Trek Report: NarayanSwamy Ashram
Let me start with a brief summary of our trip to hills. We started off from Delhi on Thursday night from Red fort (since we couldn't get any train reservations in time) in a bus to Khatima, the infamous town of Uttrakhand agitation. The journey took about 10 hours and we reached pretty sleepy and restless to this grimy and dusty town. We took a shared cab to Tanakpur, some 30 kms from Khatima. The drive into hills started from Tanakpur (the last railhead on this sector) and some 150 kms and about 6 hours later (some road sections were broken) we reached Pithoragh and checked into the TRC. The room had a fascinating view of the hills right from the bed. Three large windows provided the three different perspectives of hills and the Pithoragh valley, which is like a miniature Kashmir (some 8*6 Kms long/wide about 10 times less than Kashmir). We had some sumptuous brunch and followed it with a short exploration of nearby market (which was horrible!).
Having slept well, knowing that there was no transport available the next day (being Holi), we woke up to hot chai and AKPs (aloo ka Parathas!), served right into your bed with scenes changing at all windows. After devouring the breakfast we started off to a short trek to a place called Chandak, famous for a temple named "MashtaManav" (we corrupted it to Mast-manav!). The place had about 5-7 houses and a beautiful temple of Kali. We found a bunch of colourful (holi, remember!) Botias (folks from Tibet) singing some melodious bhajans. We walked around the place and were rewarded with beautiful views of entire Panchachuli massif, Mana and very brilliant Nanda Devi east as well as the main Nanda devi peaks. A tea break with a 109 year old ascetic completed our visit. He told us some very interesting stories about Moti Lal Nehru and Swami Vivekananda, which is another subject-head in my memoirs! We returned to our base camp of Pithoragh and ventured into the market to hunt for the Pithoragarh fort, which was a not so impressive ruin. The market place has something interesting for us. They had a very unique dance going on in the town square, which they called "Khadi Holi". The men and children move in a circle with each semi circle group taking turns to sing and dance, all the while moving very gracefully in a quartet step. definitely a dance to be learnt when you retire.
Well, since we had been stranded in Pithoragarh for the day, we rounded off the day with a brief survey of all high points in the town. The "valley" is actually a huge valley surrounding a majestic hill called "AsurChulha", which has a nonfunctional air strip at its base. (the Naini air strip). The valley is beautiful except for a ugly 400 KV line cutting across one side. The other side (the North west) has lush green fields all over with a high school in the middle of it. We returned very tired to our TRC to yet another gluttony session!
The next day we started early to a place called Dharchula, a town bordering Nepal (called Darchula) some 100 Kms from Pithoragh. The entire route is quite picturesque with Kali river forming the border between Nepal and India. One can see both sides of the river for more than 50Kms of the drive. Dharchula is a small hill town with a riverside TRC, where one mr. Mehra was very gracious to help and advice us on our further plans. Post lunch, we moved some 42 Kms to a village called Ghasku and persuaded two kids to join us for a trek to Narayan Swamy Ashram. This is the first stop on the Kailash-Mansoravar Yatra and considered the toughest stretch. Vishal and Prakash were excellent guides and regaled us with stories about the Yatra, village gossip and the employment issues. The trek was very steep, but we managed a decent timing of 2.5 hours, even though it rained during the last half an hour.(it did impress these kids, at least!). Narayan Swamy ashram is a beautiful place atop a hill with views of Pachachuli, Annapurna massif, Tibetian side himalayas, trishul, hathi parvat among others. At about 9000 feet altitude, the air is cold and the sky is afire at night! One cannot believe that great bear or scorpio are so clear; the Sirius (the dog star) is like a huge lantern! We spent the night in the temple dorm with a gentleman from Nasik.
I was woken up by excited better_half who had already finished a film roll clicking the sunrise..Well! a man has to do...started this old engine and off we went to click more photos...We left about a few hours later and started downhill.....The downhill trek was done in a cool 1.5 hrs and there we were at the Gasku village socializing with the kids and watching the nepal side of the hills across the kali river.
An hour long drive took us to Dharchula and we had a well made Maggi with veggies at the TRC for rs. 20 (and a tip of 30 rs!). We crossed over to Nepal only to be stopped by the Royal Nepalese Army, who suspected me of being a "foreigner"! My fluent hindi convinced them otherwise and we moved around the shore of Kali pitying the conditions there. It seemed very primitive and poor. Anyhow, we completed our 15 minutes of "foreign trip" and came back to take the last cab to Pithoragarh. At about 25Kms from Pithoragarh, at about 8 P.M when everyone was kinda tired and drowsy, I got one of the most pleasant shocks of my life!! Right in front of us was a full grown Leopard lazying on the roadside!! I felt like pouncing on it and cuddling it! The driver didn't share my enthusiasm and drove away (he had suffered a leopard pouncing and trying to cuddle him!). Well we reached the TRC Pithoragarh tired and were accommodated in the PWD inspection house (rs 100 for the night!). The next day saw us undertaking a 223 Kms hill journey for about 7 hours from Pithoragarh to Almora via Lohaghat and further down from Almora to Haldwani. An upgrade to 3 tier A.C and an overnight journey saw us back in Delhi yesterday.