Alarm rings at 4:15 a.m. I could see the daylight with half opened eyes. There are two buses out of Ukhimath. First at 5:30 a.m. followed by a govt operated one at 5:55 a.m. Lazily I snooze the alarm. Few more snoozes and finally woke up at 4:55 a.m.
I decided to get down at Rudraprayag and then travel towards the Kumaon region. It took an hour and half to reach Rudraprayag. Bus dropped me at the Rudraprayag bypass. This is where the road biforcates Kedarnath and Badrinath. Badrinath Road passes through the Rudraprayag market, about two km from the bypass. I saw the new tunnel work in progress which will shorten the path to Badrinath and also reduce the traffic jam in Rudraprayag market.
There was an old lady sitting on a chair accompanied by her grandson sitting on a bike. They were waiting to board the grandmother onto Delhi bus. We started chatting, the grandson kindly offered a ride to Rudraprayag market. But the Delhi bus was delayed and I got another bike lift. They mentioned that the road to Kumaon will be via Karnaprayag.
Rudraprayag market was busy with tons of taxis taking visitors to Badrinath, there were yatri buses around too. I waited for a shared taxi to Karnaprayag. Turns out the I have been waiting on the wrong side of road. As soon as I fixed that, a shared taxi came hailing Karanprayag jaoge? Five of us fit into the back and the taxi starts rolling.
(Karnaprayag sangam from the bridge)
Road to Karnaprayag goes by the side of river Alakananda. Alakananda joins with Mandakini from Kedarnath at Rudraprayag. And Alakananda joins Pindar river here. Prayag is a place where multiple streams join together. The driver pulled out half dozen paper slips and at the Karnaprayag market, he would unload cartons from taxi rooftop to deliver them at shops. Taxis double as passenger and goods carriers.
I walked on the bridge to other side of the road. Locals suggested I take a bus or shared taxi to Gwaldam. It will be easy to get a ride to Kausani from there. Road to Badrinath biforcates here and goes via Nandprayag.
Fortunately there was a bus waiting for Gwaldam. I found a seat near an old gentleman returning to his village. He had visited his daughter in Himachal Pradesh earlier this week. We kept waiting for the bus to depart. My copassenger has to drop at Thareli bend and travel to a village called Deval. His village is further up in the mountains and can be only reached by foot. Seeing me impatient for the bus to travel, he remarks aab to aage bus chalna hi hai, jitna bhi time lag jaye… (how much ever time it takes, we have to move forward only). Truly there isn’t much else to do. I keep asking him more about his village and the life there. Time passes by.
Bus drops me at Gwaldam at 1 p.m. My next task is to find a transport to Garur and then from Garur to Kausani. Later I learned that this route goes all the way up to Haldwani. Haldwani, also in Uttarakhand, has a railway station at Kathgodam. It is treated as the gateway to Kumaon region. The shared taxi to Garur goes through a lot of turns in the mountains. Two of copassengers get sick with vomiting. The drivers are empathetic and stopped several times along the way to let these folks feel better.
Roads are beautiful in this part of the Himalayas. You will see coniferous trees along the sides. Many people choose to rent two wheeler vehicles and run through the hills. Garur is near to the temple town named Baijnath. One road takes you to Almora/Haldwani and the other goes to Bageshwar.
I take a bus to Almora and get down Kausani in the afternoon.
Kausani is a beautiful little town known for its clear views of the Nanda devi range of mountains. I start climbing up the narrow walkways to reach the main road. There ar several star observatories in this part. Walking a bit further I find my destination, the Anasakti Ashram.
Anasakti (non attachment) name comes from the name of the book Gandhiji authored in this place. I enquired about stay options and luckily there is a two bed room available for the day. There is a youth camp running in the ashram to educate young undergrads about various political, social, gender and related topics. The Azim Premji foundation is sponsoring the program.
I met with the coordinator and few students. One of the students explained their library project to distribute books to remote locations in Uttarakhand. They have successfully bootstrapped the project along with support from few large NGOs operating on this space - Teach for India, Books for All etc. They learned that usually students are two grades behind in their reading/writing capabilities. One reason was inaccessibile medium of instruction e.g. teaching in Hindi to a Bangladeshi Bengali community. They tried to fix this with translated books etc. It seemed to work well.
(Sunset from Anasakti Ashram)
The ashram features a large prayer hall in addition to the stay and conference hall. Their kitchen serves simple meals at a very subsidised cost. I sit in front of the prayer hall looking at the setting Sun amongst the far away mountain ranges. Thoughts keep playing in mind. It is not ready to rest and be idle. I take an unsuccessful shot at meditating at the prayer hall.
The wandering thoughts keep themselves delighted in planning for the next leg of the journey. I guess this is the biggest bane of an unplanned travel.
The prayer bell rings. Visitors, few students and the ashram employees assemble. The melodious ram dhun and Vaishnav janato soothe the Mind. A gentleman from Asansol sings Ekla chalo re by Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore. What an inspiring set of lines…
We go for dinner and I sleep after searching for the next activities. Maybe I will do a local sight seeing tour tomorrow.
My eyes opened at 3 a.m. There was light outside the room. I told myself I must be dreaming and slept. Again same thing at 4. Finally I couldn’t stop myself from going outside little after 5:30 a.m.
The majestic peaks basked with Sun appearing through the cracks of clouds. A beauty to behold. Slowly the daylight started spreading across various parts of the mountains.
(Clear view from Anasakti Ashram at 8 am)
I met with centre coordinator requesting him for one more day of stay. I was excited to explore the local area. On the way down, I ate two Aloo Parathas. After getting down, I found a narrow pathway to the main road. I walked a bit down but the Mind resisted. I came up.
Next I thought let’s go to Baijnath and see the temples there. I waited for 30 mins but no vehicles came around. It was a bit unfortunate. My mind hastily concluded that Kausani, although extremely beautiful, may not be solo backpacker friendly. You likely need a hired vehicle to explore the place completely. There were two other places in Kausani which I’d visit next time - Anamay Ashram and the Pinnath mahadev. Pinnath mahadev trek is through the jungle and leopards are known to be found on the way. It’s not quite safe for solo traveller. I decided to journey further from Kausani.
I came back to the ashram, packed my bags and decide to travel to Almora. May be I will visit the Satkhol ashram or the Ramakrishna Mission Ashram there, or Kasar Devi shrine. I get a shared taxi going to Haldwani. This was a hot day, we took few breaks in between. My state of mind continued to be confused. Bus to Delhi from Almora was almost fully occupied for day after tomorrow.
I decided to not stop at Almora and instead travel to Nainital. The freedom of unplanned travel is awesome but sometimes mind plays it’s games and it is travel all the time.
The taxi drops me at Bhowali, an excellent little town about 11km from Nainital. It’s raining continuously. I sought after Kumaon to avoid the rains in Rishikesh and now the joke is on me 😄
I get on the bus to Nainital at 2pm. Rain continued in Nainital too. I wait for 30 min at the bus stop hoping rain to cease. Seeing no hope, I start walking around the city in my rain wear. Nainital is beautiful. At 2000m above sea level, the clouds were literally descending on the lake. The mall road by the lake side was hustling with activity.
I walked till the tourism office to find if they have any kind of hop-on sightseeing service. I learned only private taxis are available. Unfortunately this won’t work well for a backpacker. I need to find something else.
After finding a stay, I spent the evening around the Bara Bazaar area finding little things to eat and observing people going by. A little bit of writing too.
I remind myself of the exciting day tomorrow as I go to sleep. In these two days, I have travelled from Garhwal through a large stretch of the Kumaon region. 309 km in total.
This post is the part of a week long solo backpacking series. All posts are below: