Munsiyari: A Humble Destination to Take You on the New Highs of Travelling Quests
The snow-capped Panchchuli peak was gleaming with pride at a stone throwing distance. The bright blue clear sky in the backdrop, the immaculate road, the bare beautiful trees, and the mysterious silence, occasionally intruded by the call of flights of birds – this place was seemingly getting prettier as I neared the destination. It’s so perfect like a calendar picture and the beauty so overwhelming that it intrigues a rather distinct desperateness for more!
I was heading towards Munsiyari in Uttarakhand that is situated at a height of 2,135 metres, about 127 kilometres distant from Chaukori. Accompanying me is Mr. Pramod Bhatt, who is driving the car and the sole travel companion-cum-guide since the beginning of my journey in Uttarakhand on November, 24 and Mr. Singh, a staff of KMVN, Birthi. Munsiyari is merely 30 kilometres from Birthi but in this mountainous course, this is going to take about 2 hours to reach the destination. So, for the next 2 hours, it’s three of us.
I’d started off from Chaukori in the morning after breakfast and on this route lays the striking small hamlet of Birthi, 47 kilometres away. Mr. Bhatt took me to KMVN Birthi for lunch. Here, we met Mr. Singh who is previously known to him and we started a conversation about this place and other destinations. On his suggestion, I placed our lunch order and then set off towards Birthi Falls, the spectacular waterfall that requires a 500 stairs exercise to reach the footfall! It’s a bright afternoon and the breathtaking beauty of the locale robbed off all the knee and hip stress. The 125 metres long waterfall is also visible from the roadside while approaching Birthi and the beauty instantly arrests all attention but the moment I reached near it, I felt numb – the water appeared milky white with a bewitching rainbow playing peek-a-boo – it’s too beautiful to describe in words. Spending an hour in the vicinity of the Birthi Falls, I came back and relaxed on the chair while my lunch was served.
While I and Mr. Bhatt had lunch, Mr. Singh came up to ask for a lift to Munsiyari and I readily agreed. He has been working in KMVN for many years and I was sure he had many tales to tell. By 2 pm, we were ready to leave. I left, thanking all staff for their warm service. As the wheels rolled, Mr. Singh described Munsiyari and he looked more excited than any average tourist. “You often go there?” I prompted. “I haven’t been there for the last two months”, he said and quickly added, “Now that you are going there, I also got an opportunity”. He laughed. He talked about newspaper headlines, local politics, culture, national mishaps, dowry and he talked, talked and talked. I could perfectly understand why Mr. Bhatt smiled through the looking glass and decided not to play his music system. After all, live radio was with us! Haha! Jokes apart, it was a great pleasure to have Mr. Singh on board with us – he was sharing so many stories, talking with us simultaneously while taking the call of his wife on the mobile. It also helped Mr. Bhatt keep wide awake while driving and me too after having a heavy spicy lunch. I was right on the radar scanning the mesmerizing scenery and the bounteous peaks from inside the glass window.
For the first hour, the drive was quite bumpy due to the road. The next phase was pleasant and almost smooth. The Panchchuli peak appeared nearer with every five minutes as the car climbed from one hill to the other. I made the car stop frequently, to enjoy the majestic views at turns and stretches, to explore the pure air, the breeze and the silence of this road. Mr. Singh would repeatedly say, “Had you come during December end, there would be all snow. Driving is risky then. Till February first week, there’s no guarantee of these roads. They remain blocked due to heavy snowfall.”
By 4.30 pm, we reached KMVN Munsiyari where I had booked my room. The Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam (KMVN) tourist rest houses offer comfortable stay and they have superb locations. This was the main reason behind my booking. The staffs are very welcoming, warm and service-oriented and make one feel right at home. My executive suite was on the second floor – a well cleaned and furnished room with a balcony offering mighty views of the peaks. Before, the KMVN rest houses had green roof – in all my previous visits – but recently all have been newly furnished and coloured orange. View the fabulous location of the old green roofed KMVN here. After my luggage was brought in, I just thought to go out and explore the garden downstairs. It was splashed with all kinds of colours as the flower plants were in their full bloom. Walking down the garden area was really a great experience. Behind the rest house, there is a hamlet and the path leads down through local habitation area, adjacent to the left boundary wall of KMVN. Women with loads of wood and school kids were returning.
While the daylight was getting dim, the ranges took up various shades and it’s absolutely stunning. This day, I had less time in hand since it got dark in just half an hour. Also, it was getting quite difficult to endure the harsh cold winds outside which became harsher every minute. The wind was hitting on the face and exposed skin like a whip. I went up to my room and took refuge. After freshening up, I shifted the curtains and looked beyond the huge glass windows to catch the views of the mountains in the last ray of light.
Within an hour my doorbell ranged. One of the ever-smiling staffs came with my steaming hot sweet corn soup. He came in and just looked around for a second and said, “Madam, the extra blankets are inside the cupboard. Should I get them out for you?” I thanked him saying, “I’ll do it. Please ask Mr. Bhatt to come up.” He left with the same smile. The smoking hot soup felt cold inside the mouth. I gulped it down really fast. The warmth of the pepper felt very good inside the throat. The doorbell ranged again. It was Mr. Bhatt. We quickly discussed next day’s plan. Before leaving, he was all smiles and said, “You will need the extra blankets. Don’t underestimate the cold here. It’s unpredictable.” I affirmed and complained that my drinking water was getting chilled and it felt colder than refrigerated water. Mr. Bhatt came out with a funny yet functional idea which I am going to follow in similar situations ever since. He kept the bottles over one of the blankets inside the cupboard! And it worked for the better!
By 8 pm, my dinner was served in the dining hall. I opted out of room service just to experience going outside the room at night. And within seconds, the cold and shiver made me realize I had better stayed inside. Ah! With shivering legs and hands, I had my dinner fast and hurried my way back to my room. I was done for the day. I charged my mobile and camera and took refuge under three blankets.
As planned, I got ready by 7.30 am and had the very usual North-Indian breakfast of ‘aloo paratha’. We started off around 8 am. Our first destination was visiting the small yet beautiful Darkot village, 6 kilometres away. The road towards Darkot is indeed scenic. It feels great to hike along the staired pathway through the middle of the village nestled in the lap of the mountainous terrain. There is a temple dedicated to Goddess Kali and a handicrafts centre which is worth visiting. The couple of hours spent in the serenity and simplicity of this village is worth cherishing for a long time.
My next spot was the infamous Nanda Devi Temple amidst the picturesque ‘bugiyal’ or meadow overlooking the mighty peaks of the Panchchuli. The motorable road ends after 2 kilometres from the Munsiyari market, from where another 3 kilometres have to be walked up to reach the temple. The temple is located right at the top of the hill but the walking path is not highly inclined, making it easy to climb up. Nearing the spot, once the temple became visible, I could not take my eyes off! It was such a captivating beauty! The snowy peaks of the Panchchuli standing right in front, the hill top is surrounded by other ranges, cultivated hills and deep gorges.
The temple has a beautiful idol of the goddess and it is considered sacred. The whole place has an indescribable tranquillity and the air, the winds have something special. This is to be felt. I noticed there was no network in the mobile. I got to know that since this is at the Indo-Tibetan border, there is no access to mobile network over here. I sat there under one of the shades trying to absorb all the essences. Spending about 2 hours in this amazing place, it was time to get back.
I decided to have lunch at the market area. Munsiyari is a small sub-town and there are no expansive markets and lavish shops; though there are a lot of budget hotels in the area. Luxury stays are a few distance away. There is a college, hospital, bank, post-office, Indo-Tibetan Border Force Checkpost and a museum. The market area has an ATM counter. After having lunch, I walked a bit through the market and bought a different kind of kidney beans which I didn’t find back in my homeland. Pashmina shawls and carpets are engaging items of the Munsiyari market. By 4 pm, I got back to my rest house and relaxed in the garden sitting on a chair before taking refuge in my room for the day.
The Third Day
There was no hurry on this day. Relaxing and exploring the place were the only activities I considered. The morning was beautiful and I didn’t rush to check out the sunrise. I got up late, opened the door of my porch, sat on the chair and sipped in tea amidst the mountain views and the fragrance of the garden. I felt as if I am the happiest person on this earth.
I got ready by 11 am and went to visit the museum known as the Tribal Heritage Museum and more popularly as Masterji Museum, located about 2 kilometres below the market area. Mr. Bhatt parked the car on the opposite side of the road. This private museum is quite small with a structure and craftsmanship of Tibetan influence. The building adjacent to the museum has strings of prayer flags attached. There was no one in the museum. It was locked. A kid standing at the gate of the building asked me to wait for a minute and he went inside. An old man came out, smiled and unlocked the museum door. Inside the museum, there is a collection of old utensils, clothing, jewellery, weapons, knives and all antiques that reflect the local tribal culture. This museum was founded by Dr. SS Pangthi at his residence, also known as Masterji, who’s a retired teacher, author, traveller and an authority of the Bhutia tribe of the area. There is also a review register that visitors have to fill up before leaving the museum. This locality in the Nanasen village gives a glimpse of the lifestyle of the Bhutias.
There was quite a time in hand after lunch, so I also visited the Kalamuni Top, 15 kilometres away. This ancient temple dedicated to Goddess Kali is considered very sacred by the local people. Here is also the highest motorable road of the region of Munsiyari. Other places to visit in Munsiyari for trek-lovers are Thamri Kund, Maheshwari Kund, Khaliya Top and Bethulidhar. Munsiyari is also the starting point of the trekking route of Milam, Ralam and Namik glacier. However, summer is the right time.
The whole day went hiking and exploring the place as much as possible, including meeting up with locals and sharing stories. It was surely the best time. As the sun started preparing to set, Mr. Bhatt got enthusiastic about driving around the whole town multiple times till it gets dark. I could have asked for no more. I asked him to stop frequently as the sky and the Panchchuli changed hues. I gazed at the colours, the peaks, the haze, the last flight of birds heading back to their home and listened to the insect calls gradually taking a higher pitch.
Next morning, it was time to bid goodbye to Munsiyari. I promised to come back next year during the winters when it will be blanketed with snow. Places like this are addictive and it gives a very strange feeling of emptiness at the time of leaving and it stays for quite a long time. It happened to me as well, in fact, it keeps happening to me. But the pursuit of a new beginning is what keeps me going. And taking cues from ‘Dear Zindagi’, I am trying to put in practice the state of being detached yet emotional – yes, DEMOTIONAL!