Where the mighty, rugged mountains loom over the young, playful, and braided Bhagirathi,
Where the towering coniferous trees line up to populate the gorgeous asymmetry,
Where the constant chirping of birds wakes you up early,
To delight you with the freshness of cold, fragrant breeze that descends from the ripe apple orchards uphill,
Where the time stands still by the hurried river.
Harsil is a beautiful little, quaint Cantonment settlement tucked away in the beautiful Bhagirathi Valley in Uttarakhand, India. Perched at an altitude of 2,620 meters en route to Gangotri—one of the Char Dhams in Uttarakhand—Harsil is uncluttered, pristine and clean. The little town has derived its name from the word “Harilshila.” Legend has it that once there was an argument between the River Bhagirathi and the River Jalandhari over who is more significant. To calm them down, Lord Vishnu or Hari took the form of a stone and absorbed their anger and since then, this place is known as “Harishila” or “Harsil.”
Down the hill, in the valley, the Bhagirathi flows graciously. Thousands of stones of different colors and sizes sit still in the icy cold and crystal clear waters of the river. They are not ordinary stones; they make wishes come true. This is what they say!
Settlement of only few hundreds is also famous for its Apple Orchards. Their history dates back to the 19th century when a British, Fredrick E. Wilson planted the first apple tree in Harsil. Until recently, his cottage was a major tourist attraction in the town. It was destroyed in a major fire. Harsil’s apples are believed to be the juiciest and the crispiest.
Harsil is also trekker’s paradise, offering stunning views of several of pyramidal peaks of the majestic greater Himalaya. Sattal, Kedartal, Dodi tal, Gaumukh and Dayara Bugyal are some of the popular trekking destinations. But, the place is so enchanting that it may be possible that one may not want to go anywhere and enjoy the silence of the valley. Dharali is beautiful place located only 3 km from Harsil. And only 3 km from Dharali is located a mysterious combination of 7 natural lakes known as Saat Tal.
Gangorti is located only 23 km from Harsil. There is a Gangotri Temple on the banks of the River Bhagirathi built by Gorkha General, Amar Singh Thapa. The temple remains opens from Akshaya Tritiya in April to Deepawali in October. Here the current in the roaring Bhagirathi is beyond imagination. There is beautiful fall, Suraj Kund, after which the river flow through a deep gorge till Bhairon Ghati. This little temple settlement is also the beginning point for trek to Gomukh and Tapovan – the glacier from where the River Ganges originates.
How to Reach
Jolly Grant Airport in Dehradun is the nearest airport from Harsil (235 km). From here you can either hire a taxi or a bus to reach the cantonment town. Dehradun, Rishikesh and Haridwar are the nearest railheads from Harsil. Hire a taxi or take a bus to reach Harsil. You may also get down at Haridwar to reach Harsil. Bus journey could be highly strenuous considering the tough terrain and poor road infrastructure in the state of Uttarakhand.
The journey is picturesque. As you cross Chamba, the River Bhagirathi will accompany till you reach Harsil. It will be a drive full of majestic mountain views and lush green fields. The mammoth Tihari Dam has left nothing in the river after Tihari. You can feel the damage done to the Mountains and the Jungles by this massive dam. Between Tihari and Harsil, a number of small and big dams are coming up across the river, creating a potential threat to the ecology and stability of the Mountains.
Best Time to Travel
April to October is the best time to visit Harsil. During summers, the town remains pleasant. In monsoon, you may encounter road blockage due to landslides but the greenery of the region is awe-inspiring. Avoid traveling in this region after June 15. Cloudbursts can really be dangerous in this terrain. Raincoats are must.
Harsil receives snowfall during winters and the temperature touches zero and can even go to negative. Trekking excursions will turn difficult and quite inaccessible. Travelling to major trekking excursions during winters should be avoided.
What to Carry
Carry light woolens with you traveling in summers or monsoon. But you will need heavy woolens if planning a visit to Harsil during winters.