Saturday, March 12, 2011

Question of the Lifetime / Munsiyari, Kumaon, Uttarakhand

Yesterday night I spent most of the time thinking about my life and my so called future. Most of the thinking was about – how do I want my life to be? Certainly not much I desire, but I can’t be blindfold to the average Indian progressing whose probably sole aim is to improve the life standards. But what defines that standard? A classic case is IIT/IIM students venturing out to find their life opting out of nicely paid jobs arranged through placement cell.

Garhmukteshwar (both pics)
This is not for me having known that I can only stick to the job that I have in my hand. Not that I can’t do! But no immediate plans I have such. So – how do I make my life live the way I want it to be. The DNA and search for its genesis is not new to a thinking mind - to decode real meaning of life but not the Buddha way certainly!

Your biggest strength could be your biggest weakness too – your family. Thinking of them, I can’t just runaway to continue my search about the question I’ve raised to myself.

So whenever I get the opportunity to backpack, take full advantage leveraging it to my competitive advantage as management philosophers have described the situation.

Such an opportunity came through Gaurav, who called up after a long gap of time almost after 2008. Gaurav, I’ve remember of him as a student but his nature-loving side of life – was something I did not knew about.
On Nainital Road

Until one day he sent me a message with few pics about his brief trips to hills and what I remember is having seen the pics from his Gangotri-Gaumukh diary on the facebook. A program was made after successive interactions with him – to Munsiyari.

January 24th 2011, morning about 3:30 am, they came in Alto to pick me up from my place. It was hard – finding my place and therefore, I had to guide them the way to a near-by point. There were 3 of them – inside car. Gaurav, alongwith Vikram – a likeminded fellow traveler like us in his early thirties like me, built like me, height like me – almost. At the back was a tall lean guy – Pawan Dubey – who works with NTC. I adjusted myself with him at the back seat. I realized that I had to use ATM service. After which we set off to a journey to find some questions and pursue some answers.
Marriage Procession at Golu Devta Temple, Chittai, Almora
The interaction started among us and with that my fear of – how these guys will be which also often crossed my mind as the date came closer – was tamed down. I was satisfied to be with them. All clean and nice guys – likeminded – just I was. It feels good when you have companions who give you space and understand you as much as you do about yourself. There is a very limited fraternity who is crazy for travels and treks – I was glad to be with them, finding them to be – easy and friendly.
First glimpse - Panchachuli enroute Berinag
And came then Garhmukteshwar between our talks and the stereo playing new-age film songs. Few shots of rising sun over Garhganga from the bridge – refreshed us. The scene was chillier than the chill in the wind itself. But it was quite a feeling to relish. And we set off further.

Approaching Berinag

About 11 around, we reached Haldwani, took quick bites on the paranthas that Gaurav has brought with him alongwith cold drink bottles. We were but not quite much hungry then.
The drive to Almora was almost very swift until we crossed Khairna past Kainchi Dham. The massive rains of last year made this route that once was quite a delight, miserable to drive. With lots of hitches and hikes, on some 20 kms long stretch, we reached back side of Almora’s main bazzar. It was here we took up serious lunch, ate heartly meal, and stretched ourselves. It was 2 O’clock.
KMVN, Choukori

We were quick enough to eat and soon left Almora to reach our destination for the day and night halt – Berinag.

However original plan was to reach Chaukori. After a long drive through Cedars, and Silver Birch jungles that we passed through – came Berinag. That was some 120 kms from Almora. At 7 pm, it the small hill-town looked dead. Some taxi-jeep drivers were chatting up besides the fire to fight the January chill. We checked into a hotel that was almost clean, hurriedly. A previous hotel we checked in was not ventilated properly and price-wise also high, though difference was not significant. That night we opened up the bottles – to refresh ourselves from the tiredness and be ready for another day.

Berinag to Choukori

It was nice – some friends and few bottles. Although we all don’t drink and were very occasional beer drinkers, except Pawan who could beat monsters in competition, and sipped upon Old Monk lavishly.

I chose go with Rum, a nice peg, enough to keep you warm. As the clock struck 9, we got worried for food since we knew that on small remote hill town, the usual business closes early, and very early during winters. Thank God, we were just on time.
Takula Falls enroute Birthi

Next morning, the sun was up already and so were I. There was an astonishing view of Panchachuli ranges in the front that were seen from the back side of the hotel and to its extreme left at farther end was Nanda Devi.

Chakouri was nearby, some 30 kms, so we decided for our breakfast break. Chakouri, I found was more of a place to take strolls, until my thoughts were distorted as soon as we entered into KMVN. The view was grand. The Himalayan ranges eye to eye, in our front. And my hands reached fast for my Canon XSi hanging by strap around my neck. Just when me and Gaurav were discussing about them, Pawan called up to say, breakfast is ready, and we climbed down from the elevation point for tourists to see the white feathered hill ranges. As good was the breakfast we had.
We stuffed the fuel for the day and left Chakouri with assumptions about Munsiyari. Suddenly we had this great urge to reach Munsiyari and be close to Panchachuli.

It was not my first time in Kumaon, neither in the district Pithoragarh. Earlier I’ve been to Tanakpur-Champawat-Pithoragarh belt right from from Poornagiri temple along the banks of Sharda river to Kali-Gori Ganga confluence in Jauljibi, to wilderness of Askot sanctuary to the swinging bridge between India and Nepal at Dharchula. Infact I’ve been upto Tawaghat. While this belt was towards down, the belt on which I’m on with my friends now move upwards. With gossips, songs, stories, leg-pulling, sharing facts and experience, we came all along long way to Birthi falls. But before that there was one single delight that we found and got hooked to for sometimes was Takula Falls – visible from the road itself, some 150 mtrs fall – all white, sprinkling white.

Birthi Falls (both the pics)
Birthi was a delight too. Infact a bigger delight if not better. The statement requires understanding the difference between better and bigger. One thing that makes it bigger if not better was you can get close one to one with Birthi Falls. And that’s what we did to move from bigger to better experience. We bathed. Despite cold response from Gaurav, no self opinion of Pawan, and lukewarm response from Vikram; we ended up enjoying the bath in icy cold water of Birthi in the warm Sun.


We headed towards Kalamuni. All this while, Vikram was driving. No wonder, you need guts to steer on the hills right from early morning to late evening. I was amazed with his passion for driving. He was indeed enjoying it or atleast it seemed to me. Whoa! In the meanwhile, snow patches started to appear. Pawan yelled in excitement, Snow! Stop! But Vikram didn’t with a promise that there’s more to come ahead. He did fulfill the promise and we took some shots enroute.
We arrived at Kalamuni, the temple of the Goddess Kali around 2 pm. The beauty was – you got to see the both side views from here. However I’m not sure how many of us noticed that because my fellows were looking at the snow around. We quickly paid our homage to the Goddess and gave order for the tea. The sun was playing hide and seek. Sometimes windy air blows through our hairs touching us with all its chillness, to sizzle us. Kalamuni was place to be. I could spend a full day here sipping upon unlimited tea and grazing at the two sides of the world. We took off again.
Just after half an hour, we were reading the signboard that read “Thamrikund – 3 Kms” along the roadside next to the temple of monkey-God Hanuman. We paid out homage and move towards the signboard to explore Thamrikund with mixed feelings and set of different combinations – to go really or not. Actually, it was already 3:20 pm around when we started moving towards Thamrikund and we were not sure if we would be able to reach due to the snow.

Approaching Kalamuni & Kalamuni Temple
Then also we had no idea about how far Munsiyari will be from here.

Thamrikund (first view)

After up and down on slopes between the snow that made us hard for walk, we somehow, after moderate difficulty reached Thamrikund. Gaurav slipped once or twice, and got scared of hitting his new Canon on the surface. He protested and resisted just like Pawan did – but Pawan’s reasons was ofcourse not the snow but the fear of animals especially the bear.
But we encountered nothing but the snow. Gaurav probably was thinking how he would make it going back. And the sun was setting too. Almost it was 5 O’clock when we started to comeback but deep in our hearts we did not wanted to comeback atleast for some more time. Thamrikund is the lake that was partly filled with snow to one side and partly where the sun rays reached, the water was warm. This reminded me of Devaria Taal enoute Chopta, during my visit to Tungnath.

Thamrikund (the other side had snow)
Atlast we came back and continued driving to Munsiyari that was still some 16 kms from here. The snow on road got thick and slippery. With utmost cautious, Vikram steered through the snow and the dark. Atlast we reached Munsiyari just when the last ray of sun gave the much closer Panchachuli its last gleam. What a sight it was, unforgettable! Soon after we got busy with finding accommodation.

Nanda Devi Temple, Munsiyari
In Hotel Rajrambha, we settled down for 500 bucks for a dormitory-like room which he was resisting to but gave after we sought shelter in some other hotel. But we had to come back to shift to Rajrambha for tidiness though it was also not par with any standard. But did we have more choice?

This evening too the bottles were out – beer for other and rum for Pawan. But before that we surveyed the place and came back after taking an early meal.

At 7pm what a deserted look, Munsiyari bore. I purchased a set of hand woven carpet from here for 6000 bucks which I really liked and I assume Gaurav too. Although, after purchasing it I got skeptical because I didn’t think about how it’ll be carried in Alto. Gaurav said “we will find a way, ab to le liya”.

Khaliya Top : Slope we walked on

We enjoyed our conversations during the night but I have no clue when I fell asleep after finishing my share of beer and thoughts. It was probably 9:30 around.

Point of start of Khalia Top Trek

Next day we got up early – first Gaurav, then me and Vikram. Gaurav was getting restless to get the first glimpse of Panchachuli. Vikram occasionally tried leg pulling and I was enjoying it in my own way.
Pawan was still asleep or maybe getting ready while we were on hotel rooftop to click snaps.

It was colder than I though freezing our hands and we came down. We packed our stuff and prepared to visit Nanda Devi temple.

Nanda Devi (L) and Panchachuli (M-R)

The temple offered fabulous views of Panchachuli to its left side.
We also climbed up on a elevation point made for tourists to see Panchachuli – obstacle free.

We paid our homage to the Goddess Nanda and spent quite some time there looking at the massive structures of snow – the Himalayas.

Around 8 we were back at Rajrambha hotel to take our breakfast. Hot paranthas with hot simmering tea. And we were ready to climb famous Khaliya Top.

Flock of birds

We were making our plans to do Khalia Top from quite sometime and dealing with questions – Do we need a guide? Where to find one? I contacted Laxaman Singh after reading Almora Boy’s blog and taking reference from here but he demanded 4500 for a night’s stay at Khalia Top. And we decided to explore it by ourselves.

Although we did not reached the top but we got quite near to it. Snow made it hard to penetrate through the way to top and its intensity increased just as we got near to the huts. Vikram and Pawan climbed a bit more to observe things better – the Panchachuli. However the view from down to the huts was satisfying for me. This is where I said to Gaurav that I will spend my time here looking at the massifs of each of the mountains. Later we met two other gentlemen alongwith the guide who also planned not to go up and stop there to enjoy the view and the warmth of the sun. I did not go because I didn’t want to rush things.
Me, being one with my question!
I rather wanted to give it time – time to observe and cleanse my thoughts, drive my instincts and let me be in my void ness with my very own-self. For a minute we spoke nothing, did nothing and just sat quietly to seek our own “moment of truth”. A truth that we might not have known or would never be known. Just like this question – what is it that I want from my life remains!

Day 1: Started @ 4am from Delhi in Alto; Reached Haldwani @ 11 (260kms); then Almora @ 2pm (90 kms). Halt for Lunch and thereafter Berinag @ 7pm (120 kms). Night Halt.

Day 2: Left Berinag @ 7:40 am; Reached Chaukori @ 9:15a.m (40kms); then Birthi Falls (50 kms), spend about 2 hrs here, and reached Kalamuni @ 2:40p.m (35kms); then Thamrikund (18kms).Trekked to the lake and came back 5pm. Finally reached Munsiyari @ 6pm driving through the snow patches on the road.

Day 3: Visited Nanda Devi temple @ 8 am (2 kms from Munsiyari town), came back for breakfast, packed our stuff and drove to Khalia Top bend @ 10a.m backwards. Did Khalia top trek and returned back @ 2pm. Drove off to Bagheshwar. Night Halt.

Day 4: Started 5a.m from Bageshwar. @ 6a.m Baijnath temples and then via - Kausani (Kosani) - Garur - Someshwar - Ranikeht - Bhimtal - Haldwani - Delhi @ 10:30 pm (total approx. 490 kms).

© Himanshu Dutt
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