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By Suresh Nautiyal

FOR adventure loving people, a journey to Pauri via its gateway, Kotdwara, is a thrilling experience. The four-hour journey, through ascending and descending stretches, instils a feeling of being lifted to the lofty heights of Himalaya as well as makes one hostage to the fear of being skidded into the deep gorges.

Real adventure begins the moment one leaves behind the town of Kotdwara and ascends towards Ghoomkhal or a place to be reached by circularly serpentine road, which is also slim and treacherous. Even by mistake, it doesn't curve gently round the hills. Despite its singular character, the vehicles do pass by, how, even the Almighty won't know. Perhaps, only God's will makes the vehicle move through the valleys and the gorges allowing the traveller to have the only option of looking into the faces of the verdant valleys or the high peaks in the distance.

The downward journey to Satpuli, from Ghoomkhal, is a constant threat to one's precious life as it gives a sense of being skidded into a deep gorge forever. At the bottom of the hill, river Nayar only heightens the feeling. One descends several thousand metres before reaching Satpuli. A posthumous Shaurya Chakra would not be enough reward. The fair, slim and smart high cheek boned driver has to negotiate hundreds of sharp and virtually blind bends and multitude of kilometres to reach Satpuli, the stopover where one can have Garhwali flavoured lunch with lot of red chillis and a heavy dose of salt.

Satpuli, the bubbling town of seven bridges (now a single bridge in existence) is on the left bank of the river Nayar. In a devastating flood in 1951, the entire town was washed away with its bridges and everything. The  memories of the flood still haunt those who were lucky enough to save themselves.

A long-leep ahead of Patisain, comes Bubakhal, the threshold in itself that sets the panoramic view in motion. As one reaches there, the instant introduction is with the gorgeously built Chaukhamba peak in the timeless sublimity. A wonderland unexplored! For sure, everyone is bound to forget the jostling rides and constantly biri smoking fellow passengers if one happens to travel by a public transport vehicle.
Pristine Pauri in Garhwal Himalaya (105 km from Kotdwara and 129 km from Rishikesh via Shrinagar) is just a night's journey away from Delhi. The direct bus service is also available, but not dependable. For those who prefer a train journey, the last railhead is Kotdwara town in the foothills of the Garhwal district. From Kotdwara onwards, road journey is essential to the town with British heritage.

Goethe rightly called Uttarakhand the holiest of the holies. What else a land of mythological abode of the Hindu pantheon could be termed, more importantly, where snow-capped peaks sit like white bearded saints in endless transcendental meditation. That is why, millions of pilgrims and tourists set out on pilgrimage or travel to its mountains. The sacred Char-Dham Yatra or pilgrimage of Badarinath, Kedarnath, Yamunotari, and Gangotari is a life-long dream of the Hindu devout.

From the time immemorial, Himalaya has been attracting people from across the globe. This treasure trove of myth and magical lore has had a fascination that could never be resisted. The greater part of Uttarakhand is Garhwal, which encompasses some of the most spectacular scenery on the earth. Garhwal or the land of 52 forts is one of the five geographical zones of the mountainous Himalaya, known in Puranic texts as Kedarkhand.

The land has historical, archaeological, and cultural interests but religious and spiritual interests reign supreme here. Full of legends and mythology, the land is closely associated with legendary heroes of Mahabharata. The Pandava Nritya, the dance of the legendary Pandavas of the Mahabharata fame, is a household activity in all Garhwal villages.

Many a celebration are incomplete without this dance-form, which is choreographed collectively in an improvised way, in a circular manner, by the side of fire. Drum player-cum-singers stand in a corner while narrating the episodes from the Mahabharata in prose and poetry quite in consonance with the beats of the dhol and the damaon (the drum-duo). The men-folk dance as if in trance and in the avatar of the Pandavas. They even enact the typical behaviour of individual characters from the epic. The women-folk form the major part of the audience.

Pauri is a land of unspoken leisure, adventures, and uphill-downhill walks. It is strange why it has not attracted the trekkers and the hikers in large numbers. A week out from Delhi gets one to the tranquil place, where mountains are in endless monologue. The town is one of the main urban areas in the Garhwal division of the state of Uttaranchal. Set in a sylvan setting, Pauri is largely an obscure place for the outsiders. In fact, it is a destination for those who wish to get away from the maddening crowd of Nainital and Mussoorie in the region. The unexplored town against the snow-clad ranges spread on a large montainscape was a revenue collection centre during the British Raj. The whole area under its jurisdiction was called the British Garhwal, other half of the region being under the Rulers of the Tehri Principality. After the Chinese aggression of 1962, Garhwal was bifurcated into two districts and a new district of Chamoli was created.

Today, Pauri has mushroomed in all directions. The town is dwarfed by pine and deodar (cedar) trees. Basic amenities and facilities are for name-sake only. Perhaps, less exposure to the outside world has not allowed it to prosper the way it should have been. But one thing is remarkable it has kept the greedy builders at bay. The result: A beautiful stretch between Bubakhal and the hills of Kimkaleshwar is intact in its pristine glory. There are no bars, no fancy restaurants and no parlours in the town. The Messmore College and several other buildings faintly remind of the Raj days with their distinct architecture. Saffron-clad buildings, camouflaged in pine groves, are dominated by large deodars. Now, the town effectively starts from Chopara village on Shrinagar road to the bottom of the Kimkaleshwar temple.Like all Indian hill stations, Pauri has its Mall, though not crowded by endless row of shops as is the situation in the over crowded Nainital and Mussoorie. The town is mainly divided into two market rows --- the Upper Bazar and the Lower Bazar. Both of them are dominated by the migrant shopkeepers from the plains. Local presence in the business activities is very thin, almost unrecognisable.

From each of its sides, Pauri offers eyeball-to-eyeball contact with the majestic beauty of Himalaya in its labyrinth of wilderness, its dense forests of fragrant pines and deodars and blooming rhododendrons, besides rich flora and fauna. Though no traveller, no trekker and no book could ever describe all paths in these mountains, Pauri offers an exquisite feast of opportunities for the hiker. Three to four days are enough for treading the lazy paths. Danda-Ka-Nagraja is one such place where one can also pay obeisance to the temple deity. This holy place is for those who want to peel another layer further, trek another league farther.

Though Pauri has motorable roads in all directions, a slow and fresh stroll in the wee hours to Bubakhal can freeze one's imagination like the blood in the body. The dream is come true even for those who are not regular walkers for the road is not steep. One passes through oaks, rhododendrons, pines, deodars, shrubs, and plants of economic, medicinal, herbal, and aromatic value amidst impregnable silence. During summers and before winters, thousands of flowers bloom in the area. One can return to Pauri from Bubakhal by the time the Sun is bright and breakfast is ready. An uphill and steep walk takes one to the temple complex of Kimkaleshwar temple amidst the dense forest of oaks and rhododendrons and sporadic pines.

Here one has a real sense of uplift. Situated at a height of about 7,000 feet, the temple is an old Shiva shrine where a large number of sadhus and sanyasins reside. Many rows of brass bells ring out when one touches one with the hand. In the midst of the complex, adorn the Lingam, Nandi, vehicle of Lord Shiva, and an antique drum of large size. The walk up to Kimkaleshwar is steep but gets smooth on the way down to Kandoliya via Ransi, where Asia's highest stadium has come up. It offers first-rate panoramic view of the Chukhamba in tranquillity. On the other sides spread the Valley of Gagwarsyun, full of villages, forests, and terraced field-rows. The peak in the adjacent is called Keenash, where Lord Yama or the God of Death is believed to have meditated.

Other peaks visible from Kimkaleshwar Math are Trishulkantha, Hathiparbat, Nandadevi (highest peak of Uttarakahnd), Triyugi Narayan, Gangotari ranges, Bhagirathi ranges, Swargarohini, Kedarnath, etc, as if standing in a straight row. Also, river Alaknanda, the main tributary of the might Ganga from this place. A little below is Kandoliya, strategically located in the midst of old and quiet deodars. A large field awaits here. Many a national leaders have addressed large gatherings in the past. The night view of the surrounding areas from here is matchless by any standard.

The road emanating from Pauri and leading to Deoprayag, one of the holiest confluences for the Hindu devotees, is an experience of its kind. It is ideal for those trekkers who like to peep deeper into the countryside. As one ascends on the pucca road and turns on the forest of Dwarikhal or the Keenash Parbat, just four km from Pauri, brings one to the threshold of the panoramic Idwal Valley and face-to-face with the Chaukhamba peak in the distance as if sitting on a huge sea of clouds and mist and in ascetic meditation. The pucca road and existence of the telephone poles only provide for discordant notes.

From the Chaukhamba Viewpoint, one can get lost in the mystery of the endless mountainscape. The scene is hypnotic that one may not get tired of gazing at the timeless peaks for hours together. On the left of Chaukhamba Viewpoint, lies the dense oak and rhododendron forest of Dwarikhal, passing through which is a breezy experience and enabling one to play hide and seek with the beaming Sun. Oaks and rhododendrons flash past as one approaches a natural water source just at the bottom of the forest. The water is more refreshing than the best soft drink available in the cities. On this way, one comes across a place called Ghurdauri, a sort of race-course in old times. Now, an engineering college has come up here. From here, one can gaze endlessly at the Himalayan ranges in rows and the Alaknanda flowing in perpetual peace.

A trek from Pauri to Kott will put one amidst the deep rural setting. However, a solo trek can be the most rewarding walk possible. It can bring one almost mystically close to both land and people in a way impossible when travelling with a group. The area, called Sitonsyun Patti or Strip, is believed to have experienced massacres during the Gorkhyani or the rule of terror by the Gorkhas. According to the history books, several villages experienced massacres in which the Gorkha aggressors did not even spared the children. Their spirits still haunt the people there when invoked in a ritualistic manner.

On the Pauri-Kott road, village of Deval is situated where ancient temple cluster is still intact. The cluster has 12 temples including that of Lakshmana of Ramayana fame and Lord Shiva. It is a belief that the temple cluster was built in two parts. The first dating back to 12-13th century and the other in 18-19th century only. On Pauri-Devaleshwar road, six km from Pauri, is seated a temple complex in  the village of Balori. On the confluence of rivulets Randigaad and Kunda,
the temple is in the Nagar style of architecture.

Devalgarh is on Pauri-Bughani road, some 48 km from Pauri. From archaeological point of view, the place is very important. The place is replete with temples, icons, and stories devoted to the deities. Once upon a time, the place was the capital seat of the rulers of Garhwal. Believed to be more than 700 years old, the temple complex houses temples of Gaura Devi, Rajrajeshwari, Lakshminarayan, Murli Manohar Dattatreya, Satyanarayan, and Kaal Bhairava. Also, the place is famous for the samdhis of the followers of the Nath sampradaya or cult. Rock inscriptions are also there. Sumari, one of the largest villages in Garhwal, also houses a temple cluster near its water source. Dating back to 11-12th century, the temple houses five images of Lakshminarayan, besides that of Surya, Maharshimardini Durga,Vishnu, etc.

Six km from Pauri bus station is the seat of Ghandyal or a local deity. It is also a good trek amidst pines in their glory. The temple structure is rocky and of the improvised nature but a flag on its head keeps fluttering in an atmosphere fit for contemplation. Sikookhal is yet another small stopover on the way. Khirsu, 19 km away from Pauri, is preceded by a large dense forest. If one starts trek from Chaubatta to Khirsu, it would give you a strange feeling. The woods are very thick, dark, and lovely. The winds wild and things beautiful in abundance. The valley down is not visible from behind the thick woods. However, Khirsu is a palce where you can spend days together in an absolute rural setting. The fear of being lost into the darkest woods is never over here. A forest guest-house and a tourist lodge provide for the necessary shelter. The woods here almost through the year attract the tourists and the nature lovers as well as the rains. The deodars and pines make Khirsu unbeatable. The Himalayan ranges seem even closer from here. The sombre handsomeness of it makes it different amidst the dense woods.

The best seasons to visit Pauri and the surrounding areas are August to November and March to June. December to February is rather cold and July to August rainy and inhospitable. September and October are months for those in search of flowers and more flowers. The air is bracing and the crops are in and the peaks glisten like diamonds. Each remarkable area, each unique valley is breathtaking. Pauri is also advisable to those people who do not want to be noticed or disturbed.

Author: Suresh Nautiyal ( Click here to read Profile of Author)
(Till recently a Special Correspondent with the Political Bureau of The
observer of Business and Politics, the author is currently a Delhi-based
freelance journalist.)
  Phone: (011) 6252460.