Tosh is a small village in the interior of Parvati Valley. It was snowing, more like sleet actually, when I reached Tosh from Kasol. I got down from the taxi and opened my umbrella, put the rucksack on my back and walked forward in search of a shelter. The taxi stand is in front of a bridge on a small stream which is the gateway of Tosh. I entered carefully because of ice and slush. Just after crossing the bridge I found a hotel. I inquired whether accommodation was available. They informed that they didn’t have attached bathroom. The next hotel on the way was closed. Proceeding forward I found a hotel upward where there were guests taking selfies on the balcony. There was ice and the path was very slippery. I could not reach there. I shouted for help. A person came and helped me to reach the hotel. He was the manager of the hotel.
It was very cold and I was shivering, so the manager told me to sit by the fireplace in their dining hall, and take a cup of tea and then to see the hotel room and complete all other formalities. It was a nice cozy room. I sat there snugly beside the fireplace. There were few people around the fire. Some were guests, some were employees who from time to time came to get the warmth. I saw my room. It was workably good. I kept my luggage there, closed the room and sat again beside the fire. There was no electricity. It rained whole day. People kept on coming and going to have shelter or lunch. Food was tasty, and Israeli cuisine was also available there. In the evening it started snowing heavily. Electricity came back luckily. In the early morning when I woke up it seemed that the whole valley was shrouded with a thick white sheet of ice. I went out from the room to take a stroll in the village. There is a temple of Jamdagni ( the great sage and father of the warrior monk Parshuram) in the center of the village, but outsiders are not allowed to enter. With the rise of the temperature the snow on the roofs started melting and fell with thuds.
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 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.
I had never heard about Sarkanda devi before I reached Dhanaulti. I went to Dhanaulti from Chamba via Tehri Dam. On the way to Dhanaulti I saw a place where there were few shops on the highway, cars and motorcycles were also standing there. It seemed that there was a temple. I asked the driver, he informed that there was a famous temple of Devi Sarkanda on the hill top, which was two and half kilometer uphill walk from that place. I reached Dhanaulti and lodged in a hotel. After having a sumptuous lunch with chicken after a long vegetarian diet, I asked the hotelier about the temple. He arranged a local shared jeep which ply regularly taking the teachers of the local government run school from Dhanaulti to Chamba. The jeep dropped me at the same place which I had seen while coming.
I started walking. I found few people walking down who said that they could not reach because it was too long a walk. I was in full confidence after coming down from Gaumukh, so I continued. There were steps and railings. I got tired after sometime and thought that I should not go forward. I sat on a rock beside a rhododendron tree. A boy and a girl came up, sat beside me to take rest, they were friends, one from Hyderabad, another from Mumbai. They came to Mussoorie for trekking. I told them that I had given up and thinking of going down. The boy said, “I will take you.” I objected saying that I can not walk fast, specially uphill. He took me up holding my hands and I reached the top and visited the shrine. I felt blessed. According to Indian mythology Sarkanda Devi temple is a Shakti pith where head ( sar ) of Sati had fallen during Dakhayagna.
N.B. Sarkanda devi is on the way to Dhanaulti from Chamba or Mussoorie
I learnt about Kugti village while reading about Manimahesh Kailash Yatra. It is a lesser known place for the tourists. Kugti means Karthik in local language. I came to know that it is very near to Hudsar, the last motorable point for Manimahesh Yatra. I could not get much information about it except that it is a very scenic place and there is a temple of Lord Karthik. Coming down from Manimahesh I moved forward for Kugti. I hired a jeep and reached a place where the road ended. I got down from the car and saw a Government rest house there on the slope of the valley. I reached in front of the gate of the rest house with great difficulty and shouted. None was there. There were a primary school and a langar which could be seen from there. I reached the langar. They offered me food which was very good and tasty, probably I was too hungry. I was informed that the village is about two kilometer from there. In Himalayas no local will ever say, “It is distant”, they always say,”Its very near ( thoda hi dur hay)”, but for us it was quite a distance walking up hill with rucksack on the back. At the entrance of the village I found the forest rest house and managed a room there.
Next morning I started for Karthik Swami temple, which was 7 kilometer away from the village, after having a breakfast of aloo parantha and tea. The trail was narrow. The beauty was unique and pristine. Lots of unknown flowers bloomed decorating the place. I kept on walking slowly, taking intervals, resting on large stones and capturing few snaps of the heavenly nature. I found local pilgrims walking past rarely. Whoever I asked how much distant the temple was, they replied that it was very near. Gradually I became very tired, but at last I saw the temple on the top of a hill. That part was most difficult. But when one can see the destination it itself gives an incentive to overcome all the difficulties. At last god Karthikeya favoured me appearing himself in front of me. I felt overjoyed. There was a langar where I took lunch. People of the langar were very congenial and gave me very tasty laddoo. Coming down was easier.
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 had been my father’s advisor about deciding the tour plans and I was always fond of places that were not so popular. After doing the trip to Andaman in 1980, which was a rare destination then, I asked my father if we could go Laskadweep. At that time sufficient information was not available and it didn’t happen. As soon as I revived traveling after a long period, I started planning for Lakshadweep. The package preponed and postponed and ultimately we got confirmation letter from the local agent of SPORTS.
It was an amazing experience to travel on a ship for five days. My son and I both enjoyed extremely. I did not know swimming then, that is why I could not take risk for going scuba diving, just enjoyed snorkeling. I missed it really, so, after coming back I learnt swimming at the age of 48, so that if I get another chance I do not have to miss it. All the beaches are pristine because it is not as commercialized as Andaman at present and one needs permission of the authority to go there. Alcohol consumption is absolutely banned.
When the ship started everyone was excited. A tugboat pulled the ship out of Cochin harbour. It went through the Vembanad Lake and reached Arabian sea. The night fell on the vast sea.There was nothing except water all around. The ship seemed like an island. At night it was alarmingly beautiful. In the early morning we saw the coast of Kalpeni island. The whole package is unique in its own way. We visited Kavaratti next day and Minicoy on the the 4th day. It was a 5 days and 4 nights package from Cochin to Cochin.