Moonlight disappears down the hills, Mountains vanish into fog, And I vanish into poetry – A Thousand Flamingos
Be it the soul of a poet or the tired mind and body of a city dweller, hills can reinvigorate and inspire all in a moment. The soothing expanse of green, the fresh air and the rhythm in life in hills can make you forget all the drudgery and dreariness. One such beautiful rendition of nature is Almora in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand. Devoid of the familiar colonial influence in other hill stations, this place has preserved its rustic charm quite effortlessly.
Neem Karoli Kainchi Dham
En route to Almora from Kathgodam, lies Neem Karoli Kainchi Dham, a temple that is dedicated to Lord Hanuman. Though established in 1962 by sage Poornanand of Kainchi village for the devotees to stay in the ashram and practice meditation, the place has been getting a lot of attention since Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg revealed that this was the place that Apple’s founder late Steve Jobs advised him to visit when the former’s company was going through a rough patch.
Rightly called the Land of Gods, this is a region where rivers flow with clear divine waters, hills are covered with pine, oaks and rhododendrons, and the numerous spots and legends make for a journey as splendid as the destination. One such exceptionally picturesque drive takes you to Chitai Golu Devta Temple (52km from Kainchi Dham). It was built during the 12th century and is characterised by countless bells hanging in the premises. Dedicated to Golu Devta, an incarnation of Lord Shiva, he is believed to fulfil every wish made with a clear conscience. People convey their wishes or problems to the deity by writing them on a paper and tying them around the temple premises.
And, as they say, legends and hills are inseparable; you would be intrigued to see many stamp papers hanging around with details of litigations. Once their wishes have been fulfilled, people come back and tie a bell as a token of appreciation to Golu Devta. The locals say that even those who fail to get justice in the court of law come here to seek justice and are rarely disappointed.
You won’t be either when you end the day in Almora watching one of the most beautiful sunsets from your hotel’s window or balcony, savouring the Kumauni food made with the most simple yet the freshest ingredients, the Sun, meanwhile, lending the tall pines indescribable shades of red and orange. The region is replete with the wonders of the nature that you would be in for a sweet surprise when on your way to Jageshwar Dham the next day. Hardly 16 km. from Almora, a signboard by the Archaeological Survey of India, would capture you attention. Lakhudiyar, meaning ‘one lakh caves’, is home to many painted cave shelters once inhabited by cavemen. Acknowledged as the best in terms of illustrated scenes and activities of the primitive men in this region, colours of the paintings depicting their daily life, animals, hunting and more are still intact.
Another such spectacle is Katarmal Sun Temple. Hidden amid a cluster of hills and enveloped by lush green surroundings, you can reach this architectural marvel from the 9th century by trekking for three kilometers from the Kosi main market in Almora, or drive and then explore the way out through a two-kilometre unpaved road. Once in a year, the first ray of the sun falls straight on the temple and enlightens the statue of the Sun God. The day of the phenomenon attracts many devotees. There are 44 smaller temples around the main temple dedicated to various other Gods and Goddesses.
If Katarmal awed you, wait till you reach Jageshwar Dham, believed to be the place of Nagesh (eighth among the 12 Jyotirlingas). Inside a small valley, adjacent to meeting point of two river streams (Nandini and Surabhi) and hills covered with Deodar forests, the main temple complex here consists of 127 temples, the Mritunjaya temple being the oldest and Dandeshwar the biggest. There are around 500 temples across the hills surrounding the Jageshwar Dham, dating back from the 9th to 13th century. Apart from marvelling at the structures of the temples, you can spend hours admiring the surrounding beauty too.
Try taking the road to Vridh Jageshwar, a three-kilometre uphill trek or 16 km by road from Jageshwar main complex to cherish the vibrant natural beauty of the place. Around 100 km from Jageshwar is Patal Bhuvaneshwar Cave temple in Pithoragarh district. The drive en route to Pithoragarh will mesmerise you with the view of the majestic snow-covered peaks of Nanda Devi, Nandaghunti and Panchachuli.
The Limestone Cave
The limestone cave at Patal Bhuvneshwar is believed to be as old as the Earth. As mentioned in Skanda Puran, Lord Shiva resides in this cave and all other Gods and Goddesses come here to worship him. Around 822 AD, Adi Shankaracharya arrived at this cave and established a Shivlinga, for Lord Shiva. This is the place where the severed head of Lord Ganesha fell and the rest as we know is legendary.
On the journey back to Kathgodam, you can enjoy a few hours at Bhimtal, named after the mighty Pandava. Prominent attraction here is the Bhimtal Lake with an island at the centre. You can enjoy boating in the lake, mountain biking and hang gliding at Bhimtal before you go back to daily toil of life, albeit with a promise to yourself to head back to hills whenever you are in need of recharging your mind, body and soul.