Explore some of the lesser known and frequented areas of Kumaon in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand and be up close and personal with the lesser touched nature. And enjoy some stunning views of Himalayan peaks in their full majesty while you drive through wooded terrain where rivers and waterfalls give you company all along.
Delhi to Munsiyari
The capital of India, Delhi can either be the destination where one can spend weeks exploring its history, culture and politics or it can be a starting point of some amazing itineraries in north India. Its historical monuments date back to the tenth century while its lifestyle is distinctly modern and cosmopolitan. Popular tourist stops include the Qutab Minar, Red Fort, the old city of Shahjanabad, Humayun’s Tomb, Lodi Gardens and Purana Qila. You can even shop here till you drop and eat till you burst – there are abundance of choices and quality .
The headquarters of the district by the same name, Champawat’s hidden wonders are the 10th century Baleshwar group of temples. Known to have been constructed by the Chandra dynasty, the carvings of the walls and roofs have stood the test of time except for disfiguring of idols by Muslim invaders. The main temple is of Lord Shiva while others include those of Bhairav, Champa Devi and Kali. There is an ancient fort too in Champawat which serves as an office for the Tehsil headquarters. The houses in this town are supposedly famous for their wood carvings, but only few seem to survive. It is not recommended one stays here but comes for a visit while staying at Abbott Mount, 22 kilometers away.
This place was discovered by Britisher John Abbott (whose descendants now live in Jhansi) in the pre-independence era and he decided to name the hill after himself. He built 13 cottages here and some of these still survive. Panorama takes a new meaning as you treat yourself to views of peaks like Trishul, Nanda Kot, Nanda Ghunti and the Nanda Devi spanning in an arc in front of you across a valley. This is the place where you just walk around amidst the woods with no traffic or sounds, sip tea with clouds below and watch beautiful sunsets. There is a church built in 1942, locked now, where prayers are supposedly still held once or twice a year. You can even play a game of cricket on what is claimed to be the second highest pitch after Chail in Himachal Pradesh at just under 7,000 feet.
Where to Stay: The Abbott Mount Cottage (Asian Adventures) is a very well managed cottage and just the place to stay when exploring this district.
Where to Eat: At the cottage where you are staying. No real options otherwise.
Advaita Ashram Mayavati
A day trip to Advaita Ashram Mayavati brings you as close to serenity and beauty as you can imagine. Built by the followers of Swami Vivekananda in 1899, who visited this place in 1901, the Ashram has tried to maintain the sanctity of the spirit with which it was created. Its location was selected so curious onlookers don’t drop in; there is now a perfect road leading to it though. You can also see a 110 year old printing press, not functioning any more, used to print Prabuddha Bharata, supposedly the oldest continuously published magazine in the country till date. The thick woods around and views of the peaks on a clear day make it very difficult to leave the spot. A charitable hospitable provides care to villagers who sometimes walk 7-8 hours to get here.
Patal Bhuvaneshwar is ample evidence of the power of faith in this country. A maze of caves that one reaches after negotiating a steep, claustrophobia inducing tunnel, the natural formations inside are interpreted as various Hindu Gods and worshipped accordingly. These caves are believed to be as old as the Earth itself, and find a mention in Chapter 103 of the Mahaskhand of the Skanda Purana. The Chand dynasty of Champawat created the infrastructure to manage the caves in 1191, and got the Bhandaris from Kashi to be the priests. Their descendants still perform these duties.
Where to Stay: You can stay at Parwati Resorts and a few other similar locations but are best avoided; the housekeeping is poor and food worse. It is recommended one starts from Abbott Mount early, spends a few hours here and heads to Vijaypur.
Initally called Ora, and set up as a tea estate by the British, it was renamed Vijaypur after a Gujarati merchant Vijay Lal Shah bought this area in 1947. The tea business may be modest by all standards, but the views of the peaks are impressive by all counts. You can stand still for hours admiring the Panchachuli range as well as some of highest peaks in the Himalayas including Nanda Devi (7816m), Nanda Devi East (7434m), Trishul (7120m) and Mrigthuni (6855m). There is a 200 year old beautiful bungalow and could have been a tourist spot but for it being inhabited by a professor’s family.
Where to Stay: Wayfarer Resort with cottages on the edge of the forest in the company of birds like the red billed magpie and beautiful flowers. Very well managed.
Where to Eat: Wayfarer Resort only – they make excellent meals.
An hour’s drive from Vijaypur, Bageshwar is located at the confluence of the Gomti and Saryu rivers. Built in 1602 by King Lakshmi Chand, it houses Hindu idols from the seventh to the 16th centuries. The temples are full of bells hung by devotees on strings, who also throng here in big numbers during Shivratri. The town is flanked on the east and west by the Bhileshwar and Nileshwar mountains, with a Shiva Temple and a Chandika Temple atop each respectively.
Munsiyari was the gateway to trade between India and Tibet before the 1962 war with China stopped it all. Its geo-economic significance may have diminished since then, but nothing can take away from its natural beauty and view of the Panchachuli and other over-19000 feet high peaks. Munsiyari also serves as a starting point for some popular treks. While here, a picnic to the banks of the Goriganga river and walks in the neighbouring villages of Dar Kot and others are a must. As is a visit to Masterji’s museum where Professor Panghti has carefully curated a collection of traditional items used by traders to remind one of the history of the place.
Where to Stay: Wayfarer Resort in the only decent option, others being at the bottom of the budget or quality range.
What to Eat: Make do with what is served at your accommodation and don’t complain; nature’s creations around compensate for the food.
Delhi – Champawat: 432 km, 10 Hours Drive
Champawat – Abbott Mount: 22 km, 1 Hour Drive
Abbott Mount – Advaita Ashram Mayavati: 20 km, 1 Hour One Way(This is a side return trip)
Abbott Mount – Patal Bhuvaneshwar: 90 km, 3.5 Hours
Patal Bhuvaneshwar – Vijaypur: 53 km, 2 Hours
Vijaypur – Bageshwar: 31 km, 1 Hour One Way (This is a side return trip)
Vijaypur – Munsiyari: 120 km, 4.5 Hours
One can reach Munsiyari via Bhimtal and Almora in 18 hours over a shorter distance of about 600 kilometers. But you will miss out on all the places mentioned here. This may be taken on the return leg.