Kumaon Himalaya, spreading over 16,625 sq. kms., can boast of not only 30 peaks, all over 5,500 metres led by the formidable Nanda Devi (which is the second highest in India), world famous hill stations like Kausani, Nainital and Almora, but also the Pindari, Sundaradunga and Kafni Glaciers, Reserve parks in the forests of the terai, the submontane strips and the historically celebrated temples such as Bhagnath and Bhaijinath in the temple town of Bhageshwar.
Jim Corbett’s ‘Man Eaters of Kumaon’ and ‘The Temple Tiger’ has its roots in the jungles of this region. Besides playing host to a large number of the country’s Tiger population, the Jim Corbett National Park and other smaller reserve forests are home to leopards, elephants and an amazing variety of birdlife ranging from the simple woodpeckers, thrushes and bulbuls to the endangered khalij pheasants and the exotic monal.
The town, Vyagreshwar or Bhageshwar, 38 kms. from Kausani, is the central town from where one travels to the temples, the glaciers and the hill stations of this part of the Himalaya.
The 7th Century Bhagnath temple in Bhageshwar is dedicated to Lord Shiva. The ancient legend goes that Sage Vashisht, at the behest of Lord Brahma, was bringing the River Sarayu to this part of the Deva Bhoomi. On the river’s path, to his consternation, he found that Sage Markandeya was doing penance and could not be disturbed.
As the river was rising, he appealed to Lord Shiva to help him find a solution. Lord Shiva and Mother Parvathi immediately descended on earth in the guise of a tiger and a cow respectively. Disturbed by the loud roar of the tiger and the helpless screams of the cow, the sage ran to save the cow from the clutches of the tiger. Finding her path cleared of the sage, Sarayu flowed peacefully meeting her sister Gomati, the daughter of Sage Vasisht. At the confluence of these two rivers, the temple dedicated to Lord Vyagranath or Bhagnath emerged. Bhag in Kumoni means ‘tiger’. The temple was constructed in the Nagara style of architecture in 1450 by King Lakshmi Chand of the mighty Chand dynasty. We find mention of this city and its temple in the Manas Khand of the Shiva Purana and in the Skanda Purana.
Devotees ring the brass bells while entering the main shrine to offer their prayers to Bhagnath, the Tiger Lord. The Chathurmukhi Shivalinga, the Trimurthi Shivalinga, the Dashavatara and several stone statues, all relics dating from the 7th Century to the 16th Century are preserved carefully in an enclosed area.
The mountain folk flock to this temple during Shiva Rathri and Makara Sankaranthi.