Until recently, Munsiyari, a sleepy little town tucked away in the snow-capped Kumaon Himalayas, was out of bounds for tourists. This is because it is strategically located near the borders of India, Nepal and China, at an altitude of 2,200 metres.
Munsiyari was a pit stop in our 10-day sojourn of the Kumaon Himalayas. From the Wayfarer Resort where we stayed, the Panchchuli peaks loomed ahead, flanked by Hansling, Rajrambha and Chiplakot. We relaxed in this serene environment, and visited the tribal museum, which is a treasure trove of artefacts ranging from fossils and pipes to wooden utensils and tribal attire.
We also explored a trekking trail to the alpine lake, Mesar Kund. After an hour's trek, the forest opened out into flat grassland, at the edge of which was the azure Mesar Lake. The avian life included pigmy woodpeckers, crested Himalayan bulbuls and red-billed blue magpies.
The next day, we decided to trek to the Khalia Top, the highest peak around Munsiyari. The steep 8 km trail passed through a thick rhododendron forest in full bloom. The climb was exhausting and every 15 to 20 minutes, we had to stop to catch our breath.
Finally, about five hours later, we had our first glimpse of lush green alpine meadows. We stopped at an idyllic location to set up camp. However, a persistent drizzle turned into a downpour and we began to worry for our tents, which, fortunately, stood their ground. After an hour, the howling Himalayan wind calmed down.
Early the next morning, we left for Khalia Peak. We saw an amazing riot of colours spread across the backdrop of the snow-clad peaks and a big herd of alpine goats grazing freely.
Soon we scaled the summit of the peak, at a height of over 10,500 feet. While reluctantly walking down, we met a shepherd who was passing by. He told us about how hard he had to toil in the mountains in search of greener pastures. After a three-hour descent, we left for our next destination, Dharchula, situated by the banks of the Kali Ganga along the Indo-Nepal border.