South Asian women’s rights activist. Moonlights as a freelance journalist and travel writer
THERE ARE some things we can never have enough of — watching a river flow, listening to spooky stories, day-dreaming on a recliner or sleeping to the strokes of a gentle breeze. (My list also includes star gazing, rambling in meadows and playing croquet.) Fortunately, my favourite holiday spot packs in all these, and yet is one of the best kept secrets in the Himalayas! If you promise to keep it a secret I will tell you all about it. Assuming you just said, “Done, go ahead”, here it is — the woody and picturesque Tons river valley.
In case you are a rafting junkie, chances are you have been-there, done-that. In case you are not, here’s a warning: do not associate Tons only with white-water fun. Sadly, super-specialised travel marketing thrusts sticky labels on destinations, thus making them either for romance or religion, adventure or culture (as if others have none!). Tons defies such tight and flawed classification; its mojo is all this and more.
Approximately 450 km from Delhi, the alpine Tons valley lies in the Jaunsar Bawar region of Garhwal. Though the Tons river emerges from the Bandarpunchh mountain range at 20,720 feet, it marks the boundary between Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. The largest tributary of the Yamuna, Tons flows en route to some of the finest treks in the country such as Har Ki Dun or Valley of God. Yet, it is so quiet and pristine that you practically get the mountains, river and the forests to yourself.
Since the river is the hub of the valley, every summer (May to early July) camps spring up alongside it’s white beaches. Rafters from around the world are seen in wetsuits and splash jackets paddling their way through intermittent stretches of noisy white surf and tranquil waters, passing scenic forests and remote villages. Rated as ‘one of the top 10 world-class rivers on the planet’ by rafting legend Jack Morison, Tons has many grade III and IV rapids with wicked names — Horns of the Tons, Foreplay and Major Surprise, the biggest rapid of the river. If you are still adventure-hungry, try kayaking, mountain biking, rock climbing and rappelling.
The Tons, which is Yamuna’s largest
tributary, is a major perennial river and in fact carries more water than the Yamuna
If your idea of a holiday is slacker, try angling for trout. You can also go birdwatching for the exquisite Monal Pheasant, Western Tragopan, Himalayan Snowcock, Bearded Vulture or the familiar warbler or thrush. Stroll into the forest to be greeted by hidden rock pools amidst alpine oak, chestnut, rhododendron and jamun trees! The Sandhra-Mora walk has enchanting views across the valley, and overnight hikes for the die-hard trekker. The ancient temple at Hanol (1,700-1,800 metres) dedicated to Lord Shiva is a must-see. Legend has it that locals of the valley are descendants of the Kauravas. Evenings usually end around bonfires with barbeques and songs.
Though government-run lodges dot the valley, why give up a chance to live under star-lit skies in a valley that smells of mint and pine, with sounds of the bulbul? Stabbed by nostalgia, I want to pack my bags now.