Monday, December 26, 2011

Kumaon – Binsar

Kumaon – Binsar
View of the cloud covered Himalayas from Binsar
Binsar in Uttaranchal, nestled at an altitude of 2400 meters (Average Sea Level – ASL for short), amidst the lap of the beautiful Himalayas, is every tourist’s dream destination. Binsar is a forest reserve, surrounded by Alpine forests comprising of Pines, Rhododendron trees & Oaks, laden with lichens & moss, an idyllic mountain retreat, for that perfect mountain resort. Once the empire of Chand kings of 7th century, originally known as Veeneshwar (one of the many names of Lord Shiva) and distorted by the British as ‘Binsar’, is a destination away from the hustle & bustle of city life, in a tranquil solitude of its own. The forest reserve and bird sanctuary boasts of a rich variety of flora and fauna, amongst the lush green acres of greenery, one can spot important Himalayan peaks like Nanda Devi, Kedarnath, Chaukhamba, Trishul, Panchchuli and Nanda Kot. You can also watch these snowy Himalayan peaks, as they appear cushioned by the unending hills below them that bow in obeisance before them.
View of the forests of Peora
View of Apples in a orchard in Sitla
Situated at a distance of about 31 kilometers away from Almora, Binsar is perched atop the Jhandi Dhar hills. We started from Mukteshwar at around 9.00 A.M in the morning and set out at a leisurely pace, so as to cover the all of 76 Kms. distance that lay between Mukteshwar & Binsar, by lunch time. There are two roads leading upto Binsar, first one is though the regular highway for which we had to go all the way back to Bhowali and then take the road to Almora. However, we decided to take the second shorter route, that runs through the picturesque forests of Peora & Sitla (not to be confused with Sitla khet of Champawat district), which is a much narrower road. We did not rue our decision even a wee bit, as the road through the forest was mesmerizing and we came across fruit laden apple orchards and fruit laden trees of many varieties on our way. Just after getting past the main round about, in front of the IVRI in Mukteshwar, you come across a small road to your left and this nondescript road is blocked by an iron chain. One has to get down and make an entry in the register kept at the gate, manned by the personnel from local Forest Department and you are allowed to travel across. After going past the forests of Peora & then Sitla, you suddenly come across an open valley, with small villages dotting it on either side and while going past these villages, the road gradually starts descending till you reach the Khwarab pul across Swal River from where the road bifurcates across the bridge towards Kausani & Mouna village. The steep ascent towards Almora begins herefrom and after passing through Almora, you come across the road that heads towards Bageshwar, one has to take this route to reach Binsar.
A small mountain village en-route
Approaching the Khawarab Pul/Bridge
After passing through some small villages on the way, having taken the narrower & steeper road, running over the ridge below the famous Kasar Devi temple, we hit the junction where the main road meets this smaller road at Kapar Khan Village. Thereafter, we drove through till we reached the forest check point at Ayarpani, for entry into the Binsar forest reserve, wherein the KMVN, Tourist Rest House is located. One has to disembark here to make the necessary entries and also pay the fee for entry. I found out that as against the earlier fee of Rs.40/- per person (adult/half the amount for children) and Rs.50/- per car, the same had been unilaterally hiked to Rs.150/- per person & Rs.250/- for Car, which is quite a substantial revision. Having paid the entry fee, we started the final ascent of 7 kms. steep climb, through narrow but picturesque road dotted with pine trees, towards Binsar.
Spot the long tailed bird - Yellow beaked blue Himalayan magpie - sitting on the retaining wall enroute Binsar
View of valley below the famed Kasar Devi temple
Apart from KMVN run Tourist Rest House, there is another retreat called the Khali Estate, within the confines of the reserve forest and just as you pass by its gate, you come across a glade wherein lies the famous Binsar Mahadeva Temple, which was built by King Kalyan and is considered to be a local Jyotirlinga. As it had started drizzling heavily, we rescheduled the visit to the shrine for the next day, during our return journey and rushed towards the Tourist Rest House. Having gone through the formalities of check-in, we rushed to the dining hall, as we were famished and after having had our lunch, decided to explore the forest area. We took the services of a young local guide, who charged us Rs.250/- for the tour.
Moss enveloping the Oak tree inside Binsar forest reserve
The viewing gallery inside the Binsar forest reserve
A view of the dense forests in Binsar

Epiphytes growing on branches of Oak tree in Binsar forest
The forest area is no doubt well preserved and with heavy growth of Oaks & Rhododendrons & other alpine vegetation. The drizzling had stopped but had been replaced by a howling wind, shearing through the dense vegetation and I had to tie my handkerchief around my Son’s ears, so that he was saved from the travails’ of cold winds. As we trudged along the steep ascent, through the mountain trail, we head many kinds of birds calling & chirping and the guide identified the birds from their calls, like the Himalayan marten, Barbets, Drongos, Thrush, Bablers etc., there are more than hundred varieties of birds that can be spotted here. However, due to the dense foliage, we could not capture the birds in Camera, but for very short glimpses. The guide was of the view that due to the intensity of the winds, the bigger birds like eagles etc. had sought refuge on higher perches and we could only hear their shrill cries occasionally. Suddenly, the guide pointed downwards in the valley below and we saw a small barking dear break cover and run further down the valley, we did not get time to aim our cameras at it. Finally we reached the viewing point, situated deep inside the jungle, which is a man made watch tower, but because of cloud cover coupled with intense winds, we had to beat a hasty retreat, back to the comforting environs of our hotel room.
The Himalayan ranges (Panchachuli) in view from Binsar
A close up view of a Himalayan Peak from Binsar
The famous 'Binsar Mahadev' temple
View of Shiva Linga inside the temple
Later in the evening, when the winds had slowed down to some extent and the drizzling had stopped, I stepped out into the viewing gallery of the KMVN Rest house and finding that the glimpses of the Himalayas were visible, amongst the dancing clouds, I stayed put with my Camera to capture a few candid shots. The color of hills ever-changing a million hues, in the rays of the setting sun, coupled with the mesmerizing views of the Himalayan ranges, that would pop up once in a while, as if some unseen hand was slowly tagging at the curtain like of clouds, had me transfixed at the spot. I imbued the entire scene deep inside my heart & mind, to be cherished as a timeless memory, for all times to come. As I have already said earlier and I reiterate, that the artificial lenses (read Cameras) cannot reproduce the splendid colors & hues that the nature’s pastel weaves & sights that only our own God gifted lenses (read ‘eyes’) can perceive to the optimal.
For a brief visual of the place kindly watch the video

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