Kumaon is the land of fairs and festivals, legends and mythology, snow captured mountains and glaciers, valleys and glades, verdant forests and alpine meadows, lakes and gushing streams, birds and animals, butterflies and flowers, all combine to make a sum of delight unsurpassed elsewhere. It comprises of the six north-eastern Himalayan districts of Almora, Bageshwar, Champawat, Nainital, Pithoragarh & Udham Singh Nagar. To the east and north, the region touches the international boundary of Nepal and Tibet. Nature has been at its bounty in endowing Kumaon with exquisite tourist sites and scenic grandeur.
To enjoy all the uninterrupted grand, crisp views of the Himalayas as well as the urge to explore the little sleepy hamlets to the ever-buzzing towns, from not being able to travel due to pandemic, that prevailed in the entire world, this journey was delayed from Springs to Winters. The winters here are cold and chilly but best for the crisp Himalayan views and beautiful winter linings.
Almost after a year without travelling far on the roads, I packed the luggage for a solo start on my bike. The first Hundred kilometres went recalling back what lay forgotten inside me, I felt the rhythm of travelling and joy of riding, missing in myself. But as the accelerator throttled against the narrow winding roads, I found the rhythm and joy of coming back. The first stop was Ranikhet.
To the North of Nainital, at an altitude of 1829 m, Ranikhet is a peaceful hill station offering excellent views of the snow-capped Himalayas, including Nanda Devi. It is an important army town and the headquarters of the Kumaon regiment. Though not developed as a tourist centre, Ranikhet is a delightful place to spend time, driving through the narrow roads, dense pine forest and some spectacular views and vistas. On a winter morning from the hilly town of Joshimath the journey started. The sun turned up and the road was luring. The journey didn’t intent to touch the plains and was focused on covering as much hills and mountains as possible. After leaving behind the busy NH 07 from Karanprayag, the road diverges into a narrow, quiet and scenic NH 109.
There are lots of sight-seeing options in this route like the famous ‘Adibadri temple’. Adibadri is one of the Five badris of the Garhwal. It is a group of 16 temples, the main temple is dedicated to Narayan (Lord Vishnu). It is believed that these temples, dating to the Gupta age, were sanctioned by Adi Shankaracharya who wanted to spread the tenets of Hinduism to every remote corner of the country.
After a brief visit to this temple, the roads further takes us to the Summer capital of Uttarakhand – ‘Gairsain’ and then enters the hills of Kumaon.
The hills of Dwarhat welcomes with its panoramic views and the drive gets scenic till Ranikhet. Trishul peak marks its dominance among the other major peaks of the Himalayas. It is advisable not to travel after dark in winters especially in two wheelers due to frequent spotting of leopards and tigers in this region.
The next was the highlighting event to happen in this entire trip. Exploring Kasar and Binsar was a plan that had to happen quite a few times back. Located in the Kumaon region at a kissing distance from Almora, the hill-top village has been a huge draw for mystics, artists, philosophers, free-thinkers and spiritual seekers. The village gets its name from the second-century Kasar Devi temple. What makes the place what it is, is its positioning on the earth’s Van Allen Belt. Simply put, the region surrounding the Kasar Devi Temple has an enormous geomagnetic field, thanks to gaps in bands of radiation. As a result, Kasar Devi is endowed with a cosmic energy similar to that of UK’s Stonhenge and Peru’s Machu Pichu. There’s nothing quite like being one with yourself amidst a postcard-perfect landscape adorned with pines and deodars. Those who have meditated at Kasar Devi, would vouch for the fact that it does reward you with a greater level of rejuvenation and inner healing.
Also known as Crank’s Ridge or the Hippie Hill, the area around the Kasar Devi Temple has always been a melting pot of art, spiritualism and poetry. Made popular by the likes of singer Bob Dyllan and actor Uma Thurman, Kasar Devi continues to host backpackers, who come here looking for answers to life’s challenging questions.
Binsar is a hidden paradise for the nature lovers, just some 20-30 odd kms from Kasar. Binsar, prawling over an area of 46 sq km, the sanctuary provides great birding opportunities while the possibility of spotting denizens of the forest including Himalayan gorals and wild boars is always there. The sanctuary is also home to a number of resorts and homestays, which are great for spending a quiet and cozy staycation with your loved ones. The small walk to zero point amidst the forest of Deodars is quite an experience in itself. The zero point offers a 270-degree panoramic views of the mighty Himalayas. We raced back to Kasar for catching up a pretty perfect sunset. The colors in the sky and the falling lights on the mighty peaks is a blissful experience to have.
The journey wasn’t over yet. The other side of the valley, the lesser-known places were yet to be discovered. A small ride to Bhatrojkhan from Ranikhet is one best experience to explore the far lesser-known side of Kumaon which is scenic in terms of nature, architecture, custom and stories. The famous temple of Binsar-Mahadev, to the town of Tarikhet – sister village of Ranikhet. Gandhiji stayed here in the 1920s. His cottage is a major tourist attraction. A soulful sunset and blissful evening at Bhatrojkhan was an unexpected experience.
The Kumaon will always have a special place in my heart now after having explored almost to its entire stretch, from its buzzing towns, winding roads to lakes and forests, the sunsets and sunrise, the jaw dropping views and heart touching peace. The milky way here on a clear night sky could make you just watch it the whole night without wanting you to blink. The stars outside the window of my room appeared just a hand away as I woke past midnight. These journeys and experiences shape us into the human we become and give us the joy and satisfaction we all are looking for. Catching up with an old friend, meeting new people, taking back some views and moments that will hold on to the most treasured moments of one’s life. I think that’s what mountains do. They make you a philosopher.