Himalayan villages lost in time

In a country with population of over 1.3 billion, with modernization reaching far off settlements, it is hard to imagine remote Himalayan villages virtually disconnected from rest of the world. Yet there are such gems hidden deep in these mighty mountains

Woodwork at one of the remote Himalayan villages,  Osla
Woodwork at the village of Osla

The Himalayan village of Har ki Dun

Har ki Dun, which means valley of Gods, is a cradle shaped valley situated deep inside Govind Pashu National Park in Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand. The National Park is located in North-Eastern Uttarakhand bordering Himachal Pradesh’s Kinnaur on the northern side.

The valley was made popular by the Doon school master Jack Gibson, who along with Edmund Hillary made several expeditions to the Banderpunch mountains from here.

To reach Har ki Dun

The road

Motorable road goes from Dehradun to a village named Sankri (7 hours’ drive) and SUVs can travel further 1 hour on a bumpy road till Taluka.

The way to Sankri
On the way to Sankri

Villages of the valley

An elder taking a nap in one of the Himalayan villages, Gangad
An elder taking a nap in Gangad village

In order to get a clearer idea of the lifestyle here it is important to mention that only two of the villages: Sankri/Saud and Taluka have motorable road and electricity. Mobile connectivity is limited to Sankri only.

There are four more villages tucked inside the valley, namely Datmir, Gangad, Puani and Osla. All of these places can be accessed by trekking only.

A map of the route through the Himalayan villages
The route

There are several streams in the trails which merge into the main river – Supin. During monsoon, though the path becomes tricky, the lush meadows, forests, wild flowers are a sight to behold. In autumn, the bright colored terraced fields of ‘Cholai’ look stunning. And in winter, the snow-covered landscape is straight out of a story book. The entire valley is covered in snow from December to April

The way of living in all the four villages are similar. I have mentioned in details, the life in the village of Osla.

The Fields of Cholai at Dhatmir near Himalayan villages
Fields of Cholai at Dhatmir

Osla: one of the most remote Himalayan villages

Osla in late July: One of the most remote Himalayan villages
Osla in late July

The last village in the valley, Osla gives one the feel of truly being in a place forgotten by time. This Garhwali hamlet is perched high above the Supin river gushing through rapids

To reach this village directly from the nearest motorable road link, one has to trek for about 15 km. Roads, electricity and mobile connectivity are out of question here.

A typical household here has cattle, a flock of sheep and mountain goats, and several farms. With the advent of summer every year, men leave the villages with their livestock. The shepherds hike far upstream to the highest meadows (often at about 4,200 m altitude) far from civilization.

A shepard in the mountains
A young shepherd with an infant sheep, about 4 km towards Jaundhar glacier from Har ki Dun camp

In their own words, the shepherds travel far since the grass and herbs are of highest quality here which even impart medicinal properties to the milk of the sheep and goats. The conditions here are extreme and they spend the entire summer and monsoon in these parts.

A shepard camp outside of Himalayan villages
The last shepherd camp towards Jaundhar glacier, about 11 km ahead of Har ki Dun camp

The terrace farms and gardens here are rich in organic produce ranging from vegetables such as cauliflower, pumpkin, potatoes and grains such as wheat, cholai(amaranth), mandwa(ragi) and phapda. Mint, kidney beans are few of the other major products. The forests are full of edible fruits like seabuckthorn, wild strawberries, walnut and apricot. Some local forest produce includes the kandali leaves (also known as ‘Bicchu ghaas’), some fern buds and edible mushrooms which form a part of the traditional delicacies

Farms here are mostly tended to by women. Autumn is one harvesting season when everyone is seen working hard day and night. All the racks are stored up with supplies before the first snowfall. Winters are spent in leisure.

A good part of the income here comes from trekking and mountaineering. Men work as porters or use up their mules and horses. The latter also help in bringing supplies for the village. Many work as mountain guides, helpers and cooks.

Osla has been associated with local legends of the epic Mahabharata. It is said that Pandavas went to heaven via the Swargarohini peak which lies right in front of Har ki Dun. In the center of the village there lies a temple dedicated to Someshwara, which is a form of Lord Shiva. Several festivals are celebrated through the year, chief among them being in early August

Elders from far off villages at the Someshwar temple
Elders from far off Himalayan villages at the Someshwar temple during August festival

The festival in August is witnessed by devotees and relatives of the locals who stay in far off villages. Some arrive from as far as Gangotri valley for the same. Many people trek for several days through high mountain passes to reach here.

A statue being carried through the villages
The statue is carried through Himalayan villages during the festival in August

This is a season which sees very few trekkers owing to the monsoons. The festival lasts for about four days witnessing hours of rituals and traditional Garhwali dance.

Some online sources claim that the temple is dedicated to Duryodhan, but the locals disagree to this. In another festival in late August, some villagers even enact the roles of the Pandavas in a kind of play.

The remote Himalayan village of Osla covered in snow
Osla in January

All the buildings are wooden with some intricate carvings in some. The houses insulate well against the sub-zero winter climate. Most of them are two storied structures with a room and outer area for livestock on the ground floor. The kitchen also serves as a dining area and a place for everyone to gather beside the wood fired stove and chat.

A village as remote as Osla faces its own share of difficulties. The nearest school is in Gangaad, which is a regular trek of about 2-3 km a side for students. There is no hospital in Osla or even in Gangad. It becomes harder in winters since a patient has to be carried on the snow-covered trail all the way to Sankri.

Children playing
Some children come back to the village for winter vacation, like my little friend here

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