Beat The Heat! – 2

A few folks reached out to us to know more about the three destinations we recommended in Part I to escape the Indian summer. Glad we could be of help! But, three destinations are inadequate for six months of the intense north Indian summer. So, we bring three more long weekend getaways from Delhi. All the three are in the Himalayas, yet are quite different from each other!

Dharamshala

The home of the Dalai Lama & the Tibetan Government in exile is technically not a long weekend destination, i.e., three days will be insufficient to do justice to it. But something is better than nothing!

Fly to Gaggal, or take a train to Pathankot, or drive down to Dharamshala, the serene Himalayan town is more accessible than ever before.

We have a soft spot for all things Buddhist. Thus, liking Dharamshala came naturally to us. If you are of a spiritual bent, you will benefit from a visit to the Namgyal Monastery, the largest Tibetan temple outside of Tibet.

If, instead, you are one who prefers the outdoors, you can take the long but picturesque walk to the Bhagsu Waterfall. But, let us caution you – the waterfall & the Bhagsu Nag Temple can get crowded.

And then, there is always the option of sit back & sigh at the stunning views of the Himalayas.

We stayed at Sterling Dharamshala but we believe there are better options available like Hotel Norbu House and The Divine Hima. We drove from New Delhi to Dharamshala which became a little tiring as the distance is >500 KMS.

Our original trip of fours days had to be cut short by a day due to an accident. It only makes us determined to return to Dharamshala soon!

Jim Corbett National Park

OK, this is an uncommon choice to ‘beat the heat’ as the Jim Corbett National Park itself attains temperatures of 40+ degrees Celsius. But this is the best time to spot the big cat. Thanks to the extreme heat, many watering holes dry up, forcing the animals to congregate at the few that remain. Thus, summer turns out to be a great time to spot most animals near water bodies, including the tiger.

If you are like us (hate summer), let us reassure you that because of the greenery, the Park still remains bearable. Safaris take place in mornings & early evenings. So, take out the broad brimmed hat, slather on the sunscreen, put on the glares & head to Corbett.

And, again, if, like us, you dislike crowds, fewer tourists visit the Jim Corbett National Park in the summer, making it a more private experience for those who do.

You can get from Delhi NCR to the Park in about six hours, eight in case of traffic.

In our two visits, we stayed at Kanwhizz HUM TUM Resort (yes, that was its name but now it is called La Perle River Resorts), and The Riverview Retreat. Both are on the banks of the River Kosi but we recommend The Riverview Retreat. You can walk to the river and spend time in solitude, listening to the sounds of nature.

Kanwhizz HUM TUM had cabanas next to the Kosi. We enjoyed a candlelit dinner in one of the cabanas.

candlelit dinner, river kosi, kanwhizz
Great way to end day – Candlelit dinner by River Kosi at Kanwhizz

Be careful of the scams operating in Jim Corbett National Park in the name of safaris. Agencies like Travel Tiger Track can cheat you by showing you zones like Sitabani (hardly a wildlife reserve) in the name of tiger safaris. No permit is needed for this ‘zone’. Private vehicles are allowed. There is a tea stall inside where visitors can not just have tea but biscuits, mixtures & instant noodles. Smoking is allowed too. No guide is needed to visit Sitabani.

Around sunset, visit the Garjiya Devi Temple, located on the other side of the Kosi. You cross a foot over bridge to get to it. To get to the shrine, you will climb steep steps. The shrine is small but the idol is beautiful.

Little Bambi
Little Bambi

Pangot

Falling under the Nainital district & the Naina Devi Himalayan Bird Conservation Reserve, Pangot (or Pangoot) is a village known for its bird watching. Its beauty lies in its picturesqueness. The village, though barely 15 KMS from Nainital, is fairly remote.

Pangot is a birdwatcher’s paradise, courtesy the hundreds of bird types found here. Oak & rhododendron forests attract the eye. If you like all-weather destinations, this is the place. Like most of our other recommendations, please do not expect a list of things to do/ see in Pangot. It is a place of calm & quiet. So, if you love nature, make your way to this village which, along with birding, offers scope for activities like mountain biking too.

Pangot is a village; expect limited number of accommodation options. We stayed at The Nest Cottages which we liked for its location. Away from ‘civilization’, you can enjoy solitude. Your neighbors are birds, dogs & monkeys.

The cottages are standalone, reminding of English novels with their slanting roofs & wooden interiors. Excellent service, home style vegetarian food. The owner is a sweet old man, lovely to converse with.

We did not have to step out of the property to see birds; many kinds greeted us right in the common area. Hardly any network & an erratic TV meant tranquility. Did we mention they have a well-stocked library?

Another accommodation you can consider is Jungle Lore Birding Lodge.

You can get from Delhi NCR to Pangot in about seven hours, nine in case of traffic. Do not forget to halt at Nainital to do some boating at the Naini Lake or to have a delectable meal at Sakley’s Restaurant & Pastry Shop.

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Beat the Heat!

Come April & the Sun starts its mercilessness on the hapless souls of the National Capital Region. Right till September, it becomes a matter of hot, very hot & unbearably hot. In these six months, at least one getaway is needed to cooler environs.

Aren’t we thankful that the Himalayas are a stone’s throw away? So, to help you tolerate the weather, we bring three relatively unknown, long weekend getaways from Delhi. All the three are in Uttarakhand, in the Nainital district, yet are as different from Nainital as chalk from cheese!

Jeolikot: It was a never-heard-of-before village for us till we made our way here. Jeolikot is located close to Nainital, & yet, is far removed from the chaos that Nainital can be during the tourist season. It is a great place for flower lovers & lepidopterists.

jeolikot, mist
Misty Jeolikot

Visit Jeolikot for a picturesque view of the Himalayas. It is not a place where you rush around to ‘see’ spots. Rather, grab a book, or put on your favorite music, or carry a board game, sit facing the mountains, grab a cup of ‘chai’ & life is sorted.

outside, cozy, morning tea, sitout
Outside our room, a cozy spot to sip the morning tea

Located a little down the hill from the main road, The Cottage is a cozy home stay reminiscent of the bygone colonial era. Its red roof exudes an old-world charm. The shimmery blue & white porcelain crockery make up a large part of the decor. A decor you will be tempted to take home!

To top it, Ms. Bhuvan Kumari’s impeccable hospitality & warmth. Over mugs of tea, she regaled us with stories ranging from leopards to winter soirees. The best part – dogs! When we visited, there were three adorable & friendly doggos.

greet, dog
Greeted by ‘Nanhi Bai’

We tried to get to Nainital but, being an extended weekend, we could not get past the traffic jam. Instead, we turned towards Bhimtal, had lunch at a dhaba from where the Bhimtal Lake was faintly visible, & returned to the calmness of Jeolikot.

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Spot Bhimtal in the distance

We recommend – do not bother with Nainital & the like. Head out for a stroll in Jeolikot itself. You will come across giggling kids, grazing horses, plenty of flora, & wild berries. Try the Chicken Roast at The Cottage, and pick up souvenirs from Kilmora.

You can get from Delhi NCR to Jeolikot in about seven hours, nine if there is traffic.

Sattal, little known, picturesque
Sattal – So little known, & thus so picturesque!

Sattal: A village deriving its name from the lake it encircles, Sattal is near Bhimtal, but is less known. True to its name, the ‘lake’ is actually a combination of seven lakes, each quite pristine. Forests surround the lakes.

mind, reel, gorgeous
Our minds reeled with all the gorgeousness.

Given the ecosystem, birds thrive here, making Sattal a paradise for ornithophiles. We spent our time birding. Ask for directions to get to the bird watching spot, the Studio. It is a downhill walk, with no restrooms in the vicinity. As birding is a time-consuming activity, this is something you need to be aware of. Also, note that bird watching needs a lot of patience & silence. You make one movement/ sound, & the bird would have flown off.

It was our first birding experience; we were lucky to spot jungle myna, blue whistling thrush, grey wagtail, red-Wattled lapwing, oriental turtle dove, orange flanked bush robin, grey-headed canary flycatcher, black bulbul, verditer flycatcher, white throated laughing thrush, slaty-headed parakeet, ultramarine flycatcher, Himalayan bulbul, & black headed jay.

Located in a nearby village called Suriyagaon is Naveen’s Glen, an estate comprising apartments, cottages & villas. It is run by Ms. Nitya Budharaja & her family. The rooms have been done up warmly. A personal touch is evident in every aspect of Naveen’s Glen.

Naveen's Glen, garden, bloom
Naveen’s Glen garden in full bloom!

To top it, there is an absolutely stunning view of the sunset from the garden. We spent many minutes chatting with Ms. Budharaja, getting recommendations from her for bird watching & for food.

sunrise, sunset, Jo Walton
“There’s a sunrise & a sunset every single day, & they’re absolutely free. Don’t miss so many of them.” – Jo Walton

The best part – again dogs! When we visited, there were three adorable & friendly doggos.

It does not snow in Sattal; so, it is accessible throughout the year. You can get from Delhi NCR to Sattal in about six hours, eight in case of traffic. Naveen’s Glen is located off the main road, the last few kilometers are devoid of human habitation. But, do not worry – you are on the right track.

Nathuakhan, Dusk, changing colors, amaze
Nathuakhan Dusk – The changing colors amazed us.

Nathuakhan: Falling under the Ramgarh block, Nathuakhan is essentially a village. & therein lies its beauty. It offers appealing views of the sun caressed Himalayan ranges which are dotted with soaring trees of pine, birch & many others.

clear day, snow-capped mountain, entice
On clear days, the snow-capped mountains entice…

The mountainous terrains, fertile valley and dense cover of abundant forest make Nathuakhan a place to rest and enjoy solitude away from the city buzz. The mountains may get your creative juices flowing; so, whatever your artistic inclination, carry it along.

Summer, Flower, wilt
Summer had arrived. Flowers had started wilting.

If you like to work your limbs, there are a number of walking trails nearby. Keep a lookout for members of the feline family. For those who like their poison on-the-go, Nathuakhan has a country liquor store with few English brands available. So, if you have superior tastes or are fussy, we suggest you carry your alcohol.

Country wood cottages augment the beauty of Nathuakhan. Bob’s Place is one such. It is nestled away from crowds, provides comforting food, and does not compel one to do anything. Bob’s Place has standalone cottages erected in a multi-level manner. The highest ones command a view of snow-clad peaks of the Himalayas. The lower ones have sit-out areas but the view gets diminished by the foliage.

Our cottage had a fireplace, a blanket and a heater. The food we ate did not taste any different from what we eat at home. The ‘poha’ we had for breakfast was quite different though, and wonderfully so. It was made with ‘khada garam masala’. People who have eaten the Indian-style meat can identify how good this would taste. The ‘masala chai’ was free-flowing too. Special mention of the chicken fry we got as our finale dinner. Do ask for it when you head to Bob’s Place.

You can get from Delhi NCR to Nathuakhan in about nine hours, eleven in case of traffic. Do not forget to pick up shawls, stoles, herbs and pine needle decorations from Kilmora, and fruit spreads from Himjoli.

(You can read our full blog post on Nathuakhan here.)

So, go ahead & beat the heat!

All Hail the Hail Stones!

Less than three weeks after our road trip to Nathuakhan, we hit the road again! The One above was being kind. So where to this time? The weather was turning warmer; we needed to escape to the mountains. But we had just been to Kumaon. Driving on the same roads and seeing the same region was not exciting.

The fact that even the hills were sweating made the search more excruciating. Apart from Kumaon, we had either Garhwal or Himachal. Garhwal still brought back memories of the devastating landslides & floods that hit it. Himachal, of course, was a tad too far away.

After days of Googling, we chanced upon a place called Kanatal. Sounded suspiciously like Nainital, Bhimtal etc. However, surprisingly, it was neither in Kumaon nor had a ‘tal’ (lake). It was located in Garhwal, quite close to the Tehri dam.

Kanatal-50
All of it had been painstakingly painted…

The weather here seemed salubrious; it seemed away from the hustle-bustle of the typical hill stations. With a belief in what Paulo Coelho said, “Everything that happens once can never happen again”, we opted for Kanatal.

Three of our friends were keen to head out too. It was a long weekend for all; well, there was no reason needed to holiday. But now we had to find a place to stay – something that fit in with my love for home stays. There were not too many options in Kanatal. The most appealing property, The Terraces, was quite expensive. We did not have the inclination to splurge. When you travel as much as we do, you do need to keep it frugal.

The other options we got were of camps. A big no! The ninth or tenth search result threw up the name of Saur Cottages. Sounded interesting! So Saur Cottages are a home stay – like accommodation run by DueNorth, a group promoting tourism adventure in Uttarakhand. They aim to foster rural development, heritage communities and local crafts in the natural environment.

Kanatal-103
There’s no greater joy than to be able to distinguish…

The Cottages are located in Saur Village, which is about five kilometers from Chamba on the road that leads to Tehri dam. The cottages themselves are restored ‘pahari’ (mountain) houses with extensive use of bamboo, mud, stone & wood.

When we saw the pictures online, we knew this was where we wanted to stay. We left Delhi NCR in a Mahindra XUV 500 at almost 9 am. The roads were buzzing with activity already; we knew it was going to be a long day, long drive.

We drove amongst buses, bullock carts and cycle rickshaws. It was only the promise of what awaited us in Uttarakhand that kept us energized. We looked out of the window to the children playing in the mud, the village elders having their ‘chaupal’ under the banyan tree, the village women going about their daily chores. In the midst of this, a few brand names dominated the semi-urban and rural landscapes – Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Airtel, Idea and Vodafone.

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Reflecting on the day gone by…

Entering Uttarakhand always brings a smile on our faces. We crossed the Ganges at Haridwar with a silent prayer on our lips. We saw hundreds of vehicles parked – folks were washing away their sins.

The road till Rishikesh had been jam-packed. It seemed a whole section of NCR was off river-rafting. It eased up after Rishikesh. Three of our passengers had their Google Maps open. All three gave contradictory directions. It was quite amusing.

Once we crossed Chamba, we kept our eyes open as a narrow road took us to the Saur Village. If we continued on the main road, we would end up in Badrinath. Not sure if we were feeling so religious then!

Kanatal-122
Wisps of yellow radiated even amidst showers

The narrow road came under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana. About 12 kilometers on this road brought us to the very pit of the valley. Nestled amongst lush green terrace farms & protected by mountains on all sides, sat pretty the picturesque village of Saur.

It was a forgotten village, abandoned by its inhabitants and dying a slow death, before DueNorth took it up and started the restoration work. DueNorth had restored one of the village homes to a set of cottages where tourists could stay. Additionally, it works to improve the livelihood of the village people, specifically women, through local produce & handicraft.

At almost the end of the road, we left the car and walked down to the cottages. This was a descent through vegetable gardens; we could already feel a part of the place. We peeped into the cottage that was to be our home for the next two days. It was rustic in every sense and in a good way.

Kanatal-131
I may not be pretty but I stand out…

Orange-colored with wooden frames supporting it and a roof thatched with bamboo, the cottage had two bedrooms, a kitchen and a sit out. Descending to the basement brought us to a large bathroom, the size of which was comparable to a flat in Mumbai!

The rooms had mellow lighting and furniture made of bamboo and pine. Innumerable blankets were plopped on the beds; so we knew it was going to get cold.

We ended up chatting with the cottage in charge about our travels to Uttarakhand. She told us about her work with the village women, teaching them to use pine needles in crafting products. After our chat, we pulled out our woolens, and settled in.

Kanatal-132
Stop & smell the flowers while there are any

It was getting quite cold; we were enjoying it. After a hearty dinner, blissful sleep followed!

Day two, we headed to the Tehri dam. We had heard a lot about it, especially how it saved lives during the floods of June 2013. And prior to that, the extensive debate on it being a threat to the environment and it displacing people from their homes.

Well, there will always be two sides to any story. We do not have an opinion. We just wanted to see the architectural marvel that it was. The dam is on the Badrinath road and 45 minutes away from Saur Village.

Kanatal-137
The gentle reminder of our insignificance

Close to the site, we started seeing the sparkling blue water. It reminded of our first glimpse of Pangong Tso. Our excitement had known no limit. It was almost the same this time. Turning around curves, we inched closer to the dam.

At the same time, the temperature was dropping furiously; it had started drizzling. None of us had rain coats and at best, flimsy sweaters. At the gate of the dam, we were stopped. We did not have the permit to go inside. Such a dampener!

But there were other tourists; they pleaded their way in. We were happy to follow suit. We were told by security to go till the bridge and return. We were almost freezing. The wind was harsh; the rain was soaking through our sweaters to chill our bones.

Kanatal-43
She toiled away trying to make ends meet…

At the bridge, unfortunately, the dam gates were closed. So, on one side was the water filled to the brim, and, on the other side, was the machinery visible for us to see how the water ran its course.

After shivering for a few minutes and being scolded by the security guard at the second check post, we headed back. It had been a good visit. We were assured of the good work being done by Tehri.

In the past, the dam had stopped the river from unleashing its fury on Rishikesh and Haridwar. At least, some damage was prevented. We shuddered getting reminded of those images on television. But we do not blame nature.

Kanatal-101
Geography lessons came alive

It was wholly and solely the folly of human beings. If you usurp what belongs rightfully to Mother Nature, She will stake Her claim sooner or later.

What was the plan for lunch? The thought of The Terraces came to our minds. We could not stay there due to it being prohibitively expensive but we could certainly have lunch there. So we found The Terraces on Google Maps and drove on.

About 20 kilometers from Tehri dam but in a different direction is the town called Kanatal. It is high up in the mountains and experiences snowfall in winters. The legend says there used to be a ‘tal’ (lake) but it is dried up.

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The road led to Saur & ended its purpose there…

The Terraces was certainly a beautiful property. Perched high on the mountain, it commanded a view of many peaks. Unfortunately, it was clouded and raining. A sumptuous lunch in the warm restaurant warded off the cold for us.

The best was yet to happen. We could feel it, though it was impossible to feel anything beyond the cold. On our way back to Saur, we saw vehicles covered in a layer of white. We were excited. Just a little ahead, we discovered the secret.

It was raining hailstones. Or should we say it was hailing cats and dogs? Hail stones as big as pebbles hit our car, making a metallic sound. Hail stones as small as grains of rice fluttered into our outstretched palms. We had not seen a more spectacular scene.

Kanatal-45
The laws of attraction spare none…

The road was covered in sheets of white, making the path a tad slippery. We had felt this excited when we encountered snow for the first time, en route Khardungla. We sensed the same flutter of excitement. The road covered in white brought about a sense of awe.

There was a renewed respect for nature. How easily nature transforms water to ice, to snow, to vapor, to mist-each with its own beauty! Moreover, how easily we plain – walas get excited seeing snow and ice. The mountain folk are probably sick and tired of these but we transform into kids.

We slowed down and took in the spectacle. We clicked photos to capture this for eternity. However, more than the pictures, it is the memory that will keep us company.

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Diamonds might adorn a neck but they would never be this beautiful…

As we descended into the valley to get to our cottage, the hail stones converted to a drizzle. The sky had opened up; the valley was a mix of green and white – green where the water had washed off the dust, and white where the hail stones had settled. This was a brilliant time to click photographs.

The temperature was dropping rapidly. By night, it was 3 degrees Celsius. We were unprepared for this kind of cold. We snuggled into the bed under two layers of blankets. It was our last night here; the shower of hail stones had made our holiday worthwhile.

We also shopped! The small room beneath our cottage had the handicraft goods created by the village women. Pine needles earrings, baskets, table mats, table runners, cloth dolls, cloth key chains – it was an interesting assortment but was clearly the work of people who were still learning. The finish was not that great but given the softies we are, we ended up buying quite a few things.

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We might be broken but we were not shattered…

Morning gave no hint of the weather the night before. It was bright, sunny and warm! It was time to return – to monotony, to the daily grind, to the banal existence. Holidays should be the rule, not the exception. Well, we should not complain. We take holidays at every opportunity we get.

One last magic awaited us before the road ended. On our way back, with the sky completely devoid of clouds, we saw an entire Himalayan range, sparkling a brilliant white. We had murmured that sitting in the valley, we had missed out on ‘views’. But here they were – tall, grand, gleaming, white, covered with layers and layers of snow, and inviting. Sigh!

 

We recommend an itinerary for five days, four nights to Garhwal:

Delhi – Mussoorie – Saur Village – Delhi

Day 1: Depart from Delhi early and arrive at Mussoorie by tea time. Spend the night at Pine Hill exploring the premises, specially the club, reading at the library or sipping a local brew in the sit out

Day 2: Spend the day sightseeing or trekking. Mussoorie may be overrated but once in a while, it is okay to be a part of the hype!

Day 3: Checkout and head to Saur. Check in at Saur Cottages. Take a walk around and experience village life at its best

Day 4: After breakfast, head to Tehri dam. Good to get a permit beforehand. Head to Kanatal from Tehri and spend the day soaking in the beauty of the yet-undiscovered hill station. Back to Saur for dinner

Day 5: Checkout and head back to Delhi

Recommended time to visit: Pretty much all through the year. It snows during winter in Mussoorie and Kanatal, so be prepared for the cold!

Recommended eats: Thukpa soup at Mussoorie; Rhododendron juice anywhere

Recommended buys: Shawls from Mussoorie, pine needle decorations from Saur

 

We are planning our next holiday in Himachal Pradesh. Any recommendations?

 

Images courtesy our talented friend TB