I absconded from the monotonous city life to this solo Himalayan trip in order to explore some not so common places of Uttarakhand and secondly to evade the blistering summers of Delhi.
The first part of the journey is going pretty well but I’m yet to experience the latter part. The days both in Kausani and Baijnath were hot enough to make me sweat (although morning and evening were quite pleasant). The nippiness and coolness of the hill stations was still missing and I dearly hoped that my next halt on this journey would satisfy me from that perspective.
Completely exhausted by the day heat, I walked approximately 1 km from the Baijnath temple to reach a diversion – one heading to Bageshwar and other to Gwaldam. While many jeeps and taxis headed to Bageshwar only few took turn to Gwaldam which helped me finalizing my next halt i.e. Gwaldam. After spending an hour waiting under the ragged shed on the diversion, I finally found the wheels that would drive me to Gwaldam.
As I ascended on the hills to reach Gwaldam, I felt some radical change in the air and the landscape. The terraced fields were now replaced with thick pine and rhododendron/oak forest. The slopes camouflaged with dry pine leafs gave a ‘warmify’ and retro effect to whole area and making it picture perfect for the lens. The great ambience also charmed the atmosphere with coolness and freshness. The friendly driver behind wheel also kept the conversation going among the passengers making the ride more enjoyable and lively. He proudly boasted the stories of how he escaped from the last year’s catastrophe in Kedarnath and travelled on foot through the hills for four days to reach back his home. I guess he will continue to narrate this story again and again to his children and grandchildren.
Finally, I reached Gwaldam. At first look the town doesn’t seems please the eye of a ‘tourist’ but it surely will please if seen from the eyes of a ‘traveller’. It does not have any typical ‘tops’ or ‘view points’ as in other hill stations to attract ‘tourists’ but still it’s worth taking a halt here. Gwaldam is proudly and comfortably seated on the fence of Kumaon and Garhwal regions of Uttarakhand but it’s definitely not an arena between the two regions rather here one can see the amalgamation of both Kumaon and Garhwal regions and to some extent the Bhutias too which are also forms part of the natives. The major portion of Gwaldam is under the control of Sahastra Seema Bal (SSB) which has an active training centre. This small town also act as base for treks to inner and untouched regions of Himalayas such as Roopkund trek.
The hill station amid the beautiful oak trees offers some stunning and vibrant peaks of Himalayas if the weather is clear. There is no particular thing to do in Gwaldam but just take a walk around and I did exactly the same. I slept down for two-three hours and then strolled through the town. The shops and the market soon vanished and I was all in the arms of nature. The air was overwhelming only with natural hums of birds and mysterious resonances of the jungle and nothing artificial. In between, I saw the local ‘pahari’ woman appearing out unknown corners of jungles with large loads of dry pine leafs on their heads. Far down in woods, I could listen the fading voice of a shepherd singing a local ‘pahari’ song. Somewhere, bunch of local boys running up and down the hill to their dwellings. All this defines Gwaldam for me. It’s a perfect retreat for someone who don’t want to run to every possible location and want to just sit back and relax like a ‘vacation’ should be. It’s great for people like me who love to walk when they are out and enjoy the silence and calmness.
On my way back from the evening walk, I stopped at a local momos shop only to find a friendly host probably a Bhutia lady. She talked with so too much affection in her voice and also divulged the recipe to make authentic chutney for momos. Our talks went on some more time and I was rewarded with an extra piece of momos.
Next morning I got up leisurely at around 9.30 a.m. and headed to one of most sacred temples of both Kumauni and Garhwali people in the area- Badhaangarhi Temple. The temple seated on the top of the hill is not an easy trek for city resident like me. I started off and took a bus till a place called Taal (5 km from Gwaldam) on the Karanaprayag route. When I got down, I was happy to see an arched entrance going into the woods with name of the temple written on it. At that moment, I thought it won’t be much far.
Bells of Wishes in Badhangadi Temple
Alongside the rugged hilly path was the beautiful forest with the sound of water flowing through the rocks. Soon I got the company of a local government school teacher. As we climbed together, we discussed the conditions of level of education in government schools to which he replied as “pity”. He opined that although some facilities have increased in government schools still there is shortage of human resource. The discussion continued till Benatoli where I saw another similar arched entrance and I was informed that the actual journey starts from this point. I felt cheated as I had already hiked approximately 3 km and was expecting the temple.
At this point, the local teacher bid goodbye as he had his own way. I started the hike and soon began to feel the exhaustion. The climb was steep and I was finding hard on the lungs. Secondly, I saw nobody else en route which made me nervous. But I was firm on reaching the top. With every step I was losing my breath and at some moments it felt that my heart would burst out. It was so silent that I could clearly listen the rigorous pumping of my heart. At some moments, I felt of going back but the magical views of the valley encouraged me stay on track.
After a climb of 45 minutes, I heard voices of other similar species like me coming down from the temple and it was a sign of relieve for me that I was not alone. At last I reached the temple huffing and completely exhausted. The shrine of Goddess Durga is swarming will bells hung by the devotees with their names engraved on it (May be it was for convenience of the god to avoid confusion).There was one more family apart from me at that time. As I relaxed my base on one of rocks, one of the ladies from the other group very caringly asked from where I came. I guess love and affection is in the blood of the pahari ladies otherwise nobody shows such politeness to a stranger without any reason. Within some time, I gelled with the group.
A short 5 minutes climb from the temple opens the panoramic views of the lush green mountain speckled with houses scattered all over. Later, the ladies cooked the delicious khichdi in mustard oil which gave all the energy for way back. We all got down together till Benatoli where I bid the family goodbye for their company and the meal and headed back to Gwaldam on foot.