If you are looking to drive along a path taken by a few, here is route for you: Delhi - Champawat - Abbott Mount - Patal Buvaneshwar - Vijaypur - Bageshwar - Munsiyari
This is one of the lesser touched circuits in India - the eastern end of Uttarakhand, hugging the Nepal border. Nature is at its beautiful best in the form of snow-capped peaks, valleys, waterfalls and rivers as well as religious and historical sites.
Champawat’s hidden wonders are the 10th century Baleshwar group of temples. Known to have been constructed by the Chandra dynasty, the carvings on the walls and roofs have stood the test of time except for disfiguring of idols by Muslim invaders. The main temple is devoted to Lord Shiva while others include those of Bhairav, Champa Devi and Kali.
Travel Tip: Spend a couple of hours here and move on to Abbott Mount, 22 kms away.
It was discovered by Britisher John Abbott in the pre-independence era who decided to name the hill after himself. He built 13 cottages here and some of these still survive. Panorama takes a new meaning as you treat yourself to views of peaks like Trishul, Nanda Kot, Nanda Ghunti and the Nanda Devi. A church built in 1942 stands locked now, but opens once or twice a year for prayers. You can even play a game of cricket on what is claimed to be the second highest pitch in the world after Chail in Himachal Pradesh at just under 7,000 feet.
Travel Tip: Stay and eat at the Abbott Mount Cottage run by Asian Adventures (http://asianadventures.net); no other options.
Advaita Ashram Mayavati
A half day trip to Advaita Ashram Mayavati brings you as close to serenity and beauty as you can imagine. Built by the followers of Swami Vivekananda in 1899, who visited this place in 1901, the secluded Ashram has tried to maintain the sanctity of the spirit with which it was created.
Patal Bhuvaneshwar is ample evidence of the power of faith in this country. A maze of caves that one reaches after negotiating a steep, claustrophobia inducing tunnel, the natural formations inside are interpreted as various Hindu Gods and worshipped accordingly. These caves are believed to be as old as the Earth itself, and find a mention in Chapter 103 of the Mahaskhand of the Skanda Purana. The Chand dynasty of Champawat created the infrastructure to manage the caves in 1191, and got the Bhandaris from Kashi to be the priests. Their descendants still perform these duties.
Travel Tip: You can stay at hotels like Parwati Resorts but they suffer from poor housekeeping and worse food. It is recommended one starts from Abbott Mount early, spends a few hours here and heads to Vijaypur.
Initally called Ora, and set up as a tea estate by the British, it was renamed Vijaypur after a Gujarati merchant Vijay Lal Shah bought this area in 1947. The tea business may be modest by all standards, but the views of the peaks are impressive by all counts. You can stand still for hours admiring the Panchachuli range as well as some of highest peaks in the Himalayas including Nanda Devi (7816m), Nanda Devi East (7434m), Trishul (7120m) and Mrigthuni (6855m). Travel Tip: Stay and eat at the Chestnut Grove Himalayan Lodge (http://www.grandhimalayanadventures.com/chestnut-grove-himalayan-lodge.html) with cottages on the edge of the forest in the company of birds like the red billed magpie and beautiful flowers. Very well managed.
An hour’s drive from Vijaypur, Bageshwar is located at the confluence of the Gomti and Saryu rivers. Built in 1602 by King Lakshmi Chand, it houses Hindu idols from the seventh to the 16th centuries. The temples are full of bells hung by devotees on strings, who also throng here in big numbers during Shivaratri. The town is flanked on the east and west by the Bhileshwar and Nileshwar mountains, with a Shiva Temple and a Chandika Temple atop each respectively.
Munsiyari was the gateway to trade between India and Tibet before the 1962 war with China put an end to it. Its geo-economic significance may have diminished since then, but nothing can take away from its natural beauty and view of the Panchachuli and other over-19000 feet high peaks. Munsiyari also serves as a starting point for some popular treks. While here, a picnic to the banks of the Goriganga river and walks in the neighbouring villages of Dar Kot and others are a must. As is a visit to Masterji’s museum where Professor Pangti has carefully curated a collection of traditional items used by traders to remind one of the history of the place.
Travel Tip: Stay options are average, Wayfarer Resort being somewhat decent. Make do with it till new places come up.
– Ajay Jain is a travel writer and photographer, and publishes the Kunzum Travel Mag. Subscribe to the mag for FREE at http://kunzum.com/mag. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org