As the car takes a turn towards the sharp winding curve, I mutter under my breath, it isn’t so bad. In fact, the majestic green hills on both sides of the road is a sight to behold. After each hairpin, nature throws a surprise at me – there is a waterfall that passes right through the middle of the road and so are mini-landslides. But nothing can dampen my spirits for I am engulfed into the beauty around me. We are en route Narayan Ashram in Kumaon, Uttarakhand – an offbeat place which is visited by Yatris of the Kailas Manasarovar Yatra.
Perched at a height of 8969 feet, surrounded by dense Deodar trees and snow-capped mountains, namely Annapurna mountain ranges in the front and Panchachuli mountain ranges at the back, the Narayan Ashram is a socio-educational institution. Found by Narayan Swami in 1946, the Ashram attracts many scholars and Himalayan adventurists even now.
What caught my attention immediately after stepping foot in this place was the surreal beauty and quietude. I send a silent prayer of gratitude to the Heavens for urging me to visit Narayan Ashram in early June because I can now find all the flowers in full bloom.
The footpath leading to the main temple building is surrounded by wild daisies, mostly in white.
There were flowers of various colors, shapes, and sizes.
As I wander among full blooms, I get to see this intricately designed architecture named Shri Annapurna which is a guest-room with restaurant facilities. I am told that the rooms are available on a per-night basis at a nominal fee and can house about 40 to 50 people at a time. This is also were the Kailas-Manasarovar Yatris take a halt before they begin their trek further.
Narayan Ashram, Dharchula
More wild daisies along the pavement later, I get to see this immaculate structure in front of me – the Narayan Ashram. I was spellbound by the unique design of the building against the backdrop of pines and deodars. I knew I should speak to someone to know the history behind this building and the place in general, before I go exploring by myself.
And find I did, a lady who urged me to spend some time with her in the temple. She is a social worker from Gujarat who has come to the Ashram for welfare works. The temple entrance is painted with colorful sculpture paintings and the temple itself is a good place for meditation and prayers.
As I go through the intricately carved windowpanes, she urges me to sit with her so that I could listen to Narayan Swami’s story.
Narayan Swami’s Story:
Narayan Swami, whose original name isn’t disclosed to anybody, was born in 1914 to a well-off Mysore family. He was a Graduate who after his studies decided to leave his home for good. He came to Haridwar, worked in different ashrams to know the way of life of a sage. Narayan Swami was influenced by the ideologies of Ramkrishna Mission and Vivekananda Mission and wanted to learn more. However, he was just a young boy with hardly any money left in his pocket. Thus, a Yogi who was en route Kailas took him under his wing.
You should remember that then there were hardly any conveyance facilities. There were no proper roads with route markings and the entire journey and thereby, their life was dedicated to the Gods themselves. The duo completed the Kailas Mansarovar Yatra by foot from Haridwar. This was when Narayan Swami realized that there was nothing more serene or peaceful than this way of life. This was Pavitr Bhumi. Thus, he decided to halt at Dharchula and this was sometime in the year 1936.
Narayan Swami, however, was worn out from his Kailas journey. He had blisters all over his feet and there were no medical facilities nearby. He observed how difficult life was in the village. But, he didn’t have any money to help them and decided to go back. After roaming all over the country, he came back with the money needed to help the villagers. He also brought with him the Narayan Murti or the idol.
Legend has it that the Murti was heavy to carry and by then, roads were built only till Almora. So, the villagers made a Paalkhi aka palanquin to carry the Murti, joined the procession, chanted Narayana Narayana, and sang and danced all the way to Dharchula.
After Narayan Swamy’s return, a 10-bed sanatorium and a school were built first, followed by other basic amenities. He even exported an X-ray machine from Germany!
Narayan Swami had made a bothy/hut made of dried grass which caught fire while he was asleep. This made him realize the importance of a more permanent structure. He meditated at the Shoonyta Kuteer where he attained Nirvana.
Back in the days, there were hardly any craftsmen or construction workers nearby. The one-of-a-kind architecture which attracts many even today was designed by Narayan Swamy himself.
It was his belief that the world needs simple things to be happy; the villagers are innocent and would understand the language of love than religious teachings and spiritual awareness. He traveled across the state of Uttarakhand and built hospitals and primary and higher secondary schools. Note that this was in British India and the whole thing is a pretty difficult task to execute!
He departed this life in 1956, just 20 years after reaching Dharchula. He lived his life for the welfare of others. One can’t blame the villagers for believing that he was God-sent. Or was he Lord Narayan himself?
Narayan Ashram is maintained by the Narayan Ashram Trust and it now houses a library, meditation room, and accommodation facilities. There are many social workers from all over the country who join as volunteers every couple of months.
From well-maintained temple surroundings to flower gardens and herb gardens, the Ashram is kept in good condition.
It’s not every day that you get to walk amidst daisies and apple gardens.
I walk for over a couple of hours along the stone footpath reminiscing over what I had just heard – a pure soul who left his family and wealth and then dedicated his life for the well-being and prosperity of others.
He didn’t have a successor to take over the legacy he left behind. During his last days, he seemed to have said, “Mujhko yaad mat Karna, mera ashram ko karna. Mera Ashram ke liye kuch karna. Woh mujhtak pahunjayega.” Do not remember me, remember my Ashram. Do something for my Ashram and it will reach me.
How to Reach Narayan Ashram in Pithoragarh
By Road: About 53km from Dharchula town or 143km from Pithoragarh, one can reach Narayan Ashram via road. Dharchula is well-connected to major towns like Pithoragarh, Almora, Haldwani, Tanakpur, and Dehradun. ISBT Buses are also frequent from Delhi to Dharchula.
By Rail: The nearest Railway Stations are:
Kathgodam, (184km from Pithoragarh) and Tanakpur (150km from Pithoragarh) after which you ought to travel by road.
By Air: Naini Saini Airport has just resumed air services. However, currently, there are only 9-seater flights that travel to Dehradun. We are hoping for flight services to Pant Nagar and word has it that 36-carrier flights from Delhi will begin services sometime soon. Otherwise, Pant Nagar (250km from Pithoragarh) is the nearest airport.
Where to Stay on your Visit to Narayan Ashram
You can always stay in the Ashram itself. Or there is also a Government-run KMVN (Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam) Rest House nearby. One can also stay in the many lodgings and homestays in Dharchula and travel to the Ashram.
Best Time to Visit
The temperature at Narayan Ashram is always pleasant during summers and expect snowfalls during winters. If you take a trip to the Ashram during rains, expect road blocks due to landslides. However, you can also bear witness to some splendid raw beauty of nature with sprawling landscapes and waterfalls.
So the next time you plan a visit to Pithoragarh or Munsiyari, make sure that you visit Narayan Ashram as well.
Find other Uttarakhand travel tales here.
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