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Truly Offbeat At Jhaltola, Pithoragarh, Uttarakhand

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The ‘Land of Gods’ Uttarakhand is truly blessed with salubrious weather with diverse fauna and flora. Nestled in the cradle of Great Himalayas, it makes for a heavenly retreat from the smog choked, dusty, noisy city life.

Having spent some time in Bareilly, I had earlier visited some of the popular destinations in Uttarakhand.  I have chilled in Nainital literally during peak winters and followed tiger tracks in the land of Jim Corbett and marveled at the beauty of forests. When in Uttarakhand visit to temples of this ‘Dev Bhoomi’ is obvious and I came across some unique ones like Baijnath Temple in Kausani and Golu Devta temple somewhere around Nainital.

Recently I decided to explore a different part of Uttarakhand. I had not been to Pithoragarh district.  But I did not want to go to Chaukori, a much frequented town by tourists in Pithoragarh District. In search of peace and relaxation I instead stumbled upon ‘Jhaltola’.

Jhaltola

Not yet on tourist radar, Jhaltola village is an offbeat destination in truest sense of the word. 

Somewhere between touristy Chaukori and religious caves of Patalbhuvaneshwar in Pithoragarh district at an elevation of 6198 feet is Jhaltola.

The most compelling reason to visit Jhaltola is a magnificent view of Western Kumaon range. As many as five different peaks like Panchchuli, Nanda Devi, Trishul that cover panoramic view of mountains from Garhwal to Nepal are visible from almost anywhere in the village.

I stayed at The Misty Mountains, a home-stay kind of resort and every morning for four days I would wake up to a crystal clear azure skies in the background of pristine white snow capped Himalayan range that would glow golden at the sunrise.  The view was simply breathtaking and I could not honestly help myself from sighing inadvertently. I kept shooting picture after picture and yet it did not feel enough. I wanted to freeze the image in my eyes and never let it fade.

Kumaon range from Jhaltola

The evenings bring more beauty to the hills when the white snow took on a pinkish orange hue of the setting sun.

Pink hue on himalayas at sunset

The Misty Mountains

Brick house of owners at Misty Mountains

Resort:

With Jhaltola yet to feature prominently on tourist itinerary, stay options are limited. Set amidst a forest of Rhododendrons away from chaos, The Misty Mountains resort is one of the better options. Home to Madhur and Ambika Chhabra, a section of Jhalotla Estate has been developed by the couple lovingly into a comfortable relaxing escape with 6 cottages.

Guest cottage at misty mountains

The cottages, equipped with basic amenities have the warm cozy vibe and offer magnificent views of the Himalayas right outside the window. Having the morning cuppa in the extended wooden decks is what vacations are made of….

More cottages at Misty Mountains

A common open dining space makes guests warm up to conversations over a bonfire and home-style cooked food served very cordially by the friendly staff.

Food:

With a whole array of homemade jams and pickles made from organic local produce like amla or Indian gooseberry, Apricots, Malta and more which Ambika Chhabra keenly supervises, the food at the resort is a delicious home-style fare. While the regular food menu is catered every day, it is the authentic Kumaoni meal that makes the day special. Assorted chutneys from local herbs, Kumaoni leafy greens that includes chutney made from ‘bhang’ or Cannabis leaves, millet chapatis, rhododendron juice made from fresh flowers dried and boiled to extract ruby red concentrate have a distinct flavor that work wonder in the chilly weather of the region.

Homemade pickles

What I miss most is however a freshly brewed lemon-honey-ginger tea that was extremely helpful in combating my sour throat and flu like symptoms.

Activities:

While there hardly would be a dull moment while exploring the open spaces that has little patches of flowers, birds and butterflies or just gazing at the mountains, but the hosts have thoughtfully put up a small kid zone with slides and swings besides a space for fun activities.

But if total carefree time is what you seek, the trees sport a lazy hammock in various nooks of the resort. And in my opinion… just chill!

In And Around Jhaltola

Jhaltola may not have the usual trappings of a hill station but there is enough to do in and around the village. A walk through the village is in itself a small trek that is refreshing and challenges the city-bred lazy bones. Jhaltola is located close to religious caves of Patalbhuvaneshwar and lamkeshwar temples. A unique boutique ‘Avani’ that provides livelihood to villagers makes visit worthwhile.

And of course the best are the magnificent views from everywhere.

Sunset

Patal Bhuvaneshwar

At about 22 kilometers from Jhaltola is the amazing maze of underground limestone caves at Patal Bhuvaneshwar. A narrow opening leads down the odd steps into a large cave system that has big and small stalactite and stalagmite formations.

With a mention recorded in ancient texts of ‘Skanda purana’, these caves date back to centuries. It is said that later the first ‘Adi Shankaracharya’ consecrated the caves in 1191 AD. The various rock formations are considered as various Hindu Gods and Goddesses by the devotees. The rock structures are indeed amazing with different colors and textures and dripping underground water.

Even if one is not overtly religious, this 160 meter long and 90 feet deep cave system is a wondrous natural creation which is a must visit. Legend has it that the cave has hidden passageway that leads to Mount Kailash.

Entrance to Patalbhuvaneshwar

When I visited the caves, I was little unwell and contemplated going through the narrow opening. I am not particularly superstitious but the guide-pujari commented that no one could actually plan to visit these caves… a visit would happen only by extreme luck! So I just sent out a little prayer for the day to go well as I half-slithered-half-climbed-down the slippery small steps of the cave….and truly I survived the day without much trouble… Call it luck or coincidence!

AVANI NGO

From generating electricity by burning of pine needles to creating indigo dye and naturally dyed clothing from organically sourced materials to engaging locals in sustainable livelihood, AVANI entrepreneurs are working towards reducing carbon-footprint with eco-friendly practices.

Hand woven saris at AVANI

Lamkeshwar And Other Easier Treks

Trek through forest

Jhaltola is a Himalayan village and a simple walk around the village is bound to resemble a mild trek. A tour of village gives the glimpse of simple life and typical white mountain houses that stand out due to the colorful doors and windows. Malta trees laden with juicy orange fruit are tempting and make you want to pluck and eat.

Another slightly difficult long trek is the trek to ancient temple of Lamkeshwar. I could not gather enough motivation to climb up the hilly trail. The trail is quiet enchanting from what I heard from fellow travelers.

A simpler trek to Pokhar, which is more like an open grassland among the hills, gives the best views of sunsets too.

Brightly painted doors and windowsof village house

The walk through village also goes past an abandoned bungalow that once belonged to Rai Bahadur Krishna Singh Rawat, a surveyor who was the first person to map the Ramgarh Crater and participated in many expeditions led by British to map the area from 1867 to 1885.

Surveyor Krishan Singh Rawat's Bungalow
         

How To Reach Jhaltola

Map from Kathgodam to Jhaltola
  • The nearest railway station for Jhaltola is Kathgodam.
  • New Delhi is connected by Shatabdi with Kathgodam.
  • Kathgodam onwards it takes about 6 hours drive along the picturesque hillside. Eateries along the way and a pleasant weather help in keeping tiredness away.

Leaving Jhaltola for a journey back home made me realize what I would miss back in city. The fresh air had done wonders to my mood and general well-being. The absence of city noises made it possible for me to appreciate bird songs, rustle of leaves and power of staying silent to observe gently swaying flowers, flowing water and time slip by in peace. I would want all that again…

In A Nutshell

So Why Should You Visit Jhaltola?

  • For the exquisite views of entire Western Kumaon Range.
  • For snowfall that is not marred by overcrowding of tourists.
  • For the authentic Kumaoni Meal.
  • For one of the best natural wonders at underground cave system of Patalbhuvaneshwar.
  • For freshest fruits and vegetables.
  • For serene surroundings and peaceful happy vibes.
  • For exclusive products by AVANI.
  • For relaxation and rejuvenation.

What more reason does one need really?

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