Delhi to Kasar Devi: Nature’s canvas
The otherworldly pull of the Himalayas
In 1961, Beat poets Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky and Gary Snyder trekked to a village called Kasar Devi in Kumaon. Along with other luminaries of the counterculture movement, such as Bob Dylan and George Harrison, they provided fuel for the hippie subculture in this hamlet.
But it was Swami Vivekananda who first brought the area to the attention of spiritual seekers when he went there to meditate in the 1890s.
For me, it was an option to head out on the weekend to a relatively less trampled part of the region and explore an erstwhile hub of poetry, music and mysticism. More stars had made an appearance on my pre-trip read to Kasar Devi—D.H Lawrence, Cat Stevens (now Yusuf Islam) and the American psychologist Timothy Leary, known for his experiments with psychedelic drugs.
But besides name-dropping, what could a village with 200 homes dotted along a single ridge possibly have to offer? Perhaps nothing. And that’s exactly why I decided to go there. Solitude, fiery sunsets behind Himalayan peaks, and dramatic hillsides veiled and revealed by clouds in a matter of minutes.
An overnight train from Delhi to Kathgodam seemed like an optimum way to cover the 290km distance. A picturesque drive of 4 hours from the railway station rewarded me with the company of sal, oak and rhododendron forests drenched in dappled light, with never-ending twists on the road leading up to pine copses at 5,500ft above sea level. At almost 7,000ft, I finally strolled across the famous Crank’s Ridge in Kasar Devi, also known as Hippie Hills.
The settlement gets its name from the second-century Kasar Devi temple that sits atop the Kashyap hill. The shrine, dedicated to an avatar of Shakti, draws many believers. Thanks to Leary, there are those who credit its unique pull to its geographical position, which supposedly places it right under a so-called gap in the Van Allen Belt, an enormous field of charged particles surrounding Earth.
Easy to back-breaking hiking routes with ruins of ancient temples amid pine forests and two cafés along its ridge—this pretty much summed up Kasar Devi. I settled down at Rainbow Café, where the “Today’s Special” on the blackboard kept its promise with delicious and fresh Tibetan dumplings and handmade pizza. A full stomach demanded a walk.
As evening approached, the clouds cleared, making way for the distinctive shape of the Nanda Devi peak in the distance. Alongside, the ridge of Chaukhamba, Panchachuli, with its five snow-capped peaks, and the terrific trident of Trisul, made an appearance. Folds of green mountains spread till the horizon, crinkled like a bedsheet under the blue sky, with a thick line of snow dividing them. No wonder that seekers, scholars, thinkers and philosophers were drawn to these mountains.
I could have followed the “long walk-café-book-sunset” routine endlessly, but two days were all I had. So, the next morning, after breakfast, I tightened my laces and was off to Almora on an 8.3km-long hiking route dotted with pines. It took me 3 hours to land smack dab in the middle of the maddening crowd at the new Almora market. I quickly made my way to the 200-year-old Lal Bazar, with its cobbled street flanked by the traditional Kumaoni carved wooden facades of homes and shops. My original destination was only a short bus ride from here.
The evening was spectacular, the ice-candy-like orange peaks the perfect backdrop to the sound of the wind rustling in the trees. The mountains soon blended completely into the inky sky, leaving one only with the lasting image of an open-air art gallery with creations fashioned from peaks, tree lines, clouds and valleys.
Weekend Vacations offers suggestions on getaways that allow for short breaks from metros. The author tweets from @NehaDixit0.