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An autumn stroll to Jageshwar

A new autumn day is impatient to burst out from the confines of a dark night. In the dark blue sky the half-crescent moon is kept company by a solitary star and I am huddled on the roof ledge with a tepid tumbler of sweetened tea eagerly awaiting a chance to behold nature’s magic.With a child-like curiosity I nervously glance at the reddening horizon and the snow-capped peaks rising sharply behind the dwarf hills dotted with a speck of light. The imposing Trisul lies to the extreme left; the elusive Nanda Devi, at the centre, is eclipsed by the Panwali Dhar and the distant silhouettes of the Pancha Chuli are preparing to embrace the sun. And as the warmth of the rising sun sweeps over the misty valleys, the hundreds of kilometres of the Himalayas is illuminated in a golden hue. The raw force of nature here is overwhelming and the sight of the mighty peaks draped in the silken snow intoxicates the heart. It is here at Binsar; the insignificance of existence is reflected in the scorn of the stoic mountains.

However, Binsar has another treat for nature lovers – a trail of about 22 kms riding on windy ridges, threading dense forests and tiny villages to ultimately culminate at the ancient temple complex of Jageshwar. The trek follows the motorable road from Binsar for about a kilometre where it veers off to the left through dense scrubs and oak trees and descends in a steep gradient to a cobbled path which then continues along the hill slope. Along the trail, unadulterated views of the Himalayas can be relished as the trail runs parallel to the ranges for quite a distance. The euphoric jungle welcomes the stranger with an unfamiliar hospitality; the crickets create a racket, birds chirp hysterically and the cries of a barking deer liven up the surroundings.

These forests nurture some of the most important creatures of the Himalayan ecosystem such as the Himalayan Monal, leopard, goral, musk deer, chital, barking deer and a host of other animals and birds. The jungle predominantly consists of oak and rhododendron during the initial descent; this peters out to pine trees as we approach the hamlet of Dhaulchinna, which is approximately 6kms from Binsar. Here, one has the option of retiring to a cosy rest house for a day before continuing onto Jageshwar (another 16kms from Dhaulchinna). In the event of a night stay in Dhaulchinna, a stroll to the ancient Vimalkot temple can also be undertaken.

The path from Dhaulchinna is a relatively wide mud track straddled by lush green terraced fields and hill slopes covered in pine trees. Ranges of blue-green hills stretch to the horizon; the hill-station of Almora is located on one of these ridges. The mud track finally joins the motorable road coming from Pipalkoti, which runs along the ridge to Saukiyathal and terminates at Vriddha (old) Jageshwar. The temple at Vriddha Jageshwar is dedicated to Shiva and can be dated back to the 9th-13th century. The Himalayan range, which was lost to view from Dhaulchinna, reappears with more peaks now visible like the Nanda Ghunti to the west of Trisul. The final stretch of the trek is a 3 km steep descent through a brown pine forest; and as we near Jageshwar this gives way to a green deodar jungle.Jageshwar is a temple complex dedicated to Shiva and the temples range in the period from 7th century to 18th century. Idyllically located in a valley surrounded by hills covered by deodar trees with a sparkling brook skirting the complex, the sight of the temple town is rejuvenating.

In his book Footloose in the Himalayas, Bill Aitken says and I quote ‘the aim of recollecting these vintage walks is to try and hint at the timeless sublimity of the Himalayas even in its lower reaches’. This trek offers a glimpse into this timeless beauty of the Himalayas without being encumbered with the intricacies of planning that more ambitious excursions entail.Sometimes it is imperative to expel aspiration and wander aimlessly amidst nature; to let the trail be the master, to resist the temptation of pursuing accomplishment rather than the experience and to lose yourself in the wild!

The article was first published at The Alternative

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