The Hill Station Hindi Literature’s First Jnanpith Winner Grew Up In

Kausani in Uttarakhand, where its bard Sumitranandan Pant was born and brought up, promises stargazing experiences, a temple trail and a poetic immersion into Kumaon.

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Dubbed ‘Switzerland of India’ by Mahatma Gandhi, Kausani has so far managed to escape the tourist onslaught of the 2010s.

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Nearly a century after Mahatma Gandhi proclaimed Kausani—a scenic village in Kumaon with a long tryst with history and mythology—the Switzerland of India, guidebooks, tourism pamphlets and foundation stones continue to abide by the epithet. Not many know—or care enough to remember—that Kausani was also where the doyen of India’s own Romantic Poets, Sumitranandan Pant was born. Every once in a while, a literature student or a fanatical liberal arts buff heading further north to Munsiyari, makes a pit stop here and decides to visit the poet laureate’s former home.

Now converted into an unostentatious museum with a docent, and named Sumitranandan Pant Gallery, this is an important landmark in the middle of a somewhat busy street. Preserving the poet’s last personal effects including items of clothing and objects from his study as well as his eclectic collection of tomes from Shakespeare to Stanislavsky, the museum’s terrace allows an expansive view of the Panchachuli massif. One’s reminded of Pant’s poem “Parvat Pradesh Mein Pavas”, where he describes a mountain studying its reflection in the lake with the wildflowers that have now turned its numberless eyes. In April-May, when the rhododendron trees are in full bloom, the Buransh Mahotsav, a local spring festival, is organised by residents in collaboration with local entrepreneurs and distinguished Uttarakhandis such as food historian Pushpesh Pant, who graced the event in 2019.

Lying two hours north of Almora, with the majestic Panchachuli peaks overlooking its lazy sprawl, Kausani has a bard but is no Lake District. Unlike its other peers in the region, this sleepy hamlet has escaped the tourist onslaught of the 2010s, thanks in part to the absence of a lake, the customary mall road with cafés, bakeries and bookstores, and British-era buildings—the holy hill station trifecta. And yet, the hamlet packs in a rustic appeal that appeals to lovers of history, literature and philosophy.

 

The Hill Station Hindi Literature’s First Jnanpith Winner Grew Up In

Clockwise from left: The Panchachuli massif, as seen from a vantage point in Kausani; Anasakti Ashram, where Mahatma Gandhi stayed in 1929 during his travels across the region; Poet Sumitranandan Pant, who is Hindi literature’s first Jnanpith awardee, was born here in 1900.

 

Accorded the status of Mahakavi (Great Poet), and the first Hindi writer to win a Jnanpith Award, Sumitranandan Pant—one of the pillars of the Chhayavad movement in Hindi literature alongside Surkayant Tripathi ‘Nirala’, Mahadevi Varma and Jaishankar Prasad—was born in the sleepy hamlet on May 20, 1900. Named Gosain Dutt at birth, he took to composing poems as a seven-year-old. A precocious child who lost his mother at birth, Gosain Dutt started primary school at the vernacular school and moved to Almora for higher classes. Contemplative and sensitive, the young poet soon found himself relating with the fraternal and altruistic Lakshmana from the Ramayana, and assumed the name Sumitranandan (the son of Sumitra, the second of Dasharatha’s four wives), the name that would bring him much fame and adoration among lovers of poetry worldwide.

A path winds up from the quiet town square towards a research centre where Mahatma Gandhi stayed for two weeks in 1929, practicing a style of meditation known as anasakti (detachment), lending its name to the Anasakti Ashram. Gandhi stopped by at the village on his way to Bageshwar on a trip undertaken to bolster the swadeshi movement. Two years on, he would travel to Lake Geneva to stay at the house of his friend, the writer Romain Rolland, but it’s not clear if the comparison with the Alpine nation, our perennial gold standard for beatific mountain villages, was made on the basis of the latter visit. The centre, which functions as a museum, houses his charkha, sundry documents and photographs related to Gandhi’s life and philosophy and enjoys a peaceful setting—a pine forest with the mountains in the distance. Entry is free but check the latest visiting hours prior.

 

Also Read | In the Footsteps of Gandhi, a Tireless Leader (and Prolific Traveller)

 

Kausani’s terrific night sky and minimal light pollution first gave rise to a barebones ‘planetarium’ and now an observatory. On the other side of the hill, a short walk away, this observatory has still not caught the attention of stargazers lining up to pitch tents at Benital, which the Uttarakhand Government plans to develop as an astro-village. The Gurugram-based startup Starscapes started their first observatory in Kausani, conducting night shows conducted by experts where visitors can learn more about the moon, galaxies, star clusters and nebulae in the sky and view them through an eight-inch GoTo telescope. A 45-minute night show costs ₹500 while early-morning shows are priced at ₹700.

 

The Hill Station Hindi Literature’s First Jnanpith Winner Grew Up In

A 2.5-kilometre forest hike takes travellers to the Rudradhari temple and waterfall.

The Hill Station Hindi Literature’s First Jnanpith Winner Grew Up In

Spring in Kausani is when the Buransh Mahotsav is celebrated.

 

Uttarakhand is known for many things, but tea is not one of them—the nearest active tea-growing pocket in the Himalayas probably is in Kangra, Himachal Pradesh. Yet, a short drive away from the town centre (local taxis and 4x4s available) is the Kausani Tea Estate, a 200-hectare plantation that produces orthodox organic tea (called the Girias, a high-flavour blend), and is a modest setup despite the claims of local stakeholders. Started here by the British like everywhere else in the country, this is probably where Ganga Dutt, Sumitranandan Pant’s father, was employed as a tea estate manager. Close by is a small shopping centre—a shawl emporium that stocks fine woollen apparels and a kiosk where Girias tea and local produce (organic dals, pickles, rhododendron squash and spices) is available.

The temple trail around Kausani beckons not just the religious, but history lovers as well. If you’re heading to Ranikhet or passing the hill station on your way back, it’s worth checking out the 50-odd temples in Dwarahat, once the capital of the medieval Katyuri dynasty. The Rudradhari Mahadev temple (9 kilometres from the bus stand) and waterfall offers a day excursion if you’re in town for more than a weekend. One passes lush paddies and little villages on the way to the temple, and reaches the temple after a 30-min trek through the forest.

 

Also Read | The Highs of Kasar Devi, Where Bob Dylan, Cat Stevens, and Nehru Vacationed

 

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ESSENTIALS

Getting there Private and shared cabs are available from Haldwani, the bustling gateway city to Kumaon, five hours away, and Kathgodam, the nearest railway station. The nearest airport is in Pantnagar.

Stay Krishna Mountview Mountain Resort offers moderately well-appointed rooms with views of the Kumaon Himalayas and flavourful meals (doubles from ₹2,000). The Buransh (rooms upward of ₹5,000) is great for family staycations and nearby excursions can be arranged on prior request.

Eat Most resort restaurants serve decent fast food and hill station snacks, not to forget great Gujarati fare, thanks to the large chunk of tourists from the state that travel to Kausani. Garden Restaurant offers all-day meals with a location to die for. To sample local food, try the clutch of dhabas near the tea estate.

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  • Prannay Pathak dreams about living out of a suitcase and retiring to the island of Hamneskär to watch films in solitary confinement. He is Assistant Editor (Digital) at National Geographic Traveller India.

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Himanshu Agarwal
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Himanshu Agarwal

Nice writeup giving a brief glimpse of Kausani. However, there seems a misunderstanding in one picture caption. The left most in a group of three pictures is showing Trishul peak and not Panchashuli. Please check.

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