As the sun peeked out from behind Shiva’s matted tresses, he glistened with pleasure at what he saw. The demon lay defeated at the Lord’s feet praying for his forgiveness. Shiva in all benevolence granted him ‘Mukti’ or liberation.
“Lord” said the sun “You have displayed your unparalleled greatness yet again”.
Shiva gave his divine smile and closed his eyes “I will rest a while now”. So amidst the jubilant chirping of the birds on the silvery slopes of the great Himalayas, the sun bestowed his most glorious rays to build one of the oldest resting abodes of Shiva, The Mukteshwar Dham. Thus Mukteswar, a beautiful hill station cradled in the lap of the Himalayan peaks, slowly and gracefully grew into its own by wrapping itself around this small abode of Shiva.
Though wondrous legends of divinity surround this hamlet, our trip to Mukteshwar was however not inspired by these. We were egged on to pack our bags to savour the mortal pleasures of snow man building and adrenaline pumping adventure hikes.
Located at an average elevation of 2,286 metres (or 7500 feet), Mukteshwar is a scenic 51 km drive from Nainital. It overlooks the hill ranges of Nanda Devi, Nanda Kot, Nandaghunti, Trishul, and Panchchuli. On a clear day the town provides a full 360 degree view of the whole range which affords a mesmerising view to the onlookers.
The majestic ranges, though the most overbearing, are not the only adornments in Mukteshwar. We could hardly miss the soulful orchestra presented by the birds of Mukteshwar. Every morning we were accompanied by the Himalayan Bulbul who puffed up his handsome self to welcome the visitors in his land. His tuft of hair glistened with pride as he watched over us devouring our morning meals. As Mountain Trails, where we had put up, is a nature-friendly resort with a natural garden laid out to welcome the avian friends of the area, we frequently came across the Titmouse (also known as chickadee) the Red billed blue magpie (this one we had also seen in our Vijaypur Escapade) and the Grey Treepie or the Himalayan Treepie. The Streaked Laughing Thrush with its cherubic tittering ensured that we ever had a dull moment.
Chatting over a platter of delicious Kumaoni cuisine with the owner of Madhuvan, one of the oldest homestays in the area, we were regaled with stories of the great hunter turned conservationist Jim Corbett who had made Mukteshwar his home. It was here that he had killed the famous tigress. We smiled at each other and informed him of the real reason for our visit to this hamlet. He smiled back and told us “If you are game you could track his steps to where he killed the cat.” Drooling with greed we nodded vigorously to indicate our compliance. Things were planned for the forest trek the next day.
Geared with walking shoes and a palpable excitement to witness great happenings, we followed our guide the next day as he led us into the man-eater’s lair. The trek started from Jim Corbett’s bungalow which is now being converted into a government rest house to be open to the public in 2017. The place provides a fantastic view of the range and is a must stay for everyone visiting Mukteshwar. We have made our bookings already, albeit in our minds for now, but will do so in reality as soon as they start taking reservations.
As the path led us into dense forest foliage, we could smell the wild freshness and feel it soothing our senses. All of a sudden the path opened out into a dried up mountain meadow. As we squinted to acquaint our eyes to the benevolence of the sun after the long walk in the shade, we drew in our breaths to behold the vastness of nature’s bounty all around us. The mountains looking down on us condescendingly seemed to say “Who you mere mortals”. Humbled we walked on to discover greater treasures in the mysteries of nature.
As we trundled on, sweating and panting, stepping cautiously to keep our grip on the slippery forest floor, the langurs looked on curiously. This time we were the trespassers and no doubt they were not too appreciative. Then finally all of a sudden, we came to the fabled spot where he had shot the tigress. As our guide relived the whole script for us, we could almost feel it happening in front of our eyes. We crossed the log that fell across the little stream where the tigress must have been lapping up the water thirstily unaware of her predator pointing his barrel at her from above. To imagine we had walked down from the same spot where Corbett must have positioned himself gave us Goosebumps. Travel makes you want to believe in stories just like we did in this one. Even if things didn’t happen the way it was presented, we didn’t want to mar the mood with too much of practical analysis. We let ourselves soak in the thrill of the moment.
After a couple of slips, sprains and tired climbs we finally reached the highway from where we could get the drive back home. Somehow, the drone of the car engine was irksome to our nerves. We were missing the forest already. Why did life have to become so urbanised? Why did we move away from our cave men days? Nevertheless, somewhere inside us the annoying urban ghost that we have created in ourselves obnoxiously reminded us that we had offices waiting and metaphysical speculations had to be put on hold till our next trip.
Perhaps nature felt our pain. She gifted us with the silvery shower of the first snowfall of the season on the morning of our departure. It was the first for us as well. We frolicked like children as the powdery flakes kissed our cheeks. We realised then that it was nature caressing us to help us make a safe journey back home.
Mukteshwar with its sun drenched mountain walks, its boughs laden with chirping chatterers, its offering of a simple yet delicious Kumaoni cuisine and above all its friendly, warm and welcoming locals will forever be entrenched in our memories. Like Corbett, we hope to pitch ourselves atop one of its peaks someday and let the sublime surrounding soak into our blood.
Hail Shiva! God of three Worlds! Pray you make it happen for us!
I am sure he smiled again at my request but whether to comply or cast aside is left to be seen.