Nelong Valley – The Ladakh of Uttarakhand?

Nelang (Nelong) Valley was the raison d’être of this whole trip. I wanted to visit Nelong ever since I heard the news of restrictions being lifted. I had to cancel the previous trips due to some or the other reason. Even this trip was on the brink of cancellation due to “Monsoons”. But thankfully, we made it!

NEWS ARTICLE Valley opens for tourists first time since 1962

Waking up in Gangotri that day, was a different feeling all together. All my thoughts were around setting foot in Nelong. That we will only get a few hours there and eventually will retreat to Harsil did not matter

PREVIOUSLY ON THIS TRIP Among the most scenic drives in India – Uttarkashi to Gangotri

Why Nelong (Nelang)?

Well, it is still a relatively unexplored part of our country. Visiting such places is the whole point of Roaming Hawks. As recently as 2015 (check the news report mentioned above), no one could venture here. With the administration relenting a bit, it is now possible to go up to the ITBP Nelong check post (~23kms from the entry point). But, the truly astonishing places are much beyond the check post. They still remain out of bounds – places like Tirpani, PDA, Pulamsumdo, Jadhang etc. The villages in this valley were displaced during the 1962 war. No one lives in these parts now. China still claims this as a disputed region asserting it is Chinese territory.

Nelang, the final frontier
Nelong, the final frontier

Is it Nelang or Nelong?

Older texts refer to this place, Valley of Jadh Ganga, as Nelang, even Nilang at places!. Example – High Himalaya Unknown Valleys by Harish Kapadia. Most of the locals pronounce it as Nelong. I suppose the print and electronic media has picked up the term Nelong from the local dialect. Even local administration seems to be using Nelong. Either ways, it doesn’t matter as someone once said – what’s in a name?

All right, Moving on ..

The morning at Gangotri was very pleasant. We saw the Sun shinning bright probably for the first time in this trip. First thing on the agenda was visiting the Gangotri temple and getting some of the holy water from Bhagirathi for people back home. The temple visit was smooth and swift, thanks to less crowd. I shudder to think what it would be like when thousands of people descend here for a Darshan.

Bright morning at Gangotri, Sunshine finally!
Bright morning at Gangotri, Sunshine finally!
The Gangotri Temple
The Gangotri Temple
Yellow Beaked Crow in Gangotri
Yellow beaked Crow in Gangotri, supposedly they fly in from Tibet.

After Darshan and a hearty breakfast, we visited Suraj Kund. Situated on the opposite bank of Bhagirathi. Mythology says, this is the place where heavens end and our mortal world starts. Geographically speaking, it’s a nice waterfall! Thanks to the monsoons, it had lots of water. Some of the other pictures of this place that I have seen on the internet, show a mere trickle. Some photos later, we started for Nelong Valley.

Suraj Kund, Gangotri
Suraj Kund, Gangotri

Nelong takes our breath away!

The turn to Nelong Valley is approximately 8 KMs from Gangotri. Once we crossed it, the world around us suddenly changed! It almost felt like we were in Ladakh. The road almost disappeared! Instead of Bhagirathi, it was Jadh Ganga giving us company now. The water in Jadh Ganga was still a shade of emerald and not muddy, like Bhagirathi.

Gateway to Nelong
Gateway to Nelong
The barren beauty of Nelong, very similar to Spiti and Ladakh
The barren beauty of Nelong, very similar to Spiti and Ladakh

Disheartening thing is, the road never gets down to the river’s level. So admire all you can, but you can’t unwind by the banks. The road gets incredibly narrow at places. The work is on to widen and tar this road. Near the final check post, it’s almost like a salt flat where you can set a land speed record! (Don’t try it though)

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We came across a wooden bridge built on the cliff side. It’s a small artifact of what remains of the centuries old trade route between India and Tibet. Areas along Nelong thrived on this bilateral trade. Precariously dangling on a near vertical cliff, it is hard to imagine how this was built. Even with all the modern equipment, it would be a challange to build one today.

India Tibet centuries old trade route, Nelong Valley
India Tibet centuries old trade route, Nelong Valley

There were a couple of water crossings along the way. The streams had lot of water. Watch the video to see some “action”. 😎

Look at that!
Look at that!
Last point upto which civillians are allowed in Nelong
Last point upto which civillians are allowed in Nelong

So far removed it is from civilization, it almost feels like being on a different planet! We took numerous stops on our way to the Final frontier – the check post till where civilians can travel.

The road's end, Nelong
The road’s end, Nelong

There is a temple on a nearby hill, visible from the post. The locals, who were displaced in 1962, still come here on festivals to offer their prayers to the Gods.

A little higher from the temple lies a lake called Parvati Kund. As per the stories we heard – nobody comes back from that lake! 😱 Maybe, it’s a story passed over generations, to discourage people from venturing out there. Maybe, there is some truth in it. Either ways, we didn’t have the time today to try it out. At close to 12,000 feet, 3 PM is a very bad time to start a trek.

Time to head back ..

We stayed there for quite sometime, chit chatting with the Jawans. We were humbled talking to them, astonished even, at their politeness. They seemed quite happy to have come across civilians and even offered to host us for the night in their camp! The blocker was Uttarakhand Forest department – they issue permits to Nelong only for a day visit as of now.

Jai Ho
Jai Ho

With a heavy heart, some fond memories and a promise to return someday, to go past this post, further towards Tibet, we retraced our steps back to Bhaironghati.

The return journey was no less pleasing! We stopped at even more places, clicked more photos and finally exited the Nelong Valley and proceeded towards Harsil, our stop for the night. That is for another post, sometime later.


Have you been to Nelang/Nelong yet? How was the experience? Any stories or photos to share?

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