Staying in Delhi has had its advantage, one being having closer access to the beautiful hill stations in the Northern India. Nainital had always been my family’s favourite gateway to escape the capital’s sweltering summers. Just a glimpse of the breath-taking Naini lake would take away all our fatigue.
Over the years, this joy became short lived as many travellers started flocking to city with their music thudding and pollution emanating vehicles. There was less of the chill in the air and more of the noise. We started exploring nearby towns of Ranikhet, Almora, Kausani, Mukteshwar and they all greeted us with soul warming beauty but there was one magical place that found a home within our soul – Jageshwar Valley. It was surprising for us to have found an offbeat paradise like Jageshwar just 36 kilometres away from the Almora city. The winding roads leading to the valley are full of verdant slopes, sporadically boasting of a crafty terrace farming.
We started exploring nearby towns of Ranikhet, Almora, Kausani, Mukteshwar and they all greeted us with soul warming beauty but there was one magical place that found a home within our soul – Jageshwar Valley. It was surprising for us to have found an offbeat paradise like Jageshwar just 36 kilometres away from the Almora city. The winding roads leading to the valley are full of verdant slopes, sporadically boasting of a crafty terrace farming.
Mysticism struck me the moment my eyes took in mighty deodars surrounding the Jageshwar valley. It almost seemed as though the thick pine forest that stood firm on the hills, concealed the town in a velvety green blanket. Nestled in their presence was a cluster of ancient rock temples which are a part of Jageshwar Dham. As we drove in, my eyes fell upon the pristine waters running through a meandering stream next to the temple. The stream was Jataganga and the valley was earlier an ancient route for Kailash Mansarover, one of the holiest and remotest shrines of the Hindus. In fact, Jageshwar Dham itself is central to the ancient scriptures being one of the Jyotirlinga temples out of the total of twelve spread throughout India.
The shrine dating between 7th -12th century AD, is a group of around 100 plus temples dedicated to the 33,000 crore Hindu Gods and Goddesses. Two more cluster of ancient temples are found here but away from the Jageshwar group. One is Dandeshwara temple and on the other side of Jataganga is Kubera temple group.
Architecturally, they are similar to Jageshwar temples which are believed to have been restored during the Katyuri reign. Nagara architectural style can be dominantly seen in the temples’ splendid rockwork. Owing to their historical importance, they had to be taken under the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and 25 model monuments.
Processing the doses of history our cabby was sharing with us, we checked into a guesthouse and rested briefly. By evening, we headed to the temple. The ancient walls radiated spirituality as the cold breeze tickled our hair. The sky reaching pines looked down, beckoning us to shake off all the baggage from life in this surreal, calmness evoking ancient land.
Thereafter, we strolled through the sparsely populated town. It was a very small town with only a few arched roof houses and guesthouses ensconced in the pine hills. Along the road, there were shacks, small shops and roadside vendors selling essentials. At places, jagged, withered pathways led way to help climb slopes. My eyes traced an elderly foreigner climbing down from a hut atop a mountain. We rambled some more and in only a few long strides, the town was over.
Heading back into the town, we ordered some tea, Jalebi and Samosa at one of the tea stalls. By now serenity had completely engulfed me along with an unprecedent familiarity in an unknown land. Far from the outcry of the city, I was in nature, closer to the roots of humanity.
The shopkeeper told us that in monsoon and Shivaratri, Jageshwar becomes crowded with people especially newlywed Indians coming from as far as Europe to take the Deity’s blessings.
By now, the foreigner who looked like a spitting image of Ruskin Bond, had reached a nearby vegetable stall throwing a fluent Hindi after being enquired about his health. We learnt that many foreigners left the urban comfort of their states to settle in the tranquillity of Jageshwar, something that intrigued me. They had sought home in the heart of raw nature on remote foreign grounds that didn’t have the ease of even the nearby towns. Coloured in the native’s culture, their faces were reflecting an inner joy.
At night, after a home styled simple yet sumptuous meal, I sat quietly reflecting on how enchanted I felt of the place and what it would look like in snow-covered winter. It was past midnight and my reverie got broken when a melodious, cheery voice echoed through the hills crooning a folk track.
I rushed to the window to find the source and to add to the mysticism, the young boy, unafraid of the darkness or dangers of the pine forest, disappeared through the woods. Eerie at first and then I realised it was his home. They all knew every nook and corner like the back of their hand. I smiled at his carefree voice as it felt like homecoming to the days of unadulterated and childlike joy in this mystic abode of nature.