Munsiyari… the name itself brings back the nostalgic memories of my first visit to the place way back in the year 2000. It was not that well known a tourist destination then, but it was the base of my Milam Glacier trek 15 years ago. I was going to relive those days with my family that too in the winter month of February.
We started off from Delhi early and by the time the sun gained height we were crawling through the traffic jams of Ghaziabad. Beyond Ghazibad the drive was smooth and it took us about one and a half hour to cover 60 kms distance from Delhi to Hapur [Byepass]. Another hour and we were crossing holy river Ganges at Brajghat near Garhmukteshwar. From here the drive on NH24 till Moradabad needs to be mentioned in superlatives as the highway was unexpectedly too good.
It was afternoon and we had our stomach fills at one of the roadside dhabas on NH24. As we turned left for Kashipur, all our good memories of good roads seemed to be of some another day. Next 50 kms tested the fitness of our car and all its inhabitants. Thankfully beyond Jaspur the roads are better. We reached Jim Corbett National Park in the evening.
We had already booked Club Mahindra Resorts located in the Dhikala zone of the park. Jim Corbett National Park is the oldest national park of India established in 1936 to protect the Royal Bengal Tigers. Named after the famous British hunter, Jim Corbett, the park is divided into five different zones namely, Dhikala [famous for tigers], Jhirna [famous for bears], Bijrani [famous for flora & fauna], Durga Devi [famous for birds & fishes] and Sona Nadi [famous for birds & snakes].
After a hearty meal we went to bed early as we had the 6 am canter safari scheduled for the next day. Except for few birds and occasional sighting of playful monkeys, there was nothing worth mentioning but this was expected in short 2 hour ride. This meant that after brunch we were off to our next destination in the afternoon.
After 120 Kms of journey through hills of the lower Himalayas we were at Almora [via Ranikhet] at around 6 pm and decided to have night halt there. Unfortunately the dinner was bit of a disappointment but then any trip has its share of experiences.
Next morining, we started off early. The stretch from Almora to Berinag was perhaps the most serene, scenic and soulful I have ever experienced. The road was deserted as it meandered through thick green forests of deodar and chir. As we moved farther away from Almora we could smell the rain in the air and pretty soon the hanging rain clouds were giving us company.
It was afternoon by the time we reached Berinag. The rains were making us there presence felt. We took an hour long break at Berinag. The weather was getting a bit scary but with only a slight drizzle and our final destination not so far off, we decided to move. Barely had we driven 30-40 Kms till Thal that we got to know that the road to Munsiyari was blocked and the reason was quite apparent as we could see the landslide from a distance.
Understandably so, we were forced to take about 40 Kms detour to reach Askot on the way to Munsiyari. Beyond Askot the road was narrow but scenic. With every passing turn it was getting dark as the road started gaining height. Just 30 Kms short of Musiyari we ran into another landslide and now there were no detours.
We were stuck in a small village named Daranti. It was dark and villagers told us that they did not have any accommodation for one complete family and we were not in any condition of going all the way back to Thal. We even contemplated spending the night in our car.
I was moved by the concern of the villagers that had gathered there. They were discussing the best option that they might come up with for us. Finally, one of them agreed to accommodate us in his house. It was basically a barn in the basement of his house. It was warm and the blankets ensured that we were safe from the sub zero temperatures outside.
The khiichadi porridge of rice and lentils] that he provided us that night will remain one of the best dinners that we all have had in our lives. It is in moments like these that you realize that humility and humanity is the only reason life exists and thrives on earth. Neither He nor his son, Harshu, who was most enthusiastic throughout, will ever know how many blessings they might have received from us. Through their one act of gratitude they have become a part of our lives, forever.
Next day, as the weather cleared and BRO and ITBP once again completed another daunting task of clearing the road, we were off to Munsiyari. Within an hour we were there with beautiful snow clad Panchachuli peaks welcoming us as we made ourselves comfortable at KMVN rest house. It was quite apparent that the place had snowfall a night before as it was white all around. Surprisingly, only little had changed in the last 15 years and I was not sure whether it is good or not so good for the locals.
Munsiyari is a small sleepy town at an elevation of 2200 mts. The name itself means the place of snow. It is mainly inhabited by shauka tribe, also called upon as Bhotiyas by non shaukas. The locals take pride in proclaiming that it used to be an important ancient village on Indo Tibet Silk route which went through Milam Village along the Gori Ganga river. The locals also boast of the fact that there is no poverty in the region as the place is a hub of medicinal plants.
It has mythological relevance too as it is said that Panchachuli peaks are the routes to heaven which the Pandavas took. One does get surprised as Pandavas have some significant presence in the folklore of nearly every destination in the Himalayas.
Next two days were spent in enjoying doing nothing in the true literal get away style. Small trip to Nanda Devi temple takes you to some other world. Shining brightly in its white avatar right at the end of a green hillock is something eternal. Beyond the temple, there is a steep fall and deep below you see the otherwise ravaging Gori Ganga making a calm U turn around the knoll. Across the gorge you witness the mighty Panchachuli peaks and they appear to be so close.
Next day we did a small trek to Thamri Kund. Leaving our vehicle on the road we did the 3 Kms of careful trekking through the narrow path in 40-45 minutes. Legend has it that it never dries up and as a tourist you are not to take a dip because it brings catastrophe and heavy rains in Musiyari & nearby areas. One cannot miss noticing the clean water of the Kund. Another story is that there is a pair of doves that keep it clean and yes! They are seldom seen. We also visited local handicraft factory, enjoyed campfires with another family from Almora, played with snow, visited a temple and enjoyed the simple, very cheap but excellent food.
On our return journey, we decided to try out the Tejam – Bageshwar route. As we neared Kalamuni the ascent got bit steep. The roads too were in bad shape and some of the turns were literally scary. My brother who was on the steering had vertigo [an inappropriate reference to fear of heights] and we had to take a halt midway.
There were no proper food joints on the entire 100 Kms stretch and we had to satisfy ourselves with whatever we had in our stock, mainly biscuits. The rest of the journey to Delhi was relaxing. This revisit to Munsiyari was yet another satisfying experience.