Uttarakhand is called Devbhoomi – the land of Gods. Of Course, there are temples dedicated to Shiva everywhere. However, for, me it is the Himalayas that surround its valleys that make it look like a valley worthy of living of Gods. When you sit there watching the sun rays reveal the peaks of the Himalayas in front of you – you do feel like being in heaven. We spent a few days around the famous lakes of Kumaon region of Uttarakhand and then moved upwards towards Mukteshwar.
Jungle Drive – Mukteshwar
We were staying at Suktal village on the other side of the Jungle on Mukteshwar-Almora Road. We had the option to either go through the Mukteshwar Town or through a jungle. Obviously chose to go through the jungle. At a Forest Check Post, we had to enter our details in a register. We were strictly told not to get off the vehicle or walk on the roads, till we register our exit at the next check post about 10 km away.
The jungle drive in parts was surreal – especially since March was the season of Rhododendrons. The thick green Deodar trees were punctuated by the blood red Rhododendrons. At places. the narrow road was surrounded by the bent branches of trees and I wondered if they are trying to welcome us with a kiss. At some points, the forest wore a mystery – as if it is provoking me to get out and find some stories.
It was sunset time when we crossed the jungle. Setting sun made the jungle look even more surreal as the sun rays reduced the mighty hills to silhouettes and framed them with the tall Deodar Trees.
However, there were patches that were inhabited with families of forest department people. Here people were walking freely and the trees have been cleared. Towards the exit gate, there are hotels and guest houses where you can live in.
After the exit gate, we were on the Almora road where our lovely cottage Frozen woods was located.
Mukteshwar Morning Walk – Himalayan Landscape
Early morning with our cameras hanging around our necks, we started walking on the road. Tall steep hills presented trees full of birds to us. Woodpeckers jumped up and down on the tall Deodar trees. Magpie’s shone through the trees with their brilliant blue color. On the other side was a valley with step-fields – reminding us this is how agriculture happens in hills. Beyond the valley were the snow-capped peaks like Nanda Devi, as if they were overlooking and guarding the lands below.
When you look at the Himalayan peaks with a foreground of thick green forests you start having a conversation with yourself. The distance between you and the peaks pushes you inwards and makes you think of all those things that really matter to you in life.
You can look at it for hours together. However, the peaks will disappear an hour or so after the sunrise – probably to let you work or to bring you back to reality.
Mukteshwar Dham is an old Shiva Temple that lends its name to the town and the surroundings. Like all ancient temples of India, the temple sits at the pinnacle of a hill from where you get the most wonderful views of the Himalayas and its green valleys. The temple itself is small. It is surrounded by few other temples.
There is one dedicated to Devi – the Shiva’s consort. There is another dedicated to the Ram Darbar – where you can see Ram, Laxman, Sita & Hanuman. And there is also an idol of Kalki – the future 10th Avatar of Vishnu. The temples are very small and structures not too old. The presence of bells all around temples is related to the local tradition of tying a bell for wish fulfillment. We would later see this tradition at its best at Golu Devta Mandir on our way to Jageshwar Dham.
We met a Sadhu here who took us around the temples. He spoke in whispers as if he does not want to waste the energy he has gathered through meditation to be wasted. He answered most questions with a smile and when he spoke, I could barely hear him.
Mukteshwar is a name for Shiva that refers to him being the deity of Salvation – the one who releases you from the cycle of births and deaths.
Jim Corbett refers to Mukteshwar as Muktesar in his chronicles.
A board at the Mukteshwar temple complex mentions the story of Guru Nanak Dev visiting this place, making it an important place for the Sikh community.
Walk around Mukteshwar Dham
A mild trek goes around the hillock that surrounds the Mukteshwar Temple. It is here that we would see the magic of Mukteshwar. We walked through the narrow path surrounded by tall Deodar Trees. It felt like we are going in for a circumambulation or Parikrama of the temple. Sometimes temples are just symbols and the hills themselves are the embodiment of the spirit that we worship.
After walking about a hundred meters, we saw a huge rock bending above us – this is called the Nag Rock as the shape looks like the hood of a cobra.
A little ahead a cable joined the two huge rocks that were hanging out from the hill. The adventure tour operators operate a Zipline here for zorbing. I could not dare to look at the steep valley below me and wondered how people are brave enough to travel on a wire that looks so fragile with respect to the surroundings.
Chauli ki Jali
A little ahead there are rugged rocks hanging freely from the hill you are standing on. Our guide proudly told us about the Bollywood and Hollywood films that were shot here.
It is a strange rock formation – extremely photogenic. And looks like a natural platform made for you to stand at the edge and feel the adrenaline rush. It is the best place to admire the vast valleys with thousand shades of green. You turn around and you see the white line demarcating the blue of the sky and the green of the earth. These are the same Himalayan peaks that we saw from Frozen woods.
The graffiti on the rocks would tell you that it has always been popular with the visitors – especially the romantically inclined ones. One of the rocks has a huge hole in it. As per our guide, this is the reason it is called Chauli ki Jali. Childless women make a wish for a child here and pass through this hole on the Shivaratri day. I shudder to think of their courage to do so. As per another myth, this is where Goddess killed a demon – the marks on the rock faces are supposed to be from that battle.
The fields that create the parallel lines on the slopes of hill add an artistic touch to the otherwise wild surroundings. It is a great place for rock climbing and rappelling.
Walk around the hill
After admiring the Chauli ki Jali and the views it offers we proceeded to go around the hill. In places, we walked on the narrow path surrounded by trees. As an instinct, we hugged the trees. We stood against them and tried to see what they see – do they feel like an army guarding the hill? Finally, we reached the top where the temples are located.
Somewhere on the way, we engaged in trying our hands at some shooting. This walk had nature, wonder, adventure, sports, entertainment, a bit of food and spirituality all built into it.
Mukteshwar is also famous for Indian Veterinary Research Institute that has been here since late 19th CE.
Travel Tips for Mukteshwar
- Mukteshwar is about 65 km from Kathgodam – the nearest Railhead. The only way to travel is via road.
- Mukteshwar is only 35 Km from Almora and road when we visited was excellent.
- You get the best views of Himalayas early morning, so plan to get up early. See if your place of stay can offer the view.
- Best place for views is of course – The Mukhteshwar temple.
- Except for the Maggi stalls, there is nothing much you get to eat in and around Mukteshwar.
- Carry your own drinking water.
- Except for monsoon season, any time is good to visit Mukteshwar and Kumaon.
Recommend you read following travel blog on Exploring Uttarakhand.