My cup of sorrow was full after spending three days at Chaukari as all my excitement of visiting Kumaon range of Himalaya had been badly crushed there. Yet, there had been no deficiency in my arrangements. The gala plan to witness a host of Himalayan peaks had been rudely brushed aside by the clouded haze of Chaukari. Terribly dejected, I was about to shout in desperation when my driver noticed my frustration and anger. He came forward to console me and promised to show something extraordinary from my next destination, Munsiyari. I had no reason to take him seriously.
The thick clouds overcast the sky, it was giving a clear hint that even in next 15 days no peak will be visible from this zone. I left Chaukari with a broken heart and in gloom. My driver did his best to cheer me up and suddenly stopped the music that was playing RD Burman songs.
He then remarked, “Sahab kuch hamara/ Kumayuni gaana suno – aap ka maan khush ho jayega”. Without waiting for my consent, the flash-drive was changed. Songs in an unknown yet charming language started playing and engulfed us. The mood took a swing, so did the panorama around. We were now gliding through hilly tracks of Uttaranchal where zigzag roads cut through deep jungles of pine. Every village that we were crossing displayed the rich culture of hill people in their faces, songs and even in their small huts. Women donned exceptional ornaments and men wearing unique headgear caught my attention.
“From Munsiyari no one comes back without seeing Panchachulli” – my driver announced with confidence. “Do you know why Panchachulli is famous, Sir”?
I nodded my head but he did not care for that. He had his own story to tell, the story of Mahabharata, which is a part of any legend of Kumaon. His mood was upbeat and he was out to share his part of knowledge.
“It is there in Mahabharata that at the end of their rule Pandava brothers left their kingdom and took a long trail to Himalaya for eternal peace. It was here Draupadi cooked a meal for the last time for her five husbands in five different ovens. Thus Pancha chulli derived its name from five chullas that is oven. This is there in history book, sir.”
History book! May be in our country where Padmavati is counted as historical figure and Anarkali is believed to be a real character, I am sure that this story is also taught in school as history.
“I know what is there in history Panditji – I know how Munsiyari got its name.”
I told him the fact. In ancient time this was the trade route to Tibet from this region as people living here were heavily dependent on trade because of limited scope of agriculture. In Tibetian language “Mun” means snowflakes and “siyari” means field. Thus Munsiyari means field full of snowflakes. The name is apt, sir — exclaimed the excited driver.
We were nearing the zone of Johar. This valley of dream known as Johar is believed to be a place which was once ruled by serpent kings the Nagas as they are described in our mythology. Garuda, their stepbrother started killing them and when the last Naga was alive a divine man named Shaukya Lama tamed him. Thus, the tribe that has inhabited here for centuries called themselves Shaukyas. The 103 km long drive was charming. The captivating nature was splendid enough to overpower my imagination. We stopped 34 km before of Munsiyari to see an incredible waterfall splashing down from 125 mts, named Birthi.
Arriving at Munsiyari by afternoon I parked myself at KMVN guest house that offered a balcony overlooking the best view of the world. The horizon was clouded but not that thickly. Around 4 pm the first peak of Panchachulli shone through and then within 20 minutes three more of the range unmasked partly. But unfortunately nothing much happened beyond that. It was all for that evening.
Next morning I woke up as soon as the alarm clock rang. Outside the sky was turning into a sea of melted gold and black, the shadow of all five peaks of Panchachulli slowly unfolding.
They were breathtakingly beautiful in their mighty size. Slowly a golden sun rose over the peaks and showered dazzling rays on the other side. Shining there were other peaks: Hansling, Rajarambha, Chiplakot and many more at the Nepal and Tibet border.
Gulping down a quick breakfast I rushed to Nanda Devi temple from where the view is even more breathtaking. However the Panchachulli range from this place is something to die for. Every blade of grass on the levelled field around the temple was full of colourful Himalayan butterflies and other fauna. I noticed a unique ground lizard looking like a monster yet attractive at the same time.
At twilight, all five peaks in full bloom appeared over the horizon on which the setting sun was slowing descending. Out of all five the highest peak of Panchachulli is P2, around 6904 mts high, shone the most.
A silent night followed soon after. And bless my lucky stars, it was full moon! A plethora of stars started blinking on a cloudless sky and slowly moonbeams started rising from the back. At 2 am in bone rattling cold I dared to hit the balcony once more. As soon as I set my eyes over the horizon, an electric wave seemed to pass through my body. It was Panchachulli before me in a full moonlight and I was witnessing that quietly in seclusion! I took a few more minutes to ensure that it was not a dream.
I did not try to take any photograph of that panorama. There are some moments which are not to be caged in a digital memory card. Those are to be stored in the heart forever. My last morning in Munsiyari was equally enchanting. It was a clear day when all peaks were also glowing bright. I left the guest house after breakfast and encountered Panditji with an ear to ear smile. He had been proved correct.
While driving down we stopped at Nangababa kali mandir from where Panchachulli was smiling again. In that dense solitude I pressed my camera shutter one last time.