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 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 here and visited the tribal museum, a treasure trove of artifacts ranging from fossils and pipes to wooden utensils and tribal attire.
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. During our climb, we had to stop to catch our breath every 15–20 minutes.
Finally, about five hours later, we had our first glimpse of the lush green alpine meadows. We stopped at an idyllic location to set up camp. But 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.
By road: 612 km away from New Delhi, it can be reached by car.
By train: Kathgodam is the last railhead. From Kathgodam, hire a taxi or take a bus. The route passes through Bhimtal, Almoram Binsar, Takula, Bageshwar, Vijaypur, Chaukhori, Thal, Birthi and finally Munsiyari. The distance between Kathgodam and Munsiyari is about 261 km. You can break the journey with a night’s halt at Binsar, Vijaypur or Chaukori.
Hiring a vehicle: The charges are between Rs 1,600 and Rs 2,000 a day for an Alto or WagonR, and Rs 2,500 for a Qualis.