“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.
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. 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.
“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. 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.
At Pandukholi On Reaching Top
How to Reach Dwarahat
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).
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)