There is a pleasure in the pathless woods;
There is rapture on the lonely shore;
There is a society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar;
I love not the man less, but Nature more ….
– Lord Byron
The quote holds all the aesthetic of life. Nature has hidden doors for those who yearn to unleash. I started travelling at an early age given my defence background which soon became a hobby. I belong from Uttarakhand and hence my love for mountains runs in the blood. Also, I have a knack of capturing moments through my lenses and display it to the world out there. And when these interests compile, they brought out the wanderer in me.
My thirst of travelling and capturing the serene beauty led me to the city Munsiari. Munsiari had been sitting in my bucket list for a long time and as Christopher McCandless said, “If you want something in life, just reach out and grab it” I grabbed the opportunity and ticked it off. But it turned out that it was more than travelling. I met some humblest and welcoming people throughout my journey who helped me in my recce to this beautiful city.
Hidden amidst the clouds and alpine mufflers is the city of Munsiari also called as “Himnagri” (Himalayan town ) by localites. Munsiari is the name of a small town, a Tehsil and Sub Division in the Pithoragarh District in the hill-state of Uttarakhand, India.
It lies at the base of the great Himalayan mountain range, at an elevation of about 2,200 m (7,200 ft.) and is a starting point of various treks into the interior of the range.
How to Reach?
You can reach the city by two ways from Delhi. You can either take a bus from Delhi directly for Pithoragarh or can travel by train/bus to the same via Haldwani. From Pithoragarh you can find any private transport or cabs for Munsiari.
(View of Pithoragarh city from Chandak at Sunset)
How I Reached?
Albeit travelling on a very tight budget I made sure that the trip still would be as I had planned. I took a bus from Delhi to Pithoragarh at 5 pm, a journey of about 565 km and reached at 1 pm (18-hour journey). I stayed there for 2 days to get concrete information about my destination. On the third day, I took a private cab for Munsiari. The 151 km journey was 5 hours long and tiring. But even then you couldn’t resist the pure mountainous beauty accompanying you throughout the journey. The best defined curvy roads that turn steeper along the way giving the adrenaline rush in your body. In Munsiari, I stayed at the hotel ‘Bijlu Inn’ where I had booked a room before leaving from Delhi and relaxed before starting on my excursion next day.
“मुनस्यारी लैन मा” – IN MUNSIARI LANES
The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, also known as the "Toy Train", is a 2 feet narrow-gauge railway and was established in 1881. You might be wondering why I didn’t talk about Darjeeling Himalayan Railway when I was writing about ways to reach Darjeeling from New Jalpaiguri. You can never be sure that the train service is currently available or not, due to frequent landslides and bad weather conditions. Once you reach Darjeeling, you can enquire about various joy rides.
On reaching Munsiyari after a 72 hour back-breaking journey with breath-taking views all along, Panchchuli peaks greet you invigoratingly. I had heard about the peaks from my family and how magnificent they were.
Lost in my thoughts while staring at these peaks, I came to a halt only to realise that we had reached my hotel. I asked the hotel staff to enlighten me more on these peaks and they were happy enough to do so.
Panchachuli peaks are a group of five snow-capped Himalayan peaks touching the eastern kumaon region, Munsiyari. And the best part about them is these snow peaked mountains are visible from all over the town but the breath-taking beauty can only be witnessed if on a high altitude. Panchchuli – ‘Panch’ means 5 & ‘chuli’ which means the cooking hearths. People believe that 5 brothers (The Pandavas) along with their wife Panchali cooked their last meal here before proceeding to the heavenly abode. But after interacting with the hotel staff I got to know that there are several other myths which say that the Pandavas and their wife came to this town via Badrinath. They believe that Lord Shiva (Hindu Mythological god) visited them in this town (shiv darshan) after which the brothers converted into the 5 high altitude mountains along with their wife who also got converted and stood still with her husbands. People say that the dvapara yug (stages or cycles of world described in Sanskrit sculptures) hasn’t completed yet, after the ongoing kali yug, the last phase of dvapara yug will occur and the Pandavas will come back to their normal forms.
I was so engrossed in the stories I didn’t realise the time. I took off to my room thanked the staff and relaxed before starting for next day. My scheduled plan for Munsiari was such: Tribal Heritage Museum on day 1, Nanda devi Temple on day 2, Thamri Kund and Bhirthi falls on day 3, Maheshwar Kund on day 4.
“Study history, study history. In history lies all the secrets of statecraft.” – Winston Churchill
I wanted to know Munsiari from the scratch, from its dirt to its mountains and the history behind every collection it held. So, on my first day there I started afresh by visiting the Tribal Heritage Museum, a 2 km journey from the city, where I met the founder of the museum, Mr. Sher Singh Pangtey. I interviewed Mr. Pangtey, a retired history professor, built the museum 16 years ago with his sole dedication and hard-work to preserve the culture.
Munsiari, as Pangtey elucidates, was a checkpoint to reach Tibet and Nepal. It was the main trade hub for all sorts of goods starting from rock salt, jaggery, cotton wool to aluminium to motorbikes. Tibet was the main benefiter and year after year the Indian- Tibet relationship grew stronger. East India Company had a major role in uplifting Munsiari as a trade market and saw ways to bring it to the limelight: 1. Education for kids 2. Road to Tibet for trade.
In 1962, when China invaded Tibet the borders were seized and the business of trade barred. So, the government of India provided the people of Munsiari with reservation quotas. This made them leave the city to live a modernised life. Upon realising the emigrating population and culture loss, he took the initiative and efforts of collecting the artworks and what he thought was a diminishing reflection of their roots.
(Portrait of Dr. Sher Singh Pangtey)
The museum has a collection of all sorts of jewelleries, utensils, dresses and other souvenirs collected by Pangtey himself to preserve the culture. This 2 storeyed building built with ancient techniques has everything from flora and fauna to its history to dance, food and culture. Also, it contains more than 15 books about the town and its culture all written by Pangtey himself. Nearly after 5 years of retirement and hard work the man was rewarded for his work throughout the nation.
This 2hour interview with Mr. Pangtey left me bewitched and Pangtey showed me around the museum himself. By the end of the day, I had so much respect for the man whose endeavour is very appreciable. After being fed with so much information I couldn’t contain my excitement for the next coming days and the places I was going to visit. My next stop would be Nanda Devi Temple but first I needed sleep.
(Glimpses of Tribal Heritage Museum)
DAY 2: NANDA DEVI TEMPLE
On my 2nd day there I decided to visit the very famous and most worshiped Goddess temple of Uttarakhand – Nanda Devi temple. Temple is about 2 km from the Munsiari town with scenic landscapes and mesmerising views on the hike to the temple. Luckily I found Mr. Dev Singh Papra, Ex Army person who now take care of the temple.
On interacting with Mr Dev Singh Papra who is a pujari(Priest) there, I found out some really intriguing information about the place.
As the folklore says, in the 19th century a pujari (Hindu Priest), a devotee of goddess Bhagwati, on the eve of Radha Ashtami couldn’t visit the place, so the goddess asked him to make her a temple on the highest altitude possible.
It was in 1857 the pujari established Nanda devi temple in Munsiari with all the means he had. Back then its structure and premises weren’t greatly built.
Later in 1944, an ITBP (Indian Tibet border police) soldier Bacchii Ram remodelled and reconstructed the temple. Eventually, the place became more popular.
(Nanda Devi Temple)
Due to its scenic beauty and landscape the temple became more of a picnic spot and the negligence in maintenance demolished the pilgrimage.
It was in 2013 Mr. Papra took the responsibility, left his home and stayed in the temple and worshipped the goddess. Mr. Papra renovated the temple and its premises.
(Mr. Dev Singh Papra)
Residing in the lap of the mountains this temple had the prettiest view surrounded by lush green mountains behind and snow-capped ones beyond that and meadows and valleys all around, this structure basks in its full glory. The view was enough to have left me hungover for a thousand days to come. I departed from the place and reached my hotel room at around 1500 hrs and had lunch as the trek was tiring and made plans for the next day.
( Clouds playing hide and seek with mountains )
DAY 3: THAMRI KUND
So far so good. The past two days I stayed there I felt at home. With hardly any network available and detached from all the social media nuisance, I felt calm and loved it. After a good breakfast at the hotel I picked up my essentials and left, for I knew the day was going to be long and consuming. Like previous two days, I had my trip planned and agenda set already. I had decided to cover Thamri Kund and Bhirti fall for the day.
I left the hotel at 8 AM, took a share cab from the city and departed. The lake is located around 18 km away from where I was staying which is followed by another 6 km hike from Belati Band (a hanuman temple). I reached the lake at 11:30 AM.
Thamri Kund or Thamri Tal, is situated atop Himalayan city Munsiyari and daubed with alpine trees. Enveloped in layers of clouds, this lake is situated at about 7500ft above the sea level, it is almost magical for a lake to be present at such height. With plethora of cotton candy like clouds covering the lake you can see the Panchchuli peaks through them, like you’re watching them from a window.
( Thamri Lake wrapped with alpine trees and clouds over it )
There are several beliefs that say the Lake is the home of a Hindu Goddess and shouldn’t be littered, if done so the clouds overspread the whole city and rain heavily. It is also believed that a pair of swans keep the lake untainted and that people who have never been sinful in the past and performed good deeds are lucky enough to see them.
I took some pictures of the place and afterwards left for my hotel oblivious of the problem that laid ahead. On my way back I couldn’t find any vehicle or transport going back in the city so I decided on taking a different and small route towards the city on foot. I was back at the hotel by 2 pm when it started raining buckets and I had to work against my schedule and postpone my further plan for the next day.
DAY 4: BHIRTI FALL
The petrichor emanating from the earth and a chilly breeze accompanying it, I knew my day would be no less than exhilarating. This time I booked a cab to avoid the problem I faced the day before and also because this one was 22 km long journey. I started from the hotel at 10 AM and reached the destination by 11.15 AM.
This waterfall is a middle ground landmark for Pithoragarh and Munsiari. Located at an appalling height of 400 ft, it can be sighted and heard from a long distance.
The Kalamuni top which is the highest place in Munsiari and this waterfall is situated there. The waterfall eventually meets Gore-Ganga river.
I stayed here for some time, took some pictures and made time lapse and videos. On strolling near the waterfall I found a small tea stall where I had some tea and snacks before making my way back to the hotel.
DAY 5: MAHESHWAR KUND
On my last day in Munsiari, I decided to treat myself with another scenic view. So, I decided to visit another lake, Maheshwar Kund. Just like Thamri Kund, this small lake has beautiful landscapes. It lies on the route of Thamri Kund but 5 kms from the hotel and another 2 km hike from there.
Known as Maheshar Kund by locals, this place like every other I visited in Munsiari has a crystal clear view of the Panchachuli peaks; a breath-taking picturesque.
I was back in my room by 1 pm and had a lot of time to spare so I decided to not spend it staying indoors but make the most of it. I drifted off to the Munsiari bazaar in the evening. There I had a good conversation with few residents who told me that Munsiari is the base for Kailash Mansarovar. Also, it is the main route of Milan, Nilam and Ralam glaciers and all excursionists and trekkers follow the route. Moreover, Nanda devi and Nanda Devi Kot routes also include Munsiari. Also, that during winters this place receives 8 ft. snowfall every year and that is why people move to the valleys during winters and come back to their houses in summers.
After strolling through the streets for good 40 minutes I decide to head back to the hotel and rest for a while in peace and solace consuming the reality of a 6 day stay at a destination I always wanted to be at and finally ticking it off of my bucket list.
(Faces of Munsiari)
BEST TIME TO VISIT:
September – November is the perfect time to visit this Heavenly abode. For all the adventure junkies out there lurking for adventure sports like paragliding, skiing and a relaxed vacation, Munsiari is just the place you want to be on your vacations.
“pahaad aur pahaad -phir ghataatop”
Translation- “mountains behind mountains yet more mountains- then haze beyond”
This one haiku always tempts me to find more such places, discover them, know their stories and paint it out for the unbeknownst world out there. It has been a terrific experience spending ample time at such a beautiful place and knowing the stories of people and places. And hence I rightfully call this as Nirvana abode. Let’s explore and evolve ourselves in these places!