Monday, December 26, 2011

Kumaon – traveling from Chaukori to Munshiyari

Kumaon – traveling from Chaukori to Munshiyari
View of Ram or Kali Ganga river from Thal
I am posting this travelogue as a journey between two destinations, as it entails an enticing journey through some of the most picturesque river valleys of the region.
Panoramic view of Snake temple at Berinag

We started early next morning, as I was advised by another traveler, with whom I had a chance meeting at Binsar, a Parsi gentleman named Rusi Registrar, who was visiting the region alongwith a group of his friends & their spouses. We met again at Chaukori and as he had traversed the road till Munishiyari on an earlier occasion also, he informed us that the road was narrow and difficult to negotiate, thus would consume more time than it takes under normal circumstances. Heeding to his advice, we decided to start early and having had an early B’fast, we proceeded towards Munshiyari.
Close-up of the temple in Berinag

The first stop was Berinag, which is an area replete with a number of temples dedicated to the ‘Nag Devta’ (Snake God) like Dhaulinag, Kalinag, Feninag, Bashukinag, Pinglenag & Harinag. The most famous snake temple which is in Berinag (called as ‘Veninag’ locally) itself, is dedicated to one of the several manifestations of Lord Vishnu. The Legends have it that the place came to known as Berinag in commemoration of Nagveni Dyanasty King Benimadhava,who ruled the region. It is also believed that when the ‘Pant’ Gotra people migrated to the region from Maharashtra, in order to settle here, they saw numerous snakes of various hues & shapes, lying coiled all around the place in very large numbers and as a mark of reverence to them, they built a snake temple here in the fourteenth century A.D. It is a also a popular belief here that Lord Krishna after having conquered the mighty snake king ‘Kaliyanag’, who ruled the Yamuna river, commemorated as the ‘Kaliya daman in the scriptures, advised him to leave the river Yamuna and settle somewhere amidst the snowy peaks, Kalinag followed by many of his disciples, came over to stay around here and have stayed here eversince. To visit Berinag one has to travel about 6 kms. from main Chaukori-Thal road on to a side road, from a place called Udiyari Bend.
View of a small tributary of Kali Ganga before entering Thal
Going past Thal

After having paid our obeisance to the Snake Gods, we started our journey towards Munshiyari. Having negotiated past Udayari Bend again on return, we headed towards Thal. After traversing through some nondescript villages perched on hill sides, the gradual descent ended after having gone past the Bahrid Bend and on entering Thal all of 21 Kilometers from Udayari Bend. Thal is situated on the banks of river Ram or Kali Ganga and this quaint little township is also the access point to Bageshwar, Pithoragarh & Munshiyari. Having crossed the bridge over the Ram Ganga River, we stopped for some cold drinks and suddenly came upon an ancient Shiva temple situated on the banks of the river. This ancient temple is a protected monument and easily dates back to the ancient/medieval period and locally referred to as the ‘Depalay’. I could not find any other details regarding this temple either from the net or from books. The other attraction near Thal is the Ek Hatiya Temple, which is a monolithic shrine housed in Amiya village, situated at a distance of about 2 Kms. away from the motor road and it was not possible for me to trudge the distance, time being the constraint.

The ancient Shiva temple called 'Depalay' in Thal
An overview of the ancient temple complex in Thal
A sculpted figure on the temple facade

The road hereafter runs along the Ram/Kali Ganga River is resplendent with its natural beauty & local ethos. About 2 Kms. ahead of Thal lies Gauchar from where the road bifurcates towards Munshiyari through Nachni and the other one leading towards Didihat. While at Gauchar we saw a marriage party make way in two jeeps with quaint looking people dressed in white, with colourful cloth belts tied around their waists and a typical head gear. I tried to take a shot of this ensemble with my Camera, but the jeep driver was too quick and disappeared around the bend quickly. However, after some detailed search on net, I could lay my hands on a photograph depicting these quaint fellows and in case you are really interested may click on this link - (they are locally engaged as an ensemble of musicians, dancers & singers during the marriages and locally the ensemble is called as ‘Chulias’). The next village that we passed by was Nachni and all of this 12 kms. that we traversed while traveling between Gauchar & Nachni, the road ran along the right side bank of river Ram Ganga and the sight was truly mesmerizing. Nachni is an important destination on this route, especially for the local people as well as tourists, as it offers a plethora of small eating joints for the famished.
The beautiful river valley of Kali or Ram Ganga beyond Thal
Another view of the Kali or Ram Ganga beyond Nachani

Bird's eye view of the Kali or Ram Ganga

After traveling for another 7 kms., we reached Tejam, another fairly established village enroute. The gradient of the road gets steeper as you move upwards towards the famed Birthi falls. Having gone past two small villages, namely Kwity (famous for local fruits including luscious Litchis) and Arkhet, having traversed another 12 Kms. from Tejam, we reached Birthi. The place is famous for a 125 meter high water fall, which originates from the Namik Glacier above. The KMVN has also put up a Tourist Rest House right at the base of the water fall at Birthi. We had initially planned to have our lunch here, but as the area was getting covered by a dense black clouds, I pushed through and thought of going past Kalamuni. Although I too was famished, but the narrow road running over a steep gorge through which the Jakula river passed through and coupled with this, I had knowledge that the area was prone to cloud bursts. The only too recent tragedy, that occurred around Girgaon killing 44 people of the village Jhekla (and three others), which also housed a well run dhabha called ‘Hiraman Hotel’, alongwith 300 meters of the main Nachni-Munshiyari highway was washed out to oblivion in a cloud-burst, during the ensuing night of the 7th-8th August, 2009 was fresh in my mind, having read about it (to read a first hand account of the tragedy in Hindi may click on the link - & also viewed it over television, but I could not divulge the same, as it could have demoralized the spirits of everyone, especially the driver. Thus, after a brief tiff with my wife, over the issue of having lunch on time, I turned back towards Birthi from Girgaon, deciding not to apprise them of my fears. We had a simple but superbly prepared lunch at Birthi KMVN and thereafter started back towards Munshiyari. By now the ominous rain clouds were assuming alarming proportions.
The famed Birthi falls
Ominous rain clouds gathering over Girgaon

Having crossed Girgaon again and traveling 12 kms. from Birthi, we raced ahead and went pastRatapani, another 8 kms. from Girgaon and only after traversing Kalamuni, another 15 kms. from Ratapani, that I took a sigh of relief, albeit the fact that it had started drizzling heavily. After traveling for another three odd kilometers, we reached Ginni Bend and from whence the descent towards Munshiyari began, which lay another three kilometers downhill. By the time we reached Munshiyari, it was almost 4.30 P.M. and we had finally traversed the most arduous 107 kms., from Chaukori, driving for over for almost seven hours and I thanked my deity Lord Hanuman, for the safe run through some really difficult terrain.
Check out the washed out valley side in the background - after effects of 'cloud burst' - and the serpentine like road entwined along the mountain facade - view from Kalamuni top

To have a first hand experience of the journey kindly watch the video below –

© S Roy Biswas., all rights reserved.

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