Etymology of Uttarkashi
‘Uttarkashi’ is the concocted version of two terms; ‘Uttar’ meaning the direction of North in Hindi and ‘Kashi’ refers to the holy city of Kashi (Varanasi) in Uttar Pradesh, India. The name suggests ‘Kashi of the north’, reflecting the location as well as similarity to Kashi.
Kashi or Varanasi is the spiritual capital of India, considered as the holiest of the seven sacred cities (Sapta Puri) in Hinduism and Jainism. Uttarkashi is in the northern part of India and similar to Varanasi, it is situated along the Ganges on confluence of rivers Varuna and Asi, lies next to a hill named Varun Parvat and has a ‘ghat’ called Manikarnika Ghat. Its most important temple is the Vishwanath Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, just like the Kashi Vishwanath Temple in Varanasi.
Uttarkashi is also known as ‘Devbhumi’ meaning ‘Land of the Gods’, owing to its rich religious heritage and association with many such legends. It is also called Soumya (modest) Kashi. It has a mention in the Kedar Khand of the Hindu religious text Skanda Purana, as ‘Varnavarta’.
Location of Uttarkashi
The pilgrimage town of Uttarkashi is located 154 kilometres north of Rishikesh, another spiritual city in Uttarakhand. It is in the majestic Garhwal Himalayan region, mostly having a hilly terrain. Set in picturesque landscape with a hilly background, it very well exemplifies the aesthetic beauty of nature. It is in close proximity with Gangotri and Yamunotri, popular religious spots and respectively the origins of two of the most sacred rivers of India, the Ganga and the Yamuna.
Pilgrimage Sites in Uttarkashi
Uttarkashi houses a number of ashrams and beautiful temples, bringing in thousands of Hindu pilgrims every year for devotion.
The most prominent temple here is the Vishwanath Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, in the heart of the town. It is the largest and most frequently visited temple of this town. It is believed to have been established by Parasuram and later renovated by Maharani Khaneti, wife of Sudarshan Shah in 1857. People from all over the country throng along to this temple for offering prayers; also when en route Gangotri and Yamunotri. Next to it is the Shakti Temple having a huge ‘trishul’ (trident) made of brass, a weapon wielded by Lord Shiva, standing 6 metres high.
Other important temples and shrines in the town include the Bhairav temple, Kuteti Devi temple, Gangotri temple, Yamunotri temple, Shani temple, Pokhu Devta temple, Karna Devta temple, Ekadash Rudra temple, Kandar Devta Mandir, Gyaneshwar temple, Hanuman temple, Annapurna temple and Laksheswar temple. The popular pilgrimage spot Gangotri is 99 kilometres distant from Uttarkashi.
The Manikarnika Ghat is another important religious centre of the region. Every year during the ‘Magh Mela’, people visit Uttarkashi to take a dip in the River Bhagirathi along with the image of their village deity.
Legends of Uttarkashi
Uttarkashi is the place where Duryodhana plotted to kill the Pandavas, by housing them in a house made of lac and setting fire to it. The ashram of an ancient royal sage Jada Bharatha, who had given up his throne and led the life of a wandering ascetic, is located here.
Vishwanath (Lord Shiva) has sanctified Uttarakashi as his ‘uttariya’ or northern dwelling place. According to the Indian Puranas, he had prophesied that during Kalyug, his place at Varanasi would lose its religious sanctity and he would move to the Himalayas to reside at Uttarkashi, where the Kirata-Arjuna duel had taken place.
Lord Krishna had granted Bhubruvahan eternal life after the war. Consequently, his head was placed on the top of a tree that overlooked the war field. The helpless head watched the Kauravas lose the war; making protests and inciting them to battle harder and adopt new strategies; shedding tears at their every defeat. Bhubruvahan's tears are still believed by the local people to be flowing. Those tears of intense, helpless and uncontrollable sorrow are said to form the present day River Tons. This is why the water of the river is never drunk. Karna and Duryodhana were not the only admirers of Bhubruvahan. The inhabitants of the region started singing praises and made ‘mandirs’ (temples) in memory of Karna and Duryodhana, at Sarnaul and Saur respectively.
Other Attractions in Uttarkashi
In addition to the religious parameter, Uttarkashi town is a popular spot for adventure sports such as skiing, trekking, white water rafting and mountaineering. The Nehru Institute of Mountaineering, one of the few premier mountaineering institutes in India, is a famous tourist spot here. A large number of tourists also visit Dayara Bugyal, situated along the road to Gangotri. This place is located at an altitude of 3,048 metres with a panoramic view of the Himalayas and is a popular skiing destination.
Har Ki Doon valley is a prominent trekking destination, at 3,506 metres, surrounded by snow-capped mountains and alpine vegetation. Interestingly, there are many guest houses and bungalows available here for tourists to stay.
The Dodital is a sparkling fresh water lake in Uttarkashi. At 3,307 metres, it can be reached following a 21 kilometres trekking trail, starting from Sangamchatti. The place also serves as a base to trek to Yamunotri and Hanuman Chatti. The River Yamuna originates from the Champassar Glacier here. Also the Gangnani hot spring ‘Rishikund’, along the route to Gangotri, offers a refreshing bath to pilgrims.
Visiting Information on Uttarkashi
The pilgrimage town of Uttarkashi is conveniently accessible.
By Road: Buses to Uttarkashi can be availed from the nearby cities of Dehradun, Haridwar, Rishikesh and Mussoorie.
By Rail: The closest rail link to Uttarkashi is the Rishikesh Railway Station.
By Air: The Jolly Grant Airport of Dehradun is the nearest one to Uttarkashi, at a distance of 183 kilometres.
Best Season to visit Uttarkashi
Uttarkashi is a year round destination, given its pleasant weather conditions. However, the summer months from March to June and the monsoons between September and November, the peak festival seasons, are the ideal time to visit this holy destination.