The inchoate beams of the sun, next morning, unveiled some more features as well as divine aspects of the holy snow-clad screen. With the morning light producing silhouettes over the gleaming icy pinnacles, the awakening of senses reverberated with the mystical reflections off the snows in the vast Himalayan amphitheatre. Peaks as far as Dunagiri, Nanda Devi and Mrig Thuni towards the eastern horizon were clearly visible. Collecting my senses from the previous night’s slumber, I sat by the window pane and arranged my camera.
Not just aesthetically admired but the peaks of the Great Himalayan Range visible in Garhwal or Kumaon are revered as their guardian deities by the locals where the inspired ones usually begin their day by bowing in reverence for the Himalayan Gods. In Pauri, the centre stage is occupied by the Badri Vishal. The spirituality associated with the Himalayas finds a much deeper significance down below in the plains. The Ganges fed by the central Himalayas is in actual fact the lifeline of north India, grain bowl of the country.
The locals, particularly the priests, are generally well versed with the nomenclature of this part of the Himalayas and would happily point out the peaks and directions for you. The issue, however, is the relative topography as well as its latest terminology. With a hope of finding a latest relative map of the state or the region, I futilely checked at the bookshops of the main market located on either side of the main road or “The Mall Road” as referred to by the locals.
With amiability in their attitude, the inhabitants of the political capital of the Land of Gods are profoundly religious as is reflected by the thriving historical temples dotting the town. The popular ones are Kandoliya Devta, Laxmi Narayan, eighth-century Kyunkaleshwar Mahadev, Hanuman Mandir and a temple dedicated to Nag Devta. Nearby, other places of interest which could also double up as picnic spots include Ransi ground, Khirsu and Adwani forests, etc.
The view towards the Trishul, from Pauri, is partially enriched by the wooded ridge of Khirsu. Enticed by its sylvan charm, I hoped to get a better view of the mountain from the ridge, basically an extended right ridge-arm of Pauri that can be reached in about 30 drive-minutes. The approach offers some splendid Himalayan vistas as well as photogenic access to raw flora and fauna. In fact, the government has long been planning to develop the small hamlet of Khirsu into a hill station but the actual progress reflects the sad state of affairs.
The accommodation options at Khirsu are limited to a few guesthouses including a spacious GMVN property and a FRH that promotes camping. Even though, I was disappointed by overall management of the quiet hamlet including the GMVN property, the densely wooded ridge not only offers some refreshing trails to take a walk but allows distinct views of Chaukhamba. At 1800m, the tranquillity of wooded Khirsu gets broken by chirping of birds or occasional clamour of monkeys. The ancient temple of Ghandiyal Devta is also located nearby.
I budgeted a day to visit the popular temples of Pauri. Encircled by evergreen deodars, the Kandoliya temple, situated just above town, is dedicated to the local deity Bhumi Dev and allows some quiet moment with eternal Himalayas. The Himalayan Gods, who superficially live on mountains in trees and streams, are innumerable. Every valley or village has its own deity but the most venerated one throughout Uttarakhand remains to be the Nanda Devi.
Later in the day, following a thoughtless guide book, I trekked all the way up to the Kyunkaleshwar temple, from the CH, only to discover that it can now be reached through a narrow motorable road. Situated a little above the settlement of Pauri, the temple offers some fascinating Himalayan vistas. Said to be belonging to the eighth-century, the temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and still practises the age-old Guru-Shishya ritual in its Gurukul.
The Gurukul students or staff would gladly guide you through the historical memorials located within the temple compound. If you are lucky enough, your walk to the temple could be rewarded with a remarkable presence of wildlife as well as birdlife including wild pheasants. I luckily spotted a Himalayan Fox couple. One more temple dedicated to the Nag Devta could best be reached through a 45 min trek starting near the Superintendent of Police’s office.
Average Altitude at Khirsu: 1800m
Best time to visit: October to April, avoid monsoons
Famous for: Sylvan charms and Chaukhamba views
Accommodation: Limited but mostly available