Nanda Raj Jat Yatra

Reflecting the varied hues of tradition and culture and its pomp and splendor along with faith in the hearts of people, the echoing of ‘Jai Bhagwati Nanda’ in the hills, marks the religious gala of the Nanda Devi Festival.

The Raj Jat Yatra of Nanda Devi started from the village Nauti in Chamoli Garhwal on August 29 and after completion of the rajjatyatrapilgrimage, the Yatra returned to Nauti on September 16. The sacred journey covered a distance of around 280 km and stopped at 19 stations. It reached Hom Kund, the final destination at a height of 15000 feet on September 13 on the Ashtami of Bhadra Pad Shukla.

Puja was offered there in the morning to Goddess Nanda, after which the four horned ram was anointed and released to carry on its heavenly journey to the higher reaches of the Himalayan region. After the ram was released, no one is supposed to look in its direction and concomitantly the procession started its returned journey.

Nanda Devi is the patronising the goddess of Uttarakhand and several shrines are devoted to her all across the state. Every year, the  Chhoti Raj Jat is celebrated; it starts from the village Wan and terminated at Bedni Buyyal in Chamoli Garhwal. It is local affair and then it is transformed into a huge pilgrimage once every 12 years when a four horned ram or Chausinghia Khadu is born, which leads the procession. The festival is famous Kumbh of the central Himalaya in which pilgrims from different parts of the country participate.

The Nanda Raj Jat offeres an unparalleled and complete experience to the pilgrims with interest in local culture as well as to nandarajjatthose who are passionate trekkers. It is an arduous journey in the wilderness but is imbued with the endemic flora and fauna of Garhwal Himalaya. Its scenic beauty and the ethic life style of the people that is displayed there. The journey embraces one of the most beautiful Alpine meadow, Bedni, and the glacier lakes of Bedni and roopkund.

On August 29 the yatra started as decided. The day was selected because the pilgrims of the Raj Jat had to reach Kulshali on amavasya, which was on September 5, and offer puja to Goddess Kali on the auspicious day. The pilgrims were accompanied with dolis (palanquins) nishans (symbols) and chatolis (sacred umbrellas), which symbolise the supreme power of the Goddess Nanda.

There is organizing committee that run this yatra and helps the pilgrims in the high altitude areas during the last let of the journey with food, medicine and other essential items.

The yatra was initiated by Raja Kanak Pal of Chandpur Garhi from Nauti in 688 AD and was popularised throughout Garhwal by his scion Raja Ajay Pal who consolidated and the 52 principalities of Garhwal into one kingdom. In Kumaon, the worship of Goddess Nanda was started by Raja Baz Bahadur Chand in the 17th Century.

Nanda is the primordial cosmic energy which dispels the darkness of ignorance from her devotees.

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Flora and fauna

Traditionally the mountains in the lower regions of Uttaranchal were covered with a thick blanket of moist deciduous forest. Today, however, much of this forest has been cut for commercial lumber. Between elevations of 1,500-3,000m, natural vegetation consists of pine, oak, rhododendron, poplar, walnut and larch. Below the snow line, the vegetation consists of forests of spruce, fir, cypress, juniper and birch, while above the snow line (in the higher reaches of the State) is alpine vegetation that includes mosses, lichen and a diversity of wildflowers such as blue poppies and edelweiss.

As a result of deforestation, much of the original fauna of the Himalayas is now restricted to protected areas and sanctuaries. Notable fauna in the region includes the Himalayan bear, musk deer, the wild goat ghoral, bharal or blue goat, wolves, snow leopards and varieties of deer such as barking deer.

Avifauna in the region is regarded as one of the richest in the sub-continent, with over 500 species of birds.

Climate

The climatic conditions change with the rise of altitude, ranging from sub-zero temperatures at high altitudes in winter to moderate temperatures in the lower tracts in summer.The region has three distinct seasons – monsoon (June – September), winter (October- February) and summer (March – May). Nearly all forms of precipitation, from rain to hail and snow can be more or less observed in the State. The southwest monsoon commences after mid-June and continues up to September, characterised by high cloudiness and torrential rainfall. Snowfall occurs between January and March in the upper and lower Himalayan ranges. The average rainfall in the region varies from 1,016mm in Pauri (Garhwal foothills and lower to sub-Himalayan tracts) to 2,540mm in Nainital (lower Kumaon Himalayan ranges). Snowfall occurs at places situated at higher elevations, particularly above 2,000m.

Topography

Uttaranchal lies almost entirely in the Himalayan region, with three distinct topographical belts – the Shivaliks in the sub Himalayan tract (300-600m amsl), the Himachal ranges in the lower Himalayan region (1,500-2,700m amsl), and the Himadri ranges in the upper Himalayan region (4,800-6,000m amsl). The Garhwal and Kumaon regions of the State together form approximately 350km of the 2,500km long Himalayan range. In the south of the State is the terai, a belt about 15-20km wide, that separates the hills from the plains, and comprises thick jungles, swamps and grasslands. Large tracts of this land now comprise highly fertile farmlands. Next follows what can be called the lower hilly region, ranging between 600m-1,800m and it is in this region that the bulk of the population lives. The middle hill region that lies between 1,800-3,000m is mostly forested, thinly populated, has poor water supply and is dependent on animal husbandry. The high altitude region (above 3,000m) is about 30-45km wide along the northern international border and is usually snowbound throughout the year, with only a few valleys with human habitation. Winter migration is still a common practice in the region.

The prominent peaks that fall within the State are Nanda Devi (7,818m), Mana (7,274m),

Chaukhamba (7,144m), Trishul (7,122m), Dunagiri (7,068m), Satopath (7,075m), Nanda Kot

(6,861m), Pindar (6,320m), Bandar Poonch (6,315m), Swarg Rohini (6,245m) and Panchchuli

(6,095m). In addition, there are several other peaks including the Kamet, Trishul, Shivling, etc which are all above 6,000m in height. Some of the best known glaciers too fall within the State, e.g., Pindari and Milam glaciers.

Home to India’s most prominent rivers, the Ganga and Yamuna, the State also has other important rivers. These are the Alaknanda and the Bhagirathi (tributaries of the Ganga, which have their origins in the mountains bordering Tibet) Kali, Ramganga, Saryu, Pindar, Malini, Rawasain, Khoh andNayar. The Tons River and the Yamuna separate the Garhwal and Kumaon from the Kinnaur and Sirmaur districts of Himachal Pradesh, while the Mahakali River forms a natural boundary with Nepal in the west. With the rivers come dramatic valleys, best known amongst which are Valley of Flowers and Har-ki-Dun.

According to experts, despite the lack of the highest peaks in the world, the natural resources and attractions of Uttaranchal are on level, if not better than those of Nepal and are far superior to the natural beauty of Himachal Pradesh. With many of the important peaks in the region higher than 7000m, it has some of the best mountaineering. The peaks, glaciers and valleys, together with the unique religious, cultural and social diversity of the people living in these hills, have long attracted adventure seekers to Uttaranchal. The State boasts some of the best known trekking routes in the country including the trek to Pindari Glacier, the Harki-Dun trek, the Yamunotri – Gangotri trek and the Nehru-Curzon trail.

Society and culture

Uttaranchal, largely due to inhospitable terrain, is sparsely populated except in the terai region.Traditionally a pastoral society, like much of the Himalayan region, the inhabitants make their living from subsistence farming and limited animal husbandry that the hilly land supports. Some of the tribes, such as the Bhotias, are migratory traders. Most of the indigenous people like Jaunsari, Bhotia, Buksha, Tharu, and Raji are heterodox Hindus and Buddhists, while Sikh migrants from West Punjab have settled in the terai since 1947. A few Muslim groups are also native to the area, although most of them have settled recently. The Muslim Gujjar herders of the region migrate between the hills and the terai. While not traditionally an artistic society, the region is known for two major art forms, stone and wood carving. The art of stone carving gradually died down, but woodcarving continued and could be seen on almost every door of a traditional Garhwali house until only half a century ago. Wood carving can still be seen in hundreds of temple across Garhwal. The remains of architectural work have been found at the Chandpur Fort, the temple of Srinagar, Pandukeshwar (near Badrinath), Devi Mandir (near Joshimath) and Devalgarh Temple.

Physical Appearance

Uttaranchal, in the north of India, is bound by Uttar Pradesh in the south and the west, by Himachal Pradesh in the north-west and by China (Tibet) and Nepal in the east. Uttaranchal, for reasons of geography, topography, migration and historical trading ties, shares a number of similarities with its mountain neighbours.

The population2 of Uttaranchal was estimated at 8.479mn in 2001, an overall decrease of 10% from the 1991 population of 8.583mn. The density of population3 in the State is 159persons/km2, which is markedly less than the country average of 324persons/km2. Dehradun, the provisional Capital of theState has a population of 447,808 in 2001, an increase of 177% over the 1991 figure of 270,159.

Region

Defining the region: The State was created by incorporating eight of the north-western hill districts of the Uttar Pradesh State. These districts were Nainital, Almora, Pithoragarh, Dehradun, Uttarkashi, Tehri, Chamoli and Pauri. A further four districts were simultaneously created, those of Udham Singh Nagar, Bageshwar, Champawat and Rudraprayag. In addition, the district of Haridwar was added to the new State. Located to the north of the country, the State now has 13 districts, 49 tehsils, 10 sub tehsils, 97 Development Blocks, 71 towns and 15,793 villages. With an area of 53,483km2, the State occupies 1.7% of the total landmass of India.

Garhwal and Kumaon:-Uttaranchal essentially comprises the two distinct hill regions of Garhwal and Kumaon, connected by a stretch of flatlands at the base, called the terai. Garhwal, which contains the districts of Haridwar, Pauri Garhwal, Dehradun, Tehri Garhwal, Rudraprayag, Chamoli and Uttarkashi, is the more prominent of the two regions and more developed in terms of physical infrastructure. This is essentially because India’s two most important rivers (the Ganga and the Yamuna) originate here, and it also has India’s ‘Char Dham’ or the four holiest Hindu shrines of Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri. Aside from the char dham, Garhwal is best known for the tourist town of Mussoorie, the holy towns of Haridwar and Rishikesh (also the centre for white water rafting in north India), the ski resort of Auli, as well as Dehradun, the new State capital and centre for institutions and boarding schools in India.

Kumaon, the smaller of the two regions is less developed, especially in its higher reaches, and consists of the districts of Udhamsingh Nagar, Champawat, Nainital, Almora, Pithoragarh and Bageshwar. It is best known for the tourist town of Nainital, the Corbett National Park, the Nanda Devi peak, the Pindari glacier and the route to Kailash Mansarovar.