Trekking to a Himalayan hill that Dylan loved and Vivekananda called home

Mar 10, 2013, 18:59 IST | Siddhartha Sen

Bob Dylan loved the place, Uma Thurman lived here as a child, Swami Vivekananda spent months meditating here and it became a tourist hotspot during the Hippie Movement in the 1960s. Yet even today Kasar Devi retains much of its rustic charm � a hilltop hamlet, a temple-town, a picture perfect place to relax over the weekend. SIDDHARTHA SEN took his backpack and went on a journey of spiritual discovery

Who would think Danish mystic Alfred Sorensen, musician Bob Dylan, pioneers of the Hippie Movement and Swami Vivekananda would have anything in common? No actually they don’t. They just all fell in love with the same quaint village nestled in the beautiful Kumaon hills. Kasar Devi is an enigma of sorts. Unimpressive at first sight, impossible to forget by the time you have finished your trip. I’d often wondered what it was that attracted a saint in search of peace, a musician looking for inspiration and a bunch of people looking for a high to the same place? So when a few friends suggested we do the eight-km hike from Almora to Kasar Devi, I lapped it up. (For those who don’t want to walk, a bus or a taxi ride is also possible).

When our bus left Scindia House in Delhi for Kathgodam I had this eerie feeling of the unknown and the excitement of a novice, an unfathomable internal journey that I was taking.

There are many reasons why the mention of Kasar Devi brings forth multiple emotions in people like me who have studied the history of this hamlet in the hills. Located in the village of Kalimath, Kasar Devi is majestically perched on the edge of a ridge on the Almora Bageshwar highway on the Kashyap hills.

Kasar Devi is dotted with deodar and pine forests with a panoramic view of the Himalayas 

The place derives its name from the temple of the same name situated on a hilltop right at the entrance to the village. This temple provides a birds-eye view of Almora and the Hawabagh Valley.

It also serves as a beautiful spot for people to relax and meditate. Swami Vivekananda realised this when he meditated here in the late 19th century and has mentioned his experience in his chronicled diaries. In later years this serene, religious hamlet also became a regular haunt for celebrities from the world over, for various exciting reasons.

Located in the village of Kalimath, Kasar Devi is majestically perched on the edge of a ridge on the Almora Bageshwar highway on the Kashyap hills. pics/Siddhartha Sen 

Just outside the village of Kasar Devi is Crank’s Ridge, sometimes called Hippie Hill by children. It is a pine-covered ridge area located on the way to Kasar Devi temple. The place, got its popular name, Crank’s Ridge, ever since the iconic American psychologist Timothy Leary streaked on the ridge in the 1960s, when it became part of the Hippie trail, during the peak of Hippie Movement

All through the last century, the ridge was a haunt for bohemian artists, writers and spiritual seekers (including notable western Tibetan Buddhists), Lama Anagarika Govinda resided here for a while and was visited by Anandamayi Ma. In the 1960s and 1970s, luminaries of the counter-culture, including Bob Dylan and Cat Stevens made pilgrimages to the ridge. Others such as Allen Ginsberg and Robert Thurman also spent months and years here. Thurman, the Buddhist scholar, who spent six months with his wife Nena von Schlebrügge here, came with their 3-year-old daughter Uma Thurman in 1971
Ah well, so much for history.

The road from Almora to Kasar Devi is ideal for an early morning trek

After an overnight journey, we reached Kathgodam at around 6 am and following a quick sip of ginger tea, we took a bus to Almora. For the next four hours we had the meandering and scenic Kali river for company.

Dumping our suitcase at the hotel at Almora, we set out for Kasar Devi — a trek of just under 10 km from out hotel. From the hustle and bustle of Almora to the serene climes of Kasar Devi through meandering and often steep pathways past dense deodar and pine forests was a surreal and exhilarating experience. Indeed we had entered divine country.

Our first stop was a village called Gadhuli where we checked into Jyoti Guest house, a quaint homestay facility recommended by a friend who had visited the place earlier. After an early lunch we set off to explore the area. Breathtaking would be an understatement. No honestly. Five minutes into our walk, the forests suddenly gave way and like magic, we were face to face with the open sky — and a panoramic view of the snowcapped Himalayas! Our first view of the Nandadevi, Trishul and Panchachuli peaks on a clear November morning was spellbinding. Though I had had the good fortune of seeing these massifs from other parts of Kumaon before, from Kasar Devi the view was unparalleled with the peaks physically much, much closer than anywhere else I’d been.

Just outside the village of Kasar Devi Crank’s Ridge, sometimes called Hippie Hill, there’s another panoramic view of the Almora valley

We did not do much on day one except exploring some nearby villages and meeting local people. Everyone we met was friendly and old timers regaled us with stories and anecdotes about Kasar Devi, about the times when legends came calling or a star descended on the quiet village.

There are not too many cafes and restaurants in Kasar Devi but the small dhabas more than make up for it. The food is hot, the chefs compare with the best in Mumbai. Of course if you want a proper restaurant, there is one called Mohans, which caters to both western and Indian travellers and has a wide array of cuisines — Indian, Chinese, Italian, Continental and even Korean.

On day two, we went trekking up Crank’s Ridge. Just outside the village of Kasar Devi Crank’s Ridge, sometimes called Hippie Hill gives another panoramic view of the Almora valley. Folklore has it that the participants of the Hippie Movement in the 1960’s settled here and brought in their
wake thousands of European and American backpackers over the years. Yes we also saw some 2012 edition of the soul seekers. The grave of
Alfred Sorensen, the Danish mystic is on this ridge. In the 1960s and 1970s, luminaries of the counter-culture like Bob Dylan and Cat Stevens made pilgrimages to Crank’s ridge too.

There is also a Buddhist meditation centre and a Sharda Ashram (Womens wing of the Ramakrishna mission) on the ridge. The Buddhist Centre is
affiliated to the Drikung Kagyu order of Tibetan Buddhism.

Kasar Devi also has many famous tourist spots within its vicinity. The Binsar Wild Life Sanctuary, Katarmal Sun Temple, Chitai Temple are some
of them.

My Kasar Devi experience will be etched in my memory forever as this place, though not touristy in the conventional way, has a simple old world charm to it and extremely scenic. If you want peace and tranquility then this is the destination for you.

Things to Know
Nearest Railhead – Kathgodam - 90 kms

Travel - Buses to Almora can be boarded from ISBT Kashmiri Gate in Delhi. Taxis can also be hired from Kathgodam

Temperature - Summer: Max 28oc, Min 15oc, Winter : Max 18oc, Min 0oc

Clothing - Summer: Light Woollens, Winter: Heavy Woollens

There are limited places to stay in Kasar Devi and accommodation is largely basic but homely and comfortable. The only really five-star hotel here is the Kasar Jungle Resort on Binsar Road, near the Kasaar Devi Temple, 

(05962-251127, 251181). 

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