We left from Haldwani at about 10:00am. In a short while we were at Bhowali Chowk from where we took the Highway to Almora. The highways in Uttarakhand are really well laid and well maintained, now. Fluorescent markers and posts are installed on all the main highways. Driving by self would have been a breeze and it was a loss that we were being driven, in a bursting-at-seams-Scorpio.
We were going to Nainital from Bareilly, from where a day trip is usually sufficient to let one have most that Nainital usually offers. My parents-in-law (it was also the occasion of my PIL’s marriage anniversary) had to make some offerings at Jageshwar, so we were straightaway hitting the highway to Almora from Bareilly. We reached Haldwani via Bahedi-Kichcha-Pantanagar. The road was in a good condition against our expectations. So reaching here was a zip as we left Bareilly at about 6:00am against our scheduled 4:00.
At Haldwani we had our Breakfast at the decently faring Nanak Hotel. The place is recommended for a quick stopover, despite lying in the heart of the town. The helpful guard outside the shop resembled so much Retd. Gen BC Khanduri, who incidentally had stepped down as the CM of Uttarakhand a couple of days before, that we felt like shaking hands with him while handing over a tip for all the help that he provided in our vehicle being prominently parked and then driven off. It just did not click to click a photo of him! Btw, In case someone is interested in “Pahadi Ghee” the same is available in a shop a little away, prominently claiming a display to that effect. This “Pahadi Ghi” remained a topic for curious and speculative discussions in the MAV for awhile.
As we moved ahead from Kathgodam, the sudden respite from heat was conspicuous by its pleasance. The May-June had been scorching in NCR and Bareilly as well as rest of the UP. We, otherwise conservative users of power had been running electricity bills to the tune of Rs.5000/- a month, including the DG backup cost. So this drop in temperature was like the most material payback for this trip. Spiritual Nirvana lied ahead.
After Bhowali we passed by the impressive Kainchi Baba shrine. This is the place where the Neem Karori Baba rests in his Divinity. People familiar with Lucknow would recall the temple of Baba Neem Karori near Hanuman Setu.
After a drive of about 2 hours on the road full of hair pins, we reached the northern side bypass of Almora town. This is a place where many vehicles halt as lot of dhabas and shops selling the famous ‘bal mithai’ are located. We also bought some ‘bal mithai’ and some also bought some water for my toddler niece for top-end and bottom-end usage as the nappies had to be changed here, while we earned our passage through this bottleneck.
The road here is full of Golu Devata temples. My curiosity about these would be satiated later in a rediscovery trip.
The effect of change in height was evident in vegetation as we were moving towards a higher altitude. The conifers were all the more visible now. The pines dotting slopping lands with a red-ish undergrowth were providing for a mystical sight. We tempted to stop at a few places but then it was some chore getting off from a packed Scorpio. Why can they not standard-fit all such 7+ seaters with bench seats like a 9 seater Qualis?
Suddenly the pines started giving way to Cedar (Devdar) and I sighted a really small -only about 4 ft high-temple, apparently un-worshipped and uninhabited, bearing architecture similar to the Gopeshwar temple of the eponymous town in Chamoli District of Garhwal. Then one more, only bigger. Also, suddenly on all the sides we could see only the dark green Cedar Trees. A barrier later, we saw a cluster of about 25-30 temples of various sizes, but very similar architecture, surrounded by some really towering and ancient Cedar trees. This was the Jageshwar Temple complex. The sight was mesmerizing, probably because it was not at all crowded despite it being the last weekend of June.
Jageshwar lies in the Almora District, on Pithoragarh highway, in the valley of Jataganga river. The place is dotted with about 125 (some say 200) temples of Nagar architecture, mostly Shaivite convention of various sizes. The main temple complex houses around 25-30 temples. Most of the temples of this complex are under the ASI conservation. ASI also has a museum where the statues found in other smaller temples around this place are placed.
The main temple in the complex is known as the Mahamritunjay Mahadev temple, which is said to be a Jyotirlingam, standing in the same league as that of Onkareshwar, Somnath, Kedarnath. This temple is under ASI control. There is another temple, which is under services of probably a local trust. Pilgrims usually enter the latter one first and make their offerings there. Wikipedia informs of it, “This is one of the principal temple situated in the temple premises and it is called Tarun Jageshwar. Shiva is worshipped in the form of Nagesh/Yageshwar/Jageshwar. In the sanctum sanctorum of the temple the Shivlinga is divided into two parts. The larger one depicts Shiva and smaller one his consort Parvati. An Akhand Jyoti, keeps on flickering here since time immemorial. There are two Asthadhatu statues of Chand Kings Deepchand and Tripalchand in the standing posture behind the Shivlinga.”
There are temples in this complex also devoted to other deities like Navdurga, Surya, Navgrahas. The place is outstanding for its serenity. The temples date back to various old ages. And a few of the Cedar trees in the complex too are as old as some of the temples, so it is told. One tree stood astoundingly tall and had a huge trunk, like an eternal guard, with weapons in hands.
We did our prayers in the temples peacefully. We remained mesmerized too. Tried to complete the circuit of all the temples, but on a day trip, this was one luxury we could not afford. So we stuffed ourselves back into the car and headed back to Nainital. As already written, between Almora and Bhowali the road was first class. Some drizzle was also seen somewhere on the way back. But what was this?
Suddenly, we were engulfed in a thick-ish blanket of cloud. Nothing beyond a few meters was visible. Wow! This sudden turn of weather was pleasant, exciting and a bit scary too. We had to trace the path of the centre marking on the road. Our blinkers were on, some had their headlights on too. We trudged along and as we descended into the valley of Nainital by about 5:00pm, the lake looked resplendent in its true mango glory. No trace of cloud was here. Actually, we had overtaken the clouds.
Couples-young, not so young and the elderly, Bengali and non Bengali, fair and unfair, tall and short, Indian and American, north Indian and south Indian, happy and sullen, with kids and with parents – were walking hand in hand by the lakeside. Many were taking a boat-ride too, with the red yellow kayak-ish boats sailing all over the huge, serene and tidy looking green lake. It was a riot of colors, with green plants on the slopes of hills finding a reflection off the serene surface of lake, giving the lake a thick green hue, as if mixing the nectar of their leaves in the water. This was the holidaying at its max. It was the last Saturday of June and it was evening, it was pleasantly cloudy and the clouds had yet to come rolling down onto the surface of the lake, to block most of the lovely sights, but only to add to the experience of the ones really in need of some privacy in the middle of the lake, otherwise so at a premium…..
So this was the mall! We paid the steep toll of Rs100 at mall road entry from Tallital side, and inched ahead towards the Flats, where we had planned to park the vehicle and meet our receptor. The traffic police were in full action, so despite the B to B vehicular traffic rush, deadlocks were not experienced. We were able to park at the parking near the Naina devi temple, despite a no room board initially staring at us at the entry point to parking.
By the time we finished our business at the Naina Devi temple, the clouds those greeted us on the way to Nainital had descended over half of the lake from the eastern side. I found the sight really magical.
But the evening was growing even more magical, with throngs of tourists descending towards the Bhootaani market. The multitudes of restaurants offering all kinds of delights were full to capacity. As we moved towards the mall road from the Temple side, the scene was like any Delhi market, sans the heat and rudeness. Hawkers lined up along the tree lined street by the lakeside. While a million were busy haggling with the vendors selling wares like fancy little colorful umbrellas, exotic shoes/chappals, curtains, goggles, toys, shirts, jeans, tops, candles, and what-nots, another mass was idly sitting on the boundary wall of the lake, munching Bhuttas (roasted corns) or sipping piping hot tea or coffee, also hawked at the street side. Talking of Bhuttas, well we feasted on them throughout our stay in Nainital.
There was a little Pradarshani (Fair-cum-exhibition-cum-sale) going on on the Flats grounds, which, though, was on its way to winding up as the tourist season was coming to an end. We were to be the guests of the Manager of the Show, an acquaintance, for the night.
In the night we had a walk on the mall road. Wind was breezy and drizzle was light. Lights never fade off from this stretch of road. Ice-cream parlours, novelty/candle shops, eateries were living long into the night. The night was something else.
Next day we had to take a trip round touristy spots of the place, before driving back to Bareilly. The next whole day, when the weather was very pleasant, was a rediscovery of Nainital for most of us and a new discovery for a few (the rediscovery for them to be posted later). I am leaving you with a few moments frozen from the next day.