This was written while in Kumaon.. but I never got a strong enough signal on my Reliance modem to upload it. Which is just as well :)
This, is life
The air is fresh and crisp.
The view from the window, 'mountainy' and green.
A little blue bird was on my window sill this morning.
This is the life, you say to yourself. Udhar sheher mein, bheed bhaad mein, traffic jam aur tensions ke beech hum kar kya rahe hain??
This, is Binsar eco camp. A quaint little family run place where you feel right at home. There are just 11 rooms. A small kitchen which produces hot, home-style food. And one Mr Kesarchand Mehra who welcomes you, and shows you around with gusto.
"See.. this is rosemary. And this, smell it! What is it? Guess?"
It's the 'Odomos' plant. Rub it on your body and it will keep the moskies away. Not that you need to do that here - none spotted so far.
At lunch, we have 'bhaang ki chutney'. "Cannabis," explains Mehraji helpfully. Not to worry. Thodi si khaane se kuch hota nahin hai. We tried :)
A quick word on the 'eco' bit of eco camp. Apart from growing herbs and flowers there is nothing special being done here in the eco sense of the word. The cottages are brick and mortar, and there is generous use of wood. You have a modern bathroom, and intermittent electricity as well.
But Mr Mehra puts it this way,"Without economy, there is no ecology." Efforts like his bring in tourists and provide much needed employment for locals. Many of whom lost their source of livelihood when Binsar was declared a sanctuary, a protected forest area.
As far as 'eco' goes, Mehraji does have plans to introduce solar heaters and maybe even wind power. Meanwhile he's educating villagers on the benefits of growing organic vegetables - which is what you mostly get to eat when you stay here :)
The next morning we set off to explore the jungle in the vicinity. There is a 'viewpoint' from where Nandadevi and numerous other Himalayan peaks are visible on a clear day. Today, it's foggy. But still beautiful.
Brown and yellow pine leaves blanket the ground we walk on. We reach a cave. Porcupines live inside it but they're hiding deep inside. There are interesting birds flying around - we spot some Himalayan parakeets and a woodpecker.
We climb up to the Mata Anandmayee ashram. It is deserted right now, but there is a little room where a diya glows, next to her picture. You feel at peace there.
Later in the day we trek up to the Bimladevi temple. More for the trek, than the temple. It isn't a difficult climb but us city slickers ain't all that fit. We huff and puff much of the way.
My feet are hurting the rest of the day. But I have three and a half chapatis (with ghee) and feel rather satisfied :)
The plan was to just sack out here and 'do nothing'. But then we heard about this fundu place called 'Patal Bhuvaneshwar'. This is an ancient cave temple with natural rock formations which literally tell stories from Hindu mythology, and specifically from the Skand purana.
Now this was intriguing enough to make the 3 hr drive to the place. And I must say, it is amazing.
Majestic deodar trees keep the cave temple hidden to the eye - from a distance.
You walk down half a km and are greeted by a few straggly tourists and an ancient man who records your name and 'address'. No entry fee, he tells you to 'see' the place and then make a donation as well as pay the guide. "Jitni aapki icchha."
You enter the cave through an extremely narrow entrance, slipping and half-sliding 90metres down. The first formation you see is 'Sheshnag' and it really does look like the hood of a snake. An enthusiastic guide brings alive the various stories associated with each formation.
From Airavata (Indra's elephant) to the Pandavas playing dice with Parvati - there are some very interesting, amar kathas captured here.
And whether or not you are the religious sort, there is certainly something beyond coincidence and mere mortal imagination happening here. If you a believer, well, all the better. They say visiting this one cave is the equivalent of visiting all four 'dhams'.
You can read all about the various legends associated with each formation here and here
I found the formation which is said to be the river Ganga flowing from Shiva's locks to be the most fascinating.
Photography is not allowed inside the cave hence I am putting up this scan of one of the postcard size prints you can buy near the temple. Sadly it does no justice at all to the experience- you have to be there, feel it.
'Patrakaars' are allowed to take pictures and even shoot video, if they have prior permission from the relevant authority in Dehradun. I would love to go back one day and do that!
On the journey back, I thought India is incredible. There is always something new to discover. And there's more to this 5 day trip - but I'll save that for another day, another post.
Binsar Eco Camp - Dhaulchhina, Uttarakhand
Best way to reach: By overnight train from old Delhi to Kathgodam (you reach fresh @ 530 am). Then taxi it up to Binsar (3-3.5 hrs)
Other places to stay: In Binsar proper there is a Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam guesthouse and also a Club Mahindra property.