1 hour away from Joshimath, was the majestic Urgam valley where mountains embraced all the possible axis.
I took a shared taxi from Joshimath in the morning. After waiting for it to get filled with passengers, which almost took an additional 60 minutes, we were all set to depart for another of the beautiful valleys of Chamoli district.
While travelling on these dusty roads, I realised, how cheap it is to travel in these harsh mountainous regions if one chooses to endure the boon and bane of public transportation.
Under 100 Indian rupees, I was able to cover 29 kilometres in shared sumo.
Urgam valley consists of several villages like Dumak, Salnam, Lyari and Devgram.
Uncle and aunty were waiting for me near their shop. At first, I was a bit confused looking at the board of Shri Ram homestay because I knew the homestay as ‘Chirping Valley View’. Dinesh ji made me aware of the old name and its new version.
The ancestral home of Dinesh ji left me with a little smile. It looked like a hobbit home against the lofty mountains and by the side of all the trees which were taken over by a sweet concert of the chirping birds. And that’s why then name!
The extended wooden balcony was perfect to gaze at the views and listen to the sound of nature. This is the place to feel how all the natural alarms of the world feel after you wake up from a sea of calm dreams.
With a capacity for two, interiors and exteriors of the home are constructed with traditional building methods, utilising mud and stone. The techniques and materials act as thermal insulators.
Urgam was like any other Himalayan valley yet was different in so many views, majorly because of the views it provided. The little concrete and wooden houses looked even tiny. Fields were sprawling across like those infinity pools from the movies and luxury resorts. But here, instead of a vast expanse of the ocean, you had a deadfall of the valley.
On asking a local to help me identify all the peaks, I got to know how so many people come from various parts of India to summit them. Uttarakhand being such an important religious destination, held places for some significant Indian dhams and yatras.
“There is Auli towards jungle side, Badrinath is where the snow-clad mountains are, Haathi pahad (Elephant mountains) is just below that and if you look towards the opposite side, you will be able to spot Phool Narayan and Bansi Narayan.”. A local man said while happily enlightening me about the place.
If people are named, then why not mountains! They have a life and they support life. I thought to myself. And after all, all these years, I have been the most alive near the mountains only.
Ladies of the house were all decked up in the ‘Lauwas’, ‘Angdas’ and sarees. It is their traditional attire with a separate winter and summer version.
A walk in Urgam valley can transform anyone’s mood within seconds. The pathways lead you from houses to temples and vice versa. Some terrace fields keep appearing in between.
The valley looks different in each season. I was there subsequent to a harsh winter whose evidence laid untouched upon the mountains and in between all the crevices where sunlight never reaches.
One afternoon, Aunty decided to dress me up as a Garhwali bride, which she considered as a very important experience for any traveller whenever they are in the region.
Excitedly, aunty took out all her jewels. The most striking of them all was the Hansuli, a gold ring that is to be worn on the nose. Other jewels included black beaded necklace or chareu and bichuye (toe rings) made from silver.
I guess I looked a bit similar to them once I was all dressed up.
Things to do in and around Urgam Valley or Urva Rishi
Usually, I research about the history of the place first and then venture into the unknown, which eventually becomes known way before I reach. This time I let the locals be my encyclopaedia and wayfinding be my Google maps.
Urgam valley is known to have one each from both Panch Bandri and Panch Kedar. There is Ghantkarna, Bansi Narayan, Phool Narayan, Kalpeshwar Mahadev Temple, Kalpa Ganga, Gorja Bhawani and several other important religious spots.
The Surai tree (Kalpavruksha) stood like a giant in the middle of the valley. Locals call it ‘Chetrapal’ or ‘Bhumirakshak’. The tree is said to be atleast 1000 years old.
One of the five Badris that are in Urgam valley is the Dhyaan Badri where Lord Vishnu used to meditate.
There is one single vehicular road which takes you from one village to the another. It is recently made for the convenience of the villagers and tourism development. Before this, the villagers used to come walking from several kilometres before the Urgam valley, particularly Devgram village.
The point where the road ends on to a steel bridge above a water body is where the Kalpeshwar Mahadev temple, one of the five Kedars, is located.
A huge waterfall adds a scenic element to the frame.
Pujari told me a bit about the temple. He said,” Pandavas, while going towards heavenly abode, laid down Panch kedar. In this particular kedar, Lord Shiva’s Kapaal and jata (tress) is buried.”
The temple is situated at an altitude of 2134 metres above sea level. He also told me how Lord Shiva obtained water from a well situated here, for Samudra manthan (churning of the ocean is a very interesting episode from the Hindu mythology), through which 14 gems were obtained. Below the temple, Kalpa Ganga flows which is also known as Hiranvati.
This is the only one of the five Kedars that is accessible throughout the year.
Other than these experiences, one can also trek up to Banga Pani (curve water). Many woodcraft experts can also be found in the village. One of them is Dharam Lal ji. He can let you try hands at woodworking and show you around as well.
Distances from Kalpeshwar Temple of the Panch Kedar
- Badrinath Temple: 70 km
- Rudranath Temple: 80 km
The 6-day Kalpeshwar-Rudranath trek starts from the village only.
- Tunganath Temple: 97 km
Read my Chopta-Tunganath Trek experience here
- Madhysmaheshwar: 157 km
- Kedarnath Temple: 178 km
More than saying goodbye to Dinesh ji and his family, it pained me to bid adieu to a place like Urgam. Sure, reaching here was a little task but convincing myself to leave from here was a bigger task. I wasn’t allowed to leave until I promised Dinesh ji and the mountains of Urgam to return soon.
My last and next destination was Auli and the timing couldn’t have been better than this.