Kumaon Sojourn

Kumaon Sojourn: Almora

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.Explore. Dream. Discover.” ———- Mark Twain

“Buddy can I use your laundry room downstairs for a while? I need to quiet place for a few minutes to record my voice. I have to email it to a studio urgently.” I asked the reception guy at the Rainbow Guest House & Restaurant, situated amidst the pine trees on the outskirts of Almora in Uttrakhand.

“Ahh what!”  Perplexed, the reception guy asked.

“Can I use your spare laundry room for ten minutes to do some work on my laptop? I need a quiet place.” I asked again, rephrasing the question.

“Oh! ya ya, sure. Go ahead.” He replied happily.

Thanking him, I went downstairs in a small quiet laundry room and did my work in flat ten minutes. Mohsin, my biker buddy and dear friend, was, meanwhile, fiddling with his phone waiting for me outside.

Greatful I am to the Almighty for the kind of work (read– no work, all play) I do; for I can record my voice from any silent room and mail it to the studios in Mumbai. Being a voice over artist I can travel and work with little or no distractions (and I hardly work for half an hr at a stretch).

Niptaa bhi aaye tum”  you’ve done your work? A feeling of love and admiration was reflecting in Mohsin’s face as he asked me. He has always been my well-wisher and a good friend who is straightforward and speaks truth whether one likes it or not.

Both of us were traveling to Almora and beyond from Bhowali (near Nainital) on a Royal Enfiled; it was an unplanned trip.

Bhowali is a small town some fifteen kms from Nainital on the way to Almora.  Me and my travel buddy had landed a day before from Delhi and Lucknow respectively in Bhowali.  Nainital, the cliche hilly tourist spot, was packed to its capacity due to a busy extended weekend on occasion of Dussehra and Gandhi Jayanti. And we had no intention of going there. Crowded hill stations and regular touristy places are never on my travel list.

Luckily for us, we found a nice budget guest house-cum-restaurant on the outskirts of Bhowali. Orjun uncle, the owner of Elaichi Restaurant, had set it up last year. Despite being a new property, it was well maintained; the delicious food is the highlight of the stay there.

bhowali overlooking bheemtal valley

                                         (Bhowali)

elaichi cafe and guest house

(Elaichi Restaurant and guest house)     

BOWALI HOTEL

                (View from our room in Bhowali)

After a day of sightseeing in and around Bhowali, we headed to Almora early next morning.
Streaks of sunbeams trickling through the trees; fresh mountain air; and the thundering Royal Enfield meandering its way in the beautiful, almost traffic-free road was a delight.

In about 15 minutes we reached Kainchi. Its famous for Kainchi Ashram of Baba Neem Karoli.  Also known to followers as Maharaj-ji, he is known outside India for being the guru of a number of Americans who travelled to India in the 1960s and 1970s.

Steve Jobs (founder of Apple Inc.), along with his friend Dan Kottke, traveled to India in 1973 to meet Neem Karoli Baba, but arrived after the guru died in September of that year. Hollywood actress Julia Roberts was also influenced by Neem Karoli Baba. A picture of him drew Julia Roberts to Hinduism.

kainchi

                     Kainchi Dham  

baba neem karoli

          Baba Neem Karoli with his disciples in 1960’s/early 70’s

 

Riding pillion on the Royal Enfield, I clicked many pictures of the pristine route and shot some videos on the move, before stopping at Kakrighat. It was an instant decision to stop here; there was some mystical thing about this place that prompted us to spend some time here on the banks of Koshi river. I was engulfed with tranquility and calmness of the place. I was at peace with myself.

kakrighat-en route to almora

 (Kakrighat: on the way to almora)

kakri ghat

(Kakrighat: on the way to almora)

 

selfie at kakrighat

(A Selfie at Kakrighat )

Coincidently, after the tour was over, I came across an article mentioning the importance of this place.

During period of 1890 swami Vivekananda meditated under a Pipal tree at this place during his travel to Himalayas.

We reached just outside Almora in about 3 hrs from Bhowali, with couple of more stoppages in between for clicking pictures and having some snacks

.IMG_20141008_093917

  • ( Just before entering Almora: 
  • the bus in the pic going to Almora; the route on the left is towards Kausani )

After a sumptuous maggie noodles break, and a short stopover at a petrol pump in Almora, we headed straight to, Kasar Devi temple, located in a hilltop some 8 km away from Almora town.

A few meters on the approach to the temple is the Cranks Ridge or Hippie’s Hill.

Who would think Danish mystic Alfred Sorensen, musician Bob Dylan, pioneers of the Hippie Movement and Swami Vivekananda would have anything in common? No actually they don’t. They just all fell in love with the same quaint village nestled in the beautiful Kumaon hills. Kasar Devi is an enigma of sorts. Unimpressive at first sight, impossible to forget by the time you have finished your trip. I’d often wondered what it was that attracted a saint in search of peace, a musician looking for inspiration and a bunch of people looking for a high to the same place?

 

All through the last century, the ridge was a haunt for bohemian artists, writers and spiritual seekers (including notable western Tibetan Buddhists), Lama Anagarika Govinda resided here for a while and was visited by Anandamayi Ma. In the 1960s and 1970s, luminaries of the counter-culture, including Bob Dylan and Cat Stevens made pilgrimages to the ridge. Others such as Allen Ginsberg and Robert Thurman also spent months and years here. Thurman, the Buddhist scholar, who spent six months with his wife Nena von Schlebrügge here, came with their 3-year-old daughter Uma Thurman in 1971.
Ah well, so much for history.

———– source: siddharth sen (blogger)

CRANKS RIDGE

       (Crank’s Ridge or Hippie’s hill — as seen from Kasar Devi temple)

We had a nice time trekking in the hippie’s hill and areas around.

trek at cranks ridge

                           (Running amidst the pines)

trek at cranks 2

         (A trek through the pines)

Kasara Devi Temple:

This 2000 yr old temple of goddess Durga, initially in the form of a natural cave, was given a temple form in 1948. It finds mention in Skanda Puran.

Swami Vivekananda visited Kasar Devi in 1890s, and meditated here.

kasar devi temple            \

 

KASARA DEVI

             (Kasar Devi Temple)

 sitting on rock at kasar

(Sitting on a nearby rock at Kasar Devi overlooking Hawalbag Valley)

 

Hours flew by at this mystical place; there was something in the air.

( Thunderclap Newman “Something in the air” 1969 )

 


ALMORA AND BEYOND….to be continued

A Day Trek In Dunagiri Mountains

“Bhaiya (brother), I hope we are not lost. I am not scared of heights but of wild snakes.”  A tense smile could be seen on Yatin’s face as he uttered these words. Trekking in the deep jungle of Dunagiri mountain, we were, somewhat, lost in the deep jungle on our way to Pandukholi. We had started from Dwarahat market towards Kukuchina, about 45 minutes traveling distance by shared jeep, at 9 am and meandering the beautiful hilly curves and lush green flora, reached Kukuchina — the point from where the trek to Dunagiri mountain starts. Dwarahat is situated in Almora district of Uttrakhand, some 40 kms from Ranikhet and is popular for a group of 55 ancient temples dating back to 11th centuray AD. It is also famous for Bipin Tripathi Kumaon Institute Of Technology.

kec dwarahat             11th century temple We had a sumptuous maggi at the famous Joshi ji’s restaurant in Kukuchina, before heading on the trail. It was a 2 km walk to the base of the mountain. A few scattered houses formed a small village at the base. There onwards, a forty five degree ascend lead us to a trail with beautiful pine and oak trees surrounding the pathway. Joshiji’s restaurant could be seen far away on the opposite hill.

“This is Sheru. He will show you the path the top of the hill.” a woman from the village told us, as we were beginning our ascend.

“Is he going to come all the way to the top?” I inquired, as I walked past her house off the trail. She replied in affirmative. A few minutes into the pine forest, busy admiring the beauty of the place, I lost sight of Sheru. He was nowhere to be seen.

“Seems he is scared of the forest, unlike his name” I turned back and asked Yatin, who was following me a few steps back.

“He ran off bahiyya” Yatin replied. Never been to the mountain before, Yatin, my fellow trekker,  was not even physically prepared for this trip.

“Bhaiya, I didn’t have time to shop for proper trekking gear unlike you. I could not leave my shop as there was no one to handle it except me.” Yatin had told me a day before our sojourn. He runs a mobile shop in my locality in Delhi and our friendship was a few months old. I had told him not to worry about that, as it was not a very high altitude trek and, also, to bring a pair of good canvas shoes and jogging tracks.           sathi chala chal                  IMG_20140831_100206 A few minutes in our trek and a steep climb of 75 degrees awaited us. A zigzag trail could be seen as I raised my head to take stock of the route. Two village woman carrying heavy load of green fodder on their heads were pacing down the path on their way back home from the deep forest. I wondered at their sharp manoeuvres downhill in such slippery conditions with only a pair of rubber slippers. Glancing at my Quenchua trekking shoes in comparision, I was in awe for the village folks, and started the climb with Yatin following me. Some fifteen minutes into the trek, both of us felt the heat of the steep climb; we were out of breath. Taking off the rucksack weighing 6 kgs from my shoulders, I sat down, gulping the half filled water bottle. Yatin followed suit with his bottle.

“Click a few pictures of me sitting on this trail in this dense forest and then I ll click yours” I asked Yatin, removing the camera from the front pocket of my backpack and handing it over to Yatin who was sitting on the opposite side.

“And make sure its full frame with the oak tree in the background.” I instructed Yatin. We clicked a few pictures and moved ahead.

“Bhaiya, I have never been to mountains before, leave alone this dense” Yatin spoke aloud as we were plodding ahead.

“I used to travel on foot from my maternal gradma’s village to my father’s village deep in the Himalayas when I was twelve or thirteen.”  I started narrating childhood stories of my village during summer breaks from school.

“I hated the nauseating hilly bus rides.” I continued as Yatin could be heard gasping, trudging behind me.”So I preferred trekking to my paternal granma’s home.”

By the time my story ended we were twenty minutes into our trek since we had last rested. A nice way of tweaking our minds away from the thought of fatigue on such torturous ascends.

“Time for another break, Bhaiya, and some pictures.” Yatin said breathlessly.

“I think we should carry on for a while till we find some kind of shelter; it’s about to rain.” I hurriedly replied.

September monsoon clouds were hovering over us; It could rain anytime. It is not a good idea, generally, to trek during monsoons  and that too without any rain protection. My ordinary rucksack without waterproof cover having laptop, camera,  voice recording instruments and a few eatables inside was totally exposed to rain in the middle of this jungle.

“I guess we are very near to the cave” I announced as we trudged along the next curve. The cave is very famous. It is here, Mahavatar Babaji initiated his desciple Lahiri Mahasaya into Kriya Yoga in early eighteen sixties.

Mahavatar Babaji, is both ageless and eternally young sage. Sometimes he is formless, while at other times, he appears before his disciples in any form he wishes to liberate humanity from its worldly fetters. Babaji remains engrossed in deep meditation in the dense forests, caves, and snow-covered peaks of the Himalayas, at the same time keeping a watchful gaze on earnest seekers on their paths to the Ultimate. A full account of him is given in the very famous book Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramhansa Yogananda.

By the time I saw a small placard showing direction to the cave, it had started drizzling. The cave is maintained by Yogoda Satsanga Society of India, a non-profit religious organization founded by Paramahansa Yogananda in 1917. The placards are strategically placed en route the cave to assist the travelers. This placard was at 10 minutes walking distance to the cave. The earlier one’s at the start of the ascend near the village. Breathlessly, we hurried towards the cave. Totally drenched by now, we could, to our astonishment, see the cave on the next uphill turn.

babaji's gufa              220px-Autobiography-of-a-Yogi

“I have never experienced something like this.” Yatin whispered, overwhelmed by the divinity of the place. We were sitting on a rock just outside the cave after paying our obeisance to the Great Master. I nodded in agreement. The silence was deafening. The rain subsided; it was time to move on.

Pandukholi, was at the top of the hill, some 2 kms from the cave, an uphill dangerous ascend. From now on, it was like shooting in the dark; we had to negotiate the unknown. The trail was difficult, slippery ascend, bifurcating at times, to our amusement, with no clear markings.

Pandukholi is believed to have been one of the shelters of the Pandavas, the sons of Pandu during the 1-year ‘Agyatavas’ – literally meaning “anonymous stay” – after their 14-year exile as mentioned in the Mahabharata. The name Pandukholi is also derived from the legend, ‘Pandu’ meaning the sons of Pandu that is Pandav and ‘kholi’ meaning shelter. The temple here has statues of Shiva and those of the five Pandavas. For the past several decades it was famous as the ashram of Saint Baba Balwant Giri. It is also known for naturally growing multi-colored flowers and rare medicinal herbs.

The climb was becoming dangerous as we proceeded. It slowed us down, with frequent intermittent breaks.The rain compounded our problem. Left to our own, we had to figure out the route as the trail bifurcated, tri-furcated and often vanished.

“Why on earth I chose this route to Pandukhol, with an alternative, easy route around.”  I thought frustratingly, unable to figure out the route. Ahead of me laid a slippery seventy-five degree’s rock pattern with deep slopes on either sides. Bewildered, Yatin was watching me. “Bhaiya, I hope we are not lost. I am not scared of heights but of wild snakes.” A tense smile lit his face. Confused by the trail (or lack of it), we decided to rest.         deep jungle                                     trek uphil After a brief catching up with our breath, we resumed our trek. Luckily,  I found foothold in one of the rocks. Clasping my hands to the rocks above, I managed to climb on to the other side only to find a couple of broken trails. Yatin followed me. We could see animal feces scattered, a sign of definite route to Pandukholi. Half a kilometer more into the trek, the forest was getting denser. The climb was a bit easy now. By trails and error we could find a trail ascending up. Trudging along for another half an hour, our conversation was broken by the rumbling of some stones. At some fifty meters uphill behind the bushes I saw a friendly fight of  two buffalo’s. Some other’s were grazing alongside them.

“We are just about to reach, Yatin.” I yelled in excitement. “Finally, we have made it.” Dark grey sky was visible behind the dense trees. One final push of our feets uphill and we could see a green meadow with lots of buffalo’s grazing. A small temple with few hutments, engulfed in fog was visible at a distance. We had finally reached the top of the hill, Pandukholi.

A broad smile could be seen on Yatin’s face as he started clicking some picture. at pandukholi                        IMG_20140831_130308_1

                 At Pandukholi                                                                                       On Reaching Top  

towards cave
                                                                                Pandukholi: As seen from Kukuchina

 

How to Reach Dwarahat

By Road
Dwarahat is connected to various cities in North India. (About 400 km from Delhi, 475 km from Lucknow, 450 km from Dehradun, 375 km from Haridwar, and 38 km from Ranikhet).

By Rail
Kathgodam is the nearest Railway Station. It is well connected by trains from Delhi, Kolkota, Lucknow, Jammu and Dehradun. From here you can go by a private taxi or by a share taxi or by bus.
(Route: Kathgodam – Bhimtal – Bhowali – Garampani – Khairna – Ranikhet – Dwarahat)