23rd February 2015
Got up early and fresh. I had slept in the car parked in Tiuni bazaar the previous night. It was still dark and tea shop nearby was already buzzing with activity. After two cups, I was ready for the day. From now onwards, the drive was going to be on unfamiliar territory.
Early morning drive through pine forest along the Tons river and fragrance of numerous flowers, plants and trees was like a dream. On top of it, the Uttarakhand road was small but butter smooth.
Stopped here at Devladi Mata Temple for a while. There was a tea shop with a running water tap nearby. Freshened up. Took another cup of tea. Visited the temple and carried on.
Soon I reached Hanol. The famous Mahasu Devta Temple was just half a kilometer diversion to the left. Right near the gate there was a GMVN rest house, which seemed not to be very well kept. The temple is dedicated to Mahasu Devta who is the chief deity of this area and is worshiped by the people of Hanol and nearby villages. It was built in the 9th century and is included in the Archeological Survey of india list of ancient temples.
Parked the car near the market and walked down few steps to the main temple area. Temple looked very large and well maintained. The priest at the temple took me inside the temple and explained the importance of the temple and rituals related to it. He allowed me to click pictures of the temple barring main deity.
I was now in Jaunsar-Bawar region. The entire route was along Tons river. Landscape was amazing. There were some very beautiful villages all along. The people of the area looked very simple, friendly and helpful.
Just before Mori, in between Lunagad and Khooni Gad, the Uttarakhand forest department has erected a memorial in memory of the tallest pine tree in Asia. The tree was believed to be 220 years old, 60.65 metres tall and had a circumference of 2.7 metres. The tree was recognised as Maha Vriksha, a giant tree in 1997. The same was uprooted by a fierce storm in 2007 though.
I was feeling a little hungry. The aroma of fried veg and egg pakoda made me stop the car here. The place looked nice too. The man behind the rehri looked very friendly. I asked him for egg and veg pakora with hot tea. The pakoda was so tasty. Enjoyed it thoroughly. The man was speaking good hindi and did not look like a local person. On being asked he told me that he belonged to UP and used to come here to sell ladies suits.
One fine day in a village he saw a beautiful local girl and fell in love immediately. Next time he came here with a different intention. Rented a room in the village and sent a proposal for marriage to the family of the girl. After some ifs and buts, the family agreed. He got her girl and since then he was living here with her for so many years.
Contrary to my imagination, Mori was a bustling place. Bazaar was full with people, shops and fast food joints. Share taxis were hurrying through, overloaded with animals, goods and people. Most of the men were wearing traditional caps, a plant tucked into it. I was told that it was given to them by their devta. Most of the women were smoking bidis and were reluctant to get photographed while smoking.
People looked very rustic, alive and innocent. They were attracted to the red colour of my car and were very curious to see me travelling solo. Everyone wanted to know where I was from. When I told them that I was from Amritsar, Punjab, most of them were ignorant about where Punjab or Amritsar was.
I was in Jaunsar-Bawar area. The Jaunsaris live on the lower area and Bawaris in the high mountains. While Jaunsaris claim to be descendants of the Pandavas, the Bawaris are from the Kauravas clan. The two cultures usually do not mix, and it is a rare occurrence to see the two cultures mix in terms of marriage or social custom.
The people of the Jaunsar Bawar region used to practice polyandry/polygamy as the custom owes its origins to the Pandavas who shared Draupadi amongst the 5 brothers. Another unique custom which is followed here is the concept of bride price. The custom owes its origin to some strong logic.
The parents spend a substantial amount on raising, educating and making the life of the girl as good as they can make it. In return the girl is an asset to the family as she cooks, cleans, works on the farms etc. When a boy wants to marry the girl, he is taking away an asset of the family and must pay the fair price of the asset known as the bride price. Divorce is not taboo in the culture, and divorced women are not ostracized from society.
However, if the woman comes back to the parent’s home after a divorce, the family must pay back the bride price to the man’s family. If the woman divorces her husband to marry another man, the second man must pay (a higher) bride price to the first man’s family.
Besides being a Jaunsar-Bawar tribal area, this route is also famous for Har Ki Doon (Valley of Gods) trek. Har Ki Doon lies in the valley of majestic Swargarohini Peak. It is believed that Yudhisthira went to heaven with a dog from this peak. Buses ply till Sankri and there is a jeepable road from Sankri to Taluka from where actual trek starts. The valley falls within the Govind Pashu Vihar wildlife sanctuary and is very close to Himachal Pradesh. A trek route through Barasu Peak ends in chitkul (Baspa Valley).
Curious to see more of this route drove further. The road was in very bad shape. Lot of damage to the road network was done in this area in 2013 flash floods. The drive was becoming very lonely. I could barely go till Netwar. Spent some time in Netwar market. Like Mori it was a very busy town. Lot of people, lot of shops, lot of Taxis. I could go no further. Har Ki Doon trek was not on as well. So there was no fun going any further.
Came back to Mori and from Mori drove towards Purola. Still not sure which was my destination for the day. This road, to Purola, was in much better shape. The landscape was different as well. Instead of Tons now I was driving through a pine forest with a valley on the right, dotted with number of villages and snowclad mountains in the background. This drive was very smooth.
I thought I will stay in Purola but there was some political rally going on. Purola bazaar was jammed with people and vehicles. There was hardly any place for parking. Did not like it much. So continued driving. Soon I was in Naugaon. By then it was dark. Came out the car. Walked a little. Liked the area. Was thinking of spending the night there but a gentleman advised me to drive further to Barkot and told me that Barkot was better place for me.
Barkot had lot of hotels and dhabas. Its an important place on the route to Yamunotri and Gangotri. Lot of tourists break their journey here. Spent about two hours walking and chatting with people here. Parked the car in front of police station. Took few drinks. Went to the dhaba nearby and had nice food.Slipped into the car. Pulled the cover down. Locked the car from inside. Pushed myself into the sleeping bag and was fast asleep.
My body and mind was fully acclimatised now and the car was as good as home now!!!