Gartang Gali, an ancient pathway used for Indo-Tibetan trade and located on a vertical ridge, is fast emerging as a major tourist attraction in the Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand. Offering a skywalk experience, the Gartang Gali was renovated and reopened for tourists last year on 17 August. And, in its 106-day operation (in 2021) the Gartang Gali has attracted over 5,000 tourists. The trek provides the visitors with a chance to explore the route used by Jadh Bhotiyas, on which they used to move with their yaks and herds of goat/sheep, to their summer villages Jadong and Nelong on the international border.
The tourism data of Gangotri National Park (2021) provides a clear picture of the domination of the Gartang Gali among other treks, including Gaumukh-Tapovan and Kalandi. Gangotri Park provides permits for the Gaumukh-Gangotri-Tapovan, Kalandi, Gartang Gali, Kedartal to Basukital trekking routes, and the Bhairoghati to Nelong vehicular movement. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic the tourist spot remained closed for a long time. They were reopened for visitors in August last year.
Gartang Gali attracted 5,457 tourists in the last season, Gangotri-Gaumukh-Tapovan 2,353, Kalandi trek 165, Kedartal to Basukital trek 391, and Bhairoghati to Nelong (on vehicle) 1,026 guests. All these trek routes and Bhairoghati-Nelong motorable road remain open for eight months from 1 April till 30 November. The new season started earlier this month and park authorities are expecting high attendance at Gartang Gali this time.
The 2-km trail for Gartang Gali starts from Lanka Bridge, which is located 90 km from district headquarter Uttarkashi. A mix of moderate and steep trek, the journey passes through dense Deodar (Himalayan cedar) and Kail (Pinus roxburghii) forest. If the guests are lucky they can get a glimpse of the Himalayan blue sheep and Himalayan goat in the wild. Though snow leopards have habitat in the Nelong valley, their sighting is rather rare. The pathway stands at an elevation of 10,000 ft above sea level and offers challenging terrain.
The wooden pathway
The pathway located in the picturesque Nelong valley is 136m long and 1.8m wide. The Deodar slipper lined stairway has attracted attention worldwide. The gallery was used for cross border trade with Tibet till 1962, but after the India-China war the stunning wood structure had remained unused and in complete neglect. Leaving army and the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering (Uttarkashi) teams, the ancient wood architect was rarely used by civilians.
Praising the wooden structure, G Shah writes in his book Abode of Gods: Uttarakhand (1984), “For reaching up to the source of Jadh Ganga, we have to go upstream. The route is good except for the initial dangerous path which lies over a huge rock face below which Jadh Ganga flows fiercely. But human ingenuity has done miracles by driving iron bars over the rocks and putting wooden planks on them. It is known as Gartang Gallery.”
Technically a pathway
It is believed that the pathway is over a century old, but no documentary evidence is available on the claim. The wood planks were replaced to provide a new zeal of life to the infrastructure. Contractor Rajpal Bisht, who executed the restoration work, says: “On two patches — one of 12m and other of 24m — Gartang Gali acts as a bridge and in the rest part it is a pathway created by chiselling hard stone.”
Walking on Gartang Gali
Even tourists with big hearts and courage walk slowly and close to the chiselled stone wall and not by holding the wood rallying. It takes a lot of effort to muster courage to see the Jadh Ganga (Jhanevi) river majestically flowing 200m below. The tourists can’t go beyond the end point of the wooden pathway.
Guideline for tourists
Carry your water bottle as there is no canteen, dhaba, café and habitat area on Gartang Gali trek route. During the rainy season, carry your umbrella/raincoat as no shed exists on the 2-km trail. Maintain slow movement. Use a sports shoe and track pants (lower) for a comfortable walk. For taking selfies and photographs, select a safe location. Ticket charges (per person): Rs 150 for Indians and Rs 600 for foreigners. People with acrophobia and health complications related to the heart should avoid undertaking the trek.
The 1962 war forced the villagers from Jadong and Nelong to permanently settle at their winter villages Dunda and Bagori, but now the Government of India is making new efforts to resettle Jadh Bhotiyas in their bordering villages. Even in the new development, there is remote chance of revival of the old trek route as the Bhairoghati-Nelong motorable route is functional.
Compared with other skywalks
Skywalk is a new concept in Indian tourism. A report of the Times of India, 9 November 2020, states, “The Sikkim Skywalk is the first glass skywalk in India. It has been built so as to give a wonderful view of the Chenrezig statue and the stairs that lead up to it, with golden prayer wheels on each side.”
Compared to other skywalks of India, the Gartang Gali offers a totally different experience. Trekking in the wild and walking on an ancient wooden wonder — which shows the hard work of local people or agency involved in chiselling the hard rock — leave one speechless, providing unforgettable experiences.
Gangotri National Park
Gartang Gali: 5,457 tourists (income Rs 8.53 Lakh)
Gaumuk-Tapovan: 2,353 tourists (income Rs 3.78 Lakh)
Kalandi: 165 tourists (income Rs 49,500)
Kedartal to Basukital: 391 tourists (income Rs 3.78 Lakh)
Bhairoghati to Nelong (vehicle permit): 1,026 tourists (Rs 2.29 Lakh)