In our Kumaon itinerary, the second night stay was the only one that we left undecided. After all when you have a luxury of a four wheeler with a local driver you want to boast, “When life is so uncertain, why to plan everything in advance!” I will like to put emphasis on the word “Everything”. Of course, the mission statement was set; the place of our stay should be midway between Deenapani and Munsyari. Chaukori – very well fit this requirement, but the plan was to stay there while returning back, so it was ruled out. Dewanji, the senior driver among the two, suggested Aangan resort near Chaukori and we agreed.
After heavy and hearty breakfast at KMVN, Deenapani, we left Deenapani to drive through the following:
“Deenapani to Bare Chhina 32 Kms
Bare Chhina to Sheraghat 55 Km
Sheraghat to Raiagar 27 Km
Raiagar to Berinag(6Km)”
to reach Aangan resort.
|The map of Kumaon|
The serpentine roads curled and coiled through tree topped ridges, meandering River Saryu gave soothing glimpses and occasionally curtains over the mighty and majestic Himalayas were raised and then emerged the silent sentinels of India, spread panoramically. Those mountains were much above horizon almost as if they were looming below from the Heaven. Their towering and imposing solitude struck a deep chord in our heart and bestowed upon them a ‘celestial quality’. Perhaps that’s why the Gods have chosen their abodes in the austere and serene pinnacles of these mountains.
|The meandering Saryu River|
|Looming from Heaven|
According to Paul Bruton, a modern hermitage in the Himalayas, “The God who made this land must have been beauty drunk.”
It was a season of marriages in Kumaon and while passing through its villages and small towns we occasionally got glimpses of several beautiful would-be Kumaoni brides embellished in traditional ornaments. If there was any minuscule doubt about Paul’s statement that remained even after witnessing stunningly beautiful Kumaon, it vanished when I saw those gorgeous young women. I was then in an absolute agreement with him.
At a marriage gathering, we spotted a bagpiper. Yes, a bagpiper! I was not expecting an English/Scottish musical instrument being played in the marriage ceremonies of the rural Kumaon. We stopped and requested the bagpiper to play a tune for us. His name was Fakeer Chand. He readily obliged us with a melodious tune.
He then explained that locally that instrument, a Himalayan variation of Bagpipe, is known as Masakbeen or Masakbaja. The bagpipe was introduced by the British in Kumaon in the formal ceremonies and the marching bands. Today it is assimilated into the wide range of Kumaoni musical instruments. In the end, I tipped him, but he humbly refused.
|So how was that!|
In those gatherings, we also noticed dancers wearing churidaar pyjama, one long chola, one cross belt, one belt around the waist, pattis on the legs and a turban – attired in the martial costumes of ancient warriors. They were Choliya dancers. These specially trained Rajput dancers start dancing at the start of barat and they go on dancing till they reach bride’s home. The dance is performed with shields and swords in pair. The dancers illustrate several sword fighting feats, perfectly synchronized and marked with jumps and turns of the body. They convey fear, joy, and awe through the movements of their eyes, eyebrows and shoulders all at the same time. Their flashing swords and shields, along with a war like music, huge red flags with various animal symbols on them, give an impression of a group advancing for an attack.
It raised a curiosity that why such kind of dance is performed in a marriage procession? Perhaps it is an imitation of the era when brides were won through swords.
I would also like to share my understanding of the condition of Kumaoni woman in rural areas. Narendra, the younger driver among the two, was always talking about their plight. According to him, Kumaoni women work very hard throughout the day. They walk for miles in the forest to cut firewood, collect animal fodder on the steep mountain slopes and bring livestock to pasture. On the other hand, many of the men folks spend their time and money in consuming liquor. The day then ends with drunken men showing off their dominance over their better-halves. The women are generally rewarded with abuses and scant respect for their exhausting routine.
Sounds familiar? Unfortunately, such repressive and despotic behavior is not limited to Kumaon only. But, the rampant consumption of liquor in the hills of Kumaon surpasses rest of the places. It was evident from the notices at the entrance of banks that warned person under the influence of liquor and possessing arms not to enter inside. I have not seen such notices anywhere else.
In around three and a half hour, we reached Aangan resort, our destination of the day. It was remotely located and had unkempt outdoors. There were no tourists around at that time. In brief, it did not appeal to our senses of a night stay. Dewanji argued hard that it was the best possible option. He did not understand that he was trying to convince a bunch of seasoned tourists who had already made up their mind.
The problem of leaving yourself at the mercy of drivers is that they bring you to a place where either they get a commission or a royal treatment is ensured for them.
We called KMVN head office to enquire about the availability of rooms at Birthi. Shakeelaji, the lady with whom I had interacted many a time for the bookings, told that the availability of rooms should not be an issue. She anyway provided KMVN, Birthi Manager’s mobile number and we booked the rooms by phone.
Our main worry was another four hours drive. We were apprehensive, will we survive and more importantly enjoy the journey.
The route we had to take was as follows:
“Aangan Resort – Thal -23 Km
Thal – Tejam through Nachni – 31 Km
Tejam to Birthi – 21 Km”
Luckily we did.
The gorgeous River Saryu did not leave us alone. It accompanied us making its way through the mountains, flowing through the deep stunning gorges, providing us ample photo opportunities, forcing hopping on and off the vehicle during most of the journey.
In a village, our vehicle moved towards a cow. Even though the vehicle was quite far, the cow turned and ran away full speed. The amused driver enquired about this strange behavior from the owner. She explained that it was recent that she brought it from high up in the mountains. That cow had never seen any vehicles before.
Animals, they behave so similar to kids :-)
After a while, we reached a fall on the way. Uttranchal Government has done commendable job of promoting tourism. Even at that remote place, just in front of the falls, there were chairs to sit and enjoy the falls. We stopped there to enjoy the scenery, stretched our tired bodies and relaxed our sulking souls. We were told that in the villages around, are the flour mills driven by water current and the flour from those mills is tastier than the one from the electric flour mills.
|The Fall on the way|
To lift our spirits, Dewaniji told that we were about to reach Birthi and then pointed his finger far away in the mountains towards the fall. To me, it looked as if he was pointing his finger to infinity.
I was keenly looking for the distance of Birthi on the sign-boards, but there was no mention of Birthi. Those boards only indicated distance of Munsiyari and occasionally of Girigaon.
It was only at Birthi, I noticed a board announcing Birthi at a distance 0 Km.
Birthi is a small village with few houses.
|The Birthi Village|
KMVN, BIrthi impressed all of us. It overlooks a valley surrounded by steep green mountains. It was a pleasant evening with cool breeze blowing, mountainous surrounding embracing KMVN Birthi with its green feathery touch and the falls providing the pleasing background music. The stunningly beautiful falls are so close that it gave an impression that they were specially created for the guests of KMVN. The overall ambiance was so pleasing that even after the exhausting-arduous journey all of us felt light and peaceful. The moon-lit starry night filled our fatigued sleepy eyes with calming dreams and we had much required refreshingly-pleasant sleep.
|Kids in Playful mood at KMVN, Birthi|
The next morning, as kids were sleeping, I went out alone exploring the place.
The tinkering of cow bells and the mellifluous calls of the mountain birds was riding over the morning breeze and created a symphony with the roaring sound of the cascade.
There was a well laid path from KMVN to the falls. On the trek I met school kids walking down towards their schools. They were coming from Girigaon around one km up in the hills. In Kumaon, at the time of our journeys in morning hours, we invariably crossed school kids walking towards their faraway school in groups. In those groups, girls always outnumbered boys. I wondered, was it because the people in hills are well aware about the importance of education for both, the girls and the boys? Or, was it that the boys moved to other places (boarding schools) that have better teachers?
|Kids going to their schools|
|From the Birthi trek|
In Uttaranchal, I felt a general awareness about the importance of education and a desire to provide quality education to the kids. This desire is so strong that it is forcing families to abandon their quaint abodes to move to the cities. It is despite that the Uttaranchal Government has done a fine job of creating schools in the far and remote villages. It is though only half a job done. The difficult part is to convince and motivate good teachers to move in those remote villages. The teachers have their own limitations. They also have families and it is not surprising that they too desire to avoid the hardships of living in mountains.
While trekking towards the fall and returning back, I tried to locate birds from their calls, but failed to find even a single bird. When I returned, Jaishree surprised me by telling that she had spotted several new birds from the balcony.
The kids woke-up by that time and soon we all were at the breakfast table. The food at Birthi was delicious. The courteous and friendly Manager of KMVN further enhanced our gratification of staying there.
After breakfast, we all trekked towards the falls. It was requiring efforts from the adults to walk even on that easy trek, but the kids were running up and down. The kids’ agility was reminding us of our advancing ages. We were shouting from the back asking them not to go too fast, but kids know when to listen and when to ignore those calls. Rachit was having so much of fun that during that time he did not even bother whether he had camera with him or not.
|Walking towards Birthi Falls|
Tanmay needed scolding, a few distractions along with the disappearing act of his father to make him walk till the fall and also to return back. Even small kids of his age understand, किसके सामने उनकी दाल गलेगी, किसके सामने नही|
|Tanmay enjoying the trekking|
In front of the falls there was a round sit-out area to enjoy the cascade falling from 125 meters. And on one side there were stairs to go further down to the boulders. After reaching so close to the water it was almost impossible to ignore the urge to get wet. We paved our way through the boulders and reached to the nature’s bath tub near the falls.
|The Birthi Falls|
Sparkling clean water was inviting us; It was an invitation that was hard to ignore. While the brain was taking its time to decide, legs took the plunge and were playing with the water. Jaishree was encouraging kids to seize the opportunity. Vinodji was first to jump in the water, though still trying to get minimally wet. For kids the decision was much easier. With the support of two adults they were already jumping from one rock to other, wading through water and splashing it on each other. Slowly and slowly we all left our inhibitions and were all wet.
|Sparkling clean water|
It was so much fun that while returning from Munsyari, Jaishree proposed to stop at Birthi again for the delicious food and a few more playful hours at the falls. The kids excitedly and the adults wholeheartedly accepted the suggestion.
Second time also it was great fun, perhaps even more as we came prepared for the bath. This time though we noticed empty mineral bottles thrown in the water. We discussed this callous attitude of tourists with the manager and he added that the other day there were broken beer bottles near the fall :-( It shows the utter lack of gratitude towards Mother Nature and in general a non-caring attitude towards the locals and the fellow tourists. May God bless such people with a realization of their responsibilities!
Not many tourists take a night halt at Birthi. Most of them stop there for lunch, while driving towards Munsiyari or returning back. They do miss an amazing time. To us Birthi happened by chance, but it undoubtedly deserves a night stay.
A few Images from Birthi
|Many Kumaoni elder’s can be witnessed wearing this traditional dress|
|A picture taken from Birthi trek|
|A hut in front of KMVN Birthi|