IATA: DED ), that is approx 38 kms from Haridwar and 20 kms from Rishikesh.
Frequent public buses are available from Delhi Maharana Pratap ISBT at regular intervals round the clock. Few buses also start from Anand Vihar ISBT in Delhi. These buses take about 5-6 hours to reach Haridwar from Delhi. They normally make an intermediate stop near Khatauli town, where you can get refreshments or meals. The bus stand in Haridwar is just near the railway station.
Only road network is available for the onwards journey towards Joshimath from Haridwar/Rishikesh. A bus takes approx 12 hours to complete the journey from Haridwar to Joshimath. There are two types of the buses available:
Bus operated by Uttarakhand State Transport (Updated on Aug, 03, 2017): Currently, only one state transport bus operates from Rishikesh to Joshimath. Bus starts from Rishikesh at 0400 AM and reaches Joshimath at 0400 PM, (Fare: Rs. 461 per person).
Buses operated by Garhwal Motors Opertaors Union (GMOU): GMOU operates 3-4 buses from Haridwar/Rishikesh to Joshimath and Badrinath. The first bus from Haridwar is at 0400 AM and second is at 0430 AM and these buses operated upto Badrinath. There is one more bus at 0600 AM that operates upto Joshimath only. There may be one or two buses from Rishikesh also in the early morning hours. These buses also take approx 12 hours for the journey and fare is approx Rs. 400 per person. For the best views of the river valleys, try to get the right window seats during this journey.
The second, least preferred, but very scenic route is via Haldwani and Almora, that further connects the beautiful destinations like Kausani, Baijnath and Gwaldam. It merges with the first route at Karnaprayag. Haldwani/Kathgodam is connected on the railway network. From Haldwani or Kathgodam (Haldwani preferably), you have to move ahead by changing buses/shared jeeps 2-3 times in order to reach Karnaprayag, and it takes approx 10 hours. From there, you can reach Joshimath (84 kms from Karnaprayag) by a shared jeep/public bus. This route is not preferable, unless you are already in that area and willing to explore it further.
If you are travelling from any other part of the coutry expect the adjoining area of Uttar Pradesh near Haldwani, better to proceed via the first route.
The bus journey from Haridwar to Joshimath offers the breathtaking views of Shivalik Himalayas and Bhagirathi Valley. The buses make first stop at Devprayag for the breakfast, 70 kms from Rishikesh. Devprayag is one of the five sacred prayag (confluences of the rivers) in the hills and is an important place of pilgrimage for the Hindus. The Alaknanda River rises at the feet of the Satopanth and Bhagirath Kharak glaciers in Uttarakhand and the headwaters of the Bhagirathi River are formed at Gaumukh, at the foot of the Gangotri glacier and Khatling glaciers in the Garhwal Himalaya. These two sacred rivers meet at Devprayag to form the Ganges (Ganga) in Devprayag.
Srinagar, situated on the banks of Alaknanda River, is another important city on this route. The city was the capital of Garhwal before the arrival of British rule. It is the biggest city in the region of Garhwal Himalayas.
Moving further, you reach the town of Rudraprayag, another holy prayag situated on the confluence of Mandakini and Alaknanda River. The next prayag is there at the city of Karanprayag, where Alaknanda River meets with Pindar River. Karanprayag is believed by many to be the place where Karna of the Mahabharata, worshipped the Sun God.
Another two from the list of the holy prayags also lie on the same route at Nandaprayag (On the way from Karnaprayag to Joshimath) and Vishnuprayag (On the way from Joshimath to Badrinath).
Gate System in the hilly areas: While moving around the Narsimha Temple in Lower Bazaar Area of Joshimath, we found a long queue of the vehicles along the road. Then, we realized the concept of the gate system on this road. Due to the narrow roads in this treacherous terrain, traffic has to follow the gate system. During the day, one side of traffic stopped at the check-post for the another side of the traffic, as instructed by the local authorities and this procedure repeatedly goes on for the both sides. That means, traffic become one way for either direction one by one. At about 0530 PM roads beyond Joshimath close down from all vehicular movement except the local cabs, that can ply upto 0800 PM. After this vehicular curfew, the further movement on this road is allowed only after 0500 AM in the morning. So, if you arrive at Joshimath after 0530 PM, either by your own vehicle, hired cabs or public buses, you are not allowed to move further before 0530 AM on the next day due to the gate closure. The gate opening times from Joshimath side are 0530 AM, 0730 AM, 0930 AM, 1130 AM, 0130 PM, 0330 PM and 0530 PM. However, this gate system remains enforced during the peak season only and in the off season, when the numbers of the visitors drop significantly, the gate system normally remains suspended.
Where to Stay in Joshimath? There are many small and budget friendly hotels available in the town of Joshimath. A GMVN property is also available there and can be booked online. During the monsoon season, many hotels have the damp walls and lot of moisture, that can be irritating sometimes.