Uttarkashi was known in ancient days as Barahat and has a population of nearly 30,000. Today Uttarkashi is a prosperous town and headquarter of the district of the same name. The area of the district is 7951 sq. km. and the population was 3, 29, 686 in 2011. The city is situated on the bank of the Bhagirathi and is a town of historical monuments, temples, ashrams and dharamshalas. A large number of rest houses and small to medium size hotels with modern amenities have been commissioned for the use of tourists and pilgrims.
Amongst its many temples, the Temple of Lord Vishwanath is the most famous. Shiva is the presiding deity of this town and is worshipped every morning and evening at this ancient temple. At evening puja, the chiming bells and the chanting pandits engulf visitors in a sea of devotion.
Within the front courtyard of the Vishwanath Temple is located the Shakti Temple, dedicated to the Goddess of Energy. A massive old brass trident, emplanted nearby, carries inscriptions in Sanskrit. According to the inscription King Ganeshwar, whose son Guh was a great warrior and had the trident forged, built the Temple of Vishwanathji. The trident is 26 feet high, has a circumference of 8’9” at the base and 1’1.5” at the top.
Other noted temples in Uttarkashi are those of Parshuram, Kali, and that of Ekadash Rudra which was built by a former Maharaja of Jaipur.
An interesting picture of Uttarkashi is the remarkable similarity with Varanasi in terms of names of places and temples. Like Varanasi, Uttarkashi is situated at the bank of Ganga (Bhagirathi) between two streams known as Varuna and Assi. The ghats also bear the same names as those of Kashi. From the Lord Vishwanath temple to the Ghats, there are close similarities in names and characters between Kashi and Uttarkashi, and befittingly the town represents the holy city of Kashi in the north and therefore the name Uttarkashi. Why so ? A question, every devout would like to find an answer. It appears that some time in the past deliberate efforts were made under compelling circumstances to establish this place as the seat of the presiding deity of Kashi or Varanasi. But the circumstances under which such a necessity arose are not clearly known. Pressure of religious persecutions and feared desecration of temple of Kashi Vishwanathji could have been a possible reason. According to a Puranic story, Lord Shiva tells the Gods that when the earth will suffer from the atrocities of infidel religious persecutors, He (Shiva) will live in the Himalayas where only He may be worshipped. Perhaps sometime in the past, when Varanasi came under the wrath of religious persecution and the original temple of Lord Vishwanathji was ransacked, the pujaris may have taken the idol of Lord Vishwanath to Uttarkashi to protect it from defilement, and may be it was at this point that the town of Barahat became Uttarkashi, the Kashi in north. Such incidents are not unknown in history. The temple of Bharatji at Rishikesh, from where the idol was taken to Devprayag temporarily to save it from defilement, is an example.
On the day of Makar Sakranti, which falls in the month of January, a fair is held in Uttarkashi which lasts for seven days. Early in the morning on the day of Makar Sakranti devotees take a dip in the Bhagirathi and perform puja. From the surrounding villages the palanquined Gods and Goddesses are carried in procession and men, women and children throng the town, its temples and the banks of the Bhagirathi. The women are colourfully dressed and bedecked with chunky ornaments that are only worn on festive occasions. Men and women merrily sing and dance to the accompaniment of traditional musical instruments.
A point of historical interest is that the building, which is used as the Inspection House, was constructed by the Peshwa ruler Nana Sahib Dhundu during his exile.
Young girls and boys receive training in mountaineering and trekking at the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering located here in Uttarkashi. Bachhendri Pal, who has the distinction of being the first woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest, received her basic training in mountaineering in this very institute.
A large number of sadhus and sanaysis permanently live in Uttarkashi in a separate colony called Ujali. Many of them are reputed to be scholars.