Sometime ago in late spring, we chanced upon an unlikely halt at the state government run traveller guest house at Purola (1530m) in the Garhwal region of Uttarakhand. Travelling on our way to Sankri – base village for Har-Ki-Dun trek – from Yamunotri, we settled for a night halt at Purola as the evening light faded. The finery of the terraced open landscape of the valley floor seemed to invite us to take walks and explore the immediate area next morning.
As we travelled through the hillsides of Garhwal, the changing landscape on our line of approach from Yamunotri including the climatic transitions from heat to cold and vice versa arrived almost suddenly; as we ascended or descended. In covering the distance, sometimes we were dreadfully annoyed by the encumbrance of our dusty vehicle while travelling through the Yamuna Valley to the open and sunny Kamal Valley. The sylvan charms of the Jarmola Dhaar, as we approached Purola, provided some respite from the dust as well as late noon heat. The landscape changed as the pine adorned grassy valley appeared.
From what it seemed, the guest house was not very frequently occupied. The caretaker arranged for a cook who dished up some local foods by the time we took an evening stroll in the market. The valley of Purola is said to be one of the most fertile as well as widest valleys of the region. Geographically, the valley is the biggest divide between the Yamuna and the Tons Valleys. The street was full of vegetable vendors and kiryana shops selling local red rice produce as well as other traded items. The typical tea-cum-sweet shops weren’t difficult to locate either; where, if lucky, one could freely exchange knowledge of the various treks and routes up the higher ridges of the Himalayas including the very famous shorter alternatives of Har-Ki-Dun or Kedarkantha treks. In fact, the settlement of Purola has also been popularised as the gateway to both these treks. The other popular alternative today is of course the village Sankri, where we were heading in a few days’ time.
Relatively untouched by the rapid development of the hill stations, the quaint hillside of Purola offers picturesque views and serene salubrious environs making it an ideal destination to rejuvenate the soul. The road meandering along the valley up to the ridge top, Jarmola Dhaar, offers spectacular and awe-inspiring views of the valley. The Jarmola Dhar fringes the southern end of the Govind Pashu Vihar National Park and Sanctuary, which is home to many endangered species of fauna and flora. The following morning, we headed to the valley floor where the remains of an ancient Yagya Kund were discovered.
A passage through the market leads to the ancient ASI site of the Yagya Kund that is said to be dating back to the second century BC. The ancient site is located on the left bank of the river Kamal. The Yagya Vedica (burnt brick alter) is unique in its kind resembling a floating Garuda. During excavation a good number of Sungha-Kushana period red wares and coins belonging to the Kuninda rulers were discovered. The popular yields at the site include the remains of Painted Grey Ware (PGW) from the earliest level along with other materials like terracotta figurines, beads, potter-stamp and the dental and femur portions of a domesticated horse. The most important one being a brick alter identified as Syena Chiti. The valley is also associated with the Mahabharata period.
Legend has it that during the Mahabharata era, Duryodhana came to Purola after traveling through Kullu and Kashmir. Duryodhana liked Purola so much that he decided to reside there. He prayed to the Mahasu Devta for a piece of land. The deity accepted his pleas and made him the king of the area. King Duryodhana made Jakholi his capital village and constructed Mahasu Devta Temple. In medieval time the Mughal emperor Akbar also made frequent visits to the temple.
The settlement of Purola offers good scope for morning and evening walks especially to watch and admire the rich birdlife of the region. Although, the upper slopes offer some enthralling treks that takes one through surging waterfalls, verdant hills covered with pine and oak trees, gushing river streams. The state tourism agency also lists that wildlife enthusiasts can visit the sanctuary which is one of the largest national parks in India and home to myriad species of animals like Himalayan snow leopard, bharals, sloth bear, deer, flying squirrel and Himalayan Tahr.
The valley of Purola is 112 km from Uttarakashi and nearly 100 km from Mussoorie. The stretches of the hillside from Mussoorie as well as Uttarakashi side are remarkably beautiful but beware of the road condition especially during the monsoons.
Average Altitude: 1530m
Best time to visit: Winters and spring
Travel Lure: Heritage and Birdlife
Accommodation: Limited; confirm in advance