I recently discovered I am incredibly prone to travel sickness; a message, which I feel, my body has delivered quite late in life. It was on the beautiful and scenic drive up the winding mountain roads that led to the sublime and sacred land of Uttarkashi, that I learnt this lesson*.
Uttarkashi also known as the ‘playground of the gods’ is nestled in the Himalayan foothills close to the source of the Ganges, where wandering monks take refuge by the serene and holy river, as they have done for many thousands of years.
Dotted throughout with ashrams, temples and legendary sites, hundreds of ascetics inhabit this mountainous terrain wearing simple orange clothes as a symbol of the burning of their desires in the ‘eternal fire of knowledge’. This is a place not oft-visited by the millions of travellers and tourists that pass through India (as the condition of the roads suggest), many of whom halt their Himalayan journey much further down the Ganges at Rishikesh.
There is indeed much natural beauty to be admired once the treacherous journey across hours of mountain roads of ‘hairpin’ bends has been endured. It is a lush and unmanicured land barely touched by development littered with wild flowers, offering views of snow-capped peaks in the horizon.
But the real beauty of Uttarkashi lies in its history and legacy that continues to draw a unique and distinct crowd.
Spiritual aspirants have held Uttarkashi sacred since time immemorial, as a place where countless sages have attained enlightenment on the banks of the river, and lived their lives in blissful solitude. It is a place of legendary stories and immense sanctity to the thousands of Indian pilgrims who journey through these roads to reach the source of the holy River Ganges.
In one ancient and revered Indian scripture, it is said, “Uttarkashi is the ultimate place for liberation. Even without knowing much, moksha (liberation) is possible here. Even dying in this place liberates people. Therefore, on the face of this earth, there is no place that is more sacred than this.”
It is a wonder, that in spite of the rapid onslaught of modernisation India has undergone, Uttarkasi has remained an abode for those interested in what lies beyond time and change – and while today you might spot a sannyasi (ascetic) with a mobile phone, it remains a serene place where all seekers and knowers of truth flock.
If the physical journey to reach Uttarkashi is symbolic of the trials one must undergo to reach bliss, it is a journey I am willing to take again.
*Assuming the brace position for most of the 7 hour drive, I personally was unable to witness the beauty and scenery – but fellow passengers reported it so.