What on earth could places as diverse as Stonehenge in the UK, Machu Picchu in Peru and a tiny village in the Kumaon region of India possibly have in common? Nothing, would be your instant response. Mine too, till I discovered the common factors. The deeper I delved, the more mind-bending facts I unearthed about the unique importance of this hidden gem, barely a blip on the tourist map of India.
Wait, a correction. It may not be a tourist attraction but for those in the know, it has always been a big draw. Look at the big names who’ve been here — Swami Vivekananda, Rabindranath Tagore, DH Lawrence, Cat Stevens, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Danish mystic Alfred Sorensen, Harvard psychologist Timothy Leary, Tibetan Buddhism guru Lama Anagarika Govinda and Western Buddhist teacher Robert Thurman. In fact, back in 1890, Swami Vivekananda is said to have performed the most severe forms of meditation in a solitary cave of this mountain.
Following the footsteps of these mystics, poets, writers and singers, I decided to trek up the 100-odd steps that take you to the ancient temple dedicated to Kasar Devi, an incarnation of Goddess Durga. It’s not too high at around 2,116 metres above sea level, but is perched on a hilltop on the edge of a ridge off Almora-Bageshwar highway that overlooks a village (also called Kasar Devi). The simple stone temple dates back to the second century and is surrounded by lofty pine and deodar trees. While the basic rock temple carved out of a cave has been around for some 2,000 years, its present structure was given shape in 1948 by the Birla family. Besides the goddess, there’s also a Shiva temple here, which perhaps came up around the ’50s.
Now for the big question. What exactly is the Van Allen Radiation Belt? Well, it’s a zone of energetic charged particles that are captured by and held around a planet by that planet's magnetosphere. Most of the particles that form the belts surrounding the earth are thought to come from solar wind and some by cosmic rays. By trapping the solar wind, the magnetic field deflects those energetic particles and protects the atmosphere from destruction. The belts are named after James Van Allen, a space scientist at the University of Iowa, who is credited with their discovery.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)’s explorations have further confirmed the geomagnetic field of Kasar Devi to be at par with the other two famous spots with similarly high magnetic fields, Machu Picchu and Stonehenge. Due to the presence of these fields, you get an ultimate peaceful and relaxing experience, something which I personally experienced. The climb up was steep, but the minute you set foot on the flat area surrounding the temple, the tiredness simply vanished. All you felt was a deep sense of serenity, uplifting energy and ease. Those who have meditated here claim they feel a special kind of clam and rejuvenation.
If you’re an archaeology enthusiast, you can check the rock at the back of this temple with inscriptions in Brahmi script, but if you’re here just for the experience, it’s best to take a seat on the ridge and simply soak in the spectacular views and enjoy the peace and calm. Imagine, something like this literally in your backyard and you didn’t even know?