The route to Munsyari from Chaukori required us to descend back to Udyari bend. From there, instead of Berinaag, our jeep turned towards Thal, which was about 25 km. Thal was an important junction on this route. It is here where the road from Tanakpur (another entrance to Kumaon from its eastern frontier) & Pithoragarh meets the road coming from Almora. That road comes via Champavat (the place where Corbett hunted down the first ever man-eating tigress known in the history of Kumaon), Lohaghat and the district capital Pithoragarh. From Thal, the road entered the gorge of a deep valley with mountain walls closing in from both sides and we lost the sight of the Himalayan peaks. That pattern would continue till Kalamuni top. The road went along the banks of the RamGanga river. Numerous waterfalls flowed down the walls of the mountains from both sides and waters from some of them flowed across the road. Lush green fields besides the river banks were terraced and were planted with crops of the season that included vegetables and other cereals.
After about 2 hours, we reached Birthi. Birthi is famous for its waterfalls. There’s a KMVN rest house right near the falls. We didn’t stop at Birthi and moved ahead. After about half an hour from Birthi, we reached the Kalamuni top. The moment we reached there, the world changed in front of us! The Himalayan peaks which eluded us for the entire route from Thal till now, made a surprise reappearance with a bang! The Panchachuli peaks stared right at our face. They almost appeared as walls right in front of us. The five Panchachuli peaks basked in the midday sun. Kalamuni top is a mountain pass on the route to Munsyari from Thal. We were really excited not just by the present view but also at the prospect of views to come. Munsyari was still about 20 km from this place and we were only to get closer into the arms of the Himalayas. Our driver offered prayers in the small temple at the pass (as all people do in these remote Himalayan places) as mark of gratitude for keeping evils at bay while crossing the pass. Road to Munsyari from here was downhill. The KMVN an Munsyari was right at the entrance of the town. We left the main road and the car moved down the slope to reach the parking area. After formalities at the reception, we were allocated a room. The Panchachuli peaks were visible from everywhere at the rest house. The windows of all the rooms opened towards the Himalayan views. We got very excited at the prospect of a wonderful sunset. Munsyari is famous for its colorful sunsets and every KMVN rest house in Kumaon boasts a picture of the golden Panchachuli peaks at the sunset. It was time for us to witness that in flesh! But nature had other plans in store for us. After lunch, weather took a turn for the worse. The place which was basking in bright sunshine, suddenly became a sink for the clouds which started pouring in from all directions. Within moments, the last trace of the Panchachuli peaks were gone from our sight! We could’nt believe our luck (or lack of it) but that’s how it plays out at the mountains. It’s a part of the game. That’s the reason we had an extra day of stay here. Though we were disappointed, but we were hopeful for the next day. Evenings in the mountains are very short. As soon as the sun sets, night takes over and everyone goes behind the doors.
We woke up to a bright sunshine in the next morning. After breakfast, we went out for some local excursions in our vehicle. The vehicle stopped at a place 2-3 km from Munsyari. There was a small trek of about 1-2 km through the forests to a small lake called Thamri Kund. A guide offered his service to take us to the place. There was a narrow trail created by footsteps of shepherds and their flocks of sheep and goat. Me and my wife went ahead on the route while my mother waited at the vehicle. The path was very narrow and at times there was barely enough space for two steps but I had no complains about the views on the offering. Throughout the route, the Panchachuli peaks were right in front of us, devoid of any clouds, dazzling like silver in the mid day sun.
Finally, we reached the kund. I had high hopes of a big lake with reflections of the mountain peaks in its waters, but was disappointed in that respect. It wasn’t anything more than a small pond but I had no reasons to complain because of the Himalayan views throughout the route. While we were on our way back, I saw traces of small clouds in front of the peaks. It didn’t cause any worry as it was quite normal during the day. However, as we headed to the rest house for lunch, clouds grew in their stature and very soon, they covered the peaks. Today was our last chance for a sunset and we saw it go waste in front of us. As evening bore on, it started getting darker. There were dark clouds and as light fell, it started to rain. At night when we were going to sleep, we heard sounds of thunder storms.
The next day was bright and clear and we saw signs of fresh snow in the upper reach of the mountains. The Himalayas wore a new look with fresh snow from last night. The people who would stay at Munsyari, had a great chance of sunset or at least so it seemed. That’s exactly what was said by a person who was standing beside me. He was from a Bengali group of families who are used to trekking in remote parts of the Himalayas and he banked on his experience to say that there was a high chance of clear skies in the afternoon. But that was of no use for us as we had to get down to Kathgodam and we had our train that night.
A thought crossed my mind suddenly. What if we extended our stay for a day? One part of my mind said “Don’t let it go”, another retorted back “Don’t be foolish. You have confirmed railway reservations which will go in vain. You have your wife and mother with you and the next day you need to report back at work!”. Reason gave way to passion in this dilemma and we decided to take a chance. My mother agreed reluctantly with a pensive look. We spent rest of the day at the rest house wandering in its lawn basking in the sun with our eyes firmly trained on the Panchachuli peaks. It was a close vigil on the clouds so that they didn’t dare to cover up. Luck seemed to be with us as it was clear till about 3 PM, after which a game of hide and seek began and arithmetic ruled our brains from thereon. We kept discussing. “Three of five are visible, much better than yesterday”, “Oh no, barely one peeps out now!”, “Wait, wait, they clear up again”, “See, the colors are coming on, wow it looks like a gold mine”, “Only if all five were visible!”, “I’ll take this any day, I don’t care if all five are visible, its scarlet now”.
Legend says that the Pandavas were on their last journey to heaven after the battle of Kurukhsetra and they traveled through this part of the world. During their journey, they felt hungry at this place and their wife Draupadi cooked their meals on five huge ovens, which were the five Panchachuli peaks of the present day. The colors that were on display before us made us imagine that indeed the ovens were lit up and we’re seeing colors of fire. The fiery color spread to the clouds which added to the beauty. Colors turned from golden-yellow to scarlet and then started to fade out as the sun went down and after the fiery color was gone, the clouds disappeared too and all the five peaks came out in white, but the brightness was gone. Curtains came down on a spectacular drama that was enacted before us in this natural theatre.
The next day we departed from Munsyari. It was a long day for us as Kathgodam was about 230 km away. Midway into our journey down the hills, I called up at my office and blamed a fictitious landslide for our inability to join back to work. After reaching Kathgodam, we purchased wait listed tickets for Ranikhet express now that our reservations were in vain (they were made for a day earlier) and boarded the train. Neither of us had berths and we had to sit for about half way through the night till the train ticket examiner obliged us with two sleeping berths. I gave one to my mother and shared the other with my wife and finally reached at the old Delhi railway station the next morning.