Written by Siddhartha Krishnan | 5 Min Read
(Note: This article contains links of routes, hotels and tourist places for potential travelers)
If there was any semblance of fatigue that had crept into our system after the activities at Mukteshwar, it was quickly vanquished by a surge of excitement that we felt once our cab took the sharp left onto the Mukteshwar-Shaitla road to head towards Almora. The route adorned with alpine trees offered spectacular views of the snow-capped Himalayas, keeping our spirits high. It was a bright, sunny afternoon, with the temperature hovering around a pleasant 12 degrees. Although the drive to Almora was only 2 hours long, we took several breaks in between.
Nature had come alive—birds sang and leaves fluttered merrily in the perfumed air that caressed our cheeks. These hills are used by the Indian Veterinary Research Institute (IVRI) for medicinal research, which explained—the aromatic air that we breathed. My only regret was that our smartphones could not fully capture the magisterial beauty of the Himalayan peaks. Well, I guess, some things are just meant to savor.
We reached a small town called Deoli around 2pm and stopped for lunch. Again, the menu at the restaurant resembled the ones I had seen before. However, there were several local sweet dishes on the menu to satisfy my sugar cravings. At Mukteshwar, I had tried an indigenous lentil gravy called ‘gahat ki dal’. This time I opted for another lentil dish called ‘bhat ki chudkani’, while my wife dug into an aloo paratha and my son happily slurped his noodle soup. We also ordered a sweet dish called “singori or singodi”—which tastes similar to kalakhand. It is made of khoya and is wrapped in maalu leaf which lends its unique flavour to the dish.
Post lunch we made our way to Almora town which was another 10 kms from Deoli. Located at an altitude of 1642 meters above sea level, Almora is one of the more populous towns of Kumaon. It was founded in 1568 by Kalyan Chand from the Chand dynasty. However, the place finds a mention in ancient lore, specifically in the Vishnu Purana and the Mahabharata.
Energized by the delightful meal, my wife started narrating her childhood stories at Almora to our cab driver, who was also a native of the place. I was listening attentively to her stories, some of which I had heard before, without her knowing. My phone secretly captured their conversation.
Twenty minutes later, we reached Almora mall road. The town was a departure from the solitude of Mukteshwar. It was bustling and had several commercial establishments, concrete buildings and tiny shops adorning its hills. You could either take the road that snaked across the hills or take a flight of stairs to reach these structures. We took the stairs to reach the 200-year-old house that happened to be my wife’s maternal home, which she hadn’t visited in 25 years. It was abandoned at the turn of the century due to a freak accident. Thereafter, only the ground floor was occupied by tenants, who were kind enough to show us around. It was my wife’s homecoming, and I had geared myself up for an emotional encounter.
Surprisingly, after entering the house, she showed remarkable maturity to control her emotions and to go on narrating her stories. It was then that a thought came to mind that the random videos I was shooting in the house had the potential to be made into a short documentary. Since the experience did not get reduced to a sob fest, it now had all the right ingredients—the thrill of an expedition, compelling stories, sufficient tangible material to document, and an unexpected comic relief—my son. For him, everything was so unfamiliar that he couldn’t stop talking, thereby providing comedic relief to what was otherwise an emotional homecoming. You can watch the short documentary in the link below –
We spent over an hour at the place. It seemed like time had come to a standstill on the upper floors of the house. But the homecoming was complete. We got what we had come looking for.
As the sun began to set, we bid farewell to the tenants and headed towards Kasar Devi—8 kms uphill from Almora. Our stay for the night was a slightly more commercial set-up compared to the rustic vibes of the cottage at Mukteshwar. Mohan’s Binsar Retreat at Kasar Devi is a well-known resort in the area that provides tourists with the necessary creature comforts. The resort offers semi-luxurious cottages that cater to all kinds of tourists. It also has a multi-cuisine restaurant. But the big selling point is that it offers a splendid view of the valley and the rising sun. My son was thrilled to find a small children’s room within the cottage. He wove his own stories around it and called it the ‘secret room’.
The dinner buffet comprised mostly local dishes, and they tasted okay. Nothing to ride home about. The breakfast next morning, though, was a lot more satisfying, with food options catering to a more diverse crowd. Since this is a resort that is trying to appeal to urban tourists across India, I felt they could have given more thought to the menu. The staff, though, was courteous.
On the terrace at the entrance of the resort, we got a panoramic view of the Himalayas. We spent some time there before heading to our next destination—Bhimtal. En route, we were going to make a few stops. On our list were a few famous temples of the region. Two of which I am going to write about in this article:
Kasar Devi Temple – Considered among the 108 Shakti Peeths dedicated to the Goddess, the origins of this Devi temple date back to the 2nd century CE. However, it came to prominence after Swami Vivekananda visited this place in 1890. It is believed that within a cave near this temple; he had performed the most severe forms of spiritual practices, and had a life-changing spiritual experience. Thereafter, several seekers have visited Kasar Devi, and these celebrated personalities include—Rabindranath Tagore, Alfred Sorenson, DH Lawrence, Bob Dylan and Walter Evans-Wentz.
The temple complex is also famous because it is positioned on earth’s Van Allen Belt—a zone of energy charged particles that are captured and held around by the planet’s magnetosphere. The geo-magnetic field is on par with two similar well-known places—Machu Picchu and Stonehenge, as confirmed by NASA explorations.
It is a steep climb to the hilltop where the temple is located, but once there, you can feel the serenity and energy of the place. The ridge around the temple offers a splendid panoramic view of the valley, surrounding hills, and the Himalayas. One can spend hours here to cancel thoughts, and just be in the moment.
I am not a deeply religious person. But I do like visiting ancient temples, mosques, churches and other religious sites, for the simple reason that they are all part of the human story. Their existence confirms humanity’s continuous endeavor to find meaning in life. They are also often places of great beauty and art. And man, being the storytelling animal, needs such places to tell stories of faith, beliefs and spiritual experiences.
We bowed to the Goddess at Kasar Devi, and then spent a few minutes gazing at the imposing Himalayan peak (clearly visible from the temple) and soaked in the rejuvenating vibes.
Chitai Golu Devta Temple – Our third day at the hills was dedicated to visiting temples. Uttarakhand is called ‘Dev Bhoomi’ for a reason. Blessed with nature, it is the land of many gods and goddesses. Almost every hill station has a famous temple. Almora too has its share, one of which is the Chitai temple located 9 kms from Kasar Devi. It was a minor diversion from our route to Bhimtal, but we took it because my wife had fond memories of the temple. It was a place she frequented as a child.
Once there, you cannot miss the shops selling bells of all sizes. The practice is to inscribe your name on the bell, ask for a wish to be fulfilled by the God, and then tie the bell to a post or pillar, or wherever you find space within the temple. Some people even write down their wishes on a piece of paper and tie them along with the bell.
The temple dedicated to Golu Devta (an incarnation of Lord Shiva) overwhelms you as soon as you enter it. It is one-of-a-kind; the sight of thousands of bells, from small to big, with letters tied around them, containing the prayers of strangers, evokes myriad emotions. We tied our bells in a tiny little space that we found within a sea of bells. It was a humbling experience.
Note: Beware of monkeys at the temple. They are a mischievous lot, so carry food items at your own risk.
In the next chapter of Travel Diaries – Uttarakhand, we make our way downhill to Bhimtal –
- En route we stop at the famous ‘Kainchi Dham’ an ashram established by Neem Karoli Baba, the seer, whose teachings had a profound impact on the lives of famous people like Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and Julia Roberts.
- Bhimtal and its adjacent Naukuchiatal, are towns with the most beautiful lakes. We go exploring what’s on offer at these lakes.
- Our last night at the hills turned out to be a musical affair.
This and more next week in the next chapter of Travel Diaries – Uttarakhand | Chapter 3 – Bhimtal
About the author –
Siddhartha Krishnan is the author of Two and a Half Rainbows – A Collection of Short Stories. He is also a passionate blogger, and on his website, www.whatsonsidsmind.com, you can find his travel diaries, food stories, book recommendations and movie reviews.
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