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Mukhwa: Magical and Memorable

Mukhwa: Magical and Memorable
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Mukhwa: Magical and Memorable. I knocked at the magnificent, carved door of the house. The echo of my voice coupled with a chilly, gusty breeze...

Located in picturesque land of Himachal Pradesh, Mukhwa is the abode of the idol of Goddess Gangotri and was domicile of Frederick Wilson, who escaped from the British Army and cultivated the famous Harsil apples

I knocked at the magnificent, carved door of the house. The echo of my voice coupled with a chilly, gusty breeze pierced the darkness of the just-descended night. The gurgling murmur of the flowing river surged above the noise of my feet tapping on the wooden floor. The door opened with a creaking noise and a thin, pale man in the flickering light of the lantern introduced himself as the owner of the guest house in Mukhwa.

Wooden houses

It had been a long, enervating drive from Dehradun to Harsil, and further to Mukhwa, the winter seat of Gangotri. After Diwali, when the temple of Gangotri closes down the idol is shifted to Mukhyamath temple in Mukhwa village, 20 km downstream. In April after the snows have receded and the road is open once again, the deity is taken back to Gangotri with a lot of fanfare and rituals. The pujaris of Gangotri are the Brahmins from the village Mukhwa.

These pujaris are selected rotation wise every year and perform all the rituals. Exhausted with the journey, I sat down to an early dinner of stuffed parathas of kulath (Himalayan pulse) along with chainsoo (black gram pulses) and bhang ki chutney (sauce made with the seeds of the cannabis plant). And soon after that hit the sack straight away and sank into a deep satisfying slumber.

I awoke early to the chirping of the Himalayan babblers and decided to take a walk around the village. The astounding beauty of the mountains mesmerised me. The sloped canopies of Deodar and spruced pines added to the majesty of the Himalayas. This village looked marvelous with abandoned but intricately carved huge wooden house.

The square around the temple has quite a cluster of these wonderful buildings. The seismic resistant architecture of the houses is quite amazing- bearing marked antiquity and distinct construction style. These multi-storied traditional houses with alternate layers of wood and stone are built on a stone-filled platform. These wood-based structures are flexible and better in absorbing and dissipating energy, reducing the risk of breakage and collapse.

These age-old structures are still intact and have not been damaged by seismic activity despite these being located in the most severe damage risk zone V. As I made my way up the hill, I caught a glimpse of the snow clad ‘Shivling’ peaks shining gloriously in the rays of sun. Mukhwa was bustling with activity. Women dried pumpkins for the ruthless winter, urchins played with marbles and slipshod men played cards.

Mukhwa has yet another claim to fame, it is the maika (parental home) of one of the wives of Frederick “Pahari” Wilson, a Britisher, who settled in the hills here and became so powerful that he even minted his own coins. Frederick Wilson escaped from the British Army during the Afghan war in 1842 and arrived in Mussoorie to escape capital punishment.

He visited Raja of Tehri and asked him for refuge. But Raja refused to accommodate Wilson because he himself was under the protection of British. Wilson then escaped further into the mountains and ended up in Harsil, a remote beautiful village on the banks of the Ganges. He initiated apple cultivation here and even today Harsil apples are famous throughout India for their succulent quality.

Slowly, as time went by, Wilson made a fortune by selling the timber of Deodar trees in order to supply the British with sleepers for the new railways that were being built in all over Indian Subcontinent. And in doing so he became one of the richest men in India. It is said that Rudyard Kipling based his book ‘The Man Who Would be King’ on Wilson.

In the subsequent years, Wilson fell in love with a beautiful girl of the village of Mukhwa. The girl’s name was Raimatta and her father Mungetu Chand, a temple drummer at Mukhwa was Wilson’s constant companion. Wilson became deeply attached to Mungetu and even built him a house in Mukhwa near the temple. I decided to visit the house built by Wilson-Raimatta’s ancestral house. A group of men sat huddled together near the house playing cards.

Their faces beamed with excitement as I asked them about ‘Pahadi’ Wilson and Raimatta. Many intriguing stories and legends have been woven around the hills of Garhwal. A number of them are attributed to the figments of imagination of intoxicated minds. After all, “sooraj hua ast, Garhwal hua mast” (As soon as the sun sets Garhwal, turns joyful with liquor)” is a very common maxim in the hills of Uttarakhand.

One such legend in this mountain village is woven around the restless ghost of Wilson, who supposedly rides his horse across the rocky trails on moonlit nights. The ancient river weeps in sympathy as she listens to the retreating hoof beats. I leave the village and descend to the river. All along the path are several trees laden with apples, which are so much in abundance here that not many people eat these fruits and it often lies rotting under the trees.

I reach the gushing waters and dip my toe in the ice cold waters. The experience is magical. On the water's edge are big round stones, perfect to enjoy the scene lying down. On the other side of the river is the ever-encompassing Himalayan outline. Above is a clear blue sky. Is more needed here? Definitely not!

Fact File

Location: A small Himalayan village situated on the way to Gangotri in Uttarakhand

Nearest Rail head: Haridwar (200 Km)

Nearest Airport : Rishikesh (240 kms)

Accommodation: Mukhwa boasts of only modest home stays in the ancient wooden houses of the priests. For tourists addicted to creature comfort, Just 1 km away is Harsil having hotels with modern amenities. Chardham Camps in Harsil by the river Bhagirathi can be a good option. For details visit http://www.sacredyatra.com/the-char-dham-camp-harsil.html

Activities: Leisurely walks in the village, laze in the orchards bursting with the fruit, visit the traditional houses to admire the adoring seismic resistant architecture and intricate wooden carvings.

By Sriparna Saha

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