I reached Van Serai on a Friday afternoon in October (though you can visit the lodge any time of the year). As advised by Asian Adventures, I took a train from Delhi to Kathgodam and then reached Jageshwar via a taxi. They however, also provide direct taxi service from Delhi to VAn Serai. Since I enjoy train journeys, I chose the former. The route from Almora to Jageshwar was adorned with beautiful canopy of Deodar trees.
The taxi dropped me right in near Van Serai, and after a short hike, I reached the lodge. The lodge sits atop a hill, surrounded by towering Deodar trees, which look like gigantic pillars supporting the firmament. From my first glance at the lodge, I could tell I had chosen wisely. Built in the traditional Kumaoni style of architecture, the lodge exudes rustic beauty and comfort.
I was warmly greeted by the lodge staff before being escorted to my room. After having rested a while, I went outside to enjoy the greens. The sheer serenity that engulfs this place is unbelievable. The only sounds I could hear were of birds chirping and a creek gurgling in the distance. It was my first visit to the place but it felt like home. I realised something very important in that moment. We might have built sky high buildings in the cities that challenge the clouds, but the true feeling of being at home could only be felt in the lap of nature.
I was taking a little stroll around the lodge when my stomach started growling, and I realised I was hungry. Cafe Swayambhu is a restaurant inside the lodge that serves traditional Kumaoni delicacies and Sattvik food. The food was so delicious that by the time I was done eating I barely had any space left for air. Talk about a balanced diet!
The remainder of the day was spent exploring the 2500-year-old Shiva Temple complex. It is said to be one of the oldest structures of the country built in stone masonry. It also houses one the 12 Jyotirlingas of Lord Shiva. The complex houses a total of 124 temples, each one having a unique story to tell. Pandit Sri Girish Chandra Bhatt told me, it is believed that the 108 Shiva Lingas that exist in the complex came into being on their own, and temple complex was later built around them by the Pandavas. I talked to many other Pundits there and each one had a unique take on the origin story, and all of them seemed to come together somehow. What’s even more fascinating than the aesthetics is the aura of the temple.
The sight of sunlight dancing on the temple floor, the sounds of temple bells ringing intermittently and the quaint ambience of the temple transports you to a different space altogether and you feel the presence of divine. After paying homage to Lord Shiva, I returned to the lodge, feeling fresh and recharged, and before I knew, it was dinner time! I exercised caution this time and ate in moderation. After a rather moderated yet sumptuous meal I went to sleep.
I woke up next morning to the sound of pouring rain, no office, no chores, no worries. It had been a long time since I’d felt this happy waking up. I even thought about quitting my job and settling in the hills forever, but saner thoughts prevailed. Eventually, the rain stopped and I asked Bhuvan, lodge manager cum guide to take me to Jhankar Saim, as I’d heard a lot about the place, especially from him. It took us about an hour to get to the temple, walking through the mud path covered with a canopy of trees. The view from the summit was every bit worth the effort it took us to get there.After resting a while, we walked back to the lodge, which was a relatively easier task. Lunch was ready upon my return to the lodge, and I had a hearty meal after which I went for a walk to the nearby creek, known as the Jataganga. I spotted many different species of birds as I sat by the creek. Only Verditer Flycatcher was more beautiful than Red-billed blue Magpie, while Brown Dipper and Plumbeous Redstart also made for great sightings. I enjoyed those beautiful sights while dipping my feet in the chilling waters, and to answer your question, yes, I did catch a cold, but it was totally worth it.
I asked Bhuvan if he can arrange a bonfire and he was more than happy to oblige. I enjoyed listening to his stories about Jageshwar and its mysteries as we sat by the fire enjoying Chai and Pakoras. One I found most fascinating was about a stream called Jataganga that flows close to the lodge. He told me it is named Jataganga because the place of origin of the stream is guarded by an old tree whose roots seem to appear like Jatas (braids) of Lord Shiva and since the origin of the river Ganga is closely associated with him, the stream gets its name Jataganga. He also told me that it is believed that initially, instead of water, milk flowed in the stream, but because a Sadhu made Kheer (rice pudding) from that milk and ate it without doing bhog (offering it) to Lord Shiva, the milk turned to water. I was so engrossed in the story that I completely lost track of time and forgot that I was supposed to leave the next day. Do not miss out on Bhuvan’s stories if you ever visit Van Serai.
It was one of the most memorable trips ever, and I found what I was looking for. A home! I recommend everyone to visit this beautiful place at least once in their lifetime to realise the true potential of nature.