Top off beat destination in Uttaranchal : Munsiyari & Chakouri

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THE PLANNING

The journey of Uttaranchal is like a journey of exploring yourself(Read part 1 here)We started with Corbett and then after Kausani and Ranikhet our final target was Munsiyari. The morning sun waked us up with best of mood and some resilience as well because today we were about to leave city life and head towards the first offbeat destination on our bucket list the grand Munsiyari. If you would search for Munsiyari you might not find enough information about this place and I guess that is what makes the journey to this hamlet worth. Google maps said 6.5 hours to be precise to reach this place. The plan was to start early so that we can reach before dawn. So after a good breakfast of puri sabzi, omelet and Tea we embarked on the most awaited leg of our journey.

BREAKPOINT:Baijnath temple

Our first stop was though only around 17 Km from our place names as Baijnath temple or rather group of temples beautifully carved from stones housing Lord Shiva and Parvati on the banks of Gomati River. Being early morning we reached there in no time but the real challenge was to find a place to park. Somehow we did manage to find a Taxi stand few meters ahead of the entrance and then started down the well-laid path to this place. There was very less water at this time but one could very well imagine how magnificent it would look during rain. Inside the premise of the temple, you are welcomed by a series of temples each with their own deity sitting blissfully overlooking a large pond. The pond is full of fishes and for few rupees, you can buy food for them and then see them jump up and down to eat it. The priest was very nice in explaining about the temple history and allowed us to explore the place at our own pace. My daughter was given a hand full of sweets that are served as prasadam here. One more thing to be noticed about this place was cleanliness in-spite of all the people visiting this place.

We had a smooth drive till we reached Bageshwar, from where there is a fork in the road and one goes right towards the Bagnath temple and the one going left was going to be our journey towards Munsiyari. This is an important point as you will come to know in coming paragraph. Initially, we thought of visiting the temple right away, for those unaware this temple is famous Shiva temple and resides at the convergence of river Gomati and Sarayu. But as we wanted to rush to Munsiyari we thought of visiting this place while coming down. So we took the left and through narrow bylanes of the town kept on proceeding at a slow pace. There were times when we had to come in full reverse so that the upcoming vehicles could pass. Anyway, soon the city limits vanished and were replaced by something so awesome that we actually had to park to take it all in. Until this point, the journey was either through cities or tree covered mountains but the roads that lie ahead were all painted in white ( No Snow ) more like what we see in Ladakh on one side and a steep valley on the other with a mountain stream flowing through it. The locals said this is not a river but more of an outlet of Melting Glaciers. The setting was mesmerizing and we were just wondering how this beauty would have been quadrupled when more water will be flowing through them.

Baijnath Temple

BREAKPOINT: MUNSIYARI

Luckily the roads have been recently laid under Pradhan Mantri Gram Sarak Yojana and were in excellent condition for most of the parts except some stretches. The road though is circuitous and one need to be very watchful as with the sheer drop on one side there is literally zero margin for error. Due to which a mere 150 Km turned into 6-hour drive. The excitement of initial view soon turned into concern as even though we were traveling continuously it felt the landscapes were not changing at all as we could not find anyone or anything else on this stretch. Believe it or not, there was no Phone Signal, no village, no other car, not even street animals in every direction your eyes can see. 

It was eerie feeling as if you are moving through some Ghost time. Our worst fear was if at all anything happens here what will we do. Our driver blabbered jokingly that this is going to be his last trip for Munsiyari. The roads at places were so narrow we could have seen the valley down from car window even without popping our heads out. That was strictly not a sight for people with heart problems. Only good thing was my daughter sleeping merrily through the journey and we didn't have to worry about stopping. Although we wanted to take a break we kept on pushing as we wanted this ghost ride to be over soon. Nature at its best and at its worst all at the same time.


Finally, we found a small water stream coming from the mountain and decided to cool our heels there. Some splashing of water of our face and clicking snaps for the memory of it, we were again back on the road. Suddenly we saw a small shop in distance and we all were feeling the same which the Hero of MARS movie would have felt seeing his team members back after getting stranded on the planet. Before the driver could park it properly all of us were on the road exhausted but exhilarated about the unbelievable road trip which we did. We ordered for some biscuits and tea and though the taste was horrible we were content. The show owner told us there was another way as well through Chaukori (remember the right side road we didn't take) and though it was longer it was the normal route.


BREAKPOINT: BIRTHI FALLS


Illuminated about the prospect that going down will be via a different route we enquired him about our first destination, the Famous Birthi Falls that falls from 400 feet above the ground. With lush green surroundings blooming in various colours( Oh yeah we were back to Green mountains), it makes for an ideal place to sit and enjoy tea and lunch. In fact, that was exactly what we did, just at the bottom of fall is a small and only shop that serves Tea and snacks. There is a lovely black dog here who is very playful and will go with you on the short trek to the base of Birthi falls. There is also a small Shiva temple in the middle of the falling water which takes the form of a stream while coming down and you can ask the shopkeeper to help you reach that place through the mountains. The tea here was excellent and coupled with Maggi in the slightly chilling weather outside was reminding me of the Himalayas Trek I did in Kasauli a few years back.

Glimpse of Himalaya: The town of Munisyari is around 35 Km from here but due to road condition, it will take you around 1 hour to reach. The journey this side was going smooth when suddenly after one blind turn we came face to face with our most elusive love which called us to this remote location. There it was in full snowy glory and standing tall among other mountains the beautiful Panchachuli Peak. Without even telling Piyush, our very friendly driver from Rajasthan to stop he had already found a place to park and was more excited than us at the sight. There are times when words feel insignificant and your own existence seems surreal. This was the moment for sure we all just kept on looking, soaking in the heavenly abode of Lord Shiva, too engrossed to even say anything. Don't calm yourself even if tears of joy falls out of your eyes.


The world as I knew would never remain the same for me after this. We slowly retraced back to our car and zoomed to our place of stay Milam Inn. Not being on main tourist map the place only has limited accommodation and Milam Inn is rated best on trip advisor. We parked in front of the hotel and after initial check-in was taken downstairs to our rooms. And wow what a view we had from there, the rooms were made of wood and have an adjoining garden area in front overlooking the Himalayas. We just dumped our luggage inside the room and settled in lawn with hot vegetable pakoras and tea. The weather suddenly turned very cold as the sun was setting and the mist was increasing. We still stayed out till the visibility became zero and then dozed off dreaming all about the place.




Next morning we got up to see the sunrise but the clouds and mist that came last night refused to leave and we missed the view. So the plan for today was to cover the following places in their respective order although the real way to enjoy places like Munsiyari is to trek and enjoy the surroundings. 

WHAT TO SEE

1. Darkot Temple and Village: We had heard about this place from hotel guy who told us this is the place which weaves the best pashmina shawl in the entire area. The map showed only the temple so we drove towards it. Once reaching that place we came to know the although the temple was at few steps from the main road the actual village was almost at the bottom of the stepped road. Knowing our physical limits we decided against the trek, took blessing from the temple and move ahead.

2. Madkote Village: A small community situated at the end of the road passing through Darkot and is famous for natural hot water spring here. The locals have created a good covering around this place and are really not a place to miss. But be aware that the road from Darkot to Madkote is still being laid and is muddy at many places. During the last avalanche, a part of the road was completely damaged and hence drive only if you are up for it. Else if don't mind public transport then you can take Scorpio that serves as the connector between all such local communities.


3. Tribal Heritage Museum: while returning from madkote/darkot don't forget to visit the Tribal Heritage Museum. It's an old building situated just next to the road but with a steep, easy to miss so don't forget to ask local once near google maps destination. With an exhaustive collection of wooden utensils, brass hookahs and bags made of yak skin, a one of its kind museum in Munsiyari provides a glimpse into the history and culture of Bhotiya tribe of Uttarakhand. The curator and owner of the museum Sher Singh Pangtey, fondly called Massab, established the Tribal Heritage Museum before the soaring Panchachauli peaks in 2000.


4. Nanda Devi Temple: The most famous of all the temples around here the place is not marked correctly on google maps so don't trust it. Once you reach the main bazaar ask someone for direction. It's located in a remote location but with a clear view of Panchkuli. Every year there is a big festival here where Villagers will trek barefoot, take a bath in the sacred Nanda Kunda before eating self-prepared food while on their way to collect the flower that grows at 15,000 feet high glacier and is aptly named Brahma Kamal to worship Nanda Devi the goddess of Mountains.


5. Trek to Khalia Top or Milam Glacier: Many youngsters every year come here to trek to either of the two glaciers that are accessible from Munsiyari but it requires some level of physical fitness so better come in a group and always try to move with the Guide, as lots of cases of missing trekkers are told here. Although we could not go to either of them because of my kid but one should plan for them as the pictures of the place were out of the world.

Picture Courtesy : Internet

6. Thamri Kund trek: This will be the most common trekking done by tourist here as it is only 3 km and takes around 2 hours each side to go. The end result is this natural kund in the middle of nowhere which thankfully has not been destroyed by the tourists n local people. The paths have been well laid out and you get cheap guides at the entry point itself that will take you through stories of the place along with. Totally Recommended. The entry is next to the Gayatri Centre and is easy to miss due to one small discreet board.


7. Maheshwari Kund Trek: also known as Meesar Kund is a simple trek with well laid out stone path nestled among trees and mountains that lead you the small meadow at the top housing a small pond which once used to be always full of water. There is a famous mythology about that suggesting there was a  Yaksha ( A Yaksha is a kind of a Jungle spirit), who lived on this mountain top near Munsyari and he fell in love with a local lass. But the Panchayat of the village took strong objection to it.  So the villagers decided to teach a lesson to the Yaksha and dried the lake where Yaksha Lived. This made the Yaksha angry and he cursed the village to go without rain.  So the there were no rains for many years, thus the villagers went to the Yaksha and apologised so that the rains could return to the village.


Our bad luck was second day onwards it was all cloudy here and the visibility of peaks went to zero in morning and evening. At night rain also started so we had to cancel most of our plan and were left confined to our hotel. Although that had its own share of fun with a feeling of family outing without any network and nothing to do but to enjoy the bliss of togetherness in this wilderness. As the weather was not looking to change we planned to start early next day and head back towards next town called chaukori. This time the route was same till Birthi Falls where we stopped again to have Maggi, omelette and morning tea.


Because of the rain, the waterfall had become more beautiful and also the overall scenery was extremely wallpaper like. We took a different turn from one of the forks this time and headed in opposite direction from where we had arrived from Kausani. No complaints although it is going to be in my best road journeys till date but this time we were not in the mood for adventure. We passed on the road to be met with a marriage ceremony with locals dancing around to the sound of drum and piano. One amazing observation was though this place is full of beautiful flowers coming in all shades and shapes we noticed none of the marriage decorations was made of real flowers but plastic ones. I think they know the rule of nature you take care of earth and earth will take care of you.Simply amazing!!!



BREAKPOINT: CHAUKORI





The road to chaukori passed through small villages with beautiful kids all along the roadside waving to us and their houses all naturally decorated with beautiful varieties of Roses. The drive to chaukori is around 3 hours and is very pleasant one with the good road and a large number of Pine trees covering it on both sides. With hardly any traffic it's a relaxing drive. 

WHERE TO STAY

The place we checked in was Ojaswi Resort and it was one of the most beautiful property we have seen. All the bungalow are crafted with panache and complimenting it very well was the Garden Area in front of the rooms. Even the beds and bathrooms were top of the notch, definitely the best place to stay here. Within walking distance is viewpoint to enjoy sunrise called Dolphin's Nose. The place is just to lay back and let your brain cells get recharged. Once reaching there the main place we wanted to visit was a unique place which we had only heard off called as Patal Bhuvaneswari Cave Temple.

BREAKPOINT:Patal Bhuvaneswari Cave Temple

All search of this place will result in the amalgamation of myth and mystery of Dan Brown novel. It is almost an hour drive from Chaukori and closes after 6 so plan accordingly. The name says it all that it is a located deep inside earth level. There is a basic ticket price of Rs 50 that includes mandatory charges for Guide as the place is treacherous and a bit risky. As soon as you enter on your right you can see the entrance which is nothing but an opening of around 1 feet naturally made tunnel going down. The first look and I blabbered I can not go inside with my kid as not only it was very narrow but it was vertical with an iron chain in middle for support like rappelling. The guide came to my rescue and said don't worry I will carry the baby initially and will pass it on to you once you are down. The initial few meters were really scary with only stones all around and hardly any place to squeeze through, but things got better after that once the path became less vertical and finally opened inside a cave. The first shock you will get is when your Guide will tell you that at the moment you are almost 200 feet underground. But behold this is just the beginning of amazements that is in store for you inside. This is literally like stumbling into a treasure trove of all mythology and mystery that has existed beneath our feet since the time of Vedas as there is a reference to this place in Skanda Puran.
Picture Courtsey: Internet

So the cave is full of wonders all nature made like how is having 3 stones representing Brahma Vishnu Mahesh all originating from the same stone base and having again a 3 tipped hanging stone which somehow magically drops water on each one of them. Also, beat this in all black stone cave there is one amalgamation of stone which is aptly called shiv-jata which is white in colour and is always dripping water even when there is no river or lake over this entire area. It's just mountain. If you look up you will find a small cave that has a very clear black shadow print as if Some sage actually sitting there, lore says it was Rishi Agstasya. There are again naturally carved stones that resemble Airavata and his hundred legs. Now suddenly our guide says look at the ground which you have been walking, we look down and find as if it is a skeleton of some snake body, not any snake my dear the guide then shows us the head of Sheshnag clearly staring back from one of the stone corners. The story doesn't end here it is believed there are three tunnels here off course not for normal humans but it is believed one of them connects to Kailash and was used by Pandavas for their formal walk to the afterlife, the proof again a set of five stones.


There is again a folklore here which shows three stones two of which have already touched the cave's roof but one is somewhere in middle and is said that every hundred years or so it grows an inch or two. Call it an end of the world counter, Our own Nast re Damas. The feel, the stories and the uncanny resemblance to multiple characters really beg question who and how created this. if not god then who else could have stored such amazing things at one single place that could not have been found. And it was found in kali yuga by none other than Adi guru Shankaracharya. The place is very claustrophobic and is dimly lit with no mobile allowed inside so we could not click pictures but we got them outside being sold by someone. I was spellbound but not because of lack of oxygen but because of air of mystery that I was inhaling. The ride to the top was again through the same hell hole and we somehow managed to come out of the place unharmed. I tipped the guide handsomely as it was his enthusiasm that we all went down or else I would have cursed myself my entire life. Jai Patal Bhuvaneshwari!!!




It seemed the rains of munsiyari were following us here as well. By the time we reached back to the hotel it has changed into Hailstorm. 


BREAKPOINT:BINSAR


Next morning was a lazy ride to Binsar with not much to visit. En route we reached the same fork of roads but we found one place to park our car and believe it or not they charged us Rs 10 for an hour. It was a clear nexus of Police and Parking guy as we saw police threatening everyone that was parking any place else but near the parking area even if the cars were being parked on the road no one was giving a single look.

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Bagnath is a small temple and is majorly famous for being at the confluence of Saryu and Gomti but it serves as an idyllic setup to sit and view the water moving around stones. Don't miss to see a small enclosure opposite to the main temple that houses original artefacts of the idols and stone drawings that were unearthed here and tells how ancient the roots of this temple are. Feeling blessed we shopped a little bit near the temple and headed to Binsar.

Binsar does no have any special places to visit but the Binsar forest reserve itself that is stretched in acres and houses the most famous vantage point for enjoying the beauty of this area called Zero Point. The entry fees for a vehicle is though very high at Rs 500 Plus Rs 100 per person ticket. Interestingly there is government sponsored KMVN guesthouse inside the campus itself and you can book it here to have a very unique experience. Imagine this the place does not have electricity and you will be given set of candles to go through the night. 

WHERE TO STAY

Our stay was at Suman Resort as due to some mismanagement on part of our travel agent Trip Sailer via Travel Triangle we did not get Binsar Club Mahindra hotel if you ae in the area do try to book in this hotel for some amazing accommodation experience. 
ih Anyways the Suman property is few Km away from the main gate of the Binsar park and the looks of the place are very impressive. Due to off season or whatever we were the only guests for the day it seemed. We had our food and enjoyed each others company and went to bed. Next morning while checking out we came to know that our driver was not offered any food there even when the poor guy was ready to pay for it. Due to its remote location, there were no restaurants nearby and he ended up sleeping on biscuits. Very unprofessional and in human behaviour on your part, no wonder in spite of such good property your rooms are pretty empty.

BREAKPOINT:Nainital



The final leg of our journey took us to Nainital, but be aware this stretch has lots of construction work going on so if you don't want to get caught upstart very early from BInsar. The first visit was obviously the Naini temple where it's so peaceful you will not feel coming out. Everywhere Mata ki chunari are hanging and bells are jingling and will captivate you forever. After doing the puja we went off for pet pooja. there are multiple shops all calling for you to eat on their own, all are one and same so you can go anywhere you want.There is one very authentic Mutton Momo shop inside market run by Tibetans do try that. The mall road is like any other hill area with lots of small shops selling all kind of stuff at good bargaining price.We came to know that the place is choked with tourists on weekends and it was lucky that we reached there on a fridge afternoon. But one thing was sure even with limited tourists it was pretty clear the real Uttaranchal was left far behind. We were back to sound of traffic and chaos all around back to reality I guess. We will miss you munsiyari and chaukori.


BREAKPOINT:Bhimtal


For stay, we had chosen Bhimtal at the happy home. it's a small property but tastefully done and it seems there was a change of management and renaming of the hotel from earlier Clarks inn to the happy home. The food was good though and our rooms were shown before to choose from. Nice gesture to let guests have a look of rooms before they settle in. Good Going management !!! The Bhimtal lake is like a younger brother of Naini lake and offers a more relaxed atmosphere. We enjoyed boating at a fixed rate of 220 here. There are Zorbing balls also available for rent and its a must do thing irrespective if you are a kid or an adult. We sipped tea as the sun was setting marking an end to a remarkable 8 days nestled amongst nothing but nature in all its varied form. Hope one day I will retire to someplace similar...

Adios Uttaranchal you will be missed and never forgotten and yeah yeah I remember the next time the turn will be for Garhwal region ending in Auli.....

TIPS


1. Carry lots of ready to eat things
2. Carry water there will be stretches where there will be no shops
3. A small backpack with umbrella food and water must for even a small trek
4. Try booking Hotels with food options included, a la carte might not be available
5. Extra careful at all bends while driving, the local drivers are not in habit of using horns at bends
6. Fuel price keeps on rising as you go up the Hill.
7. Road Trip is a bit challenging here so be prepared
8. If you are traveling with Kid ensure to get Milk tetra packs at Delhi only.
9. Weather becomes very chilly at night here, come prepared.
10. This place is not for sightseeing, come if you are in the mood to relax and unwind with nature.

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