himAlayAtrA – Call of the Mountain – Part 2

New Delhi.

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 ***


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9 Responses to “himAlayAtrA – Call of the Mountain – Part 2”

  1. Malathi Says:

    I wish I could have been a part of this journey! were there any women in this group?
    Anyway, how do people here make a living?

    Ranikhet – brought back memories, Lot of young men from Ranikhet known as *pahadis* used to come to JNU for work. Since all the faculty quarters had *servant quarters* ( a nice room and bath, with a separate entrance) they would make a deal – they would help at the home and the professor sahib would find them a job in the Mess! My father helped atleast 4 young men to settle and make a living. Mom encouraged them to study and now three of them are literate, their kids go to college and they are all in touch with us!
    VERY FAIR , good looking dudes, the envy of all the south Indian mothers with darker skinned daughters!

    • gkamesh Says:

      Hello Malathi

      Yes, there were women in our group, five of the thirteen.

      As to how people make a living – To quote from http://library.thinkquest.org/10131/kumaon_economy.html : “Each family sends out at least one male member down to the Desh (plains) for service. The women folk and the remaining male members take care of the agriculture and cattle at home. However, the backbone of the Kumaon economy is forestry, which has the distinction of producing good timber.”

      Ah yes, Pahadis… We too had a Pahadi family who stayed with us. I grew up partly on Pahadi food. Loved the way they made Anghiti out of old metal buckets, and the fulkas they would make on the coal anghiti. Learnt a bit of the language too, and could sing “bedpaako baarimaasa”…

      I heard Ramacaritmanas first from the mouths of the Pahadis…. Those days folks in Delhi would greet each other saying “Ram-Ram”…

      Jai Ram Ji ki!

  2. Meena Pakala Says:

    So good to read through this, especially the pictures and video of the flowing waters. Remember the Ram-Ram greeting. Simple goodness. The write-up is so enticing that I feel like joining you in one of your yatras… that is, if you’ll let me! Well, at least for the train ride, packed idlis, breakfast parantas, and hot chai! How was the weather up there in August? Did you need warm clothes?

    Thanks for bringing these experiences to my kitchen table.


  3. gkamesh Says:

    Hello Meena,

    The weather was fine, but getting colder…. As of now, it was just fine. Himalayan weather is unpredictable. Can change in minutes!


  4. Srinivasa Says:

    I liked the video the most. I had almost forgotten how flowing water sounded.

    > (Do all Malayalee singers have Jesudas like voice, I wonder…).

    One more example – Prince Rama Varma who sings Carnatic. Similarly, many work a day Telugu singers sound like Ghantasala. I think it’s a learned aesthetic.

    Very nice pictures incl that of the chai shop. Will read the post again.

  5. Radhakrishnan/Posty Says:

    Nice, Kameshwar. Relaxed the mind swiftly. Hope I can do such a trip as well.

  6. GLNMurthy Says:

    Dear Kameshji, Thank u for the recent post. I was at Nainital last summer and I could not see the Himalayan range of hills due to cloudy whether.Then I visited a nearby temple called “one lakh bells” temple. The practice there is one can pray at the samadhi of baba for the fullfillment of a wish and should return ,after the wish is fulfilled,to the samadhi, and tie a bell of any size to a tree near the baba’s Samadhi. I prayed for the early settling of my elder son’s marriage and it was settled immediately in three months.Now I have to visit again Nainital to bell the tree and fall in line along with Laks of all others like me who belled the tree before me.I Thank u for the information on Kainchi Hanuman temple and Neeb karori baba. There are about seven Tals around Nainital.
    Hidimba was a Rakshasa wife of Bheema but she was deified in Kulu-Manali and made the first local deity at Manali.Eeven now Raghunath temple will not start annual utsavams unless Hidimba comes down to Kulu from Manali.
    yes Himalayas are Mahabharatha country.Even Kauravas got small temples there.
    I agree with the statement that all Kerala singers got same voice like Jesudas. My wife who is a singer also confirmed the same.Any way it is god’s own country and god has only one language i.e MUSIC.
    Thank u for giving me the meaning of Kumaon. In all ur postings you are giving some knowledge of new things.Thank u “SUTATMAJI”-Murthy

  7. gkamesh Says:

    The bell temple…Is that the temple of Golu Devata? I heard of this temple, where people offer Bells..

  8. Thiru Says:

    Truly incredible India Guruji. Wish get a chance to visit these places. Video brought some fond memories of my visits to Kilimpong where you get to pass by Tista white water River. Similar flow, similar musical sound. Affn Thiru

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