Jageshwar Temples stand out as a unique cluster for more reasons than one. Set among the intimidating evergreen deodars of the Kumaon hills, the approach is peaceful and smooth, unlike the burgeoning masses one encounters en route to other pilgrimage hot spots. The road that forks off the state highway sets your mind space into meditative mode. Thatís if you allow yourself to be hypnotised by tree trunks rushing by as you drive past, barely attentive to the rivulet Jata Ganga flowing along the road, yet absorbing the lengthy decisive journey it must make from its inception at the glacier to a bumpy ride over rocks and plains to meet the finality of its destiny.
At an elevation of 1870 metres above sea level, Jageshwar in Uttarakhand, is equidistant from Ranikhet and Almora. The hundred temples dated between the ninth and thirteenth century ó most of them maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India ó include Mrityunjay Temple, Kuber Temple, Dandeshwar and Jageshwar Temples. Mrityunjay Temple is considered the oldest in the complex and Dandeshwar Temple the largest. The deluge in Uttarakhand last June had mainly affected the northern regions leaving the roads and towns intact in these parts.
It is best to make an early start from Ranikhet. The 45-km drive is normally uneventful and smooth. Abundantly visible on the highways from Delhi, on this particular stretch the local dhaba and fast food restaurants are conspicuous by their absence. So itís better to be prepared with some pre-packed eatables. But most North Indians would miss a sit out by the road with steaming cups of freshly prepared tea and piping hot parathas laden with butter. However, some way beyond the town of Majkhali, there is small make-shift dhaba serving a simple but filling fare of boiled eggs, kala chana (black gram) masala, or boiled eggs with kala chana masala and tea.
The weather gods can be moody; alternating between a warm sun and cool calm breeze on the one hand, rain and clouds on the other. At times, the rain can catch unawares near Jageshwar, blocking out the sun suddenly.
A narrow road leads to the gate of the temple complex, with almost two dozen shops on either side.
The complex has at least two dozen large stone temples dedicated to various deities and a few smaller ones where only two people and a priest can conduct poojas. The main temple is Shri Jyotirling Jageshwar Mandir centred on the single stone formation that is revered as representation of Lord Shankar and Ma Parvati. The idols are in a rugged stone home with barely any daylight seeping in; with only the royal patronage and company of Kumaoni king Raja Deepchand whose figure holds a diya continuously burning for them since the last century and a half if one is to believe the local priest. Interestingly, the tikka used is the mild scented cedar wood not sandalwood as one would traditionally expect.
On the return journey, one can find many more temples of a similar architecture and period dotting the landscape; visible behind the trees, suddenly springing up on the side of the road or by the Jata Ganga that flows muddy. Jata (matted hair locks), brings to mind an evocative image of Shiva with Ganga flowing from his top knot.
How to reach: Train or bus from Delhi to Kathgodam, then bus or car to Ranikhet/Jageshwar.
Best time to visit: September to November, March to May. Pack in a jacket and cap for the evenings.
Other attractions: Chaubatia, Jhula Devi Temple, Haida Khan Temple