The reDiscovery Project: From Almora to Kasar Devi, witnessing breathtaking views of the Himalayas

Editor’s note: You may have heard the saying ‘the journey is the destination’, but some travellers actually put that philosophy into practice. Presenting, #FTravellers — on-the-road (or air/sea) dispatches from travel enthusiasts on long journeys.

The travellers we're now featuring are Ambika Vishwanath and Hoshner Reporter of The reDiscovery Project. Ambika and Hoshner are doing an in-depth journey through Uttarakhand, and will be sharing their travel journals on Firstpost.

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Dispatch 3

Text by Ambika Vishwanath | Photos by Hoshner Reporter

The inky blue evening sky was in battle with itself. The intermittent crashes of thunder tore through the sounds of the lashing rain, and as we huddled under the warm blankets and looked outside beyond the large window, we saw Almora and the valley below lit up by lightning. We gasped at the scene outside, as streaks of white flashed one after the other. The electricity went out and in the pitch black, we marvelled at one of nature’s great shows.

Misty mountain mornings in Almora

Misty mountain mornings in Almora

We were in Almora, having arrived earlier that afternoon from Ramgarh after hitching a ride to Bhowali and then catching a share taxi from there. Jumping into a share taxi or hailing a running one seemed quite easy, and we were feeling rather pleased with ourselves. We’d spent the afternoon walking through the old market of Almora, a quaint street that still had many time-worn homes with carved wooden facades — some decrepit and rotting — and tiny balconies that reminded one of the havelis of old Jaipur. There were scores of small shops selling everything one might need and a ton of sweet shops too. Everyone was selling the famous bal mitha and a khoya-based sweet called singori, served in a cone made out of an oak leaf, which seemed to be a local favourite. People milled about; some walked with purpose, and others like us, were whiling away time. We made our way through the market to Khem Shingh Mohan Singh the most famous sweet shop in town, which helpful friends and followers on Facebook had told us about. Despite its tiny, age-worn appearance, not unlike the old man sitting behind the counter, the shop does brisk business, selling hundreds of kilos of mithai each day.

Colourful old homes in the Almora marketplace

Colourful old homes in the Almora marketplace

Having sampled the famous sweets on offer, which Hoshner relished but I found cloyingly sweet, we made our way back to the KMVN where we were staying, stopping for momos at a little tin shed run by Kamla, one of the chattiest women we’d encountered. Against the backdrop of colourful Tibetan prayer flags, bright bowls and plates, she recounted the story of her life to unasked questions, as we munched on delicious mutton momos and laughed as only friends can. The sky was turning dark and she urged us to get home soon. "It will start raining," she warned. Sure enough, as we hurried back, a light shower began which soon turned angry, unleashing the kind of storm that is brilliant in the mountains, but only when it is experienced from within the confines of a warm room.

Intricately carved windows in the Almora marketplace

Intricately carved windows in the Almora marketplace

"It’s like a war outside," remarked Hoshner, as he lamented about being unable to take pictures through the glass pane. I could foresee adventures ahead as we would go on to chase snow-capped peaks and epic views, but that’s a story for the next time. The storm disappeared as fast as it had begun, taking the dark clouds and rain to the next ridge, and the sky cleared itself to reveal a wide expanse of the brilliant snow-clad Himalayan peaks in all their might and glory.

Jovial Kamla has a small shop in the market and makes a mean momo

Jovial Kamla has a small shop in the market and makes a mean momo

Against the purple twilight sky the peaks were stark white, heralding promises of what was yet to come. Along with the other guests, we ventured out to witness the beauty of the Nanda Devi and Trishul range. After the last few days of the summer haze, it was a sight for sore eyes, as the lights below in the valley slowly twinkled on, resembling the stars above.

The ancient temple complex of Jageshwar is simply magical in the morning light

The ancient temple complex of Jageshwar is simply magical in the morning light

Kaafal, a reddish sweet and sour berry that grows wild in the summer, is all the rage in Almora

Kaafal, a reddish sweet and sour berry that grows wild in the summer, is all the rage in Almora

Almora and the areas around proved to be a great travel experience. After a couple of days in the town and having made a day trip to the ninth century Jageshwar temples, stuffed in a sumo with 12 adults, we decided to spend a few days in the hippie village of Kasar Devi. A few more bursts of rain had cleared the skies and we found ourselves a room in a guest house run by the friendly Kishan for 800 rupees a night. We decided to stay put, catching up on work, laundry and gazing at the imposing Himalayas that were splashed across the horizon in the mornings.

The view from our homestay in Kasardevi

The view from the homestay in Kasar Devi

Kishan has a large lawn on the side of the ridge filled with oak, pine and rhododendron, perfect for a quiet viewing experience with endless cups of coffee. Monkeys seemed to be a menace in the area, and all day the dogs around would be hard at work, barking and chasing away the mean creatures. "They’ve become a big problem in the last few years," says Kishan as we chat about rural life in Uttarakhand, the benefits of living as he does and the lack of opportunity in the mountains. People are leaving in droves in search of work, as city folk increasingly dream of clean air and the mountains. Kishan is curious about our chosen lifestyle; he has met many travellers who pass through his guest house but not any Indians like us, and asks if we have found peace. We’re not sure about peace, but we’ve certainly let go of some stresses that would bind us, more so in these beautiful locales.

Snow-capped Himalyan peaks in Almora

Snow-capped Himalyan peaks in Almora

Made famous by Swami Vivekananda who meditated in a cave at the highest point of Kasar in 1890 where a temple now stands, the little village became a part of the hippie circuit in the second half of the previous century. Visited by psychologist Timothy Leary, apparently the creator of LSD and a motley bunch including Bob Dylan, Cat Stevens and Robert Thurman among others during the 60s and the 70s, it is now largely frequented by foreign tourists who settle there for months, a few wanderers like us and the occasional domestic tourist on vacation. Leary believed that there was a cosmic energy around Kasar, also known as Crank’s ridge, that attracted wanderers, artists and lost souls. Perhaps he was right. Typical cafes with floor seating and muesli, Nutella toast and milkshakes have sprung up and jostle for space with village homes, and I for one was quite happy at the sight of some different food after days of parathas, potatoes and generic yellow dal. We’d asked everywhere for Kumaoni food, but oddly, it seemed rather difficult to come by. It was very strange and we hoped that our later stops in a home in Binsar and villages further north in Munsiyari might prove successful, but these are stories for our next dispatch, so stay tuned.

Read more from this series here.

Writer Ambika Vishwanath and photographer Hoshner Reporter are the team behind The reDiscovery Project. Follow their journey here.


Updated Date: Jun 01, 2018 17:45 PM