Uttarakhand- A Window to the Himalayas

‘Sitting somewhere in the Himalayas, the silence that surrounds you is that of the Himalayas, not of you. You have to find your own Himalayas within.’

Osho.

Uttarakhand located at the foothills of the mighty Himalayas with numerous hill stations, wildlife sanctuaries, temples and treks is a mesmerising state in North India. Picturesque hill stations nestled amidst hills in dense forests that provide stunning views of the Himalayan peaks make this state a must-visit for nature lovers. The tryst with nature and silence as one treks through the pristine hills in the Kumaon region is a truly immersive experience.

Our visit to Uttarakhand, almost a decade ago, is still fresh in our minds. We visited the hill stations of Binsar, Almora, Kausani, Ranikhet, Nainital and finally the Jim Corbett National park. A flight from Mumbai took us to Delhi.  A twelve-hour journey by road took us to Binsar- a hill station pitched at an impressive 2,420 m, set amidst hills, home to diverse flora and fauna. On the way, we passed Bhimtal which had a pristine lake. It was late evening as we checked into our resort and after showering hit the bed.

Bhimtal @Rafiq Somani

Next morning, we woke up and explored the property which had several cottages, manicured lawns, gardens with numerous trees. A vantage point provided a breath-taking view of the surrounding hills. After breakfast, we set off to explore the pilgrimage town of Bageshwar and then Kausani.

Bageshwar is a holy town located on the confluence of the Gomti and Sarayu rivers. It is frequented by pilgrims who come to visit the Bagnath temple here. En route, we saw the snow-capped Himalayas at several points. We reached the confluence of the rivers and could see two distinct colours of the water- one aquamarine green and the other slightly muddy brown. After clicking pictures, we strolled over the bridge that connects the two riverbanks. We then visited the Durga Devi and Bagnath temples. The Bagnath temple was built in Nagara style by the Chand rulers in 1450. Legend has it that sage Markandeya worshipped Lord Shiva here, who blessed him by appearing in the ‘tiger or baag’ form, from which the temple gets its name.

We then drove to Baijnath, which is 20 km away and is known for its group of temples that date back to the 12th-13th centuries. The temple complex had a Parvati temple built in the 10th century. It is believed that Lord Shiva and Parvati were married here. We saw a group of men huddled over a stone trying to lift it with their fingers. On probing further, we were told that it was a ‘miracle stone’ that is impossible to lift. It is only when 9 people use their index fingers to raise it and chant ‘Nau’ or ‘Nine’ that miraculously the stone is lifted. Outside the temple complex was a lake with pristine waters and it was so clear that we could see the fish swimming in it.

We then left for Kausani, which is 20 km away and provides 300 degrees view of the Himalayas. We ate our lunch at a nondescript eatery and headed to the Anashakti Ashram or Gandhi Ashram. It is here that Mahatma Gandhi had spent a fortnight writing his book and was enchanted by its beauty, earning it the moniker of ‘Switzerland of India.’. The Ashram complex had cottages and gardens with colourful flowers. We headed to the Sunset Point in the complex and could see the valleys and verdant hills in the foreground, but high up in the clouds were a range of peaks covered in snow. The clouds and mists played hide and seek with the nine peaks of the Himalayas, all of which are visible on clear days. Engraved on a stone was a graphic of the cliffs with their names and distances from Kausani. Visitors pointed to the peaks, trying to identify and name them- ‘Nandadevi, Trishul…’

Himalayan View Sunset Point Kausani @Rafiq Somani

The next day we decided to be at the resort, and the children got busy with the games and activities that the resort provided. My husband suddenly noticed a fig tree which had numerous birds perched on it devouring the fruit. It was in Binsar that Rafiq’s tryst and love for bird watching began. He would spend all his mornings watching these feathered beauties while having his breakfast. Then the search for the names of birds would begin by referring to a book on ‘Himalayan Birds’ that he had found in the library at the resort. Some of the birds that were seen were Brown-fronted Woodpecker, Lesser Yellow-naped Woodpecker, Oriental White-eye, Great Barbet, Grey Treepie, Himalayan Bulbul, Verdite Flycatcher, Streaked Laughing Thrush, Khaliji Pheasant, Purple Sunbird, Crimson Sunbird, Black-lored Tit and many more.

Lesser Yellow-naped Woodpecker @Rafiq Somani
Oriental White-eye @Rafiq Somani
Verditer Flycatcher @Rafiq Somani
Himalayan Black-lored Tit @Rafiq Somani
Khaliji Pheasant Male and Female @Rafiq Somani
Streaked Laughing Thrush, Binsar @Rafiq Somani
Dragon Fly, Binsar @Rafiq Somani

The following day we visited Almora which gets its name from a native plant ‘Bhilmora’ that the locals use to wash utensils. We visited the 1000-year-old Nandadevi stone temple dedicated to the goddess worshipped by the Kumaon and Gharwal kings. There were carvings of horses, elephants, serpents, and other figures on the walls of the temple. We then headed to a scenic point from where we got a panoramic view of the Himalayas. It is for these picture-perfect glimpses of the majestic Himalayas that Uttarakhand is known.

Himalayan View Almora @Rafiq Somani

After returning to the resort in the evening, we set off on a trek in the Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary. There was a nip in the air and sunlight filtered through the tall Pine and Oak trees covered with moss. The pristine forest was untouched, and we could hear silence which was interspersed with the occasional bird calls and the rustling of the leaves. From a vantage point, we could see the Kumaon Hills and Himalayas. For city dwellers, always surrounded by chaos and noise, a walk in the forests and experiencing silence can have a strange effect. On the one hand, it calms you, but on the other, it unsettles you as you start questioning life and existence. What is life? What am I here for? Is there more to it than what one experiences?  

The next day was spent again relaxing at the property. The kids spent the day participating in activities like group games, adventure sports at the resort. As an early morning lark, Rafiq would trek in the wilderness above the resort right up to the top of the cliff which had a temple. He would spend time in contemplation and meditation in a cave-like structure, watch the sparkling stream flow below and see the snow-clad mountains. On his way back to the resort, he noticed village women in colourful attire.

Local Women, Binsar @Rafiq Somani

The next day we bid goodbye to Binsar and headed to Ranikhet- a hill station discovered by the British where an army recruitment centre was set up. We stayed at a heritage hotel dating back to 1918, having a colonial-era feel. The rooms were furnished in classic vintage style complete with a four-poster bed and even a fireplace. We visited the Upat golf course, one of the highest in Asia, and then the Jhula Devi Temple, which had hundreds of bells. The locals believe that the goddess grants all their wishes, and on fulfilment, they tie a bell. In the evening we took a trail in the resort premises and watched the sunset behind the hills.

The next day we checked out and headed to Nainital. En route, we stopped at the Chaubatia gardens, which had orchards of fruit trees and terraced gardens with flowers. Our trip to Nainital and then to the Jim Corbett National Park are separate travelogues.

Uttarakhand is indeed a window to the snowcapped Himalayas that have a strange allure and enigma. There is something about the mountains that makes one melancholic. Their silence and aura compel one to become introspective and contemplative. In the silence, several questions arise that were otherwise drowned in the noise of the cities. It’s a journey not only on the outside but also inwards where one is forced to dig deeper to find the meaning and purpose to life. No wonder several artists wander in the hills in search of inspiration and spiritual seekers find solace.  

‘There is something about the Himalayas …, something unseen and unknown, a charm that pervades every hour spent among them, a mystery intriguing and disturbing. Confronted by them, a man loses his grasp of ordinary things, perceiving himself as immortal, an entity capable of outdistancing all changes, all decay, all life, all death.’

Frank Smythe

Note: This trip was made several years ago when we had a basic camera, so the photographs are not high resolution. Thanks for your understanding.

GETTING THERE-
Nearest Airport: Pantnagar Airport, which is 152 km away, is the nearest airport. The other option is IGI Delhi which is 350 km away. From here you can hire a car.
Distances:
Delhi to Binsar: 350 km
Binsar to Almora: 25 km
Binsar to Kausani: 50 km
Binsar to Ranikhet: 66 km
Where to Stay: We stayed at Club Mahindra in Binsar. The West View is where we stayed in Ranikhet. You can do a net search for an array of staying options depending on comfort and budget. 

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