Lush Alpine Meadows amidst snow-capped Panchuli Himalayas as we trekked to the Khalia Peak situated in the tri-borders of India, Nepal & Tibet...
22.05.2010 - 01.06.2010 11 °C
This article below was published in India's leading newspaper Hindustan Times.
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With the sizzling summer heat raging through, we (me & my wife) thought, the best way to escape it – though momentarily – would be to move closer to the “perennially-cool” Himalayas. Our intention clearly was to trudge on a road far less travelled by mundane tourists. Carrying some online research, a secluded, not so often heard before name - Munsiyari - struck me hard.
Tucked away hidden, amidst the snow-capped Kumaon Himalayas, Munsiyari is a sleepy little town in the eastern-most district of Uttrakhand - Pithoragarh, at an altitude of 2, 200 meters. Strategically located near the tri-borders of India, Tibet and Nepal, this exotic destination was until recently restricted to tourists.
Our 10-day-long sojourn took us criss-crossing the entire Kumaon region. We started off to Munsiyari that quiet morning after a night halt at Birthi, famous for the lofty Birthi Falls. As we gradually scaled up the high mountain road the landscape too kept evolving.
Just as we were approaching the highest point en-route – Kala Muni Top – at 2700 meters, a herd of Alpine goats in the backdrop of the majestic Panchuli Peaks caught our eyes. Icy winds were blowing as we stopped for a refreshing cup of tea to warm us up.
As we glided down, from Kala Muni, it was as if entering a fairyland, as we saw Munsiyari at a distance. The name 'Munsiyari' denotes a “place with snow”. We straightaway drove to the Wayfarer Resort, to be bowled out at the setting of this resort. In a line, one besides the other, were six thatched-roofed traditionally-styled cozy Kumauni huts.
The view from the huts was mesmerizing – the entire Panchuli Peaks stood out majestically in front of us. Relaxing in this serene environment we just lazed around. Late afternoon, we ventured out to visit the Tribal Museum. Items ranging form fossils to smoking pipes to wooden utensils to tribal attire, this museum surely is a treasure trove depicting vividly the tribal lifestyle. Thereafter, we loitered in the tiny local market and tasted of some delicious mutton momos.
We woke up very early next morning, anticipating a nice sunrise. Gearing up with our camera, we enthusiastically waited. As the yellowish-golden sunrays struck the Panchuli Peaks from behind, the silhouette effect it created was way too heavenly to describe in mere words.
Post breakfast we ventured out, to be dropped for trekking trail to the alpine lake Mesar Kund. As we hiked through the virgin forest, it surely was tiring but the views were equally rewarding. After an hour’s trekking the forest opened up into a grassland and at the edge was the azure Mesar Lake. We sat by in silence with the rich avian life in company ranging from woodpeckers to crested-robins to red-billed blue magpies. After soaking ourselves thoroughly we trekked back.
In the evening, we met Mr Brindra Brijwal, popularly known as Beeru, the owner of the Nanda Devi Tours & Treks to finalize our proposed Khalia Top trek, the highest peak around Munsiyari. Jovial Beeru, an avid mountaineer himself, gave us details of the trek and organized everything.
Accompanied by our guide Lalu, along with our porter-cum-cook Mohan aka Sarkari, we started off next morning. The steep 10 km trail passed through a thick rhododendron forest in full bloom. The climb was exhausting and every 15-20 minutes, we had to stop and catch our breath.
Finally, as we climbed above the tree-line, we had our first glimpses of the lush green alpine meadows in the backdrop the snow-clad Himalayan peaks. We decided to stop by to have our packed lunch in these mesmerizing surroundings.
The weather was turning cloudy, as we started trekking again through the meadows accompanied by a light drizzle. After hiking for about a kilometer we stopped at an idyllic location to set up camp.
Soon, our two tents were mounted. The drizzle however turned into a downpour and continued for about two hour making us worried. Mentally, we were making ourselves prepared to “survive the night” on biscuits and chocolates.
As we were losing hope, the Mountain Gods smiled and strong winds blew away the clouds. Sarkari and Lalu already had collected firewood and our chullha (fireplace to cook) was soon alighted. It was getting very cold and sitting by the warm fire, we cooked our dinner of spicy chicken and hot rotis.
Having our stomach full we got inside our tent and called it a night. However as each hour passed the wind outside grew fiercer till I heard a commotion in the middle of the night. I pulled out my head, zipping out my tent, to hear Lalu saying that their tent has blown away but they managed to salvage it. Fortunately for us, our tent stood the ground. We could only pray and after about an hour, the howling Himalayan wind calmed.
Me and My Dog named Boo
Early morning just as dawn was cracking I pulled out and sat on a rock to witness an amazing sunrise sipping a hot cup of tea. Soon, we started to towards the Khalia Peak, visible to us about a kilometer up-hill amidst the carpet of green lush meadows.
An amazing riot of colours was spread all across in the backdrop of the snow-clad peaks and big herds of grazing alpine goats. Resting awhile watching the never-seen-before surroundings, we finally made our final push to the Khalia Peak. Soon, we were at the top, at a height about 11,000 feet.
Squatting down at the peak for about half and hour was a humbling experience and thereafter reluctantly we made our way down.
As we reached back our camp, Sarkari was ready with hot parathas which we shared with a shepherd who happened to pass by. Understood from him how hard and harsh life is in the mountains. Their search for greener pastures has to continue…
Thereafter, dismantling our tents we made our way downhill and trekking down for about 3 hours we reached the road head. Picking up our bags form the Wayfarer Resort, we started for our next destination Dharchula, situated in the Indo-Nepal border, by banks of the Kali Ganga – the base camp of the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra.
How to Reach
By road Munsiyari is situated at a distance of about 612 kms from New Delhi. By train one can travel by the Raniketh Express to Kathgodam, the last railhead. From Kathgodam one has to travel by road via Bhimtal, Bhowali, Almora, Binsar, Takula, Bageshwar, Vijaypur, Chaukhori, Thal, Birthi and finally Munsiyari. The distance between Kathgodam to Munsiyari is about 261 kms. One can break the journey with a night halt at Binsar, Vijaypur or Chaukori.
Vehicle-hire charges: Usually Rs 1600-Rs 2000 for Alto/Santro/WagonR to Rs 2200-Rs2500 for Innova/Qualis per day from Kathgodam
Where to Stay
There are many options available for stay ranging from luxurious to budget hotels/resorts.