Are you looking for offbeat places to visit in Uttarakhand for your next holiday? If yes, check out Munsiyari but remember one thing – Munsiyari is not really for everyone. There are no shopping malls, no fancy restaurants, no large markets, no five-star hotels. Even getting here is not easy. Suppose your idea of a vacation is visiting famous tourist places in Uttarakhand like Mussoorie or Nainital. In that case, this sleepy little town might disappoint you. But if you love to visit offbeat destinations and not so crowded places, then Munsiyari will suit you just fine. Surrounded by mighty snow-capped peaks and dense forest, Munsiyari offers natural beauty at its best without asking its visitors to go too remote.
Does it seem like you still want to go to Munsiyari?
Well, if that’s the case, let me share my experience of visiting this quaint tiny hamlet tucked in the hills of Kumaon.
Let’s start with its location.
Where is Munsiyari located?
VO: Munsiyari is located at a distance of 135 kilometres from Pithoragarh, 200 kilometres from Almora and about 600 kilometres from Delhi. It is considered the gateway to the Johar valley of the inner Himalayas. It sits at an ancient trade route between India and Tibet.
It is so close to Nepal and Tibet that, at times, my phone caught their network signal.
Journey – how to reach Munsiyari
You can take different routes to reach Munsiyari. Most people travel via Nanital and Almora, which is about 620 kilometres from Delhi and easily takes around 16-18 hours to cover if driven non-stop. A night halt is a must on this arduous route.
Delhi – Ghaziabad – Amroha – Bazpur – Nainital – Almora – Binsar – Kapkot – Chaukori – Thal – Munsiyari
I took a different route as we spent a few days at our friend’s home in Champawat.
Delhi – Ghaziabad – Moradabad – Sitarganj – Tanakpur – Champawat – Pithoragarh – Thal – Munsiyari
The road was in excellent condition up to Champawat. Still, after that, it became a narrow winding road with too many hairpin bends. But I was not alone on this journey. Mighty rivers such as Kali, Ramganga and Gauri Ganga kept flowing along the route, cutting through towering lush green mountains on both sides. There were not many dhabas or toilet places on the way, so we took breaks at Pithoragarh and Thal.
What to see in Munsiyari
Munsiyari maybe just a tiny hamlet, but there are plenty of places for sightseeing here. Ideally, a week should be enough if you are not going on any long trek.
Here are the must-visit places in Munsiyari:
Before you reach Munsiyari, you’ll come across a place that’s hard to miss and should not be missed at all. Birthi Falls is a huge waterfall located about 35 kilometres from Munsiyari on Munsiyari – Thal road. To reach the waterfall, you will have to leave your vehicle near the KMVN Tourist lodge before the village of Birthi and walk a short and easy trek. The waterfall is surrounded by thick forest and is a popular tourist spot. I took a night halt here.
Tip: Best time to visit is right after the rains – from September to October. I was told it freezes in winters.
As soon as you start nearing Munsiyari, a series of five snow-capped high mountains welcome you. The altitude of the peaks ranges from 6,334 meters (20,781 ft) to 6,904 meters (22,651 ft) and are visible from everywhere in Munsiyari. The word ‘Chuli’ here means Chulha, a cooking hearth. So Panchchuli translates as ‘Panch Chulha’. It is said that this is where the Pandavas cooked their last meal before reaching heaven and hence the name. The imposing peaks are a sight to behold and the greatest attraction of Munsiyari.
Tip: The best view is when the sun comes up from behind the peaks at the time of sunrise.
Nanda Devi Temple
Nanda Devi Temple is dedicated to Goddess Nanda or Parvati and can be reached after an easy trek of 3 kilometres, or you can drive down. Considered one of the oldest and most important Hindu religious sites, it also provides a great view of the peaks. Built on the edge of a cliff, Nanda Devi offers a great panoramic view of the slopes and surrounding mountains. The towering Panchachulli peaks appear even closer from here. The temple area has well-manicured gardens, a small snack shop and an observation tower for obstruction-free views of the valley and Panchachuli peaks.
Tip: Sunset or sunrise is a perfect time to visit Nanda Devi Temple.
Tribal Heritage Museum
Established in 2000 by an esteemed local historian and author, Sher Singh Pangtey, Tribal Heritage Museum is a small cultural private museum. It showcases the history, culture, traditions and lifestyle of the Bhotia people, who are an ethnolinguistic group of people residing in the upper Himalayan valleys of the Kumaon and Garhwal divisions of Uttarakhand.
There are life-like images in the museum throwing light on different aspects of local life and culture like old photos, maps, coins, documents, local utensils, wooden bottles, native dresses and attires and many more.
The story of how this museum was started is as interesting as the artefacts showcased here. In the late 20th century, Dr SS Pangtey noticed that the illiterate village women were taken on a ride by the local hawkers, who would buy expensive brass and copper utensils at throwaway prices. He started collecting those utensils and other artefacts from them and single handily made this museum preserve the local culture and heritage of the region.
Khaliya Top is a mix of many things in Munsiyari. It is an easy trek, viewpoint, a camping ground, a beautiful meadow, and a sunrise point. The meadow is surrounded by snowy peaks and provides a stunning view of the majestic Panchachuli, Rajrambha, Hardeol and Nanda Kot peaks. It is a six kilometres long trail that starts from Balanti Farm and climbs gradually.
Tip: Make sure to carry loads of water and some food to munch. Start as early as possible.
Thamrin Kund, also known as Thamri Tal, is another small lake located about a 3 kilometres long trail from Munsiyari. It is not much of a lake, to be honest, but more of a small pond. The trek, however, is a very scenic one and is worth trying if you had the time. The small lake and the nearby areas are also famous as a natural habitat of Musk deer which can be of interest to wildlife enthusiasts. I was low on time so, I didn’t do the trek.
Tip: If possible, visit it during Sep-oct or May-June for better views.
Saras market is a local women-led Sangathan that sells woollen products, herbs, agricultural products and souvenir items made by the local mountain women from around 10-12 villages. Each product carries the MRP and the name of the person who has made it.
And, if you want to see how those woollies are made, then a quick trip to Darkot is a must. As you enter this tiny hamlet, idyllically situated on Market road, about 6 km from Munsiyari, you are welcomed by a large yellow gate and a long flight of steps descending into the bowels of the mountain.
Handwoven Angora rabbit woollens and pashmina shawls are the specialities of this village. Almost the entire village is engaged in this trade.
Despite spending a week in Munsiyari, I felt it was too little. And, I will return to ski or trek, for which it is renowned.
Where to stay
Kumaun Vikas Mandal’s Guest House was the first hotel I checked into but found it below average for its service, facilities and even views. That’s why I shifted to Hotel Bala Paradise, which was not only cheaper than the KMVN guest house but had better amenities and a more welcoming staff.
Other good places to stay are Hotel Milam Inn and Ark Homestays at Sarmoli Village.
Munsiyari is relatively small in size, and the accommodations are limited, so please book in advance, especially during the long weekends or holiday season.
Best time to visit Munsiyari
Munsiyari looks pretty in every season, but if you crave clear skies and pleasant sunny days with cooler nights, then the months of March-June and mid-September-October are perfect for visiting Munsiyari. This is also an ideal period for trekking in the nearby mountains.
So, what’s your verdict – should you go to Munsiyari or not? Are there any other offbeat places in Uttarakhand that you would recommend to visit?
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