Kumaon Wanderings : Darma Valley – Day 5 (Lohaghat to Nainital)

Kumaon Wanderings : Darma Valley – Day 0: Nainital to Didihat
Kumaon Wanderings : Darma Valley – Day 1: Didihat to Dantu
Kumaon Wanderings : Darma Valley – Day 2: Dantu
Kumaon Wanderings : Darma Valley – Day 3: Dantu to Munsyari
Kumaon Wanderings : Darma Valley – Day 4: Munsyari to Lohaghat
Kumaon Wanderings : Darma Valley – Day 5: Lohaghat to Nainital

Last day of the ride. I planned to leave early and reach home by lunch time.

Lohaghat to Nainital
Lohaghat market

Lohaghat market was starting to get alive when I left. Turning towards Devidhura, I quickly left Lohaghat behind. There was low lying fog between the mountains and sun was just rising behind me.

Foggy Morning
Most satisfying sight in the hills. See here: Future

Pretty soon the pine jungles started. The roads were excellent and I has a lot of fun riding the curves. There was a bit of fog which required a bit of careful riding.

Ahh! the jungles of Pine trees

This was also the day when the panchayat election votes were to be counted and results to be declared. At several places police had blocked the road and were inquiring before letting vehicles through.

Fog followed me all morning
Village house
Snack time at Devidhura

At Devidhura, stopped at a tea shop for a break and something to eat. The town was much smaller than I had imagined. I am guessing that the only thing famous about this place is the stone pelting mela.

At Devidhura
Village School

The road goes through several villages. It felt as if driving though the backroads with village huts and villagers going about their daily life alongside the road.

Given the season, Marigolds were in full bloom adding a dash or orange to the winter sky.

Cleaning the grains
Village life
Himalayas from near Dhanachuli

Dhanachuli was a surprise find. The Himalayan ridge was faintly visible. I can imagine that on a clear day the views would be wonderful. Back of my mind I filed a route option for a future trip.

Ladfora Bridge
Houses in the hills

Pretty soon I was in Bhimtal and on my way to Nainital. It was surprising and concerning to find many hotels in Bhimtal to advertising themselves as being in Nainital. Way to fool the tourists.

Wildflower

It was an hour past noon when I reached Nainital. Just in time for lunch after a wonderful ride.

Kumaon Wanderings : Darma Valley – Day 4 (Munsyari to Lohaghat)

The morning in Munsyari was disappointing. There were clouds all over. Several times I peeped out of my window, hoping to see clear skies but to no avail.

Munsyari to Lohaghat

Eventually I stepped out into the terrace and waiting for luck to change. However that was not to be. I drank two cups of tea on the terrace and then prepared to leave.

Clouds over Panchachuli
View from the bed

Packing my bags, I went down to check out. There were chaos at the reception. The large group of students were also leaving at the same time. After 15-20 min I was on my way out.

Stopped at Thamri Kund trail head to take some pictures. Because of the cloud cover it was quite cold. I dug out another T-Shirt from my bag to add another layer for warmth.

Panchachuli from the Thamri Kund trail head
A seasonal waterfall on the way

The road from Munsyari is in a pretty bad condition. Patches of tar followed by long stretches of broken road with some very large potholes. Given the popularity of Munsyari in the tourism circuit, I would expect the road to be good. I guess the Uttarakhand government does not care.

Navigating around the broken road took quite long to reach Birthi falls. Long ago there used to be only a KMVN guest house. Now there are multiple shops and a large parking like structure is also coming up. It wasn’t too tempting to stop and hike up to the falls.

Birthi falls

The view of the falls was quite nice from across the valley a little down the road. I stopped there for a little break and stretched my legs.

I was also starting to feel hungry, having eaten nothing since morning. Long ago there used to be a shack under a tree, near the junction of Tejam/Munsyari/Kapkot roads. There they served excellent fish, freshly caught from the Ramganga below. As I drove towards Tejam, I wondered whether that shack was still there.

Evolution of a shack
Fish and roti lunch

At that junction the shack had evolved into a nice restaurant with a public toilet and a shop. Fortunately the place still served fish. Roti with fish curry was to be the first meal of the day.

After a hearty meal I was inclined to take a nap. But I had long way to go along uncharted territory – eastern Uttarakhand.

Ramganga river near Nachani

Soon I was at Thal. The roads improved after that. Driving to Berinag was a breeze, especially with the jungle being that of pine.

At Berinag, I made the mistake of not taking the bypass and went though the city to get caught in traffic.

Weaning my self out, I went towards Gangolihat. I could have taken a shorter route towards Almora. However, I wanted to go via Gangolihat, Lohaghat etc. The road till Gangolihat is on a ridge, having excellent view of the Himalayas. On this day the clouds played spoil sport and all I could see were clouds and nearby hills.

Toward Gangolihat

The road is also a mess. Long stretches of broken road are adequate to bruise the bum. Boy, I was glad to reach Gangolihat. The town is larger that I had thought. The road improved significantly once I crossed the city.

Town of Gangolihat

As I descended to lower altitude, views became better. The hills were gently sloping and terraced field started showing up. This was the highlight of the day.

Terrace Farming
Autumn

The road was excellent till the Panar bridge and then all hell broke loose. A wide highway is being build to Pithoragarh via Tanakpur/Champawat/Lohaghat and immense amount of hill cutting is going on. This means dust, debris and blockages every where.

Panar Bridge at Timta
Rameshwar Temple near Timta

Breathing immense amount of dust, I turned towards Mount Abbot – a few Km before Lohaghat. The map showed a KMVN which was not operational.

A local offered to put me up at a bungalow where he was the caretaker. That did look like a good option till I saw the bungalow. It was a nice old colonial bungalow, much like the ones in Nainital. However, the place had an eerie feeling about it, which increased further when I was shown the room. Making an excuse on high price, I hightailed it out of there.

Nature in Action

Lohaghat was the next stop. Got a room at Hotel Cedar Plaza. Other than the manager there was no one there. Everyone had gone to watch a local football match. Between stepping out for tea and taking a nap, I decided to do the latter.

I was woken up an hour later when the cook brought me tea. After tea, I went to the market to buy a drink and some snacks. Later I sat in the room watching T.V. before dinner.

Kumaon Wanderings : Darma Valley – Day 3 (Dantu to Munsyari)

Kumaon Wanderings : Darma Valley – Day 0: Nainital to Didihat
Kumaon Wanderings : Darma Valley – Day 1: Didihat to Dantu
Kumaon Wanderings : Darma Valley – Day 2: Dantu
Kumaon Wanderings : Darma Valley – Day 3: Dantu to Munsyari
Kumaon Wanderings : Darma Valley – Day 4: Munsyari to Lohaghat
Kumaon Wanderings : Darma Valley – Day 5: Lohaghat to Nainital

As usual I woke up before 0500 and snuggled in the quilt for a while. Around 0530, I dressed, packed and stepped out hoping for a clear sunrise. Things looked promising, though there were a few clouds.

Ride Map for the day
Glowing cloud formation over the Panchachuli Peaks
First rays of light on the peaks

As I stood there waiting, the first direct rays of sunlight fell on the tallest peak. This was something I had been wanting to see for long.

One by one each peaks got its share of the light. A few lingering clouds added to the effect. I was busy clicking away.

First rays on all peaks
Beauty under the moon
The sheep who were my company on the previous day

As the sun rose higher, few of the clouds returned. Returning back to my room, I brought my luggage down and sat for tea with my hostess.

We talked about my journey back and their plans to walk to Jauljibi after a few days. They would take their belongings and all of the herd down to lower altitude for winter. It would be a 10-12 days journey. And then late spring they would come back to Dantu.

Last view of the Panchachuli as I rode down to the river

Carrying my luggage down to the bike, I wondered how cold would the water be. And whether there was a chance of crossing the river without getting my feet wet.

I would soon find that out.

Place to change socks

As expected, water level was low. It was colder than I had hoped but warmer than I was prepared for. In seconds I was out, though not before getting one feet wet and water in my boot.

Initially, I looked for a sunny spot with a place to sit for taking of my shoes and drying for a while. The road was mostly in shadows. After a while I gave up, resigned to enjoying the wet feeling inside the shoe.

After about 90min of riding, I stopped for a break. Took that opportunity to take off my shoes and change socks. Rested for a while before moving on.

A peak though the foliage
A village women carrying heavy load of fodder in preparation for winter
The fork to Narayan Ashram
Tawaghat

About three and a half hour after leaving Dantu, I was at Tawaghat. The return journey from Darma Valley was much easier compared to while two days back.

I was getting hungry but decided to wait till Jauljibi for a snack break. Plan was to follow the Kali river down till Jauljibi and then drive up along with the Gowriganga river towards Munsyari.

A Nepalese village on other side of Kali
Road block due to hill cutting

By the time I reached Jauljibi, I was ravishing hungry. I made the mistake of not stopping in the main market. Instead I stopped at the bridge where the road turned towards Madkot.

There was no dhaba. So had tea and a packet of chips. I was expecting the road till Madkot to be though a picturesque valley snaking along the Gowriganga river. Didn’t want to have hunger pangs to prevent me from enjoying the ride.

Imagine lying down under the warn sun on the parapet above and gentle flowing sound of Gowriganga river luring you into a nap. This is as blissful as it can get.
Hanging bridge over Gowriganga

The ride till Madkot was better than I expected. Beautiful valley with the river gurgling though flanked by close hills covered with trees, shrubs and wild flowers. To add to that, the road was great with little traffic.

Waterfall over the road before Madkot. I had been wanting this picture for years – my first trip to Munsyari.

Beyond Madkot the road was a mess. Massive construction was going on and the hillside was being demolished to widen the road.

By the time I reached Munsyari, I was covered in dust. The town had become crowded and dirty since my last visit. Looking around for a decent room, I realized all hotels had bumped up their prices for the autumn season. Scouting around I took a room at Bilju Inn.

The sky was overcast and there was no chance of a Panchachuli sunset. Had tea and then took a bath. Later I went to the market to check things out.

Munsyari is becoming more and more touristy. Without much initiative by the local administration I can see the place suffer over the next 5-6years.

Returning back to my room, had dinner in the room itself. The dining hall had been taken over by a group of students from Allahabad.

Coming up

Waterfall beyond Munsyari
Rameshwar Temple near Timta

Kumaon Wanderings : Darma Valley – Day 2 (Dantu)

At some point in the night I woke up startled with the loud mooing of a cow. Then I realized that sound was coming from just below me. In the village houses, the ground floor is where the cattle are kept and upper floor is used for residence. With the low ceiling and the standing cow, the cow’s head was only a feet or two below where I was lying down echoing sounds into my bum.

At 0445 my body’s natural alarm clock went off. I knew it would be a few minutes short of five and continues to sleep. A little later I got up, put on the jacket and stepped out.

I had left my tripod outside at night. Wasn’t surprised to find it still there in the morning. It was quite cold and I fumbled while mounting the camera on the tripod head.

Having setup the camera, I pulled the jacket hood over my cap and dug my hands deep in the jacket pockets. Then I waited the light to show up.

The much awaited sunlight did not turn up, but clouds did. With that vanished my hopes of capturing the beauty of sun rising over the Panchachuli.

Waiting for the sunrise

I waited around a little longer. Then realizing that the clouds are not going to do me any favor, going back to my room, I went to sleep.

Around 0745 I stepped out again. To my surprise a few flakes of snow drifted in. For a moment I thought of going back. Then realizing the mistake I had made in Chandrataal two years back, I ignored the thought of returning and planned to stick with my original plan of staying the day there.

The first order of the day was to check out the river crossing. I wanted to figure out the best route back as getting wet would mean an entire day of uncomfortable shoes and socks.

A goat hunkering down on grass to get warm in the cold
A bit of sunrise on the peaks
A locked up house in the village

Taking a circuitous route, I walked down to the place where my bike was parked. There was a thin layer of frost formed on the seat. Wiping it away, I waited a little for the seat to warm.

Then I headed down to the river.

frost on the bike seat
Dark clouds towards the side of Panchachuli. These are the ones which showered snow over the village a little while back.

Down at the river crossing, the water was flowing faster than I anticipated. I walked up and down the bank to figure out the best way to cross. Several minutes of observation yielded no results. I decided to take the plunge.

Taking off my shoes and socks, I rolled up my pants and stepped in the cold water. It was colder than I was expecting, yet the moment wasn’t as shocking as the day before. The water level was quite low compared to the previous afternoon. Slowly feeling the way through soles of my feet, I walked up to the middle of the river.

There I stood, letting my feet freeze amidst my admiration of the beauty of the valley. I was probably looking like one of those people who fish standing in the middle of water. The sun playing hide and seek with the clouds, was fortunately out while I stood there.

I now had a fairly good idea of how to cross the river. Slowly I walked back to where my shoes and socks. For a while I sat on a rock drying and warming up. Then I headed back.

River crossing
The half constructed bridge
Near the river
Panchachuli shrouded with clouds

Back at the village, I wandered around. Many houses were locked and there was hardly anyone around. I guess most had started their daily routine and were busy with that.

One of the few open houses in the village
An old woman walking to her herd of cows
An abandoned houses in the village
A glimpse of the Panchachuli above the my home stay
Nandi, pet dog of my host, enjoying the sun

Back at my home stay, I had a breakfast of maduwa choli roti, chach and ghee (ragi dosa and buttermilk). Then I hung around enjoying the warm sun and talking to my hostess and her daughter.

I was planning to walk up to the Panchachuli base camp. However, my host’s daughter persuaded me to skip that and take an alternate route. According to her the trail on Dantu side of Nyuli Yangti River offered better views of the Panchachuli and took one closer to the glacier, compared to the official and more popular trail which starts from Dugtu. Due to local politics, the official trail started from Dugtu and the base camp was built on that side.

Not one to follow the herd, I took her advice.

Shepherding – my host and her daughter
Walking with the sheep

I started off following the sheep that were being herded for their day’s outing. Soon I overtook then and followed a narrow trail which followed the course of Nyuli Yangti river high on the slopes. It was mostly flat with a slight rise in elevation.

Village of Dugtu
Nyuli Yangti flowing down from Panchachuli
Selfie on the trail
Keep walking
Dugtu village, Bon village (far off) and Brammah Parvat

After walking a while, I realized that the clouds were getting darker and the Panchachuli were getting less and less visible. Coming to a fork I turned right. The trail would take me higher but not closer to the peaks. At this point I wasn’t sure I wanted to get very close to the peaks. Just wanted to have a super relaxed day.

Autumn
Taking a break

Searching for a place to lie down, I found a nice flat area and settled down for a nap. The warm sun and a gentle breeze acted like an instant sleeping pill. I am pretty sure I was snoring with in minutes. The clouds drifted in and out of the sky as well as in my dreams.

I don’t know how long I snoozed. A large dark cloud covering the sun lowered the temperature and woke me up. Lying there I relished the shadows cross me and warmth of the day slowly returning.

Feeling hungry, I decided to head back. Dark clouds were lingering over the hills and I wasn’t planning to get caught in a drizzle or snow drift.

Panchachuli – a closer look
Autumn colors
Dark clouds over the valley
Nandi guarding her flock

Back at the home stay, Nandi was busy guarding her flock. I played around with her and the lambs. A little later I went in for lunch of rice and local rajma.

By now the sun was completely gone and it was getting cold. Going up to my room, I reviewed the pictures from last couple of days. Wasting battery was a concern as there was no electricity or charging point in the place. I did have a power bank and a USB charger which was very helpful.

Nandi, having gotten friendly by now, posing

When I stepped out, the last light of the day was fading. I sat on the verandah and listened to local gossip over a cup of tea.

Dinner preparations
Tea break

The sky was completely clear by now. I decided to head down to the foot bridge to take some pictures of flowing water with Panchachuli in the back drop.

Waling down I realized how pitch dark it was. In spite of the bright stars, nothing was visible without the torch I carried. Down at the gorge where the small bridge crossed the river it was even darker.

All attempts to capture the river were futile. The bridge was also swaying with in the wind making it impossible to place the tripod stationary. The surprise find was the milky way over the Panchachuli. Without the moon it was bright and beautiful in the sky.

After almost an hour trying to get something good, I gave up and started back.

Milky way from the foot bridge in depth of the valley

Reaching back at the home stay, dinner was still under preparation. So I went behind the house to take some more pictures. Moon was coming fast and milky way was going away.

As the first rays of the moonlight hit the snowy peaks, the view transformed. The orange glow that lit up peaks was nothing short of magical. I stood there mesmerized watching one peak after other glow a fiery orange in the light of the moon.

Moonrise and the milky way
All the four peaks glowing in the moonlight

Returning back to the kitchen I had a satisfying meal of roti, rice, cabbage and dal. It was wonderful sitting there in the warmth of the fire culminating a wonderful day – just the way I would have liked it to be.

Coming up

The ride back
The long awaited water fall

Kumaon Wanderings : Darma Valley – Day 1 (Didihat to Dantu)

Kumaon Wanderings : Darma Valley – Day 0: Nainital to Didihat
Kumaon Wanderings : Darma Valley – Day 1: Didihat to Dantu
Kumaon Wanderings : Darma Valley – Day 2: Dantu
Kumaon Wanderings : Darma Valley – Day 3: Dantu to Munsyari
Kumaon Wanderings : Darma Valley – Day 4: Munsyari to Lohaghat
Kumaon Wanderings : Darma Valley – Day 5: Lohaghat to Nainital

Today was when the things were going to get tough. Keeping that in mind I started early from Didihat. Waking up by 0530, I was out riding by 0600.

Map for the day

First off the hunt for a good place to photograph the Panchachuli peaks. Fortunately the morning was clear. There ain’t many places in Didihat to get a great view of the snowy peaks. Finding a small opening between two houses, I took a few pictures and then left the town towards Askot. First rays of sun hitting the Panchachuli Peaks

At Malli Mirthi there as an intersection and I asked for directions. I was promptly shown a shortcut to Askot. Pretty soon the road turned into a narrow trail and I wondered whether that was the right way to go. Eventually, the road opened up into a beautiful pine jungle – just the kind I love.

The beautiful pines on way to Askot

Nanda Devi from the Askot shortcut

The shortcut enters Askot through a narrow lane and then joins the Pithoragarh-Dharchula highway just below Askot.

The road is nice and wide. Here I turned towards Jauljibi.
Bridge at Jauljibi Jauljibi tea shop

At Jauljibi, the Gauriganga river meets the Kali river. It is also the location of a famous Jauljibi Mela held in Nov every year. In the olden days the mela used to be a place for trade between India/Tibet/Nepal. With new avenues of trading, the importance mela for trade is reduced. Still the mela is visited by thousands of people from surrounding villages.

I stopped for a cup of tea. Could not find anything to eat as all shops other than this tea stall were closed.Kids walking along the Kali river on their way to school

From Jauljibi, the road follows the Kali river to Dharchula and beyond. The river separates India and Nepal. At places there are hanging bridges to connect the two sides. I would not be surprised if some people stay on one side and work on the other side. Such is a nature of artificial lines between countries.

Sprawling town of Dharchula

The town of Dharchula was much bigger and wide spread than I had expected. The name of the town has an interesting origin. From Wikipedia: “The name of the town originate from the Runglo words for Darchyo (White colored Holy Flag erected outside every house of local community traditionally) and la (an honorific term in local language) because earlier only the darchyo / white flags were visible when seen from far away.

The road to Tawaghat mostly bypasses the town of Dharchula, passing through the slopes above the town on the Indian side. This also enabled a panoramic view of the town spread across the two countries.    A waterfall on the Nepal side of the Kali river valley Man, machine and nature. A bridge being build between Dharchula and Tawaghat.

Post Dharchula, the road narrows with large stretches of unpaved road. It was like a forewarning for what was to come ahead as I turned into the Darma Valley from Tawaghat.An old man and his grandson waiting for a jeep at the junction of Tawaghat

At Tawaghat, as I turned left into Darma Valley, I knew the going to Dugtu/Dantu was going to be tough. So I looked for something to eat. However, there was hardly any shops or stall for food.

Nap point selfie.

It was almost four and a half hour since I has started in the morning. Wanting a longer break, I took off my riding gear and stretched out on a parapet on the side of the road. In no time I had drifted off to sleep amidst the sound of chirping birds and falling water. A tunnel near the dam on Dhauliganga river.

The short nap had an amazing effect and I no longer felt tired. It was what I needed for the bad roads ahead. The views were perfect and it was a pleasure riding in that environment.   Hanging bridge over the Dhauliganga river A villager walking to across the hanging bridge  Over the hanging bridge. The road did not cross the bridge. Got onto this just for the picture.An overloaded jeep on its way through Darma Valley. The red dot on top of the jeep is a person.

Being a remote area, there was hardly any vehicular moment on the road. The first jeep crossed me more than an hour after I entered the valley at Tawaghat. I would only see four vehicles and three bikers (who I believed eventually turned back) in the valley.Village house at the Sobala

Most of the morning, the sky has been partly cloudy. While I was concerned about not having clear visibility of the peaks, the beauty of surrounding more than compensated for it.

Waterfall on the road       Autumn Colors over a mountain stream

While the surroundings were beautiful, the road was horrible with multiple large and small water crossings. Navigating a small downwards slope, I  misjudged the speed and descent, resulting in the bike skidding and a fall. The ego was hurt more than any physical injury. So finding a beautiful spot near a stream, I stopped for a break.

The stream cascaded down the rocks amidst the yellow, orange, red and greens of autumn. Just sitting there listening to water roaring down the rocks was heavenly. I wish I had stopped longer. However not knowing how far my destination was, I started off after a short break.First view of the valley below Dugtu/Dantu villages

Little did I knew that within twenty minutes, I would have my first glimpse of the valley below Dugtu/Dantu villages. As I entered the small valley, clouds started rolling in. What luck!!

Pretty soon I was at the Dugtu Village. There are a few houses and a small shop. The trail to Phanchachuli basecamp starts from here.

At the shop I had tea, packet of chips and biscuit which I shared with a black stray hanging around.

A little later an overloaded jeep showed up. Along with the locals there was a couple visiting just like me. The wife for some reason had an expectation that there would be a fancy restaurant where the jeep stopped and they would be able to have a nice meal. Probably they had started off after breakfast from Dharchula and now it was late afternoon.

Disappointed she was taking out her anger on the tea shop owner. All he had to offer them was tea, chips and biscuits. Only choice being the choice between salty and sweet biscuits. The interaction between the two was a source of uncomfortable amusement for all others waiting for their tea to be served.

I, having arrived before the jeep, already had my hot glass of the tea in my hand. Eventually the stray jumping to catch the biscuits, I offered him, came to everyone’s rescue and broke the altercation.

Asking around for a home stay, I was told that the home stays are in Dantu village which was a short distance ahead. So with a glass of warm tea and snacks under my belt I pushed off for the last stretch. The other two tourists planned to walk to the base camp and stay there.

Village of Dugtu (pic taken from Dantu later)

The small stretch was to be more difficult then I expected. Turning the corner after Dugtu, I found the bridge over Nyuli Yangti, river which flows down from the Panchachuli glacier, under construction. The flow of the river was good and the bottom of the river wasn’t visible to predict the route.

I stood there exploring my options including going back, parking the bike at the shop and walking to the base camp. Then the jeep that had dropped off the two tourists came from behind. The driver, of course knowing how to navigate through the river, plunged the jeep into the river. Half way though the waters, he strategically turned right and soon was out on the other side. It was a sight to capture which I missed due to being focused on learning how the jeep was crossing the river. The guy sitting on top of the jeep motioned his hands to tell me that I should do the same.

Now it was my turn. Fortunately (or unfortunately) I missed the fact that was water of the river was coming off a glacier melting just a little distance up stream. In my mind I knew what route to take and where to make that sharp right turn.

And I started off. The moment I hit the water, the cold shocked me. Everything till the calf went numb. For a moment I lost focus and braked hard. I did remember to keep revving the bike. The last thing I wanted was to have water enter the exhaust. The moment passed, senses regained and I ploughed on. The bike stopped again behind a big boulder and I had to push back with my feet in the water to navigate around it. My boots were now full of freezing water.

Remembering where to turn, I made the final push to cross only to realize that water was much deeper on the other side. By now I was wet well above my knees. Though deeper, the river bottom was more level on this side and within seconds I was out on the other side.

All wet and freezing, the last hurdle was crossed.

Nyuli Yangti River from the other side. This picture was taken next day morning when I came down to study the flow and strategize my return crossing. The small patch below the slope on the left edge is where the road enters/exits the river.

Shivering I emptied water from my boots. There was no sun, hence the option of drying the clothes was not there. Moving ahead, I stopped at a shop below the village of Dantu, which was just around the corner. The village was further up and the small shop was open. The jeep that crossed before me was just leaving. The shopkeeper surprised me when I asked for a home stay. The village was empty. Everyone had gone to Jauljibi for voting in the panchayat elections. He did add that many of the villagers were expected that evening but he wasn’t sure when they’d show up.

By now the cold socks, shoes and pant was numbing my legs and feet. I decided to walk around while I contemplated what to do. The options were to wait for the villagers to come, sleep in the shop or return to Dugtu and walk to the base camp.

  Prayer flags at the Dantu Village

With numb feet, I started walking up to the village. The Panchachuli was were all shrouded amidst clouds, but I could imagine how beautiful the view would be. The village was all locked up. Looking at the way some of the houses were locked, it did not seem that the villagers were planning to return before summer.

Locked up house a Dantu

Walking down to shop, I prepared myself for the freezing river crossing back to Dugtu. I did not expect the villagers to return.

As luck would have it, the moment I descended to the shop, a jeep showed up. And voila, everyone that got off the jeep were residents of Dantu. Checking for a home stay, they consulted among themselves and allocated me to one of the houses.

Foolishly, I asked to see the house, not knowing that they all would pretty much the same. So back I walked up the hill to the village. The house I was allocated to was at the far end. It looked good and the host quite friendly.

The room was nothing fancy. A typical hill house with cattle on the lower floor and rooms on the upper. There was a mattress on the floor and few thick quilts. The low roof had wooden pegs to hang clothes. There were no plug points and the LED bulbs wee powers though solar batteries.

I asked for help to bring my saddle bags up and a neighbors son walked down to the bike with me.

My room with clothes hanging to dry. Behind the green tarp are the stairs downwards.

After taking my bag to the room, I got rid of the wet shoes and socks. Changing into something dry, I went out to have a glass of sweet tea. Sitting in the courtyard I chatted with my host. There were four people living there in the family – host, his wife, daughter and brother. The other kids were off studying in Haldwani.

After a while I went back to my room and dozed off tucked into the warm quilt.

  Denu – brother of my host at Dantu, lighting up a fire to warm me up.

It was dark when I woke up. There was a fire burning and I brought my shoes out to dry. A friend of the family joined. He had just retired from the Uttarakhand health department and was planning to repair his ancestral house at Tidang. That day he was stopping at Dantu before proceeding to Tidang on the next day.

Over fire we swapped stories and then headed inside the kitchen for dinner. Dinner was a cosy affair, sitting on the floor next to the fire where food was cooking. Menu was roti, rice, potato/green beans, ghee and spicy chutney. Having only eaten a packet of biscuits and chips during the day, I wolfed down whatever was served.

Dinner in the kitchen

After dinner, as I went out to go to my room, I realized that the sky had noticeably cleared up. So I headed out behind the village and was amazed at the perfect view of Panchachuli glistening in the moonlight. Standing in the cold, I was mesmerized by the beauty of the mountain.

A few pictures later, I was back in my room. My host’s wife came by to check if I was comfortable and covered me with one additional quilt.

The long tiring day had gotten me to where I had been wanting to be for the last month or so. I dozed off to a content sleep. Panchachuli under the stars.

Pictures from next day:

Milky WayMy home stay

Kumaon Wanderings : Darma Valley – Day 0 (Nainital to Didihat)

Kumaon Wanderings : Darma Valley – Day 0: Nainital to Didihat
Kumaon Wanderings : Darma Valley – Day 1: Didihat to Dantu
Kumaon Wanderings : Darma Valley – Day 2: Dantu
Kumaon Wanderings : Darma Valley – Day 3: Dantu to Munsyari
Kumaon Wanderings : Darma Valley – Day 4: Munsyari to Lohaghat
Kumaon Wanderings : Darma Valley – Day 5: Lohaghat to Nainital

Darma Valley was a relatively new destination for me. I heard about it only a couple of years back and didn’t pay much attention to it at that time. However, I do remember long ago when I was in Munsiyari wondering wondered what lied on the other other side of the Panchachuli mountains.

Anyway, all of that changed when I saw a few posts on the net about the Darma valley and the breathtaking views of the Panchachuli. So when the opportunity around in Oct 2019, I decided to take a short bike ride.

Reaching Nainital on Oct 15th, plan was to leave on Oct 16th for a 6 day ride.

Day 0 map – Nainital to Didihat

When I left Nainital early in the morning, the weather was beautiful. Much like one would expect an autumn morning.

My trusted Honda Trigger next to the lake in Mallital, while sun rises off at the other end of the lake.

It was somewhat cold, colder than usual for Oct. I hoped things would get warmer once the sun rose.

Sunrise over the ridge on Nainital-Bhowali Road

Moon setting behind the hills near Ratighat

My plan for the 1st day was to cover significant distance. So without stopping much I covered a lot of miles. Kainchi, Ratighat, Garam pani and Khairna went by soon.

Post Khairna, I turned right towards Almora and stopped for a short break to stretch my legs.

The road leading up to Almora from Khairna is through the picturesque valley of Kosi River. The valley starts narrow and then widen up to a series of villages flanked by terraced fields. Early autumn is a time is changing colors. The leaves start changing colors and then slowly wither and fall away to form fertile compost for the growth of next year. At this time the forest presents a potpourri of hues.

Wild flowers with the colorful hillside at the back.

Another naturally framed picture of the autumn colors.

My ride amidst the hues of autumn

Having left Khairna behind, the climb to Almora had just began. The valley was quite narrow at this point presenting a close view of the hills on both side of the river.

Post rains, wild flowers were abundant, soon to be withered by the onslaught of winter cold.

Kosi River gurgling though the narrow valley

By now the clouds had gathered on the horizon. While I was not worried about the rain, I was concerned about the view of snowy peaks being blocked.

The visibility was somewhat poor and the last stretch of the climb to Almora was white washed by fog. At the first viewpoint, which lies around 9Km before Almora and has the first glimpse of the Trishul peaks none of the snowy peaks were visible.

Soon I was at Almora and took the bypass towards Barechhina. The roads at Almora tend to get crowded and I had no wish to get stuck behind some bus in the narrow city roads.

Town of Almora with the clouds below the city

The sky ahead was a little better, though hazy. I had my first glimpse of the snowy peaks at Chitai Temple.

This temple at Chitai is of Golu devta(God) – god of justice, is very famous temple and is considered very auspicious by the people of Kumaon and Gharwal.

Trishul and Mrigthuni Peaks from Chitai Temple

Temple bells lined up for sale outside Chitai temple

Beyond the Chitai temple, the beautiful pine jungle starts. These is my favorite jungle type to drive through. Ahh!! the smell of the pines which was immortalized by Kipling.

In the shadow of the Pines

Kids walking from their village to school in Barechhina

Main street of DhaulaChhina

Having had nothing from morning other than a cup of tea, I was ready to devour anything. Stopping at a tea shop in DhaulaChhina, I sat down for a bun-omlette and tea.

Omlette preparations

A full stomach makes the ride easier. One stops worrying about the pacifying the grumbling stomach and starts appreciating the surrounding. Fortunately the road first descends to Seraghat and then climbs up to Berinag though some beautiful hillside and valleys.

My back of mind calculations told me that I was running ahead of schedule. So I stopped often both for pictures and to rest my butt.

Another view of the snowy mountain on the way down to Seraghat

Seraghat is a small town on the banks of Saryu river. Other than the lush green surroundings and the Saryu river, the only other thing that separated this small town from many others is the large iron bridge.

Saryu river at Seraghat

After Seraghat, the road flanks the Saryu for a while and then ascends towards Berinag though another stretch of magnificent pines.

A cast iron bridge over Saryu River

The sun had been out for quite some time now and it was balmy warm. Stopping for a break, I sat down to enjoy the warmth of the sun and the smell of the pines.

To my surprise the silence was deafening. While I did appreciate absence of traffic and other man-made noise, I was surprised that there were no birds chirping. Perhaps they too had dozed off in the noon sun. Even the sound of the wind whispering to the leaves was missing.

A selfie before taking off the gear and snoozing on the side of the road.

Wanting to stretch my legs, I left my bike on the side of the road and climbed up the hillside, following a thin cattle trail. Walking on the thin cushion of pine needles was like a soft massage to the feet. In hindsight, I should probably have taken my shoes off and enjoyed the feeling.

View from up in the mountain side

Fern amidst the pines

Soon I was at Berinag where I found a bypass which circumvented the city. At the other end I tanked up at a petrol station and then moved towards Thal.

The route down towards Thal, starts a few Km before Chaukori which is another excellent hill station in Kumaon. Over the first few Km the road crosses several villages with fields flanking the road. These are then replaced by dense pine jungle.

As the road approaches Thal, the jungle and the nice road is replaced by broken tar and garbage of the city welcoming you into the town of Thal.

Thal is a small town on the banks of Ramganga river. It is a junction point of four roads which lead to Berinag/Almora (where I was coming from), Didihat (where I was going), Munsiyari/Bageshwar and Pithoragarh.

There used to be a big mela that was held at Thal. Not sure whether it is still held or not.

A waterfall on Thal-Didihat road

Beyond Thal I turned towards Didihat and the road condition also deteriorated. The jungle and the greenery continued to be fascinating.

More ferns and pine.

For some reason I had false hopes that the road up to Didihat from Thal would provide me with marvelous view of the snow capped Himalayas. However that was not to be. The roads is mostly on the sheltered side of the hill with a smaller hills and peaks between the road and the snow capped Panchachuli.

Another waterfall on way to Didihat

At Didihat, I checked in to the KMVN TRC which fortunately I had booked previously. The place was otherwise full of election officials – Uttarakhand was having gram panchayat election on that day.

After a double cup of tea and maggi, I stepped out to check out the Shirakot temple which is located a little way from the town. However, the road was in pretty horrible condition. So I decided to skip the temple.

View of the town of Didihat from a distance

Shirakot temple from where I turned back.

KMVN TRC

Returning back to TRC, I wandered around the town taking in the feel of small town market. A simple dinner at the TRC mess and I was off to sleep.

Pictures from next day:

Highest peak of Panchachuli from Didihat

Moonlit Panchachuli