Featured Places | About Kumaon (Category: , Altitude: )

 

Welcome to Kumaon

 

Just think of a land with gently sloping verdant hills enveloped with copious woodland of mighty Deodars, Oaks, Pines, and blooming Rhododendrons. Imagine relaxing on a crystal clear day and pondering over the immense panorama of the giant Himalayan ranges spread in front of you till as far as your eyes can behold. Think of a terrain covered with abundant orchardsof apples, peaches, apricots, plums and sparklingly translucent lakes. See in your mind's eye a pretty canvas-like landscape every bit of which is steeped in mythology and history. Think of plentiful forests and secure wildlife and mysteriously charming local customs, living ancient traditions and religious and spiritual serenity.

Kumaon is all this and more!

For a long, long time Kumaon has remained a favourite destination for visitors coming from all walks of life pursuing varied interests. Endowed with supreme natural splendour and beauty, and strewn with history and spirituality this predominantly mountainous terrain of the state of Uttarakhand is fast emerging on the tourism map of India.

Far removed from the jostle of the modern life and nestled in the North West part of India, Kumaon is located at the base of some of the highest mountain ranges in the country.

Kumaon is a land shimmering in natural magnificence is a precious gem in the enormous Himalayan necklace that extends from the Gangetic plains to Tibet and Nepal borders. Kumaon hills offer the visitor an infinite panorama of picturesque marvel.

The Kumaon region consists of a hefty Himalayan expanse separated into two core divisions - hills and plains. The plains region comprises the Terai and the Bhabhar, the wet and dry sub-Himalayan terrains. These strips of land in the plains have lately become the hub of economic and social activity while the hills maintain their age-old charm and grandeur. Up to the first half of the nineteenth century these foothill regions were comprised of an more or less impassable, dense forest where wild animals roamed freely, but during the second half the copious clearings attracted many inhabitants from the hills, who took up farming on the opulently fertile soil of the Terai and the Bhabhar during summers and winters, preferring to go back to the mountains during monsoon. The mountainous Kumaon is a maze of mountains including some of the highest peaks of the grand Himalayan range. In an expanse that is approximately 225 km in length and 65 km in breadth one finds several Himalayan peaks whose elevations exceed 5500 m.

A number of important rivers originate from the Himalayan cornucopia of Kumaon. The Gori Ganga, the Dhauli Ganga and the Kali Ganga rise in the southern incline of the Tibetan watershed to the north of the highest Himalayan peaks, winding through which they create their path down the valleys of rapid down-slopes and astonishing depth. The other main rivers include the Sharda, the Kosi and the Pindar. The Kali Ganga River fashions the international Indo-Nepal boundary. The current pilgrim route to the holy Kailash-Mansarovar, runs along this very river and crosses into Tibet through the Lipu Lekh pass.

The Kumaon Himalayas of Uttarakhand, with their colourful customs and ways of life, have by and large been uncharted. To a visitor these hills boasting of verdurous terraced fields, historical stone temples, scrumptious food and down-to-earth affectionate residents, immediately become worth cherishing a whole lifetime.

This is the reason that the list of writers, philosophers, poets, musicians and artists who made Kumaon their second home is extensive and includes some of the most respected names acknowledges globally. This enviable list comprises Rabindranath Tagore, the Beatles, D.H. Lawrence, Mahadevi Verma, Bob Dylan, Uday Shankar, Tiziano Terzani, Swami Vivekanand and Ernst Lothar Hoffmann, to name a few. A number of modern-day giants from the era of information technology revolution including Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg had at some point or the other in their lives visited Kumaon for inspiration and spiritual solace.

To the religiously and spiritually inclined, Kumaon has a lot to offer. Some of the most famous and fascinating Shiva temples in the country are to be found here. The Sun temple of Katarmal, the Jageshwar and Baijnath clusters of temples, the Bagnath temple of Bageswar and the  numerous other centers of faith aptly justify the name Devbhumi (the abode of Gods) with which this region has been addressed for centuries.

For those who seek adventure and challenge, Kumaon presents memorable treks and adventure activities throughout the year. The treks to Milam glacier in the Johar valley, Adi Kailash in the Vyans valley, Pindari and Sundardhunga glaciers are rated amongst the most popular ones among trekkers. Kumaon provides ample opportunities for rafting, paragliding, angling and rock-climbing to pacify the spirit of exploration and adventure

If one has to think of a travel destination where Mother Nature gave a free rein to its inspired and creative instinct, it would be Kumaon. Kumaon is the just right destination for travellers squarely captivating for its cozy tranquility and peace and an abundant limit-testing essence of quest.

Embedded with celestial ecstasy, Kumaon offers long refreshing drives through winding roads surrounded by the green-blue of trees with a Himalayan backdrop, a serene doing-nothing-basking-in-sun day contemplating the beauty all around, a tryst with the enigma of tiger, a deeply moving encounter with history through the various temple-complexes and so on and so forth as the idiom goes. This spectacular getaway called Kumaon is waiting for you with open arms.


 

Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam

ABOUT

ABOUT KUMAON

GRAPEVINE

Kumaon: How a journey to the hills that started with curiosity ended as an astonishing inescapable experience

 

- Anita Rao-Kashi

 

In the darkness, the winding road, lit by a small pool of light from the vehicle headlights, dipped and swerved alarmingly. The road was flanked by impenetrable curtains of tall trees on either side which seemed to be closing in behind, making the journey that much more dramatic.

An occasional gap between the trees revealed a fleeting glimpse of a beautiful, buttery-cream full moon, but the thick tree-curtain fell before I could fully appreciate it. After what seemed like an endless journey I arrived at Sitla Estate near Mukteshwar in Uttarakhand and fell into bed, bone-weary and in no mood to even glance at my surroundings.

The next morning, however, it was an entirely different story. Two walls of the room were entirely glass and looked into a lush green valley with tall hills in the background. From behind them, the sun was getting ready to rise and, in preparation, had painted the sky with broad brush strokes in bright orange and pink. It was a riveting sight.

As the sky lightened, I stepped into the balcony, ignoring the biting cold, for a better view. Gradually more details came into picture, but when the sun actually peeked from over the hills it revealed the most spectacular view. In the distance, behind a set of blue-grey mountains I could see a row of brilliant white snow-capped peaks gradually washed in a pinkish-orange hue.

A hazy curtain hid the Nanda Devi but I could clearly see other Himalayan peaks, especially the Panchchuli group, a cluster of five mountains all rising to over 20,500 feet. It was a jaw-dropping moment to say the least. But also ephemeral; a few minutes later a thick cloud cover descended over the peaks and it was as if what I had seen was just a vision in a dream.

As the sun rose and banished some of the chill, I stepped out to get a feel of Mukteshwar. Located at an altitude of more than 7,500 feet, Mukteshwar lay in the midst of fruit orchards and lush greenery comprising thick coniferous forests, oaks and rhododendrons and stunning views of snow-capped Himalayan peaks. I headed to the eponymous 350-year-old Shiva temple on a rocky peak. More enthralling was Chauli ki Jali, a rocky formation next to the temple associated with many myths. But it was the promontory with many rocks jutting out at weird angles and stunning views of the peaks and valleys around that had me mesmerised, even though a gaggle of youngsters was bent on testing their vocal chords as they attempted rock climbing and rappelling.

A Beautiful Symphony

 

Nearby, a lengthy set of stone stairs led to the Mukteshwar temple. According to local lore, it is believed that the temple came up on location of a celestial battle between a demon and a goddess. Presently though, the temple has a white marble Shivaling and is surrounded by other deities of the Hindu pantheon.

Leading down from the temple steps, the little town of Muketeshwar was in itself a lovely place with a distinctive colonial feel. There was a century-old post office and tiny old bungalows, while a few of the locals were clustered near a tea stall, steaming cups of the brew in their hands as they exchanged gossip. On the way back, I couldn’t help but step into the Kilmora shop run by an NGO which stocked handicrafts, hand-woven, handknitted and handmade products such as soaps, scrubs, pastes and chutneys.

The next day, I headed towards Jageshwar. It quickly became apparent that in the hills of Kumaon, winding roads, dips and crests, gently gurgling streams, tantalising glimpses of Himalayan peaks, tiny hamlets and villages with houses perched precariously on hill sides and dotted with brightly coloured temples, was a constant leitmotif. But once the bustle of Almora dropped behind, I was suddenly in the midst of an unusually thick forest of deodhar trees, rising majestically into the sky, silhouetted against the blue. The trees, a kind of cedar, one of the two main identities of Jageshwar, grew luxuriously on river banks, hill sides and valleys.

 

When the Trees Came Calling

 

Early in the morning, with the light barely filtering through the thick growth, the area had a distinct mystery to it. It was made more enchanting by an abundance of birds which rent the air with their calls, resulting in a beautiful symphony. A little stream gurgling by the side completed the blissful picture. The trees seemed to have a strange hold on me and I suddenly recalled the words of legendary writer Ruskin Bond, who said, “But the trees seemed to know me. They whispered among themselves and beckoned me nearer...” It seemed apt, especially since Bond has made his home in the hills of Uttarakhand.

As I walked along, the lone road amidst the forest wound its way to the famous Jageshwar temple complex, on the banks of the Jataganga, dedicated to Lord Shiva with temples dating back to the 8th century. The complex comprised more than a dozen temples in various sizes ranging in height from a few feet, to the main temple of Jageshwar Mahadev, which rose nearly 20 feet. I was captivated by the architectural beauty of the structures. A majority of them were dedicated to Lord Shiva in various forms such as Mrutyunjaya but there are also a few enshrining others such as Pushti Devi. Most had simple ornamentation but the few sculptures that adorned them were especially beautiful in terms of form and detail such as the dwarapalas (celestial guardians) that flanked the entrance to the main temple.

 

As fascinating as the temple was, equally interesting was the archaeological museum (open 10 am to 5 pm) located opposite the temple. It had a fabulous collection of stone sculptures from around the area. I was especially intrigued by the plethora of Shiva sculptures depicting him in human form as opposed to the Lingam, elaborate dashavatara panels, dancing Ganesha and a rare collection of sculptures of Surya, the sun god.

Though the temple and the museum are the only major landmarks in Jageshwar, the little street leading to the temple was fascinating. It was packed with bright and colourful shops selling a plethora of articles of worship including shining brass artefacts such as lamps, bells and idols. Beyond were a few houses, built in typical Kumaoni style — double-storeyed, painted white with either natural wooden or bright blue carved doors. On the way out of town, I also stopped at the Dandeshwar temple complex, with similar temples like the main one but lesser in number.

More winding roads and spectacular scenery took me to Kausani, another hilly destination located over at over 6,200 feet but with wider and spectacular views of the Himalayas, especially Trishul and the Panchchuli group. A mild drizzle and overcast skies meant that the peaks were resolutely hidden so I wandered next door to the Anashakti Ashram, a serene place with views of the peaks where Gandhiji is supposed to have spent a few days.

Just outside town was Baijnath on the Gomti River, where the Katyuri kings had established their capital around mid-12th century. All that remains is the another set of spectacular temples; the main one if dedicated to Lord Shiva but I also found smaller ones consecrated for Ganesh, Parvati, Surya and others. Along the way, I saw the hill slopes covered with lush green tea gardens and stopped at a little roadside stall for a cup of masala chai. It was probably the combination of altitude, refreshing cold mountain air, lovely views of hills and tea slopes or just my imagination, but I thought that was the best tea I had in a while.

 

No Escape

 

In less than a week, the mountains had seemed to completely ensnared me in their magic but I quickly discovered that Kumaon had many more layers to it. Back in the plains it was not so cold during the day, but it was uncomfortably chilly early in the morning. Bouncing along in an open jeep, buffeted by cold breeze from all sides, the first sight of Jim Corbett National Park, the country’s and possibly Asia’s first national park, was terribly underwhelming. But as the vehicle journeyed deeper and deeper into the jungle, I was completely captivated.

 

The sun’s rays filtered through the trees and turned the tall dry grass into a blanket of fire and pebbled river beds with gently flowing water glistened. The thick jungle growth on either side seemed mysterious and I got the eerie feeling of being watched by many pairs of hidden eyes. The stillness was punctuated by occasional animal and bird calls. Sadly, the big cats were elusive but I saw spotted deer, barasingha (swamp deer), the odd elephant and many kinds of birds. However, the absence of the big cats was more than compensated by the rare sighting of not just one but a clutch of at least five great hornbills all noisily feeding on an old tree. The scene was far too extraordinary to vanish in a hurry.

The journey into the Kumaon region had started with a mix of anticipation, curiosity and second-hand descriptions. But I had not expected to be gobsmacked by overwhelming beauty. But it was the orange-tipped snow-capped peaks at sunrise that somehow seemed to haunt me. And then I recalled another quote by Ruskin Bond: “It is always the same with mountains. Once you have lived with them for any length of time, you belong to them. There is no escape.” I couldn’t help agreeing wholeheartedly with that.

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