All good things are wild & free, and this destination is my mom’s choice. Her new found love for youtube led us to Binsar- a beautiful mountain nature reserve clad in a forest of oak, pine, and rhododendron. She wanted to immerse herself in the unspoiled countryside, but her main objective was to visit the Chitai temple to accomplish a vow. So we decided on a weekend trip.
This time we took the rail route, as it’s convenient & economical. The first train from New Delhi to Kathgodham is at 06:15 am, the Kathgodam Shatabdi Express, which arrives Kathgodam at 11.40 am. It is a comfortable rail journey for 5hrs 20min, and the same train departs from Kathgodam at 3.35 pm, & arrives in New Delhi at 8.50 pm. On reaching Kathgodam, you can hire taxis that are easily available outside the station or hail the Uttrakhand state buses to your desired destination of the Kumaon region. We booked a cab as we had a stay in Binsar.
The sky was an expanse of sapphire blue, dotted with feathery white clouds, as we drove along the curves of the mountains. The Chitai temple is 88.8 Km(approx) from Kathgodam, as we went along our way, the heaven touching peaks loomed in the distance. The famous temple of Chitai is located in Bhawoli, 10km from Almora. It is also known as Golu Devata temple- the god of justice. Golu Devata is considered as an incarnation of Gaur Bhairav-Lord Shiva and is a legendary god of Kumaon, & the eastern Garhwal region of Uttarkhand. The temple has many historical & favourite local stories since he is regarded as the dispenser of justice by devotees with extreme faith. Golu Devata has many temples in Kumaon; the most popular is at Chitai, Champawat, Ghorakhal, Chamrakhan.
There is a unique ritual performed by devotees at Chitai; they make petition at the temple by handwritten letter or on stamp paper to seek the desired decree in litigation. On the accomplishment of their wishes, the deity is shown gratitude by offering bell, white pagari, shawl & cloth. Thousand of bells of every size can be seen hanging over the temple premises, with stacks of letter pinned to those bells. Since my mom’s vow was accomplished so we too offered bells along with our prayers to seek blessing from the deity.
By the time we completed our rituals, it was late afternoon. We had to reach Binsar before dark, as the forest check post does not allow entry after 5 pm. Also, you need to carry proper identity proof, along with booking details of your stay. So we skipped lunch. Instead, I sipped a hot cup of tea with samosa from the local food stall. Binsar is 24.7 Km (approx) from the Chitai temple,its an hour drive. And the possibility of exploring this beautiful region could not be resisted.
So I booked the Binsar KMVN rest house, as nothing can beat its location. Though it looks a little outdated, that only adds to the charm. The service is impressive, and the views will lure you into tranquillity. We reached around 5 pm, & amidst the jungle stands the Govt rest house. The time stopped for a moment when I saw the snow-capped Himalayas from that place and the jungle ablaze with bright red rhododendron.
Talking about Binsar- it is a scenic, sleepy, off-track hamlet nestled amidst the orchards, silver streams and green meadows. It is perched on Jhandi Dhar hills, at the height of 2420 m from the sea level. Binsar offers an unparalleled 360-degree panoramic view of Himalayan peaks like Shivlig, Chauhamba, Trishul, Panchachuli & majestic Nanda Devi. Binsar is called a trekker’s paradise as you can trek in the salubrious air, amidst misty mountain trails, towering Oaks and Rhododendrons.
We were lucky to see the beautiful path of rhododendrons, the flowers, glittering like the red rubies on the tall green trees, and some fallen fresh on the roadside. Religious books describe this flower used by Gods/Goddesses; it is the state flower of Himachal and the National flower of Nepal, they are known as “LaliGuransh,” which has multifaceted and multitasking abilities. The evening was at our leisure, so I took my coffee mug and walked to the back yard to relax & absorb in the serene beauty.
The supply of electricity is limited in Binsar to prevent exploitation and degradation of natural beauty. It comes only for 3 hours from 6–9 pm, so the rest house provides electricity through a generator until 10 pm, post that only candles are available for a light. Apart from KMVN, you can opt for Binsar Forest Retreat, which is slightly expensive; however, other places can also be checked out. The seclusion of Binsar is the attraction of the area, so restaurants are virtually non-existent, but roadside Dhabba comes handy in such location. However, you can get meals in various resorts in and around Binsar.
Binsar used to be the summer capital of the Chand Dynasty, which ruled over Kumaon, from 7th to 18th century. Binsar translates to “Without a Head” for mythological warfare between King of Binsar and Golu Devata. In the battle, Golu Devta was beheaded. Local beliefs state that at Gairad Dana Golu near Binsar National Park the trunk fell, and at Kaparkahan near Binsar his head. And there are ancient temples of Golu Devata at both places. Binsar offers a salubrious climate throughout the year, but few months are not suitable. In Summers a trek is must due to its pleasant weather temperature which varies from 24-32 degrees, while winters are great for snowfall witnessing temperatures of 5-15 degrees. So visit Binar between March to October; however, during monsoon, the rains make the surroundings completely green with mist and clouds but suggestive of avoiding the monsoon. Will suggest light woollens during the summers, whereas heavy woollen should be carried during the winter season.
The next day mom and I woke up early morning & headed to Zero points; it’s a small trek of 2 Km from our hotel. The sun bloomed on the horizon, golden petals stretching on the snow-capped mountains. It’s mesmerizing to see the sunrise as the sun paints the sky with it pinks. Then we headed back to the hotel for a steaming cup of tea.
Before breakfast, I wanted to take peaceful and serene walks in the forest, enjoying the unmatched beauteousness of nature. To watch the sunlight filtering through the tall oaks and deodars trees creating a light-shade dramatic view. And the blood-red flowers on the treetop peeping like a newly married hill bride, few fallen like a springy turf underfoot carpet. It is an ideal destination for writers, nature lovers, adventure lovers, bird watching, and wildlife photography. While walking down the quaint trails, we could hear birds chirping from every nook and corner.
Post Breakfast we packed to go forth. Since we have a time constraint as we had to catch a train, we decided to visit Katarmal temple instead of the sanctuary. But I recommend a must-visit. It’s on my circuit board when I revisit Binar. The Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary was set up in 1988, is spread over an area of 45.59 km, and is the home of 200 bird species. For which sanctuary has been declared an ‘Important Bird Area by The BirdLife International. ‘ The entry ticket is Rs 40 per person and an additional Rs 10 for your vehicle. If you wish, can visit the museum to get a detailed understanding of the species present in the Binsar Sanctuary.
Instead, we saw the beautiful Binsar Mahadev Temple built in the 9th century by King Kalyan Chand of the Chand Dynasty. In the temple, Lord Shiva is the presiding deity, but the idols of Goddess Durga and Parvati is also placed inside the sanctum. The Himalayas at the backdrop along with lush green surroundings and make the temple most suitable for meditation.
We drove towards Katarmal Sun Temple – also known as Baro Aditya temple, situated 97 km from Binsar. It is an 800-year-old temple dedicated to Lord Surya, & the first rays of the sun fall straight on this Sun temple. This temple has a unique architecture, artistically cut stone and metallic sculptures along with beautifully carved pillars and wooden doors. Also, the image of Surya in the temple dates back to the 12th century.After the 10th-century idol was stolen, the intricately carved doors and panels of the temple have been transferred to the National Museum in Delhi. It is surrounded with 44 small, exquisitely carved temple, along with the Surya deity which called Burhadita or Vraddhaditya.In the synagogue idols of Shiva-Parvati and Lakshmi-Narayana are also found in this.
It was built by Katarmalla, a Katyuri raja, in the 9th century. In the early mediaeval period, Kumaon was ruled by the Katyuri dynasty. We had to trek for 3 km crossing Hawalbagh and Matela near the Kosi river. Katarmal Temple is incomplete reason dates back during the Mahabharata. It’s said this magnificent Sun Temple was built in a single day as a hideout by the Pandavas, but due to some reason, they had to flee the temple, and the structure was left uncompleted. Katarmal temple of Almora, whose portion of the roof half-finished, is assumed to be that temple. Even today, the partially complete top of the temple is visible. The temple is a hidden gem among the thick deodars of these Kumaon hills. I wanted to sit and breathe, but it was time for our train, so we headed back to the railway station.
In the dense forest, beneath the clouds, burning with ruby red rhododendron, I found solace. I took a gentle walk through the woods, even spent the day getting glimpses of my soul as I overlooked the snow-capped mountains. But it was not enough I wanted to stop & get absorbed.
How to reach Binsar from Delhi:
By Air: The nearest airport to Binsar/Chitai Temple is Pantnagar, which 140 km from Binsar and 115 Km from Almora. You can hail a cab from Pantnagar Airport for Binsar/Chitai.
By Rail: The nearest railhead is Kathgodam, which is at a distance of 105 km from Binsar and 83 Km from Chitai temple. Kathgodam is well connected to major cities, and trains are frequent to Kathgodam as this is a gateway for the Kumaon region. Taxis/buses are easily available from the railway station for Binsar/Chitai.
By Road: Motorable roads well connect Binsar/Chitai with major cities in Northern India. Buses to Almora & Kathgodam can be re from ISBT, Anand Vihar Delhi. Or can driving to Binsar. Almora is well connected with NH87 & NH87E. Taxis are easily available from Almora for other Kumaon region. The distance of Binsar from Gurgaon is 402.3 Km, & Chitai is at a distance of 386.3 Km.