Tranquility, spirituality, and glimpses of the Himalayas at Kasar Devi, a quaint hamlet in Uttarakhand
You may or may not reach a state of permanent bliss or spiritual enlightenment at Kasar Devi, although the hamlet offers you plenty of opportunities to do so, but you will certainly be greeted with magnificent views of Nanda Devi, Nanda Kot, Trishul and the Himalayan range all the way to Panchachuli.
There are three places on earth that are believed to be passing through the Van Allen Belt, a giant zone of highly charged particles trapped in the Earth’s magnetic field. Kasar Devi, a quaint hamlet in the Uttarakhand district of India, is one of them.
The powerful electromagnetic field created by cosmic rays and solar wind make Kasar Devi perfect for meditation. From Vivekananda to Bob Dylan, Kasar Devi is no stranger to famous personalities who have visited and lived here time and again to enjoy solitude, practice meditation, and seek spiritual freedom.
To know such a place exists in my home country and not visit it would be a real shame! So, following a meditation retreat in Rishikesh, I braced myself for one full day of travel to reach Kasar Devi.
Twinkling stars, sunrise yoga, and breakfast with a view
After a 5-hour train delay followed by a 5-hour train ride and then another 4-hour car journey on winding mountain roads, I finally made it to Kasar Devi. The owner of the hotel called me multiple times to ensure my safety, since I was travelling solo.
At 10 pm, I fiddled with the keys in my icy cold hands and finally entered my hotel room. A clear sky and countless twinkling stars greeted me on the balcony. After setting up my room, I pulled the heater close to me and tried to zone out for the night. The 1-degree Celcius temperature did not help. I found myself twisting & turning for a while before I could rest easy.
Morning was a different story altogether. The sun shone bright over the hills and made it all the way to my balcony. After a short session of Yoga practice, I walked over to Mohan’s cafe and treated myself to a wonderful breakfast while soaking in the sunshine and mountain views. I knew right then and there that this was going to be my ritual for the next few days.
Diving headfirst into existential questions at Ramakrishna Kutir
Around 10 km away from Kasar Devi lies the nearest town, Almora. At Almora, Ramakrishna Kutir, a peaceful ashram overlooking the hills, was established in 1916 with the idea of allowing nature to come to the aid of a true meditator, where dhyana (meditation) is no more an effort to make but a natural consequence of being in such a place.
Stepping through the gates I found myself inexplicably sucked into their library, almost like a magnet pulled towards iron. The library opened at 3 pm and I was among the first few guests waiting to enter.
The librarian turned out to be from my hometown, Kolkata. He took the opportunity to converse with me in Bengali and showed me how he had organized the books. He was surprised I was here during peak winter. Bengalis, after all, don’t deal with cold weather very well!
Heaps of interesting books at the intersection of spirituality, religion, and science adorned the bookshelves of the library. Without realizing, I had already spent an hour flipping through books that explore the nature of human consciousness and aim to answer the deepest of existential questions. Getting sucked into this vortex is rather easy, so I had to deliberately pull myself out of it to carry on with my day.
As I bid farewell to the kind librarian, he informed me that Ramakrishna Kutir also has guest rooms that visitors can stay in and pay as much as they wish to. Especially in the summer months, this may be a great idea for budget travellers or for folks looking to enjoy the peaceful ambience of the ashram while tapping on the knowledge stored in the library.
A sunset worth the buck
Staying till late in the town of Almora has one tiny issue. No transport is available to return to Kasar Devi after 3 pm (ish) onward. Typically, public transport is non-existent around the area but sometimes it’s possible to get shared taxis that take you from Almora to Kasar Devi. However, after 3-3.30 pm, the chances of getting one tend to zero. Booking a private taxi or driving is your only way. After a bit of negotiation, I settled at a rate of 700 rupees with a taxi driver who agreed to pick me up at 5.30 pm from Ramakrishna Kutir. All of this arrangement so that I could stay here until sunset.
You can catch the sunset right outside Ramakrishna Kutir at the Almora Bright End Corner gate. At 5 pm, as the sun started to move towards the horizon and the sky turned into hues of orange, I knew I had made the right call.
Peace and chaos at Kasar Devi temple
On my second day here, I decided to take a leisurely stroll to the famous Kasar Devi temple. It’s about a 10-15 minute walk from Mohan’s cafe.
If there is one place in Kasar Devi where you can go to feel the impact of the Van Allen Belt, it is the Kasar Devi temple. But leave it to humans to create chaos even in the most peaceful places.
Despite a few tourists shouting and causing unnecessary havoc, once I stepped inside the temple and sat down, my mind was calm. I gently closed my eyes, completely aware that another human being had just stepped into the hall to quietly sit down beside me and perhaps meditate.
The chaos of the outside world faded away slowly. Another interesting thing happened. I felt as though my mind was refusing to permit the entry of any negative thoughts, although I had been carrying remnants of such thoughts with me just moments prior. Now, was this a placebo effect? Who knows! But if it accomplishes the desired outcome, does it even matter?
Mindful that I was occupying one of the only two seats within the tiny temple, I reopened my eyes and stepped out of the temple to explore the surrounding areas.
The monks who have been meditating for over 3 years
I had read about Drikung Kagyu Meditation Centre but Google Maps pointed me to nothing other than an empty road. Luckily, the universe takes you where you need to go. As I was walking back to my hotel from Kasar Devi temple, I found a signboard of the Drikung Kagyu Meditation Centre and followed it.
Other than two hyperactive and adorable dogs who greeted me at the gate, there was no one around. As I explored the area, a monk appeared and told me I couldn’t go downstairs but he would open the main hall for me.
The hall was as dusty as they come. Later, I found out that it was to be renovated soon. While chatting with the monk, I inquired what this centre really is for. “10 monks are currently meditating downstairs. They have been doing so for the last 3+ years.” – he said. Meditation as well as other Tibetan Buddhist practices were part of this 3+ year spiritual journey. The monks are not allowed to leave the centre, so he arranges food for everyone.
The centre isn’t really meant for visitors per se, he informed me. I thanked him for his time and he wished me well on my journey with a gentle smile.
Mesmerized by the Himalayas at Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary
When you are at Kasar Devi, the Himalayas greet you every morning. But I wanted to witness the entire Himalayan range in all its glory. So I decided to spend my third day exploring Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary.
My first piece of advice here would be: Don’t skip this, no matter who says what. This is where you can witness unblocked views of the Himalayan range and enjoy serene trail walks. It’s also famous among bird watching enthusiasts!
Second piece of advice: Hire an experienced guide and of course a car to take you there. While Zero Point is known to be the main viewpoint, the real hidden gem is Hunter Rock. Most guides won’t take you here but I was truly fortunate to find a highly experienced guide and a wanderer at heart who took me all the way to Hunter Rock.
Mesmerized, I stared at the Himalayan range for a good few minutes before taking out my camera.
While strolling back through the lush green forests, my guide, Deepak, joyfully imparted free flowing knowledge about oak, pine and Rhododendron trees, tips for dealing with leopard or bear encounters, and history of the sanctuary.
Did you know oak trees release fresh water which can be stored and used for drinking and cooking purposes? And Rhododendron trees are always tilted and the Rhododendron juice is known to lower blood pressure and bad cholesterol?
Time passed quickly while listening to Deepak’s stories and trivia, and before I knew it, we had come to the end of our trail.
Deepak insisted that I take a 2-3 week vacation in the future to stay with him and his family. He lives in a nearby village and cultivates the majority of what they eat at his farm. He promised to show me around all the nearby villages and take me for lesser known hikes around the area. I promised to stay in touch and hopefully return someday to take him up on his offer.
A cup of Pahadi Tea and Osho’s thoughts on Hasidism
One of the joys of being in tiny villages like Kasar Devi is the slow pace of life. Staying true to this pace, I spent the afternoon in a nearby cafe sipping a cup of Pahadi tea (tea with a side dish of solid jaggery) as recommended by the owner.
If a view of the Himalayas and the warm winter sunshine wasn’t joyful enough, a book of Osho from the cafe’s mini library, certainly did the trick!
Osho is shrouded in controversy but I urge you to go beyond the Netflix documentary and pick up some of his books. You may or may not agree with his thoughts but I assure you his writings will get you contemplating!
Final thoughts on Kasar Devi
“Why do you wonder that globe-trotting does not help you, seeing that you always take yourself with you?” – Socrates
The Stoics figured out early on that no matter where you go, you take your thoughts, burdens, and whimsical nature with you. You can’t escape yourself but you can try to understand yourself.
The journey to self-realization is not location dependent but some places offer you an ideal mix of ingredients conducive to this journey. Spellbinding views of the Himalayas, a highly charged energy zone, and readily available knowledge in the form of books from self-realized masters — Kasar Devi offers all these and much more.
After spending a few days here, my heart sank on the morning of my departure. And right then, almost as if to cheer me up, the magnificent Himalayas appeared from behind the clouds and glimmered as the rays of the sun hit its peaks. I smiled, knowing I had arrived.
I thanked Kasar Devi for all the beautiful experiences and for welcoming a solo female traveller like me with open arms. And with that, I bid farewell to the land that had once drawn hippies, spiritual souls, wanderers, and even today continues to attract curious souls from India as well as foreign lands.
Some practical information for travelling to Kasar Devi
How to get to Kasar Devi
The closest airport is Pantnagar at a distance of 124 km. Most people choose to arrive by train at Kathgodam station and take a pre-hired taxi to Kasar Devi. There are direct trains from Delhi and other cities to Kathgodam. The drive from Kathgodam to Kasar Devi takes about 4 hours.
You can ask your homestay/hotel owner to arrange a taxi for you or refer to the ones I have outlined in the following section.
Where to stay in Kasar Devi
I had a delightful stay at Mohan’s Binsar Retreat. The owner, Mohan, and all the staff looked after me like family. They offer two properties next to each other.
The Mudhouses, which are cheaper, come with a small kitchen, and a balcony with a direct view of the hills. I paid about 2600 rupees per night for these rooms and spent 3 nights here.
The other is the main property and comes with a variety of room options. These are slightly fancier and more expensive. I stayed for 2 nights at the Kilmora room and paid a slightly discounted price of 6400 rupees per night which also included luxurious spreads of breakfast and dinner. You can contact Mohan at +91 7830599986.
Other than Mohan’s Binsar Retreat, you can check out Rudra Himalayan Retreat (contact: +91 9557030470), Kasar Himalayan Heights (Satya’s), The Ghughuti Homestay (contact:+91 9084489149), Kasar Jungle Resort (contact: 9837855065), Ganga Homestay (962751312), Ramakrishna Kutir (contact: 094103-92324), ALhito Cafe & Resorts (contact: +91 7830244442), Heart of Travelers (HOTS) Hostel (contact: +91 9795052484), New Dolma Hotel/Guesthouse, Star and Pines Hostel (contact: +91 9560539369).
Do remember to ask about heater and running hot water if you visit during peak winter. Don’t take these for granted while travelling around Himalayan villages.
Tour guide and taxi information for Kasar Devi, Almora, and Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary
- Guide for visiting Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary – Deepak, + 91 9410121549
- Taxi – Ranjit, 7088155006
- Taxi – Mohan, 8860050738
While Kasar Devi is accessible throughout the year, if you are planning your visit during Monsoons, it’s best to get in touch with the locals for the road and weather conditions as the mountains become prone to landslides.
Visiting in winter is perfectly feasible. In fact, I visited during the first week of January and I was blessed with bright sunshine each day. By 3-4 pm, it begins to get cold and after sunset, it is too cold to be outside unless you have a strong reason behind it.
Do note that Kasar Devi used to get snow towards the end of December and early January. But due to climate change, this year, it didn’t receive any snowfall even until mid-Jan.
Other tips for visiting Kasar Devi:
- While at Almora, try these famous sweets – Bal mithai and Singori.
- While at Kasar Devi, try some Pahadi tea, Bhatt Ki Daal, Pahadi Chicken, and Madua Ka Paratha
- Aimlessly walk around the nearby villages and soak in the vibe. Take a trip to the Math village and Kalimath.
- Start your day early. Rise with the sun because once the sun sets, the bone-chilling wind will restrict your activities anyway.
- And finally, slow down, let go, and rejoice. Ultimately, that’s what brings wandering souls to Kasar Devi.