The Central Himalayan landscape is replete with stark transitions—from neat terraced fields to dense brooding jungles. The dormant alpine grasslands moaning under the burden of snow for months spring to life in summer, bloom without restraint during the rainy season and are parched and shrivelled by the time autumn arrives. But in this short span, these grasslands known as Bugyals in the local tongue blossom with myriad varieties of wild flowers that dot a soft carpet of lush green grass. This swansong of the living lasts for a meagre four months yet it packs raw energy.
Raithal is a quaint hill village located in the shadow of towering snow-clad peaks of the Gangotri region on the right bank in the upper reaches of Uttarakhand Himalayas. Historically, this region has been prominent owing to its proximity to Uttarkashi, the pilgrim trail to Gangotri and the trade route with Tibet. This is evident from remains of a couple of ruined stone temples straddling the curvy road climbing to the village from the roaring river. Raithal itself is a typical Himalayan hamlet with a laid-back attitude to life.
A dilapidated five-storey house built with alternate blocks of wood and stone with grounded urad daal as a binding agent is the only remnant of history that survived the terrible Uttarkashi earthquake in 1991. These structures can be found west of the Yamuna in Uttarakhand though this architectural art has been lost in the Bhagirathi valley. The architecture of the recently built multi-tiered temple dedicated to Sameshwar Mahadev borrows heavily from wooden temples of western Uttarakhand.
Raithal also serves as the base camp for a short but rewarding trek to the high-altitude grasslands of Dayara Bugyal. A winding trail from the village climbs steadily past carved terraced fields with temporary huts and disappears into a jungle of oak. The mood of the jungle varies from a parched brown in winter to a jubilant red in spring to an envious green in monsoon. On the advent of summer, herders from Raithal and surrounding villages head to the intermediate camp at Goi Bugyal and subsequently to Dayara with cattle.
An undulating landscape, rising and falling effortlessly, is inhabited by a handful of humans and scores of cows, buffaloes, sheep and goats kept company by Himalayan vultures. The grasslands also offer brilliant views of the upper Himalayas— to east, peaks like Draupadi ka Danda aim for the sky; to north, presence of the striking massif of Bandarpoonch is unmistakable with Black Peak peeping from behind. The euphoria of monsoons is quickly followed by the dewy whisper of an approaching winter.
With flowers wilting away and green grass withering, humans and their animal companions prepare to abandon their makeshift settlements and descend to warmer climes. It is time for life to brace itself for the icy shackles of winter, to embrace whatever little warmth it can muster and retreat into abandoned caves and caverns with a resilient hope of blooming again when summer returns.
Base camp for Dayara Bugyal: 38 km from Uttarkashi
Dehradun is the major railway station, 87 km from Raithal