As ludicrous as it may sound, it took me a lot to get myself to walk to the grandest travel beacon of India – Taj Mahal. I never really yearn to see places with a million footprints already on it. You will have to believe me when I tell you that I visited the grand marble monument for the first time, only last year in 2016. Clearly, offbeat journeys are more to my taste. The lesser the importance on the tourist map, the more likely I am to travel to that destination.
So when Great Indian Outdoors sent me an invite to visit Jayalgarh, I was immediately on board. The reason? I had never heard of this tiny village at the foothills of the Himalayas, let alone that it figured as a perfect base for rafting in the Alaknanda River. Google came to the rescue as I punched ‘Delhi’, ‘Jayalgarh’ and ‘distance’ on my keyboard. 338 kms. That’s it.
While becoming more aware of the destinations in India and deciphering my own travel taste for adventure over the last few years, Rishikesh often popped up as a leading rafting spot in Uttarakhand. I’m always up for an outdoor experience and Rishikesh was continually being thrown at me by blogs and magazines. But only a single trip here made me sure that this was all about the weekend hubbub, quick hour-long river rides and no real immersion in the place. Fortunately, Jayalgarh, ahead of Rishikesh, promised the complete opposite. I was in for an unhurried, paced out time to enjoy the solitude, company of the river and then work with its rapids for an exceptional expeirence. It made me think that India is such a diverse country, and it is not hard to find a surprise at every bend. In short, this trip reaffirmed my love for offbeat travel.
The good part is that Jayalgarh has excellent connectivity. Arrive in Haridwar, hop onto a bus or ask for a cab pick up, and you’re in the riverside camp in 2 hours. Alternatively, you can fly into Jolly Grant Airport in Dehradun and make your way up by car. Along the way, you drive by the Ganga and then hit Devprayag, the confluence of Alaknanda and Bhagirathi Rivers that combine to form the Ganga. Keep going up along the Alaknanda on the snaking roads, till the cheery Jayalgarh village appears by the road.
Camp High 5 of Great Indian Outdoors lies right at the edge of the Alaknanda River. Comfortable Swiss tents line the rim of the campsite, overlooking the river. The sit-outs are the most popular spot amongst guests, where they can sink into chairs and catch up on a good book, or enjoy the mountain scape in front of them. At a short distance lies the common dining pavilion, another great spot to have first row seats to the gurgling river. The camp lies by the road, easily accessible for elders and children. For refueling the soul, many guests walk down to the edge of the river and find a spot on the loungers or a rock. That’s exactly what I did on the first day there. I took my time to soak in the relaxed vibe of Jayalgarh and got into action only on the next few days.
My time in Jayalgarh was all about seeing the tracts of true wilderness of Uttarakhand along with water based activities. We started with long walks in the Jayalgarh village, where women slapped cow dung discs onto walls to dry and use them for fuel, children skipped from school and the vegetable fields were covered in fresh green produce. It seemed that the village was stuck in a charming time-warp and hadn’t changed for centuries.
The river’s charm lay in bobbing up and down in a raft, experiencing Grade 2 and 3 rapids, then climbing down a bridge, slithering on a strong rope, rapelling down a jagged brown rock and rowing myself in a duckie boat. At the end of two days, the sweet pain in my noodly arms could not be ignored but this was also my ideal holiday heaven. Fatigue during vacation is not always a bad thing.
Even though mine was a solo trip, I shared the campsite with a number of other guests. A group of friends and a large family with an age span of toddler to septuagenarian made for my co-campers. Bonfire evenings were filled with stories from each person – someone had been on a hike, the kids were still reeling from the spoils of their nature trail and many of the elders had cemented themselves next to the river.
Since I’m often inundated with mails for weekend getaway suggestions, I kept a mental note to keep Jayalgarh on top of the list for my Delhi friends. It was ideal for all age groups and all activity tastes. In fact, this is also a good base to combine with Chopta and surrounding areas for a longer holiday of a week.
This unspoilt strech is ironically adjacent to one of the most popular destinations for rafting in India. But in all liklihood, it is going to remain a hidden gem thanks to its exclusive location. Which also means, that it’ll most definitely remain on my list to go back to.