The Himalayan state of Dev Bhoomi Uttarakhand is the most perfect setting to experience the deific relationship between the extremities of beauty and grandeur. For me, the chance to shadow-walk the established ancient trade route arteries of Kumaon division, in the mountain state of Uttarakhand, arose later last month when the time window allowed an escape to the erstwhile trade region of Munsiyari.
The current Himalayan spree proved to be far more than just an escape from the summer heat of north India plains. As they say, “No road is long with good company”, accordingly the hilly road travel of more than 1500 km spanned over a week seemed like a doddle.
Before last season I had been to the forests of Jandidhar (Binsar) when the sheer plenitude of the Himalayan effect had initiated me into the White Range from a deeper perspective and forge an eternal harmony. Each and every time there is an indescribable pleasure in looking up the gigantic holy pinnacles and soaking in the pure mountain air.
Having cooled off our engines at Nainital from the previous night’s long drive through the plains, we set off for Chaukori via Almora, Binsar and Bageshwar. Although, the route through Bageshwar (182 km) is a little longer than the Almora – Sherghat – Berinag highway (174 km) but is more scenic as well as appealing. In between the eight hours long travel, the markets of Bhowali, Khairana, Almora and Bageshwar were typically full of local produce including seasonal fruits and necessary travel-supplies.
Ahead of the wide Sarju valley at Bageshwar, where in the midst of fertile fields the flat-roofed houses seemed like prudently placed matchboxes, the drive became even more pretty. As the vehicle inched up the motorway to Chaukori, our halt for the night, we had our first ‘provoking’ view of the Great Himalayan Range. Although, our momentous bliss was partially disturbed by the evening haze, the vividness produced by the golden crop in the shadow of high snows smeared the landscape in consistency with the putative belief that Kumaon offers the best snow views. The incredible last stretch of 16 km between the tiny hamlet of Vijaypur (1820m) and Chaukori (2015m), in the waning light, premeditated our thoughts for the night.
Out of the limited number of accommodation options at Chaukori, only a few enjoy north-faced setting. We preferred the state government run KMVN property positioned just perfectly. If only the management could improve in its services, the properties of KMVN (or GMVN) would be the most popular tourist spots in the state. The key lure attached to this particular accommodation is the uninterrupted Himalayan spectacle dominated by the mountain Goddess Nanda Devi.
As we sit down in the open lawn (which occasionally doubles up as a helipad) of the complex and soak in the cold hilly breeze downing our share of Himalayan poison and noshing on the accompaniments, our addiction with the Himalaya clearly got aroused anew. We lay under the starry night sky and marvelled at the snowy screen that was preparing to unveil on the other side of darkness. That night had a meaning.
At the break of dawn, cameras were ready and tripods were set. Three anonymous photo artists began capturing their story of Himalaya. The emerging temperate rays of the sun produced a scintillating morning show. With each passing moment, the refining intensity of light proclaimed the presence of heavenly rocks.
With the showstopper lying towards the western horizon of the frame, the morning ritual climaxed at the supreme Nanda Devi, the fountainhead of inspiration, reveries and visions as well as patron Goddess of both Kumaon and Garhwal. Both my crime-partners instantly vanished into the wilderness around, with their cameras ready, in search of a better frame. I opted to laze around in the compound.
The drowsy azure created by the numinous snows, around the Nanda Devi, that was leisurely waking up from its winter slumber, summoned mysticism from far and wide. Only a painter or a poet could do full justice in expressing the view.
Facing north, a riotous chunk of rocks, wooded ridges, deep valleys, mountain ranges inconsistently rippling one above another and producing dark blue hues against the heavenly backdrop of holy snowy peaks of the great Himalaya. He who has absorbed this scene primed by the stunning Nanda Devi, may have fulfilled his yearning to witness one of the most astoundingly inspirational worldly sights.
Spread above the tea gardens of Berinag region, Chaukori offers an angled view, partially foreshortened by the prominence of Nanda Khat, of the twin peaks of Nanda Devi providing a wonderful unimpeded outline of the mountains in the South Nanda Devi Sanctuary. The view in the southern outliers is dominated by the magnificent snow drape of Nanda Kot. East of Nanda Kot, the key peaks include Dangthal, Rajrambha, Panchachulis and up to Annapurna on a clear weather day. For views towards Trishul and Mrigthuni, one needs to walk a bit and cross the first ridge in the west direction.
Shadowed by the towering Himalayan peaks and blessed with forests of pines, oaks and rhododendrons, Chaukori makes for an idyllic Himalayan holiday destination. The fresh air, tea shrubs, orchards and the dense woods add to the comforting charm of the hill. One of the tea-gardens here was once owned by the hunter-turned-conservationist Jim Corbett. Of the many interesting walks, the three km hike to the musk deer breeding farm is one of the popular options. The walkway to the farm leaves off the main road in the direction of Vijaypur. Just remember photography is not allowed inside the caged premises of the breeding farm. The nearest marketplace is Berinag (10 km). Other popular “Nags” villages nearby include Dhaulinag, Kalinag, Feninag, Bashukinag, Pinglenag and Harinag. Famous temples nearby include Nag Devta and Tripura Devi.
Average Altitude at Chaukori: 2000m
Best time to visit: October to April
Famous for: Sylvan charms and Himalayan views
Accommodation: Limited but mostly available. KMVN offers the best views