Tibetan market and revisiting the lakeshore Naina Devi Temple, I felt I owned the town with its fresh rainwashed air.
I also drove out to explore. This is India’s lake district after all. Most tal [lakes] are named for gods, goddesses and heroes of the epics: Ram, Sita, Hanuman and Bhim. My favourite is the nine-cornered Naukuchia Tal, covered with lotuses at one corner, and rumoured to be lucky or unlucky (depending on which local legend you favour), if you manage to see all nine corners at the same time. The more remote Garud or Panna Tal lies still and deeply green, bordered by dense oak woods and with a peaceful Christian ashram on its shores. “I love to swim and fish there,” says Manoj Mehra, a high-altitude trekker, who manages a few beautiful properties in Mukteshwar further up the district.
Don’t miss exploring the Uttarakhand governor’s summer retreat, one of the few Raj Bhawans open to the public. It seemed an inordinate expanse of grounds and woods reserved for someone who isn’t even there most of the year, but on a positive note it is also a protected area where rare plants, trees and birds thrive.
Stay in the district’s heritage cottages in the middle of fruit orchards at Ramgarh or go on to the heights of Mukteshwar overlooking the great peaks of Trishul, Panchachuli and Nanda Devi. From here, walk to the PWD bungalow that used to be hunter-conservationist Jim Corbett’s base in the Kumaon, or, as I did, look down from the craggy cliffs of Chauli ki Jaali. These are wild places where leopards still roam free and mountain shrines to Shiva stand against some of the most magnificent mountainscapes in the world.
Arunachala, Tamil Nadu
Sacred Mount Arunachala rises as a single isolated cone in the middle of a barren plain. The temple town of Tiruvannamalai rests in its shadow. Dev Gogoi, photographer and former Mumbai journalist, who started out as a tea taster from Assam, is one who finally made his home here. As with other devotees who have studied the life of the spiritual master Ramana Maharishi (1879-1950), whose ashram grew beside the mountain, Gogoi too found himself “turned inside out” by the “Red Mountain.”
“The Arunachaleswarar Temple here is massive and there are festivities all year round, culminating on Karthikai Deepam festival when lakhs assemble,” says Gogoi. “If Kailash is said to be the abode of Shiva, Arunachala represents Shiva himself, an infinite column of light.”
Gogoi, who has photographed and published his book on the many moods of the mountain, has been actively involved in the movement to “green” Arunachala. He’ll tell you that as more trees are replanted, nature seems to be taking over the job: “Rainfall has improved, there are multitudes of birds, and the deer and monkeys are back.” Besides the 14-kilometre pradakshina of the mountain undertaken on Mahashivaratri, full moon days and other auspicious occasions, visitors are permitted to scale the peak. “As I climbed, I sensed veins of crystals, which are very strong earth energies,” claims Mumbai-based
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