Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Munsiyari…the Sound of Silence…

Silence has a very pleasant sound of its own. This is what I experienced on the Day-3 of our ride to this land of snow – Munsiyari.

True at Munsiyari Zero

The whole of previous evening went by in drying the clothes in front of the heaters – trust me, that is some task! Yet, I woke up a tad bit early; didn’t want to miss capturing the rising sun and its rays falling on the snowy peaks of Panchchuli. Nitin woke up too and readied his camera – the view from the roof of the hotel was mesmerizing – the entire Panchchuli and Hansling Peaks stood out majestically in front of us. Sheer magic, this were…

In the year 2012 alone, I have witnessed many similar majestic moments – Badrinath, Kinnaur, Spiti Valley, Leh, Khardung La, Nubra Valley, et al.  However, it was a longstanding wish that came true on this Trip – to come to Munisyari, the ‘place with snow’.

Magical Panchchuli

For the record, Munsiyari is a far-off town in the Pithoragarh District in the hill-state of Uttarakhand, India. It lies at the base of the great Himalayan mountain range, at an elevation of about 2200 meters AMSL. Strategically located near the tri-borders of India, Tibet and Nepal, this exotic destination was until recently restricted to tourists. This place has a fascinating history. Commonly known as the entrance to the Johar valley, this is the land of the Shaukya tribe, who were carriers of salt on this ancient salt-route from Tibet. In old days, this tribe led a semi-nomadic life; actively engaging in trade with Tibet across the arduous Himalayan routes. They would trek over mountain and passes for about a month and reach Tibet, from where they carried back material, most importantly – salt. In those days, this was the only source of salt in the entire Himalayan region. Some history the place carries…

ITBP Munsiyari

Over a lazy breakfast, we quickly planned the day ahead – treks to any of the points weren’t feasible, as we had only one day with us. However, we learnt about many of them during our interactions and I am producing information here for those who wish to travel and trek in this grandiose place.

Munsiyari is the starting point of various treks into the interior of the ranges. For skilled trekkers, trek to the Milam, Nimak and Ralam glaciers can be real paradise. This town is at the entrance of the Johar Valley, which extends along the path of the Goriganga River to its source at the Milam Glacier.

For those who are adventurous and photography-enthusiasts, you can trek to nearby places like Khalia Top, located at 11000 feet AMSL, a trek of about 10kms. The friendly Hotel Manager told us that it offers breathtaking views of Panchchuli peaks – the best that can be seen from Munsiyari. This is also a famous skiing spot in the winters of Munsiyari.

For non-expert trekkers, an hour’s walk into the nearby forests will take you to Mesur Kund (Pond). Originally called Maheshwary Kund; this is just a few kilometers walk from Munsiyari, and features into the local folklores as a sacred place.

Thamari Kund is another quaint natural lake located amidst the paper trees. We were told that it is a natural home of the Musk Deer.

We also learnt about Betuli Dhar, a large garden full of Rhododendrons, located about 7kms from Munsiyari. It is here that we got to know that Rhododendrons is actually the state-flower of Uttarakhand!

Madkote, a hamlet at about 22kms from Munsiyari, is famous for the natural hot water springs. These are believed to contain therapeutic value with qualities, which are the cure for joint pains, arthritis and for various skin ailments.

At Highest Motorable Point at Munsiyari – Kala Muni Top

Another easy trek is to Kala Muni Top. This is also the highest motorable road of Munsiyari, at 2748 meters AMSL, located en-route Munsiyari about 10kms before you enter the town. The place is marked with a temple constructed here. The trek is brief and you get to see some truly pictorial views from here. This one’s certainly doable…

View from Kala Muni Top, Munsiyari

With all this information at hand, we decided to go hunt the ‘Munsiyari 0’ milestone – the mark of our journey. This is one habit that I have – of getting myself and the bike clicked alongside the trophy-signage of every ride that I have done.

RRG and Nitin at Munsiyari Zero Milestone

Serving as my very own landmark of each ride, these images remind me of the ride in its own mystical way, over the years…

As we ventured into the town in the broad daylight, Munsiyari revealed itself in all its majesty and grandeur. Surrounded from all sides by the snowy peaks and Panchchuli looming large over this hamlet, this place is a visual treat to the nature lovers. Charming in its appeal and incredible in its beauty, this little hamlet has managed to remain rather aloof from the well-trodden tourist routes of Kumaon.

Munsiyari Hamlet

Bikes at Munsiyari

Hereafter, we rode towards the Nanda Devi Temple, located at a ride of about 3kms from the main town. Nanda Devi temple, we found out, is a small white completely unassuming structure, which to our surprise, was locked down without sign of any priest, whatsoever! There is absolutely nothing noteworthy about this temple. What is outstanding, though, is location where is it perched.

Nanda Devi Temple, Munsiyari

Terrace Farms at Munsiyari

View from Nanda Devi

Here nothing stands between you and the snowy peaks on one side and slopes curved by terrace farmlands on the other. Panchchuli appear as near as it can get; you feel as if walking over them. The view takes your breadth away. And the silence is almost godly. Those who say temples are a mark of peace and calm surely were referring to this place. Sitting here, I missed Neha a lot…this is the place we should’ve visited together. Well, soon someday…

View from Nanda Devi, Munsiyari

From here, we rode towards Darkot. Located 8kms north of Munsiyari, this is an emblematic picturesque village of the Bhotia tribe. We had learnt about the craftsmanship of the tribals of this village. To visit this place, you have to come towards the main town, and a road diverts towards this village from the taxi stand. As we rode towards Darkot, we passed the famous local Tribal Museum, and decided to come back for it.

Darkot turned out to be no different than a sleepy mountain village rested on the slopes. However, we met some incredible people here and visited their homes – the homes of the weavers of shawls and other hand-woven garments.

Nitin at Darkot, Munsiyari

This visit certainly led us to deeper knowledge of the culturally rich style of the rural inhabitants of Munsiyari – we found century old houses here with intricate work on its panels, doors. The old artistic houses of Darkot represent the rich culture and creativity of the people of the Bhotia Tribe, which actually hails from Tibet.

Homes at Darkot, Munsiyari

A friendly smile at Darkot. Don’t miss the wooden construction…

We also witnessed the handlooms of several kinds – used to spin wool and cotton and weave them into pashmina and other sheep-wool garments and carpets. See for yourself…

Handlooms at Darkot Homes, Munsiyari

Tribals – Weaver Lady at Darkot, Munsiyari

After buying some superbly hand-woven pashmina caps, we rode back towards the Tribal Heritage Museum. Oh! What a treasure it turned out to be…

Tribal Museum, Munsiyari – Coordinates

Also famous as the ‘Masterji’s Museum’, is a place that I end up terming, ‘simple and yet profound manifestation of a man’s desire to preserving history in his own sweet manner’.

With Dr. SS Pangtey at the Tribal Heritage Museum, Munsiyari

Built by Dr. Sher Singh Pangtey, this place is a true example of taste, grit and passion. As you talk to him, his exuberance doesn’t make him look a day above 50years of age; in reality, he is 70plus! I could observe his childlike enthusiasm as he showed us around his collection of artifacts.

Tribal Heritage Museum Artifacts, Munsiyari

There is so much to see – age-old photos, long-standing maps, coins from all over the world, documents, local utensils & other items, wind-up gramophones, hand-made saddlebags, wooden bottles, native dresses and attires, hand-crafted shoes…so much that I can’t portray it in words and even if I venture to, I need to write at least 10000 words!

Tribal Heritage Museum Artifacts, Munsiyari

Tribal Heritage Museum Artifacts, Munsiyari

I loved the place and captured it into a video (http://youtu.be/CQ71W9s2ANM). Must watch…

With our hats off to Dr. Pangtey, Nitin and I came back for lunch to the hotel by 2:00pm. En route, we crossed several beautiful living mountain streams – there’s something magical about these streams, indescribable in words. I’ve always been fascinated by them…the mountain-lover in me wants to halt at everyone, wishes to explore the start of each such stream and secretly plans to some day even live next to one such stream!

Living Mountain Streams – Mystical…

Here is when plans got changed for the day! Changed to what? Does the image of clouds looming over Panchchuli give you any hint?

Clouds over Panchchuli

:) Wait for the next and last part of this travelog…

26 Comments

  • Beautiful Scenes RRG . This tour has to done on bike if one wants to see the Ultimate beauty, Well Done RRG , I am happy for you that you enjoyed a lot in this tour . Waiting for next .

  • Very beutifull fotos, Thanks….

  • Vipin says:

    Wow Rishi Ji, unbelievable! I was thinking about Munsiyari this morning…and here it comes…in all it’s majesty & grandeur…law of attraction…:)…Wonderfully woven posts, mesmerizing captures & pretty nice information for the fellow ghumakkars…am planning to be there during Chritmas holidays…do you think some of the places you mentioned above are doable at that time due to snow…will travel by local transport?…egearly waiting for the next!

    • Thank you, Vipin ji. Munsiyari is a great place to be in during winters – in fact, I would love to be at Munsiyari during Dec-Jan when it snows. It is perfectly safe and JCBs/snow removers keep working all the time to clear the roads. Buses ply without fail here, so you can certainly plan a travel.
      Hope this helps.
      RRG

  • Wow…. is all I wanted to say….but am tempted to add excellent pic… you took us to the small hamlet deep in Himalayan woods..After reading such posts I want to leave every thing and live there…

  • Nandan Jha says:

    Wow RRG. Outstanding.

    We were fool enough to visit this place during Monsooons braving landslides and dangerous roads. On reaching we were advised to return quickly. Dr. Pangtey was also not present, since no wise person was visiting the town during those times and the mighty Panchachuli , though we had a great view in the morning, was mostly engulfed in clouds. forget about other things. :-)

    Your detailed account of the place and the things one can experience has again put this place on my map. Surely. Waiting for last and final one.

  • Amitava Chatterjee says:

    Breathtaking!

  • Praveen & Amitava,
    Thanks, I am glad you liked it.
    RRG

  • Surinder Sharma says:

    Dear RRG,
    Very informative post. Photos are also good. Thanks a lot

  • Mahesh Semwal says:

    for the last 2-3 years we were missing BIKER Manish Chachra , you fulfilled that :-)

    Good one !

  • ashok sharma says:

    Nice Post.Beautiful pics.

  • ankit says:

    Excellent post and pics Rishi. Your posts are always been a point of attraction for me.
    I first time visited ghumakkar when I was reading your post “Road to Laddakh”. What an adventure it was. And now… inspired from ghumakkars like you, I started writing my own post. :-)

  • D.L.Narayan says:

    RRG, the pictures are truly mind blowing. With such beautiful images to look at, one does not feel like reading the accompanying text. However, the text manages to hold its own even in the face of a formidable and unequal challenge!

    Great to read about the work done by Dr. Pangtey. We need many more people like him to remind us of our glorious heritage and disappearing traditions. Hats off to him.

    • Narayan Sir,
      Thank you. I am glad you liked the words as well as the images. You are absolutely right about words sometime falling short of doing justice to what an image or a video depicts. In fact, I am new to the world of creating videos and got the idea from my wife, who is an ardent traveller globally.
      On Dr. Pangtey, I made the video only to be able to show all readers the magic he has been able to weave all by himself.
      Hope you’d like the videos, too.
      Regards,
      RRG

  • Nirdesh says:

    Dear RRG,

    Great account and lovely photos.

    Breathing Delhi’s smog, this looks heavenly.

  • Tushar says:

    Hi RRG. Your post is a chest of information. Loved every bit of it :)

    I am planning a ride to Munsiyari from Haridwar. I would appreciate if you could help with it. I am from Ahmedabad so I will be transporting bikes to Haridwar and ride to Munsyari via Ranikhet and return to Haridwar via Chopta.

    Best
    Tushar.

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