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Travelogues

Chaukori: Holiday Haven


Ashit Narain is fascinated by the tiny village of Chaukori in Kumaon, Uttaranchal.

Almora The Kumaon Himalayas lie next to the Garhwal region and are situated on the Great Himalayan Range. Kumaon is often confused with the Garhwal region itself. Kumaon comprises the three hill districts of Nainital, Almora and Pithoragarh. Mahakali (or Kali or Kali Nadi) borders it in the east towards Nepal and the districts of Pauri Garhwal and Chamoli to the west.

Tibet lies to the north and the Terai to the south. The Mahakali River, running along its eastern boundary, forms the Indo-Nepal international border. Moving westwards, one comes across the Panchchuli Massif, the Gori Valley, and the Pindari and Sunderdungha valleys at the western end of Kumaon. The Kali River and its valley are prominent in Kumaon.

More on Uttaranchal
Overview

Travelogues
Kumaon Remembered
Discovering Auli
Almora
Nainital


Trekking
Pilgrim's Trail
Gaumukh Tapovan

At one time, the Kali Valley was the standard trade route from India to Tibet, crossing over the Lipu Lekh pass. The Mahakali originates north of the main Himalayan range, carves its way through the Greater Himalayas and merges with the Ganga.
The famous Devi temple at Kainchi, with its bright saffron and red colours made for an excellent picture. We stopped here for a brief 'darshan' and were struck by the serenity of the place and its absolute stillness.
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Many tourists look for lesser known and unfrequented destinations that offer a complete break from the daily monotony and pressures of city life. My wife and I were looking for just such a destination. Chaukori (2010 m) is a small and quaint hill station set amongst the looming peaks of the western Himalayan range in the Kumaon region of Uttar Pradesh. Chaukori is around 273 kms from Kathgodam, which is fairly well connected by rail to the rest of the country. Our journey began there, one cold winter morning in the last week of January 2000.

AlmoraThe route takes you via Almora and Bageshwar. A total journey of around 10 hours, the excellent road conditions make it very enjoyable. The gradient is gentle, the road very broad and finished smooth by a paving machine. The 93-kilometre journey up to Almora doesn't offer any dramatic scenery though you start perking up with the fresh air and crisp sunshine immediately. The famous Devi temple at Kainchi, with its bright saffron and red colours made for an excellent picture. We stopped here for a brief darshan and were struck by the serenity of the place and its absolute stillness. Almora is a big district town with thinner tourist traffic than Ranikhet and Nainital. After a quick and rather hurried breakfast, we moved towards Bageshwar. After descending from Almora, the road winds its way along the valley and we had the constant companionship of lush green paddy fields, luxuriant vegetation and an occasional rivulet. The varying patterns of paddy fields in contrasting greens and browns made a perfect picture.

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We stopped at Bageshwar for lunch. A four hour, 108 km drive from Almora, Bageshwar is named after the famous temple of Bagnath (Bag being the Hindi word for tiger). At one time this entire area had a sizeable population of tigers, leopards and panthers. It was Jim Corbett's hunting ground for maneaters. Built beside a rivulet, at the Bagnath temple devotees wishing for a boon tie a bell at the entrance.

Bageshwar is set in a long winding green valley. We had lunch in a small `pahadi' dhaba. Hot, fresh chappatis and sabzi accompanied with steaming mugs of chai. Chaukori, as our driver told us, was just 2 hours (60 kms) away. Our excitement was mounting, keeping our weariness under control.

 

Just five kilometres short of Chaukori, the sky turned menacingly dark and a major storm was imminent. The question was whether we would make it to Chaukori before the storm overtook us.
The next 2 hours were a steep climb amidst some of the most beautiful mountain scenery I have viewed. Bright sunshine and looming peaks made wonderful sights. But, of course, luck doesn't smile forever. Just five kilometres short of Chaukori, the sky turned menacingly dark and a major storm was imminent. The question was whether we would make it to Chaukori before the storm overtook us. Lady luck smiled at us and we made it to the KMVN (Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam) guesthouse, which we had booked from Lucknow. We discovered later that this was the only accommodation available at Chaukori. The choice had been between rooms and cottages, we had chosen the latter.
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Although it was only 4:25 p.m. the sky was quite dark. The Tourist Bungalow is a large sprawling place, with the cottages set some distance away from the main building. The cottages are large and well furnished, with all modern amenities. There was no telephone, because Chaukori itself does not have telecom facilities. There is however a wireless set at the guesthouse for use during emergencies. The Manager, Mr. Tiwari, was a most affable person, personally asking my wife and me to contact him if we needed any help.

ChaukoriNext day, we rose early to see clear skies and the awesome, looming, snow clad peaks of Nanda Devi, Nanda Kot, and Nanda Khat framed against the blue sky. An entire range of peaks, set over an angle of 120 degrees. I had been to Patnitop, Rohtang Pass, Manali, Kinnaur and Yumthang, Nothing, nothing compared to this.

Hurriedly pulling on our woollens, we rushed out, bleary eyed, but very excited. The mountains looked almost within touching distance, with the golden coloured peaks slowly turning white as the sun rose. The grass underneath our feet was still white with frost. Our breath came out condensed. We climbed the viewing tower and just sat, looking, gazing, each lost in a private domain. We could see all of Chaukori, which was this guesthouse, three small shops, an abandoned tea garden to our left, a small village some 2 kms away and only 78 people. One policeman, on shifting duty. After breakfast, we ventured out into the tea garden and up several small hills. Chaukori is different from most other hill stations, there is nothing to see except nature. No tourist taxi drivers hustling you for sightseeing points, no one looking at you while you roam around. Safe, secure, serene and incredibly quaint.

A short walk along a kutcha (unmetalled) road took us through the garden of nicely pruned tea plants (remnants of the Raj) and to the other side of the hill. From here the panorama was different and the foreground had rolling hills dotted by tiny, shiny specks made by slate tiled roofs reflecting sunlight

The nearest town, Berinag is 10 kms away. Worth visiting is nearby `Patal Bhuvaneshwar' with an underground temple cave, dedicated to Lord Shiva, where sages have meditated through the ages.
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The nearest town, Berinag is 10 kms away.The places worth visiting nearby are `Patal Bhuvaneshwar' which is a temple of the Lord Shiva in an underground cave, and a Kasturi farm, where deer are bred. The former is around 30 kms away and you can either hitch a ride to Berinag and carry on from there in a shared jeep, otherwise you can hire a full jeep from Chaukori. The Kasturi farm, however, is on top of a hill, a steep walk of around 3 kms. The farmhouse is clean, well maintained and everyone there including visitors, can get involved in the work there. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

By the time we returned to the guesthouse we were tired and hungry. After a late lunch and some sleep, we decided to celebrate with a bonfire. Some wood was soon arranged, split into small pieces by my intrepid wife (who is ex-NCC), and we soon had a roaring bonfire going. This promptly turned into a cook out. The dishes were a little spicy and too oily, but then, who cared. The smell of cooking, burning wood and soft `pahari' songs were enough to enthral us, aided with a glass or two of brandy.

And then suddenly the heavens themselves were all lit up. The embers of the fire were still glowing. The last time I had seen such a starscape was in the Thar. The Milky Way lived up to its name. The Great Bear, usually prominent enough to be visible in city conditions, was now lost in this exuberant display. It was only three days past full moon, so the moon only came up only after we'd tucked ourselves in the extremely warm thulmas - sheep wool blankets made on village looms.

Next morning, we took our customary early morning walk through the dense forests around. The tree trunks covered with moss were pointers to the fact that Chaukori received a fair amount of rain. After spending 3 idyllic days at Chaukori, we reluctantly packed our backs for the journey back home. beyond Almora, the flora, the weather and the air changed. It was back to familiar territory for us. Computers, smog and pollution.


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Editor: Romola Butalia       (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.