Saturday, June 18, 2011

My Stay at the Pandavkholi Dharamsala in Dunagiri, Dwarahat

View from the dharamshala in Pandavkholi

If you are visiting Babaji's cave in Dunagiri, after reaching the cave you should definitively climb up a bit higher and visit Pandavkholi and the mandir (Hindu temple).  Maybe even consider staying at the dharamshala (pilgrims shelter) for at least one night.

Staying at the dharamshala has been one of the most authentic Indian experiences that I've had so far.


What is Pandavkholi?


Pandavkholi (also Pandukholi or Pandav Kholi) is believed to be one of the places that the five mighty warriors, the Pandavas, used as a shelter during their 13 years of exile from their kingdom.

Five stones representing the five Pandavas
Five stones representing the five Pandavas

This is a story told in the Indian epic the Mahabharata, which includes the most inspiring yoga philosophy book I've ever read, the Bhagavad Gita.

You can visit my article What is the Bhagavad Gita About to read a brief introduction to the story of the Pandavas and the contents of the Bhagavad Gita.


Visiting Pandavkholi


The next day after arriving at the Yogoda Satsanga Sakha Ashram (YSS) in Dwarahat, I took a shared taxi with some other devotees of Paramahansa Yogananda to visit Babaji's cave in Kukuchina, Dunagiri.

After sitting in meditation inside Babaji's cave for about an hour, my Indian companions asked me to join them all the way up to the top of the hill to visit Pandavkholi.

I had never heard about this place before but of course, I was excited to discover it.

Once we reached the top, besides the astonishing landscape, we found this beautiful and simple dharamshala and mandir (temple).

Yogananda devotees visiting Pandavkholi

Pandavkholi dharamshala entry

Pandavkholi dharamshala entry

Almost right away I thought to myself, “Oh, it would be great to stay here.”

So I asked the swami taking care of the ashram, “Can I stay here? Do you receive guests?” and smiling he answered, “You can stay here whenever you want and for as long as you want, but only if you consider this place to be yours, not mine.”

He then added, “But this is no guesthouse, it is a dharamshala.”

He explained to me that a dharamshala is a spiritual shelter for pilgrims. He finally said, “We have no facilities, all very simple.”


Staying at the dharamshala, the shelter for pilgrims


Ten days later, after leaving the Yogoda Satsanga Sakha Ashram, I called Swamiji to let him know that I was coming back to stay at his dharamshala.

Once I reached Kukuchina he sent a guy to help me carry my big backpack on the 50 minutes walk uphill to reach Pandavkholi.

Strong man carrying my backpack

Yes, I have to admit it. I definitively needed some help.  Just carrying my 5 Kg backpack I already felt like my heart was gonna burst out of my chest.  Lol.

On my defense, Pandavkholi is at an altitude of 2,550 meters (8,800 feet)!

The guy carried my 20 Kg backpack without any problem though.  He stopped to rest just a couple of times, and on the second time he lighted up a beedi (an Indian cigarette)!

One of the most unforgettable experiences about staying at this shelter was enjoying the simple but delicious breakfast, lunch, and dinner that they cook at the small kitchen in a wood fire.  It is impressive what they can make with just a wood fire and some old pots.

We would all gather around the wood fire, sit on some very all carpets that look like they've been there forever, while the Swamiji's wife or one of his boys would prepare the chapatis (Indian bread) for the meal.

Swamijis wife cooking

Swamiji's wife? Yeah I know, he is not really a swami but everyone around calls him Swamiji so I also call him like that. They also call him Babaji.

The ashram was built by Swamiji's guru, which is also called Babaji. There is a small temple and a statue of Babaji (not Mahavatar Babaji) and there is another larger temple which is in construction at the time of writing this blog post.

Swamiji's guru

guru babaji statue

There is a watchtower from where you can enjoy the astonishing views. You can even see the watchtower from Kukuchina.

Pandavkholi dharamshala watchtower


Dharamshala facilities


Before coming to the dharamshala Swamiji had told me that there were no facilities. Actually there are but of course, everything is very basic, which is probably one of the attractions of staying at this place.

It's the perfect place to practice some austerity and abandon all ideas of comforts, although the “room” that I got was a bit too austere for me.

There is a wooden house with some rooms inside which looks comfortable. Two French ladies were staying there and they told me that it was OK.

Dharamshala guest cabana

There is also a tiny cottage, just four walls, and a bed, but very cozy.

I would have loved to stay in this cottage but it was occupied with a friendly Indian guy from Mumbai, a serious meditation practitioner.

It was nice talking to him and also joining him in his cottage to warm up with the wood fire on the floor when it was freezing outside.

There is a plan to build two more of these cottages soon.

Unfortunately, the day that I arrived they didn't really have a room available so they sort of arranged a space within a building with a big hall that they call the “museum.”

The museum
The “museum”

In one corner they put a bed on the floor with some blankets and... that was it.

My comfortable bed

A couple of days later when it started to rain heavily I had to move the “bed” because of water leaks. Then I realized that the bed was actually a very old rotten door.

I finally understood what were those weird shapes that I was feeling when laying down on my back.  Surprisingly I slept pretty well there, better than in many other places.

This became the second time in my life sleeping on an old rotten wooden door as a bed.

The hall was very dirty.  A very strong smell of dust permeated the whole place.  Fortunately, they cleaned it during the night because some guests wanted to see the “museum” but it was just not enough.

I tried to clean it myself but it was just an impossible task. Asking for a mop and water to clean the floor seemed totally out of place at this ashram.

There was one shared toilet just behind the museum and a couple of “bathrooms” where you could take a bucket shower, although there is no tap water available.

All the water comes from the rain. It is collected in big recipients and from there you take whatever you need. Since it is quite cold up there they will heat up a tank of rainwater for you to take a bucket shower whenever you need it.

They have a very simple rainwater collection system that collects the water in different tanks.  This is the water that they use for everything like dishwashing, laundry or taking a bath.

There is also a filtration system that purifies that same water for drinking.  Everybody around said that the water was very healthy, even better than bottled water. It tasted quite good to me.

It is quite an ecological place.

Besides the rainwater collection, they use the ashes that come from the kitchen fire to do the dishwashing.

They also cultivate their own honey. They just put a box inside one wall, they seal it and from outside there is a whole that bees use to come in and out of their “home.”

They told me this is all actually local customs.  All villagers do the same sort of things.


How to reach Pandavkholi and the dharamshala


To reach the Pandavkholi you can follow the same instruction to reach Babaji's cave.  After reaching the cave you just need to continue climbing up the hill until you reach the top.  That would be Pandavkholi.

This is the route that I followed from Rishikesh:


  • From Rishikesh take a public bus from the main bus stop to Haridwar. (45 min)
  • From Haridwar take the night train to Kathgodam which leaves every day at 00h15. There is only one train per day.
  • From Kathgodam take a shared taxi to Ranikhet (4 hours) and from Ranikhet, another shared taxi to Dwarahat (3 hours). The share taxi from Kathgodam up to Dwarahat should be around 250 or 300 rupees.
  • Once you reached the Dwarahat market you'll need to take another share taxi to Kukuchina (50 minutes) for about 25 rupees. This is the last stop by car.
  • From Kukuchina you will need to walk up the mountain to reach the cave, about 50 minutes. It is not a difficult walk up but you'll need to go slow according to your capacity since the altitude might affect you.
  • After reaching Babaji's cave you need to follow the trail all the way up until you reach Pandavkholi.  There is also another more direct route from Kukuchina without passing the cave.

According to Google maps, this is the location of Pandavkholi:

PANDAV KHOLI
Dwarahat Range, Uttarakhand 263656, India
https://goo.gl/maps/LV3A5kHTUm94Vw1T8


If you don't want to or you are not able to stay at the dharamshala you can also stay instead at Joshi's Guesthouse down in Kukuchina.

This is exactly what I did after three nights in Pandavkholi.  I made my way down and stay for almost a month at Joshi's guesthouse.  You can read all about it in my following blog, My Solo Meditation Retreat Near Babaji's Cave in Kukuchina.


Swamiji's contact information


If you want to spend a night or more at the Pandavkholi Dharamshala just give a call to Swamiji a couple of days in advance. I believe his name is Ramsingh.

+91 94 10 182743
+91 5966 219330

9 comments:

  1. Wow, Sounds great, I want to go there!

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  2. great place to visit.my heart throbes to visit this place immediately.

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  3. Thank you very very much for ur information... itz really will hepl us to visit babaji cave..

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  4. Very nice to read. Hope to visit in February 2nd week

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  5. Had gone to Babaji's cave but was not able to go to Pandavkholi as was not aware of the place. Wish I can visit it sometime

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  6. Now I want to visit both cave and pandav koli...is it possible to stay there around two to three months?

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    1. I guess is possible. Contact Swamiji or just go there and find out. Remember, this is a humble place. You need to be ready for simple living, but at the same time is incredible to be there. All the best.

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  7. Thank you very much. Heading to Ranikhet in 3 days time. Though its been a long time since you visited, I hope I get to stay at Pandavkholi. Thanks for all the information. Hope you are still in the centre of adventure.

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    1. That would be wonderful Sunny Side Up. Let us know how your experience goes. Looking forward to hearing about it. All the best. 🙏

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