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Monday, Apr 22, 2002

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Set amidst Himalayan splendour

Uday K. Chakraborty

Devprayag in the lower ranges of the Himalayas, set at the confluence of the Alaknanda and Bhagirathi, lays out for the tourist a package of pristine natural beauty. Uday K. Chakraborty takes a trip to this picturesque town.

The confluence of the Alaknanda and the Bhagirathi.

Since the 1990s, many tourists have started discovering smaller destinations and these towns are gaining in popularity as holiday spots. The Himalayas continues to beckon tourists, for it is here that one can enjoy nature's pristine glory in a peaceful ambience. Nestled in the Himalayas are a few destinations that easily qualify as peaceful getaways. One of them that is not that difficult to reach is a small hill town called Devprayag.

Many have heard the name of this sleepy outpost but hardly anyone cares to visit the place. It is a stunningly beautiful hill town in the lower Himalayas. It is scrupulously clean, bereft of crowds and has on offer fantastic sights and adequate infrastructure.

While visiting from Delhi, one usually breaks the journey at Rishikesh. Next morning a 70-km uphill drive takes us one to Devprayag. The first stop is a viewing point a few km from the town where one gets a magnificent view of the mountain, rivers and the terraced town.

At the triangular foothills of Devprayag, Bhagirathi meets with Alaknanda. From here onwards, the river flows, not as Bhagirathi, but as the Ganga — the most important and holiest river of the land. Bhagirathi's confluence with Alaknanda, at Devprayag is considered as one of the holiest spots according to Hindu scriptures.

Today not many pilgrims come here to bathe and purify themselves. But, a few decades ago no pilgrims would consider his pilgrimage yatra complete till he rested here, and bathed in the confluence. His additional attraction was a visit to the ancient temple of Shri Rama who is veneered as Lord Raghunathji, the presiding deity of the town.

From Devprayag, pilgrims travelled to the mountain shrines of Kedarnath and Badrinath. A few years back one could reach these temples only after an adventurous trek, but now a motorable road has made travel easy. Ironically, it was this easier access to the twin temples that also spelt the decline of the tourist importance of Devprayag.

One of the many scenic spots at Devprayag.

Today tourists and pilgrims drive past this magical town in buses and cars, without realising what they are missing. This is why Devprayag, once a bustling township, alive with milling pilgrims, now stands forlorn, deserted and almost forgotten. For the modern day urban traveller it has become a dhaba break rather than a destination.

But it is the lack of surging crowds that is the greatest attraction of Devprayag. And, add to it a spectacular location, the splendour of the lower Himalayan range, gurgling rivers, charming people and reasonably comfortable accommodation. Its charm is irresistible.

From Rishikesh, it is a five-hour journey through a mountain road that, throughout its length, runs alongside the Ganga. While watching the unfolding beauty of the lower Himalayas, we can also enjoy the changing mood of the river. Devprayag presents a most enchanting sight. From a distance it looks mysterious, regal and aloof. The houses are perched at various heights on the slopes of a hill, on either side of which Alaknanda and Bhagirathi flow. At the foot of this hill, they flow into each other.

Old official documents show that at the turn of the century Devprayag was an important city. Under the rule of the royal family of Tehri Garhwal, it boasted of a magistrate, a police force, a dispensary and twenty shops in 1908.

Naturally, with time the town has grown a bit, and yet, the town maintains its own character. What would at first strike the visitor is its cleanliness. The houses are of stone with whitewashed walls and slanted roofs. Pilgrims are still the main source of income here followed by marginal farming.

Devprayag also has small laboratory cum sample collection centre of the Ganga Pollution Board. It collects and grades Ganga water and forwards the findings to bigger labs on the plains to study silting pattern along the path of the river. At the higher range silting caused due to landslides a direct result of rampant tree felling and heavy monsoon is the main source of worry.

Loss of natural habitat for animals is a cause for concern. Down below, near the meeting point of the rivers there are two bathing ghats — the Brahmakund Ghat serving the Bhagirathi and Vashistakunda Ghat for Alaknanda. They are mainly stone terraces with flat area at different levels for the gathering of pilgrims. At the top level at Rahmakunda Ghat there are seven table-like structures where people can spend some time.

Apart from the temple of Raghunathji, which dominates the Devprayag skyline, there are many small temples dedicated to various manifestations of Lord Shiva as well as river goddesses.

Devprayag is an eerily calm and quite town. Here the noise polluted city ears take some time to get accustomed to a perpetuating hushed silence broken only by an occasional voice of young people and the continuous gurgling of water below.

One of our preferred hang-outs is the cute little hanging bridge on the Alaknanda river. This bridge connects the town with the outside world. We would sit at one end of the bridge and just watch the town walk past us or sometime look outward for a sweeping view of the town, the mountain and the Raghunathji's temple. Some times we would stand just in the middle of this contraption, and watch the gurgling river coming from the high mountains and then turn around to watch the dramatic confluence with the other river at a short distance away. It's a small visual spectacle that continues to enliven us.

At the confluence, the rivers suddenly start roaring and rumbling along. Their foaming water forces its way past boulders that come in their way. Then smug and satisfied, the Ganga rolls complacently for about 120 km to reach the plains at Rishikesh.

Pictures by the author

Fact file

How to get there: From New Delhi, one can each Hardwar by train, bus or taxi. From there one can take private or public transport to reach Devprayag.

Where to stay: The PWD Guest Rouse and Government Tourist Bungalow are the only options.

What to eat: Simple, yet tasty vegetarian meals are easy to come by.

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