The hallmark of a fulfilling road trip is not how far it takes you from your current predicament, but how much closer it brings you to yourself. The great mass of humanity is distracted by the trappings and fabricated urgency of modern life.A man may live majority of his life succumbing to other people’s needs, love , hate , ignorance and beliefs.He may be involved in a job, relationship-with parents, wife and friends, but there are those few moments of uninterrupted solitude which beckons him to reflect and search for what lies beyond his little world of duties, obligations and existence.The moments when he thinks about himself, where he is at a certain stage in life, a sense of realization that he is and will always be alone in this uncomprehending and vast universe.And inadvertently traveling comes as a great distraction and relief. For a trip into the hills comes with the blessed gift of quiet solitude and peace.
Just like before the advent of Diwali you get a sense of a pleasant vibe in the atmosphere-the breeze is cool,there’s is a slight chill in the air, and people seem cheerful, warm and better than usual. Autumn greets you with the smell of yellow leaves, cow dung smoke and the prospect of a joyful festive celebrations and a wonderful time ahead.The same feelings had enveloped my consciousness when I left Chaukori in the morning to reach Munsiyari in the afternoon covering 100 km.
Our destination was just 30 km ahead, but it had already started to unravel its gifts, goodies, and surprises, starting with the Berthi waterfall- which plummets 125 meters from a wide hill top- the largest waterfall in the area. There is a small shop near the road managed and run by a simple and warm couple.The old man made the best Maggie and tea I had ever had in the Mountain, and his wife served it to us with great love and warmth.
Climb upwards at leisurely pace for the vistas around you would be a source of envy for any wildlife photographer. The rhododendrons or Buransh as the locals call it is in full bloom from March till April. The green plant dotted with red, pink and white gradient greets you at Ratapani and won’t leave your sight till the remaining part of the journey.The road is lined up with ancient oak and rhododendron forests with its moss embellished rocks and great benign trees. It’s as if the natural and the supernatural are in cahoots all along the way to greet you with an enchanted evening -enriched with silence, chilly winds , soft whispers from the pine tree, and an increasing fancy for the macabre.You will encounter innumerable surprises along the way.Here are the 5 reasons that makes Munsiyari a paradise in the Mountains
Just 15 Km ahead of berthi fall comes the 9000 ft pass at Kalamuni with some jaw dropping views of Panchachuli.There are no peaks views before Kalamuni and suddenly the Himalayas just appears out of the blue as if waiting in delight to surprise you with their majestic panorama .This is the highest point of the journey and you get the best view of the Panchachuli Mountain.Some say it is grander than the views you get from Munsiyari, and that might be true, for Munsiyari sits at a humble 7000 ft.The vantage point from Kalamuni is second to none when it comes to peak views.Don’t believe what I say. Go and explore for yourself and let me know.
Finally we reach our destination- Munsiyari at around 4 in the evening.It is raining heavily and without wasting a second we check into our abode- The KMVN Munsiyari Resort.It is situated in the heart of the town and offers the best views from the spacious balcony. The rain had satiated us and we end up ordering a mug full with tea, french fries, Toasts, Tadka Maggie, and Omelets. We finished all of it taking in magnificent views of the towering Panchachuli Mountain and uninterrupted sips of brown tea. I would never have imagined a more pleasant welcome.The rain stops at around 5 and we head out to explore the town.
The locals take great pride in their history. Apparently, the Shaukya tribe which still inhabit the majority of Munsiyari and the remaining parts of the Johar valley were entrepreneurs for a long time. They used to trade with Tibet in salt, silk, and Borax since the 3rd century, but it was banned after the Indo-China war of 1962. Now the locals mostly depend on agriculture and tourism for the livelihood.The Bhotia clan of the Johar valley are known for their brute strength and for breeding wild dogs. These dogs are apparently breeded for security of the cattle from leopards and wild boars. I was lucky to come across one and it was almost the size of a donkey. They are huge, wild, and fiercely protective and loyal to their master.
2. Khalia Top
We started our trek for Khalia Top the next morning. A huge meadow spread over a large area covering close to 10 football fields, situated at a height of about 12000 ft, it is a heaven for trekkers.Being the highest point of Munsiyari, it offers incredible views of the entire Himalayan Panorama- Panchachuli, Hansling, Nanda devi- all peaks above 20000 ft are visible. One needs to trek for about 5 km from Munsiyari to reach here. There is a small guest house about 500 meters below where we decided to halt for the night. Very few tourists visit Khalia, and even few spend the night, for the place is bereft of any luxury or amenities one gets in the town. The nights are extremely cold with temperatures plummeting up to -15 degrees in March.
The small guest house is managed by a tall, wide man in his late 40’s, and his young son of about 14.These were the only two people accompanying us for the rest of the day, along with the open green meadows and the mighty white Himalayas.The entire area near Khalia was ours for a complete day.We strolled lazily all around- plucking wild flowers, clicking innumerable pictures, devouring hot cups of tea, taking in the fresh breath and the majestic view of the Panchachuli that dominates the vista, dwarfing any other peak in its vicinity.
3. Darma Valley
Darma valley is formed by the Darma River (Darmaganga). Dhauli Ganga meanders through the valley uninhibited in a snake curve.The road to Darma valley from Munsiyari is rough and cumbersome, but also picturesque.You will encounter a small village after every few kilometers.The road zig-zags along the uneven, rocky hillside and has more bends than people living near the respective land area.One can spend a leisurely day or two in the small villages of Dharchula or Tawaghat breathing in the pure air, absorbing the mesmerising beauty of the lush green valley, and listening to the delightful rhythms of a whistling thrush and the Dhauliganga river. The adventure aficionados can venture towards the Panchachuli base camp for a magnificent view of the Panchachuli Mountain.
Darma people are simple, hard working, religious and believe their most important deity resides in Mt.Kailash.But there is no denying the fact that the majestic landscape of the darma valley would even force Lord Shiva to make this place his second home in the harsh winters of Kailash Mansarover.
4. Panchachuli Base Camp
The trek to Panchachuli Base Camp starts from Dharchula, which is at an elevation of 915 meters and is approximately 90 kilometers away from Munsiyari. The trail heads to the tribal village of Dhar, which is approximately 40 kilometers up via Tawaghat and Sobla which leads you towards the Darma valley.The trek to Panchchuli Base Camp continues towards Sela and thereafter turns to Balling.Once you reach Dantu, it seems like the feet of Panchachuli is just a stone throw away.This is the closest a trekker can get to the base of a major Himalayan Mountain.
5. Milam Glacier Trek
Milam glacier extends itself to 27 km and is the longest in Kumaon. Milam was the frontier trading post along the Indo-Tibetan trade route which now lies deserted after the 1962 Indo-China war.The trek route is wide, inundated, deserted and bereft of any hotels or dhabas. A few shops in long stretches will provide the basic shelter and food along with some PWD rest houses.The whole trail pass through a deserted, cold, murky landscape littered with abandoned and dilapidated Bhotia settlements who marched towards inner towns and cities in search of employment after the closure of the trade route.
The trek to glacier from Milam village takes just a few hours and one gets some fabulous and unseen views of the Trishuli and Nanda devi Mountain.The dificult part is reaching the Milam village which is 60 km from Munsiyari- passing through Lilam, Bogudiyar and Rilkot.It is a tough and arduous trek both in terms of length and topography, but offers great rewards in peak views and deep insight on how the extremely prosperous trade route which was a livelihood for thousands of well to do people of the Bhotia clan forced them to extreme poverty after the war.
If you are lucky enough to get a glimpse of the mammoth Himalayan peaks- the astounding view of mountains like -the great Nanda devi, Chukhamba, Trishul , or Panchachuli- it leaves you breathless, like a Mike Tyson’s Knockout Punch- knocking out every ounce of Selfishness, bigotry, prejudice and the stinky feeling of moroseness one inhales every day in a city.It detoxes you- both physically and spiritually.When you are face to face with the gigantic snow laden peaks you realize how insignificant and trivial our day to day problems,loss, and apprehensions are compared to the possibilities, experiences, and grandeur that awaits us in this big beautiful world.
These are big enough reasons for anyone reading this post to plan their next trip to Munsiyari- The unknown Paradise. If you are still wondering and trying to ignore your voice and instinct which is telling you to start that next trip you have been planning for a long time, I just have this quote to summarize what I wanted to express through this post-
“And yet the wiser mind
Mourns less for what age takes away
Than what it leaves behind.”
― William Wordsworth,