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.
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.
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.
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.
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: 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.
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.
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.
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: 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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
How we want our life to be – being able to hit the road every alternate weekend. And it has happened in the past; so why not cross our fingers for the future too? Soon after we returned from Kishangarh, we prepared to head to Nathuakhan, a small borough near Nainital in Uttarakhand, India.
Barely two weeks had passed. We had not even unpacked. (We brought ‘living out of a suitcase’ to life.) But it was sheer luck that we were getting long weekends in such quick succession. We wanted to make the best of it.
Going through yet another backdated issue of Outlook Traveler, the name of Bob’s Place sprung up. We Googled it. It fell completely in line with our idea of a holiday. A cottage in a small village, views of the Himalayas, away from crowds, home-cooked food, and no compulsion to do anything. So we got going.
We had been to Kumaon quite a few times in the last one year. We knew which turn to take, which road to avoid, where to stop for bio breaks etc. We left on time but could not ditch the Ghaziabad – Hapur traffic.
We cursed our way to the highway which was a mix of gliding & bumping over potholes. Oh the things we do for travel! During our previous trip, we found out about a road via Camry that traversed villages but was at least pothole-free. We gave it a shot.
It was definitely better. It was still relatively unknown. There was less traffic. The roads had managed to stay in good condition. To take this route, first-timers will most definitely have to ask around.
Once we entered Uttarakhand, Rudrapur onwards, the roads were in good condition. Soon, we had a narrow road, flanked by trees on both sides, giving a natural shade. It was on these roads that we could finally put our guard down.
We noticed pink guavas by the roadside and bought a few. I had never eaten a pink guava. I was thrilled. Then I was disappointed; because the pink guavas were tasteless. They would taste fine with salt I guessed.
We alternated between the radio, CD and phone. We could not sit in a car without listening to music. We read the slogans and couplets written behind trucks and admired the profound wisdom our countrymen could share with us.
We found WelcomHeritage Bob’s Place on GPS and followed it till the point where we felt compelled to ask. We were told we had come to an alternate route. We could return about 20 kms and then take the correct route or we could continue on the alternate route.
The alternate route was ‘full of stones’ for 4 kms, and could scrape the bottom of the car, but we were assured we could manage. So we carried on. And it turned out to be an adventure of a trip.
The first few kms were fine. We thought we had been scared unnecessarily. Then, it hit us. For a good 4 kms, there was no road. ‘Full of stones’ was a generous description. It was a dust path covered by rocks and pebbles.
It was maneuverable as we were going downhill. The rocks did not scrape the bottom but they did cut our tires. For the 4 kms, we were silent, taking long breaths, and praying for this to end quickly. Mercifully, it was 4 kms, neither more nor less.
After this stretch, the road returned. What we advise – once you reach Bhowali, ask around for the route to be taken for Nathuakhan. Do not follow the GPS blindly. On hilly terrains, GPS proved to be inaccurate for the second time for us.
The good old GPS-the rickshaw guy, the vegetable vendor, the traffic police personnel – still worked, irrespective of the surroundings! Remember you would need to cross Ramgarh to get to Nathuakhan. If you have not crossed Ramgarh, you are on the wrong road buddy!
After our mini adventure, we reached Nathuakhan. Bob’s Place was just a little ahead of the village ‘chowk’. It was on the road that led to Almora, Ranikhet, Kausani and Binsar, and had large red iron gates to welcome you.
A courteous staff member welcomed us and offered us a selection of rooms. Visiting places off-season gives us the benefit of being the only guests, and the luxury of choosing any room we desire.
Bob’s Place had standalone cottages erected in a multi-level manner. The highest ones commanded a view of snow-clad peaks of the Himalayas. The lower ones had sit-out areas but the view got diminished by the foliage.
We chose one of the higher rooms. It had a balcony which gave us breathtaking views and was especially delightful during sunrises and sunsets. The wooden cottage had a fireplace, a blanket and a heater-we knew we were in good hands.
Oh! I did not mention the cold that greeted us. By March-end, most of north India starts burning. We, thus, did not expect it to be cold at the end of March but there was a definite need for light woolens. We were glad we carried the same.
Cold weather adds a tremendous amount of beauty to any place. When you are not sweating and protecting your eyes from the sun, you can enjoy your surroundings much more. When you are not looking for water every five minutes, you can soak in the calm and quiet better. Ah! Winters, come back soon!
This holiday was more for us to relax. So all we did in these two days was eat, sleep, read, write, listen to music and watch the sky change colors.
The food was prepared at the cottage and 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 imagine how good this tastes. 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.
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, I suggest you carry your alcohol.
On our first night here, we were shivering. The fireplace in the room looked inviting. Soon after it was lit, we were sweating. We had covered ourselves with a quilt. The fire was proving too hot to handle!
On top of that, we were apprehensive that we were breathing carbon monoxide. We might not survive to see the morning. If that did not happen, then something in the room would catch fire. It being made of wood, we would be roasted alive.
We laid awake for long staring at the fire, then threw open the door to let the CO out. The fire died soon after. We finally slept…
Just before dawn, we crept to the door hoping to find a leopard/ panther sprawled on the balcony. We did find something; something from the feline family itself. A fat golden cat! It was lounging on the sofa to ward off the cold. We wish we get to see a leopard/ panther up close and personal soon.
The mountains got our creative juices flowing. We sat in the balcony, took a long look at the Himalayas, sighed at the sky that turned from orange to pink to purple to black, and got started on our post about Kishangarh.
We were both hooked onto our Bose SoundLink Mini. That tiny thing is as good as a home theater system. It is perfect for travel. The SoundLink fits into the palm of a hand. Once fully charged, it can play for almost two days. And the sound quality is fantastic – clarity & volume both. The SoundLink gets connected via both Bluetooth and USB. It has surely been a worthy purchase!
Our favorites were songs from Queen and Highway. We curled up on the couch and listened to Sooha SA and Kinaare…
There were a number of walking trails nearby. The staff offered to guide us but we were not in a mood to move our limbs. We tried throwing darts on the dartboard. It looked like a simple thing but after three throws, none of which even hit the board, our arms hurt. We have respect for this seemingly simple sport.
The staff was plentiful, courteous and ready to help with pretty much anything. We had a dedicated guy who we found out was from Madhubani. He had worked at Bob’s Place for almost eight years then. He liked it here. The weather was good 🙂 All of us who live in the plains would never think twice about saying yes to the hills. He was soft-spoken and told us quite a bit about the surrounding regions.
Holidays always end sooner than anticipated. And it was time for us to head back. But so we did with our mind, body and soul rejuvenated. We think we can recommend an itinerary for five days, four nights for Kumaon:
Delhi- Dhanachuli- Nathuakhan- Delhi
Day 1: Depart from Delhi early and arrive at Dhanachuli by tea time. Spend the night at Te Aroha exploring the premises, specially the library, playing the piano and sipping ‘something’ on the balcony
Day 2: Have a day excursion/ trek to Mukteshwar. On a clear day, a lot of peaks are visible. If you are the religious kinds, say a quick prayer at the Shiva temple; it is one of the ‘Shakti peeths’.
Day 3: Checkout late and head to Nathuakhan. Check in at Bob’s Place. Get the fireplace going in the lounge and browse the innumerable books kept there
Day 4: After breakfast, head to Almora and/ or Ranikhet and spend the day soaking in the beauty of the British-established hill stations. Or go for one of the hill walks. Back to Bob’s for a chicken fry dinner
Day 5: Checkout and head back to Delhi
Recommended time to visit: Pretty much all through the year. It snows during winter, so be prepared to get trapped and enjoy more days of vacation!
Recommended eats: Poha & Chicken Fry at Bob’s Place
Recommended buys: Shawls, herbs and pine needle decorations from Kilmora; Fruit spreads from Himjoli; Rhododendron juice
Soon back with a Garhwali taste. Till then, sip the rhododendron you folks!