It was a lazy morning, sunny and with clear skies. Before ending 26th, I had booked another Airbnb property at Choukori. I had this place in sight for sometime as it seemed to be a natural set up and far from any kind of artificial intervention, as I was about find it !!
Breakfast and Adieu to Anupam and Alok took a while before I started the journey onwards. Having driven per google, I took its advice to take a "Village Road" and not the road through Mukteshwar. It didn't turn out to be a good one, but fortunately it was just 25km sort of misadventure before I got merged onto the highway to Almora.
The drive went by without incident with views of snow peaks and dense foliage of pine and Rhododendron at times, at times through them !!
Soon after rejoining Mukteshwar-Almora highway, all smiles for the two of us. Scenes brightened and roads smoothened.
Through the woods many a times. Thanks to the well persevered Binsar range.
Need I say !!
Stop over at a sunny spot for a quick bite !! Picnic lunch . Carried my portable Hans Stove and cans, provided good alternative to prepare if not in mood to eat elsewhere.
Crossed Seraghat soon after my picnic break. I remember eating at Seraghat last time when I came along with my family during 2013-14. Gave the local fish curry a miss this time. My son got me a cam-stand to video record the drive at times. I spent sometime figuring out the best way to install it in the car in between, losing much of my time to no avail. Gave up finally when I realized the dusk was fast catching up.
I still haven't figured it out
Approaching Berinag and the turn into the valley opens up the wide and closer view.
It wasn't easy crossing Berinag, a junction and a buzzing market to wade through. Lost sometime there as well and it started to turn orange all around. I was sure to miss the sunset today, checked with Tarun and he guided me to his place, which was a hidden space in the woods, 3km short of Chaukori.
Reached Tarun's place, Brezza did well to climb up to his parking spot on boulder roads, the only option to his place. He said he wasn't expecting, since few guests had cancelled due to severe chill and the expected western disturbance in few days ( I was looking forward to that though). Gave me a quick tour of the place and showed me to up the hill to find the last possible view in the remaining light.
Tarun has a nice set up for guests, 4 wooded rooms with a common space to sit and relax. He also has a tree house and a cabin hut for night watchers. His Airbnb posts have two options to chose from, rooms or huts/tents, which he said he pitches if there's a group of travelers, since that's pitched up in the hills.
Herbal tea was provided and it was an amazing relaxing drink, which I really relished. Met some folks during this stay, from Bengaluru and Delhi. As a coincidence, few of them were on my route and as it would turn out, folks from Bengaluru would stay connected on and off during my next two destinations. Suddenly, I was back in the social set up !! Liked it, because this was a spontaneous one and different to what I running out from.
The dinner was delectable, which Tarun's mom organizes and cooks most of it herself, helped by his wife and his father. His is an amazing family, each one tirelessly going through their chores, from 4AM in the morning till the guests are taken care off by night.
The next morning Tarun showed amazing skills in his little bird sanctuary. Chatted with the group for a while before hitting the bed. Next days plan was to reach Musyari and stay put for a some days. Had no bookings made, so it was even more interesting.
Slept well overnight and got up real early, one to watch the birds around that Tarun had filled my expectations for, and two, to start in time for Munsyari, since I needed to do some stay scouting there, coz it was obvious that tourists will throng it for the expected snowfall.
Back to Tarun's sanctuary, to which he has given the name "Kaaphal Hills", after the local fruit in Uttarkhand.
He walked me around in the morning to show how he has set up small eco systems that call in different kinds of birds. Some of the birds, he said, have a home. He literally showed me a flock of weaver birds naming each one of them distinctly. The interesting fact was not that these were local Himalayan version of the Baya we see in the plains (had orange complexion) but that one of them was an outsider from the plains. He told me that the outsider came in with a partner initially, but his partner died and then he tried mixing into the local family, which they accepted and he has now found a new partner in his Himalayan counterparts. It actually seemed like that, one of the weaver bird was from plains, resembled the distinct back head and fur.
A small open grassland was the area where he would serve them with grains, and the morning rituals would first be done by pheasants, along with weaver birds, then by doves, and in between Tarun would call in his famous and a celebrity "Chintu", the Himalayan woodpecker. I was amazed to find pheasants not at all bothered or shy and were roaming freely around, while most of us were busy clicking. The celebrity bird "Chintu" was as well relaxed and showed up every time Tarun called him in (with some whistling sound). It was a treat to watch these birds, have breakfast alongside and finally settle off to start onwards.
I felt I should have stayed a day or two to go through the nature he has built around. I promised him for another time, maybe when its the peak bird season, which he said is noisy with flutters and chirping all around of different kinds of species. It will be cool to go in that time.
Good Morning guys !!
Two to tango !!
Dawn catch up on the peaks !!
Forgot the name he gave, these are not "Malta" he said. Some other citrus version.
Here comes the HOT STEPPER - "Chintu"
Celebrities have special servings.
Now the pose !!
The team behind all this, with me. From the left (Tarun, his wife, his mother and father, me alongside)
Tarun told me that he organized number of events for kids and adults to train them in mountaineering/trekking/survival skills. He had set up some challenges in the jungle around him for such events and has some prize money for the winners !! that sounded like an action packed place.
Again, breakfast, exchanges, promises and adieu took its own time and I found myself late into the morning for the drive ahead.
This day was the most scenic one. Many would agree that the drive towards Musyari is a perfect finish to a journey in that direction. It was bright and sunny, as it had been and the roads were good most of the way. Reaching in time was important since I had not booked any stay option, my first attempt would be KMVN ,where I had stayed last time during my family trip.
I made the most and best use of my camera this day. Unfortunately my DSLR's 70-300 lens malfunctioned, so had to work with my mobile and 18-55 option.
This landslide point was still being worked on. I remember going through this 6 years back, it was even worse then. Good thing is that its widened so there's no stopping for oncoming traffic.
Stopped over for tea post Thal and from there on, post crossing Bageshwar junction views of Birthi valley uncovered.
Reached Birthi around 2 and stopped to get the camera in action. Posting some attempts
It was tempting to try as many angles and options but I had little time left to complete my drive and be left with some for stay hunting before night. Left Birthi and then drove all the way clicking as many as I could while in the car.
There were no end to the views and it was hard to resist frequent stopping for a capture.
Soon as I crossed over the pass and entered into the valley, the scenes whitened and it was snow all around with the Magnificent Panch-Chuli Range prominently ruling the panorama.
Wherever you go around Munsyari, those 5 peaks will never miss your glare and would render you speechless for the immaculate formation, as if someone may have architected it but only to be found deservingly crafted by Nature !!
Reached Munsyary around 430 and it was getting cold and would soon get dark. I wanted to settle in as quickly as possible to take a stroll around. Went straight to KMVN and found no room left for taking. I went down to the market area and found that a little crowded and drove straight back up to see if some stays around KMVN would be available. Luckily found a good one just besides KMVN (Hotel Pinewood) and took a room after a little bargain (3 night logic). The room was clean, spacious bathroom, running hot water and a clear view of the range in front.
Unpacked, and went downtown Munsyari for a walk.
The dusk caught up soon on the peaks and it was time to get into the room and relax !!
It was a super drive with satiating views and visual vistas. For the next two days, I had planned a short trek to the frozen lake "Thamari Kund" and the next one to the hot water springs at Madkot. The gang from Bengaluru also had plans to come along for the snow trek to the frozen lake.
The hotel boy was very efficient and he took real good care of my requests. Food was home cooked and ok to taste. I slept real well in the silence more pronounced in the sub-freezing temperatures.