It was 3rd of March 2015 . We reached Chakauri as the day was wrapping up. We had witnessed an amazing sunset from the rooftop of a road side house at Berinag. Kind of sunset that leaves us awestruck with huge, orange-red circle of sun majestically gliding on vast horizon, filling every object with an ethereal beauty.
Our train from Lucknow had reached Kathgodam at about 11.30 A.M. Our taxi was waiting for us outside the station and we immediately hit the road. We reached Chaukori at about 7 P.M. After dinner we retired to bed early with dreams of early morning dialogue with snow-clad majestic peaks of Himalaya.
Chaukori is a tiny Hill station in Pithoragarh District of Kumaon Division of Uttarakhand. This was our second visit to Chaukori. Once almost about 17 years back we had visited Chaukori with our two sons. As is the story of every tourist place, Chaukori too has changed a lot with passage of time but it still has those quiet pockets where woods sit by you silently whispering untold stories, chirping of birds gels into virgin melody of folk songs riding from villages down in the valley. Splendid view of majestic Himalayan peaks Nanda devi, Nandadevi east, Nandakot, Panchchuli, trishul and Annapurna transport you to an entirely new world. Bathed in moonlight when snow-capped peaks resplendently stand out in inky blackness of night, you are compelled to believe that there far off is a land of fairies and angels.
4th of march, cool, tender twilight moments, salubrious mountain air though nipping was ahh so refreshing. We were on the watch tower at Kumaon Mandal guest house premises waiting for the sun. Here we met Mr. Sunil Arora, the lone traveller. His enthusiasm for wanderings is simply amazing. And then slowly the rosy tint started appearing on the sky far away behind snowy peaks and then suddenly one of the peaks was bathed in silky orangish pink light….the simmering, flickering fingers of the sun were caressing the pearly white head of the peak with soft tender touches….I could hear the music in my soul….the divine tinkling of temple bells….the atmosphere was as if filled with unsung prayers and hymns……
The valley on other side was filled with an ocean of clouds. Chaukori at one time must have been a quaint little tiny land mass surrounded by valleys on all the sides, encircled by mountains, peaks and hills. In those early morning hours it must have looked like a floating island in the clouds. The magic still can be felt and witnessed.
After a cup of tea in open in the company of charismatic Himalayan peaks we set off for unhurried wanderings. Eariler when we were here in Kumaon Mandal guest house, there were no buildings in the vicinity except that big old palatial house. Now a number of houses, resorts, hotels have come up. Earlier there was no paved path and we roamed around between bushes, trees. This time we had to go out on the road from the main gate of guest house and we walked on a laid down path. We walked up to the tip from where hills sloped down to valleys.
There was this little temple under a big tree on that hill. Steeped with silence and surrounded by tall trees this small portion of hill was a perfect place to sit down and catch up with oneself. The lone Buransh tree between dense greenery smiled all bright and red. Snow clad mountains seemed nearer. After spending some time we returned to guest house. On way back in a grove enjoyed chirping and twittering of different species of birds.
Back in the guest house most of the fellow travellers were out in the open --- the middle aged couple from Varanasi with their young daughter, the group of Bengali boys heading for Munsiyari with a trekking plan booked, this Bengali documentary maker with his mother and mausi and Sunil ji. All of them left after breakfast. We too had a plan to go to Munsiari but as the road on the way was blocked due to heavy snowfall and anybody going towards Munsiyari needed one extra day, we had to cancel our programme of visiting it. If we went ahead, it would not have been not possible to get back to Kathgodam in time to catch our train. We even thought of cancelling our reservation if we could get the seats reserved for a day later but that could not happen hence we stayed there in Chaukori for the day.
After every body left it became quieter as we two were the only occupants in entire premises besides the staff of guest house. Sometimes that is what you need…..let the time slip away while you sit wrapped in eloquent silence, trying to merge yourself with nature all around. We wandered all around leisurely discovering new paths, spotting different birds, inhaling the fragrance of unnamed flowers and chatting with the local kids, enjoying the gathering of women to celebrate Holi, The sudden charismatic appearance of two rainbows in the valley, suddenly finding myself face to face with an idol of Ma Kali, locked in a room of deserted and dilapidated hut.
Night dawned and the entire hill station plunged into pitch black darkness as there was no electric supply that day but that too proved to be advantageous for us. A bonfire in the verandah and its warmth was too cosy and comforting. In front of us were the Himalayan peaks bathed in moonlight.
How they stand out! The combination of snow and moonlight…so mystique it looked. The entire range like illuminated Arc of Noah in the dark, raging water waves invited us to take the voyage of faith. It was so divine.
Yes , we missed the chance of being at Munsiyari, a chance to enjoy the majestic beauty of Himalayas from closer quarters but as is said everything happens with a purpose, our extended stay at somnolent hills of Chaukori too served a deep, fulfilling purpose. Such divine encounters not only rejuvenated my soul but brought myself closer to me.
All pictures by Sunder Iyer.