Sunday, January 22, 2012

Khirsu -the nature lover's delight

Visiting Khirsu
Khirsu village
We started for Khirsu in the morning, albeit late as we had a refreshing nights sleep and having had a filling B’fast of piping hot Puri & Subzi, we started at around 10.30 A.M. We first made our way down to the junction, from where the road bifurcates towards Pauri & Kotdwar and embarked on our journey towards Pauri. The road, through well maintained & carpeted, was narrow and very winding, which elevated the nauseating feeling of my daughter & wife and we had to drive at a slow speed and also stop at places. This road continues the downhill ride upto Satpuli village, which is situated by the side of Nayar River. This place was earlier located on the other side of the river and being a midpoint between Kotdwar (54 Kms.) & Pauri (52 Kms.), it was the ideal midway break point and was known as ‘Maachi Bhaat’ (meaning Fish curry) because of the staple food that used to served here during lunch by the road side eatery. However, due to devastating floods in 1952 the entire village was badly damaged with huge loss of life & property, the village shifted to its present location. This urbanized village boasts of Banks, ATMs, Hospital & Petrol pump, facilities that a tourist may like to use.
(1)Ghumkhal (2) Satpuli (3) Nayar River valley

Due to heavy flooding in 2010, a entire portion of the Highway was damaged near Satpuli, which has now been repaired partly. After going past Satpuli, the road runs along the Nayar River with a very gradual ascent. Traversing a distance of 18 kms., brings you to the temple village of ‘Jwalpa Devi’ that houses a shrine dedicated to Goddess Durga, it is every well known & revered by the locals, who come to visit it from far & wide, thus making it a highly active locality. Thereafter, the road starts to ascend at steeper gradient heading towards Pauri, but in between we found a road marking showing Pauri (38 Kms.) we got onto this side road, but found it quite narrow and winding.On enquiring from the local residents/laborers working at the road site, we were informed that the road was shorter by about 6 Kms. but narrower & much more winding than the main road, the driver decided that it would be best that we made it through the main highway and accordingly, with great difficulty, reversed the vehicle back to the main road and commenced with our journey.On this route you pass by many nondescript little villages like Gumkhal etc., till you reachBubakhal, wherefrom the road bifurcates, one going towards Pauri and the other turning away towards Khirsu.
(1)Jwalpa Devi temple; (2) Pauri town

Having negotiated past Bubakhal, we looked at our watches, which showed 2.15 P.M., since we have had practically no solid food from the time we had left Lansdowne at 10.30 A.M. we were feeling a bit famished. We had failed to spot any decent eatery either at Satpuli (road side) or Jwalpa Devi or even at Bubakhal. We had no other alternative but to push ahead towards Khirsu. It is a lonely road and very traffic could be seen and the road was winding through some verdant forests of Oaks. All of a sudden we chanced upon a small village and as we were negotiating past an oncoming Jeep, we saw a small tea shop displaying Magi noodles and we decided to stop and enquire. The shopkeeper readily agreed to prepare some Magi noodles and tea for us, but as we were really famished I started rummaging around his little shop and found that he had prepared a pot full of boiled eggs and instantly asked as to whether they were for sale too, which he replied to in affirmative. We ordered three eggs, as my children declined the offer, since the boiled eggs in Delhi come out really dry, but we took one bite of these boiled eggs and found them to be smooth & divine, eggs being of local origin and not from poultry. We immediately ordered him to prepare the Maggi noodles with eggs in them to enhance the taste. It takes time to boil water in the colder & higher altitudes and we had to wait for some time, which seemed like eons, but as soon it was served we all devoured our plates in matter of minutes, fully satiated. During the course of discussion, while the shopkeeper was busy preparing our meal, it was revealed that we had stopped by at the village of Gwarh and it was known for the ‘Ghandiyal Devta’ temple on the hill top, the temple is known as Jai Shri Ghantakarna Swami temple. He further informed that the peculiarity of this temple that no red coloured object, be it cloth or vermilion etc. is allowed as offering in the temple, thus the locals offer turmeric or other yellow coloured cloth etc. as offering to the deity of the temple is Lord Shiva. Thereafter, passing through Chaudatakhal village we reached Khirsu at about quarter to four in the evening.
(1)Khirsu village - Panoramic view; (2) Khirsu valley by night; (3) Birds galore - (i)Great Tit; (ii) Red beaked blue Magpie; (iii) Oriental white eye; (iv) Could not identify; (v) Himalayan Bulbul & (v) Blue whistling thrush

Road towards Khirsu deviates from the main road which leads towards Srinagar and is a steep downhill incline and only wide enough to accommodate one vehicle at a time. The Guest House run by GMVN (Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam) in Khirsu is situated below the Primary Health Centre and about 300 meters away from the main village centre. The view of the valley is magnificent from this spot and with a big lawn in front, it is an ideal location for spending a few idyllic days in the lap of nature. Khirsu is surrounded by protected forest reserves and conservation is strictly enforced, this has not only helped the forests grow, but also forced the local villagers to plant trees (mainly Oaks – locally known as Banjh) on their own soil so that they can use the same for cattle fodder & firewood, thus increasing the tree cover considerably. Being in the lap of nature, without much of manmade environment pollutants, the place was intensely cold and by the time we entered the premises it had started to drizzle. The setting was perfect and we ordered some Pakoras (fried snacks) & Coffee and enjoyed the same sitting in the open verandah, imbuing the vistas. As it was drizzling, we had no other choice but to confine ourselves into our rooms. As it was getting windy & colder by the hour, we had early dinner at around 8.15 P.M. having ordered local chicken, which we devoured like possessed souls and retired for the night.
(1) Majestic Kedarnath peaks at sunrise; (2) Chaukhamba peaks peeping from behind the clouds; (3) Kedarnath peaks again & (4) Snowcapped hills

I got up early next morning to catch a glimpse of the Himalayan ranges and found a thin layer of white snow covering the entire valley including the lawns of the Guest House, but it could be ground frost also but in copious amount. I got a few shots of the Kedarnath ranges with sunrise setting in, but gradually the cloud cover started increasing and the entire ranges were subsequently covered by it. We had been informed by Sh. U.S Rawat, Manager of GMVN at Khirsu that just before reachingFurkandakhal, on the road leading to Dabrukhal, there was a hairpin bend wherefrom a jungle road led to a forest department viewing gallery and from there the entire Himalayan ranges could be viewed. After having B’fast we headed for this destination, but overshot the bend as there was no placard or direction board and reached the junction from where the main road led to Dabrukhal and side road to Shukre, we enquired from a local villager and he informed us that it was the last bend before reaching the junction, wherefrom we retraced our way back and then found the obscure jungle path leading to the viewing gallery/watchtower. The approach to the watchtower was through the forest path, which appeared not to be frequently used, to get to the top of the watchtower one has to go through two flights of stairs, albeit a bit precarious and all except me backed out of the proposition to climb to the top, though eventually the Driver too gathered strength to climb up, but had a harrowing experience climbing down. The views of the valley below as well as Khirsu village were breathtaking from this spot, but due to the dense cloud cover I could not catch a glimpse of theHimalayas. But I would like the viewers to enjoy the scenic beauty that unfolds here and accordingly I am providing a link of a photograph from blogs of Astroaditya for the readers - Although I was a bit disappointed but the walk back through the Oak & Rhododendron forests, with little trees of Rhododendrons type putting forth clusters of small white flowers & other flora elevated my spirits.Thereafter, we headed for Chaudatakhal so that we could visit ‘Ulkha Giri’ temple, but found that the uphill road passing through dense forest was glistening with ground frost and we decided not to embark on the trek as slipping on this slithery surface was quite possible, resulting in some kind of injury in this desolate place. It was almost about 1.15 P.M. when we reached back the Guest House and we all had a working lunch of Rajama (Kidney beans) & Rice, as per our order placed in the morning itself.
(1) Sign Post; (2) Furkandakhal forest viewing gallery - jutting out of the forest canopy;(3) Ghandiyal Devta temple; (4) A huge fungi on a tree trunk; (5) Oranges growing on a tree in the village; (6) A typical village from Gharwal; (7) Chaudatta Khal Village; (8) Road leading to Ulkha Giri temple - check out the ground frost; (9) Ulkha Giri temple gate & (10) Khirsu valley panoramic view

After lazing around in the Sun in the lawns of the GMVN, Khirsu we decided to walk down to the villages below to have a better look at the houses & village life there. We walked down the steep sloping road and the children were excited to see the local Roosters & Hen of varied colours, unlike the white poultry chickens they see in Delhi and found it particularly interesting that ladies in sarees were aptly climbing trees. The return back was quite tiresome, as we are not used to climb steep slopes and straightaway went to Khirsu village market and had some tea and Namkeens (Indian snacks). Thereafter, we headed into the nature park created by the forest department and we were enthralled to find a plethora of birds frolicking all around and I quickly took out my camera and started shooting as many as I could. I was headed towards the periphery in search of more birds, when a sudden grunting sound stopped me in my tracks and I decided not to explore any further into the jungle area. There is a nature camp run by Rachna NGO - – contact person Mr. Sampat (Tel.Nos.09917179799/09997810436) where one can stay for night in tented accommodation, with all amenities provided, for Rs.1000/- per night. The complex is fenced all around, we found patches of land ploughed up outside the camp perimeter by wild hogs. It would definitely be a place for nature lovers, to enjoy a few nights, amongst the pristine environs of a forest.There are birds galore in Khirsu and even while sitting in the lawns of the GMVN, Khirsu one can sight many a species of birds, it is nature lovers paradise and a must visit for every such enthusiast.
(1) Snowfall over the treeline over Khirsu - on the day we were leaving; (2) Another view of Pauri town - during return trip; (3) Deoprayag; (4) Kaudilya water adventure camps; (5) Passing by Rishikesh & (6) Passing by Haridwar

The next morning we got up and found that the weather by then had started deteriorating quickly and we decided that it would be wiser to move through Pauri to Devprayag and head back to Delhi via Rishikesh & Haridwar rather than risk the route through Lansdowne & Kotdwar, as the roads from Pauri-Devprayag side are wider & less winding as compared to the other route, in the hill section. We calculated that the time it would take, for us to reach Kotdwar, would be much more than what it would take us to reach Rishikesh and thereafter, we could make up for the distance by traveling faster in the plains. However, our plans were put paid to, because of the intense traffic between Haridwar to Muzzafarnagar and then from Ghaziabad to Delhi, we traveled for 12 hours, with usual short breaks for Lunch & tea and having started from Khirsu at 9.15 A.M. in the morning reached Delhi at 9.10 P.M in the night. But all the difficulties were worth bearing for the memorable trip we had.
© S Roy Biswas - all rights reserved.
To a watch the video for the destination -

© S. Roy Biswas – All rights reserved

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Visiting Lansdowne

Lansdowne – the tiffin spot
First view of Lansdowne
Lansdowne is a nondescript but picturesque little hill station nestled in the Garhwal Himalayas, perched at an altitude of 1706 meters i.e. about 5630 feet above mean sea level. Cocooned amongst the verdant pine, oak & rhododendron trees, this place is a nature lover’s delight and its salubrious environs offer a soothing touch to the frayed nerves & muscles. For persons who are in love with the fast city life, this place has very little to offer. Originally, it was known as, Kaludanda, which means Black (Kalu in local parlance) Hill (Danda in local parlance), the place was developed into a military garrison by the British during 1880’s and named as Lansdowne, in honour of the then Viceroy Lord Lansdowne. This place was the recruitment post for the Garhwal Rifles and on 5th November, 1887 the first battalion of Garhwal Rifles shifted here from Almora.
Having B'fast in the Car

Trying to beat the cold
As per my annual schedule, having visited Chakrata in January, 2011 I decided to visit Lansdowne & Khirsu this year. My main attraction & interest was to experience snowfall and Lansdowne usually has its share of snowfall every year and the views of the natural vistas are also awe-inspiring. Lansdowne is situated at a distance of 270 Kms. from Delhi and accordingly, we started early in the morning from Delhi. As usual it was intensely cold in the morning and we started from Dwarka, New Delhi at about 7.00 A.M. on 4th January, 2012. We saw the sun rising as we were crossing over the Bikhaji Cama flyover and reached Ghaziabad by NH-24 as per schedule. However, thereafter the fog conditions deteriorated considerably and at certain places the visibility was reduced to less than 10 meters. Because of the intense cold & fog we could not spot any good ‘Dhabas’ or eateries on the road, but were ready for such eventuality, as we had packed in ‘Aloo Paranthas’ (a kind of home made bread/roti with potato stuffing) in casserole, to keep them hot, along with Coffee in thermos. At around 9.30 A.M. we parked our vehicle in a roadside opening and proceeded to have our B’fast cum picnic alongside NH-58.

Going past Kotdwar

We had already crossed Modinagar before partaking B’fast and thereafter, we went past many a nondescript places, till we reached Meerut. From Meerut the road bifurcates, one going towards Hardwar and the other towards Kotdwar via Bijnor. We took a wrong turn, but were quick to rectify our mistake and save a lot of time. Having crossed Meerut Cantt., we headed towards Bijnor by NH-119 and after passing by Malwana we reached Bijnor. From Bijnor the road leads to Najbabad and thereafter enters Uttarakhand at Kotdwar. Because of its strategic location, as the entry point to the Pauri region of Uttarakhand state, Kotdwar has grown into a major commercial centre. Here from, the climb into the hills of Pauri start and we got our Petrol tank upped to full and also had our lunch at a strategically placed and decent restaurant called ‘Relish’ on the main road/highway.
View of Malini River beyond Kotdwar
Kotdwar being the entry point to the Pauri, all the road bound vehicles have to pass through this destination. Moreover, it is the last and nearest railhead on the Pauri Garhwal side. Apart from its strategic & commercial importance, there are quite a few temples located in its vicinity. Because of the foggy conditions, I had not taken out my still camera, but only shot with the help of my video camera and same has been put on ‘Youtube’ in form of a video whose details are given at the end of the blog. There is a quaint river that flows by Kotdwar, known as Malini River and as the foggy conditions had totally disappeared, I took quite a few pictures of the river valley. After having crossed Kotdwar, at a distance of about a Kilometer or so on the right hand side of the Highway, across the river lies the famous Sidhbali temple, dedicated to Lord Hanuman and perched on top of a hill. We had planned to visit the temple, accordingly we had avoided partaking any non-vegetarian food on the way, but overshot the cut and as we were already late decided not to turn back but visit the same during the return leg, but this visit was never to be, as turn of events would eventually lead us back to Delhi through a different route altogether. Further ahead is the Durga Devi temple, which is located on the banks of the Malini River and a long way down, since we were way behind schedule, we decided to skip this as well so as to cover the same during the return journey. The other pre-historic location near Kotdwar is ‘Kanvashram’ of Kanav Rishi, whose daughter Shakuntala’s life story forms part of epic ‘Abhijnana Shakuntalam’ by Kalidasa, her travails having lost her marriage ring given by King Dushyant, she was mother of Bharat, after whom India was named during ancient times. Here is the link to a well researched blog about the temples in Kotdwar -

View of a verdant valley near Lansdowne

Having gone past Kotdwar, we headed into the hills in steady upward gradient and the 40 Kms. distance from Kotdwar to Lansdowne was covered in about 1½ hours and we reached the Garhwal Vikas Mandal Ltd. run Guest House at around 4.00 P.M. We got into the room and as the sun was on its way towards sunset, it was getting nippy and I accordingly ordered for a room heater (at extra cost) and some fresh Pakoras & Coffee to refresh our tired bodies. Having refreshed ourselves, we again went out to explore Lansdowne. The famed Bhulla Tal is located very close to the Guest house, at walking distance and we headed in that direction. It is a small man made facility with some joy rounds for kids & boating facility for the lovelorn, with a sprinkling of ducks waddling by and a small eatery in the vicinity. After frolicking around for some time we headed back to the Guest house, but found that none of our mobile phones were working and thus, we decided to head to the market to make STD call back to Delhi to intimate about our arrival at Lansdowne.
Bhulla tal in Lansdowne

St. Jhon's Church in Lansdowne
Thereafter, having done so we headed for the famed ‘Tip n’ top’, it was earlier referred to as the ‘Tiffin top’, but same appears to be a misnomer, as the viewing point is a rocky outcrop jutting out of the hill top and accordingly ‘tip in top’ is more appropriate. The views are mesmerizing from this spot, despite the fact that the Himalayan peaks could not be viewed due to dense cloud cover, yet the views were resplendent and I quickly captured them for posterity. Having imbued the nature’s gift to the hilt, we started moving back towards the Guest House, but were abruptly stopped by the enthralling sunset views, which I again captured in my camera. Thereafter, we stopped by the St. Mary’s Church and St. John’s Church, which are also as old & quaint as Lansdowne itself. As the evening set in and cold winds started blowing in the valley, we scuttled back to the Guest House and into the soothing confines of room. Due to intense cold, dinner is served early and we had to partake the same by 8.15 P.M. and tucked ourselves into the beds early.
View from Tip N' top

The tree house of GMVN at Tip N' Top

Sunrise over Lansdowne

View of Sunset from Lansdowne

St. Mary's Church in Lansdowne
I got up early next morning and went outside to witness the pristine sunrise and was awestruck by the beauty and being armed with my camera immediately set up capturing the same. As the day progressed, we decided to explore ‘Bhim Pakora’ a rock formation, wherein moving of any of the three huge boulders, rocks them in motion but they do not tumble down in the valley below. But as we gradually descended through the market, we stopped at our first destination i.e. Kaleswhar Mahadev temple. This temple is said to be about 5000 years old and Sage Kalun used to medidate here and the Shivling was inside a natural cave. Even today there are samadhis of other Rishis along the side of the temple. The present temple structure came up in 1901 and a ‘Dharamshala’ run by the Garhwal Regiment is maintained next to the temple precincts. As we started our descent further, we found the road to be more difficult and with kids in tow, we felt that the return journey would be very cumbersome & tiresome for them and thus, dropped the idea of going till Bhim Pakora. In case one is interested in reading about it and seeing the photograph, may click on the link - We sat and relaxed in the warm sun, deciding to start early for Khirsu the next day.
Kaleshwar Mahadev temple in Lansdowne

May like to view a video of the trip to Lansdowne -

© S Roy Biswas - all rights reserved.