Munsiari wala ghar

Ever since my first visit to a homestay in Tirthan valley  I have fallen for them, I prefer them to hotels or resorts. They are so much more personal, equally or sometimes even more comfortable than hotels, have loads of character and above all that give you a chance to stay with the locals and maybe even indulge in food with them. Sharing recipe with them or talking about a custom they have. Just so much more insight, chatting away with them is in itself a pretty rewarding thing for me and my wife who anyways are chatter boxes.

 

In Munsiari, we in Shakhadhura side of Sarmoli Village with a lady called Basanti Rawat, from the first phone conversation with her there was a sort of a friendliness that came through. We reached her home and they have made two cottages with huge windows that open to the Panchachuli Peaks, they offer a small kichen as well in the cottage and a few books to read. Life in this village in Sarmoli was very calm and peaceful, about a 10-15 min walk from the road you are cut off from all sorts of noises that traffic could cause.

 

I and my wife both remarked many times whenever we stopped in our talks geez its so quiet, no noise, maybe some birds sometimes would chirp or an occasional goat braying.

 

Basantiji’s house was a pretty simple abode with comfortable chairs and beds and a pretty neat and clean washroom as well. Still work in progress it is, but, then all you need to spend time in the hills is just a base right!?

 

She would tirelessly keep asking us for tea, in the evenings she would make us Pakoda’s which she served with Bhaang Ki Chutney and the Pakoda’s were heavenly delicious! Always adorning a smile and insisting that we were not eating enough, we were trekking about and according to her you need the energy to walk!

 

The subzi of Lingdi found its way through one day, local daals, eggs made as per our request or her own version of kheema which we loved to bits. Home cooked food has its own beauty and eating local food whilst you are travelling even more so!

 

Her husband who had left army was known by the name of Raju Pradhan was a pretty interesting person to talk to, he was keen to tell us all about the surroundings, the people & Munsiyari. Equally keen to get info from us, chatty, and that suited us well. He even told us about Yarsa Gumbo, which I learnt for the first time, can you imagine there is a parasite that grows in a living larva, kills it and that piece of larva and the parasite when matures sells for Rs. 10lakh a kg!! Yes, it does, and I did wiki about it reading and the fact is true. Infact a lot of people locally are engaged in searching for Yarsagumba as it is called on the tall peaks. According to Rajuji in a month many people who go camping and looking for Yarsagumba come back with atleast enough bounty to get them 1-2 lakhs. Apparently a lot of people are even chucking their jobs here and switching to this!

 

Those are the perks of living with locals, apart from the Yarsagumba there were so many tales that were recounted and shared with each other.

 

If you ever go to Munsiyari, ensure you stay in the Himalayan Ark Homestay’s which are run by local women under the guidance of Mallikaji. Its an absolute no brainer. Here are a couple of pics, unfortunately I don’t think I took one with the cottage and view together, yea we used to sit and talk that much and walk as much too! 🙂

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Thats the place where we had our breakfast every morning! With our junior’s favourite people in Munsiyari! 🙂

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The view from the homestay’s balcony

 

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During our stay in Munsiyari, Basanti Rawat was our host, ensuring everything was comfortable for us and cooking some delicious meals galore!

 

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The trail to Mesar Kund

Yes driving in the hills is fun and something I love but even more appealing is to shun your car and walk up into the woods. That is one even more appealing thing about the Himalaya’s. Unlike walking in a city and bumping into someone here you mostly are alone walking all the way and even if you actually come across someone you don’t ever have to make way plus you always get a smile and a Jai Ramji Ki or Namaskar greeting you.

 

Add to that the fact that you are under the shade of tree’s and the temperature is always brilliant to walk in plus the air is fresh, pollution is miniscule, there are interesting birds hopping by and if you have an aware local with you along than you will get to taste a lot of berries and fruits that you otherwise wouldn’t dare to pick up.

 

So one early morning in Munsiyari we decided to shrug off our laziness and after our morning tea and breakfast we started walking up to the home of the lady who had arranged our stay, Mallika Verdi, she is a retired mountaineer who has settled here since 1992 and has a wonderfully lovely place. Apparently she is the one who has helped all the local ladies to set up a homestay and ensured that this income is paid in the hands of these ladies. We were told that there was a Yoga session at her place which is beside a meadow, incidentally a guy from Bangalore had also come to stay just like us and was a Yoga instructor and so she had arranged a few sessions for all locals to take part and learn yoga.

 

Honestly so far I have always loathed yoga but we thought why not go and see and even maybe click some pictures whilst these people are at it. So we began our stiff climb from our place in Shankhadhura to Mallikaji’s house. Mornings in Munsiyari are ethereal with sunrise in summers happening at almost 5 am from behind the Panchachuli peaks. We soaked in the view and sipped our tea with Parantha’s, about the view, well…

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Actually giving up a position that is comfortable, where you can order food all the time and sit with views like this and walking is a task, but we had decided and off we went.

 

It was a good one hour stiff climb to reach Mallikaji’s place, others might do it in maybe 45 minutes but with us panting and clicking pictures basically to conceal our panting took our sweet time to reach there.

 

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The panting and sighing never stopped on the road too as through the woods from time to time the majestic mountains playing with the clouds would appear and wow us.

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The meadow near Mallikaji’s house

The place that Mallikaji has is beautiful beyond words, woods, a meadow, a pond with loads of fish, ducks, geese, cows, dogs, spectacular views and a lot of love and warmth to boot!

 

We were welcomed with tea and we sat about talking about our trip so far and her place and got to know each other a little bit. She was wonderfully charming, calm and a very likable person as it was evident from our talks with our host and her husband and all the locals that had come there for Yoga. The way they all mingled and joked and laughed with each other was so heartening to see. She was as much a local as any local could be, they all called her Didi out of their affection and respect for her. There was great camaraderie between the people who had all gathered there. Men, women and children all alike joked and pulled each others legs, the environment amongst them was a thing to behold I am not sure I can describe it.

 

Photography didn’t really happen much as we mingled and got busy with Yoga ourselves and actually loved the whole encounter. Everyone helped each other to accomplish the most difficult Asana’s the Bangalore boy taught us.

Men and women had never seemed more equal than I saw them at this place on this day! Honestly this is no exageration.

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During the Yoga session it did drizzle in between, a short shower and we would all carry our mats and rush to shelter and come back to the field again when it stopped. It was fun and we didnt even realise we spent around 3 hours there. Eventually we were told to hang around for lunch. Apparently there was Sambar rice, Lemon Rice and Potato subzi being made by Ram who also belonged to Bangalore and stays here. The invitation was pretty tempting and we were thinking of aborting the trek but then we learnt that it would take another 2 hours for lunch and I thought to myself we could rush up and down in that time and make it by lunch! 😉

 

So off we went to Mesar Kund, which was another stiff climb that took us 1 hour, this time it was just the three of us on the route, no human crossed us or met us on the way, there are no residences here and no one seemed to be coming that way. The three of us had to stop quite a few times to rest and catch up our breath. It was tiring but well worth the effort.

 

Here are a few pics we took :

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Walking through foliage that dense is something I love dearly!

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Encountering flowers on the way!

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Catching up breath was pretty important!

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Finally our destination!

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Mesar Kund!

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The tranquility of the place was something else the peace you could feel here was unbelievable, ideal place to sit and take deep breaths, the place was pristine and fresh and you should take in as much oxygen here as you can!

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Far away from the maddening crowd, beneath the Oak tree, gathering your thoughts! 🙂 Thats the prize you get for climbing and panting your guts out. You own places like this, there was no one but just the three of us here.

 

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From one end the view of the Panchachuli was something like this! 🙂

 

We munched about apples sitting here and watching the place and soaking the tranquility in, we didn’t bother with our packed lunches that our host had packed for us as the Sambhar Rice was playing on our minds. We hung around for around an hour at this place before the clouds threatened. We rushed but not before the rain fell on us and almost drenched us, thankfully enough we reached just in time for the Sambar Rice.

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Not the best picture, taken by mobile, however, make no mistake, this was one of the yummiest meals we had on our 15 day trip to Uttarakhand. The simplicity and yet amazingly wonderful Sambar Rice made by Ram were a highlight of this trip.

 

Amazing aint it to have authentic South Indian food cooked and served up so high North in the country and that too not in a restaurant but cooked in a camp! We emptied plates I tell you the three of us!

 

Its evident na, why I am smitten by the Himalaya’s and the people there and how I have encountered so much goodness so many times there that I just cant stop singing praises and making return trips. Not a believer in God, but if God did exist than I am sure he lived in these parts for there is still so much goodness left here! 🙂

 

The road to Munsiari

When driving in the hills is something you like you just cant get over the fact that you are driving in the Himalayas and you just want to keep talking about it, starting from Binsar and onto Munsiari we had a fabulous drive. It was such a special drive because almost rarely did we get 50 meter of straight road, just curves and curves and bends all the way and the distance was a mean 240 kms!!! Yes, imagine the thrill a driver gets on these roads, you are constantly into the drive and every new bend suddenly lends a new perspective to the whole view you have been having.

 

Uttarakhand I must confess has probably better roads than Himachal, perhaps owing to the lower altitude compared to Himachal and far more bends and curves again perhaps owing to small mountains than Himachal, I am no geography or mountain expert but from my experiences this is what I draw. These smoothly carpeted road make for a pleasant drive, the country side here is wooded like crazy and that in itself is a great boost for me to be driving. I always prefer highways with trees lacing it than the boring 6-8 lane highways with no trees to talk of. These roads have a lot more character I say. It was wonderful to be crossing so many bridges on the way, stopping at random chai thela’s and munching on a momo whenever we saw a village market. Less populated as we got on the road from Thal to Munsiyari and lot more greener, with the sides of the road being laced by green fresh grass which added even more happiness to the drive.

 

Not to exaggerate the curves on the road but actually my finger developed a small blister from all the veering of the steering, call it the roads or blame my soft hands 😉

 

Here are a few pictures of from the drive and a video too! 🙂

The almora berinag road is full of pines, however, the recent rains had given the grounds green colour

The Almora-Berinag road is full of Pine trees, however, the recent rains had given the grounds green colour and not the thick pine leave layer.

 

Crossing Bridges

Crossing Bridges

As you near Munsiyari you realise the Pine have not reached or breached this area. Its all old traditional Himalayan trees that take over here.

As you near Munsiyari you realise the Pine have not reached or breached this area. Its all old traditional Himalayan trees that take over here.

Then clouds start to take up their play as the day stretches to noon.

Then clouds start to take up their play as the day stretches to noon.

That was the last pic we took before it started raining

That was the last pic we took before it started raining

 

Here is a small video we took enroute : 

 

 

 

Road trips

Travel was a bug that had bit me probably whilst I was a very small kid, however, the effect of that bug started showing its true colours pretty late in life. Earlier the penchant to travel was to be fulfilled only with fantasies or books, finally last few years it is starting to become a bit of a reality. I learnt driving also pretty late, infact 3 years back when I bought a car I didn’t even know properly how to drive. Thankfully as my wife says to me I have taken to it like a fish takes to water!

 

It was always ingrained in my brains that I want to drive my car to all remote corners of this world, more so to the Himalayas, stopping where I liked, taking in all the sights, photographing any peak I found pretty or screeching my brakes at the sight of an unknown bird! I did want to do it and no other driver could tolerate the number of breaks I keep taking to click a pic or to buy some fruit being sold or take a piss or smoke when I found a pretty view which had to be soaked in.

 

The first trip to the Himalaya’s was quite tentative with every loved one giving me loads of advice to be careful as they all wanted me to go and come back safe to this year, my third road trip to the Himalaya’s all self driven I have come a long way.

 

The thing about road trips are, they are most comfortable, you can plan your schedules without any other criteria but your own comfort, you decide if you want to drive 400 kms a day or 900, if you want to drive in the night or day, if you want to suddenly change your destination you can, impromptu decisions infact make them even better I say.

 

Selecting a place to eat is a major event for me on Road Trips, tips from friends, internet or simply places that look attractive to me all kind of fill up the activity chart along with driving all day. In the Himalaya’s stopping at a random Dhaba for tea that has a splendid view is something I really heart. Talking to folks who are amazed that you have driven all the way from Gujarat kinda swells my small ego like anything. I feel proud almost! 🙂 Suddenly sighting someone selling some berries or someone pasting fruits with salt and masala and you can bet I will be stopping around to pick up something.

 

Watching how the topography changes as you keep changing states and regions is quite amazing, how when you are about to reach a Tiger reserve the forests start swelling and how the population starts to dwindle is quite dramatic. In the Himalayas when you are driving you many times wonder how some of the most steep and remote mountains have a house or two on them, wonder how do people select these places. Wonder how they manage their day to day resources living at such remote locations but then I guess many people prefer a good view, silence and peace to most other things in life! 🙂

 

As far as safety is concerned, what I have learned from my little experience of driving around Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, UP, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Punjab, Himachal, Goa& Karnataka is that most of the places are pretty much safe. We generally try not to drive a lot in the night, trying our best to reach our destinations before dark on most occasions. If you are just a tad careful and don’t be rash, frankly there are not so many terrors as people would have you believe on the road. Generally people drive safe and all want to live so don’t worry, be careful you don’t bump into anyone, most of the other drivers don’t want to bump into you as well. The fact that I am on a holiday kind of makes my driving a little more patient than say when I am driving for work!

 

As I make a road trip after another, I keep falling in love, not so much with driving but with the idea of moving about all the time, going to new places and navigating my own way.

 

Here is a picture of me whilst on my way to Jauljibi from Munsiyari where we crossed a bridge into Nepal. This place thrilled me, what a wonderful place to stop aint it?! You stop your car on a hot day, open the door and walk two days and you are into a chilling waterfall. How cool is that!? These places do exist in India and many a times there are so many pretty places you encounter on the road which are not mentioned on any travel site or included in any travel package.

 

So here’s to more road trips in future! 🙂

 

 

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