A personal travel blog by Ms. Reetwika Banerjee
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After Dharchula, our next stop in Kumaon tour was at Munsiyari – one of the finest tourist destinations in the entire circuit, positioned at an average altitude of 7500 feet above sea level. The cosy hill station is situated at a restricted area bordering India, Nepal and Tibet. Nestled amidst the Pancha Chuli peaks, it offers a stunning view of the snow-capped mountains of higher Himalayas from sheer proximity.
The range borrows its name from couple of Hindi words, ‘Pancha’ meaning five and ‘Chuli’ meaning chimney. It’s named so as the five peaks of the range resemble a burning oven during dusk when the setting sun’s orange glows lighten up the snow peaks. On a clear sunny day, other beauteous peaks like Nanda Devi, Nandakot and Rajarambha could also be seen evidently. The breath-taking vistas of the elegant treasure trove, Manik Glacier and Darmaganga valley in one frame got its nick name – the Little Kashmir.
Munsiyari was just a 100 kilometer unceasing uphill drive from Dharchula. The road conditions were good enough to reach within five hours. In transit, we took quick halts at the famous hot springs of Sera and Madkote. The sulphur rich waters had magical healing powers. Our weary feet felt rejuvenated at the soothing touch of the warm minerals.
Our destination was not very far from Madkote. Our guide suggested us for a quick lunch at a roadside restaurant since upon reaching Munsiyari we might not get heavy meals at that odd hour. He himself went on to order Maggi with vegetables for all three of us.
Just before entering the hill town, we hopped at a native cottage industry where local women knit woollen shawls, carpets and various other items on a small scale. They also walked us through their loom and showed their artworks. We were lucky to purchase handful of awesome works directly from the artists behind the show. However, photography was restricted inside the loom.
We reached Munsiyari by 4pm. Of all the hotels, KMVN’s location was no doubt the best. A charming view of the sunset could be watched from our room’s balcony. The weather was so perfect that a panoramic view of the entire Pancha Chuli range was splendidly visible in naked eyes. For a better viewing, we upgraded to the highest category in second floor and it was worth paying the additional tariff. Dinner was served hot and fresh but only vegetarian cuisines were available in-house.
The next morning was little cloudy and hence the view of sunrise was not so great. Little down on our expectations when we went for breakfast, our guide insisted us to go for a nature walk around the place. And he was up to play the role of an educated guide. He also plucked a bunch of blooming Rhododendron flowers for us on way to the view point. Following him, we hiked three kilometers to Munsiyari’s Nanda Devi Temple uphill, dedicated to Goddess Nanda (a form of Parvati). It is considered the holiest temple of Munsiyari with lots of devotees offering prayers to the deity on specific days of the Hindu calendar. There was hardly anyone when we reached the summit, but we enjoyed the trek to the fullest.
There was a small bazaar at the heart of the town. We bought locally manufactured raw noodles and a few biscuit packs; came back shortly before lunch. Our hotel boys were very cooperative too. They showed us a shortcut to a downhill restaurant ‘Hotel Pandey Lodge’ which served nonveg foods. The restaurant was on the top floor. Climbing the steep stairs was not very comfortable but in the hunt of food, it was accomplished. Getting there we realized, it was a Bong maintained hotel and hence the menu had authentic Bengali dishes. What a luck! We preferred to sit at the open terrace so that we could breathe in fresh air and enjoy uninterrupted views of the Panchachuli peaks.
After a long time, we enjoyed pure homely food savouring the beauty of the grand Himalayas in front. But difficulties were awaiting us. Just as we were done with the lunch, dark clouds started hovering and we had to walk back to our hotel before the rains start. With full stomach, it was not so easy to climb the shortcut stairs at such a high altitude; so, we preferred to take the longer route – the meandering pitch road to our rest house. Oh! What an unwise decision it was! Chilly droplets started patting on our bodies soon after taking first few steps and there were no shades till our destination. We had to drench if it rained heavier. We hurried our way through the hilly bends and could somehow save us from the hailstorms.
By the time we reached KMVN premises, we were already breathless. Running more than a kilometre uphill in a filled-till-neck condition was no way an easy task. There were no one to appreciate our efforts except a little puppy so we just commended each other for accomplishing the stiff target. Sunset could not be enjoyed due to the heavy downpour but we thoroughly enjoyed the light snowfall from our balcony. With the nightfall, the mercury dropped significantly, urging the need of a room heater.
Next morning it was a clear sunny day and we enjoyed a panoramic view of the entire Pancha Chuli range from our balcony – perhaps the best moment of the tour so far. The hotel garden bloomed with beautiful flowers which added an ethnic touch to our stay at Munsiyari and we promised our nomadic self to come back here again after a dozen of winters and springs.