The temples at Almora can be conveniently divided by two groups, Shaivite temples include the temples dedicated to femaleform of Shiva. In the former group Tripur Sundari, Udyot Chandeshwer and Parbateshwer were erected in 1688, after the victory of Udyot Chand, the then ruler of Almora over Doti and Garhwal, are presently on the hill just above the Lala Bazar. The temple of Parbateshwara was again endowed by the then rulers of Almora, Dip Chand in 1760 and was renamed Dipchandeshwar. This present temple began to be called the Nanda Devi temple when the image of Nanda was removed from the fort by Mr. Trail, a famous British, the then divisional commissioner of Kumaun. Again eight temples of Bhirava, a form of Siva, were erected during the reign of Gyan Chand to allay the wrath of Bhola Nath.
These are :
It seems that eight gates of the city of Shiva are watched by eight Bhairavas. There are nine temples dedicated to nine forms of Durga.
They are :
1.Patal Devi or Patreshwari Devi
There are also temples of Vishwanath, Someshwar and Kshetrapal.
Among the Vaishnavite temples, the most important is the temple of Siddha Narsimha. It was endowed by Gorkhalis. Raghunath temple was endowed in 1788 by Raja Mohan Singh Chand. There are four temples dedicated to Lord Ganesh. They are Bhitla Ganesh, Gairi Ganesh, Nanda Devi Ganesh and Siddha Ganesh. The Nar Singh temple at Narsimha Bari is another Vaishnavite temple. The temples of Murli Manohar, Hanuman and Badreshwer were erected very late. One of the Ganesh temples was endowed by the then ruler Kalyan Chand in 1731 A.D.. This small town can fairly be called a city of temples which proves the religious zeal and favour of the Hindu Rajas and their Brahman and Kshatriya followers. The orthodox rites and rituals of Hindu religion have still been preserved in pure form.
Almora is not your usual hill station. While Shimla, Mussoorrie and Nainital have a fixed kind of travel menu, Almora has rich mix of culture, history and sightseeing to offer.
“These mountains are associated with the best memories of our race: Here, therefore, must be one of centers, not merely of activity, but more of calmness of meditation, and of peace and I hope some one to realize it,” said Swami Vivekananda replying to the address given to him by the people of Almora. If the great philosopher was so enchanted by these mountains then what to say about lesser mortals like me.
For the uninitiated it was here in Almora at Kasar Devi Swami Vivekananda came to meditate. Though some of its old magic is gone but it still retains its charm for those looking for some quiet escape and rejuvenation. Why not? This ancient hill station is reputed for it’s health giving climate. Though Almora is one of the few hill stations not established by the British but they did nurture it under their rule because they found it was good for their health.
For those interested in history, Almora, before it’s establishment was under the possession of Katyuri king Baichaldeo. He donated major part of this land to a Gujarati Brahmin Sri Chand Tiwari. Later on when Chand kingdom was founded in Baramandal, the town of Almora was founded at this centrally located place in 1560 by Kalyan Chand. It’s historic importance can be gauged from the fact that the mountain on which the Almora is located is described in the famous epic Manaskhand as follows:
Kaushiki Shalmali Madhyey Punyah Kashaya Parwatah’
‘Tasy Paschim Bhagam Kshetra Vishnyo Pratishthtam’
In the days of the Chand Kings it was called Rajapur. The name ‘Rajpur’ is also mentioned over a number of ancient
View of Himalayas
Natural beauty on displaycopper plates. The town of Almora is situated over a horse saddle shaped ridge of a mountain. The eastern portion of the ridge is known as Talifat and the western one is known as Selifat. The market is at the top of the ridge where these two, Talifat and Selifat jointly terminate.
If you are one of those in search of snow views then this place is ideal for such activity because from here you can have a panoramic view of the snowy peaks of Himalayas on clear days. In addition you also get a glimpse of the township with its tiled roofed houses and paved streets would take you to the sixteenth century in some thoughtful moment.
Nearby places of tourist interest where an excursion can be made within a day are Bright End Corner’s unforgettable sunset, Chitai temple with it’s unique collection of brass bells of all sizes, gifted to the temple by devotees of the Gollu devta worshipped in Kumaon for centuries. Six kilometer ahead of main city is Kasar Devi which houses many Europeans who fell in love with the place so much that they have settled down in nearby villages. Kasar Devi stands on what is still known as the Crank’s ridge, formerly a haunt of artists and writers. Literary giant D H Lawrence spent two summers here, and it has also attracted Bob Dylan, Cat Stevens and Timothy Leary, known as the father of the hippy movement.
Also not to be missed are Nanda Devi Temple, the cultural and religious center of Almora for now hundreds of years, and Lala Bazar a unique market of more than two hundred years with paved streets of stone.
While you are in Almora, don’t forget to travel to Binsar to get one of the best views of snow clad peaks including the Nanda Devi and the five peaks that form the majestic Panchachuli. Situated only 30 kms away from Almora, it lies nestled amongst thick forests of Oak and Rhododendron offering surprisingly close views of the Himalayan peaks. The entire region is now a wildlife sanctuary and has a host of wildlife like Panther and Barking Deer. While there, look for Raju guide at KMVN Tourist Lodge. He knows all the trees and birds and one feels safe with him when walking deep inside the forest to reach Zero Point. When I was there I could hear barking dear barking loudly. Raju told me it means there was a leopard around!
Another main attraction around Almora is Jageshwar group of temples. Situated around 35 kms from Almora, Jageshwer is one of the most important religious places of Hindus in Kumaun and is believed to be the abode of the one of the twelve Jyotirlingas. It is even mentioned in the great epic of Mahabharata. The great temple complex is situated in a narrow and beautiful valley covered with Cedar trees. Two streams Nandini and Surabhi flow down the hills and meet near the sacred spot. Dense grove of Cedar trees and sweet murmur of the riverlets give a peculiar charm and sanctity to this place. But greedy priests inside temples spoil the calm by behaving like ‘hawkers’ to lure devotees inside temples and forcing them to offer donations after performing some spontaneous pooja.
Their are 124 temples and hundreds of magnificent statues of exquisite craftsmanship. The oldest shrine is of the ‘Mrityunjaya’ and the biggest shrine is of the Dindeshwara. During the monsoons their is huge fair held every year at Jageshwer.
If you still haven’t had enough of these ancient temples then head for Katarmal temple. Situated around 17 kms from Almora, Katarmal is famous for 800 years old temple dedicated to the Sun God. The only other temple in India dedicated to the Sun is the Konark temple in Puri in Orissa.
FAIRS & FESTIVALS OF ALMORA
The fairs and festivals of Almora are not only an expression of the religious social and the cultural urges of the people but have also sustained the folk culture and have been central to the economic activities of the people. Also at remotely located places of hilly terrain, especially where communication is difficult and the land is cut up by mountain or water, the need is felt for periodical meetings at convenient centers, where exchange and sale of commodities may take place. A district like Almora holds many valleys which are absolutely dependent on such meetings for their supply of common necessaries, and consequently fairs or periodical markets are numerous. There are two kind of these. The weekly assemblages, corresponding to “market-day” in an English provincial town, are called “Penth”. They are of an ordinary kind, and have no religious associations. The great annual fairs are known by the name of “Mela”, and are always connected with religious ideas and customs. They very often center round some famous local shrine, which reaps an extensive harvest at the annual festival. Business, pleasure and religion are cheerfully combined in these junketing, which are doubtless the chief oases in the monotonous lives. Out of innumerous such fairs the following are of considerable importance :-
Nanda Devi Festival
The best known fair of this region, held in the month of September at Almora town, is organized since the Chand kings ruled this place. It is believed that ‘Nanda’ used to be the family Goddess of Chanda dynasty. The word meaning of the word ‘Nanda’ is prosperity. The temple of ‘Nanda’ in Almora was built by Dyot Chanda in seventeenth century, the then ruler of this place. Presently this temple remains the core of the festival. The duration of the festival is five days and approximately twenty five thousand people tourist come to attend this festival.
Uttraini Festival Bageshwer
One of the largest fair of Kumaun region, the Uttraini festival of Bageshwer, is organized in the month of January for a period of one week and is frequented by Almora traders, on barter or money lending intent, and by the Bhotiyas from the snows, as well as by a great multitude of people from the surrounding villages. The town of Bageshwer, 90 km from Almora town, is a junction of two rivers, namely Saryu and Gomti. At the junction of these rivers stands a large temple with it’s conical tower. Here is the shrine of Bageswar or Vyagreswar, the, “Tiger Lord”, an epithet of Lord Siva. This temple was erected by the Kumaun king, Laxmi Chand, about 1450 A.D., but there is an interesting Sanskrit inscription there of a far earlier date. The chief articles of merchandise are : ponies, goats, sheep, furs, yak tails, musk pods, borax, salt horns, books, shoes, fruit dried and fresh. The Bhotiyas bring down excellent ponies, which breed in a wild or semi-wild state over the Tibetan border.
Jageshwer Moonsoon Festival
The festival of great religious and historical importance, Jageshwer Monsoon Festival is organized from 15 July to 15 August. The temple of Lord Jagnath , erected somewhere in 8th – 9th century is one among the twelve ‘Jyotirlinga’ of Lord Shiva in India. Having it’s archeological importance the group of temples of Jageshwer consists of 125 small and big temples of ancient times. This festival is of great religious importance for Kumauni society. The daily inflow of the number of tourists in this month long festival remains one thousand approximately.
Dushara Festival Almora
The famous festival of Hindus, Dushara, in October, commemorates the victory of Lord Rama over Ravana, the monstrous ten-headed king of Lanka or Ceylon, as described in Ramayana, is celebrated in a very unique way in Almora town. Approximately five to six thousand tourists from the outskirts come to attend the festival in Almora town. Showing the symbolic victory of the truth the effigies of devils are prepared in a very artistic manner in almost all the ‘Mohallas’ (wards) of the town. Finally in a social gathering all these effigies are burnt. The festival is generally celebrated in the month of October.
In addition to these, various other local festivals are organized in this region, which are religiously or otherwise associated with the heritage, art and culture of this region. Out of these very famous are
Srikrishna Janmasthami Festival,Ranikhet,
Nanda Devi Festival of Nainital and Ranikhet,
Autumn Festival Nainital and Ranikhet,
Syaldey – Bikhauti Mela, Dwarahat,
Somnath Mela, Masi,
Mahashivratri Festivals of Binsar Mahadev, Sauni;Hedakhan, Chiliyanaula ; Bhikiyasain;
Punyagiri Navratri Maila,
Devidhura Raksha Bandhan Mela,
Krishnajanmashtami Fair of Kalapani Gunji
Kanardevi fair at Baram at Gori Valley
Honkara Devi Fair at Birthi
Dhanlekh Fair at Askot Laccher
Fair of Naini Patal.