Saturday, August 13th, 2011.
It is Avani Avittam day. Its Raksha Bandan day.
Morning sees me perform yajur veda upakarma at home. After lunch, I take a cab to the Puranee Dilli (Old Delhi) Railway station. Built more than a hundred years ago. the British modeled it in the style of Lal Qila (Red Fort). Servicing a couple of hundred thousand passengers every day, this is a buzzing hive of humanity.
Not much traffic on the road. Raksha Bandan is a local holiday. Offices and shops on the road to Old Delhi are all closed. Smooth drive. The transition of culture from New Delhi to Old Delhi is very visible. Old Delhi feels more Indian, in an earthy sense.
As I get off in the station, I notice a long queue of people, lined up to enter the station. I can’t believe it. Its a long-long queue. If I join this one, I might end up missing my train. I talk to a porter and we arrive at a deal. He takes my little luggage and navigates into the station through another gate, bypassing the queue, and I breathe easy.
I join my fellow Yatris, who are waiting in the railway platform.
The last time I visited the station was more than twenty years back, when I had come to see off a friend who was going to the IAS training academy in Mussoorie. Now, standing on the platform, getting used to the density of humanity, wishing that the train would come quick…
The Uttarakhand Sampark Kranti express (Old Delhi to Kathgodam) is the train that we take. Leaves Old Delhi at around 4:30 PM. We are all booked in 3t A/C. Quite comfortable. My fellow Yatris are a wonderful bunch of people. From Australia, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai and Delhi, its a close knit group of Sai devotees. Along with me, we are a group of thirteen. Most of the folks are Malayalee. And I know no Malayalam. That would change a bit by the time the Yatra ends 🙂
Suresh of our group is a professional singer. Has a voice like Jesudas. (Do all Malayalee singers have Jesudas like voice, I wonder…). And on popular request he sings and we listen. Soon, others are singing too, as do I, and time passes. Evening sees us having some Idli dinner, thoughtfully bought and packed from Saravana Bhavan, Delhi. Night, 10:30 pm or so, we reach Haldwani where 99% of the passengers disembark. We proceed and get off at the terminus, Kathgodam. Time is around 11 pm. Rajesh, is the chief organizer of our group. With a terrific eye for detail, he has tied up everything, well in advance. Three cabs wait for us at Kathgodam station. We take the cabs and check into a hotel. We are to get up early, and leave at 5 am or so. Its a neat hotel, not far from the station. As we sleep, I am woken up at around 3 am or maybe 3:30 by loudspeaker music from some local public place. They belt music at super volume for almost an hour and a half. My roommate of the day Balaji, sleeps through it all. He is a blessed man.
Kathgodam means “Timber Godown”. Guess the British would have built it for storing timber (esp the Devadaru trees) that they would have chopped off the hills of Kumaon and shipped back home to England… Oh, the empire!
Sunday, 14th August. 5 am, and we are off. Our destination, Dwarahat, in the hills of Kumaon.
As the sky turns twilight blue, we are driving up the hairpin bends of the hills of Kumaon. Kumaon is one of the two principal regions of Uttarakhand state, the other being Garhwal. Derived from the name Koormanchal (the land of Koorma Avatar, the incarnation of Lord Vishnu as a turtle), Kumaon is a land of enchanting beauty…
As we go up, we see the Gaula river flowing from the hills and far into the plains…
Its my younger brother’s birthday. I phone him around 6 am, and wake him up to wish him. Searching for his voice, he manages to mutter a groggy “thanks, thanks” and cuts me off. My good deed for the day done, I sit back to enjoy my first morning in the mountain….
(Click on the pictures to get a larger view)
The distance from Kathgodam to Dwarahat is around 120 Kms and our plan is to reach Dwarahat by around 10 am. On the way we should be passing Ranikhet, which is around three two thirds of the way up.
An hour or two into the drive, we pass a beautiful lake, Bheemtal. Named after the Pandava prince Bheema, Bheemtal is the largest lake in Kumaon. As per local lore, the Pandavas came here during their exile period. Bheema dug the earth here to get water, and so the lake came to be. There is a little island in the lake, and a temple of Bhimeshwara Mahadeva (said to have been first built by Bheema) adjacent to the lake.
Here’s a glimpse of Bheemtal…
Bheemtal is said to be a better holiday spot than the more famous Nainital. Water birds, boating, treks…. A few kms from Bheemtal is Nal-Damayanti Tal, associated with the great King Nala. Not far off is Karkotaka hill, named after the serpent Karkotaka, which bit King Nala during his exile. A few kms from Bheemtal is Hidimba parvat. Named after Hidimba, the noble Rakshasa wife of Bheema. The Himalaya is Mahabharata country! And as a narrator of Mahabharata, the Soota is in me is happy to be home! Jaya!
Bheemtal is an ancient town all right… It was a linkage halt for hill travelers to Kumaon, Nepal, Tibet for a long-long time… It is said to have been, perhaps, a part of the Silk route…
We drive on…
Somewhere near Bhowali, we stop at a bunk… Stretch… Breathe chilled air… Gaze….We spot Langurs gliding across the tree tops….
On the other side of the road, a homely tea shop….
We are in three cabs.
Two Tavera cars and one Innova. I am in a Tavera, and the driver is Tara, a Kumaoni…. He has a picture of Neeb Karori Baba on the car windshield, and a little image of Hanuman standing on the dashboard. Tara is a devotee of this great Baba.
Some 10 kms or so from Bhowali, when we reach a place called Kainchi he stops…. Down below, is the Ashrama of Neeb Karori Baba… On the road, a chai shop on hand… Parathas for breakfast… A lovely mountain stream flows nearby.
I see my fellow Yatri JK walking across to the Ashrama.
After having some tea, I too decide to go to the Ashrama of Neeb Karori baba. A little foot bridge over the brooke leads the way to the Ashram, a lovely dwelling perched in the hills…
Neeb Karori Baba was a great sage, a Paramahamsa, who lived here for many years, and built this Ashrama. A great devotee of Hanuman, and a preacher of the liberating power of “Raama” naama, he built over a hundred temples of Hanuman in many parts of India. The Kainchi Ashrama is one of the two Ashrams that he constructed, the other being in his Samadhi sthal in Brindavan.Also known as Neem Karoli Baba or Maharajji, you can read more about him by clicking here or here.
It was in 1942 that Neeb Karori Baba is said to have first thought of building an Ashrama at this site in Kainchi. This is the site where two great sages, Sombari Maharaj and Sadhu Premi Baba had lived and performed Yajna. Here it is that Neeb Karori Baba decided to build a temple of Hanuman… He did that in 1960s and the temple was inaugurated in 1963.
Here is a closer view of the Kainchi Ashrama.
The shrine you see immediately inside the gate is that of Goddess Vaishnavi. Some folks are singing Bhajan in the Vaishnavi shrine… There are also other shrines in the Ashram complex, of Hanuman, Rama… Peace…
Kainchi means “scissors” in Hindi. The Kainchi town is at the intersection of two hills that forms a scissor shape, and so the name, says one source. Another says that the place is so named because there are two very sharp hairpin bends on the road here. By the holiness of the Ashrama, may this Kainchi cut the Hridgranthi of all pilgrims… To know more about this Ashrama click here.
And now, shall we have a first hand feel of the ambiance here? Here’s a little video of the stream gurgling by the holy Ashrama of Neeb Karori Baba, at Kainchi. Put up the speakers and listen to the waters…
Click on the picture below to play.
*** To be continued ***