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Earthian

A drive to the abode of the Gods.

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Earthian

This is a travelogue about a drive we made to Kumaon side of Uttarakhand during October 2019 from Ahmedabad. About the timeless beauty of the mountains, the pristine atmosphere, the friendly people and the almost spiritual experience proximity to Nature gives you. Yes, even to an old sinner like me.

In this report, you would find:

 

1. Tantalising view of the Himalayas:

 

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2. Places of breathtaking beauty and peace:

 

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3. Nature at its wondrous best:

 

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4. Nature at its worst:

 

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5.The beautiful, almost magical wonder place:

 

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6. The magic of the mornings:

 

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7. The abode of the Gods:

 

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8. Realisation of our insignificance:

 

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The Mission and planning:

 

The urge to drive to Uttarakhand ( a state in the north of India) and visit the mountains had been strong since the past 2 years. Unfortunately, some mishap or other forced us to abandon our plans time and again. This year, I started planning anew, determined to make the drive.

 

We enjoy going to the forests too, but decided against combining the two - This was since availability of permits and rooms at FRHs (Forest Rest Houses - which have the best locations, but unfortunately the worst maintenance and service) would dictate the schedule and we did not want our main target to get compromised in the bargain. We would visit forest and parks on the way - but only as a recce for a future trip.

 

The must visit destinations were: Binsar, Chaukori, Munsiyari, Narayan Ashram, and Mayavati Ashram. We would check out Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary, stay at Ranikhet (with friends who make a-twice-a-year retreat there), and have overnight pit stops where ever necessary. The broad plan was to leave on the 4th October and come back before Diwali ( the festival of lights) - around the 26-27th of October. We had limited ourselves to Kumaon, since doing the whole of Uttarakhand would demand much more time, if one has to do justice to it.

I wish I had the luxury and freedom of NOT booking any stay options in advance and have the option to stop where ever one feels. However, this is easier said than done since winging it on the fly or roughing it, is unfortunately, not an option for us any more. We do require some degree of comfort along with clean bed-sheets and toilets. And I do not mean 5 star comfort. Clean, decent rooms, with friendly hosts and good food. What with Puja ( Big festival of Eastern India, in particular West Bengal) and Diwali holidays, both in October this year, so would some tens of thousands of travellers. Luckily hotel bookings and Ashram stay permissions all fell into place with less than 2 weeks to go.

 

The route plan was thus:

A’bad – Jaipur – Bharatpur – Ramnagar – Ranikhet – Binsar – Choukori – Munsiyari – Narayan Ashram – Dharchula – Mayavati Ashram- pit stop - A’bad.

 

Last year, when we had visited some forests in Madhya Pradesh, we had a tyre blow out right in the middle of a forest, with the nearest city (Bhopal) some 200 kms away. We had to limp along with the baby spare wheel till Bhopal and found that the required tyre was not available off the shelf. We made do by purchasing a tube and patching the tyre the best we could. With that incident fresh in my memory, I tried to shop around for a used 18” rim. However, none was available in Ahmedabad and getting one from Mumbai (if available) would take time. The best option was to take a spare tyre as well as the tube I had purchased last year. These, along with the baby spare wheel, should provide reasonable cover, I hoped. Next took the car to the service station and the service manager personally supervised all checks and gave it the ‘all clear’ signal. He threw in a litre can of engine oil-just in case. Most decent of him.

 

Apart from our personal stuff and my camera bags and tripod, the other essentials loaded up were: Air compressor, puncture kit, tow rope, jump start wire, additional tools, pillows, bed-sheets and comforters, water, food (dry snacks and some quick cooking meals), electric kettle, electric saucepan, a bag containing assorted shoes and slippers. In addition some steel plates, spoons and tumblers were also thrown in. (We have stopped using disposable plates and glasses). Phew. All this stuff must have weighed more than 100kgs. With the spare tyre wedged in between the driver’s seat and the back seat, the car was fully loaded! Definitely over kill.

 

Ahmedabad - Jaipur - Bharatpur

 

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We started off at 0700 hrs on the 4th October and we reached Jaipur at 1630 hrs. We took the Palanpur-Abu Road route since the Udaipur route (NH 48) was reported to have road works all through (4 to 6 lane). We ambled along without any incident and reached the Marriott, Jaipur near the Airport. Since I am on an 16:8 IF (Intermittent Fasting), had a club sandwich dinner at 1830 hrs and to bed by 2100 hrs.

 

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 The Jaipur Marriott

 

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I must say that the Marriott was very comfortable and the hospitality was first class. Jaipur is quite clean (as compared to A’bad) and I went for a walk at 0500 hrs in the neighbouring Jawahar circle. The park is well maintained and big.

 

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Left by 0800 hrs for Bharatpur, after getting my breakfast packed (to eat at 1030 hrs).We reached Bharatpur leisurely at noon and checked in at The Birder’s Inn. The place was empty save for another lone guest. It is a comfortable hotel, mainly frequented by birders (who else?) and photographers. Though migratory birds had not yet arrived, I decided to take a chakker (round) and check out the lay of the land. It was my first trip to the National Park.

Cycle rickshaws are readily available outside the hotel and I picked up the first in line, Sarwan Singh. It was hot and the conditions not suitable to take photographs of birds, but as I said, it was a recce of sorts. Spotted a pair of spotted owls, sleepy and lazing up a tree. Not ideal conditions for photography at 1400 hrs in the afternoon, but took some shots anyway.

 

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Wanted to see if there were young ones inside that knothole, but the parakeet would not oblige.

 

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A green bee eater flew ahead of me and caught a dragon fly. I, as usual, missed capturing the capture ( seems i am full of puns today!), but could get a decent photograph once it perched.
There were some Blue tailed Bee eaters - a migratory bird from the NE, i believe - but quite high up on a tree.

 

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The painted stork protects its nestlings from the harsh sun by spreading it's wings and remains thus for hours on end. That's dedication for you!

 

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The park consists of a straight road about 5 kms in length which can be traversed by a cycle rickshaw. There are off shoots from this road, where one can explore on foot. The road is lined by trees on both sides and makes a pleasing sight, as can be seen above.

Most of the cycle rickshaw pullers are very knowledgeable about the birds, their habitat and behaviour. Sarwan Singh was no exception and it was a delight listening to his commentary, though at times I had to decipher his pronunciation.

 

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There were, understandably, not many visitors in the Park and we had a good time going around. There was the obligatory stop at Sunset point, and I took vantage position hoping for a painted stork to cross the sun. Alas, it was not to be. After taking some shots, we repaired back to the hotel, had a frugal dinner and off to bed.

 

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Edited by Earthian
House keeping

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TonyQ

A great start @Earthian. Bharat our is a lovely place- we stayed at the Birders Inn as well. Excellent photos.

I am really looking forward to you report. I love the Himalayan areas. We have just been considering a trip to Uttarkhand, the Kumaon side so will read your report with real interest.

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janzin

Oh I have been looking forward to this report. We'll be in Uttarkhand in February, although not in the same areas I don't think. Still, will enjoy traveling along with you!  So far it looks beautiful!

 

 

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Earthian
9 hours ago, TonyQ said:

We have just been considering a trip to Uttarkhand, the Kumaon side so will read your report with real interest.

 

6 hours ago, janzin said:

 We'll be in Uttarkhand in February, although not in the same areas I don't think. 
 

 

Thank you. I did not know that Uttarakhand was popular too, except for Jim Corbett National Park.

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Earthian

Bharatpur - Ramnagar

 

As is our usual practice, we got up early the next day and were ready to leave with our breakfast/brunch packed. As mentioned earlier, we have stopped using disposable stuff (as far as possible) and carry an old fashioned small tiffin carrier, small steel plates, tumblers and spoons. After having seen the devastation done to pristine natural sights by tourists who enjoy a meal and then casually throw the plastic or thermoform plates and containers right there; we have decided not to use any of the disposable stuff. We do use packaged water, though. Yet to find a practical and convenient alternative for that. Everywhere I go, there seems to be a heap of rubbish, discarded bottles, smashed up beer bottles, liquor bottles, waste and what have you. We need to educate our young. I don’t see any hope in curing the adults.

 

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I had been to Jim Corbett National Park during 1978, when I was studying at Delhi. At that time, we had just waltzed in ( I don’t think there were any permits). We spent two nights fooling around with B&W film cameras. I believe we bunked in some dormitory. This time, as I stated earlier, we did not want to get diverted from our main goal (going around Kumaon) and hence we had decided to stay a couple of nights to see the other offerings of the area. (When you visit a NP, one goes for safaris morning and evening, with little time devoted to anything else).

The core zones of the NP were closed and slated to open only after November. So night stays in the FRHs in any zone was out of the question. However, the buffer zones were open for day safaris, but closed for night stay.  We had, therefore, booked ourselves in a private resort called Namah. A typical family resort with games for the children and for the family. Situated, like a couple of hundred other establishments, on the bank of the river, Kosi.

 

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Well, we enjoyed our stay and the quality of food was quite good. Staying without any agenda gave me the time to go for extended morning walks and excursions to nearby places by car.

 

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About 4 kms from our resort was the much revered Garjiya Devi temple. The temple attracts devotees from 0600 hrs in the morning and by noon, one can see a serpentine queue waiting patiently under the midday sun. I had started early and reached there at 6 am and did not have to wait at all. The early bird gets the darshan (divine viewing). I came back again with my wife at noon when we witnessed the long queues. Every visitor is given a good meal (prasad), consisting of puris, sabzi, dal and kheer.( fried indian bread, veggies, lentils, and a rice-milk pudding) If it was not for my IF, i would have accepted the offering.

 

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The photographers were doing brisk business and some of them looked askance at me, thinking that i was trying to muscle in their territory. In due time they decided that i was harmless and left me alone. 

 

We did not go even on one safari - i would have never believed it - and i enjoyed myself going for walks, meeting the locals and enjoying the scenery. The locals are quite unhappy with the mushrooming of hotels and resorts and what have you, on the banks of the river Kosi. At least, those who i met, during my walks, were. I wanted to go down to the river, and was looking for an access, and not fining any, asked some locals. While informing me, that i would have to walk about 1.5 kms to get an access, they added that "...these hotels had hogged all the river side and access". It was true. There are hotels all along the river. Probably,  the people who would be happy, would be those that either leased  their property to hotels or converted them to home stays. Probably, the locals who got employment, seasonal though it is.

 

Ramnagar - Ranikhet

After spending an idyllic 2 nights at Ramnagar, we left after breakfast on the 8th October at about 1000 hrs for Ranikhet. Much has been said about the road that goes through the forest via Bhatrojkhan and Tarikhet. ( The other route is via Nainital). While on the one hand, many describe the route as very picturesque, some also mention about the single track and the possibility at times to having to reverse to allow the vehicle coming from the other direction to pass.

 

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We reached Ranikhet at 1300 hours or so and joined our friends who were just sitting down for lunch. We spent 5 nights here with more or less the same routine. Go for an 7 km walk up Chaubatia hill or a 8 km walk to Mankameshwar temple and back in the morning. Depending upon what and how much you had for lunch, you would have to do a short walk of 6 kms to Jooladevi temple and back in the evening. It is with considerable pride that I report here that I stuck to my IF without any cheating. Our friends go twice a year to Ranikhet and spend 2 weeks there, every trip. The routine never changes. The staff are used to our demands of the palate and we have no complaints about the quality and taste of food.

Ranikhet allows us to catch up on our reading, and our time spent there is most relaxing with absolutely no pressure of having to ‘see’ sights, having a check list, having to find ‘value’ in the time spent. Think about it. Most of the times, we are in a mad rush to ensure we pack in as many sights in a day or trip as we can. We take photographs in a hurry so that we can view them later at leisure (which never comes). We don’t spend time taking in the sight with our eyes, our minds and our body-which may leave a lasting impression on them. Sorry. Didn’t mean to preach.

There are no photographs to post here of Ranikhet, for the excellent reason that I didn’t take any ( having been here on three other occasions). I know. What's the use of writing a TR if there are not going to be any photographs or activities? Sorry about that, but please bear with me.


 

 

Edited by Earthian

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Earthian

Ranikhet - Binsar

 

After spending 5 nights at Ranikhet, we proceeded to Binsar on the 13th morning. The recommended route was via Almora, not through it but bypassing it. It was a pleasant drive.

 

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One of the reasons, we like to do short stretches, as and when time permits, is due to the freedom to stop where ever the sight takes your fancy. We like stopping by small teashops on the roadside and talk with the owner. In one of such halts, we met a young man who aspired to “Bharti”-meaning enlist. Most of the young men here join the army, and apart from weight and height, there are demanding physical fitness tests. It is common to see young men running in the morning to train themselves, in these parts of India. We assured the young man of our best wishes for his success, gave him a packet of a Gujarati snack to remember us by, and proceeded on our way.

We were to spend three nights at the Binsar Forest Retreat run by a young couple - Preetam & Pallavi, along with their 9 year old daughter Anna. This is one of the few properties that is situated actually inside the National Park, and one has to get an entry permit at the forest gate before proceeding about 8 kms inside. The drive from the forest gate to the retreat is challenging at places. It is a single track and due to the KMVN (Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam) property ( and a couple of other ones) which is also situated inside the sanctuary, it can get a mite busy at times. We had to back up a couple of times to allow the opposite traffic to pass and vice-versa. It’s a mountain road and hence one is prepared for the outer side having a sheer edge. But what complicates matters is the deep gully that has been made on the inner edge for passage of water. Small cars are loath to get into the gully which made passing quite difficult at times. Still, the view was very pleasing and as such the forest raises the primordial feeling.

 

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Binsar Forest Retreat is situated right in the thick of the forest and from our rooms we could see the Trishul every morning. A great delight. Preetam & Pallavi are both very environment conscious and except of the ‘plastic’ light switches, I could not find any other plastic in our room. The buckets, the mug, the water bottles are all metal. Pallavi is a naturalist and has good knowledge about the flora and fauna in the area.

 

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(With permission from Preetam)

 

Everyone gathers in the dining cum living area for breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner and we had a whale of a time mixing with other guests. One of them happened to be a Master Chef participant from Australia (of Indian origin) and he prepared some ordinary (common) dishes with a twist. It was very good. He is an aspiring restaurateur and stays at Bali, Indonesia.

 

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One morning, a young man who lived nearby had come to the property to do some paragliding. It was fun to see him go about his preparations meticulously and then take off.

 

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(with permission from Didier)

 

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There is an old Forest rest house situated near the ‘zero’ point (a point where one has an unfettered view of the range). Swami Vivekananda (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swami_Vivekananda ) had spent a couple of nights here.

 

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I went up to the FRH by the metalled road approximately 4.5 kms away and returned by the forest path that Swami must have taken more than 100 years back. (about 2.5kms) The path had been laid by stones which had a coating of moss and algae which made walking quite difficult. I thought that if I fell and broke a leg, there would be probably no one around at least for a day or two. Just then 3 dogs, an Alsatian cross, a Lab cross and another of indeterminable cross breed, emerged suddenly and after I had played with them, escorted me all the way down to where a small restaurant was situated. The restaurant owner, with whom I used to chat during my comings and goings, was surprised that these dogs, which belong to a lady up in the mountains, had come down to the valley with me.

 

Though the area is known for its birds, the extended monsoon and thick forest cover made sightings and photography difficult. And the terrain is difficult too. I slipped and had a fall ( not nasty though) and just managed to save the D850 with the 200-500mm, f5.6. They have, however, put up bird feeders and i took some photographs to record them. ( one does not get the same thrill, though)

 

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We had the 'Trishul' room and in the mornings had a good view of the Trishul peak and other neighbouring peaks.

 

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The sunsets are magnificent too and I had a good time trying my hand at photographing the setting sun.

 

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Once it got dark, I wanted to photograph the Milky Way since my window of opportunity was limited to the advent of moon-rise. I had just taken a trial shot when there was a shout from below (I had walked up a bit to get a clear view of the sky). A sambar had raised an alarm call followed by the guttural roar of a leopard. I was asked to come down.

It seems that the leopard was walking on the trail I had used that morning.

Edited by Earthian
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Earthian

Binsar - Chaukori

 

I came down where all others were gathered, quiet and eagerly listening for the leopard. The sambar made two more sharp alarm calls. It was some where nearby for sure. We tried to pierce the thick canopy with our torches, but it was no use. It had become quite cold by then, and i abandoned my milky way quest and we retired.

 

After spending 3 wonderful nights at Binsar, we left for Chaukori on the 16th October morning. My brunch was packed in the small tiffin carrier, Puris (fried indian bread) and alu sabzi (potato curry). We had originally planned to go directly to Munsiyari from Binsar, but on second thought dropped it. We wanted to enjoy our drive, take in the sights, stop where ever you wished and not just rush. Accordingly we had planned for a night halt at Chaukori, after visiting Bhageshwar on the way.
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There is no two opinions about it - The drive is very scenic and the fresh, invigorating, mountain air makes one feel very energetic and relaxed at the same time.

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One could spend hours gazing at such beautiful canvas. I remember when we had visited Ladakh, i had a similar feeling. Uttarakhand, after the monsoon, is better. Or maybe i should say different, since each place has its own beauty.

We stopped for my brunch on the way, with the mountains as a backdrop. After relaxing for 30 minutes or so, we proceeded to Bageshwar, and after a couple of wrong calls managed to get parking fairly near the famous temple. Situated on the confluence of Saryu and Gomati rivers, Bageshwar was a major gateway for trade with Central Asia and Tibet. The town was bustling with activity and it was pretty crowded at the market near the temple, though the temple itself was nearly deserted. A lot of womenfolk, attired in their best were milling around. Could it have been a festival day?

 

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The temple had it's usual infestation of pandas (priests), though I must say that there were only a handful present here. They made their usual calls, advising us to apply 'tilak' ( a vermillion mark, dot or vertical line on the forehead) as it was the norm here. I avoided most of them, but one of them was quite persistent. I got the blessing and his photograph too in the bargain-which was what I was angling for in the first place!

 

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While walking back to our car through the crowded marketplace, I came upon this guy making fresh jelabis (a sweet delicacy). Having considerably reduced my sweet intake (due to the IF), my mouth watered at this sight and we bought Rs 10/- worth (about 14 US cents) of jelabis - quite sufficient too. This guy posed for a picture too.

 

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The local government had installed artworks depicting life in the village in these parts, no doubt. I often wonder whether such beautification inserted at odd places would be a priority than better civic services, hygiene and health?

 

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In due course, we left town and after a last photograph showing the town in the valley; we made haste to Chaukori.

 

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I could not get any rooms in the KMVN hotel at Choukori and had accordingly booked at Ojaswi resort. Generally, i try to avoid hotels which are not recommended by trusted fellow travellers or members of a forum.

To my delight, Ojaswi Resorts was a nice hotel - had clean sheets and bathroom. And the food was tasty too. And the manager was helpful as were the other staff. They picked up our bags from the car and showed us our room and departed - unlike at other places where they shuffle from one foot to another, waiting for the tip. I had to later hunt them out and express my thanks. Well, the one thing that I did not like was the multicoloured curtains and the inevitable dark maroon velvet coverlet on the bed. Wonder why they use it?

 

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After checking in, we decided to go for a walk. We were told that there was an ashram nearby and we decided to check it out. Paramhans Ashram was established at Chaukori in an old tea processing unit (donated by a devotee) and hence the layout and buildings were not depictive of your usual ashram. Notwithstanding that, it was quite peaceful and hearing us a baba (hermit)(Surendra Baba) came out and made us welcome. The main ashram where the current head resides is near Chitrakoot in UP. We paid our respects at the small puja room and walked around.

 

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We came upon another baba, basking in the sun besides a small tin+wood hut of sorts. He had a beatific smile and we chatted with him It seems that he stays in that small hut come rain or snow or what ever. And he is happy!

 

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check out his crocs!

 

Every hill station has a sunrise and/or sunset point and Chaukori is no different. We went to the inevitable sunset point, couldn't find it and entered a small farmers dwelling from where the view was good. The farmer, uncharacteristically, was not pleased at us encroaching his premises and I wondered why?

 

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Do you recognise the shrub that has been silhouetted in the sunset picture above? No? Perhaps a better picture would clear things up.

 

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That's the reason the farmer was not too pleased. The Government is now cracking down on illegal cultivation of the weed it seems.

I tried to remember what some stalwarts in another forum had mentioned regarding the process to extract the 'potent' stuff; but couldn't remember.    Rubbing it with lime? Or on your palm? Anyway, it would flower only during December.  The farmer was looking at me with a funny look and hence we scooted out from there.

 

Next: The goof up, i  always manage to do on a trip.

 

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Edited by Earthian

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TonyQ

Fascinating, very engaging writing and excellent photos. Superb landscapes 

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Earthian
44 minutes ago, TonyQ said:

Fascinating, very engaging writing and excellent photos. Superb landscapes 

 Thank you, Tony. You are kind, as usual.

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Earthian

Chaukori

 

I was up at 0500 hrs and put the D850, and a couple of lenses in a backpack and was off to shoot the peaks at sunrise. The previous night, I had asked around for a good location, and I had a hazy idea. A brisk walk of some 1.5 kms and i got a good spot.

 

Soon the nautical twilight was giving way to civil, and I could vaguely make out the panchachuli peaks. The colours of Dawn are so beautiful. There was I, alone on top of a lonely place, and watching the night sky give way to the morning.

 

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Try as I might, I always manage to screw something up when out shooting. Once in Tadoba, a tiger was following our jeep and in my excitement I pressed the video record button on the camera twice, thereby stopping the recording! Could have kicked myself. Here in Choukori, I was in time for the grand event.

 

There was no hurry. Yet I managed to screw up! I mentioned that I took the D850 in the beginning of the post. It was for a reason. I have two cameras: The older D3s and the newer D850. The bracketing tab "BKT" is on the left hand dial of the D3s, whereas on the D850 it is on the body near the lens connecting slot. Worse; on the D850, the left hand dial has a "QUAL" tab at the same place where the "BKT" tab is on the D3s. So with plenty of time, I wanted to get proper exposure done and hence bracketed for exposure- only I had inadvertently changed the Quality from RAW to JPEG.

 

All the photographs taken with so much pain and effort on this morning are in JPEG. I would be unaware of this till the 19th October!:angry:

 

I wanted my wife to see this beautiful sight and hence I called her up and asked her to be ready, quickly returned to the hotel, collected my wife and this time took the car since time was slipping by and went back up there to enjoy the sight.

 

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Chaukori - Munsiyari

 

After our morning excitement, we returned to the hotel and got ready. For a change i too had breakfast at 0900 hrs - Alu and Gobi Parathas  ( Stuffed indian breads). Our hotel in Munsiyari had called up to say that they would be keeping lunch ready. Well, as per Google maps it was only 3.5 hours - We should be there in time for lunch. I was having a good day as far as meals are concerned.

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Big mistake. The road from Choukori to Thal was okay but from Thal to Munsiyari was awful. The monsoon had taken a toll of this stretch, no doubt. We had water crossings about 6" to a foot deep. Nothing much, right? Think again. There was no road under these and at best you had big rocks that had tumbled down and managed to resist the flow of water; whereas the smaller ones got washed away. I had these occasions to try the 'off-roading' feature of the car and it seemed to work fine, since we didn't get stuck anywhere.

 

The heartening part was the BRO (Border Roads Organisation) guys were on the job.

 

But the views, man, the views! The bad roads were forgotten when you get to see Nature in all its glory.

 

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Just before Thal, we came upon a gigantic waterfall. In the pictures below, see if you can spot the humans at the base of the falls and you would get an idea of the sheer size of this falls. The bad news was that it involved a climb for about 20 minutes. Oh well. The meal of Alu and Gobi Parathas did come handy. i fooled with variable density filters etc, without realising that the camera was still on JPEG quality mode!

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We reached Munsiyari at 1400 hrs, instead of around 1230 hrs, and the powers that be were not done yet with us. There was a massive traffic jam right in town and we had to cool our heels for nearly 45 minutes before it cleared. 12 seater vans were parked all over the place with Boleros and Sumos thrown in for a good measure. Hence the jam. Seems it happens quite regularly, but nobody seems to do anything about it.

We reached our hotel- Himalayan Glamping - at 1500 hrs

 

Next: Munsiyari

 

 

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Edited by Earthian
House keeping

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AKR1

Murli

What an engaging trip report. With all the negative news about India and the terrible pollution in North India, its wonderful to see the unspoiled pristine wilderness and stunning landscapes. Thanks for sharing this. 
PS: RAW or not, your photography is excellent. 

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Earthian
2 hours ago, AKR1 said:

Murli

What an engaging trip report. With all the negative news about India and the terrible pollution in North India, its wonderful to see the unspoiled pristine wilderness and stunning landscapes. Thanks for sharing this. 
PS: RAW or not, your photography is excellent. 

Thank you, AKR1. Just got up and seems i am going to have a nice day!:lol:

But on a serious note, there was trash thrown about by the tourists at places. One gets angry at the carelessness, for want of stronger words.

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Earthian

Munsiyari

 

Ever since i had read TRs in various fora, I had wanted to go to Munsiyari. I imagined it to be quiet, lonely, without electricity (one TR mentioned that solar powered lights were switched off at 2300 hrs) and only 3-4 hotels to stay, out of which KMVN was the recommended one. And the views of the mountains were to die for.

Well, the only thing right was the views.

Munsiyari is a crowded, bustling, noisy town with many, many hotel choices. And home stays. And tourists to match. Along with cars, jeeps, Tempo Travellers, and the occasional bus thrown in. And traffic jams.

 

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See what I meant about abundant home stays? And we could see many, many home stays such as this one.

Luckily, our hotel, Himalayan Glamping, was away from the crowd and the only noise we had were two water falls on both sides of the property and the roaring sound of water. It was pretty eerie in the beginning, but we soon came to like it. Glamping = Glamour Camping. We stayed in tents.

 

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The place has been nicely designed and at one time must have been very good too. However, two issues that we found not to our liking: One- the house keeping was sloppy. There were a cobweb and dust inside the bathroom. No dusting being done, obviously. Two- we were the only guests. While solitude is a rarity and much sought after, we do like to have company, especially during meals and when hanging around. The staff, save one- Dheeraj - were lackadaisical too, no doubt, the absence of the owner/manager contributed to it. Expensive too. That probably raises expectations and when you feel let down, one starts to nitpick, as i am doing now.

 

However, the location is very good, and away from the crowd. And waterfalls for company and soothing sounds. That is if you find the ROARING sounds soothing. We had no complaints on that score and did enjoy the water fall sound. We sleep soundly (sorry for the pun). And best of all, you get a magnificent view of Panchachuli from the property.

 

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Pandey's lodge in Munsiyari was probably the first hotel that was established there, according to popular folklore. It is touted to be the clearing house for information and the next day I walked down from our camp to meet Mr Pandey. Pandeyji was very helpful and had all the information. He urged me to do the Khaliya trek, which i chickened out, both since we were cutting a day at Munsiyari and would be there for two nights only and since there was no company for the trek. Further i wanted to take the photo of the mountain peaks in all their morning glory and this would have necessitated going the previous evening and staying overnight at the basic facilities there.
Oh well. Gives me a chance to go there once again.

 

Pandeyji advised me to do the next leg of the journey i.e. to Dharchula via Madkote. He said that the road till Madkote was bad, but after that it was okay. Going via Thal was worse. I filed away this information to finalise the plan that night.

We visited the usual tourists spots in Munsiyari. The first order of the day was a visit to Nanda Devi temple.

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We then visited the tribal museum and then went to the centre of town to hang around a bit. We filled up fuel at a new filling station that had been opened. In the mountains, it is always advisable to stock up on fuel when ever you get an opportunity. Even if pumps are available, they may be dry, since the stock tanker may have been delayed or held up due to a landslide.The GLE's tank can carry 93 litres - more than enough - but yet I filled up.

After our half day of sight seeing, we came back to the tent to relax. I took the opportunity to check the car, tyre pressures, oil levels and the usual routine. Got the car washed too.

 

Next day, we leave for Dharchula and then on to Narayan Ashram. And the roads are not good.

 

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The mornings are so beautiful. While Munsiyari has become very commercialised, it still offers beautiful views of Panchachuli.  Perhaps, one has to go further up now.

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Earthian

Munsiyari - Dharchula

 

We had originally planned 3 nights at Munsiyari, but cut it short to 2 nights. Many reasons: one- we were the only guests in the tents and while solitude is great and all that: " If you are lonely when you are alone, you are in bad company"-Jean-Paul Sartre; we do like to have company when we are dining or over a cup of tea. Two- i had chickened out of the Khaliya trek and three- we had decided to return a day or two earlier to A'bad.

Accordingly,  the 19th morning saw us pack our bags and leave Munsiyari at 0800 hrs for Dharchula. The hotel chef had kindly packed puries and sabzi ( seems we packed the same breakfast every where) for both of us. We had decided to take Pandeyji's advice and go via Madkote.

 

 

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The road, as predicted, was very bad. Madkote was 22 kms away and the fine alkali dust thrown by the vehicles in front got into every thing. I usually drive with my window open, so as to be able to hear a warning horn of a vehicle coming in the opposite direction, and this made it quite intolerable. God only knows what would be the state of the air filters. I think we took 1.5 hours to reach Madkote. The road from Madkote to Jauljibi was better relatively. We were able to appreciate the scenery now.

 

We came upon a beautiful waterfall over the road. We had to pass under the waterfall and the car got a free wash. Where can you find such sights?

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The whole area from Madkote to Jauljibi was full of waterfalls. There were big falls, small falls, tall ones, short ones, mountain-springs-a-leak falls. (pun unintended)

The whole mountain was leaking as can be seen here:

 

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Presently we came upon some children playing badminton under an open sky and what else? - a waterfall!

 

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My wife also tried her hand with the children, while i walked up to the falls and gazed at it with wonder.

 

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There were many landslides which resulted in many disruptions and hold ups. The BRO team was at it, trying to carve another access. The work is highly dangerous and stressful, since the mountains are not made(only) of hard granite rock, but also of limestone, slate and just dry crumbled packed rock fragments. It is the last which is so dangerous.

 

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See the pictures below. The earth-moving machinery (two of them) is busy carving out a new passage from the side of the mountain. Very dangerous work and they have to stop time and again to let the traffic go through. Difficult to concentrate under such conditions. See the rubble. One slip and it is all the way down.

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After having driven on such roads and encountered numerous stoppages, we had sort of got used to such roads and views. The locals take it in the stride. At this spot, one of the locals told me: " A poultry van fell into the river sometime back, and to this day there is no sight of the van. The driver and his sidekick escaped, but all the chickens, save for two cocks, drowned."    I am not pulling your leg- this was how he narrated it. Sounds more funny when translated in English though.

 

One must appreciate the yeoman work done by the BRO. They are quick to respond and carve out a passage. There is a man present on both sides of the temporary, just-enough-width-for-one-vehicle passages, to regulate traffic. However, when there are multiple such events, then after carving out a passage, the team goes to the next one, taking with them all the manpower, including the guys who regulate traffic. One thus enters the passage with trepidation, not knowing if anyone is coming from the other side. ( these passages can be upto 100 meters long and as you know if you have one stretch of 20 meters straight in these mountains, consider yourself lucky. If a heavier vehicle comes from the opposite side, then you need to back off. Had to do it twice  when we encountered a military vehicle opposite. On such occasions, my wife would neither look left or right, nor straight; but look down at her feet!

 

But it was an experience.

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Atravelynn

I was going to write that I bet this statement has not uttered by many people:

"The urge to drive to Uttarakhand ( a state in the north of India) and visit the mountains had been strong."

 

Then I read @TonyQ is considering following in your footsteps!  I stand corrected.

 

Your report really shows the remote beauty and the mountain shots are abode of the Gods! 

 

No paragliding for you?  Just driving on the roads and not ending up like the chickens is probably challenge enough.

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Earthian
2 hours ago, Atravelynn said:

Your report really shows the remote beauty and the mountain shots are abode of the Gods! 

The common name for Uttarakhand is "devbhoomi" meaning "Land of the Gods".

 

No paragliding for you?  Just driving on the roads and not ending up like the chickens is probably challenge enough.

LOL. No paragliding for me (yet).

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Earthian

Dharchula - Narayan Ashram

 

Though the distance between Munsiyari and Dharchula is about 96 kms and ideally supposed to take about 3.5 hours, we reached Dharchula only at 1400 hrs. We went to the KMVN hotel, where the Manager had kindly agreed to allow us to park our car. KMVN Dharchula is situated in a crowded market place, along the banks of the river Kosi. Dharchula is a town that has been split by the international border, along the natural geographical contours of the river Kosi. So on either side of the river, we have Dharchula -  one of them  in India and the other in Nepal.

 

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In the above photo, we have the enlightened Dharchula (India) and the one in the dark (Nepal). Jokes aside, there is a serious problem of (human) trafficking from Nepal into India-mainly young girls. Both the Dharchulas are connected by a simple bridge, and people come and go as if it is one city, one state, one nation. John Lennon would have been happy. 

 

The route from Dharchula to Narayan Ashram is a single track, boulder strewn, unprotected road; where the local taxis (Boleros) feel it is only theirs to ply. During one of our frequent consultations, some one had opined that it would be highly risky to take the GLE on that road, since if it got stuck or broken down; it would be very difficult, if not impossible to get it back to Dharchula. My wife that got that bee firmly under her bonnet and hence we parked the car at the KMVN facility at Dharchula and took a private taxi to Narayan ashram. It is about 56 kms or so; but can take anything from 2.5 hours to 4.5 hours.

 

Yes, the road was bad. Not in the risky sense of steep, unprotected flanks (which were there from time to time) but more from the sharp, rocky, boulder strewn, and loose gravel coated track. Ravi - our taxi driver - was a good driver and gave us a running commentary about India, Nepal, the local customs, trade, the state of the economy and the history of Narayan ashram. We reached Narayan ashram at around 1730 hrs.

 

I had made the mistake of not changing the tyres of the GLE and I cursed myself for my thrift. If I had AT tyres, I would have put my foot down on going by the GLE to Narayan Ashram. With the soft HT tyres and our track record for blow outs and punctures, I had to listen to caution. We had a military truck ahead of us and we were docilely following behind, looking for an opportunity to overtake. Around a bend came a Bolero, speeding like a cat on a hot, tin roof. Saw the truck and slammed the brakes, while trying to swerve to one side. The left front wheel came out of the ball and socket joint and the car was stranded. It was overloaded too with 12 people. Happened before our eyes. We helped the driver reverse the car some 10 meters and push it to the inner side of the road, giving just enough clearance to pass.

 

The road traverses up the mountain, with the river Kosi on one side. The other side of Kosi is Nepal. Life goes on in both the countries as usual, with people crossing over both sides as and when necessary and in fact dwelling permanently too. This is an accepted norm. After all, once upon a time, we were all kin. The views are breath taking and when James Hilton wrote about Shangri-La in his book Lost Horizon, he must have taken inspiration from such places.

 

Narayan Ashram

 

Narayan Ashram was set up by an engineer from Mysore during 1934, who was later called Narayan Swami. The ashram engages itself in propagating the values Sri Narayan Swami had initiated. Education, Social reforms, economic upliftment of the tribals are amongst those pursued.

 

The ashram is situated at a height of about 3000 m and is, or rather was on the old walking trail of Kailash Mansarovar. With a new path, this trail is no longer used. The road ends here and the place is very quiet and remote. There are visitors who come during the day, spend a few hours and then depart. But they are few and far in between. There are about 10 employees working at the ashram, tending the vegetable gardens, the apple orchard, cooking and general maintenance and upkeep.

The ashram can host upto 45-50 people at a time including the dormitories. Food is served in a centralised kitchen cum dining area. Many guests do kitchen work or serve others. I made myself useful by getting veggies for a salad from the garden, washing them and then cutting them.

 

There were 6 guests at the Ashram including ourselves and the atmosphere was very friendly and relaxed. It does get cold after 4 pm and there are no heaters. While conventional electricity is available, there is a back up with solar. The ashram closes from the 15th November till 15th March due to the extremely cold weather.

As mentioned, it is situated at 3000 metres and is the end of the road. ( Recently a garish, red and white coloured PWD (Public Works department - A Government body) guest house has been made above the ashram- why should a guest house be made here with tax payers money?) It is quiet, save for the chirping of the birds- serene and the atmosphere invigorating.

 

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Guests busy cleaning and cutting veggies for lunch.

 

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The kitchen. I found the rotis (indian bread) very tasty-they were thick and big and lathered with ghee (clarified butter) - and i used to wolf down three of them. Most of the food is grown within the grounds, except for the cereals, pulses  and grains. The stuff you see drying in one of the photos is Rajma, (Mexican long beans) grown in the estate.

 

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The temple dedicated to the Sun god (Vishnu). Narayan Swami was fond of singing kirtans (devotional songs) and that tradition is still being followed at 1830 hrs every day.

 

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One of the permanent residents:

 

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The oldest resident (who worked with Narayan Swami) harvesting Rajma.

 

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The colours of the flowers are so vibrant and beautiful:

 

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I enjoy shooting the night sky and i had a great time here. Yes, it was quite cold. 

 

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Edited by Earthian

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TonyQ

More beautiful photos, and great descriptions of the roads and the work done to maintain them

When we went to Spiti, part of the road was washed away and we had to find a different route altogether. (When I say “we” I of course mean our driver:))

The flowers and the mountains are stunning, I can almost feel that cold Himalayan air

 

@Atravelynn  we will probably not go to these exact areas, bu the Sattal and Pangot areas are supposed to be very good for birding

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wilddog

Fascinating and very informative trip report supported by amazing photographs. Those views are breathtaking.

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Earthian

 

22 hours ago, wilddog said:

Fascinating and very informative trip report supported by amazing photographs. Those views are breathtaking.

Thank you. Glad you like it. When do we see you in these part of the woods..er..sorry mountains?

 

Sadly @Earthian a trip there, for me, is unlikely, but thanks for thinking of me. I will just have to sit and enjoy it from here. Hopefully others will follow in your footsteps inspired by this TR and write another.

 

I can almost smell that crisp clean air from here................

 

@Game Warden I hope you have had time to check this fantastic report out. Increasing numbers of non Africa reports from many as the years go by. Safatalk is truly global :)

Edited by wilddog

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Earthian

The last time i saw so many stars in the sky was at Pangong Tso in Ladakh. It was breath taking. The night sky at Narayan Ashram was equally, if not more beautiful. When you stand under such skies and are able to see the Milky way with your bare eyes ( In a manner of speaking, since we are a part of the Milky Way. I meant the Galactic centre) it is a humbling, almost spiritual experience. 

You can only gaze at the sky and wonder. I am a great believer of the existence of intelligent life in the Universe, in UFOs, in the possibility that some of them may have already visited us, in....the full monty. You get the drift. I am a die hard believer.

 

Why is it that most sages, hermits, ascetics and such go to the mountains? If anyone is stuck in the 4th stage of Maslow's hierarchy of needs and  is not able to transit to the 5th stage of self-actualisation; then maybe a trip to such places and a bit of solitude would do the trick.

 

Sorry. Didn't mean to go off in a tangent.

 

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Earthian

Narayan Ashram - Dharchula - Advaita Ashram

 

We had earlier planned to arrive back in Ahmedabad around the 27th October, but due to some change of plans had to come a day or two early. We, therefore, cut short our visit at Narayan ashram by a day and after lunch on the 21st, we left for Dharchula where we would stay at the KMVN hotel overnight.

 

The ride was uneventful, save for a Bolero, which was ferrying 13 passengers and 3 dogs, that had broken down on the way. Our driver asked me if he could accommodate them? We had already accommodated 2 passengers who had come to Narayan Ashram for a day visit. 13 passengers + 3 dogs? In addition to the 4 of us and driver? No way. I suggested that maybe 3-4 passengers could come in - but instead the driver of the broken down Bolero joined us. He would get another Bolero from the nearby village.

 

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We stopped for a quick convenience break near this waterfall and i seized the opportunity to get a couple of shots. In due time we reached Dharchula and checked into the KMVN property. Requested for an early meal and that was provided at 1900 hrs.

 

The next morning, inspected the car and found rat droppings inside the engine bay. If the rat had cut any wires, we were done for. I mentally added rat spray to the list of odds and ends that we carried. The engine started without any fuss. No harm done. After cleaning it and checking the essentials, loaded it and we were ready to go on our next leg: Mayavati Ashram.

 

I was a bit upset with our taxi driver who had asked for round trip ( two and fro ) charges from us, even though he had brought passengers one way ( and collected money from them). Secondly, he had carried two passengers along with us. I had therefore figured that the fare originally agreed upon had to be pared, considering these two factors.  The question, in my mind, was the differential pricing between the other two passengers and us. In the Utility Industry (of which i had been a part) and Income Tax, it is common to have differential pricing, mainly depending upon capacity to pay; but i balked at the same philosophy being applied to me in sharing a taxi. Put it down to my upbringing, or just plain cussedness. To compound things further, i had asked Ravi, (the driver who had ferried us to Mayavati earlier) to takes us back; and he in turn had passed the baton to some one else, since he was busy. There was no heated exchange of words or even an argument, though. I made my point and he put his forward. All very diplomatic and parliamentary. ( though, we cannot use this word anymore, i think to describe a civil discussion) I asked the manager of KMVN and he asked me to pay about 60% of the round trip fare. Promptly done and accepted. I am mentioning all this with a purpose.

The next morning, as we were just moving out, Ravi comes post haste to our car and gives me my Gitzo tripod and ball head, which i had forgotten in the other driver's taxi. Good people here and still not spoilt by the ills of commercialisation.Glad i didn't make too much fuss about the fare the previous day.


The road to Lohaghat is being widened and hence there were possibilities of delays on the way. Secondly, our booking at Mayavati was only from 23rd, and they had made it clear at the time of booking itself, that change requests were not entertained.  I asked the Manager of KMVN at Dharchula to suggest any hotel at a good location on the way where we could stay the night. He suggested the KMVN at Chandak, near Pithoragarh. On my request, he spoke to the Manager there and reserved one room for us for one night.

 

That done, we were on our way.

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There were many photo opportunities on our way and we stopped and enjoyed the sights. In fact near one town, I entered a police station (shown in the above picture) which commanded a vantage view of the range. The policemen were amused to see a Gujarat car come all the way to take photographs.


We reached Pithoragarh without any fuss and sought the KMVN property. It was just 1230 hrs or so. The property was not good and a hand-me-down version of the other KMVN hotels. I asked the Manager whether there was any KMVN property at Lohaghat and when he replied in the affirmative, I requested him to reserve a room for us there which he did.

It is amazing how helpful these people are. In the Metros, such managers would either desist from doing such service ( for no personal or company gain) or would at best, delegate it. i was pleasantly surprised to see that the basic human kindness and helpfulness is still available here in Uttarakhand. (at least in the Kumaon side, not having yet been to the Garhwal side)

 

We decided to see the sights at Pithoragarh and went to the sight seeing point at Chandak , the fort in the town and the Mostamanu temple. By now we had become spoilt about the view opportunities that we had of the Himalayan range and any view which was partially obstructed evicted disdain.

 

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Chandak was okay, i guess; but could not understand what the fuss was all about. Maybe we were in the wrong place, or maybe we were just plain spoilt by the other locations, or maybe I had become a thorough cantankerous grouch due to the bad road from Dharchula. Anyway, the scenes, though quite pretty on hindsight, did not warrant a second look or dawdling around and we congratulated ourselves on deciding to go ahead to Lohaghat.

 

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Just a small matter to report for some of our younger members.  At the fort in Pithoragarh, i saw some three young ladies, decked up to the nines, taking selfies. A young man, not part of their group, was covertly eyeing them, afraid to make a move. I stepped forward, and asked the prettiest of them all if she would like her photo taken? Maybe it was my good looks, or my Yul Brynner hair style, (or the fact that my wife was next to me - i hope not); she readily agreed and then it was step forward in taking all their photos. Next she readily gave me her email so that i could send her the photos. It was at this moment, i called out to that poor boy who was trying to muster courage, as to how easy it was to get an email id from a pretty girl. The girls burst out laughing and the boy was suitably embarrassed. I got a look from my wife, which did not have the milk of human kindness in it and i wisely, though belatedly, shut up and made myself scarce.

 

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We reached Lohaghat at around 1600 hrs and found the KMVN property. It was a shabby affair. The Manager was also out. I spoke to him over the telephone and he made me welcome. I asked him if there was any chance we could go to Mayavati ashram this evening itself and he advised that I should try talking to them. It was 9 kms away only. Accordingly, after many attempts, I got in touch with the Manager Swami and requested for preponement of the booking. He said he would revert in 5 minutes. Before the time was up, he rang up and agreed.

 

We were now on our way to Mayavati ashram.

 

Edited by Earthian

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Atravelynn

More fantastic photos day and night and of course more of the top of Maslow's Hierarchy.  Clever advice on obtaining an email contact!  Thanks for the translation you provided.  I'll look for your TR on hang gliding at some point in the future.

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Earthian
1 hour ago, Atravelynn said:

 Thanks for the translation you provided.  

 Thank you, Atravelynn. I am relatively new to social media and  at most would only 'like' a post by pressing the like button. Easy, isn't it? Writing a response involves work. Need to learn from you, where you highlight what many (including I) would have taken for granted. Thank you for your sensitiveness.

 

Hang gliding? Maybe i am 20 years too late? Though i did do 4 scuba dives 2 years back in Maldives. B)

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Earthian

Advaita Ashram, Mayavati

 

This ashram was established by an English couple during the 1890's and Swami Vivekananda stayed here for 15 days or so. This is a well organised Ashram, with the guest residence facilities about half a kilometre away from the Ashram. Breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner are served in the dining room of the Ashram and hence visitors have to walk 4 times up and down every day. Some private cabs have been hired who transport the elderly and the infirm up and down for a fee. It gets dark by 1800 hrs and hence walking for dinner is not for the fainthearted, since it is also cold.

 

Photography is prohibited since they frown upon guest treating the ashram as a tourist destination and indulging in selfies. They had been kind enough to give me permission, after ascertaining that I was not the selfie kind.

There are about 10 monks living there, each pursuing his area of study. In addition, they do every day chores for managing the ashram. Short 30 minute a day discourse on Gita is conducted every day after breakfast. People are encouraged to go for short treks, as well as for walks with the senior monks.

 

The ashram is quiet, extremely well managed and efficient. There is a diary, a farm and a hospital surrounding the ashram which is also run by the monks. 

We reached the ashram at 1830 hrs and presented ourselves at the manager swami's office. Swamiji was out for a walk, but had given instructions about our visit. We were handed a key to our room, and after signing in we returned back to the guest living area and found our way to our room. The rooms are neat and well maintained, as is the surroundings. Not one functionary in sight. In the rooms there are clear instructions on how to conduct ourselves.

 

We spent two nights here and it was quite pleasant. There are no charges for stay and food, but one is welcome to donate, if one wishes. The ashram is renovating the old house in which the Seviers (the English couple) stayed and where Swami Vivekananda also stayed when he visited the Ashram. The ashram, as previously mentioned, is well organised, and has kept up the vision Swami Vivekananda had when he established this Ashram.

 

Swami Vivekananda, during his visit to San Francisco (8 April, 1890) spoke about this ashram:

"......but on the heights of the Himalayas I have a place where I am determined nothing shall enter except pure truth. There I want to work out this idea about which I have spoken to you today. There are an Englishman and an Englishwoman in charge of the place. The purpose is to train seekers of truth and to bring up children without fear and without superstition. They shall not hear about Christs and Buddhas and Shivas and Vishnus — none of these. They shall learn, from the start, to stand upon their own feet. They shall learn from their childhood that God is the spirit and should be worshipped in spirit and in truth. Everyone must be looked upon as spirit. That is the ideal. I do not know what success will come of it. Today I am preaching the thing I like. I wish I had been brought up entirely on that, without all the dualistic superstitions."

 

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This is the monks' quarters and out of bounds to the visitors. It commands a beautiful view of the Himalayas.

 

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This is the house where the Seviers stayed and hosted Swami Vivekananda when he visited the Ashram. It is being renovated. Actually, renovated is probably not the right word. It is being strengthened while taking care that the original is kept as far as possible in place. The wood seen in the above photograph is mostly the original wood used. It has been painstakingly scraped of layers of paint, varnish and what have you. The roof, however, was of slate (stone) sheets, which has been replaced by sheet metal as can be seen.

 

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This housed the printing press and library and is pretty much as it was then. The printing press is now not functional.

 

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Normally, i do not prefer to photograph flowers and such, unless there is a story to tell. I do not know what it is about flowers and ashrams, but the flowers here (as in the case of Narayan Ashram) seem to have brilliant and vibrant colours and i thought i would present a few of them for the reader to opine.

 

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We spent an idyllic two nights here.  The surroundings are very peaceful and quiet, and it is delightful to go for walks surrounded by dense forests. In the library, i came upon these quaint chairs, possibly quite old:

 

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I had a great time observing life in an ashram and was amazed as to how simple a life it is. Some, if not all, the monks do have smart phones, net connectivity, email ids and such modern trappings; but generally pursue a life of study. Just imagine, the Seviers sold all their belongings in London, came to India in the 1890's and established this Ashram. I am told that there were no roads and one had to walk all the way from Almora. Charlotte Sevier was a lone woman amongst the monks and earned their respect by her dedication and hard work. She was affectionately called The Mother by all of them, including Swami Vivekananda.

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