Drass Valley , Ladakh

Drass is a small town on Srinagar – Leh National Highway 1D , 147 km from Srinagar and 60 km from Kargil at a height of 3230 meters from sea level  , it is also called the Himalayan gateway to Ladakh , it starts from Zoji-la and extends till Kargil , it is the second highest coldest inhabited place after Siberia on earth , the temperature goes down till minus 60 degree centigrade in winters , in the local Baltic language Dras means ” the Hell” There are heavy snow fall and storms from November to April May . During spring and summer, the valley transforms into lush green Meadows splashed with a variety of fragrant wild flowers

Drass River originates from the Machoi glacier near the  Zozila Pass. The river is joined  by many other rivers and streams flowing in from snowfields from the nearby mountains. The river Shigar flows in from the north drains and joins it in the Drass valley.

The Puga Valley is famous for its hot water springs ,visitors come to this valley for a bath in these springs as this is known to help people suffering from rheumatism and skin diseases , Drass is a convenient base for a 3-day long trek to Suru valley This trek passes through beautiful upland villages and wild flower  meadows on both sides of the  Umba  – La pass ( 4,500 meters )

 

Dras War Memorial at the base of Tololing Ridge

The town got famous after the 1999 Kargil War when it was being shelled by infiltrators till the Indian Army recaptured the three heights, namely Tololing, Tiger Hill and The Three Pimples overlooking National Highway 1D that passes through Drass.

 

View of Tiger Hill from Srinagar – Leh Highway 1D

 

Tiger Hill view from Srinagar-Leh Highway 1D

Its inhabitants are mainly of the Dard origin , an Aryan race that migrated from Central Asian steppes. They speak Shina ,belongs to the Indo-European linguistic family. Their ancestral sport, horse-polo that the Dard plays with particular zeal, resembles our modern polo . The  people inhabiting these regions faces  the harshness of the valley’s winter; negotiate the formidable pass to transport a trader’s merchandise. The citizens of Drass can be described as the guardians of Ladakh’s gateway.

Tourism is being promoted in this region by organizing the Polo matches among the villages and teams from outside the valley. Polo stadium is named  after an army officer Lt. Conolel Vishwanathan who sacrificed his life to push the Pakistani intruders out of this valley in 1999 .

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Harsil and The Maha Prayag at Bhagirathi River

Harsil is a small sleepy village and important Cantonment of Indian Army situated at a height of 8300 ft. on main road to Gangotri, 73 kms from Uttarkashi, it was once on the old caravan route of India to Tibet most of the people are of Bhutia origin and use Harsil as winter base, more importance is due to village Mukhwas where the statue of Goddess Ganga is brought and worshiped during the winters when Gangotri’s main temple is inacceseble due to snow, it is on the left banks of river Bhagirathi and the Mayank Shikhar. Importance of this place is due to less known fact  that it is a confluance of Seven rivers and a temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu, many Saints and Sanayasis preferred to meditate here

Harsil is a small sleepy village and important Cantonment of Indian Army situated at a height of 8300 ft. on main route to Gangotri, 73 kms from Uttarkashi, it was once on the old caravan route of India to Tibet most of the people are of Bhutia origin and use Harsil as winter base, more importance is due to village Mukhwas where the statue of Goddess Ganga is brought and worshiped during the winters when Gangotri’s main temple is inaccessible due to snow, it is on the left banks of river Bhagirathi and the Mayank Shikhar. Importance of this place is due to less known fact  that it is a confluence of Seven rivers and a temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu, many Saints and Sanayasis preferred to meditate here, Godess Ganga’s temlpe the Gangotri is further ahead 23 Kms. from here.

Deodar Forest in Harsil

 Deodar Forest in Harsil

 

Mayank Peak, Harsil

Mayank Peak, Harsil

The Story and History

According to the  Kedarkhand, a chapter in Skandha Puran, it was here Lord Shiva was helped by Lord Vishnu to kill the demon Jalandhar who was brother of Goddess Lakshmi, Lord Vishnu’s wife, Demon Jalandhar’s wife Vrinda went into the deep forest and started praying to protect her husband but Lord Vishnu followed her and disguised himself as Jalandhar started living with Vrinda, when Vrinda recognized him she cursed Lord Vishnu that someone deceitfully abduct his wife in his next incarnation, she entered the pyre after this, Lord Vishnu was so obsessed with the beauty of Vrinda that he painted the ashes from the pyre and started roaming all over the Lokas, then his worried Devatas were guided by Godess Parvati with the assistance of Goddess Lakshmi and Goddess Saraswati, they gave some seeds to them and directed them to  spray those seeds on the ashes of  pyre, on which Vrinda had given up her life.

Three holy plants manifested from that pyre  Amla, Tulsi and Malti. Later on Tulsi and Malti attained to the  Vishnuloka, by the virtue of their respective penance. Later Tulsi became the wife of demon Shankhachuda, he wanted conquer the Indraloka which resulted in a war with lord Shiva who was finding it difficult in wining over him due to the Tapasya of Tulsi. On being instructed by goddess Parvati, Lord Vishnu met Tulsi in the guise of her husband  Shankhachuda, so that the breach of Tulsi chastity could help lord Shiva to kill Shankhachuda, who derived his power from Tulsi’s chastity and virtuosity. When Tulsi recognized Vishnu she became very angry and cursed lord Vishnu to become a stone. She was crying inconsolably. Lord Vishnu contemplated on Shiva as a result of which he appeared. Lord Shiva blessed Tulsi that she would become the beloved of Lord Vishnu. Due to Tulsi’s curse, Lord Vishnu attained the form of Shaligram which is a stone and because of lord Shiva’s blessings. Tulsi leaves started being offered to the Shaligram in the process of its worship. Vishnu also known as Hari who is lying as stone (Shila), This place is called Harsil, this black Shaligram is visible in winters when there is less water in Bhagirathi because of snow.

Jalandhari is sister of goddess Lakshmi and demon Jalandhar, was on her way to meet her sister  Lakshmi and brother-in-law Vishnu, upon reaching here when she came to know about Visnu becoming Shaligram, she melted and met Lord Vishnu in form of a river who was lying in Bhagirathi.

There is a temple of Lord Vishnu on the banks of river Bhagirathi built by Raja Ram Brhamchari in the year 1921 AD (Shaka Samvat 1978), to the east is Lord Shiva’s temple and in the north is Maa Bhagvati’s temple, the rituals of puja are being performed since then by his family, at present Dr. Nagendra Ravat performing it for the last 35 years every day without fail it starts with a holy dip at Bhagirathi river and until puja is over which takes about 4-5 hrs. not a single word is uttered other than the mantras / shlokas until the first meal of the day is taken.

Lord Vishnu Temple at Harsil

Lord Vishnu Temple at Harsil

 

Lord Shiva Temple, Harsil

Lord Shiva Temple, Harsil

The Confluence of 10 Rivers

The Seven rivers are Tilangana, Jalandhari (demon Jalandhar’s sister), Vishnu Ganga or Kakora, Lakshmi Ganga, Him Ganga and Pawan Ganga pour their water in Bhagirathi at this place, little up stream 3 kms is a place called Dharali where Bhim Ganga, Kheer Ganga and Hatya Harini rivers join the Bhagirathi in all there are ten rivers which join and form Bhagirathi in this area hence it is called the Maha Prayag.

According to legend when one of the Pandva’s brother Bhim was bringing the Chaman Rishi to light the holy fire at Aswamegh Yagna on his way to quench the thirst of Rishi he hit his Mace (Gada) at a place from where the water came out, this stream is called Bhim Ganga, bathing in  the river Hatya Harini absolves the sins of killing some one by mistake or otherwise (Barham Hatya Dosh).

River Jalandhri at Harsil

River Jalandhri at Harsil

Around Harsil

Just below the Mukhwa Village is Maharishi Markandeya ashram who created the Maha Mritunjay Mantra it is here he created the Durga Saptashati, there are 700 shlokas (verses) in thirteen chapters, in the praise of Maa Durga and killing of demons, here there is a white temple of Maa Annapurna and Lord Shankar, 1 km ahead is Maa Durga’s temple.

Dense Deodar forest, apple orchards, Waulnut, Chestnut and Wild Flowers are in abundance in this area, Harsil is connected to Baspa Valley by Lamkhaga Pass which opens into Chitkul, Kinnaur of Himachal, one can have a views of peak Bander Punch 6316 mtr.  and peak Srikanth from Dharali village.

A View of Banderpunch Range from Harsil

A View of Banderpunch Range from Harsil

 

Maharishi Markandaey Ashram in White and banks of River Bhagirathi near Harsil

Maharishi Markandaey Ashram in White at banks of River Bhagirathi near Harsil

Harsil is well-connected by a road and there are regular helicopter landings during the months of May , June  Late September till mid October , land slides are common in monsoons otherwise one can reach here throughout the year.

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Pathar Sahib Gurudwara , Leh, Ladakh

Pather Sahib gurdwara is located on Leh-Nimu road 25 km from Leh , this place is equally respected by Buddhist Lamas , Hindu and Sikhs .

Image Shri Guru Nanak Dev Ji In rock

Guru Nanak Dev Ji traveled to Nepal, Tibet and Sikkim during 1515 – 1518,  on his return to Srinagar he stopped here and came to know about a demon who troubled the people in this area and wanted his help , to bring  him on the right path Guru Ji sat here in meditation, upon knowing , the demon rolled a big rock from the height to kill him but the rock upon touching Guru Ji’s body became soft as hot wax   the demon thought he had killed him and came down to kick the rock away , to his surprise his own feet got embedded in the soft rock and also saw Guru Ji alive , he realized his mistake  touch Guru ji’s feet , asked for the forgiveness and promised to serve the people for good , since then until 1965 the local people preserved the rock and worshiped it they fondly call Guru Ji as Nanak Lama .

Guru Nanak Dev Ji meditated here

The construction of road by the army in 1965 it was seen as a  hurdle in making the road and wanted to remove it but this rock could not be moved , mean while the driver of bulldozer and Army Officer Commander of the team  dreamed of some one instructing them not to remove it from this place, upon knowing the story from the locals the Indian Army constructed a Gurudwara and till now it is managed by the Indian Army.

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Hemkund Sahib Trek opens

Hemkund Sahib Gurudwara

The famous pilgrimage in Himalayas Chardham opened from  May  , the Hemkund Sahib and Lokpal Temple 10 km trek is open from Gobind Ghat to Ghangharia and then 5 km steep climb to the main shrine . Each year Advance party  a team of Indian Army soldiers first climb up this trek and declare its condition to open the route , 

Group of priests and pilgrims then follows to reach the valley with a Lake called Hemkund ( Pool of Ice ) a high-altitude lake (4329 m) surrounded by seven snow caped mountains collectively called Hemkund Parvat. According to the Dasham Granth , Bichitra Natak ( Authored by 10th Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji) he meditated at this place in his previous birth . This place has a high regards among the Sikh Community  . There is a Star shaped Gurudwara where pilgrims pay their respect .

According to the Hindu mythology Rishi Medhasa of the Markandeya Purana and Lakshman, the brother of Lord Ram also meditated here .

Pilgrims are not allowed to stay overnight here , they have to return for a night stay at Ghangharia where  there are many guest house and camps, also there is a Gurudwara one can stay in dormitories with common private facilities.

From Govind Ghat palkis , Mules and helicopter service is also available till Ghangharia .

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Valley of Flowers and Hemkund Sahib Trek

Hemkund Sahib

Hem Kund or Hemkunt is one of the holiest Sikh pilgrim place in Uttrakhand, it has a mention in the Bachitter Natak authored by the Tenth Guru, Gobind Singh Ji that he meditated in his previous birth at a lake of ice  surrounded by Sapt Spring mountains and where the King Pandu ancestor of Pandavas of Mahabharata ,  practiced yoga.

Until nineteenth century the geographical location of this place was not known, it was the efforts of Pandit Tara Singh Narottam, Sikh scholar Bhai Vir Singh, Sohan Singh, a retired Granthi and soldier Havildar Modan Singh from Indian Army, located this place and laid foundation of this pilgrimage site, at a height of 15,200 feet , it  opens during the summers from May till September, rest of the year it is covered under the snow and becomes inaccessible.

Lokpal Lake

Lokpal Lake

 

Starting point to this pilgrimage is Hardiwar/Rishikesh about 275 km drive to Gobind Ghat, it is advised to stay at Joshimath where there are good hotels, camps and rest houses which are easily available, next morning travel by bus or car 22 km up to Gobind Ghat situated at the confluence of River Alaknanda and Laxman Ganga, a gurudwara is situated at the right bank of Laxman Ganga,  a small market with restaurants, guest houses, shops for trekking equipment, one can get porters and mules,  vehicles can be parked here  till their return from the trek, there is a helipad and  Helicopter service is also available up to Ghangharia.

First stop on this trek is Ghangaria also known as Gobind Dham it is 13 km rocky path and unclear road, a base camp for two treks at a height of 3050 meters, one trek leads to Hemkunt Sahib and the other leads to Valley of Flowers. There are no arrangements for overnight stay at Hemkunt Sahib therefore pilgrims have to leave early to return the same day, there are open ground tents with mattresses, gurdwara, guest houses and dhabas(small restaurants) to take care of basic needs, it is here the river Pushpavati coming from Valley of Flowers and Laxman Ganga from Hemkund Lake meets. Pilgrims leave early morning on a 6 kms rocky trek which takes about 5-6 hours crossing the glacier to reach the Hemkund Lake, it is also known as Lokpal lake, there is a, Lord Ram‘s younger brother’s, Laxman temple on the banks of lake, it is believed that after the battle with Meghnad when Laxman got wounded, came here to take rest and regain his health.

Gurudwara Hemkund Sahib and Lokpal Temple

A star shaped Gurudwara which is designed and  constructed under the supervision of Major General Harkirat Singh and Architect Siali from 1960AD onwards. Situated at the height of 4240 meters on the banks of lake surrounded by seven snow capped mountains. One has to return to Ghangaria as there are no arrangements for night stay at Hemkund Sahib .

The Valley of Flowers

Next day one can take a trek to Valley of Flowers which is 3 km from Ghangaria after crossing the bridge over River Pushpawati, which takes about 2-3 hrs, no mules are allowed, at check post one is to make entry in register and a nominal fee is charged, one can feel the exotic scent in the atmosphere from here as trek to Hemkund is full of smell of Mules dung, this valley is 5 km. long, it was known as Bhyunder Valley, In 1931 mountaineer Mr. Frank S. Smithe, lost his way after successful expedition of Kamet, by chance reached here, he was so impressed he authored a book “The Valley of Flowers” and wrote about the beauty and flora, thus giving its present name,  until then this valley was not on a tourist map, legend has it, that Lord Hanuman came in search of Sanjivani Buti (herb) after Laxman got injured in battle with Meghnaad. This valley has mostly the orchids, poppy, marigold, daisies and anemone looking like a carpet on the ground and many medicinal plants, besides flowers there is a variety of wild life and commonly found animals are Snow Leopard, Musk Deer, Red Fox, Langur, Himalayan Black Bear and Brown Bear over 100 types of Butterflies are found here, among the birds are Snow Partridge, Himalayan Monal, Himalayan Golden Eagle, Snow PigeonGriffin Vulture, Sparrow Hawk etc. there are no tall plants, everywhere there is some grass, berries, shrubs, flowers, what to see and what to leave one gets so exited about the beauty. Rain is quite unpredictable and one is not allowed to stay in the valley at night and just one day is not sufficient if one is really interested in plants will like to come again and again.

Valley of Flowers

Valley of Flowers

 

Flowers in Wild

Flowers in Wild

 The return journey starts from Ghangaria/Gobind Dham to Gobind Ghat and then to Joshimath, one can stay for one day to explore the Ski slopes of Auli and views of Himalayan mountains or trek to lakes and meadows above Auli .

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About the Author

[author]
[author_image timthumb=’on’]wp-content/uploads/authors/anil-rajput.jpg[/author_image] Anil Kumar Rajput is well known in the travel trade since 1980. Worked in India and abroad. A boxer, Rifle Shooter and Para Jumper. As a Boy Scout and NCC Cadet, attended Adventure camps, trek in Himalayas which developed  interest in traveling and to explore new places, loves driving to adventurous places and photography. (promarktravels.com)  Connect with him on Facebook (htttp://www.facebook.com/anil.k.rajput) and Twitter (@PromarkTravels)
[/author]

Nubra Valley , Ladakh

Nubra valley situated 150 km from Leh at an altitude of 10,000 feet above sea level . It was also known as Ldumra ( Valley of Flowers) ,  Shyok river and Siachan river flows through a high altitude desert to form a large valley there is no rain fall,  rare precipitation but land is fertile near the river beds and produce Wheat, Barley, Peas, Mustard , a variety of fruits and nuts, including Apple, Walnut, Apricot and  Almond . Nubra Valley is also called the Food Bowl of Ladakh 

Pashmina Goat At Nubra

The people are of Balti origin, by faith  majority of them are Buddhist with few Muslims , Karakoram pass connects with Xinjiang region of Tibet China in the northwest of valley , in the north is Siachin Glacier , people live here are fair complexion with blue eyes , different from Ladakhi features who are with Mongolian features. It is said they belong to a Greek Tribe who came in search of Jesus Christ tomb never returned and settled here.

In India the Bactrian , the double hump camel is seen in the  deserts between Hundar and Diskit , it is pride of Nubra valley

Double Hump Bactrian Camel pride of Nubra Valley

To reach Nubra from Leh one is to drive on worlds highest motorable road and cross the Khardong-La pass , travel to Nubra need a permit, which only allows travel as far as Hunder and Panamik for a maximum of seven days. Tourists are to hand over photocopies of  permit on both sides of the Khardung – La and also by the bridge to Sumur. Khardung La is one of the highest motorable passes in the world joining Indus Valley (Leh) and Nubra Valley and Shoyok Valley. Built in 1976 by Indian Army and Border Road Organization

Hundar Nubra Valley Ladakh

Panamik is the last village accessible to foreigners.village is famous for 250 year old Ensa Gompa and hot water springs. Just few kilometers from here starts Siachen Glacier, the highest battlefield in the world .

Diskit Monastery,  the oldest and largest Buddhist monastery of  Gelugpa tradition of Tibetan Buddhism in Nubra . It  was built in 1420AD, on top of a hill overlooking town of Diskit, the Gompa provides beautiful panoramic views.  to reach the Gompa one is to climb a half hour trek through a two meter wide steep path . The main attraction of the Gompa is the main Deity, which holds in its hand the mummified human forearm and head, which is believed to be of a Mongol warrior .

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