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Trip To Kumaon

by Dr.Hemant A.Sant

We had read so much about Corbett national park and wanted to see what legacy the pioneer conservationist from Colonial past had left behind.

(We Indian's were ardent environmentalists till the Vedic Period was at its peak. Since 1000 years our minds and bodies have suffered so much humiliation and the battle for daily survival had been so intense that we forgot to re discover our grandest natural spectacles. As the last rulers of Indian pliant masses, British had used their leisure and war times to 'discover hill stations ' and taught the lessons of Conservation to us. To the common people who chanted "Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam' the message went in easily. A majority of Colonial agents of plunder, along with the local Rajas' annihilated our animals e.g. Cheetahs by uncontrolled hunting and raped our forests for Teak and other benefits.

Those lessons, the next generations of poachers and contractors in hand with someone in the Authority anywhere in India, have learnt very well. So we have "Veerappan's" and his relatives all over Independent India. Why Jim Corbett left his country of work for Kenya immediately after 1947 is anybody's guess!!)

Kumaon is a land gifted by the best in nature. All four seasons paints contrasting colors on the palette of this land. The trees are greener, browner or yellow here depending upon the season you go in. Else view various photographs or brochures where some one has captured the other version of the same view you are looking at.

I had my wife and three children, daughters 13 and 9 years and a son 2 years of age as company. We got down by the Ranikhet express on a May morning, at Haldwani hoping to get a better deal in Jeep/Sumo. But thinking back I suggest you reach Nainital from Kathgodam and then hire a vehicle.

But as I had planned to reach Naini Lake later after a round trip, I took the Sumo early to reach Bhimtaal and its mid lake "Island Restaurant" for a breakfast at 7.30 am. I had planned to visit All Taals first then, Mukteshwar, Almora, Jageshwar , Binsar, Kausani, Baijnath, Gwaldham back to Kausani, Ranikhet-Chilyanaula, Go down to Corbett- Ramnagar and come and relax at Nainital via Kaladhungi . All accommodation was booked in KMVN tourist homes.

You have to take colorful boats to the Island at Bhimtaal and order meals. The time we reached was so exclusive that the crowds from Nainital had not descended on it then. The photographs of clear water pond in the island with fresh fishes and reflections of my children in it remind me of the quiet time we had.

From there we went to Naukuchiataal, which has truly earned its place as peaceful resort. But we went to grasp the most recent offer of KMVN of paragliding from nearby hill to the vast and unhindered stretch of farms and meadows below. Only my daughter could get the chance as winds were not too good and smaller children were not allowed. They harness you to the leather strap 'chair' with an instructor behind similarly perched and guiding the ascent and the descent of the parachute. The push came to shove and away she went to the consternation of my wife and me. As first time experience we both were anxious but exhilarated at the site of our girl vanishing far and down towards meadows 2 hour back journey away from us.

Her parachute made several up and down moves and I was told that this was a better experience than that in Solang Valley in Manali. I had hired a professional photographer who was there. But later I found that my series of six rapid amateur exposures had captured all the moments of this thrilling experience more clearly. His print came to me by post, revealing a single blurred picture.

We went to via Gagar, Snow view point hotels and fruit orchards of Ramgarh getting first impression that the season was not proper for any view of distant snow peaks which were prominently displayed on metal or stone charts everywhere in rest houses' view points. We reached Mukteshwar via a road along the large campuses of Indian Veterinary research Institute and High Altitude Horticultural Center shifted from Kashmir .

The KMVN rest house is at a premium point above and near the place British selected for their 100 years old rest house, now owned by the state. You need your own vehicle to reach here, as we did not find any transport at a small bazaar we crossed along the way. Surrounded by tall green trees and walks between them your only company may be tourists staying at a resort nearby as they had only 5 rooms here and us the only tourist staying over night. Rest of the crowd leave as they come from Nainital in bus groups.

There is a jaali temple above on the Hill for you to climb and reach. For those loving
isolation and closeness with nature with self or a loved one this a 2700 meter high place from where on clear days esp. in September you can see a great view of Himalayas. But we did not, as clouds are too dense in May. So we prepared ourselves for this disappointments as I  had planned to stay at all the different resorts and in the best rooms to get 7 day-night experience of snow view. We will have to wait for a September clear skies for another round of captivating Kumaon.

Next we crossed Gagas river by Khairna bridge lined by pine trees and invaded Almora. We moved around on hill road encircling the Town twice inquiring among the most 'local' looking crowd for a place to eat the Kumaoni Cuisine. We were disappointed and had to settle for demand of Chinese noodles and Punjabi food in the best restaurants of Almora.

I had picked up a booklet on the cuisine and so the effort. May be a cooperative of proud Kumaoni women will get together, run a restaurant-tourist farm complex , re -learn the dishes their grand mothers prepare and offer them to Tourists something unique than the universal "Alloo Mutter-Daal Rice et al ". May be somebody will also bring together all the caterers of Kumaon and arrange for better and variety of local unique food with faster service!! We had yellow daal rice alloo mutter menu in ALL kmvn tourist homes all of seven days including Rampur !! Not a single soul was able to identify the local cuisine from the KMVN booklet leave aside cooking it for us.

(At least Dhoklas, Khaman, and farsans of Gujarat are so universal and in demand that even Europe tour for Indians offer them!!

We go to various places to have totally variant but safe experiences for all of our five (six!!) senses. That's what the great and unforgettable tourist locations all over the world offer. Someday our people who matter too will learn and teach the less gifted under them; then we will have more tourists than city of Dubai or Singapore!!)

From Almora we went to see the 'Guldaar' or leopard zoo and a deer park. Ahead was the temple of "Chitai" lord of the Kumaoni's. The moment you are at the temple of GOLUDEVA it literally rings !! There are millions of brass bells of various sizes tied on pillars leading to and on the temple walls. They are tied by each devotee who asks for something from the warrior king of old Chaand dynasty, who cared for the people and granted them their wishes.

Even after his ascent to heaven the Kumaoni believe that he is a God like Ram or Krishna. They are served by 'Chitai' priests descendants of Maharashtrian Chitpawan Brahmins who migrated from Konkan to this Himalayan Heavens. Many other temple e.g Girjai or Girijadevi-Parvati temple of Shiva's wife on Kosi river opposite Corbett park are served by these Brahmins.

A road off Artola leads to a most enchanting valley which has protected one of the best Shiva temple complex in North India at Jageshwar. There are not so many ancient temples in Kumaon as in the Garhwal but still places like Jageshwar ,40 kms off Almora, wrapped in tallest and dense Devdar trees overlooking 1200 year old scores of Shiva temples(150) at 6000 feet valley , make up for that.

The peace and tranquility in this place if you go in the non festive days is divine. This is evident by numbers of rock caves you see along the road , with old wood doors which a generations of sadhus , meditators have used. Stay here in non festive days if you want to soak yourself in Shiva Bhakti and meditation .

KMVN the tourist body, has a good accommodation. The road leading to the temple off Artola on Almora -Pithora garh road itself is along a rivulet surrounded by dense shadow of devdars and other trees. The treks ahead of the temple reach isolated spots with clear view of greater Himalayas.

Ahead, the main road leads to another natural spectacle of Patal Bhuvaneshwar. It is a cave-temple complex of stalagmites and stalactites, lime droppings forming needles from above and spears from below.We did not stay but returned to Almora for an evening in the cultural capital of Kumaon . You can see its representations in a local Museum.

The next day we were off to Binsar, Bineshwar, and 32 kms from Almora, 2412 meters altitude, off Bageshwar road, which was a summer retreat of Chand rulers of Kumaon. It is uphill ride by a jeep at a U turn you can miss as a forest gate seen on drivers side behind you ,so be careful as you reach 20 kms milestone of Kapdhakhan .

Up there you see a great rest house with no electricity in the dense hill top. You have to walk to zero point along moss-covered trees to reach a forest hut at the top. A painted wall of a hut lists various fauna you are likely to see in the sanctuary. It also offers a "great" view of snow peaks, when the sky is clear. You can stay in the KMVN rest house if your wife and children are not averse to dark jungle nights (till may 2000).

We left for Kosi and towards Kausani. You reach a point in your uphill drive where you can look down to one of the finest jig saw like views of fields below. They were in all shades of green and yellow quadrangles lined on the slopes by Pine trees giving us a idea of the altitude 5000 feet , of this vast peninsula type valley before us.

Flowers of all colors lined the houses along the road and the green farms were everywhere. Probably you would not see these in September!! We reached the favourite hill station in kumaon , Kausani 1890 Meters,53 kms off Almora. The KMVN has a large accommodation facility here and from your galleries you can see the sun rise as well as sunsets.

You can see Trishuli, Nandadevi and Nandakot ranges very well ..come September.!! So off we went to Baijnath and Gwaldham to see them at the closest. Baijnath has the ancient but still the most enchanting statue of Goddess Parvati standing tall. No photography is allowed according to archaic rules of its protectors. The Saryu river has this 1000 years old temple of Shiva . We saw fresh water fishes Mahasheer in its clear water. We returned to rest at Kausani.

The Anashakti ashram is fully surrounded by hotels and only thing it offers is variety of food, if you decide to stay long enough in Kausani as KMVN place had the same
limitations about it in the food. We all can never go to one place and just stay put when you have so much else to see around. For those who can, this is the place to relax in Diwali vacation. With Bageshwar close by you can plan to Trek to Pindari glacier or go via Gwaldham to the Nandadevi Sanctuary.

We left Kausani and went to Ranikhet to stay at the newer rest house of Chilyanaula at end of the road to Baba Hadekhan temple. We pass the grand gates manned by grander silhoutte of Kumaoni youths in green uniform of The Kumaon Regiment of Indian Army . The main mall road has two or three hotels and as the darkness falls all signs of life disappear. One of the restaurants has a menu matching British mess and some of the items are unique. More charming were its wooden rooms well maintained and gives you a different experience of stay. Many back packers from Europe stayed here.

Place to visit In May to June is the Chaubatia Horticultural Institute in Ranikhet. Most of the plants, flowers, different varieties of Roses, Apples are grown here except orchids. Why do we find orchids more in Sikkim not in Western Himalayas? Why do we not help Garhwali's and Kumaoni's help develop dairy farms with Cheese making as climate can match Swiss Alps?? May be the next generation of these proud people will have the proper attitude of "Why Not?"-for every prospects of growth in economy via Tourism, Ecology and otherwise.

We moved down to Corbett via Mohan to reach Dhangarhi gate of the national park. There is a Museum and a hall where model map of the park with all the flora and fauna are displayed as pictures and sketches. It is a must see for those interested or on an educational tour. You can go ahead only if you have booking to stay inside at Dhikala ,Sarpadhuli or other forest rest houses of Project Tiger . Book directly from its head office at Ramnagar ,through KMVN or reach Ramnagar and find the Jeep driver pimps who can probably get you accommodation inside these most economical heritage complexes at a price.

The road from Dhikala to Ramnagar or the Bijrani gate of the Park is lined on your left by higher range resorts on the banks of the river Kosi that flows along it. You even have eco tent accommodation in farms along this road. For those like us who had planned not to go and stay inside the Park but to just visit it at daytime, we can enter via Bijrani gate 3 kms off Ramnagar.

Take a vehicle with at least 4 hours promise; have packed lunch, water,  Maps.caps, binoculars, camera, films, pencil-note book, Birds and Trees guide, back pack to collect leaves for a herbarium, whatever your interests dictate!! Do not take guide from gate or if taken do not leave main Bijarani camp early with him, for the tour inside as they are keen to finish soon and road leads to OUT gate only!! Go without a guide to camp , eat and enjoy the 'machaan' on a grand tree and slowly explore this limited section of the Park. For a full Corbett experience plan to stay 3 days in Dhikala or other rest house inside ( See its Map) .We did not see a tiger but lots of other animals like elephants ,sambar ,deers, birds .

Next day we went to Kaladhungi on Haldwani road to see the House-Museum where Jim Corbett stayed. It has all the story of this pioneer with artifacts and photographs. In between we took a right turn to see Lichie & Plum fruit farms. One road to the right leads to a picnic complex made by Forest department with a real water falls to jump into. From Kaladhungi we turned UP to Khurpataal to appreciate this small but mirror like silent pond and then reached Nainitaal.

We had booked into 125 steps up KMVN place called Taalitaal below Raj Bhawan and Commissioners 's office. It has a great and direct view from east of the Naini and has walks behind it up on the hill. The high altitude Zoo on the North up road via Mall is a showcase of many Himalyan fauna like that in Kufri , Shimla is.

The Mall has its rules for vehicles and best way to enjoy and go west to Mallitaal, Ropeway, Nainadevi mandir ,Boat house, capitol Cinema Skating and entertainment complex is to take a row boat and walk back after sight seeing. Drive upto Tonnekay ,Kilbury and trek up to Naina Peak 2611 meters ,for a snow peak view. Take packed food for Kilbury day time long walk trip.

People from plains do have difficulty to do so much walking but maybe they should prepare themselves at home by sessions of staircase climbing.!! Nainitaal is the most complete routine hill stations where people who really can afford and have inclination to stay at a stretch at One place go. You have every thing from skating rinks, ropeway, A Mall, all items of boating, horse riding walks, food of all variety and biggest lake on any Indian Hill station.

Most of the hotels give excellent view of this bean shaped lake. In third week of May they have National sailing-rowing competition which we missed as we had not planned for it. We did see participants practicing in kayaks and rowboats.We rested and experienced the usual daal rice and service delay problem as in every KMVN hotel . Bought a series of prints of Himalayan peaks, which occupy most of the wall area of my drawing room in Baroda today.

I have just had a small experience of the great Himalyan Holiday possibilities . There are so many and so different that one can spend lifetime enjoying "All' the beautiful places that, Garhwal , Kumaon , Himachal and other places till Nepal, Sikkim & Arunachal has to offer. Only prayer is that people who matter in these places and policy makers being always vigilant with vision to protect that which they have been bestowed by the divine.

We can work out a plan where ecology and the aspirations of people -locals and Tourists can be balanced, and then this beauty will be there to be Seen by our children and theirs.


Dr Hemant Sant MS
E-mail hasant@vsnl.com,
94, Ashutosh Nagar ,
Karelibaug, Vadodara ,
Gujarat.India 390018.
(** Vadodara = a city of vad =Bunyan trees ,probably a only city in the
world ? named after a tree!!)