heritage

Munsiyari - Gateway to Panchachuli

Munsiyari - Gateway to Panchachuli

Munsiyari

 

Munsiyari is the land of rugged mountains, day-treks that reward you with breath-taking views of the Panchachuli range, and pristine high-altitude lakes. It takes some doing to get to Munsiyari, but once you’re there, you wouldn’t want to leave in a hurry! The only downside is the limitations in the number of places to stay.

 

Getting to Munsiyari

 

Our drive was from Club Mahindra, Binsar Villa to Sarmoli village in Munsiyari. Like I’d mentioned in my last blog, we were a convoy of four cars, two of which were rentals from Delhi. Well, both the Delhi-based drivers were of the unshakeable opinion that come what may, it would take us a minimum of 10 hours to traverse the distance of 170KMS to our destination. Being tourist car drivers, they’d done this leg more than once and it had never taken them under 10 hours to cover it.

 

My research, which included speaking with the resort staff at both, Binsar and Sarmoli, suggested that it should take us no more than 6 hours to cover this distance. In fact, the route is on NH309A, which cuts through the ancient temple town of Bageshwar, and I’d even planned that we would stop here for breakfast and visit the temple on our journey. We figured, the only way to find out how long it would take was to start driving!

 

We set off at 0530HRS from Binsar. As we descended towards Bageshwar, in a matter of 15 minutes we were besieged by fog. Thankfully, this wasn’t as thick as the fog we’d had to negotiate while driving in from Delhi, nevertheless, it did slow us down a little. The good thing was that early in the mountains the roads were completely deserted. We passed several small villages along the way, and they were still asleep. In balance, this allowed us to get to Bageshwar as early as 0645Hrs. After a quick fuel stop, we parked our cars and headed to the temple.

 

The Bagnath temple is on the banks where the Sarayu meets the Gomati. It is a mesmerizing sight to see the majestic temple from across the waters, reigning supreme as the river gushes past, as if paying obeisance to Lord Shiva, the deity within. Even though we’d descended from nearly 2000 meters to an altitude of about 1000 meters, it was much colder in Bageshwar!

 Bagnath temple from across the Sarayu river. Pic courtesy Wikipedia

View of Bagnath temple from across the rivers. Pic courtesy: Wikipedia

 

The Bagnath temple is under the aegis of the ASI since around 1996. A plaque announces that the temple was built in 1450 by the Kumaoni king, Laxmi Chand. However, a cursory Google search reveals that the temple dates back at least to the 7th century CE, with the current idol of Bagnath (Lord Shiva, literally speaking, as the Tiger-God) dating back to even before that. A little in-depth search revealed that the Skanda Puran has mentions of the Bagnath temple.

 

The temple itself is very clean, and the sanctum-sanctorum resonates with spiritual energy. Further into the complex is a Bhairav temple and even a shrine dedicated to Dattatreya. This was a pleasant surprise, since Dattatreya temples are predominantly found in Maharashtra, Karnataka and AP. Seeing one in Uttarakhand was nice! Sitting on the banks of the rivers, the Bagnathji is an oasis of serenity. If it wasn’t so cold, and we weren’t in a hurry to head back, I’d have loved to spend more time here.

 

After a quick bite of some insanely brilliant samosas, chana-bhatura and restoring cups of piping hot tea, we set off for Munsiyari again. In about 20KMS, the road started ascending. The distance from Bageshwar to Sarmoli is about 125Kms. In this span, we would’ve ascended and descended at least three mountain ranges, before getting to our destination.

 

Except for a few broken patches for the last 35KMS or so, the roads are very well-paved. Even the under-construction and broken patches had BRO signages near them, assuring motorists that they’d be fixed soon. The BRO reminded us that Munsiyari is under 200KMS from the Tibet border!

 

We stopped en-route at Birthi village for a cup of tea around 1200HRS. Given that the distance from here to Sarmoli is barely 40KMS, we were confident of getting there in 90 minutes at the most. But this is where things got very interesting! For about 35KMS leading to Birthi (from Bageshwar), we’d had very sketchy mobile network. Due to this, we couldn’t coordinate our stop with the other cars. While we lazed at Birthi, basking in the scanty sun, sipping on cups of tea, the rest sped on to Munsiyari.

 

The drive from Birthi to Munsiyari was one of the most exciting ones I’ve undertaken in a long time! For one, the road ascends at crazy angles, making it one adventurous experience. Secondly, we’d drive for over fifteen minutes at a stretch, before coming across another vehicle, from either side. The landscape is uniformly surreal, adding to the feeling of complete isolation.

 Birthi to Munsiyari road. Pic courtesy dangerousroads.org

Heaven for those who love driving on mountain roads! Pic courtesy: dangerousroads.org

 

The roads, while well-paved, are quite narrow. Two cars can pass each other, however, other than slowing down to a crawl, accomplishing this is a challenge. No stretch of the road covered over 100 meters, before turning on itself at a crazy angle, both upwards and on the same plane! All in all, this meant that the 40KMS distance took us the better part of two hours to cover. If you happen to be driving in this part of the country, and you certainly should, I strongly suggest you should do so as part of a convoy. Given the terrain and isolated nature of the roads, I wouldn’t recommend risking a solo-car drive. 

 

The last 10KMS or so gave us breath-taking views of the Panchachuli range. The mountains appeared so close, that we could make out minute features around the peaks. I’ve never seen the Himalayas from up so close, and I can say with confidence, I’ve not seen anything so beautiful. The views, the drive, the roads, they all come together here in the most perfect manner possible. It is experiences like this that make road trips across India what they are!

 

Himalayan Glamping, Munsiyari

 

Situated about a kilometer from Munsiyari, is the Himalayan Glamping resort, built on a slight elevation off the main road in Sarmoli village.

 

The drive through Munsiyari town was a tad disappointing. It is a confused collection of garishly coloured concrete structures, all clustered around each other, trying their best to take away from the natural beauty of the Himalayas. And they almost succeed. My pet peeve is how we’ve managed to construct the ugliest towns and villages possible, despite having the most phenomenal natural landscape! Munsiyari, sadly, is no exception. Thankfully, before it can get to you, you stumble into the Himalayan Glamping resort.

 Himalayan Glamping resort, Munsiyari, common area

The reception/dining room/common area at Himalayan Glamping resort, Munsiyari

 

The place is built on the side of a mountain, using what look like army surplus tents. These are pitched on elevated stone foundations, with polished wooden planks laid out on the inside, giving it the feel of a mountain cottage. The massive wooden beds with luxurious mattresses and furnishings complete the pretty picture of a Himalayan getaway.

 

The entire layout is very well-planned, ensuring pretty much all tents get a view of the Panchachuli peaks. And what a view! Perhaps the only other place I can think of, that can rival this view, is the Misty Mountain Resort in Jhaltola.

 

Coming back to the tent / cottages, each is equipped with a pretty nifty bathroom at the back of the structure (accessible from inside), with nice, functional plumbing and fixtures. The room itself has a liberal smattering of rugs, which was a welcome change from the Club Mahindra, Binsar Villa. The beds are all furnished with electric blankets that do a wonderful job of keeping you warm. Other than the bed, the room has a dresser, a cupboard, and a massive armchair, that’s so comfortable, it took copious amounts of willpower to get me out of it after the long drive!

 Overview of cottage at Himalayan glamping, Munsiyari

All tents/cottages offer spectacular views of the Panchachuli range

 

All said, if Munsiyari is your choice of destination, then you cannot go wrong with Himalayan Glamping. The service is a little slow, but nothing that is earth-shattering. The food is pretty decent and the common area / dining room / restaurant / reception, call it what you like, is equipped with a functional fireplace that did a commendable job of keeping us warm and toasty, no matter what time of day (or night) it was. We did pay a steep price for the tents though. I think a 20% reduction from the 15K a night that we paid would really make this great value for money.

Nevertheless, even at the price we paid, the place was all it promised, and more.

 Interiors of tent at Munsiyari Himalayan Glamping

 Cozy, warm and comfortable!

 

Munsiyari – Things to Do

 

On our road trips, we typically halt at each destination for three to four nights. An ideal location is one where once we’ve arrived, we don’t get in the car again until it is time to drive off to the next destination. In the interim, we spend every waking daylight hour trekking through the adjoining woods and mountains. Typically, the places we stay at are nestled amid an orchard or wilderness, making the use of a vehicle to lose oneself in nature, redundant.

 

Munsiyari is not one of those places. As I mentioned, it’s a small town / large village, with no immediately accessible trekking paths. If you’re looking for trekking and adventure, you’ve no choice but to drive 4 to 10KMS away. Having said that, once you get to the trekking points, it’s most certainly worth it!

 

Panchachuli Peaks

 

Legend has it that the Panchachuli represent the five Pandavas. They are supposed to have cooked their last meal on earth over here, before they ascended to heaven, hence the name ‘Pancha’ (five) ‘Chuli’ (stoves). Of course, Uttarakhand also has the Patal Bhuvaneshwar caves, through which the Pandavas are supposed to have ascended to heaven. Perhaps the cave has a subterranean path that leads to the Panchachuli range!

Whatever the legend, if you’re staying at Himalayan Glamping, you needn’t venture out to see the Panchachuli. All you need do is move aside the flap of your tent, and the peaks are visible in all their resplendent glory!

 family posing before Panchachuli peak, Munsiyari

Here's us, just outside our tent, with the Panchachuli looming in the background

 

Nanda Devi Temple

 

This is a beautiful, ancient temple dedicated to Goddess Nanda Devi, eponymous with a peak that is visible from most parts of the upper Kumaon region. The temple is a simple, elegant, white structure, perched on a lush green meadow. It is about 8KMS from the resort / town, and easily accessible.

 

Thamri Kund

 

As the name suggests, this is a fresh-water lake. Access to the kund is from a spot about 7KMS from Munsiyari. From here on, it is a 3.5KM trek to the lake. The path is through lush green forests, winding its way up and down the mountains. Trekking for about ninety minutes, you gain nearly 3000 feet in altitude, before stumbling upon the lake itself. It is a small, evergreen lake that is surrounded by paper trees. Legend has it that even on the coldest winter day, the lake never freezes over. Of course, it was too cold, and we didn’t venture too close to water for fear of falling in!

 

Trekking through the Himalayas

A few of us got adventurous & set off the walking path

 

We went up to Thamri Kund post breakfast, and by the time we were done, everyone was exhausted and starving. A quick ten-minute drive brought us back to the outskirts of Munsiyari and the pinewood Homestay. Prem, the staff at Himalayan Glamping, had suggested we eat here. The food was singularly spectacular. Or at least, that is what we thought, famished that we were! While everything was quite good, I’d recommend the bread-omelet and thukpa, if you ever happen to come here.

 

Khaliya Top

 

This is apparently a lush green meadow, at an altitude of 3500 meters. Ascent to the meadow is from a trekking path about 5KMS from Himalayan Glamping. It’s on the same road that leads to Thamri Kund, and you cross it on the way. We were told that Khaliya Top was covered with snow and given that our group comprised of persons aged 5 to 65, it wasn’t the wisest trek to undertake. Prem informed that the ascent is very steep, and it would take pretty much the whole day for us to get there and back. Sadly, we had to give this a pass.

Maheshwar Kund

Finally, a trekking spot that is immediately accessible from the Himalayan glamping resort! On the day we arrived, Prem suggested we trek up to this lake post lunch. A mountain path behind the resort leads up to the gate from where one commences the proper trek to this lake. The climb to the entrance takes about an hour, and one criss – crosses a mountain stream a couple of times, before getting to the road. Once you get to the road, the trek to the lake is another hour or so, through a mildly steep valley. The lake itself is quite pretty, surrounded by rhododendron trees. And idyll location to spend a lazy afternoon!

 

Trekkers crossing a mountain river

Beautiful path behind the resort, leading to Maheshwari Kund

 

All in all, Munsiyari is a quaint destination. I’d been wanting to visit for the longest time, having heard a lot about it. While there was nothing to complain about, if I have a week to spare, I can think of several more picturesque destinations to visit! Nevertheless, it certainly warrants one visit if you’ve never been here before. For me, once was enough.

 

 

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