Time: 4-8 days
Level: Moderate to Tough
Ideal Season: Mar to Oct. Jun to Jul best for angling
Location: In Uttarkashi District, between Asi Ganga and Hanuman Ganga, along the Yamuna
The pursuit of the Rainbow Trout, the quest to reach Ganesha’s far-flung birthplace, a high-altitude lake and a hike along a spiritual superhighway — the Dodital-Yamunotri Trek offers the high of a lifetime. Set amidst lofty heights and at an elevation of 3,310m, Dodital is like a shimmering emerald set in the crest of majestic mountains: mysterious, beckoning and divine.
Dense woods of oak, pine, deodar and rhododendron fringe the lake and the crystal clear waters are full of spectacular fish like the Himalayan golden trout. Trout was introduced here about a century ago, transforming Dodital into an angler’s paradise. The trek leads through tranquil country, gurgling streams with crystal clear waters, and dense alpine forests, all blending together like a vast green sequinned robe.
Get fishing permits from Uttarkashi before heading out to Kalyani From Uttarkashi, it’s a 15-km drive along the curves of the Asi Ganga via the little settlement of Gangori to Kalyani (1,829m) and Sangam Chatti, where the trek starts. The river has been channelled to feed the Kalyani Trout Hatchery, which breeds and releases not just trout, but various other fish into the stream. Kalyani to Agoda is a gradual climb through woods, fields and villages, on a mule track, while the trek from Agoda to Dodital takes you through thick forests. The trail goes through a few passes, waterfalls and meadows until you reach Dodital, from where the route to Yamunotri takes you through high-altitude.
This trek can be done with older children who, if they get tired, have the option of hopping onto ponies, which may be hired at Kalyani.
DISTANCE 6 KM TIME 3 HOURS
From Kalyani, either drive or walk a little further to Sangam Chatti (1,350m), the base of the trek. Cross the bridge over the small stream and begin your 6-km trek to Agoda, heading due north. The track climbs steeply, moving through forest. The last bit of climb can feel a little strenuous and the village huts visible at the top seem tantalisingly out of reach. At Agoda you can hear the faint gushing of the Asi Ganga down below. There are no dhabas or hotels at Agoda (2,250m) but the hospitable locals provide (at very nominal cost) food and campsites to pitch tents. Ask for Balbir, a local, who has assisted school trips and led several treks himself.
Food is usually Pahari staple — brown rice, pahari rajma, delicious thick chapatis and saag- pahari aloo. After letting the food settle down a bit, you can go down to the river in the late afternoon. It’s a good 30-min zigzag hike along the edges of step fields down to the river. Make sure you do the uphill climb back to Agoda while there is daylight so you can watch the sunset as you pitch tents for the night.
DISTANCE 16 KM TIME 6-8 HOURS
From Agoda, it’s a long winding walk of 16 km due north-north-east to Dodital. The trail is broad, well defined and runs through forests on either side. Since the gradient is not very steep, it’s a fairly moderate walk, except towards the end. On the way you encounter villagers returning with herds of cattle and some Gujjar encampments. There are no villages in between but you can find a few tea stalls for the odd break. Sometimes, you can find pahari women carrying baskets of ripe pears, which you can trade for peanuts. A couple of pears and you’re all set for the next leg. We got into high country, and walked along grassy hillsides and cliffs with 500-ft drops, into forests of deciduous oak, which blended into spruce forests along the ridges.
At what was roughly the half-way mark, we came to a picturesque bridge to the right, a good place to stop for lunch. From the bridge, you turn right, cross Manghi and walk through rich forests of oak, deodar and rhododendrons until you go past the final incline to reach Dodital. There are a couple of shacks to the left, and after crossing a small bridge, you come to the Forest Rest House set in a clearing. And then you see the lake. Set against a stunning backdrop of hills, from where a mountain stream feeds it, Dodital is crystal clear. You can actually see the famed trout swimming about in huge numbers. It is after these trout (dodi in the local language), that the lake is called Dodital.
It’s believed that Lord Ganesh was born here. You can find a small, unattended temple, dedicated to him, on the left bank of the lake. The cement and tin shelters on the edge of the lake — the government’s gift to tourists — have all the charm of postal department inkblots on a beautiful picture-postcard. You can either camp out or opt for accommodation in the Forest Rest House. You can easily spend a few days at Dodital splashing about in the lake, fishing (carry your own rods, tackle and flies) or exploring the lovely surroundings. The only help you can get from the local dhaba-walas is atta as bait and help in cooking your fish, perhaps at the cost of a small piece of fish. When you’ve had your fill, you have the choice of returning to Kalyani the same way, or of continuing onwards to Yamunotri.
DISTANCE 16 KM TIME 6-7 HOURS
If you can get your hands on some pahari aloo (mountain potatoes) and get lucky with the tackle early morning, you can have a hearty fish and chips breakfast and then commence on the 2-day trek to Hanuman Chatti. From Dodital, the climb to the north-west is steep, and it’s a long hike for the day, so it’s advisable not to leave if the weather looks like it may take a turn for the worse. Being a straight enough route, with few diversions, a guide isn’t that essential.
The path, which is clearly a misnomer, starts from the lake’s feeder stream and passes through dense forests before emerging on a trail close to the upper realms of the tree line. Ascend the alpine Darwa Dhar Ridge (4,115m), the watershed of the Ganga and Yamuna river valleys. This stretch really tests your skill in crossing mountain streams and you have no less than seven opportunities to perfect the art! After the last of these crossings, you finally leave the stream and take a sharp left, or north- west, heading to the top of the range. Cross the tree line and pass the foot of the Darwa Glacier, finally Darwa Top (4,130m), reaching where you come to a good campsite.
Some people may take 2 days to get here and you can camp virtually anywhere on the route near any of the many water sources. When we crossed Darwa Pass (4,150m), we were greeted with magnificent views of Bandarpoonch (Monkey Tail, 6,316m) and the Swargarohini Range. Continue walk- ing further west and gradually descend through the Hanuman Ganga Valley into Sima (3,450m), where you can camp for the night.
DISTANCE 18 KM TIME 4-6
Sima, Seema or Shima, as it is variously(mis)spelt, is a small stop that marks almost the mid-point between Dodital and Hanuman Chatti. Though the distance from Sima to Hanuman Chatti is 18 km, you must come down 1,050m, making the walk fairly gradual. You can trek the distance in as little as 4 hrs. From Sima, you descend north-west on a slightly downhill trail to the Hanuman Ganga River and then to the pilgrimage town of Hanuman Chatti (2,400m).
We encountered a colourful mix of pilgrims, babas and a touring party of some adventure club. If you have overstayed at Dodital or for some reason want to cut short your journey, you needn’t go further north to Yamunotri. There are regular buses plying between Hanuman Chatti and Uttarkashi or Mussoorie. We stayed Travellers’ Rest overnight in the House at Hanuman Chatti.
DISTANCE 13 KM TIME 4-6 HOURS
Hanuman Chatti is a multitude of mules, porters, ramshackle shops and labourers perpetually re-laying the road. Porters and ponies are available at Hanuman Chatti and their rates are fixed by the District Magistrate before the start of every yatra (pilgrimage season). From Hanuman Chatti, you can trek on the spiritual superhighway 3 km north to Banas (Narad Chatti), 2 km further to Phool Chatti, 3 km to Janaki Chatti (2,650m) and the final 5 km to Yamunotri, the confluence of Hanu- man Ganga and Yamuna rivers. Located at an altitude of 3,293m, the most westerly of the four ‘dhams’ in the Himalayas,
Yamunotri is also the least trafficked. Lest you summon up a picture of an idyllic communion with nature along the upper valley of the river, let me clarify that you will be far from alone. The source of the Yamuna is an important pilgrim destination, with its fair share of mules and ‘dandis’ (palanquins), frail women in wispy cotton, and sun-blackened ascetics with hollowed eyes.
The Yamunotri Temple is set in a tight, steep valley, dominated by views of the Bandarpoonch Peak. The entrance to the shrine is guarded by tanks (or kunds) of steaming water channelled in from thermal springs. Pilgrims variously cook their rice in the tanks, rinse themselves of their sins, or, like me, consider the scene awhile before deciding that ablutions in the glacial stream are more hygienic. The offspring of Surya and the twin sister of Yama, the Lord of Death, the dark-coloured Yamuna wields such cleansing power it would put any modern power-packed detergent to shame. It’s believed that anyone who bathes in her dark waters is spared a tortuous death. Tired after the 13-km but exhausting trek, we stayed overnight in the rather basic Travellers’ Rest House, before making our way back the next day, after darshan at the temple.
YAMUNOTRI-SAPTARISHI KUND- YAMUNOTRI
DISTANCE 7 KM TIME 10 HOURS
The actual source of the Yamuna is perched high above the temple, a glacial lake on the Kalinda Parvat. The ascent is more than 1,000 vertical metres, and not easy of access. When we attempted it in early May, the shepherds’ paths were narrow and encrusted with ice, and our ‘experienced’ guide wasted 2 hrs bush- whacking in the scrubby slopes above the temple. By the time we emerged on to the ridge leading to the source, the afternoon rain came pelting down, and the consensus was that we retreat to our camp near the temple complex.
Most pilgrims satisfy their piety with the immersion in the kund, and worship at the shrine. I wouldn’t — even if you don’t make the source of the river, the climb takes one away from the squalor of the shrine, and the ridge above yields aerial views of virginal alpine meadows — the unnamed and beautiful bugyals of the region.
YAMUNOTRI – HANUMAN CHATTI
DISTANCE 13 KM TIME 4 HOURS
According to a local legend, the Yamunotri Temple must be built every few years and the sudden floods and heavy snow ensure that it lives up to this legend. There are several hot water springs adjacent to the temple precinct, the most prominent of which is the Surya Kund. Pilgrims immerse rice, gram and potatoes tied in a piece of cloth into the springs, which takes only a few minutes to cook. It is then offered to the deity and later distributed as prasad. Going by the unabashed quantities we had, by no stretch of imagination could it be called prasad. It was a full-fledged meal and rolling down like a sack of potatoes, we set off on the return trip to Hanuman Chatti.
On the way, we visited the Someshwar Temple at Kharsali, 1 km across the river from Janaki Chatti. This was one of the oldest shrines in the region and we paid homage to Yamuna’s father Surya, the Sun God. After the 13-km downhill trek to Hanuman Chatti, depending on your schedule or how tired you are, you can either stay overnight in Travellers’ Rest House at the Hanuman Chatti or drive back to Haridwar, from where Delhi is 200 km. You also have the option of stopping by at Mussoorie.
By Anurag Mallick and Mohit Satyanand
About the authors: From copywriting to Travel writing and a rock band to a radio station, Anurag Mallick is a nomad at heart and writer by choice. He has trekked in the Himalayas, taken a dip in the Maha Kumbh, meditated in a Buddhist monastery, documented the Ranthambore Tiger Census and several bird surveys.
Much of Mohit Satyanand’s life is spent in his Kumaon garden looking at the snow peaks on Nanda-Devi cluster. he delights in introducing children and first time trekkers to the joys of the wilderness. In the city he is a strategic management advisor to corporates and non-profit organisations.