A personal travel blog by Ms. Reetwika Banerjee
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Baal mithai and Buranush of Almora Himalayas
We were on a road trip via Almora Himalayas to Pithoragarh – a drowsy picturesque hamlet at a distance of 170 kilometres from Nainital, bestowing a nice view of the majestic Himalayas. Situated at an average elevation of 5000 feet above sea level, Almora Himalayas has got the district town status after being separated out from Almora. There was nothing much to see at Pithoragarh but the journey from Nainital via Almora Himalayas was the most enjoyable part of the trip as the crowded hill station had various charms of its own which added colourful pages to our memories.
A tourist cab was already waiting for us at the hotel parking; as we came down, the driver received his new guests with a warm greeting which opened a lovely day for us. After loading all our luggage, he shook hands with other drivers waiting in the lobby and geared off. He was a very enthusiastic fellow, apparently in his later thirties. His ancestral home was at Almora Himalayas and could speak six different languages including English, Hindi, Kumaoni, Punjabi, Gujarati and elemental Bengali. He had served many Gujarati & Bengali tourists before and learnt their languages while interacting with them. As per his experience, most of the Kumaon visiting tourists were either from Gujarat or West Bengal. So, he considered these two races lucky for his business.
We stopped at Bhowali for breakfast – a swarming local marketplace within just eleven kilometres from Nainital. It was a bright morning when we reached but within a few minutes the weather reversed, so much so that we had to wait there for more than an hour to avoid drenching in the sudden heavy hailstorm. After such downpours, hilly roads become extremely slippery. So, we preferred to halt for a considerable time for the ice particles to melt.
We reached Almora Himalayas,a beautiful hill station in the Kumaon range by eleven in the morning. Taking a break at one of the local sweet shops in Almora we purchased ‘Baal Mithai’ on our driver’s recommendations. Baal mithai was very special of Almora made of yummy dense khoya (dried whole milk) with white sugar balls like an unusual topping. Must say, baal mithai was such a mouth-watering sweet dish tasted ever in my lifetime.
We also purchased a bottle of ‘Buransh’ (Rhododendron squash) another specialty of Almora. The red liquid acted as an energy drink for us during the tiring drive. The natives say, the drink is also supposed to have medicinal value for cardiac and neurological patients.
We visited the legendary Golu Devta temple on way about ten kilometres ahead of the Almora Himalayas district town. The deity is considered the creator of Kumaon region and worshiped with deep faith and belief by the natives. There is a tradition of tying metallic bells while vowing prayers and we saw thousands of bells of varying sizes tied all over the temple premises.
A priest shared a very interesting Kumaoni legend that when someone’s wish is granted by Golu Devta, that person’s respective bell starts ringing and that he gets to know about it in his dreams. Our skepticism was perhaps getting reflected through our gestures and so, he added his personal story in favour of the popular belief. Not sure how much we still believed even after listening to his account, but undoubtedly it added an unforgettable touch to our voyage through his appealing narratives.
Enroute, we also hopped at the Hindu pilgrimage town of Jageshwar. It is believed to carry the Nagesh Jyotirlinga, located 36 kilometres North-East of Almora. It comprises of a cluster of one hundred and twenty-four stone temples, dating back between 9th to 13th century AD. Some of the prominent shrines are the biggest Dandeshwar Temple, oldest Mrityunjaya Temple, Chandi-ka-Temple, Kuber Temple, Nanda Devi Temple, Nava Graha Temple and Surya Temple. Since our driver’s ancestral house was very near to the Jageswar temple complex, he knew the place thoroughly and guided us a local shortcut meeting down near the river valleys of Nandini and Surabhi streams.
The remaining road conditions till Pithoragarh were pathetic at some places and hence the long drive took us longer than our estimation. We decided to visit the ancient Patal Bhuvaneshwar temple on our way, before checking into the hotel. It was a prehistoric cave temple which enshrines Lord Shiva along with all the thirty-three crore Hindu deities at a depth of ninety feet beneath the ground level. It is one of those rarest places which have precise mentions in all the three epic Yugas (ages) of Hindu mythology. It is basically a small cave within a series of cascading caves. Limestone depositions for ages have formed stalactites and stalagmites along the entire fissure creating impressions of various Hindu Gods on the walls. Due to optimum illuminations, we could complete the 160 feet underground pathway with ease, however photography inside the cave temple was strictly forbidden. Undoubtedly, it was one of the most spiritually treasured points of the entire trip.
By the time we reached KMVN rest house at Pithoragarh, it was already evening. Since our rooms were pre-reserved, there was no hassle checking in but dinner went for a toss. They could not arrange anything more than fresh Tawa Rotis and Green Salad due to our late check-in. All thanks to our driver, he drove us at the dead of night to the neighbouring downtown to pack a plate of vegetable curry for us.
The room was very spacious with wall size glass windows on all three sides, just like a dreamy illuminated glass house. From the setup, we could assume, perhaps the morning will enthrall us with a grand view of the sunrise.
Our expectations did not go in vain from Almora Himalayas. Almora Himalayas was perhaps one of the unforgettable sunrises of our life. A mesmerizing view of the Himalayas lightened by fresh glows of the morning sun illuminated the room from all three sides – the divine sight left us spellbound for hours.
With a cup of steaming tea, we enjoyed the blissful morning, overlooking the hilly terrains of the headquarters. Savouring a light breakfast, we left for our onward destination.