The high-altitude deserts of Ladakh, and Spiti, have captivated the imaginations of travelers around the world for ages. There is something about these destinations that seems to cast a spell on whoever visits and people seem to be wanting more and more. Over-tourism and over-commercialization have sadly taken a toll on these destinations that boast of phenomenal landscapes and interesting cultures. And for those travelers looking to explore similar places but in serenity there is the Nelong Valley in Uttarakhand.
Nelong Valley is still in its nascent stages of tourism and doesn’t feature among the top hill stations in North India. However, with time and the easing of restrictions, it will soon be the crown jewel, especially for motorcycle riders in the country.
About Nelong Valley
Nelong valley is a destination that is as offbeat as one can get. It was opened to tourism in 2015 and since then has grown in popularity due to its similarity with Ladakh and Spiti. The tall snow-covered peaks, cold desert looks, brown mountains, cliff-side roads, and pristine rivers are a new addition to the bucket list of motorcycle riders from around the world.
The Nelong Valley is a rocky, mountainous desert located in Gangotri National Park. Perched at a height of 11,400 feet, the Nelong Valley was once a trade route between India and Tibet. The remnants of an ancient wooden bridge hanging precariously alongside a cliff can still be found now. It falls under the Uttarkashi region and is about 260 kms from Dehradun.
It is said that the original inhabitants of the Nelong Valley were the Bhotiya tribes who were traders of wool, carpets, and other handmade wares along with food items like rice, barley, tobacco, etc. The local economy was driven through the markets, the Bada Haats, where goods were offered on barter deals. During the Indo-China war of 1962, the trade route was shut down. The Nelong Valley economy virtually ended and the locals moved to neighbouring regions of Bagori and Dunda villages.
First, due to the elevation, all travelers are required to get a fitness certificate to be eligible to enter the area. There are chances of people suffering from Altitude Sickness so all precautions must be taken. The Nelong Valley is close to the China border; therefore, tourists need a permit letter to enter the region.
The Indian government has put a cap on the number of people who can visit at any given time. A maximum of 6 vehicles with 4 passengers each can enter the Nelong Valley every day. There was talk of some relaxations in this but we aren’t sure if anything concrete happened. Camping enthusiasts will be disappointed to know that camping is strictly not allowed there as only ITBP camps exist in the region. There aren’t any eateries and the tourist department regulates all activities in the region.
Nelong Valley area is classified as a border area that is quite sensitive from a national security perspective. Therefore, foreign nationals are NOT permitted to visit the area.
Getting a permit for Nelong Valley
Well, tougher than the terrain is the process to get a permit. Here are the steps you need to complete to gain access to the valley.
1. Write to the District Magistrate in Hindi explaining why you would like to visit the region. You will have to provide details of all those who are traveling with you. We recommend you to travel either in an SUV or off-road capable motorcycles only. With this application, carry all documents like ID’s, photographs, address proof, etc. and keep extra photocopies of them
2. Once you reach Uttarkashi, you will need to visit the DM’s office in Bhatwari and submit the documents. Whether your application is approved or not depends on luck!
3. If it is approved, you will now need to visit the Forest office located in Kotbangla, where you will need to submit another application with ID proofs. If accepted, you will be granted a letter of approval
4. Take these documents to the district police station, to meet the Intelligence Unit and submit another application there. Once approved, you get another approval letter! All these signed approval letters will now need to be taken to the DM’s office. There all these letters will be signed, and you will be issued a permit. DO NOT lose them!
Wasn’t that fun? This process could take a few hours or days so plan your trip accordingly. Now if you want the easier option, you can try this link for applications for the permit.
Hotels in Nelong Valley
Well, there aren’t any. Nelong Valley needs to be covered as a day trip over several days and you will have to make Gangotri or Harsil as your base. Both of them have a few options for stay and are exceptionally beautiful as well. There are some more hotels and lodges in Bagori, 40 kms before Nelong Valley and you can take up a room there as well.
Best time to visit Nelong Valley
The terrain of Nelong Valley is similar to that found in Ladakh and Spiti therefore it experiences a similar climate as well. The valley is open to visitors from May till November every year and you can plan your trip to Nelong Valley any time in these months. However, do make sure that you get a fitness certificate and take permission to enter the valley.
There aren’t many tourists in Nelong Valley so you could explore it any time during these months but weather-wise the best time to be there will either be in May or November.
How to reach Nelong Valley
The closest airport to Nelong Valley is in Dehradun, located 250 kms away. From Dehradun airport, you will have to take a cab to Nelong. Else you can take a bus from Dehradun till Gangotri.
You can also reach Nelong Valley from Gangotri. It’s an 8 km trek through Bhaironghati that isn’t very tough to undertake. Roads in the region are not great and chances are landslides happening are not rare.
If you are driving, be extremely cautious! Driving in these mountainous conditions is not easy; the volatile climate and dangerous roads present unique challenges. But even with these challenges, exploring the Nelong Valley can be an enriching, once in a lifetime experience!