continued from part – I
The days at Binsar went quickly, as we did things after things, went to places after places, and when we were doing neither, stuffed ourselves to no end.
The valley where our Club Mahindra Resort was located was ideal for short aimless strolls in pine forests. We used it well. The excesses of our enthusiasm was evident when we woke up and assembled at 5 in the morning to gallivant and explore the woods. The reward – silence and fresh air of the morning, views of snow clad peak of Trishul far away, and a chance to see the dense bird population in action. Trishul, giving a dull milky appearance first that soon grows crimson in the early dawn and then to bright white. Blue magpies with their long tails, treepies with their slender bodies, scarlet minivets in dazzling orange and warblers moving swiftly from shrub to shrub. The morning walk, ending with a deliberate detour on the way back that makes us wade a stream, climb barricades and struggle through a fence to find our way back.
On the first day, the long drive to Jageshwar’s ancient temple seemed monotonous and put us to sleep. The pine trees and blue skies never seemed to end. But just when we were about to reach our destination, deodars wrested the mountains from the grip of pines. That meant thick forests, greener and cooler surroundings, a pleasing atmosphere, streams gurgling in the valley and a carpet of fresh grass on the ground. Suddenly rising now and then amidst the trees are small shrines that have stood the test of time and have probably remained there from a time much before the trees that surround them.
Jageshwar is a small village surrounded by thick deodar forest. The mud and cement houses of the village look old and worn out. Their wooden no-frills doors are painted in deep blue or red, giving a feel of a time that rest of the world has left behind.
The long drive to Jageshwar means the temple itself gets deprioritised for a cup of strong tea followed by loo break. The tea is cooked on burning wood and tastes good. But when I order for another, he makes it on LPG, citing that it will be quicker. This one doesn’t taste half as good.
An inquiry with the chai-shop owner for a guide to show us around the temple did not result in a positive response. Unlike in much visited historical locations in the plains, there are no ASI-trained guides here to tell us of the past of the locale and the build of the temples. We fall back on poorly written brochures from tourism department that describe the place in length without actually saying anything.
The temple complex is small but the structures are very impressive. There are about 125 shrines with an enclosure almost an acre in area, varying from 4 feet to 40 feet in height. Some of them are nothing more than small hollow towers with a few inches high lingam hosted in them. The elaborate ones – just a few of them – have the idols of Jageshwar, Mahamritunjaya and Pushti Devi. The towers follow Rekhanagar architecture, with four sides gently tapering as they go up, ending in a gooseberry like crown. Built by Katyuri kings as early as 8th century, Jageshwar is also speculated to be one of the twelve Jyotirlingas.
Just besides the main temple complex is another shrine dedicated to Kubera. Asking the priest to get more information on the carvings turned futile. To my question about a three-headed statue on the wall he replied in an uninterested tone – ‘that too maybe Kubera.’
Besides the beautiful temple complex, the location is scenic and serene, with a stream flowing by and deodar trees surrounding it. But unfortunately it is also infested with priests who do all that they can to catch your attention and not letting you spend your time in peace. But on the way back from there is Dandeshwar Temple, another similar but smaller complex and without the pilgrim appeal of Jyotirlinga, and allowing us to take our time exploring its domain.
There was much to do at the resort when we were not out sightseeing. The ping pong table and the small cricket pitch kept us busy, helping burn all the extra calories we added up in the restaurant. The delicious food was hard to resist. The menu usually looked like ordinary, normal Indian fair, but almost always hard to resist once begun. A fried okra dish and Malpuas remain my favourite to date and have been coming to me in dreams.
The next morning we drove to Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary, an hour away. There is a remarkable change in vegetation as we enter the sanctuary, with pine forest giving way to a variety of thick trees. A dense population of rhododendron trees makes me wonder how colorful this place can be in summers. An inquiry with our driver confirms it – ‘it will be full of flowers in April/May,’ he says. The road ends a kilometer short of zero point – the highest point in the sanctuary, as well in the entire district of Almora. We are here pretty late in the day, but weather gods have been kind on us and we can still see a wide panorama of snowy peaks comprising Nanda Devi, Panchachuli and Trishul.
A few tourists walk in with a guide as we sit and relish on the views. I overhear the guide speak – ‘the tallest of the mountains that you see is Nanda Devi. It is 30km as the crow flies, but 300 by road’. He is a well-informed person and patiently helps us identify the peaks.
We go camping in the forest near the resort the next evening. It is a sort of pampered camping, not my kind of stuff. There are three young men accompanying us and attending to us all the time, pitching the tent for us, serving us food and keeping us comfortable.
Before I know, our days at Binsar are over and we are already heading back. The long journey back to Kathgodam, and then to Delhi and then Bangalore is filled with memories of days well spent in Kumaon’s mountains.
Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary is 30 minutes drive from Almora. Places to see includes the zero point – the highest point in Almora district with panoramic views of the snow peaks. Seventh century Jageshwar temple is worth visiting. The lakes of Nainital, Bhimtal, Sattal and Naukuchiatal fall on the way to Binsar and are worth a detour.
The Club Mahindra property where we were invited is located 11km from Binsar on Almora-Bageshwar road. It’s in a relatively isolated valley surrounded by small villages on one side and pine forest on the other. The resort has a good campus, comfortable and spacious rooms, food that makes you drool, but lacks a swimming pool. The staff are friendly and attentive and make you feel at home.
Another good option to explore Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary is KMVN Rest House, which is in the heart of the sanctuary and has access to best views.
Reaching Binsar is a time taking affair. Take Ranikhet express from Delhi to get to Kathgodam, and then take a bus to Almora. There is no public transport to take you into the sanctuary, so you may want to hire something to get there.