I had a strong desire to visit Mayavati ashram since a long time. My father visited the place twice and had unique experiences. I missed the chance to accompany him because of my personal problems. My family is influenced by the ideals of Lord Ramakrishna and were initiated into R K Mission. I am also not an exception. As soon as I planned to visit Kumayun I included Mayavati in my itinerary. To go and stay at Mayavati one needs to get permission from Advaita Ashrama ( Entally, Kolkata ) which is a wing of R K Mission.
I went to kolkata branch of Advaita Ashrama. Initially Maharaj, who is the assigned in charge of booking, was hesitant to give permission to a solo female traveler for stay and tried to dissuade me. After a long argument when the in charge was convinced that I am quite determined to visit the place he informed me about the procedure to book accommodation.
When I got down from Lalkuan express I came to know that the best way to go there is through Berily( UP ), but it was too late to mend. I felt puzzled for some time. Few locals rescued me by giving information. At last I reached Mayavati on time via Tanakpur and Lohaghat.
It had been a unique experience staying there. It was pretty cold in March after a thundershower. Within 3 kilometer periphery of Mayavati there is no village, only forest, leopards are often seen there. We were instructed not to walk alone. The guest house is half a kilometer walk from the ashram. One has to walk 4 kilometers daily up and down to have breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. The ashram is self sufficient, they produce food crops, vegetables and there is also a dairy farm. They run a charitable hospital where local people come for free treatment. Normally guests are not allowed to stay there more than 3 nights but doctors are allowed to stay more on condition that they have to give voluntary service in the hospital.
It was 12 o’clock at noon when I reached Tanakpur. Tanakpur is a small transit town in the foot hill of Kumayun Himalayas. I went there for going to Mayavati Ashram. I had booking for a night stay at KMVN tourist rest house. As I lodged there and asked for afternoon meal, they said it was not possible for them to provide food without previous notice. They informed that the market area was not far away from the place and it would cost 20 rupees by tuktuk to go there where I could get lunch . So I hired a tuktuk, and reached the market area where there were few places for lunch. After having lunch I started inquiring about the places of importance there.
I heard that there is a famous temple called Punyagiri or Purnagiri. I wished to visit there and got a shared jeep for that purpose. After a long wait it filled up and started. When it reached in front of the temple gate the sky was covered with thick cloud. The taxi driver told me that he would go back as soon as he got required number of passengers, and there was no hope for next taxi. I came to know that Holi was celebrated there with great grandeur and a fair was organized during that time. The preparation was full on for the festival. I started walking, after few minutes I realized if I went to the top of the hill where the temple was, it would take at least 3 hours to come back. It was almost 3 km uphill trek. I decided to return because if I could not come back in time I would be in great trouble. As I turned I found the taxi driver standing there, I told him why I planned to return. He was very enthusiastic and devoted, he said he would accompany me, so that I would not miss the taxi, he forced me to visit the temple. It was a tedious walk for me, I felt tired, but he was persistent.
When I reached the last phase it started raining, but that part of the stairs was covered with tin shade. I reached the temple. I feel blessed, it was a beautiful sight of the Kaligandaki river that I witnessed from the temple. When I came down it was raining cats and dogs. The driver started his jeep. Lots of people were waiting under different shelters. As soon as he started they rushed into the jeep.
N.B. From Lalkuan I took auto-rickshaw to reach Kichchha. From Kichchha bus stand I took a local bus by which I went to Khatima. From Khatima I got a shared taxi which dropped me in front of the KMVN guest house at Tanakpur. Buses ply in regular intervals from Berily to Tanakpur.
In the year1982 I heard about Valley of Flowers and Manimahesh. We came across a middle aged woman on our Kedarnath trip, who had been traveling alone for years, which was considered an exceptional event then. She said, “No one is alone in Himalayas.” She had many experiences which she shared with us. My mother asked her, “Which is the most beautiful and which is the most difficult destination according to your opinion?” She replied that Valley of flowers and Manimahesh. So after completing my Valley of Flowers trip I was trying to get information about Manimahesh. One of my travel freak Facebook friends advised me to go there during the time of mela which takes place in August or September every year between Janmastami and Radhastami. I managed to fulfill my wish in 2017.
From Pathankot I reached Chamba. From Chamba buses ply to Bharmor. There were special buses for pilgrims till late night during mela. I stayed one night at Chamba and one night at Bharmor and visited Bharmani Devi temple. Next early morning I started for Manimahesh. I reached Hadsar which was the starting point of the trek for Manimahesh. Ponies are also available but the route is very steep in some places, so one has to get down and walk from time to time in different places. I started walking from the gate, there were few stair cases, and after that there was the trekking trail. After walking one and half kilometer I took a pony. Those who trek till the end take breaks at two points, one is Dhancho and another is Sundarasi.
I reached Gaurikund at 4 pm, many people halted there for night stay, but I decided to go up to Shivkund and visit Gaurikund on my way back. Reaching Shivkund I hired a tent sharing with another person. There was full of mist, I felt very disappointed. After dinner I felt it difficult to sleep not only for cold weather but also for a discomfort to stay at an altitude of 4,080 meters ( 13,390 ft ). After a long time when had I fallen asleep I did not know, there was an uproar of “Jai Bhole” which awoke me up. I opened the tent flap and saw the Mani ( the jewel ) on the top of the peak of Manimahesh. It was a unique phenomenon. The crescent moon appeared on the peak in such a way that it seemed like a diamond. The sky was absolutely clear. Gradually the crescent moon rose up, innumerable stars and constellations were clearly visible. It was a surreal feeling to be there. Suddenly I saw a shooting star. Tears came in my eyes and I thought there was nothing that I could ask God to gift me. I never thought my long wish for visiting Manimahesh would be fulfilled in such a way.
N.B. To reach Manimahesh one has to reach Chamba( Himachal Pradesh ). Buses ply from Chamba to Bharmor and Hudsar. From Hudsar it is almost 18 kilometer steep uphill trekking. Ponies are available during mela which takes place from Janmastami to Radhastami ( August/ September). Langars are set up during this period.
I reached Gangotri at 1-30 PM after waiting from 6-30 to 10 AM with few young stars in Uttarkashi until the shared jeep filled up. As I was walking towards GMVN guest house, a man came to me. He introduced himself as a guide. Initially I hesitated and refused saying that I had to hire a pony because I was unable to walk 15 km and the syce would guide me, but he persisted on following me saying that he would carry my luggage as well as arrange my pony and permit, and one has to walk on feet after Bhojobasa, so syce would never go to accompany me till the snout point. After a long bargain I agreed at the cost of Rs 1000, I said to him to leave me at Bhojobasa after visiting Gaumukh. He made my permit in the evening and booked a pony. He said he would come next morning at 6 o’clock.
I started in the morning at 6 AM, I rode the pony. After going for a while the pony denied to go ahead and turned backward. It seemed that she was unwilling to carry me. Somehow the syce and the guide made her going on the way. Then I came to know that the pony was a very young one and the syce was a new one. This is his first trip on the way to Bhojobasa. The guide said that there was nothing to worry because he was quite acquainted with the region. But I had not been comfortable on the back of the pony and had a feeling that my seat was moving. The syce said to me not to get afraid and stick on to the seat. Then suddenly the saddle tilted completely and I fell from the pony where the path was hardly 3 feet wide and river gorge was straight 200 metres deep beside the path. Suddenly the guide came, as I was slipping down under the horse, he caught my legs and saved me from falling. I was terribly scared, he asked to rest, then I walked about one and half kilometer, after that I somehow reached Bhojobasa on the back of the pony.
I talked to the guide while walking on the way to Gaumukh. He informed that he has 2 children, wife and parents in a village of Nepal which was completely devastated due to the earthquake of 2015. Previous day he had no money that is why he was so persistent. I agreed to pay him for another day and also to provide his food. I asked him to accompany till I return to Gangotri. It was a beautiful experience to see the snout point and coming back. I stayed that night at GMVN rest house at Bhojobasa and came back next day by another pony which was well trained as well as it’s syce.
N.B. To reach Gangotri one can catch bus directly from Hariwar or reach Uttarkashi by shared jeep or bus from Haridwar to break a long road journey. Till Bhojobasa, which is 10 kilometer from Gangotri, pony is available for those who can not walk so long, but after Bhojobasa it is now 5/6 kilometer trek. At Bhojobasa there are very few accommodations for stay.