WHAT CHURDHAR1 is to Himachal, the Butkot massif is to the Kumaon hills. It stands as the highest peak in the Lesser Himalaya between the Ganga and the Kali. Gaze northwest of Almora and you will easily spot the black zone of Butkot with Burha Pinat slightly lower to the east, around 2750 m.
Apart from providing a superb panorama of the Kumaon Great Himalayan snow giants from a deckchair, Kausani possesses a wilderness trail through steep unspoiled jungle to Burha Pinat above the source of the Kosi river. On the way, I have stumbled on sleeping kakkar (barking deer) and been given the right of way by a ghooral (wild goat). It was not safe to be on the trail at night those days because of bears and the occasional leopard. Not that one has to climb to see these wild animals. They come to your backyard if you grow plums, maize or millet (irresistible to a bear) or keep a dog tied out at night. (Without a spiked collar the leopard will take it without a sound). Other animals you will see include the pine marten (another nocturnal caller who fancies both pussycats and honey bees, and the curious flying squirrel). Wild cats and jackals also call into play with your domestic pets. It's fascinating to see a pet dog try to get friendly with a jackal. The latter runs rings round it quite effortlessly. Probably just as well as the lomri is accused by the villagers of carrying the dreaded rabies.
Kausani sits astride the NW-SE watershed from Karnaprayag to Ghat that runs diagonally across Kumaon. The cultivated Someshwar valley to the south and the Garur valley to the north are said to be amongst the most fertile in Central Asia. At 1830 m it was developed as a tea estate by the British Raj and ex-servicemen were re-settled here. Climate and labour was against the tea experiment (the hill tea has an excellent flavour and is worth growing in your own garden). There is still a village near Kausani inhabited by the descendants of the Chinese who were brought in to teach tea cultivation.
Kausani became famous after the visit of Mahatma Gandhi in 1928 when he crusaded against the pernicious system of forced labour. It is said the Mahatma wrote his commentary on the Gita here. Actually he penned the preface.
To the west of Kausani the country is much wilder and steeper. The trail to Pinat and back can be done in a day (if you don't get lost) no only lunch need be carried. In the 1960's I did it half a dozen limes. Pinat rises 910 m above Kausani and has a tiny temple on the lop (Burha Pinat) with mirrors on the roof to catch the sun. I happened to be there when the village widow who had it built was supervising the inaugural puja in 1963. Half way up the mountain is the lower nnd bigger Pinat temple dedicated 200 years ago to Shiva as bowman and gloriously situated on a spur overlooking the snow trident of Trisul. The further west one goes from Kausani the more marked the three prongs of Trisul stand out. It is fascinating to walk from Kumaon to Garhwal and see this mountain's resemblance to Shiva's trident grow by the day.
To get to the lower Pinat temple it is easier to go down the motor road a mile from Kausani to Lasal village and then follow the Kosi upstream ream for three miles. It can be crossed just before the first village on its course. From this point a path climbs up and the villages have built steps some of the way. The temple is at about 2100 m. It is an idyllic spot in thick jungle.
For Burha Pinat there is a track that follows straight and sheer up the ridge, it is usually overgrown and a passage will have to be forced unless a villager has been through with his cattle. (Hill cattle including buffaloes perform some prodigious mountaineering feats). There are two Other ways to reach the top, which affords one of the best view of Kumaon. One is to take the forest path which starts in Someshwar (with points of entry all along the Kosi valley from Chanowda to Lasal) and eliuqs along leisurely for miles at an easy gradient like an old aeroplane trying to gain altitude. The lower parts are all under pine and in May you will have trouble to avoid skidding on the pine needles. Higher the noli lakes over and this means your water problem will also be solved bemuse pine slopes are notoriously dry. Just before the summit cone, there are a few shepherds temporary huts known as khattas. The villagers drive their animals up each year for monsoon grazing, and claim that Iheir forefathers had been doing it, they now have some title to the land. The forest authorities disagree and regularly burn down the settlement. As the huts are rebuilt the next season by felling new timber, the real casualty in this feud is the nation's resources.
From the huts there is a knife-edge traverse over rocks to the summit. If you prefer the bridle path, it involves a wide detour and loss of Height. The path runs down the west face of Pinat to Ganai. Chaukutia is a good day's march away and I am told there is a lake en-route. A branch climbs back up to the ridge on the north side of the summit Cone and disappears in the general direction of Gwaldam and Karnaprayag. This is very wild country indeed and none of the Kausani poachers I Met had ever penetrated that far. From the north it is a short scramble to the summit.
Instead of taking the forest path down from the ridge you can take a goat track along a rocky spur running south west for a mile or more which links the two mountain peaks of Pinat and Butkot, a sort of poor man's Nanda Devi traverse. Butkot is rather bleak and forbidding and the higher oKthe two. It resembles Vesuvius in profile and is not easily accessible. Snow lies in its northern gullies till early May. If you continue the descent beyond Butkot, you come to the temple of Dunagiri. But the Kumaon version sits at 1830 m as compared to the Garhwal village at 3350 m. Tributaries of the Ram ganga rise from Butkot and flow out through Dwarahat, an ancient capital of the region, via Ganai and Masi to water the Corbett National Park. Looking south one faces Ranikhet over pine ranges. Perched midway is the temple of Era Devi which can be reached from Someshwar and is now linked by a motor road.
The best way to reach Burha Pinat is to climb straight up from Kausani and follow the village cattle track beyond Dumlot tea estate. The trick is to keep to the ridge divide. This track follows the steep course of the Kosi up to its source. Half way there is a branch that crosses the Kosi for the lower Pinat temple, but thorn and bamboo thickets have to be penetrated. Anyone desiring a Shipton-Tilman experience can try and hack their way up the bed of the Kosi. It has everything a masochist cares for. According to the villagers it harbours snakes lower down and bears higher up. The official method of escaping from these hazards (if you can remember in time) is to run uphill when chased by a snake and downhill when a bear is after you. Since the area is also infested with a variety of bhuts (ghosts) including the dreaded churail, in the form of an enticing female whose feet point backwards, the poor hiker will have his work out trying to think of which way to run.
Actually one does come across some spooky happenings in the wild and a study of these can be beneficial. Many sophisticated moderns forget that certain aspects of hill religion remain primitive because (as in the case of sacrificing goats) the villager still considers it a practical investment. He is no more superstitious from his point of view than the businessman investing in a blue chip company.
The greatest delight on the climb to Burha Pinat is reserved for the end. One suddenly enters a dark, hushed cypress forest with glorious ragged cliffs to set it off. The col and fragrance act as a balm after the long hot climb and no more stately backdrop for a snow view could be found.
Under the summit cone on the northern side are also a few shepherd's huts. The bark of the chained Bhotia dogs resounds through the trees to the top where it is drowned by the ringing of the cluster of temple bells, an exhilarating climax to a great day's walk, or rather scramble. It is difficult to tear oneself away from the view which is even more spectacular than that from Binsar. One seems to be floating in the cockpit of an airship. Somehow the looming problems one felt at sea level cease to agitate the mind and one sees life for an instant as the Almighty always sees it, as an unfolding of a grand design. If you stand back and see how certain thoughts always follow the same direction you understand that everything will continue to be'inevitable until the thinker changes. Fortunately for our neighbours, these bouts of omniscience only last for as long as one is seated on the summit.
16. View south from east ridge of Panch Chuli II (6904 m). Article 7
17. ‘Bhrigu Pathar’ (6038 m) as seen from lower Bhrigupanth glacier. The route takes the pillar on the left side of the blank white wall. Article 9 (lan Dring)
18. High on northeast face of Bhrigupanth with Meru and Kedardome behind. Article 9 (Martin Welch)
Getting down can be done in half the time but I wouldn't recommend taking any short cuts you are not certain of. It's terribly easy to lose the trail and large tracts of this jungle are miles from human habitation. 1 once tried to glissade down on dry leaves and though I got home In record time felt distinctly queazy at the end of it. The local ayurvedic doctor diagnosed a displaced navel and promptly massaged it back to dead center! Once I miscalculated my timings (the sun is a much better friend in need then a watch) and nearly got benighted on Pinat. Somehow I managed to stumble down in the dark to the river where I thought my feet knew the way. I ended up in a field of head-high nettles. Even Ihis electrifying discovery could not take away the memory of the cypress clad cliffs on Burha Pinat looking out on to the floating majesty of the Greater range, with Nanda Devi riding high amidst her royal retainers.
A delightful scramble amidst the lower Himalaya, in Kumaon to Burha.