Travel diaries: At Kasar Devi and Binsar, experience peace and silence
Visiting Kasar Devi and Binsar Valley – near Almora in Uttarakhand – right in the lap of the Himalayas and away from the crowded city is a great way to unwind.Updated: Sep 03, 2017 15:47 IST
I do love my phone and spend at least 10 hours in front of a screen but the urge to cut myself off from everything and everyone once in a while and unwind at an unknown place for that much-needed solitude and silence has a greater pull at times.
So, with two-three days that I was able to spare, I ended up packing my bags for Kasar Devi and Binsar Valley – near Almora in Uttarakhand – landing right in the lap of the Himalayas and away from the crowded city. No electricity, mobile connectivity or even hot water along with a sparse population was proof enough that I was successful in my hunt.
The hill-top village is named after the second-century Kasar Devi (Goddess) temple that hosts a local fair in November-December. The place became famous after Swami Vivekananda came to meditate in the temple premises in the 1890s and more so among foreigners after Bob Dylan, Beatles guitarist George Harrison, singer Cat Stevens and other spiritual seekers from the West paid a visit.
You can book your tickets for an AC bus from Anand Vihar in Delhi till Haldwani in Uttarakhand - a 9-hour journey - and from there take a cab for around Rs 1,200 (don’t forget to haggle here) to reach Kasar Devi after three hours. Trains are also available from New Delhi to Haldwani and Kathgodam – both around 90km from our destination.
There are enough guest houses in the village but we chose to stay at one with minimum cost and bare necessities: A forest rest house near Kasar Devi in Dinapani on top of a small cliff with a garden and its very own rabbits and hens and fireplaces in each room. It also came with a single caretaker whose hospitality knew no bounds.
Bookings need to be made well in advance for this government rest house from the Uttarakhand tourism website and you can get the whole 2BHK house for Rs 800 per person per day or less. Other guest houses such as Freedom Guest House, Ganga Guest House, and Kripal Guest House offer better (read modern) facilities and charge Rs 800-1,000 per day for a room.
With a few solar panels and no electricity or even a stove in the rest house, the caretaker welcomed us with hot cups of tea made on an earthen chulha (hearth) after which we set off to explore the place even though we were exhausted.
We started the journey on foot to look for some food in Kasar Devi, 2km from where we were staying. You can rent a vehicle from the small lone shop in Kasar Devi near the Rainbow Café but we passed on the option as we could also take a ride around the village by paying Rs 10 per person on passing cabs.
Taking lift from one such cab after a short walk, we got down at Mohan’s Café where the food was as good as the view from its outdoor seating area. Try their thin crust pizza, Nutella pancake, and hot ginger lemon honey tea that are sure to gear you up for a hike on the Kasar Devi temple trail on the edge of a ridge off the Almora-Bageshwar highway.
The temple is of special importance because the region is said to lay under the Van Allen Belt or a radiation zone of high-energy particles trapped by the Earth’s magnetic field. This and the freely growing marijuana on the slopes along with a spectacular view is what drew spiritual seekers, writers, and artists from across the world to the place.
The area around the temple was legendary in the 1960s and known as Crank’s Ridge or Hippie Hill. American psychologist and writer Timothy Leary wrote much of his psychedelic experience here and English writer DH Lawrence also spent a substantial amount of time.
We trekked a little high up from the temple and reached a clearing on the edge of the hill near Sri Sarada Math from where the view is beyond words or pictures: You can literally hear a “whoosh” of the winds along with endless chirping of birds. After what felt like hours of peace and silence, we left the place before sunset as the village is among the early to bed and early to rise.
For dinner, we chose to have local Kumaoni food cooked by the caretaker back at the resthouse. Lentils, a simple potato curry, and bhang (Cannabis) chutney were enough to put us into an instant uninterrupted sleep. The next day was spent exploring the village on foot as there are many trails here and there – each one leading to different landscape and waterfall.
Into the wild
On the third day, we booked a cab for Rs 1000 (to and fro) which took us to the entrance of Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary – a 13-km ride – and then started to tread the path on foot on top of the Jhandi Dhar hills.
If I had ever imagined what heaven looked like in my childhood, the view from here came the closest. It was in the middle of the forest with not a single human being in sight surrounded by towering oak and rhododendron trees, clouds passing through us, only the sound of birds to keep us company, and an endless green path laden with mushrooms and colourful flowers.
Trek till the zero point from where you can see the magnificent Kedarnath, Shivling, Trishul and Nanda Devi peaks on a clear day. The sanctuary spread over 45.59 km area is excellent for bird watching and if you are lucky enough, you can even spot a few wild animals such as wild boars, Himalayan gorals, jungle cat, bears or even leopards. It also has some resorts inside and staying in the middle of this jungle should definitely be on every traveller’s bucket list.
A picture does speak a thousand words but the godliness of this place can neither be explained through photos nor words. This place is meant to be explored and taken care of by tourists like it is their own home. Its narrow lanes should not have honking vehicles or empty packets of chips and beer bottles.
The mountains here will do better than lifting the weight of endless houses, resorts, and mobile towers. It does not need a Cafe Coffee Day or a Pizza Hut. And above all, it does not deserve to die a slow death that popular hill stations such as Manali, Nainital, and Shimla are experiencing.
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