Munsiyari located in the Greater Himalayan range in Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand (India) is like a Black Hole- this scenic little village enthralls you with its captivating view of the Panchachuli Range and uniquely salubrious climate and you discover that your three-day trip has suddenly turned into eleven.
It’s not only the majestic view that’s dazzling but the way the communities have come together to conserve the environment and ensure a sustainable livelihood for people which makes it awe-inspiring!
Life is slow moving in this quaint hill-station and you are caught in the beautiful web of stunning views and inspirational people.
How to Reach
By Air – ‘Delhi’ is the closest International airport at a distance of 535 km from Munsiyari. The nearest operational Domestic airport from Munsiyari is ‘Pantnagar’ which is at a distance of 310 km from Munsiyari. Private cabs are available outside the airport.
By Rail – At a distance of 280 km, Kathgodam is the nearest major railhead to Munsiyari. From here you can either book an entire cab for yourself (costs approximately Rs. 5000/-) or take the shared taxi (approximately Rs. 500 per person). It is advisable to alight at Haldwani, as it is better connected via transport than Kathgodam.
By Road – Munsiyari is well-connected by road to major cities in Uttarakhand and Northern India cities. Alight at Haldwani to get cabs for Munsyari which tend to leave as early as 5 am.
Heli Taxi – Under the ambitious Himalaya Darshan scheme, Uttarakhand Tourism had started heli-taxi, a helicopter service between the city of Haldwani and Munsiyari in January 2016. The distance of 283kms (by road) which usually takes around 11 hours could be covered in 45 minutes (air distance is 117kms). The cost of a return trip was Rs. 15,000 and Rs 8,000 for a one-way trip. The Heli-taxi service, however, has been suspended due to lack of passengers.
- The 10 to 11 hours journey from Haldwani to Munsiyari is very tedious.The serpentine road can cause you nausea so remember to take Avomine (or similar medicine). You can also consider breaking the journey at Almora.
- The KMVN Tourist Rest house in Almora is strategically located on the mall road and it is advisable to book it in advance.
- None of the shared taxis/cabs that run on this route have seat belts (at least none that I came across). All that holds you on your seat is the fact that the cabs are too crowded to give you the space to move.
- If possible try to book a seat in a traveler. If an SUV is all you can hire, then opt for the front seat or else be prepared to tuck up your knees right up to your chin (Pun unintended)in the crowded cab.
Mythology – The group of five snow-capped Himalayan peaks forms the Panchachuli range. ‘Panchachuli’ is derived from two Hindi words – ‘Pancha’ means Five and ‘Chuli’ means Chimney. The legend is that the 5 peaks represent the five cooking hearths (chuli) of the five Pandav brothers who cooked their last meal on these peaks before proceeding for heaven and hence the name ‘Panchachuli’. Another theory is that this region was once part of the old Nepal Kingdom and in the Nepalese language ‘Pancha’ means Five and ‘Chuli’ refers to peaks, hence the 5 peaks were named Panchachuli.
History – The Sino-Indian War of 1962 led to the closure of the Indo-Tibetan border. This resulted in the end of the thriving lifeline of the Bhotiyas whose main occupation was trading with the Tibetans. The loss of trade brought about drastic changes in the transhumant (seasonal movement of people with their livestock between fixed summer and winter pastures) lifestyle. Since then, the Bhotiya tribes have generally adopted semi-agrarian and semi-nomadic lifestyles.
Folklore – The folklore is that Johar valley was inhabited by the great serpents called ‘Nagas’. All but one of the serpents were martyred by the Garuda, a hawk who is the mount and insignia of Lord Vishnu! Before it could kill the last Naga, Garuda was struck down by an envoy of Shaukya Lama. Taken by the beauty of the place, the wise guru, decided to make the valley his abode. Thus, the Shaukya tribe originated and are still its inhabitants.
best time to visit Munsiyari
Munsiyari with its enchanting views romances splendid weather throughout the year. The best time to visit Munsiyari is from March to June and from Mid September to October end. This period is also ideal for trekking to the nearby glaciers.
Spring / Summers – Days are very pleasant during Spring and summers ( March to early June) and light woolens during the night will suffice. It is surreal to walk through flowering rhododendron forests. Summers offer unobstructed views of the peaks of Rambha, Shiplakot, Nandakot, Nandaghungti, and Panchachuli. It is probably the best time to visit Munsiyari.
Monsoon – Monsoon in Munsiyari is very intriguing. The moment you decide to bask in the bright sun the next moment your plans might get dampened by rain clouds taking over the sky. Monsoon, therefore, is not the best time to visit as owing to the heavy rainfall and landslides, traveling and sightseeing becomes quite difficult during this season not to forget the unwanted visit by the bloodsucking leeches.
Tip – Precaution is better than cure and so it would be advisable to wear closed shoes and full pants to protect from Leeches. Remember to tuck in your pants inside your socks and carry salt with you. In case you end up becoming an involuntary blood donor to these leeches, immediately spray salt over them to get rid of them.
Winter is coming – If you are a ‘Game of Thrones’ fan (or not) you will probably love the snow-covered hamlets of Munsiyari. Heavy woolen clothing is necessary to protect yourself against the biting cold.
Transportation – Short distances in Munsiyari villages is best explored on foot. If you want to go further away, shared cabs can be found near the Munsiyari Bus stand, though be sure to negotiate a price in advance (usually not more than Rs. 500 for a shared cab depending on the distance). Renting a driver/ exclusive cab for the day will set you back between Rs. 2000 – 5000 and most hotels can help you in finding one.
Accommodation – Dorm rooms in hotels start at around Rs.100 per night. Private rooms in hostels and guesthouses generally go for Rs. 1000 – 4000 (plus taxes) per night for lodging. Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam Ltd (KMVN) in Munsiyari has affordable rooms and a 16-bed dormitory.
Homestay with a difference – Starting at Rs. 1350 per person per night, inclusive of food and shelter, the ‘Maati home-stays’ are not for the low budget travelers. They are undeniably for a particular niche in the market – the ever growing Indian urban middle class seeking experience beyond the concrete walls of resorts and hotels. If you want to experience village life, these home-stays offer the perfect opportunity. All 3 meals inclusive in the package comprise of local cuisine.
Retail Therapy in Munsiyari: You can buy some phenomenal hand-woven carpets or daals, hemp seeds or jams, and jellies from the markets of Munsiyari. ‘Maati’ a women’s collective in Sarmoli sells locally made wool work, carpets, angora socks, Juices and locally produced spices, herbs and agricultural produce.
Food – Food is cheap in Munsiyari. Local street vendors/ Dhabas mostly serve delicious Indian and Kumaoni cuisines and a meal for one can cost anywhere between Rs. 80 -150. Basic restaurants offer Indian, Chinese, continental and Kumaoni cuisine and a meal for one can cost anywhere between Rs. 200 – 500. To be on safer side, stick to local cuisine, it’s locally grown hence fresh, healthier and of course cheaper.
It is interesting to note that with an influx of tourists from Bengal, few hotels, lodges, and restaurants are carrying signs and information in Bangla. Expect to find quite a few Bengali dishes and delicacies on the menu.
Tip: Try out the rustic taste of “bhaang ki chutney” which is a popular Kumaoni side dish. This sour-tangy chutney is made of roasted Bhang (Hemp Seeds) and jeera (cumin seeds), mixed with Pudina leaves and Lemon juice. Unlike the plant on which it grows, Hemp Seeds are not at all psychoactive and are in fact an essential pantry item in the Kumaoni Kitchens.
I would also recommend the sweet and tangy Bhuransh juice ( Juice of Rhododendron flowers) made locally by the women of Maati and sold at the Sanghthan office in Sarmoli. It sure does have an overdose of sugar but it’s very refreshing.
Internet: Free WiFi is not a norm at hotels around here. I was lucky to have uninterrupted Airtel 3G connection in the home-stay we stayed in, which helped me start my website at this very place. However, my friend who was staying in a close by home-stay had erratic Airtel mobile data connectivity.
Money Saving Tips
Like any other village in India, food including fruits is cheap in Munsyari.
Shared Taxis A big money saving tip would be to go for shared taxis as that would considerably bring down your expenditure.
Accommodation You can usually negotiate a discount at a hotel if you stay for a week or longer. Most of the hotels will let your younger ones share the same room with extra charges for the mattress. The home-stay program is very strict about its rates, however, if you are staying longer you can ask for a reduction in rent for your children.
Top Things to See and Do in Munsiyari
There are many short and long trek and excursions that can be done from Munsiyari. Frankly in our 11 days stay in Sarmoli, most of our time was spent interacting with locals, chasing butterflies or just lazying around reading and writing while soaking in the scenic view.
Mesar Kund – A well-marked stone laid trail will lead you through the oak and Rhododendron trees to the Maheshwari Kund or Meesar Kund as it is called in the local dialect. An easy climb for fit and a little ‘huffing and puffing’ climb for the not-so-fit.
My 9 and 11-year-old complained a bit but climbed to the top without stopping at a reasonable speed ( 1 hour from Sarmoli). Consider carrying packed breakfast /lunch to have at the picturesque Mesar Kund.
This sacred forest pond is the venue for the annual Mesar Forest Fair or “Mesar wan koutik” as is called by the locals. The fair is held around the Budh Poornima (Full Moon) in the month of May. Around the same time, a festival by the local community called Himal Kalasutra is also held.
Birthi Falls – The magnificent Birthi Falls lies near Birthi Village on the main Thal-Munsiyari route and Falls from the height of almost 410 feet. It is 35 kms from Munsiyari and is one of the most popular picnic spots in the Kumaon valley.
Tribal Heritage Museum–Tribal Heritage Museum or as is locally (read fondly) called Masterji’s or Massab’s Museum is the labor of love and tireless efforts of a single person, Dr. Sher Singh Pangtey, a Ph.D. on Bhotia Tribes in Johar Valley. Afraid, that the Bhotiya culture and its legacy would soon be forgotten, Dr. Pangtey took upon himself to record, document, and archive the community’s heritage.
There is an audio guide to help you understand the artifacts kept there. The entry ticket to this place is Rs.10.
(Side Note: My kids were excited to find the outdated Indian 500 and 1000 rupee notes in the collection of the museum. It was interesting to see how happy they felt to have been through that part of history.)
Birdwatching: If you are a bird lover, then Sarmoli is the place for you. The region has 326 recorded bird species. You can find trained ‘Birder guides’ at ‘Maati Sanghtan’ in Sarmoli.
Thamri Kund -This revered pond is believed to bless the region with rain when the rain gods turn hostile. Thamri Kund is approximately 10 km from Munsiyari on the Betuli Dhar ridge.
The picturesque trek through lush green forests starts at Hanuman temple and it’s 3 km unmarked route from here till the Thamri Kund. It is advisable to hire a local guide. The guide fees will be in the range of Rs. 500 to Rs. 700.
Alternatively, mark Thamri Kund on Google Maps and save it offline to guide you.
Pahadi Homestays:Stay with a Kumaoni family in their traditional houses eating local cuisine.
Balati Potato Farm – The hike to the Balati Farm is an easy 2 km climb. The farm offers splendid views of the snow-capped Himalayas. It also happens to be the starting point of Khalia top.
Madkot ( Hot Spring Water) – Known for its healing properties, the natural hot sulfur springs of Madkot is situated at a distance of 22 km from Munsiyari on the Jauljibi road. The road to Madkot runs along the Gori Ganga River, making it a very picturesque drive.
Nanda Devi Temple –
Nanda Devi is the head deity of the Shauka people. This sacred shrine of Nanda Devi is 3kms from Munsyari and is a comparatively easy trek.
Legend-There was once a devotee of Nanda Devi who wanted to build a temple dedicated to her in his village. One night, Nanda Devi came in his dreams and told him to build the temple at such a place from where she could see everyone and everything. When the merchant retold this dream to the villagers, this place was chosen as the location.
If you wish to be involved in some community work, you can help the villagers in collecting firewood, leaf litter, cattle management, sowing crops, digitalizing important information or any other talent that you have that you can pass on to others to equip them with more information.
We volunteered to digitalize the list of the books at the library and resource center called Prakriti Kendra. This is an offshoot of Maati Sangathan. I was in for a pleasant surprise to find the picture book, “Veeru Goes to Circus” authored by me and published by “Pratham Publications” in the library of this remote village.