There are some places which, on the first visit, make such an impression that they have to be revisited again, to relive, reconfirm the magic that was woven the first time around; because once is not enough. The love affair that is ignited continues, the embers linger in the memory, waiting to be rekindled.
One such place is Shaama. The first visit had been as part of a trek to the Namik glacier. Each piece & place of that trip had been utterly memorable but the one place that took my breath away was Camp Shaama in the village of Gyandhura. If I had my way I would live on that ‘almost island’ in the mountains for ever. (Like so many horses we can’t ride, so many wishes waiting on the wings…) But since that doesn’t seem possible in the near future I contented myself with a brief break there.
This time we combine it with a visit to the Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary, which is just as well, because staying inside the sanctuary at the Kumaon Mandal rest house is a preview of things to come, for the ‘need to be connected’ big city companions – limited electricity which ensures a perforce weaning off from all gizmos & no running water either to boot. Though the staff is geared to provide the buckets of hot water (Making one feel like a ‘Burra sahib’ of old.) in the otherwise refurbished modern bathrooms (Fancy faucets pour out icy cold water only!) & the rooms are delightfully cozy with their wood paneling, there is no T.V, no room heaters, nada! Just this beautiful silence & deep darkness broken at sunrise by birdsong & the oohs & aahs of an appreciative crowd braving the morning chill on the terrace to see dawn breaking over the mighty peaks on the skyline. The days are spent exploring the various trails through the lush, moist silver oak forest sighting birds & the occasional deer.
So after two days of detoxifying & disconnecting intermittently, one bar less at a time with the world outside, we get out of the sanctuary & set off for Shaama. The drive is leisurely as the roads are surprisingly empty almost. The mystery is solved when we are told that Holi, which is a round the corner, is not a one day affair in the hills & is celebrated in all serious fervor so most people come home for it. We witness a few scenes on the way back, of the ‘seriousness of the affair’, when we cross motley groups of men carrying their local deities around in palanquins, full of merriment & colour. The stragglers in the groups happily lurching around, high on colour & whatever else, trying to keep up as God & men make their way to greet other Gods in this colourful carnival. Thank god mountain folks still walk instead of driving around everywhere!
After Bageshwar we climb up & away on this gentle winding road, through a pine forest & cross the crest to the other side, more or less maintaining altitude now, getting a close view of the Nanda Devi massif peaks, enveloped in pristine white snow at this time of the year. We leave our vehicle at a hamlet & trek the last three odd kms on a narrow path, around this precarious, vertigo inducing corner ( The one speed-breaker enroute to paradise which slows down my steps & ups the heartbeat rate…all for the wrong reasons!) & behold – Camp Shaama, at the far end of the narrow spur that falls down dramatically on three sides into a sea of nothingness. We cross the few simple quintessential village houses set amidst the step fields of green wheat to reach the camp. It is set on this sliver of land seemingly floating so high up that one can barely see the Ramganga flowing down below on the north of the spur. On the east are the peaks near Munsiyari, on the south the world & on the north separated by just this deep narrow valley, the wall of the Nanda Devi massif & the Namik glacier. The dramatic setting offers a stunning almost 360 degree, to-die-for view!
The beauty of the camp lies in it’s simplicity. There is a cookhouse on one side, doling out copious quantities of tea & piping hot pakoras & the most sublime food fresh off the land. A thatched structure has the place of pride right in the middle of the highest field, serving as the dining area & the place for congregating in the evening around a bonfire. A few stone & mud huts, each with a different yet fabulous view, scattered around on the lower fields make up the accommodation. I appreciate the fact that the camp ensures one communes with nature by keeping the facilities snug but simple. To lounge in a room in a locale like this would be a criminal waste. My absolute favourite is the washbasin holding on to the trunk of a tree in the washroom area. I can’t recall there being a mirror because I couldn’t take my eyes of the vista in front of me – the peaks visible through the trees, the birds flitting around the tree tops below…
We spend three days bedding down early, in time with nature’s clock & getting up at the crack of dawn to catch the sunrise & the most peaceful sight – the first rays of the sun casting a glow on the peaks while the deep valley is still in inky darkness. We tramp around the fields startling pheasants into flight, do a day trek to the spur on other side of the village feeling a bit like mountain goats minus the finesse, as we traverse narrow ledges at times. Go down the spine of the spur beyond the camp along a stone wall (Mountain people can give mountain goats a run for their money with their agility at times!) which divides two village lands, collect suspicious looking herbs( Which turn out to be fantastically aromatic but sadly nothing more!) read & soak in the view. The peaks dominate the panoramic setting, each one – Nanda Devi, Nanda Kot seem right there & they are! (Unless you are actually climbing up to them!) We have a run of the camp as it is still early on in the season. In the evening sit around the bonfire with warming drinks, totally disconnected by now from the world as there is no electricity in the camp so no phones! (No portable chargers. That would be cheating!)
No wonder when it is time to head back to the world below from this suspended idyll, the trek to the vehicle seems to get over too fast & the sounds of the phone coming back to life is cold comfort.
Fact File – Camp Shaama is run by Wildrift Adventures.