I’d had a long 24 hours. I was at Pushkar. I had to come out of my den and catch the Ranikhet Express to reach Rudrapur at an unearthly hour of 3 AM, followed by a early morning bus to Tanakpur, and then a shared car to Champawat. At around 10 AM, I was 15 KMs away from my destination. All this while I had been battling flu-like symptoms and I was not sure what exactly was happening to me. All I knew was that I will need a good siesta once I reach. However, the traffic came to a standstill after that point.
A large rock had fallen from the top and positioned it miraculously on the road, instead of tumbling down further. Hundreds of vehicles had gathered at that point on both sides of the rock. For the next 8 hours, all I could do was to watch the excavators work tirelessly to dig out a road bypassing the rock because it was too big to move. I have been in trickier situations such as when I got stuck at 4400 meters and when I had to spend a lonely night at the jungle but combined with illness, it turned out to be a serious ordeal that day. Anyway, the road finally cleared at around 6 pm and I reached Champawat by 7 pm, and went directly to attend a meeting, which was a part of the program I was invited to attend. I could finally retire for the day only after 11 PM.
Sorry for the tedious beginning but this is also to point out how difficult it can get in these regions. Champawat is a place that does not easily ring a bell, which is surprising because it used to be the capital of Kumaon Kingdom, an ancient town with mythological associations as well as archaeological remains. When I first saw the invitation to visit the place, I had to think hard and finally remembered a Corbett story called the Champawat tiger. Apart from that, I could hardly find anything about the place. This is because this Tanakpur-Champawat-Pithoragarh route is the easternmost and least visited part of Kumaon. It is not far from the Nepal border and feels a bit different compared to the rest of the state. Anyway, this is why I accepted this opportunity to visit and explored the place.
So, the primary thrust of me being here was Uttarakhand Sustainable Development Festival. It was being organized by NGOs International Centre for Sustainable Development and The Dais Foundation, primarily managed by youngsters. But it was good to see that they had full support of the district administration in the process. The scope of the discussion was not limited to tourism but covered everything from education to agriculture. However, since I was there as a travel writer, I am focusing on the tourism part. I hope this will bridge the information gap that exists right now between Champawat and its potential visitors. During the conference, the also launched an ecommece shop for Champawat where once can buy local produces such as Red Rice and Organic Tea.
Desmond’s Farm and Tea Garden Hike
Baleshwar Temple and other archaeological remains
Abbott Mount and Mayavati Ashram
Abbott Mount is around 7-8 Kms ahead of Lohaghat, followed by a short hike to the hilltop. The primary attraction here is the great 360 degree view of the snowy peaks that it provides on a clear day. Sadly, that also means that it is completely dependent on the weather. The day I went was a strange day. It was a sunny day but the sky was dull and somewhat hazy. Not a single peak was visible in the horizon. Maybe this is why the dry and dusty spring is considered an off-season in these parts. Apart from the peaks, Abbott Mount has a few graves and a piratically abandoned church that can help conspiracy theorists to concoct one of those haunted house stories. Actually, the place is named so because of the Abbott family who tried to settle here. They are the ones who now rest under those graves.
We returned to Lohaghat quickly, by taking lift on a truck. Mayawati Ashram is around 8 KMs but there was no public transport available. We finally hired a guy, who ran a garage by the side of the road, to take us there and drop us back. He charged INR 400. I would not have done it alone but it got divided between three people so it was tolerable. It was a nice drive through pine and rhododendron forests and we reached in quick time. This Ashram was envisioned by Swami Vivekananda and built by a couple of British disciples of his. It is a beautiful compound but sadly photography is not allowed inside. We met Swami Narasimhananda, who is the editor of the magazine published from here. In fact,this has been a major publishing center for more than a century now. We also saw an old printing machine that has been preserved for everyone to see. We had a good conversation with Swamiji. Somehow he asked if I was a blogger (no one in my family has ever got that right). So, I guess the power spirituality is not to be underestimated.
So, I spent around 5 days in Champawat and then left for pithoragarh, which is higher up in the mountains. I am aware of the confusing tone of this article but that was because I was trying to cover several aspects of the place. The conference of sustainability is a good initiative and I hope they continue the work. What I could understand is that this region, just like most other Himalayan regions, is a fertile stretch with a lot of potential in terms of agribusinesses and tourism. As of now not too many people are visiting it but I can see that improving in the next few years. One thing that can help this process is better availability of information, and development of affordable homestays in various strategic parts of the region. I don’t know about the later but I can take care of the former through this guide below.