Lying in the upper Himalayas, Uttarkashi contains within itself varying geographic environments ranging from snow free valleys and outer hills to the high peaks with perpetual snow and glaciers. The terrain runs into series of ridges and valleys. Each ridge leads to another coiling up in seemingly unending chains.Most of the terrain is mountainous consisting of high rise ridges, hills and plateaus and flat pieces of land are rare. The land in these areas is now in fertility due to large content of out crops of boulders and gravels. Made-up of alluvial soil, valley is a stream bed. Generally forests occur on the upper ridges that bound the valleys. On their sloping hill sides lie a chain of sparsely populated settlements interspersed with terrace cultivation.
Nature expresses itself in breath-taking variations from beauteous landscape luxuriously decked with vegetation punctuated by streams, brooks and rivers to high rise awesome rocky ridges and mountains gently tapering off into lefty snow-capped peaks. The widely varying climate and topography produce a wise range of vegetation and serve as habitats to diverse species of wild life. Forests occupy a place of pride in the environment of the district not only for the sheer bulk of the area they occupy but also for the richness of variety of vegetation. As much as 88 percent of the total area of the district is administered by the Forest Department. Pine forests occur between the altitude of 900-2000 metres, Deodar forests between 2000-3000 metres, Fix and Spruce forests over 3000 metres and Kharshu, Birch and Junipers forests upto the height of 4000 metres. Above the Fir and Spruce forest zone, alpine pastures are found throughout the district between the height of 3500 metres to 4877 metres above sea level. Rich varieties of grass, shrubs and herbs come up during June- September while during the remaining part of the year these areas remain covered with snow. A large number of medicinal plants of great commercial value grow spontaneously in the forests. Some of these grow in the valleys, some in sub-montane tracts while some other on higher altitudes. Forestry too does play an important role in the economy of the district. It employs persons both in preservation and propagation of forests as well as in their exploitation. Herbs are the most important minor forest produce. A large variety of herbs grow wild.
RIVERS AND WATERWAYS
It is the land of Uttarkashi district that gives rise to two great and reverent rivers of India the Bhagirathi, called the Ganga in the plains and the Yamuna. The Ganga coming up in the glaciers `gaumukh’ traverses 128 kms. in Uttarkashi district before flowing down farther. The third important river of this district is Tons besides host of tributaries that drain these areas.
AGRICULTURE AND IRRIGATION
Agriculture in these areas suffer from many constraints. The availability of cultivable land itself is the greatest restricting factor on the development of agriculture. It can be seen from the fact that as much as 88% of the area is either covered by forests or is barren and uncultivable. The land is low in fertility except in the valleys and even land is too few and far between. Shorter agricultural season, low temperature, high altitude, smallness of land holding, perpetual problem of soil erosion due to steep gradients etc. are other inhibiting factors effecting agriculture. The agriculture, therefore, does not offer too much hope for bringing about well being to the people of the area. Sheep rearing for production of wool and meat, orchard raising, spinning and weaving of wool and other cottage industries etc. offer much scope and their potential be exploited to the fullest extent. The cultivation in these areas are carried on largely by making terraces on the sloping hillsides. Some cultivation is done on steep hills also where terracing and tilling cannot be done and the place is cleared by burning scrubs and bushes. The seeds are sown with the help of a hoe. This practice of cultivation is known as `Katil’. Both Rabi as well as Kharif crops are harvested. The main Kharif crops are paddy, small millets and potato and chief Rabi crops are wheat and barley. These crops account for over 80 percent of the total cropped area. Horticulture is another field that can boost up the economy of the district. However, it has not made much headway due to difficulties in marketing the produce, due to poor communications and remoteness of areas.
Animal husbandry is an important source of supplementing income of the rural population. Of the total live-stock, bovine population and that of sheep accounted for almost one third each. The production of milk per milch animal is very low. Efforts are under way for introducing high yielding strain. Sheep rearing is an important industry in the district. Yet it does not provide full time employment and it is only avocation for those who are engaged in its pursuit.
The knowledge regarding occurrences of minerals in the district is scanty. As per stray surveys, soap stones, iron, graphite, lime stone, kyanite and mica deposits occur in the district. There has been hardly any industrial development in the district. The cottage and village industries play an important role in the economy of the district. The most important cottage industry is the production of wool and woolen goods. Sheep are reared in a large number and the industry flourished at an altitude between 1525 metres and 2440 metres. Carpets (namdas), tweeds, blankets etc. are produced. Other cottage industries are basket-making, mat weaving and wood craft. The potentials of forest and horticulture can be better exploited by locating forest and horticulture based industries within the district. This will bring down transportation cost as a proportion to the selling price of the products, making them competitive in the market. Tourism industry possesses tremendous possibilities of development. The terrain produces some of the rarest spectacles contrasting between awesome raggedness and breath takingly beautiful landscape which have charmed and challenged man since ages. The location of Hindu religious places takes it beyond the pale of connoisseur and lovers of nature to the common man who throngs for religious satiety.