By Pradeep Singh
There are not many regions in the world whose geographical attributes are recalled with ease even before its name. The Geography of Dehradun or the Doon Valley distinguishes itself far more than its name. The district has stellar boundaries in that the two holy rivers of the subcontinent, the Ganga and the Yamuna flow on the district’s eastern and western borders. While the mighty Himalayas make up the northern perimeter, the sylvan Siwalik Ranges enclose the district in the south and separate it from the great plains of the country.
To add more to the allure of the Doon Valley is the fact that here geology, mythology and spirituality have waltzed together since time immemorial. In this cosmic dance, the Nagsidh Range of hills has a place of its own. Nagsidh hills, with a peak rising to an elevation of 2640 feet, are positioned in the central part of the Doon Valley, facing the higher Himalayas to the north and, to the south, run the Siwalik Ranges from which the Nagsidh range has separated itself by the action of the Suswa River that flows between the parent range and its well known offspring.
The geomorphology of the district has ensured that the entire region is one whole in which the rugged mountains, rolling hills and numerous fresh water small and big rivers run through the valley. The valley itself, lying at an elevation of over 2000 feet above the Gangetic Plain, has a milder climate but enjoys forest cover that has remained since ancient times an enviable attraction for all manner of people. But, above all, the hills and forests of the Valley have been favoured by the Gods. Lord Shiva and his son, Ganesha, are stated to have roamed the hills here and the Shiva connection has ever since remained with the hills being called the Shivaliks (Shiva’s tresses).
Before the term Siwaliks or Shivaliks became established, these hill ranges were called Manak Parbat and the latter name finds its presence to this day in one of the four Sidhs of the Valley: Manak Sidh. The others being Lakshman Sidh, Kalu Sidh and Maru Sidh. These four collectively complete the circuit which in the days gone by was covered by Shiva devotees. The sacrament (prasad) at these shrines has come down the ages and it is the simple jaggery or gur known to every man, woman and child.
Detached as the Nagsidh range was from the main Siwalik Ranges and from the Himalayas, it provided a solitary sanctuary not only for the flora and fauna but more particularly for a host of spiritual beings: ascetics, mystics, hermits, sages, travelling fakirs and other kindred souls. To many of the old families of the valley, the Nagsidh range is also known as the “Sidh Pahara” owing to its association with the spiritually evolved men of God who lived there. The Nagsidh Peak that crowns the range was the home of the mythic snake god, Bamun Nag, who achieved recognition for the penance he did atop the peak. The peak has since then been called Nagsidh.
The Nagsidh range stretches from Kuanwala in the east to Daudwala in the west. Its northern side abuts Nawada, while its southern boundary is marked by the Suswa River that separates the entire range from the Rajaji National Park. There are some old walking trails that still exist running through Nagsidh ravines connecting Nawada to Dudhli. These walking paths were much used by those not faint of heart as this was a shorter route to Dehradun from the southern villages. Old timers called this route “ghati ka rasta” of which I have written in my anthology, Sals of the Valley: A Memorial to Dehra (2017). Though easy to negotiate by day, at night even the most intrepid were found wandering in circles in the Nagsidh when these lost souls would find night’s shelter by the fireside of a hermit. Not often, the fire and the hermit would not be seen when arrived the sun peering through the dense Sal trees that had only a few hours before dripped dew on the sleepers below.
(Pradeep Singh is an historian and the author of Sals of the Valley: A Memorial to Dehra (2017) and Suswa Saga: A Family Narrative of Eastern Dehra Dun (2012).)