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Morning Glory in Chaukori

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It’s a one-horse town of around 70 to 80 families but has a major claim to fame – a fabulous view of the Himalayas: a string of peaks from Nanda Devi to Panchuli. Ethereally lit by the glow of polychromatic sunsets and sunrises, Chaukori (2,010m above sea level) is all about lofty, luminescent beauty compressed in a small area. The road from Almora winds across explosively lush valleys and pine shrouded hills whose deep green depths brimmed with a kind of eternal silence. The air is thick with the scent of the forest and the calls of unseen birds.

This quiescent corner of the country is studded with little hamlets that snooze under the frowning gaze of the mountains; tiny settlements that comprise only a temple cradled in the bend of a river, and a few houses that tilt crazily against each other. It is a land apparently insulated from the woes that one has come to associate with life – crime, abject poverty, mindless violence and homelessness.

One and a half hours from Almora, is the pilgrim town of Bageshwar where a 15th century Baghnath temple dedicated to Lord Shiva overlooks the sacred Saryu river. Indeed the Saryu plays a dominant role in this little pilgrim town where aeons ago, according to legend, a rishi sat in deep meditation blocking the river which wanted to stream onwards towards the sea. So the mischievous river conjured up the sight of a cow being chased by a tiger. In a knee jerk reaction, the rishi leapt up to save the cow, allowing the river to gurgle past uninterrupted on its way.

Another hour and a half drive and one reaches Chaukori rimmed by mountains. Here the rhythms are slow and leisurely as the peaks fan out – ethereal and a trifle ghostly, filling one with a sense of desolation and insignificance.

One can sit for hours here watching the different moods of the mountains as the sun caresses a peak here, dapples a meadow there and cast a gentle brooding shadow on other massifs. Fields of ripening corn rippled in the wind, scented with the fragrance of fruit and pine. Deep forests of oak and blood-red rhododendrons completed the glowing picture.

Nestled in the foothills is a British tea planter’s cottage that was once the fulcrum of village life and the venue of lively tea parties that bubbled under the stern gaze of the Himalayas. Now largely in ruins, the lonely bungalow with its sloping roof and bay windows seemed cocooned in a blessed time warp, languishing in a deep trance, waiting for the cold fingers of winter to clamp it in its icy grip.

After the departure of the British tea planter, the bungalow was taken over by a local landlord with several wives none of whom bore him any sons. He abandoned his “recalcitrant better halves” as well as his becalmed estate at Chaukori which has been reclaimed by the jungle. All that remains is a yellow sun-warmed shell partly bleached by the sun; the stones are silent and do not speak of the past when the place pulsed with vibrant life.

Today the landscape at the foothills of the Himalayas resembled the waves of an angry ocean in mid heave. And above these dark silhouettes the mighty Himalayas rise in glistening splendour.

Fact File
The nearest airport to Chaukori is Delhi and the nearest railhead is Kathgodam or Haldwani.

The overnight Ranikhet Express leaves Delhi at night and arrives in Kathgodam (185 km away) at early the next morning. From Kathgodam, hire or share a taxi.

Chaukori is part of the back to nature Kumaon circuit in Uttarakhand which comprises Binsar, Almora, Kausani, Ranikhet and Nainital. One can also add Corbett National park to the circuit. Chaukori is also an ideal base to visit the underground cave temples of Patel Bubeneshwar (35 km)

In these parts the journey is often the destination and the drive offers some truly magnificent sights!