24th November, 10 am – After many days, the morning was a little different today. There was no hassle or boredom of daily work. The very reason why the balcony of Kathgodam Tourist Rest House has now becomes the spot to write my next travel journal. Kathgodam is said to be the entrance of Kumaon Anchal. That’s why Kathgodam is our starting point for this journey. Like many people, I also have come face to face with this place during my youth, when I was reading Jim Corbett’s best hunting compilation “Man-eaters of Kumaon”. The famous destination of Corbett’s 30 years of hunting life is famous is known as the native name of Kumaonchal or Kumaon. As according to the saying “climb the mountain so you can see the world, not so the world can see you”. The main reason to travel this far is the hope to see Panchachuli Range from the height of 12000 foot on Munsia Top.
The distance from Munsia to Kathgodam is quite a bit, almost 300 km. That’s why we have decided to divide our whole journey in three ways instead of trying to go all the way at once. The first destination is going to be Wildlife Sanctuary. There is a 100 km distance from here to Binsha, so, even if we stop in a middle way to Bhimtal or to Almora, it shouldn’t take us more than 4 hours. The good thing is, our vehicle is brand new and our driver J. P. G (full name Jayprakash) is a pro, so, I don’t think that there will be any vehicle-related problem. The entire credit goes to my fellow passenger Arnab. Because the first thing he did after waking up was going to the taxi stand and get us a good driver under a great deal.
2 months ago, four of us planned this eight-day adventure trip suddenly. Generally, on this kind of long journey, you should take care of hotel rooms and train tickets from the start. But, either with the blessing of God Kurmabarta or because of our willpower, we didn’t face any problems with the transportation or shelter. Then there was the fact of car reservation. That was also done without any hassle, in my opinion.
As I travel I am going to describe the places we are going to go visit, now just let me say about the route we are crossing. Starting our journey from Kathgodam our main destination is Munsia but for now, we are going to Binsar, as I have told earlier. After spending the night here we are going to go from Bageshwar to Chowkari. And the day after that we will visit Birthi Falls and ultimately reach our destination, Munsia. After trekking in Khulia Top, we will be taking a U-turn for home the next day. Binsar, Chowkari, Munsia each of them are individually beautiful. We have planned this route just so we don’t get tired visiting all these beautiful places. We have chosen Kumaonmandal Bikas Nigam (KMVN) tourist rest house because it is convenient as well as a good place to stay. Now, the time will tell if our tour plan will be successful or not.
We arrived in Kathgodam by train from New Delhi in the early morning and it was teeth-shivering cold. Luckily, the rest house isn’t far from the station or we’ll be in a world of pain trying to come here. We didn’t get much sleep but the view of Himalaya in the morning was worth all this trouble. Now, going to Binsar and I will resume my writing there.
25th November, 9 am – I am sitting here on the roof of KMVN surrounded by the jungle and writing my diary. The rest house is placed at the top of Jhandi Dhar Mountain, almost at an 8000-foot distance from the ground, which makes this a spell bounding place to stay. In the 80’s Binsar Sanctuary got famous for conserving the oak trees and from then the people of this place became more collective. But many times before that, from 1100 to 1800 century, Binsar was the capital of Royal Chand’s heritage of Kumaon. In the present, on this huge territory of this sanctuary, many species of animals and tree can be found. And of course, the ever-so-beautiful Himalayan mountain peaks are here too. From a little distance of the main rest house, you can only see Himalaya. In my left, a peak Nanda Ghunti can be seen from above the jungle. And towards the right Trishul, Mtigathuni, Maiktoli, Nandadevi, Panwali Dwar, Nanda Khat, Dangthal, Rajrambha and lastly Pachachuli’s five peaks are everything you want in a serene view.
When we started our vacation at Kathgodam yesterday we took a little rest after eating lunch in Bhimtal and again Almora, then after continuing without any breaks, it took us the whole day to come here. The road wasn’t that bad but after Almora, there are quite a bit uphill and we can’t even guess the speed with all of this turns happening on the road. Anyway, after coming here we took all our things out and rush to the tourist roof. And saw that there is already a golden glow above Trishul. We were so invested to take pictures that we didn’t even notice about the abounded warm clothes left in our room. Hence, we were retreating to our room with shivering feet.
Binsar was placed in the sanctuary, there is no permanent electric facility. We get to use our electrical appliances for two hours only in the evening, with the help of the generator. But after that candle was our only hope. That’s why I was taken aback at first when I saw the dinner table was all ready for me, at only 7 pm in the evening. None of us expected to have all of these tasty treats away from the city in this deep jungle. That’s why maybe our supper was the reason for all the quarrels among locals. Anyway, again we gathered on the terrace after the dinner.
The sky is always clearer in the mountain area of the city. And because of the New Moon, there were many stars twinkling this evening. Thanks to electricity cut out, the sky was filled with more of these little diamonds. This constellation was reminding me of my childhood when my father used to teach me about the stars. Because we lived away from the city, we get to see a sky full of stars regularly. There are many unforgettable tales, where I have lived many summer nights searching for the Orion, start many of my winter dawn with Phosphor. But now, because of the “elevation” and pollution in the sky, sodium, mercury viper lights seems to take control and like the sky who has lost its beauty, we lost medium to know about nature.
I was so lost in my old days that I didn’t even notice when other people from the rest house have come as well. Anyhow, I came back to my room at ten and fell asleep; soon my slumber was taken by my phone’s alarm. Nobody intended to miss the first sunrise of this tour. That’s why we took all the precautions of cold before four of us gather at the terrace while it was still dark. At our right, we can finally see the Sun after half an hour through mountain’s peaks. And then the game of colours begins from backwards. First, we caught red, orange and finally golden rays in our lances. Even though neither any lance could capture nature’s true beauty nor we can express this feeling with our words. After a hot tea session on the roof, we were getting ready for the zero point. The distance from here to zero points was of 3 kilometres through the jungle. The speciality of this place is the peaks of Kumaon and Trishul, as well as Chowkhamba, Kedarnath and Himalaya’ Garoal’s top. Gawking at the peaks isn’t the only attraction, new breeds of birds and barking deer can be seen here. Our next destination is Bageshwari and Chowkri. The distance is same as before so I hope we won’t need any extra time to get there.
8 pm – Chowkri is already very cold for our liking, with the cold breeze making the situation worse. So, we won’t be surprised if it gets consolidated here. Placed at 6.500 feet height the village of Chowkri is quite small in size. In total only 250 families’ lives here, so the population is hardly thousand people. And probably that’s why here people are so attached to nature. The biggest example of their contribution to the environment is the conservation of Kasturi deer. From preventing illegal hunting to taking care of government breeding farm all are done by the locals. And probably that’s why the deer population is increasing slowly but steadily.
From the national road, we can see a farm just like this and to the left, we can see the signboard of Chowkri’s KMVN and then the main gate of the rest house. After coming inside we could see a small one-decker house with canister roof and then the reception. The left of the reception has a dining space with a kitchen and the right side has a porch with three rooms for tourists. The rooms were pretty big and well-decorated, plus the huge glass windows gave us a beautiful view. Excluding this one, there are 6 more cottages. These were places in half circle beyond a playground but the price was twice as much from here. The left front porch has a badminton court and the right has a 20 feet high watchtower. Here we can see the same mountain’s peak but from a different angle and more clearly. Now it’s finally time for dinner. The main adventure is yet to start from tomorrow after our trip to Munsia.
26 November, 8.30 am – Even though we are hurrying to go to Munsia but still, I had to write my diary for one special reason. But let me tell you first the experience I had watching the sunrise from Chowkri. Again when we were at the watchtower, the east side sky was beginning to become clearer. As I have told you before, we cannot see Trishul from the rest house, that’s why the light was only touching Nandadevi. Then one by one Mrighathuni, Maiktoli, Nandakot, Panchachuli and others were becoming brighter by the day. This scene will never be ordinary to me and my emotion isn’t the only reason. I forgot to mention yesterday that there is a Padam tree filled with flowers that invite a whole lot of birds with its honey. Their tweeting alarm was much soothing from the mechanical alarm clock we are used to.
I was enjoying the view with a cup of tea in my hand on the front porch when I saw a different shade of grass on the field. To clarify my doubt I got a closer look and let out an aesthetic scream to call out for everyone. The reason for my sudden excitement was the white powder of snow spreading across the field. I felt a different feeling of dusty and moistness when I touched it. And the next moment it became mere droplets of water because of the sun. Maybe I am sounding like a child but this incident was beyond our imagination, that’s why I am still a little fazed by it. Anyway, after finishing breakfast the time to go Munsia was near. The distance from here to Munsia was 100 Kilometres. We will stop at 40 kilometres to see the Birthi Falls. So, if we don’t leave with extra time in our hands, we won’t be able to make it to Munsia before evening. Hence, my pen will be with me there.
7 pm – At last we are here, “The place of snow” according to the locals. Located at 7,500 feet height from sea level this place is the bass of the tracking destination of many glaciers, mountain pass and peaks. And needless to say, Panchachuli is the best from the rest. Virtually, Munsia has become the best peak from all the things we have been seeing in this journey. The side by side five high peak of east Kumaon Himalaya is called Panchachuli together. Legend has it; Draupadi from Mahabharat used these peaks as a stove to cook the last meal for Five Pandavas when they were starting their journey. That is why it is called Panchachuli because “Pancha” means five and Chuli means “stove”. This village is so closed from these peaks that they can be seen from almost everywhere.
I can even see them through my window under the light of the starts as I am writing this diary here in my hotel room. We took extra time today when we were coming here from Birthi falls. That’s why we didn’t take much time to our restroom and came straight to the end of this village, at Nandadevi temple. It was almost a 3 kilometres distance. After climbing the steps starts from the road we found the gate soon enough. The area was secured with a barbed wire fence and the sitting arrangement was on some benches placed by the pavement cleat on the ground. After the end of the temple, on the side of the shaft, there were two little camps by the borders. From the camp, you can see the huge Panchachuli and hear a pleasant sound of Goriganga river. And when we finally got there, the sun was beginning to set but the range was covered with clouds and that’s why we couldn’t see Panchachuli this time. But let’s just hope that the sky will be clearer tomorrow so that we can come back here again from Khuliya top.
Now let’s come to the Birthi Falls. As I have said before the distance between Chowkri to Birthi is almost 60 Kilometre. We can see the water stream from Munsia-Thal Highway. The journey on the zigzag road of the mountain was making the water stream look more clearly. After taking a turn we saw the name of the fall is Falak and by that, there was a stairway to the fall. Climbing for almost half an hour we finally get to the 400 feet high fall, there was a levelled open ground filled with rocks. When we were standing on the rocks by the alloy side, the highway looked like a mere black thread. And the front view was of the mountains, the little houses and the farming lands. We were expecting a huge crowd here but Birthi was almost vacant. Even though it was pretty late when we arrived here but there weren’t many people around the falls. Soon they were gone too. So, we could freely enjoy this place. After spending half hour there, we had lunch at the near restaurant. And now we are here at Munsia.
The weather was getting cold in the evening. There wasn’t any doubt that the night will be much colder from now. We get to know about the recent weather changing situation from the Manager. It wasn’t good news for our tracking plans. Even though it wasn’t near the time of snow falling in khuliya top but the current condition can make it happen, maybe then we have to cancel our tracking. The start point of tracking in Khuliya top is Bolati Bend. Today when we were coming here, on the road we learned about this place from a banner of the forest department. J.P.G. will drive us there in the morning. Then he would also guide us with our tracking. The tracking length is almost of 8 to 9 km but height-wise it’s almost 3000 foot, so it will take the whole day to come back to Munsia. But we can finish the tracking if we stay the night in a camp in the middle of khuliya at Bhujani, then the next day walks to the top. It will take one more day but the rare experience of seeing sunrise and sunset will worth it. Near Bhujani campsite there is a rest house of KMVN under construction. Except for tea, water and some snacks, there are no foods available nearby, so we have planned to pack enough food, water and coffee for us. There will be no problem like this once the rest house is complete. But the real fun of tracking will get lost surly. Anyway, feeling very tired now. I think the writing is enough for today.
27 November, 9 pm – Sitting here writing my journey with the feeling of sunburn skin, tiredness and the adventurous of tracking Khuliya top. We were very tired we when came in the rest house, but now it’s the best time to write my experience, while it’s still fresh. The day started with a terrifying incident. It was still dark, after getting ready with our things we were waiting for the car just outside of the rest house. After hearing a crackling sound maybe 15 hands away in the jungle, we were seeing a leopard hiding behind the bushes. Even though this was a very quick incident but my hands were getting clammy with excitement and fear. Usually, leopards don’t come out in the daylight this close to the residence, if they did it was known by the barking of dogs. Maybe it was a good sign seeing a leopard because our tracking was successful.
Now, back to tracking. We arrived at the Bolati Bend at six thirty am. When J. P. G. was parking his car after dropping us, we got a feeling of supernatural desolation. Even the sound of our breathing was clearly heard, it was that quite. Anyway, after having some coffee we started to walk towards Khuliya top. Even though, Because of the paved road, it wasn’t tough finding the road going straight to the Khuliya forest. But the road wasn’t very pleasant because of the lack of use. Khuliya is mainly an oak and rhododendron forest. The forest was a plain green colour because rhododendron doesn’t blossom any flowers at this time. During April to May, it becomes to bloom and the jungle transforms into different shades of red. But the main thing about this forest was the mushrooms. Many rare, expensive mushrooms with medicinal properties can be found here the whole year under conservation. And when they are full grown they are sent to use for different medicinal purposes. Except for some deer and bear, there aren’t many animals around. But still, we would get jumpy of every sound of dew dropping, because of our experience with the leopard. After hours of walking and coming to a free space when we look back, the sunlight was escaping from leaves and creating a life-like painting. After getting some rest, eating breakfast and coffee there and again started forest climbing. This wasn’t what you called a typical road. Some roads were so dilapidated that we had to take shortcuts through the jungle. The more we walk deep into the jungle the more it became thinner and finally became a grass field. Then we finally arrived at the tree line road after five hours of tracking. In the whole journey, we could see glances of Panchachuli. And now that we have come to an open ground, the clear view of Panchachuli was giving us adrenaline.
After walking for half an hour, at 12 pm we finally reached Bhujani campsite, near the unfinished KMVN rest house. Even though there was staying arrangement available but still you have to book days before to avoid problems. There was a porch in front of the main house, from there we can enjoy the glory of Panchachuli. This porch was mainly the place to set up camp. So, after finishing lunch on here again we get ready to go Khuliya top. The caretaker told us that it wasn’t snowing yet, so obviously we were relieved after hearing this. The distance was 3 km from here to Khuliya but the height was almost 2000 foot. As imagined, the uphill started after a few minutes and with that started the trouble of breathing. After taking short breaks and hiking for another 2 hours we finally reached a flat ground on the khuliya top. We weren’t in the state of enjoying the view. But soon we recover after 15 minutes rest. The field of yellow grass was covering the side of alloy and from there to the left there was Nandadevi, Rajrambha and our front view only contain the famous Panchachuli. The only difference was they were more prominent and more beautiful. Even though we have reached Khuliya top but the road from here was going even higher. We didn’t have time left to explore it so we were again walking back to the road. We clearly didn’t take much time climbing down thus, we were back at the rest house at 7 pm. And I have described you the story after that. It is dinner time now and my body is aching to have some rest. So, will continue with the writing tomorrow.
28 November, 10 am – The day of return is here. We are now waiting for our ride in the lobby after checking out. J. P. G. takes care of his brand new car daily in the morning no matter how cold it is. We are used to seeing him clean his car every morning. Thanks to that, we got more time to capture more memories of Panchachuli in our lances. Even though we didn’t get to see Nandadevi temple again but because of our successful tracking tour, nobody had any regret for that. To say the truth, every place from Chowkri or Munsiyari, Birathi or Khulliya top has its own individuality to make us mesmerized. Binsar’s forest with Himalaya’s maintain peaks, unexpected snowfall of Chowkri, the experience of seeing Munsia’s Panchachuli, Birthi’s collected beauty and the tiring adventure of Khuliya top, Kumaun Himalaya made us bewitched every time in every step. Trying to adapt to nature by experiencing these priceless moments isn’t something a machine can give you. But that is important for the survival. Otherwise, Himalaya would have lost its attraction a long time ago.