Table of contents for Kumaon trip
- Reposeful Deenapani
On our last visit to Gujarat, my wife felt that travelling with little Tanmay was more of a concern for her than an enjoyment and hence the dictum, “No more travel plans, till the kid grows up“was in force. So when I saw her enthusiastically flipping through the pages of a travel guide, it was not only a pleasant surprise but also a relief. For some, travelling is not a luxury, it’s an utter necessity. Its a part of their lives, a way of life and in-fact serves a purpose in life.
My wife was planning our next travel destination, should it be north-east or the hills of Uttaranchal. After planning, re-planning, re-replanning several itineraries, we finally decided to visit Kumaon region of Uttaranchal. Sorry, if I hurt any sentiments, but I prefer to call this newly carved state, Uttarakhand, by its former name Uttaranchal, as it sounds poetic and lyrical.
My sister-in-law also showed her interest to join us with family and so this time the lonely travelling birds got a company too.
The result of our spending hours in front of the smart-box, as our itinerary was as follows:
19th May evening – Travel by train to Kathgodam Or
20th May morning – Travel by train to Lalkuan.
20th May – stay at KMVN, Deenapaani
21st May we left un-reserved to decide on the way to Munsiyari
22nd- 23rd May – stay at Zara resort, Munsyari
24th- 25th May – stay at KMVN, Chaukori
26th May – stay at KMVN, Jageshwar
27th May – stay at KMVN, Saattal
And back to Delhi from Lalkuan by Delhi-Lalkuan Special train on 28th May.
In office, for the past several months, my team was busy meeting a tight project schedule. It was only in that month that the project started to pass through a lean phase. So as soon as the itinerary was final, I started to sing about my next trip to Kumayun. The main reason for this advertisement was to make my colleagues jealous to provide them enough impetus so they also plan their vacations.
The advertisement helped me in getting valuable tips and tricks but it also brought embarrassment. My colleague, Lata, laughed and teasingly asked, “So when are you planning to meet Humayun’s younger brother Kumayun”? A wrinkle on my forehead made her spell it out, its Kumaon and not Kumayun.
She told me about her trip to Kausani and suggested to book the planned sumo-vehicle in advance from the same taxi operator, Mr Jaggu, who accompanied them on their trip. I immediately called him and he quoted a price of 1200 Rs per night per vehicle along with the diesel that would be consumed in the trip.
I later realized that he had quoted a quite decent price for the busy tourist season of May.
We had booked train tickets to Kathgodam in Ranikhet express almost two months in advance; still we could only get a waitlisted (WL) ticket in 3rd AC for 19th May. So, we booked another ticket in Delhi-Lalkuan special for 20th May. On 19th May evening, before chart preparation, our waitlisted status snailed from 28 to 23 in Ranikhet Express. It seemed that in summer vacation period nobody make cancellation! However, when the chart was prepared, our tickets status jumped to confirm. This least expected last-minute-confirmation brought sudden acceleration in our activities.
Next day morning, at 5:30 am, we came out at Kathgodam Railway Station yawning, stretching ourselves and finally splashing our faces with the chilled tap water to come out of the somnolent reverie. The cool morning breeze provided much sought after respite from one-night-left-behind May-hot summers of Delhi.
The drivers of our vehicle, Dewan Singh Bisht and Narendra Singh Mewar, were waiting outside. The planned route that we were going to take was
Kathgodam – Bhimtal – 17 Km
Bhimtal – Bhowali – 10 Km
Bhowali – Khairna Bridge – 33 Km
Khairna Bridge – Almora – 33 Km
Almora – Dinapani – 30 Km
Kumaon, this beautiful word that earlier left me red-faced is derived from Sanskrit word “Koorm” that means tortoise. It is believed that in his second incarnation Lord Vishnu appeared as a tortoise on a hill near Champawat in Pitthoragarh district. The hill was thus named Koorm and the area around was called Kurmanchal. In 16th century the Chand rulers renamed it Kumaon.
As we left the station and moved ahead in Kathgodam, our driver pointed towards the HMT factory and the houses of its employees. Those houses were in dilapidated state and apparently had very less occupancy. I have spent thirty beautiful years of my life in a small Public Sector Unit township. I know the golden years these PSUs and their employees have enjoyed and so my heart bleeds when I look at their present condition. HMT was among the few companies that invested early in Uttaranchal. Today, as has happened with most of the PSUs, it has lost its sheen to the private players. Not only that, our driver made an interesting observation. He commented, “Sir, in this ‘mobile-era’ who buys a wrist-watch”.
It also made me wonder how quickly a thing of luxury has become a necessity and a necessity has become a luxury.
Our first break was in a market place around Bhimtal. The Dhaba where we enjoyed Pakoras with delicious chuttni was situated under a loaded mango tree.
Soon we crossed Bhimtal – the biggest lake of Nainital, the Lake District of Kumaon. There is an old temple of Lord Shiva – Bheemeshwar Mahadev temple at the bank of this Lake. It is believed that this temple was build over an old temple that Bheem, the legendary Pandava, visited during his banishment. I personally like prettier and calmer Sattal and Naukuchiatal over Bhimtal.
Heaps after heaps of succulent and enticing varieties of fruits like plum, apricot, peach, cherries, mangoes and bananas in the shops around, made us realize that we were passing through the fruit market of Uttaranchal, Bhowali.
And soon the eyes were enjoying the sight of trees laden with peaches and apricots. And, as if the mouth was cursed, the hands failed to pick those ‘eyelicious’ fruits.
Kainchi dham was approaching, and the driver started to tell us about it and narrate the miracles of Neem Karoli Baba. Neem karoli Baba is a famous mystic and revered saint of modern India who got the famous Hanuman Mandir constructed in the tranquil surroundings of Kainchi. The road here has two sharp hair pin bends giving it a resemblance to Kainchi (scissor) and hence the name Kainchi Dham.
Our driver told us that at the time of annual fair at Kainchi Dham so many devotees throng the ashram that there are jams till Bhowali.
He then started to share a miraculous story; during one of the bhandaras all the ghee was consumed. The chief halwai worriedly brought it to Baba’s notice, as it would have taken hours before more ghee could be procured. Baba suggested him, “My son, Ganga Maiya’s, water is no less than ghee. Take as much as you need”. The halwai followed Baba’s suggestion and to his surprise water got converted into ghee and he could easily manage uninterrupted supply of Halwa. When ghee was procured, Baba asked him to return the exact amount of ghee to Ganga Maiya that was taken. As the ghee was poured in the water it became water.
I know many of us, esp. the religiously challenged ghumakkars, will find it difficult to believe the episode. So, let me share my experience. I was told that ‘moong ki dal ke pakore’ and a glass of ‘Jaljeera’ at Kainchi Dham should not be missed. I was looking forward to stop there for these two specialties and a visit to the temple was a secondary attraction. The other vehicle was moving ahead of ours and they speedily crossed Kainchi Dham. I called them to suggest for a break but by that time Kainchi Dham was left behind and they replied back that we will take a break sometime later. While returning also we could not stop as Rachit was unwell. The message was clear, only devotees are invited, food freaks can proceed :-) Was it a mini miracle? Who knows?
We drove ahead enjoying the shades of different colors on the hills. The meandering Kosi River flowed with us, throughout the drive, following its wandering course through beautifully landscaped round boulders. These carefree rivers, un-obstacled even by the large boulders, that can even take mountains in their stride; always remind me of my favourite sher:
हम भी दरिया हैं, हमें अपना हुनर मालूम है,
जिस तरफ भी चल पड़ेंगे रास्ते हो जाएँगे|
At a bend a solitary purple blossoming tree waved us. The driver told us that this flower is locally known as Gahna (Jewellery). Indeed this flower was adding to the beauty of its green surroundings.
Many a times, my wife has expressed her desire to drive on our own on these beautiful hills. I always wonder when we can afford a “chauffeur-driven-vehicle’ why she prefers a ‘shauhar-driven-vehicle’. Perhaps there is a fun in scolding husbands for their exemplary driving skills.
Our next break was at a picturesquely situated – River View Hotel – before Almora. The river flowing in the gorge and the wind passing through the hills produced a natural melody.
The beautiful surrounding, delicious snacks with a glass of, my favourite drink, lassi added to the pleasures of this trip. At that place I saw a beautiful flower that I had never seen before. Here I seek the guidance of readers to help me know more about it. Till that time, I would call it the green-spiky-balloon-flower. The second time, I saw it at Jageshwar temple. It was offered to Lord Shiva.
(Thanks to Amitava Chatterjee (see comments section of http://www.ghumakkar.com/2012/05/09/the-berry-lores-of-kumaon/), this picture is not of a flower but the fruit of Balloon Cottonbush. The flower of this plant, Akanda flower, is commonly used to garland Lord Shiva.)
Soon, we were driving through Almora that is mentioned as a sacred mountain situated between two rivers Kaushika (Kosi) and Shalmali (Suyal) in Skandpuran.
Unlike other hill stations, Almora was not discovered and developed by British. Legend is that around 500 years ago, Raja Kalyan Chand was chasing a deer on a hunting expedition. The wretched animal saved itself by taking refuge in a thicket of Kilmora – a wild bush with purple fruits. The completely exhausted King sat around for some time and become conscious that he is sitting on a horse saddle shape ridge between river Kosi and Suyal, surrounded by circle of hills around. He realized that this place could be of strategic importance as those hills and the river would act as a natural barrier against any attack and decided to transfer his capital from Champawat to Almora in 1568.
Almora is believed to be a corrupt form of Kilmora – a fruit that grows in abundance here.
I find Rachit’s logic for naming it Almora also sensible. His point is that no other name suits this place, to reach where we have to pass through all – ‘mora-mora-mora’.
From 6th-11th century, Almora was ruled over by Katyuri dynasty that ruled Kumaon, holding sway, at the peak of their powers, over large areas of Kumaon, Garhwal and Western Nepal. The town of Baijnath near Almora was the capital of this dynasty and a centre of art. This dynasty was ousted by Chand dynasty that ruled the region from 11th century onward.
The consideration of Raja Kalyan Chand which impelled him to move here were strategic and administrative. Raja’s descendants however had little peace. In 1773, they had to fend off marauding Rohillas and gruesome battles were fought between the Rohillas and the Rajputs of Kumaon-Garhwal. They had hardly left when the Kumaonis faced a stronger foe – their neighbor, the Gorkhas from Nepal. Almora was under their rule. Finally, the British forced the Gorkhas out in 1816 after the Nepalese Sugali war, getting in return a large part of Garhwal including Almora.
The four surrounding ranges of hill around Almora have a little temple on their top. These temples of Banari Devi, Kasar Devi, Syahi Devi and Katarmal (the sun temple) are all imbibed with tranquil surroundings with green valley around.
Almora looked like a concrete jungle with people trying to build houses on every possible space. Knowing that Almora comes under earthquake prone areas, I felt that many of those houses looked dangerously built. Our driver drew our attention to a leaning house of Almora, a house that got tilted just after construction and was never lived into. We wanted to stay at Binsar, KMVN but it was fully booked. At that time we considered staying at Almora as well. It was a sort of relief that we decided against it.
We moved further and reached Kasar Devi village. It is a small village that is very popular among foreign tourists. It got its name from the famous Kasar Devi temple. Kasar Devi is a temple of Goddess Parvati who killed two demon brothers Shumbh and Nishumbh taking the form of Kaushiki.
Adjoining the village of Kasar Devi was our final destination of the day. The fear of Dinapani being similar to Almora was getting alleviated as now the landscape was much prettier. Enroute and at KMVN, Deenapani, I enquired about a place known as “Pariyadeva Pashan” where there are large stones with cup marks that belongs to megalithic age. I forgot the name of the place and when I asked people, trying to convey what I was looking for, I got blank looks.
Our driver Dewanji, more knowledgeable among the two drivers, stopped at a place near Dinapani to tell us about the snake that was cursed to get frozen by an angry sage. Nature creates beautiful patterns and let human imagination fly high.
We finally arrived at KMVN, Deenapani and our anticipation about it ended as we reached the reception. It was clean, spacious, wooden floored and was overlooking a valley. The courteous staff requested us to place the order for the lunch while they were making the rooms ready.
Our wooden cottages with a shared terrace, tailor-made for the two families travelling together, overlooking a beautiful valley won everyone’s heart.
From the terrace we could see goat herders in the valley. They had let the goats to fill themselves and were having idyllic chit-chat. It somehow reminded me of “Heidi” – the mountain girl.
The time looked stand-still in those surroundings. Only two things were moving at that place, the wind and the house swift that was flying around incessantly over roofs and tree-tops as if it is incapable of ever sitting down. From the terrace the lush green step farms were visible. Sun was playing aankh-michauli with the clouds and there were times when the pattern of dhoop-chhaanv on those farms offered stunningly beautiful sights.
The evening at KMVN Deenapani spoilt us with two spectacular choices. Sky was clear and the central Himalayas were visible on one side and on another side the sun was setting in a terraced farm. The sun-set provided an awesome sight. First it put those farms ablaze and then it dipped down in its own splash of colors.
The next day morning, I woke up early and went around KMVN property. I saw village people gathered at a water pipe to collect waters. They were filling the tin boxes with water and then carried two of them, balancing one on each shoulder. I realized that at most of the places average Kumaoni has to face this general shortage of water.
While I was walking, a shabby man, that looked lunatic or under the influence of drugs, started to follow and abuse me. I avoided him and increased my speed. Then I saw two woman foreign tourists walking from Kasar Devi. I was concerned for them, but then that person moved close to the villagers collecting water. As they were local and more in numbers, so I was sure that they would know how to handle him.
Leaving them behind, I went back to our room. Rachit woke-up by that time. Both of us walked on the path that we saw capriculturists taking a day before. We sat at the end of that rocky path enjoying the silence of the valley, drinking the crisp salubrious air, listening to the symphony created by the morning breeze and the chirping of the mountain birds. I wondered can Heidi of these mountains ever be happy in cities – the concrete jungles.