Some 54km from Pithoragarh, the district’s busy commercial centre in the Soar Valley, Askot is located on the Goriganga-Kali river divide and falls on the way to Dharchula, the starting point for the annual Kailash-Manasarovar pilgrimage.
The ridge on which the tiny town of Askot sits, skirts surviving forests and tribal habitation, a part of which has – at least on paper – been designated as the Askot Musk Deer Sanctuary. But indiscriminate mining and large hydroelectric projects on the River Kali have changed the character of the mountain habitat that was once home to the snow leopard, musk deer and many other creatures and vegetation that constitutes its unique bio-system.
Yet despite these problems, this region of Uttarakhand is stunningly beautiful. The Himalayan ranges that unfold before the visitor, the cascading waterfalls that playfully descend the slopes, the frothy ferociousness of the River Kali rushing to meet the Goriganga – all make for an unforgettable sensation of being reduced to a mere pebble in the vast and mighty kingdom of nature.
The best way to explore the region around the Askot-Dharchula belt is to set base at Askot or its nearby town, Didihat (approx 28km from Askot). Both towns offer comfortable and accessible forest rest houses.
Along the road to Kailash
Around 19km from Askot in the narrow valley where the Goriganga and Kali rivers meet, lies Jauljibi, a place venerated for the merging of the two mighty mountain rivers. From here the road forks, left for Munsiyari, right for Dharchula and Narayan Swamy Ashram.
The 48-km journey from Askot to Dharchula is full of surprises. As one climbs from Jauljibi, the thickly forested road suddenly bursts into a wide barren mountain corridor. You become aware of the mighty River Kali that roars into existence below. And that here it’s India and across the river, Nepal. The road from here snakes through mountains and waterfalls before gently descending to Balwakot. At this point you are at eye level with the Kali River. At the
end of the road is Dharchula, a large town, home to the Border Security Force and mining companies. It offers several budget stay options besides the KVMN rest house, which
overlooks the suspension bridge between India and Nepal. You can visit the village across the river.
Dharchula to Narayan Swamy Ashram is only 44km, but the metal road ends halfway into the journey at Tawaghat. It’s a good idea to hire a jeep from Dharchula for the ashram.
Turn left from Tawaghat for the dirt track to Sabla and continue on an upward climb to Narayan Swamy Ashram. Set up by Mangalorean sadhu Swamy Narayan in the 1930s,
the ashram is situated in a beautiful field of flowers on a mountain terrace that affords amazing views of the Panchachuli mountain range. The ashram provides educational and
medical facilities to the Bhotia community and stay and meals to pilgrims. It’s possible for tourists to stay a couple of days here.
Kumaon’s third largest city is the launching pad for treks to the sacred Kailash Manasarovar Lake in Tibet, to Milam Glacier and the Darma Valley, and is an important base for the Indian Armyas Pithoragarh is a border area. Carry good boots and trek around the mountains here.
In the city is the hilltop Pithoragarh Fort, built by the Gorkhas when they took over the town in 1789. Chandak (8km) is a beautiful hill from where you get the best view of the Himalayas. The locals strongly believe in the Manu Temple here.
There is also an excuse of a reserved forest named Pithoragarh Banya Udyan and a small golf course.
WHERE TO STAY AND EAT
Both Askot and Didihat provide the basic two-bedroom Forest Rest House accommodation options, plus a caretaker who doubles up as a cook and can dish up pretty decent meals for a tip. The Askot FRH located on the periphery of the sanctuary, has two rooms. However, it was not operational at the time of research. Hotel Mall Palace has 20 bright, airy rooms withattached baths and a multi-cuisine restaurant. Askotias Himalayan Guest House is another place to stay. In Didihat, the Forest Rest House is 5km outside the town, and also has two rooms. The Dharchula KMVN Tourist Rest House has 21 rooms, two dorms and a restaurant. KMVN’s Ulka Devi Tourist Rest House has its own restaurant.
Many basic hotels crowd around the bus stand. There are enough makeshift dhabas in the entire region for meals. They serve up a fairly spicy treat that usually includes a potato vegetable, rajma or black dal and chana, besides the Kumaoni specialty – mustard and
gourd raita. Pithoragarh’s main market has quite a few small joints, serving simple local food. Some also serve Chinese food.
The most viable option to get to Askot from Delhi is by road, because of the sheer distance from the nearest railhead at Kathgodam. The 16-hr drive from Delhi should be covered over two days. Follow the route from Delhi to Rampur on NH24 and NH9 till Rudrapur. At the circle in Rudrapur, turn right onto the road that cuts through the Terai of Udham Singh
Nagar to get to Khatima via Kichha. At Khatima, turn left to Tanakpur and continue up till Ghat via Sukhidang, Champawat and Lohaghat. At Ghat, turn right for Askot, via Pithoragarh.
When to Go
During the summer. Winter offers the best views, but poor wildlife sightings.