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Since 1st March, 1999
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In Gandhi’s footsteps

‘Why do people have to go to Switzerland when we have Kausani and the Kumaon hills here?’ pondered Mahatma Gandhi in 1929 when he happened to visit Kausani, a tiny hill station in the Kumaon hills. He was recovering in Kausani from the rigours of his British imprisonment.

He stayed here for 12 days, mesmerised by the beauty of the mountains and penned Anashakti Yoga, his famous commentary on the Gita, during his sojourn. It was Gandhi’s disciple, Sarlaben (Katherine Heileman), who set up the Anashakti Ashram, a memorial to his Kausani stay. The ashram still stands here — its doors wide open to travellers who seek peace and serenity.

As I stood spellbound, surrounded by the panoramic view of the snow-covered peaks of Nilkanth, Trisul and Nanda Devi, I couldn’t but agree with the Mahatma. This was as good as — if not better than — the snow-covered peaks of Alps, which I’ve visited thrice.

It’s the snow-capped mountains and soul-stirring scenic beauty that have earned this hill station in Uttarakhand the moniker, ‘Switzerland of India’. On a clear day, the unimpeded view of a 320km stretch of the Himalayan peaks is simply stunning. And we were in luck. After a hazy and cloud-laden spell of two days, the sun gods deigned to smile. The peaks in their pristine glory were clearly visible for us to admire.

With chilled winds blowing in from the Himalayas, our eyes soaked in the green bliss as we stood spellbound by the beauty around us. The rolling green meadows, the meandering river below and the tall pine forests rising above made for a blissful holiday for city-weary people like us.

Kausani is one of those remote hill stations which attract only the most determined travellers. The trappings of shopping arcades, the ubiquitous Mall Road and pestering guides are not to be found here. Surrounded by thick, dense pine forests, this place provides a fantastic view of the towering Himalayas. The snow-covered peaks are so clearly visible that we almost felt we could re-ach out and tou-ch the snow.

The famous Baijnath temple

Checking into a small hotel across the Anashakti Ashr-am, we made our way towards the heart of Kausani. A group of old men who sat sipping tea directed us towards the house where the famous Hindi writer Sumitranandan Pant was born. We climbed down the steps and wound our way through the narrow street to reach the unimposing wooden door of the poet’s house. An old chowkidar sat outside smoking a beedi as we entered the hall which displayed books, photographs and some personal effects of the poet.

“Go to Baijnath. It’s just 19km from here and certainly worth the trouble,’’ a helpful Bengali gentleman told us. “I’ve just returned from there and the drive is enchanting.”

As we drove through the verdant forests of the Garud Valley, we were treated to the symphony of chirruping birds. But the drive ended all too soon as we reached the banks of the Gomti River where a group of temples stood reflecting the sun’s rays.

These ancient temples with idols of Shiva, Ganesha, and Parvati, date back to an era between 10th and 12th century. Known as Baijnath, these temples were erected by the Katyuri kings who ruled the area.

Sadly they are in danger of being lost to encroachment. We found houses being constructed within metres of the temples. Inhabitants from the nearby areas squatted around, using the precincts to cook and gossip.

The river near the temples is home to scores of huge fish. A boy of about 10 years suddenly appeared before us and began peddling little packets of chana to feed the fish, which seemed to swim towards us in anticipation of the treat. The chana that we threw into the water vanished quickly as the fish rushed and snapped at them.

As we fed the fish by the river bank and later treaded over crumbling leaves shed by the trees, we felt that we had stepped into a different time zone and era — a place where no one was rushed or stressed.

The tea gardens by the main road enticed us on our drive back through the Garud Valley. We were not aware that Uttarakhand has its own brand of tea called Girias. The tiny open air café on the rooftop has a menu for tea tasting but it doesn’t come free. A cup of premium quality tea cost us a stupendous Rs 85 but it was worth every paise. Sipping the hot brew with the sight of the towering Himalayas before us is an unforgettable experience. I’d recommend it to every traveller.

The Anashakti Ashram, set up to commemorate Gandhi’s visit to Kausani in 1929

The journey back to Kausani was a silent one with each of us falling into a trance. It was only the hunger pangs that brought us back to the present. There are two restaurants that serve Bengali fare, one near the Anashakti Ashram and the other on the main road called Mouchak. The place was reverberating with loud Kumaoni music as we feasted on hot ghugni and luchi.

Watching the sun streak the sky with vibrant colours as it made its last lap of the journey for the day, we realised this was the closest we would ever get to nirvana.

Kausani is not about seeing a museum, a monument or some historical structure. It is about experiencing the serenity and beauty of the place; of being humbled by the sight of the lofty Himalayas. And above all, it’s about connecting with the glories of nature. Visiting the place is not about the destination alone, it’s about the journey that is as beautiful as the destination itself.

Ready reckoner

Getting there: The nearest airport is Pantnagar (180km away). The nearest railhead is Kathgodam (142km away).

Staying there: There are deluxe hotels to budget accommodations with tariffs going from Rs 706 to Rs 5,096 per person, per day. For those on a shoe-string budget, the Anashakti Ashram is a good bet. You can donate whatever you feel like at the end of your stay.


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