Dehradun: The Gangotri National Park has decided to install CCTV cameras at the Gartang Gully, an ancient pathway on a vertical ridge offering a skywalk experience, at the Nelong valley in district Uttarkashi (Uttarakhand). The Gartang Gully was renovated and reopened for tourists recently. The park administration was forced to take this decision after tourists began making graffiti on the wood structure and performing stunts.
The gallery was used for cross border trade with Tibet till 1962, but after the Sino-India war, the stunning wood structure had remained unused and in complete neglect. For almost six decades. It is believed that the pathway is over a century-year-old, but no documentary evidence is available on the claim.
The wood planks were replaced and the refurbished pathway was thrown open for visitors on 17 August this year. About half a dozen tourists inscribed their name with marker pen, coal and chalk on wood planks adding to the troubles of Gangotri National Park that undertakes the gigantic task of maintaining the crucial site. The issue became hot and began trending on social media. Even former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah expressed anger over the behaviour of the tourists and made a tweet, “Tourists deface 150-year-old Skywalk in Uttarakhand. Gartang gali skywalk.”
The Gangotri National Park management has registered a police complaint against unidentified miscreants in Uttarkashi for damaging government property. Rang Nath Pandey, Deputy Director of Gangotri National Park, said, “About one thousand tourists have visited Gartang Gully so far after it was opened for tourists recently. After finding graffiti written on the wood structure we have registered a police complaint with the local police. To stop such practice we will be installing CCTV cameras in various locations on the pathway. We have asked the PWD to execute the installation as soon as possible.”
Located in the picturesque Nelong valley (also termed Nelang), the Gartang Gully is a 136 meter long and 1.8-meter wide oak wood-lined stairway. Pathans from Peshawar executed the challenging task by chiselling the hard rock area and creating an amazing and totally different wood architecture. The pathway offers a skywalk like experience with the Jadh Ganga, also known as Jahnavi and an important tributary of the Bhagirathi River, majestically flowing 200 Mts below. The 136 Mts path at an elevation of 10,000 feet above sea level is no less than an architectural wonder.
Walking on the Gartang Gully offers a real thrill, with the visitors getting a feeling as if they are walking on clouds. One needs great courage to glance at the Jadh Ganga river, flowing down, from the pathway.
Besides graffiti, young tourists were seen performing stunts on the pathway. This was a major issue of concern for the park authorities. The 2 km trek for Gartang Gully starts from the Lanka bridge-on the Uttarkashi-Gangotri highway- and the forest department will be undertaking a special operation to install CCTV cameras, as no electricity connection prevails in the Nelong valley. The park authorities will be using solar panels to power the CCTV cameras.
Rajpal Bisht, who undertook the reconstruction work of the pathway, recalls, “It was not easy. Snowfall and high speed wind affected our work. Not many workers were willing to go there due to challenging conditions, so I had to select team members based on their courageous character, rather than their expertise on wood and iron fabrications.”
It was never easy for the Gangotri National park management to get the work done as a couple of contractors, after getting the contract, abandoned the project due to Covid-19 pandemic and also due to the challenging situation at Gartang Gully.
Before the Indo-China war, traders used to move on the pathway with mules and yaks. Jaad Bhotiyas used to stay during summer at Jadong and Nelong villages on the international border. After the 1962 war, these villagers have permanently settled at Dunda and Bagori in Uttarkashi and cross border trade is now a thing of the past.
Harsil resident Madhvendra Rawat says, “I have interacted with over a dozen elderly persons, who are in their 90s, from my village and they claim that the wood path was created by funds provided by local trader Dhani Ram. The passage was used for cross border trade only. The reopening of Gartang Gali will provide a new attraction to tourists in Uttarkashi. We are presently collecting and searching documents related to the history of the Gartang Gully.”
Leaving troops of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police/army, who are stationed at the Nelong valley, and occasional visit of shepherds, the area had remained out of bounds for the common public after the Chinese aggression. In May 2015, the Uttarakhand government decided to reopen the Nelong valley for tourists and this year the heritage path was renovated.
Adventure expert and explorer Tilak Soni says, “The Gartang Gully is a unique cliff-side hanging-stairway. It has all the potential to become a major tourist attraction in India. Tourists visiting the gallery should behave properly and contribute to the conservation and promotion of the heritage wood pathway.”
The visitors can reach the Gartang Gully by undertaking a 2 km trek from Lanka Bridge. Nelong valley is often termed as the Ladakh of Uttarakhand. Unfortunately, very few documents are available about the Nelong valley.
Making a comment on the trade at Nilang pass, W Wilson narrates in his book A summer ramble in the Himalayas, published in 1860, “The little trade carried on over the Nelang pass is entirely in the hands of the inhabitants of that village, about thirty families of Tartars, who reside there during summer, and come down into Gurwhal in winter.”
Elaborating about the social life, W Wilson adds, “The Gurwhalees themselves rarely or never go into Thibet, and not one of them can speak the Tartar language. They take their grain to Nelang, and exchange it for salt with the Nelang people, and even should other Tartars be there, they are not allowed to exchange or trade with them. The Nelang people take the grain into Thibet, exchanging it for salt or wool, or the Thibetians come down to Nelang. Scarcely any other article of merchandise crosses this pass.”
In the absence of documentary evidence, big confusion prevails about the age of the Gartang Gully pathway. Nobody can confidently claim when the pathway was created? In The 17th century the Nelong valley was the centre of the boundary dispute between the Garhwal and Bushahr (also spelt Bashshr) princely states. The 1919-20 settlement report shows 17 families dwelling at Jadhang and 58 others at Nelong.
After the reopening of the Gartang Guli, a big interest exists among villagers and the forest department. They are exploring all possibilities to obtain documents related to the heritage pathway.