The name of the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand, home to some lofty Himalayan peaks, forests of Chir pine and deodar, is said to have been derived from ‘Kurmanchal’, meaning land of the Kurmavatar (the tortoise incarnation of Lord Vishnu). Every peak, lake or mountain range that I see here, is somehow or the other connected with some myth or the name of a God or Goddess. The temples at Jageshwar, Bageshwar, Binsar and Baijnath are all devoted to Lord Shiva. One temple that is quirky and a must-visit is the Gollu Devta Temple, situated 6 kms from Almora at a place called Chitai.
Kumaonis are fond of music, folk dance, and songs accompanied by local musical instruments like murli, bina, and hurka. An unusual instrument here is the masak-been (bagpipes) echoing in the valleys and the high mountain ridges, lingering remnants of colonial powers. The uniqueness of the Kumaoni Holi Festival lies in its being a musical affair too!
The local food which is perhaps best characterised by its local ingredients, simplicity and freshness. To deal with the low levels of nutrition in the hills and the extreme climate every Kumaoni meal has the rather unusual black soybeans (called bhatt) dal with very high protein content another unusual ingredient in Kumaoni cuisine is cannabis. Many vegetable preparations in Kumaon are transformed with the addition of the juice of the ground cannabis seeds. Ground cannabis powder is also used to make delicious bhang chutney. Aloo ke gutke is also another omnipresent item on a Kumaoni menu- potato wedges sauteed with whole coriander seeds and other spices in mustard oil. Try the red rotis made with madua or millet flour that is a major source of iron. If you have a sweet tooth, don’t miss the popular bal mithai a fudge, but covered with sugar-coated poppy seeds. Another must-try is Singori a sweet made from evaporated milk cooked in sugar and coconut and served demurely wrapped in a leaf. The Kumaoni Kitchen also uses a treasure trove of wild greens like fiddlehead ferns, Lai and plenty of Bicchoo ghaas (stinging nettle).
The entire region has fruit laden orchards abundant with apple, plum, apricot, pears, oranges, berries, and other alpine fruits. One must pick up local honey, rhododendron juice called Buraansh, fruit murabba, and fine woolen shawls made in Kasauni. This is a sure way to remember this mountainous region which wows you with its beauty!