Tuesday, October 13, 2009



I have traveled in Kumaon numerous times during last two decades. Early winter and early spring are my favorite time. A small place called Choukari has been my  main destination’ I go to Choukari to see Nanda Devi Peaks. Nanda Devi, worshipped as Goddess throughout the hills, is very elusive, very difficult to see as it is surrounded by mighty peaks, known as the jewels of Nanda Devi. They are Nanda Ghunti, Trishul, Devisthan / Mrigathuni, Maiki Toli, Nanda Khat, Nanda Kot, Nanda Bhanar, Panwali Dwar etc, all rising beyond 22000 ft.
Choukari is the only place where you see Nanda Devi clearly through a slot in between the other peaks. (Provided the Goddess Nanda Devi is pleased with you) Of course, you can see from Gadwall side, but it looks so different.
In Kumaon you can't miss the dome shaped Nanda Devi main and the pointed Nanda Devi east.
There is nothing in Choukari. The tourist lodge is the only place where you can stay. If it is packed, you are in trouble. Normally when I travel, it is empty barring a few omni present Bango santans.
Year after year it has been like a dream. Early morning when it is still dark, have a "Bed Rum" (the kitchen staffs don't get up so early to make bed tea) and rush to the nearby hillock wading through tea bushes, fix up camera and wait for the sunrise. Then you see, in Surjo Ghosh's language " Tushar shubhro giri shikhar-e hathat Rakta pat", on the surrounding peaks.
Then there is nothing much to do, take a drive through the pines to Thal (of Corbett fame "Man eater of Thal") on the bank of Ram Ganga river, eat some freshly fried trout, buy 2 kg female goat meat (male goats are exported to the plains for us) and come back to tourist lodge. I being a privileged person and a family member of the staff, the meat will be cooked for all unofficially.
Or you can go to Patal Bhubaneswar, or to famous Gangoli hat Kalika mandir. If you are there in March end and during Nava ratri, you will lose count of the animals that are sacrificed continuously on Astami day.
The view during sunset is equally mesmerizing.
In the afternoon have Pakodas and rum and watch sunset. (Once in a while tea with Pakoda is equally good). Nights are usual, menu is the same since time immemorial, set by me and my brother "Garam Garam Patla bangla khichudi, Makhon ba deshi ghee, lot of thin alu-bhaja, Panch phodon ba kalo jeere sombora diye." ..... Well it has become an official menu “ Bengali KhichiDi”. (Old Monk continued).
If you are interested in star gazing, it is the ideal place. After dinner at 8 PM latest, you can go out to the courtyard and enjoy the stars and the planets. I love it.
But only go out if you believe in what the local people say; that the Leopards only lift dogs, cattle etc and never human beings. (Another story, when some one by mistake kicked a bunch of lazing leopards, and they run away.)
We stop at or give night halt at many places like Jageshwar, famous for 1400 yr old temples and the best Cedar forest and hot Luchi with PahaDi Dal, or in Binsar sanctuary, where there is no electricity, or Kausani, Almora, Mukteswar, Ranikhet etc. (Another story)

The most essential thing, in this marathon drive of 1200 km in 4 / 5 days, is the  "Rum stop". (Something like pit stop in Formula -1 Car racing). In one liter Biseleri water bottle put 60 to 100 ml Old Monk only and shake, keep it handy near the handbrake for the navigator and occasionally for the driver. The rum stops on the road are fixed places decided long back. Normally it will be in a place where there will be a culvert, pines, Cedars, wild oaks and Rhododendrons, a cool breeze to make you feel "how wonderful is this life!!!! What is love after all!!!! etc."

 AMONG PINES (Don't miss the culvert) 

AMONG MORE CEDARS ( Near the milestone)

Or it will be just before approaching a difficult stretch, like a thousands of feet deep gorge where the river is flowing, or the clearance between the tire and the road edge is barely a foot etc. Once we saw few red things down on the river bank thousands of feet below. 
We stopped our car to investigate , what were those red dots.
We asked a passer by, with a head load of fire wood “ What are those red things down below”?
He peeped down, looked at us, gave a “ ya I know” smile and said “ Oh , those are the parts of a red car which fell down right from here last year, even it took 3-4 days for the police and other Government organization to recover the bodies. Drive carefully . You city people are no good in hill driving”.
Isn’t that damn scary??? 
"Yes of course" we concluded

 So I must get out of the scare. Applying management principle of Panchatantra, " Byatha-karang, sukhar-thaya kantak-e naiba kantakam." Means To remove a painful thorn (stuck to your foot) and to feel good, you need another thorn to remove it) ( So I should create a situation which should be scarier to divert my attention from the red dots. It is simple, Take Rum stop. No sooner did you take few sips of water, concentrated with few tea spoon of Old Monk, than the scary thought "Oh, God, what have I done, I have taken a drink, will I be able to drive ? etc!" will make you scarier and make you drive very very carefully.
"Oh God I have taken a drink I must drive carefully...Oh God I have taken a drink I must drive carefully...(like Ram -nam jopte jopte), this thought will scare you so much that you will forget the red dots and it will land you safely at a comfortable stretch (with Culvert, pine, Cedars, wild oak etc etc) for a rum stop again.
Of course if it doesn't work in some really dangerous gorge, take the handy bottle kept near the hand brake, take large gulps and say at the top of your voice (both you and the navigator, who is my younger brother always or vice e versa), "JO BOL-E SO NIHAL, SAT SHRI AKAL" and step up the gas slightly. These are well tried and they work really. Try it yourself and see. I have tried in Korea too. (But remember in 1000 cc water and Old monk must not exceed 100 ml, else red dots will have companion of your car color)
The river is close to you on the left and will go down


Stopping at Bageshwar for Pan and Jeelapi is a must.  ( Another story)

Ushnish Ghosh