Thursday, January 24, 2013

Day 2 - Kumaon and I - Trek to Dunagiri Hills

Day 2 – 24th June 2012 – Trek to Dunagiri (Dronagiri) to Maha Avatar Babaji’s Cave
The morning had an unexpected surprise for us. We were supposed to get ready by 7 am so that we can start our trek early and come back to the Ashram by lunch time. Apparently, I adjusted the alarm for 6 am in the morning though I had doubts about the functionality as my cell was running on low battery and the power supply in Dwarahat is even unpredictable than the stock markets.
In the morning, suddenly, I opened my eyes. I jumped in the bed and looked out of the windows. It seemed like our alarm had betrayed us and we’ve overshot the timeline. In a hurry, I lunged towards my cellphone to see if had drained and to my surprise, my cellphone was showing time…. 5.30 AM. I couldn’t believe my eyes. The atmosphere outside was similar to 8 AM. Birds chirping, clear light…but it was 5.30 am. I woke up Anita just to experience that phenomenon. She said it was surprising and went back to sleep. I somehow was at awe of the sight since I had never experienced this in my life. Such a stark daylight at 5.30 am! I wonder what must be happening to the people who keep on experiencing ‘White Nights’ in Russia and part of Europe!    
So as per the schedule, we were ready by 7.20 am (we had overshot the timeline by 20 minutes though!) Our guide, the 9th standard student, Mukesh Arya was ready and waiting for us to take to the Dunagiri Hills and subsequently to the caves of Maha Avatar Babaji. As we came out of the ashram, our car was very much ready and was wondering about Shib Kumar if he managed to get a place to sleep last night. No! He didn’t! He was grumbling that he had to sleep in the car itself. Buddy, even I would’ve had to find my place if the Ashram administration had not allowed me to stay there. It was just their generosity that allowed me to stay inside the ashram.
The Dunagiri Hills were 30 km away from the Ashram at Dwarahat. So by the time, you must have calculated the stipulated time if you had been reading my travelogues…that’s right…1 hour! So the small town was just coming to the terms of the new day and we zoomed past the main market of Dwarahat on our way to Dunagiri Hills. Having chosen places which were very much unknown to a regular traveler, we had all the luxury of seeing no other vehicle on the road. Since Dwarahat is located in the plains and Dunagiri is in the hills, the drop in the temperature was obvious for us. Very much similar to the rise in the temperature last evening when we travelled from Ranikhet to Dwarahat!
The pines or the chirpines as they are called locally have actually invaded almost every landscape in Uttarakhand. Probably, at the first sight, you may love this tree for its unique appearance but the frequent sighting leads to boredom. Further, the tree does no good to the ecology and rather it damages it. It sucks the maximum amount of water from the soil thus rendering other plants and trees almost panting for water. It’s straw like leaves form a thick coat on the fertile surface which actually restricts growth of any of the other vegetation. The dry coat is also quick to catch fire and hence, responsible for most of the forest fires across Uttarakhand. I heard that Oak trees are the best for the ecology maintenance. Hope that I’ll see more Oaks than Pines in my next visit to Kumaon
On our way to Dunagiri Hills, we also chalked out a diversion that would have taken us to Kausani the next day. What a beautiful landscape it turned out to be! But more description will be available on that day’s account
Ok, one good thing about our bad pines is the pine cones. The wonderfully complex yet symmetrical structure makes it a must carry memento if you are visiting Kumaon. We saw so many pine cones lying by the roadside while going to Dunagiri and decided that we’ll carry them on our way back. So after a pleasant one hour journey since we started from the Yogoda ashram in Dwarahat, we made a pit stop at the one and only and the famous ‘Joshi Restaurant’ aka ‘Josh Tea Stall’
Joshi Restaurant, Dunagiri
A blog or a write up on Maha Avatar Babaji’s caves is not complete without mentioning Joshi  Tea Stall. It is actually interesting to see how material and spiritual things get entangled in a subtle manner for probably even for the staunchest of the spiritual person.  Search any blog about the trek to Dunagiri Hills and you will find the reference of Joshi Tea Stall.
Having breakfast in the lap of nature! :)
So Mr. Joshi is a typical Kumaoni thin frame, face glistening with a Dabur Oil face massage and a perpetual smile which is a Kumaoni trademark. As soon as our vehicle stopped in front of his restaurant, he came out greeting with his hands folded. We were also very happy that we got a reliable food joint since we haven’t had anything as we had started in the morning. A slightly off beat but yet very delicious combination of chick peas in red gravy and sweet buns gave a much needed start. This was accompanied by a cup of piping hot tea. And we were literally sitting on the roadside with a temporary arrangement of chairs and benches overlooking the wonderful valley and the green hills beyond it!
Mr. Joshi is the second generation entrepreneur (as people love to read in this way) since the tea stall was started by Joshiji’s father in the sixties. That legacy has been maintained well by his son and rather continue to flourish. The Tea Stall has now been changed into a restaurant and mind you, you will also notice Joshi Guest House which gives you the feeling of being in the lap of the nature without any luxurious amenity.
It was just 15 past 8 in the morning and the air was cool. We finished our breakfast and decided to drive towards the base of trek in the hills. However, looking at the condition of the road and our car, it was decided that we’ll have a walk to the base of the trek. It turned out to be a good decision. We found so many trees bearing fruits like peaches, pears and walnuts which we normally would have ignored on a ride in the car. Anita was again nostalgic seeing these fruits which are also very much common in her motherland, Kashmir. And without mention, you must also guess that pines were also there.
After walking for half an hour, we finally reached the base from where trek begins to Maha Avatar Babaji’s caves and can further be extended to Pandu (Pandav) Kholi. Anita did an unusual thing here. She was anyways not wearing  shoes which should have helped her to do the trek. But to my surprise, she removed her footwear and decided to a barefoot trek. That belief is commendable. So to be on the safer side, we decided to keep Anita between me and our guide, Mukesh so that anything coming in her way should had been dealt properly. So good of us!
Ubiquitous Pines of Uttarakhand
By 9.45, we managed to reach Smriti Bhavan situated amongst the oak forest. We decided to take a short break before we could proceed for Maha Avatar Babaji’s caves. Surprisingly, the caves were not far away and we managed to reach there within 15 minutes. That was a big relief because we were tired. Anita was probably the happiest amongst the lot. The satisfaction and spark could be observed at the same time in her eyes. I was also happy that she was happy. Somehow, the Kumaon trip was arranged with a very purpose of visiting Babaji’s caves in Dunagiri. I must tell you that Kashmir actually lost to Kumaon in this race when we were planning it initially. Alas, whatever happens, happens for good!
Oh yes, I forgot to mention that we had added the youngest person to our group before proceeding for Babaji’s caves from Smriti Bhavan, Karan Bhandari. Barely started attending the primary, this wily kid knew every nuke and corner of the hills and surprisingly he was on his own. His parents were busy doing the daily chores but were least bothered about him getting lost in the woods. It was obvious that being the youngest, he got a hefty chunk of the sweets we had brought with us and he later told this to his mother in a Kumaoni dialect
Trek to the Cave of Maha Avatar Babaji
We were very much on schedule to reach the Yogoda Ashram in Dwarahat by lunch (late afternoon lunch).  By the time we reached the base of the hill, it was almost getting noon. The Kumaon Hills this time were slightly warmer than they normally are. And we were experiencing that and that too without any protection (hat, umbrella etc). The walk from the base till Joshi Restaurant made us sweat all over and Joshiji again came to help us with the chilled bottles of coke and sprite. Joshiji told us (and we were aware that) the South movie star, Rajnikanth is regular visitor to Babaji’s caves and last year, the bubbly Juhi Chawala had also visited this place. However, most startling was a muslim family coming all the way from Bahrain to visit Babaji’s caves. Joshiji had a truckload of stories to tell but we had very little time left with us. We bid adieu to Joshiji promising him about returning to Dunagiri and staying at his guest house.
On the way back, though we were late, we again stopped for 15-20 minutes to collect the pine cones on the road. After partially filling the boot space of our car with pine cones, we headed for Yogoda Ashram where lunch was waiting for us. Sticking to the simplicity of principles (or principles of simplicity) we had the food which tasted good without excessive use of oil and spices. We had an eventful first half which started with getting up early. A nap was must!
In the evening, after having the tea, I took the liberty to walk out of the ashram  to explore the area. The prayers inside the ashram were daily routine and Anita felt a strong desire to attend those prayers as well as the energization exercise. I sat for more than an hour on the ridge in front of the ashram overlooking the dense pine forests. Even a group of curious boys approached me asking me what I was up to! I told them I’m just chilling. They simply didn’t get the depth. To sit for an hour specifically between 5 to 6 pm overlooking the forests and the mountain range beyond with the cool air flowing means a lot for a person who is trapped in a corporate maze. I smiled at them.
In the meanwhile, Anita had finished her engagements and came out of the ashram. It was starting to get cooler and waft of wet soil was coming from a distance. Actually, everybody across Uttarakhand was praying for the rains. It had been an unusually hot summer for this year. There was a tea stall where Shib Kumar got an arrangement to sleep for a night. We were happy that he would not be grumbling the next day over inadequate facilities. The tea stall was being run by a couple in their late thirties. We were not aware that it was just a tea stall and not a restaurant. The lady was cooking bhindi (okra) for her evening meals and offered us some.  I had started feeling hungry and the lovely odour of okra made it an irresistible offer.
Me and Anita gobbled up all the vegetable with hot rotis that poor lady had prepared for her family. We realized this after she started cooking another vegetable for her family. We felt terribly guilty over this act and on the other hand, she was happy that we were satisfied. And she plainly refused to take money for this. Living a certain vicinity, we tend to form opinion about mankind. I mean the dialogue which I have heard again and again in many movies is “Bahar ki duniya bahut kharab hain” (The world outside is lethal). It was being proven wrong every time I visited a new territory, be it Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan or now…Uttarakhand!
In the meanwhile, the rain started and it felt like a blitzkrieg rain. Came out of nowhere with full force. Dwarahat got another reason to fall in dark. But this time it was for good reason. Finally the soil was soaked in water. The people were happy and so were we!   
Love peaches? Have patience! :)


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