Travel Tales – 1 – Road To Ranikhet


“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other places, other lives, other souls.” – Anais Nin

 

Road journeys are the best way to bridge distances. If my health permitted I would leave it all to travel to the hills and far off places. Even money would not be an issue then as travel requires less expenditure than tourism. For many years we took road journeys to different places and then it all stopped. The relationship with the mountains became a distant love affair. Both of us pining for each other but hardly meeting. After the Shimla, Mashobra, Tatta Pani trip I was longing for the hills again but the mundane routines of urban life weren’t loosening their grip.

Ranikhet and nearby lake towns of Bhimtaal, Saatal and Naukuchiyatal were on our mind since some time. Finally on a bright spring morning we drove towards an adventure of a lifetime.  We were going to this area after a gap of 13 long years.

This is the first post of the three part series on our journey to the Uttarakhand mountains.

It takes 7-8 hours to reach Ranikhet which is about 350 Km from Delhi. The roads are much better than what I saw earlier and driving is mostly smooth if you leave early in the morning. We started at around 6.30 and were there by 2.30 in the afternoon. Fortunately we did not encounter any traffic jams. We decided to take the route via Hupur- Garh Mukteshwar- Gajraula- Moradabad Bypass towards Bilaspur, Rudrapur, Pant Nagar and Haldwani.

There is an alternate route also via Kashipur- Ramnagar (Corbett), Mohaan, Taarikhet  onward. This route is less crowded than the one we took and more scenic too.

Traffic can slow you down for hours sometimes at Brij Ghat at Garhmukteshwar especially if there is some religious festival on the day of your travel. It is the closest to Ganges one can get from Delhi. After that the drive is usually smooth.

We Stopped a little ahead of Garhmuktehwar for breakfast. I think it was somewhere near Gajroula. The dhaba was clean and the hot crisp Aaloo Parathas tasted  sumptuous with a dollop of butter, curds and mixed pickle.

Dhaba food is what one looks forward to while on highways and though this area isn’t flooded with dhabas that serve lip smacking food like when you travel to Chandigarh on NH22. Clean toilets and good food are two things one looks for while travelling. This place had both.

Dhabas are the lifeline of National Highways and every traveller has some favourite dhaba to talk about. We looked out for our favourite Amritsariyan da dhaba at Rudrapur but couldn’t spot it in the midst of all the new construction. Disappointed, I decided to simply gaze at the summer sky while Adi listened to the music .

Another thing was the absence of shops with boards advertising Chilled beer all through the National Highway. Those liquor shops have been shut down on govt. order  to prevent drunk driving. A good decision I thought. During hot summer days we used to often pick a few bottles from these shops but the person driving the car never drank. Frankly, I kind of missed it but what the heck we were headed for a different high altogether.

We took the Moradabad bypass (NH24) , continued to Rampur then turned left here towards Bilaspur, Rudrapur…

We didn’t go into the Rampur town which was immortalized by Jim Corbett for its verdant jungles. (Man Eaters of Kumaun).

As we neared Rampur – Rudrapur road I was amazed by the changes that had taken place in the last decade. The 68 Km of NH58 has considerably improved since I travelled last but urbanization has changed the serene landscape to an eyesore. After cruising through the periphery of Udham Singh Nagar district’s rolling green paddy fields one gets jolted at the sight of something like a chaotic miniature version of Gurgaon.

I was appalled to see stores of big brands, a huge mall, high rise buildings and swanky hotels along the road. The flatland of terai region is no more a dusty town that vanished in a blink of an eye as we zip past it.It is a concrete jungle in the rapidly developing foothills of Himalayas.  Instead of the wild leopards and tigers it now hosts the corporate tigers running this industrial hub. The place that once had paddy, sugarcane, wheat and soya fields adorning the landscape especially  from Bilaspur to Rudrapur now just has a few patches of green. At least it was heartening to see the locals selling guavas alongside the road. The few orchards were full of mango blossoms. I dreamed of luscious mangoes in the dripping heat and dozed off.

As one approaches Pantnagar one  is filled with the excitement of being close to the hills. The roads are usually crowded here and continue to be so till on crosses Kathgodam.  We made our way through the congested town of  Haldwani to reach Kathgodam from where the hills begin.

It is beyond this point that the drive becomes scenic and you get the first glimpse of the lower hills. The air changes considerably , becomes fresher and cooler.  The sight of the mountains is always exciting and we gazed at them with longing eyes, ready to be embraced by them.  Flowering trees, the simple mountain village folks, pretty houses and a long and winding road was such a joy to behold. Like children we chatted and pointed out different things  we noticed as the landscaped rolled past us. The sun was bright and warm but not torturous.

On the Bhimtal –Almora National Highway, just ahead of Bhowali, is the famous Kainchi Dham. The seat of Neem Koroli baba who was revered as an incarnation of Hanuman, of whom he was a devotee.

That was our first stop in the mountains. Not for the Ashram and temple but for our long time favourite Mohan Restaurant which is right across the temple complex.

Many people headed to Ranikhet and ahead stop here for delicious food and clean toilets in the little shopping complex on the temple side of the road. There are two hairpin scissor like bends on the road hence the name kainchi mod. (Kainchi – scissor, mod- bend)  Many celebrities like Julia Roberts, Marl Zukerburg and Steve Jobs came here to stay in search for Nirvana. Located at the banks of  the rivulet Shipra, which merges into Kosi river as it meanders northwards, this Ashram  is visited by thousands every year.  You can find more about it from Google.  I love the place for its scenic beauty. Tall conifers, green houses at some distance near the rivulet’s bed,  hundreds of birds and flowers make it such a blissful place. Even with the place being a stopover for many tourists and travellers for food etc the serene peaceful Kainchi mod and surrounding areas are so welcoming. You will find local villagers selling Plum, Peaches, Apricot and other seasonal fruits. There are a few small eating joints along the road.

 Mohan restaurant is one such  eating joint.  Unmistakable with its pink walled interior and a shed on top , the place is owned by a kumauni family.  In all the years that we have stopped at this place the quality of food hasn’t changed a bit. Simple, homely and delicious kala chana and pooti, Aaloo sabzi and poori, parathas, bhajia and tea, maggi and a few other things are part of the menu. They are all made fresh by the lady of the house. The highlight is the pahadi cucumber raita and tangy spiced up jalzeera or lemonade made with Hill Lemons (Khatta).

In season one can see trees laden with these hill limes at many places on the way and in the villages. The fruit is an integral part of the kumauni cuisine.  We had chana poori and raita and after freshened up. There are clean bathrooms available across the road. We needed to stretch our legs so we walked around the area soaking in the smells and sounds only mountains can offer.

Again on the road we crossed khairna bridge( there is a bifurcation here, one road leads to Almora and another  goes to Ranikhet), Garam Pani and other small villages with lovely houses. The winding road is well maintained and the view simply enchanting. Look to your left for a magical view of green knolls, terraced fields , meandering river  down in the valley, lush forests and cleanse your smoke choked lungs with the  sweet smelling cool mountain air…bliss.

Far from the madding crowd we were driving now among beautiful tall trees and wild wayside flowers. The valley below to our left was bathed in sunlight and looked absolutely gorgeous.

Soon the sign boards and toll point indicated that we were right at the threshold of the unique slope town of Ranikhet situated on the upper ridge of the lower Himalayas. We took the higher of the two ridges flanking Ranikhet. The Chaubatia ridge, among orchards and old churches, has the army cantonment where we were going to stay for the next few days. Within minutes we were outside a lovely British style cottage which would be our home for the next few days.

It was a lovely day and we were ready to explore our favorite haunts.

We will continue with our adventure in the next part of the series. Keep watching this space.

Breathtaking Jageshwar


 

With a passion for driving and a desire to explore new places, we decided to explore some untouched places around Ranikhet and Almora, region.
The whole area is dotted with remote picturesque places which can leave you asking for more .
We made Ranikhet as our base. The place has some power to hold you, be it any time of the season .It also is a second home to us so we could relax and workout which destination to select for a day trip .Jageshwar in Almora district came as a unanimous choice. A temple town buried deep in the heart of Himalayas.RANIKHET
AT 1829meters above sea level Ranikhet has the best combination of majestic Himalayas, lush green forests, hidden nature trails and lot of places of interest to visit. A
Perfect balance of old and new. It also offers an interesting mix of hill and military cultures. One can spend hours just admiring the majestic Bhagirathi peaks in the west to Nanda Kot in the east. The place has preserved its virginity and pristine charm
In every season there is something to come back to in this place ,be it the riot of colors in the skies during the sunset, variety of local flowers or trees laden with fruits of the season. The air is fresh and cool and one can enjoy the scenic beauty through mist and clouds and sun playing hide n seek among tall pine trees. Or one can add to the excitement with an evening of power packed volleyball or football matches between one of the stationed regiments, cheered by the local crowd.
An half an hour drive will take you to Chaubatia. The orchards famous for variety of exotic flora and delicious apples. The view is scintillating. The evenings are made even more serene by ringing bells of Herakhan and ancient Jhoola devi temples. A few kilometers from Ranikhet are the magnificent Kalika golf course.
The nights are also beautiful especially if it’s a full moon night. It casts a spell on you.
We decided to start early and packed some sandwiches for our two very exited kids. it was a great day for driving and we had a long way to go. We took the instructions from our army friends and set off to Almora reroute to Jageshwar.

ALMORA

Almora is nestled in the lap of nature with great view of Himalayas and lovely colorful houses built on the slopes, it also has great bio diversity. Famous for the local bal-mithai, Surrounded by thick pine forest, this place is unique in its traditions and culture.
Two lovely rivers Kosi and Suyal flow along Almora making it even more beautiful. Apart from the main Almora town one can go to BINSAR, JAGESHWAR, BAGESHWAR, BAIJNATH, AND GANNATH, known for its natural caves and Shiva temple. Almora is filled with scenic beauty and the town has maintained its ancient tradition which is different from other hill stations.

We filled the petrol tank full, as there is no petrol pump on the way to Jageshwar .The drive past the old Almora town, gliding on the long and winding road, was an experience I will remember for a long time .Lush green pine and fur forest on one side and deep enthralling valley with majestic Himalayan ranges as a backdrop lift us spellbound.
The fresh sweet smelling breeze brushing past the trees made a whistling sound, somewhere some bird call could be heard breaking the silence ,the small villages looked painted in rainbow colors ,full of vibrant seasonal flowers and bubbling brooks filled the us with awe.
A slight drizzle had started and the fragrance of the wet soil, mixed with the mountain air was intoxicating.
JAGESHWAR
It took us approximately three hours to reach pilgrimage town of Jageshwar, 5000 ft up in the Kumaon hills .As we approached the little settlement it seemed we have come in some other mythical world . Cluster of 150 Ancient Shiva temples made of gray stone built centuries ago, stood silently surrounded by the mesmerizing natural beauty.
The whole place gave me a feeling of spiritual calm and peace. Embellished with the tall deciduous deodar trees and winding river Jata Ganga, which finds its way to the side of the temple complex.
Jageshwar is the 8th Jyotirling among the twelve and has great religious value. Giant deodar trees stand as guards all across the area .the temples are of archaeological importance and one can spot signs put up by ASI everywhere.
The architecture of these temples especially the mritunjaya and jyotirlinga temples is worth a look the carvings ,the courtyard and ancient things like pots etc. brought out in excavations can kept us hooked for a long time. The archaeological museum has idols and exquisite statues dating 10th century. One can also take an excursion to virddha Jageshwar which is worth a look.
Apart from the religious aspect of the place one finds the old wooden houses pained carefully with vibrant colors and exquisitely carved panels all add to the glory of this place. The people are helpful and ever smiling. We stayed at Jageshwar for four hours and apart from offering prayers at al the temples, enjoyed the slight drizzle,a magnificent rainbow and cool water of the stream flowing nearby. It’s truly a magical experience which captivates you and holds you to the place.
With a heart filled with serenity, peace and calm we started our drive back to Ranikhet, pledging to return and stay longer.
On the way back we encountered a heavy downpour and driving through the rain on the serpent like road was an experience by itself. Visibility was poor but we had to go on to reach our destination before dark. The rain stopped as suddenly as it had started and we managed to reach Almora without any problem. Here we got some famous local mithai packed and had or much needed cup of sweet tea. As there was still a little time on our hand we decided to go down to Koshi River and spend some time enjoying the cool clear water. Children had great time playing with local kids, who were having a swimming competition .The water glittered with the golden rays of the setting sun and the beauty of the place increased manifolds.
We reached Ranikhet at night just in time for a good, home cooked meal, at the army guest house, where we were staying .The night was beautiful and cool and very quite. Here the nature’s beauty overwhelms you with its sheer abundance.
Though a very short trip we really enjoyed every moment of it .I would love to go back and spend a few days there exploring and reliving the enchanting experience.

Dharamshala Adventure


Summers had set in and we were ready to explore yet another destination. We were offered accommodation in Dharamshala and so, instead of going to the unexplored places, we normally go to, we decided to visit the land of His Holiness Dalai Lama.
We went to Dharamshala from khajjiar which is near Dalhousie. It was a six nights five day trip.

Dharamshala lies on a spur of the Dhauladhar range, the Pir Panjal region of the Outer Himalayas; and commands majestic views of the mighty Dhauladhar ranges above, and the Kangra Valley below.

It is the land of awesome peaks, of Tibetan monasteries, and of meandering streams cascading down the majestic mountains rising up to 4000 feet. The gorges, wild daisies growing like a carpet of yellow n white, the springs leave you asking for more.

The main town is divided into two halves .The lower and the upper Dharamshala.
Upper Dharamshala has a distinct character of its own and is influenced by the Buddhist culture .It is known as McLeodganj and is the seat of Dalai Lama. This place reflects the Tibetan way of life and is tranquil n serene .The crisp breeze is filled with the chanting of hymns n tinkling of prayer wheels. It’s a world in its own. Heavenly, calm and breathtakingly beautiful. The locals are friendly and warm people and one can easily relate to them. The evening prayers, the meditating monks, the laughter of the little children dressed in maroon outfits, the mighty statue of Lord Buddha in gold, just takes your breath away. It was a treat to our spiritually starved soul.

Apart from the spiritual stuff, the place offers some of the mouthwatering Tibetan food, from thupkas and dimsums, to a wide variety of local food, hand woven carpets, artifacts and spiritual music and books. The place is a heaven for food lovers, the constant flow of westerners has added to its flavor with German bakeries offering delicacies, out of this world.
One can spend hours at this captivating place, walking down the trek routes, all along the hills.

The lower Dharamshala is a traveler’s base camp and a place where you can see people from across the world. It’s a busy town dotted with cyber cafes, crowded market place, restaurants, eateries, cafes and local shops.

The place is known for its beauty, elegance and charm that it expresses through the natural scenarios and the mystic ambiance. The coniferous forests and the snow capped mountains are a welcoming treat from the hustle bustle of the city life.

We were in a mood to chill out completely and didn’t want to go to usual places of tourist interest .Both the kids were ecstatic to find video parlors, cyber cafes n their favorite eating joints, and that was a bliss .We were left to do our own bit.
Loaded with ample supply of booze and the task now was to relax and find a good German café .Tucked on a hill side our search ended at a lovely café which not only offered great food but also had board games like Dominos, chess and carom and regular sessions of guitar playing.

The whole day, we explored the spectacular places like Bhagsunag waterfalls; the side of the rocky hill had been cut and paved with stones, to create a walkway to the waterfall. the path is approximately 1.5km. And very steep .it is a place one can spend hours without tiring..The water is fast and cold and one can sit on the huge boulders admiring the beauty surrounding the place.Bhagsunag also has an ancient temple of Shiva and is the ceremonial temple to First Gorkha Rifles. The monasteries and the nature trails in the forests, the local kotwali bazaar, church of St.John nestled between the wilderness and built in Gothic style , war memorial are the other places we explored , and, in the evening we returned to the café for steaks n barbecue, freshly baked breads n cakes. The owner, a young lad from Goa, was a friendly soul and after a little negotiation, allowed us to have our drinks at the far side of the café, dominated by the westerners. These hippies and regular travelers lived in their own world of dope n drinks and had little to do with anyone around .The music from their guitars and flutes floated sweetly in the night air. It was an experience of a life time for us.

Playing chess till the darkness and the cold enveloped us, we were transported to some other world .Slowly the crowd thinned and even our party broke up, but I was not in a mood to give up the intoxicating experience of the night life and persuaded our friend to stay on . Promising rest of the family, to return to the hotel, at dinner time.

It was our last night there at Dharamshala, and we wanted to make the most of it. Walking down the narrow lanes in the starlight, we saw a totally different aspect of the majestic Dhauladhars .Though most of the hill stations look the same at night; here something was captivating the senses. The air was pure n cool mixed with a heady cocktail of incense sticks and aromas coming from various road side food joints. We came across groups of hippies huddled together smoking pot or something similar.
One thing that I regretted, was taking my handy cam and not the digital camera or any other Camera for capturing the enchanting beauty of the place.

The nights are alive in Dharamshala, with so many soul cafés organizing rave nights, full of trance and techno music and dance .there are new events every night and places are mainly frequented by hippies and youngsters visiting the place.
Though I was very excited to go for an adventure of a different kind, the on growing pressure from the two male members of the group made me change my plans.
We reached the hotel well after the dinner time and sneaked into beds, only to be awakened and scolded for being so irresponsible .After a bit of buttering up things calmed down and we offered the angry lot, some scrumptious baked stuff, we had got packed on our way back.
No one was in mood to sleep so we kept chatting till the wee hours and then after a quick nap, packed our bags to say good bye to this celestial place. Getting up at around six we started our drive back to Delhi, full of happy memories and a longing to come back to this heaven on earth as soon as possible