The Forgotten Land?
Nelang (Nelong) Valley (near Gangotri), due to it's proximity to Tibet, feels almost like Ladakh. Completely isolated from the world after the ’62 Indo-China war, it was reopened to the public only in 2015.
I wanted to visit Nelang (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!
Nelang (Nelong) Valley in Uttarakhand is still a relatively unexplored part of our country. 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.
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?
The turn off for the Nelang Valley is very close to Bhaironghati on the National Highway 33. This highway connects Haridwar and Gangotri. From Haridwar, it is around 300 kms, and depending on the time of the day, you could break your journey at Rishikesh or Uttarkashi. Since you cannot really spend a night in the valley as of now, you have to make a base in either Bhaironghati or Gangotri. We stayed in Gangotri before finally moving in to explore the Valley.
There are no must see points to tick off here. It’s just the Nature that one should enjoy. Here, and in places like Spiti, or Ladakh, the journey itself is a point of interest, a must do. The turn off to Nelang (Nelong) Valley is approximately 8 kms from Gangotri. As soon as we crossed it, the world around us suddenly changed! It almost felt like we were in Ladakh. The road all but 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.
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)
There is one thing, which could be classified as a POI. It’s a wooden bridge built on the cliff side. It’s a small relic of the centuries old trade route between India and Tibet. Areas along Nelang (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 challenge to build one today.
There were a couple of water crossings along the way. The streams had lot of water. For more, do check out the video.
Apart from the road workers of BRO, we did not come across a single vehicle during our journey to the Final frontier – the check post up to which we had the permits.
There is a temple on a nearby hill, visible from this post. The locals, who were displaced in 1962, still come here on festivals to offer their prayers. A little further up 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 to try it out. At close to 3500 m above sea level, 3 PM is a very bad time to start a trek.
Like I mentioned earlier, there are no civilian establishments in the valley as of now, and you don’t usually get a night stay permission. So, you either stay at Bhaironghati or Gangotri the night before and do a day trip into the valley.
To Sum Up
We stayed at Nelong ZERO for quite sometime, chit chatting with the soldiers. 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.
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 even more photos and finally exited the Nelang (Nelong) Valley and proceeded towards Harsil, our stop for the night. Read about it here.
Keep Rocking, Keep Roaming!