#TravelTales: Exploring the Kumaoni Village Where Bob Dylan, George Harrison and Nehru Vacationed

hidden jewel in the crown of Uttarakhand, the small and peaceful village of Kasar Devi has everything that makes it a perfect getaway for backpackers – budget friendly homestays, friendly locals, a mellow vibe and spectacular Himalayan views.

Located in the district of Almora, Kasar Devi is majestically perched on the edge of a ridge on the Almora Bageshwar highway that winds its way through the Kashyap hills.

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The little hill-top village became known as a spiritual centre when Swami Vivekananda meditated here in the 1890s and wrote about his experiences in his diary. The search for all things spiritual continued well into the 1930s, with many travellers and mystics visiting and settling down in this quiet village.

Among them were the famous Danish mystic Sunyata Baba (Alfred Sorensen), Tibetan Buddhist Lama Angarika Govinda, American poet Allen Ginsberg, American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan and English musician George Harrison, to name a few. Walter Evans-Wentz, a student of Tibetan Budhism and the translator of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, also stayed here for some time. Bibliophiles will be interested to know that D. H. Lawrence, author of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, too sought spiritual and creative inspiration at Kasar Devi.

Just outside the village of Kasar Devi is a pine-covered ridge area called the Hippie Hill by locals. The place got its other name, Crank’s Ridge, ever since the infamous American psychologist Timothy Leary streaked on the ridge in the 1960s during the peak of the hippie movement.

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Crank’s Ridge

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Perhaps the most popular spot on the hippie trail, Crank’s Ridge gets its fame from the legend that an alleged gap in the Van Allen Belt above the ridge makes it especially conducive for meditative and transcendental experiences.

In 1938, compelled by his love for Kumaon, classical dance maestro Uday Shankar set up his dance academy, the Uday Shankar Indian Cultural Centre, at nearby Simtola.

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Simtola

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During his extended stay here from 1936 to 1942, he invented a unique dance form that was a cross between Indian classical dance and the famous local ballet – Kumaoni Ramlila. He also carried out a number of experiments in classical dance and music with his troupe that included two celebrated Bollywood personalities – Guru Dutt and Zohra Sehgal.

About 13 kilometres north of Kasar Devi, Binsar’s tranquil forests of oak and deodar also inspired Italian writer Tiziano Terzani’s most memorable work The End is My Beginning. Diagnosed with stomach cancer, Terzani moved into a small cottage in the wilderness of Binsar in order to meditate and work on his books for a few years.


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Jawaharlal Nehru vacationed in Kasar Devi and Binsar too. He used to stay at his sister Vijaylaxmi Pandit’s Khali Estate, from where he would often ride on horseback to the Almora house of philanthropist Harkishen Lal Shah Gangola to play badminton.

One of Kasar’s many claims to fame is the ancient Kasar Devi temple.

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The Kasar Devi Temple

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The temple, which hails from 2nd century CE, is in the spotlight every Kartik Poornima when the vibrant Kasar Devi Fair comes to town. Further up from this temple is the 8th century Shiva temple, located at the highest point in the region. With a stunning panoramic view of the Hawabagh plateau and the five snow-capped peaks of Panchachuli, this temple is a must-visit.

Here are the top 5 offbeat things to do when in Kasar Devi.

1. Trek, walk, just move those legs – lots of lovely routes close by.

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2.Take a dip in the lovely, gurgling pool formed by the Kosi River in the valley

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3. Witness the mystical break of dawn amidst the Himalayas at Bright End Corner

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4. Go birdwatching in the verdant Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary

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5. Visit the serene forest temple of Jageshwar Mahadev in the Jataganga river valley

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How to reach Kasar Devi

One can reach Kasar Devi by taking a flight to the nearest airport which is at Pantnagar and the nearest railhead which is Kathgodam. From Kathgodam, take a bus to Almora and then take a shared cab or hire a private taxi for Kasar Devi. Buses to Almora can also be boarded from ISBT Kashmiri Gate in Delhi.  If you are driving, Almora is just 380 Kms away from Delhi.

What to Eat:

The English and Israeli breakfast at Mohan Cafe, Kumaoni delicacies and amazing pizzas at Rainbow Restaurant and delectable German pastries at Baba Cake.

Further reading here.


Also Read: This Little Known Himalayan Village Was the Much-Loved Summer Retreat of Rabindranath Tagore


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