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Dhanaulti Rocks

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Dhanaulti is a one street Himalayan hideaway that boasts of an authentic pizza restaurant. The young man running the outfit is a tourist from UK who fell in love with the simple charms of settlement when breezing through the Garhwal region of Uttaranchal some years ago and decided to drop roots here. Ever since he spends half his time here tossing pizzas for tourists (and the occasions local resident) and the other half in the UK.

However, long before it got its pizza restaurant, Dhanaulti was an important stop on the pilgrim trail in India. Devotees on the char dham circuit of Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamnotri use this little outpost town , 6,000 ft above sea level, as a base to visit Surkanda Devi temple, a short drive further down the trail.

A cluster of roadside stalls selling flowers, coconuts, prasad and other offerings to the gods are a sure sign that you have arrived at your destination. Well, almost, as you now have to trek another 3 km to an altitude of 9,000 ft to the temple complex at the summit of the hill. As pilgrims trudge up the steep incline they greet each other chants of ‘Jai Mataji!’

The Mataji they invoke is goddess Sati who died in cosmic time under compelling circumstances. According to legend, she had married Lord Shiva against the wishes of her father - King Daksha - who decided to make a public display of the contempt by performing a sacred yajna or sacrifice to which he invited all the Gods and sages except Lord Shiva. An outraged Sati reacted to the slight by throwing herself in the sacrificial fire.

Lord Shiva was devastated. In a fit of rage he started to dance the Tandava (the dance of destruction) with the half-burnt body of Sati on his shoulders. To save the universe from annihilation, Lord Vishnu sliced the body of Sati into 52 pieces (some believe that there were 72 pieces and others 108) with his cosmic weapon, the Sudershan Chakra. And as the various parts of Sati's body fell across the land, they turned to stone and were referred to as Shaktipeethas. The belief is that that the head of Sati fell on the summit of this mountain which makes it particularly holy.

Though the temple complex up here is ordinary when compared to more elaborate shrines around the country, few however, could match its setting. For the view of the snow draped Himalayas from up here are simply awesome especially as they served as the backdrop to shrines with images of Hanuman, Lord Shiva and Parvarti.

In fact the Himalayan peaks stay with you most of the way as you drive in from Mussoorie. However, as you near Dhanaulti they seem to get more impressive and imposing. It probably had to do with the setting: a sea of terraced fields sweeping like waves up the mountains; the blush of rhododendrons; dense pine forests… This serene vista stays with you right till we reached Dhanaulti. Indeed, it is not too difficult to figure out why a British tourist passing through decided to call the place home.

Fact File
The closest airport to Dhanaulti is at Delhi. From here one can catch the Shatabadi to Haridwar, Rishikesh or Dehradoon and then drive up, via Mussoorie, to Dhanaulti. The little hill station has a number of small hotels, lodges and restaurants including a tourist complex run by the Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam.

The base of the Surkanda Devi temple complex is a five km drive outside Dhanaulti. From here one must trek (or hire a pony) another 3 km to reach the summit of the mountain upon which it is located.

Dhanaulti is part of the char dham circuit of Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamnotri. It can also be part of a smaller circuit of Haridwar, Mussoorie and Rishikesh.