Hills of Kumaon

A journey to the hills is always refreshing. A post on an exciting and memorable journey to the foothills of the mighty Himalayas. This was our third visit to Uttarakhand the first two being to Mussoorie and Valley of Flowers. This was our first visit to the Kumaon region. More specifically we went to the lake district of Nainital.

Journey
We took the afternoon flight from Bangalore to Delhi followed by the overnight train journey to Kathgodam which serves as a gateway to Kumaon. The Ranikhet Express was bang on time and we reached around 5 AM. We had booked rooms in Club Mahindra Dancing Waters Resort at Naukuchiatal which was around 35 kms from Kathgodham. The resort had arranged for a cab to pick us up. We reached Naukuchiatal just as it was getting light.

Club Mahindra Dancing Waters Resort
This resort is located midway up a hillock overlooking the Naukuchiatal lake (which gets its name due to its nine corners). A 5 minute walk leads on to the lake. The rooms are cozy and well furnished. The garden is very colourful.

Club Mahindra Dancing Waters

Playground

The staff was a delight throughout our stay and made us feel at home. The food in the restaurant was also good and the Head Chef would drop by to talk to all guests and take their feedback and inputs. The front desk people were friendly especially Manoj and Varsha who was cheerful and giving us tidbits of information about the place that she had gathered from guests since she herself had come to Nakuchiatal recently. Alok from the travel desk was also helpful in arranging transport to places that we wanted to visit. Arun who waited upon us most of the times in the restaurant was another cheerful person who did his job to perfection I can say!

We got a room on the ground floor overlooking the garden. It was a pleasure for us to sit on the divan next to the french windows and watch birds in action from the comforts of our room! We sighted the Himalayan Bulbuls, Blue Whistling Thrush, Dark-sided Flycatcher, Grey Bushchat, Verditer Flycatcher, Streaked Laughing Thrush, Grey-hooded Warbler, Scarlet Minivet, Grey Treepie, Oriental White-eye and the Red-billed Blue Magpie.

Naukuchiatal
The place gets its name due to the large Naukuchiatal lake. It is a popular local belief that a person who can spot all the nine corners of the lake together will attain salvation. The waves in the lake change direction at different times of the day. Colourful boats and Shikaras adorn the lake. The lake is adorned by hills and looks serene.

Which boat for you?

We took a boat ride along the lake for half an hour.The boatsman was an old gentleman of seventy who claimed that he was the oldest and most experienced (sabse sayana in his own words). He showed us the corners of the lake and mentioned that the water levels had gone down this year due to a not so effective monsoon.

Experience

Leaning over

Solitude

We had seen the beautiful Hanuman temple en-route the resort. It was just a 5 minute walk away and we spent some time here. It is hard to miss the towering statue of Lord Hanuman. The temple complex is pretty large and has multiple shrines dedicated to various other gods and goddesses. There is an artificial cave in addition to all this. The whole place has been done up very nicely. This temple has been constructed by Mauni Ma who is a disciple of Neem Karauli Baba of Kainchi. An elderly gentleman told us that Mauni Ma has been on a vow of silence for the last 60+ years and she is around 95 years old.

Hanuman

A walk in the hills is very soothing. We went along the road up the hillock that goes past the resort towards the lake. We passed by a beautiful house belonging to an admiral. The garden was dotted with marble statues and filled with colourful flowers. What a place to stay! The view of the lake was great along this stretch of the path and we stopped for a brief while near the KMVN Parichay guesthouse to watch birds. The KMVN hotels and guesthouses are located at very good spots and not too hard on the purse. Overall a good option to consider for any trips to this region! The trail ended at Lake resort next to KMVN which seemed a good place too.

Bhimtal
A short drive of around 7 kms from the resort leads to Bhimtal town named after Bhima of Mahabharata. It is a belief that Bhima had visited this place during the vanvas or exile period.The Bhimtal Lake is huge with an aquarium on a tiny island in the centre. An ancient Shiva temple is located on one side of the lake.

Approach

Parking Lot

Headed back

Drawing a line

Alice fell through here into Wonderland

On a hillock near the lake is a butterfly research centre and museum. A room of a 150 year old British Bungalow located in the Jones Estate houses a huge collection of butterflies and moths. The Smetacek family has been into butterfly collection and research since 1949 when Victor Smetacek a retired Forest Councillor arrived here from Germany. Today Peter Smetacek (the grandson of the founder) and his wife Rajini Smetacek continue to do the research. Rajini explained about the various butterflies and moths ranging from beautiful to poisonous to largest to smallest.

Saattal

Saattal is a collection of seven lakes which are named after various characters from the Ramayana. It is more popular as a tourist destination as compared to either Bhimtal or Naukuchiatal. Saattal beyond just the lake is considered one of the birding hotspots and you may have read about birding around Saattal in one of my previous posts. Given that the place was crowded, atleast relatively speaking, we did not spend much time here beyond the cursory stop to take in the scenery. Some of the “activities” here were a little funny including a farcical zip-lining near one of the bridges on the lake, especially for us having done the real deal at Jodhpur. Near Saattal lake was the Saattal estate within which we spotted a large cross. What a final resting place for someone!

Activities at Saattal lake

What a final resting place!

Ghorakhal
Ghorakhal is a quaint little town near Bhowali whose name translates to a pond of water for horses. We went to visit the famous Golu Devata Temple here. Golu Devata is the mythological god of Kumaon region and believed to be an incarnation of Lord Shiva. The temple seemed to be filled with brass bells of various sizes. An old man in the temple courtyard told us that people have been tying bells here for more than a hundred years. When the wishes of the devotees come true they come back and offer the bells. There is a shop at the main entrance to the temple where bells can be purchased.

Bells adorn every available spot

Mukteshwar
The town of Mukteshwar will be familiar to all Jim Corbett fans as he mentions them in some of his stories. It gets its name due to the 350 year old Shiva temple located here. It took us close to two hours to cover the 54 km distance from Naukuchiatal. The town is surrounded by dense forest. Some old British houses and a Church can be seen here. The Indian Veterinary Research Institute (IVRI) is also present here.

A house on the edge

A unique feature of the terrain here is the overhanging cliffs next to the temple complex called Chaulli ki Jaali. We took a walk in the wooded area next to the temple along with a guide to go watch some nice views. There are a lot of Deodar trees here. For the real adventurous lot there is rock climbing near the cliffs. Apparently the local women who are childless have to pass through the bizarre opening in the cliffs and nets are spread around to prevent any falls during the annual fair.

Sinister plans?

Chaulli ki Jaali

For the foodies a good place here is the Bisht Mishthan Bhandar where one can inform an hour or two in advance and get some home cooked food. We tasted Bal Mithai and Choklate which are famous sweets of Kumaon and they did not fail to disappoint us.

Choklate being prepared by Bishtji

Nainital
Nainital is a famous hill station of Kumaon. It is believed that Sati’s eyes fell on this place by which the place got its name. Our first stop here was at the view-point just outside the city on the road to Pangot. We reached around 10 AM by which time the fog and clouds had built up hiding the Himalayan peaks behind them. We then walked on for nearly a kilometre to reach the snow view-point. On the way we saw lots of tiny birds like Warblers and Tits chirping. Devoid of tourists as the season was yet to begin this place looked so empty. We climbed a small hillock to get some views of the surrounding.

After spending some time here we headed for a cable car ride that took barely 5 minutes and dropped us on Mall Road. It was lunch time and we were glad to see that the restaurant that I wanted to go to was right next door to where we had gotten off the cable car. Sakley’s is an old and popular restaurant famous for its pastries and momos/dumplings. Started by a Swiss confectioner and then acquired by an Indian family this restaurant has two other branches at Gurgaon and London. The pastries lived up to their expectation and we had a sumptuous lunch.

As the crow sees

Sinful Blueberry Cheesecake

We took a walk along the banks of the Naini Lake. Hawkers were busy trying to sell clothes, toys and other nick knacks. The Boat House had an elegant look and members of the Nainital Boat Club can avail the facility of yachting in the lake. Overlooking the lake is the Bara Bazaar and the Tibetan Market which is the place for shoppers to head to. Nearby are Naina Devi Temple and the Masjid. An old cinema house called Capitol Cinema can be seen though I doubt if it still serves its original purpose.

One fine day at Naini Lake

The chosen one

We visited the temple and paid our obeisance to Goddess Naina Devi. Then came some shopping for the famous candles of Nainital. We then crossed Mall road in search of Mamu Halwai shop to taste Bal Mithai for which it is famous. The narrow roads of the old city had their own charm and we enjoyed the walk. The Bal Mithai was an ample reward for our walk.

Naina Devi Temple

Next on the cards was the St.John in the Wilderness Church which is the oldest church in that region and built during the British era. Today the church wears a some what dilapidated look but is beautiful nonetheless. Opposite the church is the elegant British era building housing the High Court.

St. John in the Wilderness

Gagar
A tiny village in Ramgarh Orchards en route Mukteshwar. The Nanda Devi and Trishul Peaks can be seen from here and a sneak peek into the Yamunotri and Gangotri peaks is also possible. When we went to Mukteshwar we reached this village around 11 AM and managed to barely see a small portion of the peaks as clouds and sunlight had already engulfed them.

Our driver advised us to come back early in the morning around 5.30 AM and catch a glimpse of the peaks before and after sunrise. We followed his advice and were duly rewarded. It was a heavenly sight! We spent close to 3 hours gazing at the beautiful scene.

Folds of earth

The mountains bring peace

The fruit trees in the orchards along the slopes of the hillock in this village are in full bloom during Spring (April till June). ApplesOrangesPeaches and Walnuts grow here. We only got to see the dried up trees. The area was rife with Birds and we enjoyed watching them. A Verditer Flycatcher seemed to be watching the Himalayan peaks from atop a tree!

Jungliya Village Road
We went on the road to Jungliya village which is a deviation off the main road close to the resort. The winding road up the hill resulted in beautiful views of both Bhimtal and Naukuchiatal lakes as well as a distant view of Nainital city.

A tale of two lakes

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