Pithoragarh is strategically very important and flanked by two international boundaries, Nepal on the east and Chinese occupied Tibet on the north. It was once, before 1962 an important mart for traders from Nepal and the Indo Tibetan traders. Pithoragarh lies in the lap of the Soar Valley and its scenic grandeur is often compared with the beauty of Kashmir Valley. It is encircled by four hills, Chandak, Dhwaj, Kumdar and Thal Kedar. Nature has been very kind in blessing Pithoragarh with snow capped peaks, high altitude passes, high mountain valleys, Alpine meadows, glaciers and vibrant forests.
VISHNU TEMPLE KASNI
Pilgrimage tourism is very popular in Pithoragarh and tourists love to visit ancient temples within the town. One of the most visited ancient temples is the Basudeo Vishnu Mandir in village Kasni. It is situated at a distance of 2 km from Pithoragarh on the Jhoolaghat road. According to the local historian Dr. Pankaj Priyadarshi, the temple was constructed between the 11th and the 12th centuries A.D. during the rule of the Katyuri kings in Kumaon. In the temple is housed a beautiful statue of Lord Vishnu in a standing posture. The Katyuris were the first builders of Kumaon and Garhwal. They had a high sense of aesthetics and the credit of building a major portion of the temples and sculptures in Uttarakhand goes to them.
Panchayatan temple of Nakuleshwar is located at a distance of 7 km from Pithoragarh in the Gram Sabha of Marsoli. In ancient times it used to house five temples but now only three temples are in existence in this complex. The villagers of Marsoli believe that the temples were constructed by Nakul, one of the brothers of the legendary Pandavas. Dr. Pankaj Priyadarshi is of the view that the temple complex was constructed during the 11th and 12th centuries A.D. by the Katyuri kings who are known for their contribution in temple architecture. Lord Vishnu is the presiding deity and is worshipped here as the Supreme Soul (Parmeshwar) and the Supreme God (Parmatma).
Ulka Devi is the sole temple of the goddess in Uttarakhand, which was brought to Pithoragarh from Western Nepal by the Gurkhas arguably in 1790 when they occupied Kumaon. In close proximity to this temple is Gurkha Naula in village Shera, where history is etched on stone. Ulka Devi originally a folk deity is now worshipped in the form of Shakti. She synthesizes science and spirituality and disseminates the message of folk gods for integrated development of the individual, the family, the society and nature at large. The temple and its environs have been a perennial source of inspiration and thought. They spread the message of coexistence of plants and animals with Man and the prime duty of mankind to love nature and even worship it. Tourists and pilgrims from India and Western Nepal visit the temple round the year.
MOSHT MANU TEMPLE
Mosht Manu Temple sited on a hillock symbolizes love and reverence for the Almighty. He is a local deity and according to tradition is propitiated as the nephew of Lord Shiva. Some devotees venerate him as the reincarnation of Lord Indra. A similar temple of Mosht Manu is in Doti in Western Nepal. It is believed that the Bum Kings of the region brought him from Nepal. In the last lap of the journey the devotee who was carrying the statue in the form of a grinding stone on his shoulders was badly exhausted. He kept it on the ground to rest. When he regained his energy, he tried to pick it up but it became very heavy and could not be lifted. On visualizing his predicament the other devotees who were in hundreds tried to help him but the stone could not be shifted. The members of the procession could vividly comprehend the indication of the Almighty and enshrined the statue there and subsequently constructed the temple. To commemorate the incident a fair is held there every year for a week during the Indian month of ‘Bhado’, mid August to mid September when thousands of tourists and pilgrims from India and Western Nepal come to the fair.
Chandak the ridge on which the temple of Mosht Manu is ensconced is also a tourist attraction. It is the abode of Goddess Chandika and nurtures not only tradition but sylvan hospitality in wilderness. The whole area is famous for its natural landscape and the mesmerizing beauty of the towering Himalaya. It is a haven for bird watchers and visitors who want to spend their holidays in solitude. It is treasured by generations since time immemorial and cherished by visitors for what one craves for, divinity.
DHWAJ the towering mountain top overlooking Pithoragarh is the abode of Goddess Jayanti a manifestation of Shakti and according to the Indian tradition the demons Chanda and Munda the generals of the demon kings Shumbha and Nishumbha were slayed here. She emerged as Chamundi Jayasundara from an eyebrow of Goddess Kaushiki, a Goddess created from the sheath of Durga and was assigned the task of annihilating the evil forces. The forest in the area abounds in a rich floral and faunal wealth and is considered as sacrosanct.
KAMAKHYA DEVI TEMPLE
Kamakhya Devi Temple is another tourist attraction. It is dedicated to Goddess Kamakhya and pilgrims who cannot visit the temple of Kamakhya situated on the Nilachal Hill in Guwahati city in Assam pay obeisance here and attain the same merit. It is an important pilgrimage and tourist centre for Indians and residents of Western Nepal.
Rai Cave is a marvel of Nature and a tourist attraction. Above the cave is the famous temple of Lord Shiva where a great fair is held on Shiv Ratri.
Gurkha Fort an epitome of the architectural grandeur was built by the Gurkhas during the 18th century. Currently it houses the government buildings and some of the places worth visiting within the town are in close proximity.
Chaukori is famous for its tea gardens established by the British. Here in the mystique of the mountain mists and the flutter of birds one can view the snow clad peaks of Chaukhamba, Trishul, Nanda Devi, Nanda Kot and Panchchuli in their towering glory.
Berinag In close proximity to Chaukori is Berinag, also famous for tea gardens. It was home to one of the best tea gardens in the country until it was being managed by late Thakur brothers, Dan Singh Bisht and Mohan Singh Bisht. The Chinese variety was very famous and exported by the trade name Berinag tea. The legendary Jim Corbett also owned a tea garden here. There are many Nag (snake) temples near Chaukori and Berinag owing to which the region has also assumed importance as a pilgrimage centre for ‘Nag Worshippers.’ Berinag was named after the famous Nag King Beni Madhav.
Jhaltola was a tea estate during the British period. There is an old Shive temple at the top of the mountain known as Lamkeshwar Mahadev, it is an upcoming off beat destination for tourists interested in nature, Himalayan views and bird watching. The village is surrounded on three sides by dense mixed forests and has the widest range of Himalayan views in Kumaon. The only place to stay here is The Misty Mountains Retreat, which is a paradise for nature lovers and a haven for bird watchers.
Didihat a paradise in wilderness is the most loved land of the Gods and a growing tourist destination. Situated on the pilgrim route to Kailash Mansarovar and garbed in the freshness of its divine beauty; the morning breeze blows a gentle mist that veils the hills to make them more enchanting and mystic. It was the capital of the Raika Malls, a local principality and commands an unsurpassable view of Panchchuli peak.
Malaynath known as Serakot temple is an important pilgrimage and tourist centre for Indians and citizens of Western Nepal. Nestling snugly on a hill top in Didihaat it commands a mesmerizing view of the township and the towering Himalaya. According to Dr. Pankaj Priyadarshi, Raja Gyan Chand of the Chand dynasty, who ruled Kumaon from 1698-1708 A.D. constructed the temple of Malayanath on the hillock known as Sira Kot. Malaynath is a local deity akin to Lord Shiva and is worshipped here as the originator and the source of all knowledge. It is believed that Malynath protects the environment. His devotees believe progress is good but not when it involves annihilating the very earth that provides for our needs. One who loves mother earth is always joyful as his mirth is unalterable and the earth embraces and bestows inconceivable gifts upon him.
Gangolighat is an important religious centre and boasts of the famous Haat Kalika temple. It has been an abode of the divine since ages immemorial where the pilgrims and the seeker try to comprehend a little mystery of life each day and never lose the sense of holy curiosity. Here the physical and the spiritual meet and one is connected with the subtle stillness and silence within. In the ancient period Gangoli Haat was known as Gangavali; it housed Gandh Vihar, the famous centre of Sanskrit where scholars from all over the country came for higher education. This place had attained great significance as a divine centre owing to which the famous Adi Guru Shankaracharys sojourned here. The name Vihar of the famous seat of learning Gandh Vihar came in vogue because Gangoli Haat was also recognized for its Buddhist scholars and courses in Buddhism.
Lord Shiva’s ancient temple
Lord Shiva’s ancient templeal so in Gangolihat is famous for its architectural style; it has an impressive ‘shikhar’, a square plan ‘garbha graha’ or sanctum sanctorum and plain walls. In close proximity to the ancient temple and inspired by the presence of the presiding deity, Lord Shiva the Mankotia king, Ram Chandra Deo (1264-1278AD) constructed the famous ‘Jahanvi Naula, or covered spring. The ‘naula’ named after his mother, the legendary Jahanvi Devi is very popular amongst scholars owing to its architectural beauty and engineering skill.
Patal Bhuvneshwar temple complex with a natural cave is in close proximity. The lime rocks inside the cave have taken various fascinating shapes due to the effect of water. The cave is believed to be the abode of the deities of Hindu pantheon. It portrays environment as a living being which breathes and feels.
Thal is situated on the bank of the river Ramganga East. The Thal Valley an important trade mart in the hoary past has a rich cultural heritage. Its main attractions are the ancient temple of Lord Shiva and Ek Hathia Devalaya. The Shiva temple of the Katyuri period shows fine finish and remarkable attenuation at the end. The temple is enshrined with beautiful images of stone, which depict fine anatomy and expression. The ‘shikhar’ attains thinness and the roof is built of horizontal slabs, a square ‘garbh griha’, a square ‘mandap’ and a shallow pillared portico with pillars.
Ek Hathiya Devalaya
Ek Hathiya Devalaya is a walking distance from Thal. It is an ancient temple about three metres high and covers an area of 13 sq km. According to the Archaeological Survey of India it was constructed by the Chand dynasty during the 11th century AD.
JAL DEVI TEMPLE
Jal Devi Temple is located in Nachni the gateway to Johar Valley in the border district of Pithoragarh. Johar Valley is a centre of fairs and festivals and houses one of the most beautiful temples in the border region of Pithoragarh district. Before the present Pithoragarh district was carved out of Almora district in 1960, Johar Valley was known as Johar Pargana. It is a tahsil now and sprawls over an area of 887.58 sq Km. Munsiyari is the tahsil headquarter and is 127 km from Pithoragarh via Thal. The people who inhabit the Johar Valley are known as Shaukas and before the Chinese aggression in 1962, they used to trade with Tibet. The trade has been revived but owing to lack of facilities it has not picked up. There are 17 high mountain passes through Johar Valley to Tibet, but for centuries the Johari traders used the three passes of Unta Dhura, 5377 m, Kungri Bingri, 5123 m and Jayanti, 5407 m. The traders of Johar used to reach the Tibetan Plateau in a single day. In 1967 the Government of India declared the Shaukas of Johar Valley as a Scheduled Tribe, with a view to provide them special educational and economic benefits for development. According to Dr. S.S. Pangtey a local historian, the Shaukas were under the influence of Tibetan Buddhism before the 18th century. Hindu religion and culture spread in the valley during the 18th century.
The place is serenely beautiful and Jal Devi or the Goddess of Water is regarded here as a manifestation of Shakti. She is the primordial cosmic energy and represents the dynamic forces that move through the entire universe. She is not only responsible for creation but is also the agent of all changes in the universe. Jal Devi temple is very old and was constructed by the denizens of Tejam in Johar region.
Kalamuni Top lies away from the hustle bustle of everyday life and is the entry point of Munsiyari. It houses one of the most beautiful Kali temples of the region and here one gathers the experience of deep meditation and can perceive the feeling of uplift and exalting cheerfulness. The most elevating sight from Kalamuni Top is the magnificent snow range of the Panch Chuli peaks; its silvery dazzle on a moon lit night reminds us of the five Pandavas, after whom the peaks have been named. The temple is also famous for averting road accidents in the rugged terrain. Even the graziers who go with their animals to the high altitude grazing grounds pay obeisance to the Goddess.
Munsiyari is the hub of Johar region. One gets to see Panchchuli from very close quarters. It is the base camp for trekkers going to Milam, Ralam and Namik glaciers. Currently Munsiyari is the most popular tourist destination of Kumaon as it is a repository of high mountain peaks, high mountain passes, high mountain ponds, glaciers, trekking routes, Alpine meadows, places of religious interest and water falls. Enroute to Munsiyari is the famous Birthi Fall, which mesmerizes the tourists for its divine beauty and tranquility.
HUNKARA DEVI TEMPLE
Hunkara Devi Temple is located in the village Hokara in the Munsiyari region. A huge rock in a triangular shape is worshipped as Hunkara Devi who symbolizes Goddess Durga. According to folk lore the Goddess killed the demons on this spot during the Devasur Sangram. Every year devotees in thousands visit the temple.
DANADHAAR TEMPLE WHERE GODDESS NANDA IS WORSHIPPED
Danadhaar Temple where Goddess Nanda is Worshipped is an Alpine meadow. The name according to the local tradition means the bliss giving goddess, who is the source of life and revives spiritual forces. The temple is named after the famous Nanda Devi peak, which is the highest peak within India. She is propitiated here as the manifestation of Goddess Parvati and in the past was invoked for protection against epidemics. Nanda is primarily a benevolent Goddess but can take a wrathful form to eliminate the evil forces. She is the all pervading feminine energy and the incarnation as spouse of Lord Shiva.
DURGA DEVI TEMPLE
Durga Devi Temple at Darkot is a popular shrine which is thronged by pilgrims and tourists. The temple is a ‘Shakti’ centre of Goddess Durga and has become a divine retreat for worshippers of Shakti. According to the devotees of the temple, she is the mother of the universe and is believed to be the power behind the work of creation, preservation and destruction of the universe. She is described as the manifestation of the Supreme Being to eradicate evil.
Madkot on the Munsiyari Jauljibi motor road is famous for its hot water springs and its scenic beauty. The KMVN has developed it as a new tourist destination and is providing lodging and boarding facilities round the year. It has recently constructed a tourist bungalow there and it is the only place for the tourists to stay. Ensconced on the bank of the river Gori river rafting is also being popularized there by KMVN.
Jauljibi is ensconced on the confluence of the rivers Gori and Kali. It borders Nepal and is an important trading centre. During the autumn season, it pulsates with an important trade fair which is an indicator of the cultural and commercial prosperity of the region. It has also attained recognition as a centre for river rafting organized by the KMVN.
NARAYAN SWAMY ASHRAM
Narayan Swamy Ashram is the cherished dream of the legendary saint, Narain Swamy who hailed from Bangalore. His constructive genius inspired a new sense of reverence for the orient. This secluded hermitage was established by him in 1936. The ashram was established in the initial stage to help the pilgrims in their arduous trek to Kailash Mansarovar. It was at this Ashram those days that the pilgrims rested, were fed, given a blanket, one kilogram of jaggery and some ‘sattu’, powder prepared with millet and gram before they resumed their journey to the hostile trek. Even today pilgrims to Kailash Mansarovar visit this holy place. The Ashram conducts spiritual and social activities and attracts scholars and lovers of Himalayan wilderness from all over the world. In the spiritual camps lectures are delivered on Indian philosophy, Indian tradition and Indian culture. The explanation is done in a simple way so that every person can understand the deeper meaning of spiritualism and can progress further in the path of realization. Apart from these camps several devotees, ‘mumukshyas’ come here from various parts of the country and pursue their ‘sadhna’ from one to three months. Young campers also visit the Ashram and its pristine surroundings fill the campers with a spiritual zeal and they find themselves drawn towards sublime activities like meditation and self learning.
Dharchula an ancient town is flanked with two international boundaries, Nepal and Tibet and has become a great tourist destination. It is situated on the banks of the river Kali and is an important camp along the routes to Kailash Mansarovar, Adi Kailash and Narain Swamy Ashram. It is also the gateway to Darma, Byans and Chaudans regions and since ages immemorial has been an important mart for trade with Tibet and Western Nepal. A little beyond Dharchula along the road to Tawaghat, is Tapovan famous for its Taptkund and the annual Shivratri fair. On the other bank of the river Kali is Darchula in Nepal.The people of both the regions, Dharchula and Darchula have a similar life style and similar culture.
Chirkhila Dam is beyond Dharchula on the Dhauli Ganga River. It is a picturesque spot and tourists visit this place to enjoy the serenity and divinity of nature, which this spot has gracefully been endowed with. It is an ideal place for water sports.
ASKOT MUSK DEER SANCTUARY
Askot Musk Deer Sanctuary in Pithoragarh district used to be a small principality of the Pal dynasty even before the British rule. The Sanctuary, which is home to the musk deer was established in 1986 and sprawls over an area of 600 sq. km. The musk deer is the state animal of Uttarakhand.
The Kumaon Vikas Mandal Nigam (KMVN), High Adventure Almora and some private organizations organize trekking to Alpine meadows and glaciers in Pithoragarh district. The peaks and passes near the glaciers from where the rivers emerge, mountaineering and trekking can be done. The glaciers in Pithoragarh district are exquisitely beautiful and many panoramic views of the Himalayan peaks can be seen from the trekking routes.
RALAM GLACIER Along the Gori Valley there are many interesting trekking routes. One can walk along the river Gori and reach Lilam (15km) from Munsiyari. At a distance of 35 km along this route are the village and glacier of Ralam.
NAMIK GLACIER is on the Thal-Munsiyari road on the uppermost catchment of the river Ramganga E. The route is amongst the more difficult trekking areas of the Higher Himalaya and the least trekked region of Kumaon.
MILAM GLACIER is the biggest glacier of the region and one of the most beautiful trekking routes. The river Gori originates from the Milam Glacier. The organization High Adventure in Almora has etched history on ice by taking senior citizens of the age group 70 to 75 to the tough trek to Milam Glacier Last year Bharat Sah took the risk and created history in the field of adventure sports by successfully taking a senior citizen, 70 years of age suffering from Parkinson disease to a trek to Milam Glacier.
PANCHA CHULI GLACIER
PANCHA CHULI GLACIER is a new tourist destination situated in the picturesque Darma Valley. The mass of ice floating down stream originates from the snow covered peaks of Pancha Chuli. The glacial landscape provides a panoramic vista of the majestic Pancha Chuli peaks. Equally enchanting is the trekking route, which passes through beautiful Alpine meadows, gurgling streams and is teeming with rare wild life species.
KAILASH MANSAROVAR YATRA
Apart from the trekking routes, KMVN plays a vital role in organizing the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra and provides excellent accommodation at all the halts from New Delhi to Lipu Lekh Pass. The camps where the pilgrims stay enroute are provided with all facilities. Beyond the Lipu Lekh Pass after entering the Chinese occupied Tibet, the Chinese Government manages the Yatra. The pilgrimage starts from Delhi and terminates in Delhi.
Quietly ensconced at a distance of 865 km from New Delhi, Mt. Kailash and the Mansarovar Lake are one of the holiest shrines of the world. Kailash which rises to a heavenly height of 6690 metres above sea level is a sacred place for followers of four religions Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Bon. The name Kailash is derived from the word ‘kelasa’ which means crystal. According to Vishnu Purana, it is the pillar of the world and is located in the heart of the six mountain ranges symbolizing a lotus. Shiva lives in Kailash with his consort Parvati and he is the supreme manifestation of pure consciousness, the guardian of the Vedas, and an epitome of cosmic harmony. In Jainism Kailash is known as Mt. Meru where the first Tirthankara Rishabdeva attained liberation. The Tantric Buddhists believe it to be the home of Buddha Demchak who represents the Supreme Bliss. In Bon religion it is symbolized as the Mountain of the Soul. Bon is commonly considered to be the indigenous religious tradition of Tibet, which has a profound respect for Nature. Ngari with an average altitude of 4500 metres is the birth place of Tibetan Bonism and is known as the Roof above the Roof of the World.
ADI KAILASH trekking cum expedition is another pilgrimage organized by KMVN. It is approved by the Indian Mountaineering Foundation and KMVN provides all the facilities required at high altitude to the pilgrims cum trekkers..
Adi Kailash, one of the highest shrines in the Himalayan region is situated in the picturesque Byans valley in Dharchula tahsil and provides a breath taking view of the high altitude wilderness. The trekking route is serenely beautiful and in its wilderness one can feel a great spiritual presence. The mystique of the mountain mists and the swirling clouds that shroud the emerald valleys one can clearly visualize how Nature provides spiritual sustenance to a devotee’s soul. The base camp for both the pilgrimages is Dharchula in Pithoragarh district.