Although every trip is memorable, there are a few that have a lasting effect on us. My visit to this lowly hill station in Uttarakhand was definitely one such trip. I don't know why, but somewhere deep inside I still miss that place. Even as I am writing this blog, I am feeling so nostalgic that I want to pack my bags and leave for again for Munsiyari. This post pens down our road trip to this amazing place.
After missing a couple of long weekends for one reason or the other, our longing for a holiday was becoming desperate. It had been almost three months since our last trip to Nag-Tibba. Our new Duster, which we had purchased the last month, was now bored of city roads and eager to go on a long road trip. Delhi's scorching temperatures were crossing 45 degrees on a daily basis and the carving for those chill mountain breezes was becoming irresistible.
The popular destinations like Nainital and Manali were out of our consideration. We definitely were not interested in the mad rush of these already clogged hill stations. A couple of months ago Shalu had told me about a small town in the Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand called Munsiyari. It was a hidden gem tucked away deep in the Himalayas. A simple Google search had presented us with photographs of sunrise at Panchachuli peaks and snow-covered hills anywhere eyes could see. It was an instant addition to our bucket list.
And now, when we were searching for a perfect destination, this hill-station seemed to be ticking all the right checkboxes -
- 600 km - long drive - check
- Not popular - no overcrowding - check
- Adventurous drive, lots to explore nearby - check
The distance was a bit of a problem and it was for sure going to be our longest drive in the mountains. But the beauty of the place was too tempting to resist and I was up for the challenge. In June, the Eid Holiday fell in the middle of the first week. We coupled it with a few casual leaves and planned a 6 day trip to Munsiyari.
Delhi to Almora
June 4, 2019
Munsiyari was about 600 km from Delhi, nearly half of which was in the mountains. It was difficult to cover the entire stretch in a single day, especially given that I was the only driver. So, we had split the journey into 2 days -
- Day 1 - Delhi to Almora
- Day 2 - Almora to Munsiyari
We were ready to leave early in the morning. Duster's boot space was tightly loaded and we were wondering if we had packed too much for the trip. Trekking gear, laptop bags, food items and extra water bottles were a few items we might not have taken, had we used public transport. Nevertheless, space wasn't an issue as it was only two of us and we had the whole car to ourselves.
We left Gurgaon at around 8 AM. While crossing Delhi, we encountered quite a few traffic jams, perhaps because it was a working day for many. The delays caused weren't that long though and we had crossed the capital by 9 AM.
But as soon as we climbed down the Eastern Peripheral Expressway and entered NH9, things got nightmarishly bad. Every few kilometres we were being greeted with delays and jams. The highway was going under a revamp and construction material was clogging the road at numerous places. If that wasn't enough, it was passing through towns without any bypasses and the locals were driving their tractors as if they owned the road. It took us nearly five hours to cover 100 km. And just when we thought it couldn't get any worse, Google Maps showed us a one-and-a-half-hour traffic jam ahead. Our excitement for the road trip had dwindled by then. We just wanted a way out of that mess!
Google Maps had given us two options - either continue on the highway and face the jam or take a long roundabout through the villages of Uttar Pradesh and maybe save some time. On a sane day, we would have thought twice before venturing onto unknown village roads. But nothing about that day was sane and we took that detour without any hesitation. Even today we wonder what would have happened if we had continued on the highway. We had our lunch at Bikanerwala at around 12.30 PM.
We reached Rampur by 3 PM and breathed an expansive sigh of relief. Navigating through the village roads hadn't been the best of our experiences, especially with overloaded tractors and trucks crawling on them. Rampur was the first major town in a while and we hoped to see better roads after it.
By that time, we had started following Google Maps blindly. We were too frustrated to apply our wits and just wanted to reach Nainital as quickly as possible. It was the perfect opportunity for the algorithm to do what it was best at - sneak in a shortcut! We were suddenly on a narrow dirt road surrounded by tall bushes on both sides. We thought were heading into a forest. But before we could figure out where we had taken the wrong turn, we ran into something absurd. There were remnants of an ancient building, like ruins of an Indiana Jones movie, right in front of us. We couldn't help but laugh at the ridiculous day we were having. Google had saved us 4 mins and a couple of kilometres by taking us through that shortcut. Fantastic!
The roads improved dramatically after crossing Rampur. We were on a state highway but it was smooth and much less crowded. And the best part was that dense forest cover now bordered both sides of the road. We had left behind the endless human settlements and farmlands, and the first signs of approaching Himalayas were before us. For the first time since morning, we were feeling delighted. Quite magically the entire day's exhaustion had instantly disappeared. Driving on that empty road running through the forest was a pleasure I had been craving ever since the Nag-Tibba trek. Although the sun was already setting and we were getting late, we couldn't help ourselves from stopping and getting a few photos clicked.
By 6 PM we were crossing Nainital. It wasn't a holiday for everyone, and yet Nainital had more tourists than probably the entire population of Munsiyari. I wondered what would be the rush on weekends! That was precisely the reason we had not chosen Nainital for our trip.
Unfortunately, we repeated the mistake of trusting Google Maps again. It took us through Nainital city, while we could have easily skipped using the bypass. Maybe the manoeuvre saved us a few minutes. But my legs were aching from day long's gear shifts and I would have preferred a longer and more comfortable route. You should keep this in mind not repeat the mistake we did. When near Nainital, follow signboards on the road or ask some street-side vendors for directions. They will guide you in the direction of the bypass, saving you from narrow and crowded city roads. Traffic can be really bad in Nainital on holidays.
We reached Almora at around 9 PM. The estimated time when we had started in the morning was around 9 hours. But it had actually taken us 13 hours. We could have stayed in Nainital as well, but hotels are typically more expensive there. Moreover, we would have to drive about 60 km more on the second day.
We had booked our room in Hotel Shikhar. We freshened up and enjoyed a hot cup of tea while admiring the night view of Almora. We had a delicious dinner at around 10 PM and went to bed for a sound sleep.
Almora to Munsiyari
June 5, 2019
On a usual day, I need a cup of black coffee to get me off the bed. But that morning when I woke up, I felt like had never slept in the first place. The excitement to see mountain views was more fervent than a caffeine shot. Our hotel room opened into a huge terrace from where we could enjoy a magnificent view of Almora. In a sense, the day was the actual start of our trip.
I quickly ordered two cups of tea, chose a nice spot on the terrace and sat there with Shalu. The tea was serviced soon and we enjoyed it basking under the rising sun. The air was lively and fresh, devoid of smog that we were used to in Gurgaon. A perfect morning it was!
Munsiyari was about 195 km from Almora and around 8 hours drive. We had learned a 13 hours long lesson the previous day and could not risk driving on the narrow road to Munsiyari at night. After having breakfast, we left at around 8 AM, giving ourselves enough buffer time even if a mishap delayed us.
Whenever I tell my travel stories, my friends ask me how can I drive for so long in the mountains. Most of them hesitate to drive for 8 hours even in the plains. Yet I can easily manage much longer on the curvy and risky roads of the mountains. I don't know-how. Perhaps it is the silence of the forests, or the freshness of the air, or the flowing of the river beside the road, or the grandeur of the Himalayas, or everything all together - but I love driving in the mountains. I feel I can keep going for hours without feeling tired.
There was something special about the road to Munsiyari. Almost always there was a river flowing beside us. On the first leg of the journey, it was the Saryu river. I was finding it hard to concentrate on the road and gazing again and again at the splendid views outside the window. We stopped at many places and got lots of photos clicked. At one place we even start dancing in the middle of nowhere. It was crazy and don't know why we did that. We never dance! But that day we did.
Even after taking halts at many places, we were progressing steadily. By 1 PM we had covered nearly 100 km and reached Berinag. It was lunchtime and we were starving. So the hunt for the perfect restaurant began.
What we generally do when searching for a place to eat is to find a nice looking restaurant at the side of the road and then search for it on Google and read its reviews. We literally read 5-7 reviews before deciding to stop and eat at a place. Using the same algorithm, we found this amazing hotel called Hotel Krishna Kala. It looked clean and well maintained from the outside. We went in and ordered a cup of tea and two plates of Maggi. The chef took time to cook but the wait turned out to be worth it in the end. Both tea and Maggi were the most delicious ones we had ever had. We loved them so much that we actually went into the kitchen and complimented the chef. We also promised to visit again on our return journey. Believe me, when we were coming back, we were impatiently waiting for Berinag to arrive so that we could enjoy that Maggi and tea again.
The temperature was 36 degrees at Berinag which was quite surprising. We didn't know it got that hot in the mountains! Anyway, we continued our journey.
About 30 km later a new river joined us on our journey - the Ramganga. However, unlike previous rivers we had seen, this one's water was turquoise in colour, similar to the high altitude Himalayan rivers. Somewhere down the road where we found a few cars parked and noticed some people had ventured up to the river shore and were playing in its water. Shalu looked at me and at the clock. It was 3.15 PM already and Munsiyari was still 3 hours away. On one hand, we were getting late, while on the other the water of Ramganga was tempting us. In the end, we couldn't resist and I applied the brakes again.
The water was cold and clear. It was such a nice feeling to dip our feet in it. We washed our faces and felt as refreshed as we were in the morning.
But soon we were on road again. From there started a gradual climb that continued until we reached Munsiyari. The road was mostly good, except for a few patches of broken tarmac that could be easily crossed if driven carefully. However, they became narrower as we approached Munsiyari. And since we were constantly climbing, there were sections that had a thousand feet deep trench on one side. It was scary as well as thrilling to drive on that road. There was a sense of adventure in it. The two of us had come so far and so deep in the mountains that it was crazy.
We were constantly monitoring our altitude and temperature. Thankfully the 36-degree temperature had steeply dropped and reached about 20 degrees near Munsiyari. Our altitude had also increased to about 2100 m. Even the weather had taken a turn and become cloudy with splashes of rain every now and then. It was as if Munsiyari was welcoming us personally. The experience of driving on the narrow mountain roads under clouds with the smell of rain in the air was something that is hard to describe in words. You can only feel it and absorb it with your senses.
Planning a trip to Munsiyari? You can refer to our detailed travel guide: