Chiliyanaula – a quiet abode

After our pleasant stay at Naukuchia Taal, we headed for our next destination Chiliyanaula. I first heard about it from one of my cousins Sanju da(Sanjib Ganguly, to whom I owe a lot for my limited knowledge of the Indian Himalayas). It first came up in the discussions about Ranikhet. Ranikhet is a famous hill station in the Kumaon hills but I’ve never been there. As in many other cases, when I asked Sanju da during our planning phase, he quickly pointed me to Chiliyanaula. It was barely 10 km away from Ranikhet. One could very well enjoy the famous sites at Ranikhet but stay at this quiet place which also has a KMVN rest house with picturesque views of the Kumaon Himalayas.

After a drive of about 2.5 hours, we entered the outskirts of Ranikhet. Clear, unobstructed views of The Himalayas were abound at every bend of the road. Eventually, I couldn’t resist asking the driver to stop the vehicle for a few snaps.

Mt Trishul – en-route Chiliyanaula 

We finally arrived at the rest house. After completing the formalities, we were allotted a room. It’s windows opened at the lawn at its backyard. As I moved out into the lawn, I was greeted with majestic 180 degree view of the Himalayan range starting at the left from the peaks of the Gangotri group, followed by Kedarnath, Mandani, Chaukhamba, Neelkanth (Badrinath), Nandaghunti, Trishul, Mrigthuni, Pawalidwar, Nanda Devi going up to Panchachuli and even beyond it leading towards the Himalayan peaks of western Nepal.

KMVN Tourist rest house – Chiliyanaula

We quickly ordered our lunch and moved out to the lawn to bask in the afternoon winter sun. The cold was intense but very much enjoyable in the sun and more importantly, clouds stayed clear from the distant mountains. I was pleased to have been rewarded with my decision to come here during winters (contrary to the advice of some). The room we were allotted, also had a heating system installed. I was excited but it didn’t last long when I was told by the staff that it never worked. But who cares? After all, we’re not to stay at the room for long.

Kumaon Himalayas – from KMVN, Chiliyanaula

The lawn at the backyard wasn’t very big. It extended as a balcony from where one could have an unobstructed view of the valley and the mountains beyond it. We sat there with nothing to do or worry about other than watch the daylight changing its angle and color. It was an act of nature that was to be witnessed only through the changing colors of the snow-capped peaks. the dazzling white in the morning, they acquired a tinge of gold as the day progressed.

Afternoon – Chiliyanaula

The color of fading sun gradually rubbed onto the pine and deodar forests, which gleamed in the gold. Mt Trishul appeared at a very different angle from what we saw at other places like Binsar or Kausani. The three peaks which gave its name, were clear and distinct, separate from each other. the day was approaching a phase where a drama was about to be enacted. A drama that is very familiar to me in these mountains. One needs to be prepared enough to capture it as the scenes were to enacted very fast. It’s a drama of changing colors in the backdrop of the snow capped peaks and the hovering clouds.

Nanda Devi peaks at sunset – Chiliyanaula

The sun started playing its role as it prepared to retire for the day. Shutters kept firing and every shot sprang up a different shade on the mountains. The rays of gold and crimson even rubbed off on the sparse clouds that floated in the sky.

Sunset – Chiliyanaula

As I turned from left to right, I saw the entire Himalayan range from Gangotri group in the west to Nepal Himalayas in the east, bathing in gold and crimson. Mt Trishul, which was the most prominent, appeared magnificent in the fading colors.

Mt Trishul at sunset – Chiliyanaula

As soon as the sun went down, the chill in the air sharpened and we retired to our room quickly.

Chiliyanaula is one of the rare locations where one gets equally good views of sunrise and sunset. In the anticipation of a wonderful sunrise, I woke up early the next day and I wasn’t disappointed. The sequence of events that were played out yesterday, just got reversed as if someone re-winded the video in the opposite direction. It started of with a dark outline of the mountain ranges in the backdrop of a sky that was just being lit up. I turned my head to the right where the sun was peeping out from behind the hills.

The rising sun – Chiliyanaula

It came up in leaps and bounds while the morning rays sprayed their colors on the Himalayas. First of the peaks to assume the golden crown were Mt Trishul and Mt Nanda Devi.

Mt Trishul at sunrise – Chiliyanaula

The golden crown of Mt Trishul made it more evident why it was named so. When I turned to my left, I saw the distant peaks of Garhwal region were also starting to wear their crowns. The most distinct of them all was Mt Chaukhamba. No matter where we go in Uttarakhand or which time of the day it is, it never misses to show up as long as the clouds steer clear.

Mt Chaukhamba at sunrise – Chiliyanaula

After all the colors were played out, The Himalayas wore a dazzling white look. After breakfast, we went out for the main places of visit in nearby Ranikhet – the cantonment, the famous golf course and others.

Mt Nanda Devi – Chiliyanaula

Ranikhet (queen’s meadow) draws its name from a local legend that Raja Sudhardev won the heart of his queen Padmini, who later chose this area as her residence. Later on, the British established the headquarters of the Kumaon regiment, which gave birth to the entire cantonment area along with the magnificent golf course (one of the highest in Asia).

Golf course – Ranikhet

If you steer clear of the main Ranikhet city, which is a bit congested, the rest of it is mainly the cantonment area, which largely clean, quiet and well maintained. After visiting the main sights of attraction, we came back to Chiliyanaula to witness another wonderful sunset to end the day. Chiliyanaula got etched in our memory with its solitude and magnificent Himalayan views. It was in our minds even when we moved towards our next destination Dhaulchina.

Winters in Kumaon hills – Naukuchia Taal

Work was taking a toll and whenever that happens, my mind reaches out to the hills for some solace. It wasn’t a different story in the month of January 2012 and I was eagerly awaiting a week-long break. When I initially started to plan for this, all I knew was I had to get away for a few days and I booked the railway tickets for Kathgodam quite arbitrarily. Now that the days were fixed, search started for the destinations. For a moment, it appeared to me that I have exhausted all options in the Kumaon hills. I gave a call to one of my distant cousins in Kolkata, Sanju da (Sanjib Ganguly). He’s a person to whom I owe my love for the mountains. It was his family tours which drew me towards the Himalayas. As always, he didn’t disappoint me this time either. After a few chats, we narrowed down to three places – Naukuchia taal, Chiliyanaula and Sitla (not Sitlakhet).

On a Friday night, after we came back from our office, had our dinners, picked up our bags and off we went to Delhi railway station to board the Ranikhet express for the umpteenth time. Next morning, we were at the Haldwani railway station at 5.30 AM. After completing our morning duties and applying some water to our faces at the railway retiring room, we walked out of the station, fresh as ever, to board a cab. The cab started it’s journey meandering through the congested roads and lanes till it reached the Nainital road. It was all familiar since I’ve traveled so many times through this route. “There’s the bend for the road that goes to Almora”, “Here comes Bhimtaal” – chants kept coming from my wife and daughter. After traveling down the road that surrounds Bhimtaal, the cab took a diversion that moved up the slopes. After a short hike, it came to a halt at the banks of the picturesque, big and the quiet lake of Naukuchia taal. We were right at the reception of KMVN tourist rest house. It beamed (as if to welcome us) in the bright sunlight. The chill in the winter morning wind was equally enjoyable.

KMVN tourist rest house, Naukuchia Taal

After the formalities, keys were handed to us. We had the entire day at our disposal. Warm geyser water aided us with some wonderful bathing and after a short breakfast with bread toast and coffee, we were ready for a boat ride in this quiet and pristine lake.

KMVN tourist rest house, Naukuchia Taal

Naukuchia Taal is the biggest of the entire lake system that exists in the lower regions of Nainital district and more important, its more secluded than the others. Boats were available right at the doorsteps of the rest house and three of us boarded one with trembling steps and set afloat. The water glistened like startling diamonds in the bright sunlight.

Naukuchia Taal

The surrounding hills were filled with plush green forests (unlike Nainital, which is shrouded with hotels). The boat splashed along with quiet strokes in the water, splitting the large sparkling diamonds into smaller ones. The warmth in the sunlight was soothing and the gentle wind with moist traces of water from the lake had a healing touch. Life was all good with nothing else to do other than soaking in the beauty served up by nature.

The next day, we woke up to a cloudy weather but it wasn’t raining. A local vehicle was to take us into a ride to some nearby places of tourist attraction. Our first destination was Saat Taal, a system of seven small lakes, about 30 minutes drive from the hotel. As the vehicle moved upwards from the hotel premises along the serpentine roads, Naukuchia Taal offered breath taking bird’s eye views from different angles.


The lakes of Saat Taal were nestled amongst the surrounding hills that were densely covered with forests. It’s so serene to just look around with dense vegetation to soothe our eyes. Nearby forests buzzed with chirping birds. Saat Taal is also a heaven for bird watchers but I was devoid of a lens suitable for it.

Saat Taal

We spent the entire morning roaming around besides the lakes and boating. Saat Taal also forms an important source of water for the lower plains of Kathgodam and Haldwani. Each one of the seven lakes (one of them was dry at that point) had a mythological tale behind it. With such surroundings, one doesn’t care about scientific reasoning but likes to believe in such tales.

As the day progressed, we headed to our next destination, Ghorakhal. It’s a place nearby that has a tea garden. As we headed towards it, clouds dispersed and a bright evening unfolded. The golden tinge in the evening sun rays added to the beauty of the sprawling tea garden which appeard as a stretched out bed of tea plants interspersed with tall trees dotting the landscape that have been planted to provide shade to the underlying tea plants.

Ghorakhal tea garden

Shadows started to get large as the sun prepared to bid adieu. We headed back to the rest house at KMVN. It’s been years since that day, but its etched in memory as a simple, peaceful day with rare tranquility. After dinner, we sunk into our blankets. Who knows what ChiliyaNaula has in store for us, which is where we were headed tomorrow?

Queens of Pithoragarh – Chaukori and Munsyari – Part 2

Part 1

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.

On the way to Munsyari

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.

On the way to Thamri kund


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.

The panchachuli peaks, Munsyari


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”.

Sunset – Munsyari

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.

Sunset – Munsyari

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.

Part 1

Queens of Pithoragarh – Chaukori and Munsyari – Part 1

Part 2

How does it feel when a long-standing pain goes away suddenly? That’s how I felt back in the year 2003. I was going through months of stress in my professional career and on one fine day, suddenly everything fell into place. On such occasions, you normally strive for something more than trivial. That’s when I thought of visiting the hills of Kumaon. I’ve been to Garhwal and Himachal for a few times by that time, but Kumaon was still out of reach. However, I wasn’t new to the place, thanks to the literature of Edward James Corbett. I opted for the upcoming long weekend of Holi (a festival of colors in India) but faced a problem of plenty when it came to selection of places. After speaking to some of my friends and relatives who have been to the Kumaon region before, I narrowed down on Kausani (a picturesque hill station in the Bageshwar district) and Chaukori (in Pithoragarh). Stories were ripe about amazing sunrise and sunset views from Kausani and Chaukori was famous for its proximity to the famous Himalayan peaks (some Bengali travel magazines had phrases like “If you throw a stone from Chaukori, it might land up on Nanda Devi”). Hence, quite obviously, my expectations were high and that was one of the reasons of sheer disappointment of this tour.

Me and my wife boarded the Ranikhet Express from Old Delhi railway station at about 10.30 PM in the night and found ourselves at the Haldwani station, the next day, at about 6 AM. Haldwani is one of the main entrance points of Kumaon. We hopped on a share jeep that was headed to Almora and from there, boarded another one for Kausani. The serpentine hill roads after the last railway head Kathgodam had its impact on me and I was nauseating. However, it subsided after sometime and we reached Kausani at lunch. The KMVN (Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam – the tourism wing of Uttarakhand state Government that handles the Kumaon region) rest house was about 2-3 km beyond the main market of Kausani. But the northern skies were filled with clouds and there were no traces of the Himalayan peaks. We settled in our suite and had lunch. Afternoon didn’t prove to be better either. We just saw glimpses of the Trishul but soon clouds covered it up. In the evening, we asked the staff at the rest house about commute options to Chaukori and that’s when they dropped the bomb shell! From what transpired, it became apparent that during the Holi festival, almost all vehicles go off roads and we’d find it very difficult to hire one. They suggested we immediately get down to Nainital and spend the rest of our vacation there because it is near to Kathgodam and it would be easy for us to get a transport to the railway station. Our entire plan went for a toss. We were to stay 2 nights each at Kausani and Chaukori respectively and I was not ready to spend all these days at Nainital. The next day, against the advice of the hotel staff, we ventured out for Chaukori. We woke up early in the morning hoping to see the sunrise but were disappointed. That’s the first time, we experienced this strange phenomenon. The sky was devoid of any clouds and we could see the dark outlines of the distant Himalayan range but as the sun started to come out, they just started fading away in the bright sunlight. Much later after we came back from this trip, we came to know the reason behind this. In this time of the year before the onset of summers, the villagers set grasslands (and often forests) on fire with the aim of clearing up fields for cultivation. Land is scarce in this part of the world and no bit of arable land lies unutilized. The pressure of growing population continues to have its effect in terms of depleting forest cover. Such “wild fires” result in generation of a lot of smoke and fills the air with dust particles, thereby creating an invisible screen that prevents clear vision. The months of October and November and the winters are the best time to visit Kumaon.

Coming back to my story, we boarded a bus from Kausani to Bageshwar, followed by a shared jeep to Chaukori. It took us about 5 hours to reach there. The cottages of the KMVN rest house at Chaukori was spread out over the slopes of a hill that offered magnificent views of the Himalayan peaks of Kumaon region “provided” the sky was clear. The word “provided” weighed upon us very heavily on this trip and Chaukori was equally disappointing. We piggybacked with two other families who were kind enough to accommodate us during our return journey from Chaukori to Nainital where we reached in the evening.

The disappointment of this trip resulted in a plan of visiting these regions again during better times and that was in late October in the same year during the vacations of Diwali (another important festival of India). This time around, when we reached Haldwani, the atmosphere was visibly different. There was chill in the air and the vegetation bathed in bright sunshine. My mother was with us this time around. We started off in a Tata Indica from Haldwani. The vehicle was to stay with us for the entire trip that involved staying one night at Chaukori, followed by 2 nights at Munsyari. It would then drop us at the Kathgodam railway station from where we were to board the Ranikhet express for Delhi. As we moved ahead of Kathgodam, roads started spiralling. We crossed Bhimtaal, Bhawali and stopped at Khairna for breakfast. I engaged myself with the route. We gradually crossed Almora and The Himalayan peaks started to appear. Things weren’t going very well with my mother She was nauseating. We had to stop frequently for her where shed would wash her face before starting again. We crossed Dhaulchina and reached Berinaag by afternoon. A few km after Berinaag came Udyari bend. Chaukori was 5 km up from this place. I was praying hard for the road to end as my mother was in a sorry state. Her eyes were almost popping out of their sockets. We finally reached at the KMVN rest house. After the formalities at the reception desk, we were allocated a cottage. It was an isolated wooden cottage with a bedroom and an attached toilet. Its windows opened to the majestic views of The Himalayas. The sky was crystal clear with the rays of fading sun acquiring a touch of pale yellow. One could see unobstructed views of Trishul, Nanda Devi (the largest peak in India before induction of Sikkim as a state, which is when it passed on the baton to Mt KangchenDzonga), Nandakot, Nandakhat, Pawalidwar, Rajarambha and many other peaks. The group of five Panchachuli peaks was at the eastern end of the horizon. After having tea, we went outside the cottage and the stage was set for a marvellous sunset. The mighty Himalayas were set ablaze by the setting sun.

Kumaon Himalayas at sunset – Chaukori

My mother went through an abrupt change as soon as she got off the vehicle at the end of our long journey. She was feeling surprisingly well, especially after having tea and the splendid sunset pumped her up. We roamed around carelessly with our eyes firmly on the Himalayas where the sun was spraying colors galore. No one seemed to be in a hurry, both tourists as well as locals. Life seemed so easy and simple in this lazy evening. Birds flew back to their nest with their purchase for the day. There were no targets to be met, no need to uplift yourself at the cost of others.

Nandakot – Chaukori

We came back to our cottage and spent time gossiping till it was time for dinner which was served at the dining place. As soon as dinner was over, there wasn’t anything to do and we slid into bed under the warmth of the blankets. Sleep embraced us with both hands and we were soon into the world of dreams.

The Himalayas makes me rise early and Chaukori was no exception. There was a watch tower at the KMVN lawn. We climbed to its top while the sky was being sprayed with scarlet. There were some clouds in the sky but that only added to the beauty. Their lower edges burned like a fire as the sun popped up as a golden ball from behind the hills.

Sunrise – Chaukori

As we turned to the North, The Himalayas were rising from last night’s sleep. The twin peaks of Nanda Devi brightened up and as the sun came out in its full glory, they turned into silver.

Himalayas – Chaukori

After spending sometime at the tower, we came back to the cottage as it was time to prepare for our next journey to Munsyari. After having bath and breakfast, we settled our bills at the rest house and headed out for Munsyari, 90 km from Chaukori.

Part 2