INDIA. Uttarkashi, Uttarakhand: Gartang Gali, a 150-year-old skywalk in Uttarkashi’s Nelong Valley located at an altitude of 11,000 feet was recently reopened for tourists after 60 years by the Uttarakhand government. The skywalk falling under the jurisdiction of Gangotri National Park (GNP) was renovated recently and tourists were allowed from 23 August 2021 and attracted. The first fifteen das saw around 500 tourists visiting the skywalk.
The central govt. of India, along with Uttarakhand govt. plans to develop it as a major tourist destination and have removed the skywalk from the inner line permit area a few years ago. R N Pandey, deputy director of Gangotri National Park told The Transcontinental Times that they are following all COVID protocols and other safety guidelines, and visitors are allowed after strict checking.
The Gartang Gali Bridge offering excellent views of the Nelong valley is 136 m long and 1.8 m wide and is located inside the Gangotri National Park at a distance of 90 km from Uttarkashi district headquarters. In ancient times the bridge served as an important connection on an ancient cross-trade route to Tibet. It is believed that Peshawar Pathans built it a century and a half ago. The bridge is of great historic and strategic importance. The nomads (Bhotiya tribe) used the bridge to travel and ferry their goods, like wool, spices, and other items on yaks from this bridge.
The historic wooden skywalk was declared open to the public on 23 August 2021by Uttarkashi district magistrate Ms. Mayur Dixit. Ms. Madhuri told The Transcontinental Times that the opening of the Gartang gali will certainly boost the tourists flow to the Nelong valley from across the country.
It should be noted here that though no inner line permit is required to visit and walk through the skywalk, a tourist will still need an inner line permit to visit other parts of the Nelong valley.
Nelong valley can be looked upon as a replica of Ladakh, or Tibet in terms of its topography, and this Himalayan desert area is home to a number of endangered species such as the snow leopard, blue sheep, musk deer, etc.
Part of the Gangotri National Park (GNP), Nelong Valley was opened for visitors only in 2015 after it was shut following the 1962 Indo-Sino war. The Gangotri National Park (GNP) is a protected area and adventure seekers love to visit the area even if they have to go through a lot of govt. formalities. After the opening of the bridge, the valley has become one of the most preferred destinations for adventure lovers. The region features high peaks having a similar climate and landscape to that of Lahaul, Spiti Valley, and Ladakh. Travelers are not allowed to stay overnight in the valley.
Guidelines for tourists
Ms. Madhuri said, “The Gartang Gali Bridge has been refurbished by the department of public works at a cost of INR 65 lakh. Tourists will have to register themselves at Bhairav Ghati outpost while following all the COVID guidelines.”
Guidelines set by the authorities from the security point of view included restrictions on the number of visitors on the bridge at a time. Only ten visitors will be allowed at a time and that too maintaining a distance of one meter from each other. Visitors are only allowed to walk slowly on the bridge, and other activities like running, jumping, dancing, drinking liquor, or carrying inflammable substances are prohibited on the bridge.
Disappointing tourist behaviour
Within just two weeks of its opening, it is very disappointing for the authorities to see people defacing the bridge and performing stunts even though there are signages prohibiting such actions. The bridge was defaced by tourists within days, with many engraving their names on the Indian Rosewood (shisham) railings of the historic bridge. Visitors also shared videos on social media showing them standing on the edge of the bridge, and taking selfies.
This saddened and angered, the tourism minister Satpal Maharaj, who had played a key role in the renovation of the skywalk. Mr. Satpal later spoke to the district magistrate of Uttarkashi, Mayur Dixit, and directed that an FIR be lodged against the culprits, and catch those responsible. Since then, GNP authorities have deployed guards to rein in hooliganism at the bridge.
This has angered the locals who are pinning hopes on new earning opportunities by providing boarding and lodging for tourists too. Mathur Singh, one of my ex-employee, who has opened a portion of his house as a homestay, said, “It is sad to see visitors indulging in such vandalism at the skywalk. Police should take proper action and arrest people indulging in these activities.”