I had woken up in dire circumstances in a dingy hotel room in the shabby town of Bageshwar. A trip to the loo drained me of any remaining energy. The shared taxi from Almora hadn’t been pleasant by any means. A drunk co-passenger highlighted Uttarakhand’s problem of grappling with alcoholism. The food I had in a local dhaba was hardly palatable. I seemed to be running into all the wrong places.
For a religious town at the confluence of the holy Saryu and Gomti rivers, Bageshwar was a downer. The roads were full of garbage causing a terrible stench in the hot, sultry air. Rowdy drunk kids on loud motorcycles roamed the lawless streets. The liquor stores were doing rousing business. I didn’t want to see the plethora of surrounding temples around Bageshwar anymore.
I was told that Munsyari was the last place before the road ends. A direct bus to Munsyari in the morning was supposed to put me out of my misery. Public transport in Uttarakhand appeared to be non-existent. I boarded the bus at 9, which was coming from Delhi and instead of Munsyari, it dropped me in Thal. Services to Munsyari had been discontinued. I spotted a Shiva Temple in Thal with a huge bell, the greenish waters of Ramganga river were visible below. There were ancient looking stone statues scattered in the periphery of the temple.
The taxi wallahs made a killing in the absence of government transport services. I was lucky to find a seat in a sumo, the serenely flowing river giving us excellent company.
The views and the air became clearer as we climbed higher. Uttarakhand has beautiful, metalled roads but alas no buses and a palpable absence of tourism. The road clung to the mountains on the left side revealing glimpses of unending terraced fields in the valley below. I frantically tried to click pictures and then gave up, preferring to take in the sights. My empty stomach felt better, I had decided to not eat anything until I reached.
The most delightful waterfall became visible from afar, the water cascading from a great height of 125 metres. I was told by my happy bunch of co-passengers that it was called Birthi Falls. A wonderfully located KMVN Tourist Reception Centre with picture perfect views of the milky white falls passed us by. A walkway has also been built for adventurous tourists looking to go closer to the waterfalls.
Our highest point of the trip was named Kalamuni Top and the sumo halted for tea and we offered prayers at the temple located there. The air was chilly as we were roughly at an altitude of 2800m. We were about to witness a glorious sight after commencing our drive again; the snow covered Panchachuli range rose like a giant overlooking the lush green forests and potato plantations that Munsyari was famous for. Charming in its quaintness and breathtaking in its beauty, this little gem has managed to remain relatively aloof from the well-trodden Nainital-Almora-Ranikhet-Kausani tourist route.
I was asked if I wanted to get down in the main market or the bus station area. I told them I had no idea; the local ladies asked the taxi guy to take me around town and let me decide for myself! The market area seemed crowded and I chose the unknown part of bus station. After a perusal of two guest-houses, I landed at (funnily named) Hayat Paradise, for three hundred rupees I had framed views of the Himalayas.
It was surprising when I was told that I was the only tourist in town. My delight knew no bounds when the adjacent dhaba consistently delivered giant glasses of steaming hot tea strongly flavoured with ginger. My stomach had other plans though. I promptly was struck down with loosies. The weather, which was warm and sunny when I arrived had changed gears and dark clouds began hovering in the evening.
My days were spent with small, dehydrating walks and coming back and collapsing in a heap. There was no possibility of me eating normal food, I had resorted to taking Glucose and ORS.
Prakash and Bhandari, the hotel and dhaba owner respectively helped me navigate this forgettable period, making porridge for me and encouraging me to fight it out.
Finally, after two or three days the weather cleared and my body rejoiced too. I was startled to see shopping complexes being built in the market alongside old mud and stone homes. I started going for long strolls and saw the sights at a leisure pace, sampling local food in the process.
Nanda Devi Temple
A short walk of around three kilometres will take you to this unpretentious temple. The path after crossing Munsyari town is lined with thick forests on both sides of the road. The scintillating views once inside the sanctuary of the temple feel like divinity. Flowers of various shapes and sizes abound amid lush greenery in the vast open grounds of the temple. The place is blessed with glorious views of Panchachuli peaks and they feel within touching distance on a clear day.
I hadn’t been on a solo hike in the mountains ever since my Garhwal disaster. The locals advised me to go with a guide to put my worries away. The seven kilometre uphill climb to Khaliya Top begins from Balati Bend, a mere five kilometres before Munsyari. I got some aloo paranthas packed and off we went. There were shepherds with huge flocks of sheep and landscape ablaze with rhododendron forests. Its a fairly good, well laid-out path in the middle of towering trees and we walked in a carpet of leaves. I spotted various colourful birds and the tree line disappeared once we were nearing the top. I felt bliss sleeping on a carpet of yellow and purple flowers while the 3500m high ridge was covered with a thin layer of snow. I gazed at the surreal views while we had our packed lunch. We were invited for local herb tea on our way down, by the workers building a KMVN Lodging space halfway on the trek. It would be a beautiful place to stay once complete.
Tribal Heritage Museum
This is a wonderfully maintained private museum, the result of local scholar, retired teacher and traveller S S Pangtey to preserve the history of Johar Valley. The artefacts, coins and other items of daily use he collected over the years are on display. There are pictures of Munsyari and Johar Valley when it was an important trade route. An informative collection of various herbs that are grown in this area is kept in the main room along with literature from many parts of Kumaon. The real joy is in listening to charming Pangtey ji as he tells stories of the history of this area over a cup of tea.
This sleepy village is located about eight kilometers from Munsyari and is home to people who make good quality shawls from sheep and rabbits. Houses here are artistically designed with intricately wood carved doors more than a century old. One shawl weaver had a loom older than three generations and he made beautiful woollen products and also reared rabbits for wool. The walk is delightful and passes through oak, cedar, rhododendron and spruce trees.
Maheshwari Kund & Thamri Kund
Ten kilometres before Munsyari, a small green board announces the path to Thamri Kund. A stone path of three kilometres took me to a natural pond of water in the middle of the mountains. Stupendous views of the forests, lush green nature and mountains calling in the far distance. Maheshwari Kund is also a small pond of water nestled in the forests. The locals say that musk deer and bears come here to drink water. I couldn’t spot any. The cooing of birds was like music to the ears on the way back.
I came back rejuvenated from my excursions undertaken over three days. I visited a place called ‘Saras’ which sold all the woollen products and farm produce under the same roof. There are some homestays nearby, mostly frequented by foreigners who are looking for a local experience.
It was time to bid adieu to Bhandari, and thank him for taking such good care of me. New horizons beckoned and the rest of Kumaon was waiting to be explored. Munsyari didn’t disappoint me as I went away, a glorious sunrise and fresh snowfall; all in the space of a few hours!
There’s magic in life’s glorious uncertainties.