As the road begins to snake up to the Pindar River Basin from Tharali, the lush aroma of the woods fills the air. Villages appear sporadically amid lush fields of wheat and bright red amaranthus. In distant northern horizon, you can see a forest of rhododendrons and oaks, and beyond them the mighty Trishul, Maiktoli and Nanda Ghunti peaks. Before you know it, you’re at the top of the ridge and closing in on the tiny hamlet of Gwaldam.

THINGS TO SEE AND DO

Gwaldam is spread over 6 sq km, over a forested hill. The Bhagwati Temple, the few hotels and the market all lie at the crossroads of the town. The Border Security Force training facility stretches over a vast area in the upper part of town. This gives Gwaldam a canton ment feel, while still pretty remnants of the Raj, such as the Forest Rest House, evoke nostalgia for a bygone era.

Walks Out of Benatoli

There are three excellent, not too challenging walks, all of which begin at Benatoli. To get there, drive back down the road towards Tharali, and 3 km out of Gwaldam, you will see a road going left. This is the Benatoli Campus Road going to Benatoli. As you drive in you will see the Bhim Patthar rock. Legend goes that the Pandava Bhim kicked a rock at Badhangarhi, which fell at this spot with his footprints imprinted on it. From here, a 1-hr/2-km forested trail uphill leads to the ridge-top Badhangarhi (7,415 ft). Equally revered by both Kumaonis and Garhwalis, the Kali shrine here is full of bells strung by devotees. Of the 52 garhs of petty chieftains in Garhwal, Badhangarhi was the last stronghold. Remnants of old fort walls can be seen above the temple.

Two paths lead from Benatoli up to Agyari Mahadev. The right fork is a 4-km foray into the ridge-top forest to this ancient Shiva shrine. The left fork affords gentler access. Another two-hour trail from Benatoli due southeast takes you to the hilltop shrine of Gwaldam Nag, which gives the town its name. The views from here are worth the effort.

Ahtushi
Bodh Mandir and Chorten at Baghtoli, Gwaldam
Bodh Mandir and Chorten at Baghtoli, Gwaldam

Bodh Mandir, Baghtoli

The Bhotia settlement at Baghtoli dates to the late 1950s. The Bodh Mandir gompa here was built in 1989. The sanctum is lined with statues of various incarnations of the Buddha. A narrow staircase leads to the rooftop from where you can see the vast expanse of the valley.

Machhi Tal

Hidden in a nook in the ridge along a stream 9 km out of Gwaldam on the road to Debal, Machhi Tal came up in 1928, when the British bred fish here for personal consumption. Now run as a fish production farm by the state government, this tranquil spot amidst thick forests makes for a lovely picnic spot.

WHERE TO STAY AND EAT

The Raj-era Forest Bungalow (DFO Badrinath Tel: 01372-252175; Tariff: 300-1,500), set by a small lake, has fabulous views of the Himalayas.

Nature’s Treat Resort (Tel: 01363-274389; Tariff: 1,500-2,200) is the best private option. All rooms have balconies with views of the Himalaya and the Pindar Valley. Nature’s Treat’s sister concern Trishul Guest House (Tariff: 200-800) offers basic rooms, and has an old-world charm. The GMVN TRH (Tel: 274244; Tariff: 300-860) is located right atop the busy market.

Midpoint in the market serves snacks and sweets, while the line of dhabas in the tiny market square have basic north-Indian meals.

When to go Any time except the late winter months Location At 6,340 ft, overlooking the valley of the Pindar river, on the southern edge of Garhwal’s Chamoli District Air Nearest airport: Dehradun Rail Nearest rail: Kathgodam, Haridwar

 

THE INFORMATION

Chamba

GMVN

Tourist Bungalow

Chamba

Tel: 01376-255245

STD code 01376

Gwaldam

GMVN

Tourist Rest House

Gwaldam. Tel: 01363-274244

Cell: 09568006660

STD code 01363

Munsiyari

KMVN

Tourist Rest House

Munsiyari

Tel: 05961-222339

Cell: 07534001701

STD code 05961

Askot

KMVN

Tourist Rest House

Pithoragarh. Cell: 08650002538

STD code 05964

Binsar WLS

Wildlife Warden

Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary

Range Office, Ayarpani

Cell: 09412928289

DFO

Civil Soyam Forest Division

Almora. Tel: 05962-230229

KMVN

Binsar. Cell: 08650002537

STD code 05962

THE INFORMATION

Ramgarh

KMVN

Tourist Reception Centre

Ramgarh. Tel: 05942-281155

STD code 05942

Nandhaur WLS

Divisonal Forest Office

Haldwani Forest Division

Tikonia Campus. Tel: 05946-220002

Nandhaur WLS SDO

Cell: 09411076337

STD code 05946