Villages of Har Ki Dun

Osla Village in winters
Osla in winter; PC: Birender

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.

Har Ki Dun literally translates to Valley of Gods. An alternate explanation for this divine association lies in a local folklore and reports of Nagara(A drum) being played by a Dhaki(a drummer) who had disappeared in the valley ages ago, to welcome Lord Someshwara (A form of Lord Shiva - 'Har' is widely associated with Lord Shiva). This provides for another connotation which would thus be Har Ki Dhun (The Sound of Shiva or the Sound of God; where Dhun is a word for a tone/sound)
Villages of the valley
An elder taking a nap in Gangad village; PC: Arnab

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.

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. We have mentioned in details the life in the village of Osla.



Osla in late July; PC: Arnab

Osla

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 14 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 trek far upstream to the highest meadows (often at about 4,200 m altitude) far from civilization.

A young shepherd about 4 km towards Jaundhar glacier from Har ki Dun
A young shepherd with an infant sheep, about 4 km towards Jaundhar glacier from Har ki Dun camp; PC: Arnab

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.

Last shepherd camp towards Jaundhar glacier, 11 km ahead of Har ki Dun
The last shepherd camp towards Jaundhar glacier, about 11 km ahead of Har ki Dun camp; PC: Arnab

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.

Mule on the way to Har ki Dun

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 attempted their to heaven via the Swargarohini peak which lies right in front of Har ki Dun, but only one actually made it to Heaven (or Swarg). 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 during August festival
Elders from far off villages at the Someshwar temple during August festival; PC: Arnab

Osla 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 trek for several days through high mountain passes to reach here.

This is a season which sees very few trekkers owing to the monsoons. The festival lasts for about four days and witnesses hours of rituals and traditional Garhwali dance.
Some online sources claim that the temple is dedicated to Duryodhan, but the locals disagree to that. In another festival in late August, some villagers even enact the roles of the Pandavas in a kind of play.

Osla in January
Osla in January; PC: Arnab

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.

Stay at Osla can be included as a part of a trek to:
Har ki Dun
Ruinsara lake
Maldaru Tal
Bali Pass
Borasu Pass



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