You might remember that sprightly taxi ride with the women of Almora on the first morning. And my meeting with the old man as I got down looking for a tea shop here :
The elderly man lead me on a short hike towards a visible forest. His walk had started to remind me something about Old age. Every step was whole. Slow but Complete. It was being kept with a mind behind. Each move had an expertise of someone many times hurt. He caressed some trees while passing by them. Bowed to examine some seedlings he might have planted. I soon learnt It was my prenomen who was leading me. His name was Narayan Singh. Even though he was the owner but it felt he was only. And he looked Quiet. Into the hike for more than five minutes and heaving when I realised that I only wanted to have tea. But I am climbing. Just when I got ready to declare this a trek, descent arrived, zig-zagging into a gorgeous personal valley of small huts.
He stopped at a hut which was named ‘Radha’ and looked behind to inform me as a matter of fact. You won’t find such luxury huts in the jungle. These Cottages are only three easy kilometers before the main temple, he says. You are from Delhi. You are here because you need peace. Here is peace like You won’t find anywhere.
He commanded me. Go inside, See your room. I looked here and there.
Aur chai? And Tea? I asked.
Woh bhi milegi? You’ll get that too.
And he shouted from the terrace to the big Hut in the centre around 14 stairs and a Hill down.
How old are these cottages?
Not old at all. It was my son’s idea. He started building them a few years ago. He paused. But Corona… long pause. And he walked ahead.
I hadn’t planned coming here. And wanted to stay near the temple but this interesting old man, and soon his family, their story lured me into their world.
Old man’s daughter-in-law got tea for me soon. The Sun was out but the day was cold and my cosy bed was calling me for a stretch. Often overnight travel Stretches carry you to a certain slumberland. And It was a charming room where I was lead to. The bed’s calling and my sleep were meeting at crossroads. The room had a kitchen looking over the valley and even had a beautiful small old world chimney for winters. ‘Radha’, they called it.
But better were my hosts. Warming to say the least. As tea is not served alone, she sent alone a favourite; home made ‘Halwa’. As I ate with my eyes closed looking at the bed far i thought, who in this world can move on from people who have the strength to show you gratitude and Love. Not I.
I was staying.
The sleep that embraced me for three hours, left me floating in the symphony of absolute noiselessness. It was like soul refilling with ambrosian nectar liquor. Such tranquility that you start living the change when you wake up Kosher.
Around late afternoon, I thought of walking to pay my visit to the mother temple. And soon i started walking for the first time on the road looking up at the bright winter sky. Cactuses and enormous Aloe Vera plants were seen growing wildly on either side, eagles tarrying on trees. I carried my excitement in check as I walked towards the Ancient temple for the first time in my life as a goal for that day to find my cave.
I walked past seeing the spring slowly impregnating plants with flowers and fragrance, Shiva’s night- the darkest one arriving tomorrow seemed gifting me this, nature. I felt only happy to feel that this allowance came around this time.
Temple was three scenic kilometres away. On my left was Almora valley that I was seeing through a grand show of light and sound. Wide. Expansive. Like many valleys coming out of one. And on my right was a spectacle that Wizardry is made of. Peaks of Panch chuli, Trishul and the legendary Nanda Devi made this a Mount Cake walk. I kept looking on either sides. There was nothing to be left unseen. Some sights held me to stop, to just admire. And moving on only after sighing deeply.
But between beauty and man, came many a man-made urban café’s, look-a-like, mushrooming by the roadside, all inspired more by the memory ideals than what mountains teach us. Brick and cement houses have taken over the old wood and stone construction majorly. Big glass café’s and coffee houses, even Bars have come up trying to sell you everything from Bakery to Beer, handicrafts and even Ayurvedic herb shops which instead of making me want to explore; restricted me, pulled me away from entering, of course also out of my financial and aesthetic constraints. There were other restaurants and hotels but they were mostly rooms and roofs over another. All this display and feeling high walking-breathing memorising all those days when I wanted to come, when suddenly the temple door arrived, just like that. Standing alone with no pomp or show. A bird on the wire, shat. May be a good omen. I was at Kasar Devi.
There was no one when I arrived here. A lot of sun and apart from one monkey who cared less and continued his sunbathing. It was quiet and the premises carried deep layers of peace. It wasn’t an old looking temple. The walls of cement, beautifully painted, a perfectly laid out staircase and marbled seating made me feel that I was already late in life.
But this happening also had a history of yearning for years to come here. More so because I found rather she came to me in a book written by Swami Ji himself. And her blessings could be seen as I made it probably on the choicest of days there could be tomorrow. The day of Mahadeva Shiv, married the one on whose door I had come. I considered this nothing less or more than her grace. That I could find time and leave Delhi just at the right time.
The Life Around Kasar Devi Temple that Shaped the Quest towards Spiritual Awakening Amongst Mystics, Scientists, Writers and Hippie Wanderers
I went inside the sanctum Santorum where an elderly pandit was reading a scripture. I bowed. And sat quietly with my eyes closed at a corner. But opened them again and asked him for his attention. If he could inform me about the rich history of this place and when was it that the mother arrived here? Pandit Ji smiled for a change. His wrinkles spoke before he could, he closed and kept the book aside, removed his glasses and gave me a long hmmm.. so you want to know about the mother hmmm.. his bones creaked as he got up from his sitting posture, Come with me!
He limped. And took his time before saying anything. A monkey slept nearby on the rock. The wind blew giving bells a mild touch which kept playing the music in the background. Priest took his steps and started telling a tale of old, deep time:
“This place is older than the times, not exactly this temple. But this place. The way it came out to be. Older people knew of the importance of this place way before anybody did. They knew of the presence of nature’s energies. In our ancient literature, this exact place was mentioned as the place where Mother slew two demons, Shumbh and Nishumbh. It was this text, we call it Durga Saptashati, which Vivekanada had read and as soon as he learnt he came running to the mountains to meet with the mother here. As you might know he and his mentor Ramakrishna were her Param devotees. This temple is dedicated to Ma Parvati as Katyayani – A Durga Avatar.”
Kasar Devi was said to have become known first during the 1890s when Swami Vivekananda arrived here, he wandered around Almora and meditated at the temple for days. His experiences of this journey are well documented in his diaries. People like Rabindranath Tagore, first prime minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru and his sister Vijay Laxmi pandit who even owned an estate property here knew a lot before what NASA found out much later that the Earth under certain regions on earth is surrounded by two donut-shaped zones of high-energy particles held and captured by powerful magnetic areas known as the Van Allen belts. Simply put, the region surrounding the Kasar Devi Temple has an enormous geomagnetic field, endowed with a mystical cosmic energy that is found in only two other places on Earth apart from this temple. United Kingdom’s Stonehenge and my dream wish list trek, Peru’s Machu Pichu.
As time passed this place saw many artists, scientists, poets like Bob Dylan and later Uma Thurman. Writers like Walter Evans Wantz, a pioneer in the study of Tibetan Buddhism who later translated the Tibetan Book of the Dead, stayed here for sometime. In the 1930s Danish mystic Sunyata Baba(Alfred Sorensen) came and lived here for over three decades. As did Ernst Hoffman, who became a famous Monk Angarika Govinda with Li Gautami. This led to a series of spiritual seekers from the west visiting them. In 1961 Govinda was visited by Beat Poets Allen Ginsberg, Peter Oriovsky and Gary Snyder. Here was a place that inspired the seekers to find clues of what they were seeking and the writers to further their search on the meaning of life. In the 1960’s and 70’s, the village became part of the Hippie trail attracting eminent personalities from the west like American singer and songwriter Bob Dylan, George Harrison, British singer Cat Stevens, and English writer D.H. Lawrence
Among them was the (in)famous American psychologist Timothy Leary who was fired from Harvard University for experimenting and advocating the use of psychedelic drugs like LSD. He, along with his followers, occupied a small ridge area near the village for conducting his eccentric research on spirituality, leading it to be named as ‘Hippie Hill’. The eccentricity was such that at one point, he streaked which led to another name of the same hill – Crank’s Ridge. Timothy Leary stayed here in the 1960s. Leary wrote majority of his ‘psychedelic prayers’ here.
In Later history, at the peak of the hippie movement, It became home to several bohemian artists, writers and western Tibetan Buddhists, and even visited by mystic-saint Anandmayi Ma. The ridge got its name amongst hippy circles, after American psychologist, Beatles guitarist George Harrison and Singer Cat Stevens, western Buddhist Robert Thurman came to Crank’s Ridge in the summer of 1971 to study under Lama Govinda. His daughter Hollywood actor Uma Thurman spent part of her childhood here. Other creative people who visited include Buddhist American Painter Earl Brewster. He lived at Snow View Estate where he was visited by his friend Writer D. H Lawrence.
Most interestingly, Snow View Estate is now a defunct Hotel, which I was unknowingly and nostalgically photographing while walking towards the Secret Simtola Hill Temple.
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru vacationed in Binsar too, at his sister Vijaylaxmi Pandit’s khali estate. It is said that he used to ride on the horseback to the house of Rai Bahadur Harikishen Lal Shah Gangola, a philanthropist and trader from Almora, to play Badminton.
He lived here for over two years, kept visiting the temple and walking the alluring town of Almora. You can even see some names mentioned on the board outside the temple. By now, Pandit Ji and I had reached walking up to the Bhairon temple.
Out of nowhere, he asked me my name. Narayan, i said.
Aha ! Yourself is Narayan coming to Bhairon Baba. We are standing on the hill named Kashyapa, Pandit Ji continued. It was here, where Swami Ji meditated. Not everyone is allowed to go there. But there is another cave here, just behind mother’s abode, under that huge rock where you can sit quietly.
Before leaving I spoke briefly about Mahashivaratri preparations tomorrow. His face brimmed upon hearing this, he asked me if I am serious, and If It is true, I must get a few things from the market and come here around Sun Down.
The sun had started meeting with the stars.
I sat there that evening looking within. Praying, dwelling, levelling, filling in with anything and everything that surrounded me there.
As the orange red sky kept dressing my eyes. The night I was waiting for was arriving.
The Last Part of Kasar Devi Chapter ‘The Grand Night of Shiva’ will be published on Thursday 28.7.2022
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How to Reach – Where to Stay – Where to get the Bus From
From ISBT Anand Vihar,
Uttarakhand State bus at 2030
14 hour Bus Ride via Kotdwar-Nainital.
Get down at Almora Bazaar
Buses do not go towards Kasar Devi Road, You can either find a place in Almora if you want to explore the local market or walk ahead towards Bharat Petroleum Petrol Pump where you can find Taxis going towards Kasar Devi and beyond.
My humble Recommendation to Stay
Intuitively, I got down at a village called Papersilly. 3 Kilometres before Kasar Devi Temple. And met Raju’s father Narayan Singh He owns the most beautiful cottage huts known as The Ayush Cottage: The family went through a lot during Covid. And If you would like special recommendation/mention to stay at this place, please write to me at – email@example.com
Suggestion – Please stay here only if you love walking and can manage to ascend and descend enjoying the views, that these cottage presents. Home made food is lovely
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If today is the first time you have arrived on The Road to Nara, you are heartily welcome ~ Namaste
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I will take this opportunity to introduce you to About me and importantly;
As a co-traveller, will take you through the Ten Lessons I learnt from several years on the road, before you coarse on your own Road to Nara.
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You might also like to know about My Little School Project. If you wish to come over for a visit someday, that you must, you will be heartily welcome here
If you would like to contribute to my travels, you can please do so here
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If you have anything to share, or feel like saying a hello, please feel free to write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
To visit other long-term photographic works, please visit here.