After Abbott Mount, Patal Bhuvneshwar and Chaukori, we were getting ready for our most important destination of this trip – Munsyari. The drive to Chaukori on the way up was via Tanakpur and Gangolihaat which we covered for the first time. We had saved the more familiar Bhowali-Binsar-Bageshwar drive for the way back. The luxury at Ojaswi had supplied enough strength for everyone to be ready for the last ascent. So we rev-ed the car and moved towards Thal.
We were now driving in upper Himalayas, and it being right in the rainy season ensured that it was green all over (and under and around). Thal seemed like a big enough town considering that it is way up and had its share of market, school and all the paraphernalia. We crossed yet another small iron bridge over a stream and moved on. It was too soon to make a stop.
In no time, we were crossing a high-altitude Himalayan village/small-town when at a Bamboo-Barrier tool booth we were told that there is a landslide ahead. We were short of Nachni. Usually, when you are traveling the locals have the most updated info but it is always a good idea to cross-check a couple of times, the new things you learn. So we moved ahead, not heeding to the advice of the toll-man to take a halt. After all, if it was to be a landslide then we can always take a halt as we come close to it, which though is not a great idea. The day was rising fast and I knew that with weather gods not on my side, a one hour landslide can easily grow into something more elaborate. We moved on and after a couple of affirmations and then re-affirmations, we knew that there is indeed a landslide and it would be at least a couple of hours before we can move on. We decided to cross the small town and rather wait at some place more quiet and in a short while we reached one such place.
It was close to a rapta, the point where a river flows over the road as it comes down from one mountain and slide to another. A Mahindra Pickup was standing, right there making use of Rapta to cleanse the wagon of all the dirt. We watched the involved couple of driver and cleaner doing the act and decided to borrow the thought. After cleaning and general whiling around, we decided to move ahead and get as close to Landslide as possible and boy it was indeed a big one.
I pulled the car at a good vantage point and after switching the engine off, moved a couple of furlong to get a closer look. About 100 truck worth of rubble had crumbled in a heap and a solitary JCB was in full act to make a small way, good enough for one file of vehicles, for the waiting cars. On the other side, there was a sharp drop that demanded exceptional skill and perseverance to move the JCB and then continue to do so for many hours.
There was slush all over so I didn’t go further and returned to share my assessment with fellow riders. We knew that we had good time to kill.
The break at Nachni gave a lot of calm to cabin crew and the drive thereafter was spent gazing at mighty Himalayan views, almost a sombre drive with not much of chit-chat followed. Kids found time to catch on some sleep and I quietly moved on from one Himalayan village to another till someone asked on a white line, visible from afar. As we continued to drive, we could witness the Himalayan beauty in full glory, the tall blue mountains, the green carpet of flora and the thick white line. After about 30 minute of drive, it was getting clear that this white line is the famous ‘Birthi Falls’.
You can see Birthi Falls from a long distance and as we got closer and closer the might was gradually beginning to unfold till we finally reached almost at the base of the falls. We knew that there was a KMVN at Birthi and the plan was to make a good long lunch stop.
Even though Birthi is one tall fall, there was no one around. Probably it was close to mid-day for any locals to be there and not the best of seasons for long distance tourists/travelers like us. We parked the car right at the base of the stairs which gradually takes you close to the falls. On the way up, there were enough opportunities to get beautiful shots.
After a climb of about 50 steps, we reached a place where this bunch of local kids were preparing for a party. The menu was steaming rice with fresh water fish.
From this point, one can either walk down back to the road or take another trail to KMVN which is almost adjacent or can walk up to get very close to the Falls. I was not confident of taking my 6 year old and decided to spend some time with her and the kids, while the rest of the gang moved on to get a close view. Right there itself, we were getting enough sprinkles from the pressure of the fall. In some time, I saw a boy coming with a fish, most likely caught just a while back. The main cook quickly engaged himself to remove the scales with a very rusty knife. I remembered my times back home when we would do the same, de-scaling fresh Rohu, fished from captive local pond, those were the days! After descaling, he meticulously cut the fish, put the customary and much needed turmeric and was ready to cook it. By then, our party was right under the falls, well almost right under the falls and getting drenched. I missed all of their waving calls, so was I told later and was busy taking photos of me and my daughter using the timer of my high-end (shamelessly borrowed) camera.
The gang joined us back in about 30 minute and were gaga about their experience and we moved on to KMVN, dreaming hot and fresh food. KMVN was deserted, the solitary cook agreed to make something but it would take many hours so we requested him to make some maggi for us. We sourced the Maggi from a shop nearby and had it along with the tons of food that my wife carries, almost all the time and almost to all places.
We had a good long lunch and rest at KMVN and I was wondering on why there were no guests, even though it was not a great season to be but still, the kind of location KMVN has is simply out of the world. I was told by the cook that in another month or so, the falls would grow manifold and one can experience the micro-droplets while sipping the great Himalayan sweet tea on the front lawns of the lodge.
Beyond Birthi, it was a different world altogether. We were quickly gaining height and with almost every turn, we would pass through a small ‘water fall’. We let go of initial few but could not resisted stopping at the next one. After a real quick stop, when we moved ahead , we got another one at the next turn. The tar was now giving away and it was beginning to drizzle. Over next half an hour or so, we would have passed many water falls and with the tar quality deteriorating, the drizzle not stopping, the gain in height and the visibility challenging the patience of the driver, the cabin crew got the flu. Now it was time, to quietly and safely drive through the upper echelons with no rush. I carried on since I knew that after some time, the green canopy would vanish and there was enough day-light left for us to safely reach Munsyari.
After one last big ascent, we started to climb down and we entered Munsyari, the Himnagari of Kumaon. This was the destination where we wanted to be. As we kept coming down, we noticed these igloo shaped eco-parks and gradually the road became much better and wider and when we entered the main town, we still had an hour worth of day light left. Woohoo, we have done it. I parked my car at KMVN, Munsayari where we had booked two large rooms each of which can bed 4 people. When we learnt that these large rooms are at the ground level, we decided to exchange them with regular rooms (forfeiting the extra money we have paid for bigger rooms) at 2nd level. There was no power so after checking-in, we decided to step out and get some food supplies for the night.
I had a contact there so after calling him, I reached the market. By now, it was raining heavily and as we entered into the office (cum storage room of camping gears) of Biru and made ourselves comfy amid the falling camping gears from all sides and had tea, the weather had gone worse. We didn’t have a long conversation with Biru since it was difficult for him to imagine a bunch of jokers driving through this weather all the way to Munsyari and when we left, thanking him for the great tea, he gave us a special look and a friendly advise to go back early in the morning, as soon as possible unless we want to be at Munsyari for next many days. We again thanked him and carried on amid rains to look for that special museum by Mr. Pangti, made famous by professor Khamesra.
The museum was closed so we rushed back. Bought some supplies and after pouring the much needed dark-water-of-life in thick silica glasses, we stepped into the balcony, only to be welcomed by the marvelous and humbling site of the great bunch of Panchachuli. Almost at an arm’s distance, almost like with arms-opened-wide for a warm hug after the sweet-sour drive.
Welcome to Munsyari.