We stayed at Chaukori for 3 days, thereafter, we left for our last destination of the itinerary, Munsiyari, which is about 97 km from Chaukori. The route to Munsiyari is very challenging. It is NH 309A from Chaukori to Pithoragarh. We followed this road till Thal, which is 26 km from Chaukori, the road being the national highway is smooth and well maintained. There at Thal, the national highway turns to Pithoragarh. To Munsiyari, we took Thal-Munsiyari state highway. You must be very careful while driving on this road. Bad patches of narrow road, steep turns, very deep gorge on side of the road, actually test your driving skills and mental strength. At a distance of 64 km from Chaukori, there is a big waterfall having an impressive height of 400 ft, the Birthi waterfall.
The beauty of this waterfall is that you can go directly underneath its rushing gushing water. We spent around 2 hours, hopping from rock to rock, clicking pictures, feeling the power of the waterfall. Finally, we returned to the roadside. There are many eating joints, where you can have breakfast, lunch, fast food, etc. We had hot spicy Maggi. There is no proper arrangement for changing the clothes, if you get wet in water. So, you have to manage on your own. Take towel, wear proper flip flops, while entering the waterfall, as it could be slippery sometimes. After spending quality time there we started our onward journey to Munsiyari. At around 4 p.m., we reached Munsiyari. Here too, we had reserved our stay at Tourist Rest House (TRH) Munsiyari.
A previously restricted area because of its location, Munsiyari is now emerging as a popular offbeat tourist destination. Munsiyari in Pithoragarh district, at an elevation of 2,200 metres, is the last town having motorable roads in Indian border of China and Nepal. Munsiyari is a paradise for nature lovers. Its dense forests are homes to many species of birds and wild animals. It serves as the base camp to glaciers like Ralam and Milam. The famous Panchachuli peaks (a prominent cluster of five peaks) seems to be so close that you can even touch them just by stretching your hands. It is said that Pandavas (of epic Mahabharat fame) had left for heaven on these peaks, hence the name Panchachuli. An ancient ‘salt route’ (as the famous silk route), originating from Tibet passed through Munsiyari. Physically fit men of this town used to travel all the way to Tibet to bring salt, as it was the sole source of salt for the entire Himalyan region of India before Indo-China war in 1962.
The sunrise and sunset here were even more awesome than in Chaukori. Though tired, we managed to get up early lest we miss the moments of the first kiss of the sun rays and the massifs of mighty mountains. Then came that moment, which was beyond imagination. We were awestruck when the rays from behind every peak of Panchachuli formed a never seen unique pattern. Although we could have only a glimpse of the sun’s first kiss on the cliff but we were rewarded for waking up early by watching the mesmerizing beauty of nature.
Later on, after breakfast, we went to Tribal Heritage Museum, which is the resultant of endeavour of just a single person ‘Lt. Dr Sher Singh Pangtey’ who was a retired school teacher, that’s why also known as Masterji’s Museum. It is a must watch in Munsiyari.
There is beautiful park, known as Nanda Devi temple park consisting of a small temple of Nanda Devi, some swings for children and numerous breathtaking vistas.
There is a helipad around 1 km uphill the TRH. On a leisure evening, we walked up-to there, enjoying the scenic views of the town and the mountains. We also roamed in the market in mild cold and relished ourselves with hot and tasty ‘Jalebi’ at Malhotra Sweets as recommended by the caretaker of TRH.
We spent two memorable days in Munsiyari. Then it was the time to return from the fairyland. The vacations were about to finish. It is like waking up from a sweet dream. There are two routes from Munsiyari to Shahjahanpur. One is via Jaulijibi, Madkote, Pithoragarh, Champawat, and Tanakpur and another is via Thal, Berinag, Lohaghat, Almora, Kathgodam, and Bareilly. The manager of TRH Munsiyari informed us about the pathetic state of the route from Munsiyari to Pithoragarh. So while returning we took the route via Kathgodam.
What to Do:
Munsiyari is a paradise for nature lovers. However, this is also a great place for those who have adrenaline flowing in their veins rather than blood. Apart from wandering in this little town, you can also head for various treks like Millam Glaciers, Ralam and Namik Glaciers for which, Munsiyari is the base station. These treks require a time of several days and much fitness and preparations.
If you are not so passionate trekker, you can trek up to the Khaliya top. Khaliya Top is one of the best treks in Uttarakhand Himalayas and recommended for beginners. It is recommended to take a guide to this place. There are many shops selling trekking equipment and providing the services of a guide. Although the trek is comparatively easy but the path is not defined and one has to cross the forest area to reach the top.
Madkot is a hamlet which is located 22 km from Munsiyari and is a great spot for photography enthusiasts. Apart from its scenic beauty and rich flora, Madkot is also known for its hot springs that have curing qualities.
Balanti Potato farm are closest to the Munsiyari bus stand itself and from here the view of Panchachuli peaks is spectacular. One has to trek 2 km to reach to this place and can see the vegetation of potatoes and apples
When to Go:
The best time to visit Munsiyari is between March and June and then September and October. During these months, the temperature is pleasant, with October being a beautiful month to witness the different shades of the fall season.
Munsiyari in summer remains quite pleasant with maximum temperature not beyond 27°C, while the minimum temperature remains around 7°C that ensures chilly nights. During March-April, the entire forest area turns scarlet red in hue due to the flower of Rhododendron blossoms. Also in late June, clouds start gathering, which might hinder your views.
The monsoon season is from July to September and during this time most of the activities are suspended as the region receives heavy rainfall. Traveling in monsoons is always a concern because the entire region is prone to landslides and cloudbursts. So it is advisable to enquire with local authorities about weather and road conditions before traveling to this region.
The months of October and November, the conditions are pleasant and the temperature remains low. Winters are extremely cold in Munsiyari as the temperature sometimes dips below the freezing point. Munsiyari receives heavy snowfall. The entire town covers under a sheet of white blanket. It is the best time for sighting of snow leopard on distant hills. Some times the roads get blocked due to snow. So confirm about the state of roads before planning a trip. Although it is a never before experience to be there in winters. This time is favorable for honeymoon couples or adventure tourists for skiing and other snow activities. Heavy woolens are needed in these months.
How to Reach:
By Air: The nearest airport is Pant Nagar, which is 317 km from Munsiyari. From there you have to travel by road.
By Road: You can take either taxi from Kathgodam/Haldwani/Pant Nagar to Munsiyari itself or take public transport up-to Almora or Bageshwar and then take taxi to Munsiyari. There is also a bus service ply from ISBT, New Delhi to Munsiyari.
By Train: Kathgodam is the nearest railway station which is 283 km away. Tanakpur also is a railway station at 275 km but it less connected as compared to Kathgodam.
Where to Stay:
Munsiyari is small place. Don’t expect five star facilities even if you are ready to pay. The hotels situated there are sometimes already full especially during peak seasons in summers and October (referred to locally as Bengali Season), so it is advisable to book your accommodation in advance. Milam Inn, KMVS’s Tourist Rest House, Johar Hill Top, The Pinewoods, Vijay Mount View Resort are few options.
Where and What to Eat:
It’s better to dine in your hotel. Not much options may be available outside the hotel. All you can check for some local cuisines which may not be hygienically prepared all the time.
Words of Cautions:
Don’t even touch the Whipcord Cobra Lily (Arisaema tortuosum). According to the locals, it is very poisonous and if you have touched it, even by mistake, wash you hands immediately. It occurs in rhododendron forests, scrub and alpine meadows.
The 10 to 11 hours journey from Haldwani to Munsiyari might be very tedious. The serpentine road may cause nausea, so remember to take proper medicines with you.
Make sure your vehicle have enough fuel all the time, sometimes the only petrol pump runs out of fuel.
Carry sufficient cash as there are couple of ATMs only, which may run out of cash.