The Kumaon region of Uttaranchal is perched in the Shivalik Range of the Himalayas is a traveller’s true delight. A place of scenic beauty, breathtaking vistas and endearing people, known as the “DEVBHUMI” or the Land of the Gods, this alcove of the Himalayas will ever remain a place suited for splendid explorations or a laid-back, relaxing journey, alike.
A great summer retreat, the Kumaon region is accessible by Air, Rail as well as road, though most of the journey into the interior regions has to be made by road. But, people seeking to engage in a truly intimate encounter with nature, usually like to travel by road. Because, in my opinion, the journey is best enjoyed if all the beauty of the region is enjoyed along the way, rather than just concentrating on the destination.
Our recent family trip to the region was also by road. From Delhi, it takes around 6-7 hours to get to Haldwani, also called the gateway of Kumaon. On the way, one might want to stop at one of the many road-side dhabas, scattered along the way, to truly enjoy the experience of a journey by road. Once we reached Haldwani, which is actually the starting point for the journey further into the region, we rested for a while to prepare ourselves for another 6 hours of journey by road to Pithoragarh, starting towards Pithoragarh about an hour later. By the time we got to Pithoragarh, it was already dark, so we decided to spend the night there itself and continue our journey the next day. The town abounds in a variety of hotels and rest houses, catering to a vide variety of tourists, ranging from the cheapest to the most exclusive and expensive.
The first sight which we beheld the next day was the breathtaking view of the Shivalik Range from the open window of our hotel room. And so began an exciting exploration of the Kumaon hills. The town is situated in a valley, in the Shivalik Range of the Himalayas, at a height of about 4000 metres above sea level, which makes the whether very pleasant and unpredictable. Stepping out, we could feel the welcoming freshness of the clean air and the relaxing calmness of the hills. That day was dedicated to the exploration of the numerous local temples and marketplaces and also a small nearby village called Chandak, which is covered in forests of pine and used to house a Leprosy Mission in its early days. Apart from being a budding tourist hot-spot, it is also a place, like many others in the region, where a person wishing to spend some solitary time in the lap of nature will find many hide-outs. A quiet walk through the rarely busy streets in the evening or a steaming hot cup of tea on the balcony can prove to be very relaxing too.
After spending two whole days visiting the temples and admiring the scenery, we decided to go to our paternal village to be able to experience the true essence of the hills. Easily accessible by road, a place named Didihat was our first stop in the journey, further into the hills. Travelling further, after about one and a half hours, we got to the village, named Bhantarh, which is near a place named Thal, in the Pithoragarh District. There is a certain untouched beauty about the Kumaon villages, with simple villagers who are ready to welcome you into their houses and anxious to give you a taste of their culture, beautiful, untouched forests, complete with natural waterfalls and small streams coming out of limestone rocks. These places have somehow, over the years, managed to remain untouched by industrialisation and in some places; one might still find people living just how they used to hundreds of years ago. We spent a whole day at the village, enjoying the scenery and the pleasant whether, exploring the forests, admiring the natural water resources, and relishing the local cuisines, which is simple yet quite fulfilling.
Leaving the next day, we decided to visit the famous Kalika temple in a place called Gangolihat, which is famous for the rows of bells hung all across the entrance. This temple, dedicated to the goddess Kali, is greatly revered by the Kumaon regiment of the Indian army. From here, we went to the famous Pataal Bhuvaneshwar caves which are also situated nearby. This natural cave is said to have been a meditation chamber for Guru Shankeracharya and is a trekker’s ultimate experience, apart from also being an extremely holy place. The underground cave is also made up of limestone rocks which continuously keep dripping water which looks like milk oozing out of the cave. The main attraction of the cave is a “Shiv-Ling” made of pure gold.
After visiting both these holy places, we moved on to Bagheshwar, situated at the confluence of the river Sariyu and Gomti, a breathtakingly beautiful place, famous for the Baghnath and the Baighnath Temples, dedicated to Lord Shiva and currently an undertaking of the archaeological survey of India. The Baghnath temple was built by the Kumaon kings in around 1100 BC is an architectural delight. The same applies for the Baijnath temple, a cluster of temples situated along the banks of the river Sariyu.
Spending a whole day visiting these wonderful places, we moved on, the next day, to a place very famous for its tea gardens, Ranikhet. The headquarters of the Kumaon regiment, Ranikhet is a nature lover’s paradise, complete with a breathtaking view of the hills, complemented by the vast tea gardens and its “Sarson” fields. And for those looking for some luxury, the town also has a 9-hole golf course. Then, we moved on to Nainital, already a famous tourist destination, about which, nothing needs to be said. But a journey of the Kumaon hills is always incomplete without visiting this marvellous tourist destination, with its nine lakes, busy market-places and the glorious China Peak. This was the last stop in our journey and after staying here for two days and enjoying the lovely weather, we headed back to Delhi.
It was some-what depressing to be leaving such a vast region of beauty and calmness, but what I realised through this journey is that, the Kumaon hills hold a lot for everybody from the nature enthusiasts to the sports fans to those just looking for a luxurious good time. The only thing that one requires is a thorough knowledge about the area, a little luck as far as the weather is concerned and the will to explore.
[Image courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/vj_pics/464336570/]