In the year 2004, we repeated a mistake, which was to visit the Kumaon hills (this time it was the forests of Binsar) in the summers. Well, on the face it, there was nothing wrong in it as hills are a natural destination to escape from the scorching heat of the plains. But as explained in one of my earlier posts here, summers aren’t the right time to visit if you’re looking for clear views of the mighty Himalayan peaks and Binsar was no exception to that. We did enjoy our escapade in the KMVN lodge right in the mid of Binsar forests, but the peaks eluded us. On the previous occasion, it was in March, and for some reason (can’t remember it now), I thought April might be better but it was not to be. That made me make a pledge to never ever visit Kumaon hills in the summers. Henceforth, all our subsequent visits have been in autumn or winters.
The same year, in the month of October, we made a plan to visit Binsar once again but added another destination to our list, Gwaldam. Geographically, the place falls in the Chamoli district of the Garhwal Himalayas, but the shortest route to it from the plains was from the railhead Haldwani through the roads of the Kumaon region. Unlike our last visit, this time we had the families of my sister-in-law and parents-in-law accompanying us. On one fine morning, we got down from the Ranikhet express on the platform of Haldwani at about 6 AM. The train was about an hour late but we still had time. After all, we were only to travel till Binsar which was about 4-5 hours away from there. After negotiations, we boarded a vehicle and started off. The trail went through the familiar places of Bhimtaal, Bhowali, Almora and finally to the junction from where we had to leave the main Almora road to turn into the one that led to the forests of Binsar hills. After paying the fees for forest permit, we were allowed to enter what was not really a road but a narrow stretch laid with levelled stones.
After lunch at the KMVN tourist rest house, we went on to the terrace which was open from all sides with the view of the majestic Himalayan peaks basking in the afternoon sun. We enjoyed the warmth. My sister-in-law and parents-in-law were excited by the sights (it was their first time to have such close views of the Himalayas). Later, as evening bore on, we were served tea along with pakodas. We spent almost the entire day out on the terrace. Once it was dark, we went to our rooms and candles were provided since Binsar doesn’t have electricity. This is something we enjoy, but to some others it acts as a deterrent to visit the place. Personally, I enjoy it and don’t quite understand why people can’t get over their luxuries in the hills. At least we’re not depleting that much of natural resources during these days, regardless of how insignificant it may be. The chill in the air made the hot chapattis and curry that much more delicious at the dinner.
The Himalayas frustrated us the next day as clouds played spoilsport. We couldn’t afford to wait as we just had a couple of hours at our disposal before heading off to Gwaldam. It would be a 4-5 hours drive and we wanted to reach there before sunset. So, we started off after breakfast and throughout the route I kept an eye on the distant views to see if clouds gave way to clarity. We went through the lower reaches of Kausani and as we turned for Gwaldam, the sun rays started to change their colors but clouds still held the sway. We could see the huge mass of clouds on the northern horizon which was actually shielding Mt Trishul from making an appearance. We could sense how near it was, but couldn’t see it yet. The GMVN rest house at Gwaldam was located picturesquely, but wore a shabby outlook because of poor maintenance. However, we made ourselves comfortable in the rooms allocated to us and came out in the lawn. The clouds were painted with orange and yellow in the lights of the afternoon sun. We all wished they cleared up.
Elders say it you pray for something honestly enough, God answers your call. At least nature heeded to our calls that day. Suddenly, we saw golden outlines making their appearance behind the cracks which started to spread across the body of the clouds. Gradually they all dispersed and the mighty Trishul made it’s appearance before us. This was a totally different angle from where we were seeing it. We could see all the three peaks (which gave it’s name) from the front. In all its earlier appearances from Chaukori, Kausani or even Binsar, all the three fell in one vertical line. The sun was spraying its fading colors across the entire Trishul massif which was colored with orange with a tinge of red.
The next morning, we woke up to a clear sky with clouds nowhere in the vicinity. Trishul and its neighbour Nandaghunti were right in front of us, clearly visible from the GMVN lawn. The sun was gradually making its presence felt. Just the edges of the three peaks of Trishul were lightened by rays of the rising sun and not it’s entire body. That made it’s name sound it even more obvious.
The entire day was at our disposal and skies were clear. So, after breakfast and morning showers, we thought of roaming around with leisure through the streets of this quiet Himalayan town. Gwaldam is on the route of a road that connects Kausani to Karnaprayag, a town on the main highway from Badrinath to Haridwar. There is a PWD bungalow somewhat down the road to Karnaprayag. As in other places, this too, was at a picturesque location. The bungalow was nestled high on the hills with a pond in front of it. Trishul and Nandaghunti formed an exquisite backdrop with their images in the water of the pond. It came across as a picture postcard.
By this time, it was already 9 AM and the sun was out in its full glory and so was Trishul, which now basked in the sun. It was an unusual day when the clouds never came in the ways of the mountain views. Normally, views are clear early in the morning or in the evening (if one’s lucky, then both). But, usually, after 9.30-10 AM in the morning, as the intensity of the sun increases, clouds start forming and by noon, the peaks are no more to be seen. But on that day, the peaks were clearly visible throughout the day in their full glory.
As we roamed around, the landscape around us changed from large pine trees, to terraced fields with serpentine roads moving through the woods but one thing was constant above all on the northern horizon, Mt Trishul and its peer Mt Nandaghunti. They were visible from all corners of Gwaldam, no matter where one was.
That was a day that will remain in our memories for a long time. We spent the entire day lazily walking amidst the streets and fields of Gwaldam. Afternoon once again started to cast its spell on the rays of sun as their colors started to turn yellow to golden and orange and finally to red.
A few km ahead of Gwaldam lay the town of Lohajung, the base camp for one of the most popular treks in the Himalayas. The trek to the mysterious ‘skeletal’ lake Roopkund. From Lohajung, it takes about 4 days to reach this glacial lake, which lies at the lap of the Trishul massif. The lake has it’s banks dotted with numerous human skeletal remains. No one knows who were the persons who met their fate possibly hundreds of years ago and where they came from. There are mythological stories about these that rings bells amongst the locals. Above Roopkund, lies the Junargali pass. After crossing it, one can reach another glacial lake Homekund that lies at the base of Nandaghunti. Trishul and Nandaghunti are worshipped as Gods amongst the locals and every 12 years, a huge band of locals go on a pilgrimage to these places. This pilgrimage is called “Nanda yatra” .A Himalayan four horned sheep is taken along with the procession. Rituals and offerings take place. The procession goes up to Homekund, which is where the sheep is freed with ornaments and food to wander in the remote regions as a sacrifice to the mountain Goddess Nanda Devi. These remote villages in the Himalayas are filled with curious traditions that runs through centuries and attracts people from all over the world. May be, someday, I’ll heed their calls too.