It is one of the most beautiful districts of Uttarakhand and seems to be a benediction on earth. This enchanting land lies in the arms of the Himalayas and invites trekking enthusiasts, painters, poets, historians, bird watchers and those in search of the divine. The tradition of the present appellation of Kumaon is associated with Champawat and is regarded by the historians to be a natural evolution from the word Kurmachal. It is believed when Lord Vishnu assumed the tortoise incarnation (Kurm Avatar) he undertook penance here on a mountain top where the temple of Ghatku, the illustrious Ghatotkach of the epic Mahabharata is sited. The spot where he propitiated, he became stationary or ‘achal’ and it became famous as Kurmachal; Kumaon being its aberration. This term was first applied to the eastern part of present Kumaon and later extended to the entire Kumaon region. Champawat was the capital of the Chand rulers of Kumaon during the medieval period. With the expansion of their empire they transferred their capital to Almora in 1525-1526 AD. The Chand rulers were brave warriors and soon the whole of Kumaon, including the present Naini Tal and Udham Singh Nagar districts came under their sway. Thus the geographical boundaries of the present Kumaon Commissionery were in consonance with their imperialistic possessions. Champawat is the treasure trove of history and replete with historical monuments of the 14th century.
BALESHWAR TEMPLE is the most attractive architectural gems of Champawat and attracts maximum tourists. Professor K.P.Nautiyal, a noted archaeologist is of the view that it is a beautiful medieval temple with two shrines joined together by a covered passage each half consisting of a sanctum sanctorum and ‘mandap.’ Of the entire structure the domed ‘mandap’ of the western shrine has survived. The other parts of the temple seemed to have fallen long back as they have not been conserved. Only the lower portion of the wall remains to a height of about six feet. The sanctum sanctorum consists of seven vertical segments along the axis. The ‘mandap’ wall, instead of seven has five offsets on each face. The sanctum sanctorum and the ‘mandap’ are six and 12 feet square. The adjoining western shrine exhibits its details in a comparatively better manner. The moulded plinth of the shrine is wholly visible. The ‘mandap’ is square with small projecting porticoes on the north and south. Originally it was supported on 12 pillars three of which have fallen down. All the existing pillars are erected on a parapet wall three feet and six inches high. The surviving roof is domical with intricate architectural designs. The shrine is full of carvings. There are registers of elephant friezes running throughout the basement wall. The upper portion contains figures of Brahma, Vishnu and Siva with their consorts. The pillars are also decorated profusely with floral designs, geometrical patterns and tiny human figures, which cannot be identified owing to bad preservation. Baleshwar is the incarnation of Lord Shiva, both in the form of death and destruction and in the positive sense of destroying the ego. This also includes the shedding of old habits and attachment.
THE RATNESHWARA (NAGNATHA) AND CHAMPAWATI (GHATOTKACH)
THE RATNESHWARA (NAGNATHA) AND CHAMPAWATI (GHATOTKACH) shrines are also marvels of Chand architecture as mentioned by Professor K.P.Nautiyal. Both stand facing each other. The sanctum sanctorum of the shrines are ‘saptaratha’ (seven vertical segments on the axis) on plan and they are preceded by small and square porticos. The internal construction has hemispherical dome construction. Both the shrines are profusely decorated with floral designs, geometrical patterns and frieze work. The ceilings appear to be more specialized in decoration. Ratneshwar shrine is decorated with an intricate carving representing Krishna destroying the serpent Kaliya.. It is depicted so beautifully that the tail appears to constitute an elaborate border to the sculpture. The art pattern is very commonly used even in other shrines of Champawat. The Champawati shrine exhibits a few interesting figures, all of them vigorously dancing. One of the dancer is beating a ‘mridanga’, the other is blowing a conch shell while the third is depicted dancing vigorously. Apart from the internal details, the outside walls are richly ornamented with sculptured figures. The walls are profusely carved with figures of gods and goddesses. Besides the Trinity, there are sculptures representing the various forms of Durga.
EK HATHIYA NAULA
Apart from the temples, there are several natural springs (naulas) which are covered from three sides and are beautifully designed. From the ornamental carvings, Professor K.P.Nautiya avers that “It will be appropriate to place these ‘naulas’ as contemporary with the Baleshwar shrine.” Out of the ruined ones, two are relatively in good state of preservation. The first is Ek Hathiya Naula situated to the north west of the town of Champawat and is a tourist attraction owing to its architectural beauty and the scenic environs. Having a six feet square inside and about 15 feet elevation, it is covered with massive stone slabs. Inside, the walls are profusely carved and are divided into panels. The interior is still in its waning grandeur in spite of the ravages of time. The roof is built in a domical pattern and closely resembles the ‘mandap’ roof of the Baleshwar temple. The ceiling is also carved with architectural devices. The portico consists of pillars and the ceiling is carved.
Another ‘naula’ is situated just outside the Baleshwar temple. It used to be a perennial spring protected with a stone built reservoir. In all details it resembled the Ek Hathiya Naula.
OTHER TOURIST PLACES
OTHER TOURIST PLACES worth seeing in and close proximity to Champawat are the Narsingh Danda, Hingla Devi, Hidamba Ghatotkach temple, Maneshwar, Kranteshwar, and the Surya temple at village Ramak. Maneshwar is regarded as the place where Yudhisthira performed the ‘shradha’ ceremony of his father. It is also famous for its Shiva temple.
Lohaghat situated on the bank of the river Lohawati is an important town of Champawat district. Unspoilt in beauty it is a centre of historical and mythological importance. Barron, the first European, to have credited to come to Nainital was so overcome by the beauty of Lohagat that in 1841 he wrote “why the Government of India was not developing it as its summer capital”. He was convinced that Lohaghat was more beautiful than Shimla. Set amidst the deodar trees and the majestic ranges of the Himalaya, Lohaghat is a paradise for nature lovers.
This historic hamlet amidst thick forests of oak and deodar trees, and in close proximity to Lohaghat was developed by John Harold Abbot in 1914. He was an English businessman who wanted to start a hill station for the European community and Abbot Mount was named by him It is noted for its scenic grandeur and a breath taking view of the Himalayan peaks. Abbot Mount has spectacular trails and walkways that make the tourists spell bound. It is an ideal place for those who prefer to be nestled in the lap of Mother Nature and a recommended place for creative people as it offers the most serene and tranquil environs. It is very rich in bird life and a large variety of butterflies can also be seen here with the onset of summer. Unlike many Indian hill stations Abbot Mount has changed little since its inception. There are thirteen secluded cottages spread over the private hill in the midst of forest. A beautiful church in the sylvan surroundings transports the visitors to the ethereal world and the love of the Lord is installed within the altar of the heart. It makes the mind clear and clean, fills it with love and devotion that enables one to have the true vision of the Almighty. There is an old cricket pitch also with an unsurpassed view of the mountains.
Mayavati Ashram is the cherished dream of Swami Vivekananda. He had a special fascination for the Himalayas. His desire was to retire here and lose himself in meditation On 26th July 1894 he expressed his desire for the first time to establish and start a monastery in the Himalaya. Two years later in August 1896, Swami Ji went to Switzerland along with his admirers, Captain James Henry Sevier and his wife, Mrs. Charlotte Elizabeth Sevier a British couple. While perambulating in the Swiss Alps, Swami Ji’s expressed his desire to the Seviers and at the same time wrote a letter to his friend, Lala Badri Sah of Almora in this context.
The Seviers were inspired by the idea of establishing a monastery in the Himalaya. They soon arrived at Almora and stayed in a rented residence, Thompson House. Captain Sevier shouldered the responsibility as the Manager and Swami Swarupanand became the first Monastic Editor. Next the Seviers toured Almora district extensively with Swami Swarupanand in search of an ideal place for the proposed Ashram. After much pains they discovered the tea estate of Mayavati, 9 km by road from Loha Ghat now in Champawat district. They at once decided that it was an ideal place for the Ashram and with the blessings of Swami ji immediately purchased the land.
At Mayawati, one can clearly visualize how Nature supplies to a Man’s soul spiritual sustenance. To walk here alone is to gather that experience of deep meditation for somewhere from behind the serenity of the woods, one can feel the great presence. An inexplicable but divine sensation is experienced in the solitude. Here one steps into the water colours of nature and the vast canvas of breath taking beauty, which it has so generously painted. Oaks and rhododendrons flash past across the winding path as one comes across a quiet heaven where nature sings the songs of peace and one starts contemplating the true meaning of life. In the tranquility and wilderness of the spot, the beauty of nature touches a deep chord inside and the poet within you is inspired, “Light above light, and bliss beyond bliss, which words cannot utter, to who is this.”
The most elevating sight in Mayawati is however the magnificent snow ranges of the Himalaya. Extending for over 300 km from Badrinath in the west to Panchchuli in the east, with Nanda Devi and Trisul in the middle, a white robed vision hanging from the heaven pulsates like a star with its towering glory. Its silvery dazzle on a moon lit night is mesmerizing and reminds us of Lord Shiva sitting in a meditating posture. Mayawati’s lonely eminence gives it a magic of its own. The vibrant forests, mythology and folk lore make the place a unique region to ruminate and remember.
The Advaita Ashram was inaugurated on 19th March 1899, the day in which the birth anniversary of Swami Ramkrishna was celebrated publicly. Swami Vivekanand was greatly pleased at the fruitition of his dream and wrote in March 1899, “This Ashram is dedicated to Advaita and Advaita alone.” According to Advaita, Non Dualism, both jiva, the living being, and jagat, the universe is illusory; only Brahman, God is real and eternal. Dvaita or Dualism on the other hand regards all the three entities as true, eternal and separate from one another.
This place boasts of some ruins dating back to the days of early Chand rulers of Kumaon and others, which according to tradition are associated with the Pandavas. In 1915, the Vivekanand Ashram was established here. Shymla Tal is famous for its beautiful lake and for its nature walks.
Manch Tamil is sited snugly amidst thick forest towards the river Kali. These forests are manifestations of the deep rooted local tradition of forest preservation. The dhuni (sacred fire which burns continuously) of Guru Gorakhnath is situated here and the entire hill has been dedicated to him in the form of a sacred grove. Downhill near the river Kali is Tamli famous for black magic in olden times. One can trek to Tamli, the village on the Indian side, and beyond across the river Kali into Nepal.
Purnagiri is a famous shrine of great sanctity. Thousands of pilgrims from different parts of the country visit this holy place every year. It is said that Lord Shiva while carrying the dead body of Sati dropped her navel here. Sati was the wife of Lord Shiva; her father Raja Daksha Prajapati did not approve of him as his son-in-law and intentionally insulted Lord Shiva by not inviting him to the grand ‘Yagya’ held at Kankhal near Haridwar. Shocked by her father’s behaviour and unable to bear the insult of her divine husband, Sati jumped into the holy fire and immolated her. Lord Shiva then shouldered her corpse in grief and began roaming around in a frenzy owing to which the balance of the universe was disturbed. Subsequently Lord Vishnu released his ‘Sudarshan Chakra’, celestial disc and chopped the dead body of Sati into pieces. When no part of her dead body was left, only then Lord Shiva was released from the spell of grief. Ever place where a pat of the body fell gave rise to a ‘Shakti Peeth.’
Nothing can surpass the beauty and variety of the scenery around Purnagiri. After Holi a fair is held here for 40 days. About the sanctity of this holy shrine Jim Corbett the legendary hunter and conservationist has also mentioned in an article referred to in the Indian Wild Life ‘Purnagiri and the Mysterious Lights.’ It is a recalling of a supernatural event of which he was an eye witness. The event which happened in total darkness had a great impact on him. He was told by the priest of the shrine that very pious people witness these lights which he saw in 1929 in the sacred hill of Purnagiri above a gorge on the Sharda River when they were on a holy mission of relieving them of the scourge of the Tall Desh man-eater. About the lights he has mentioned that ‘they did not appear similar, they were uniform in size, about two feet in diametre, they were not affected by wind and were able to move from one spot to another.’
MEETHA REETHA SAHIB
It is believed that Guru Nanak Dev visited this place; he had spiritual discussions with the Jogis of Gorakhnath sect and embellished the place spiritually with his miraculous powers. He propagated the divine knowledge to the Gorakhpanthis of following the path of active humanitarian service along with the constant remembrance of God’s name and total surrender to him. The Gurudwara was constructed in 1960 at the confluence of Ladhiya and Ratiya rivers near village Deyuri. It is a very popular pilgrimage centre for followers of Sikhism and Hinduism. According to tradition Guru Nanak Dev miraculously made the normally bitter fruit of a soap nut (reetha) tree sweet for Bhai Mardana, who had accompanied him to feed on.
VANASUR’S FORT OR VANASUR KA KILA
Vanasur’s Fort or Vanasur Ka Kila is a popular tourist attraction where history is etched on stone. Arguably the fort, which is in ruins, was built by the Chand kings of Kumaon. To walk here alone is to gather that experience of deep meditation and the feeling of a divine presence. This place according to tradition was the capital of the demon Vanasur or Banasur. According to Hindu mythology he was a thousand armed demon (Asura) and the eldest son of Bali the ‘Asura’ king. He was a great devotee of Lord Shiva who had granted him the boon of invincibility owing to which he became a tyrant. His daughter Usha fell in love with Aniruddha, the grand son of Lord Krishna and their marriage was solemnized in Ukhimath, the winter abode of Lord Kedarnath in Garhwal. Banasur did not approve of this marriage and kidnapped Aniruddha. Knowing this Krishna attacked and defeated him. On Lord Shiva’s request, Shri Krishna spared his life but except for four cut all his arms and annihilated his ego.
BARAHI DEVI TEMPLE
Barahi Devi Temple is situated at Devidhura, which is in the tri-junction of Almora, Naini Tal and Champawat districts. According to the Indian calendar in the month of Shravana, on Rakshabandhan, Bagwal is celebrated here when two communities throw stones at each other; it is a reminder of the manifestation of the martial traditions of Kumaon. In Markandeya Purana, Goddess Barahai is extolled as a granter of boons and the regent of the northerly direction. She is the ‘Shakti’ or the feminine energy of Lord Vishnu and kills the demon Raktbeej in the form of a boar. The demon had the power to multiply from every drop of blood that fell on the ground. But the Goddess sucked the blood before it fell on the ground, thus killing it.
It is believed that Rudreshwar, the incarnation of Lord Shiva used to meditate at this peaceful cave. Many rishis and yogis also undertook penance in this cave to acquire salvation. Patal Rudreshwar was discovered in the year 1993 when according to tradition Goddess Durga appeared in the dream of a local boy and told him about the location of Patal Rudreshwar. The cave is 40 m long approximately 18m wide. It is believed that the divine Shakti emblazons the lives of her devotees with peace, spiritual prosperity and erudition.
Pancheswar is located at the confluence of rivers Kali and Saryu on the Nepal border. It is famous for the Shiva temple of Pancheshwar, where he is worshipped as a protector of animals. It has also assumed importance as a centre of water sports and KMVN organizes angling here.
Sharda Ghat in Tanakpur is a great centre of pilgrimage tourism and pilgrims from far and wide as well as Western Nepal visit this ‘ghat’ to take a holy dip. On Baisakhi, Sankranti and other festive occasions this place is inundated with pilgrims to take a holy dip in the river Sharda.