Weekend Trip to Bikaner from Delhi by Road………..

The Desert triangle of Rajasthan consists of Bikaner, Jaisalmer and Jodhpur. Many of the travelogues  I have read starts or ends with the line ” There is Nothing to do much in Bikaner”……………..hmmmm………..now when a percentage of the tourists have a notion about a place like this, be sure the place will be less crowded, serene and clean.

Winter is the best time to visit Rajasthan. Bikaner was our best bet because it was just a weekend tour and Bikaner is just 450 kms. from Delhi.

We planned to leave Delhi on 11th December night and come back on 14th.

We started off at 12 midnight on 11th December  to avoid the city traffic and  reach Bikaner early next morning as soon as possible so that we can enjoy rest of the day exploring the place.

Our Team:

Arnab(my husband), Anushka(my 8 year old daughter), our friend Rohit and our sweetheart Lassy(pet dog and a real travelbuff).

The beginning part of the journey was pretty uneventful (except that near to Manesar seeing the endless queue of truck, we decided to avoid that time while entering Delhi

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This is the route we followed Delhi-Manesar-Rewari-Chirawa-Jhunjhunu-Fatehpur-Bikaner

At Rewari , our dear Madam Navigator(i.e. MapMyIndia Navigator…..we love to call it Auntyji) lead us thro’ market places. We thanked our stars that we are driving at night otherwise ………..we all know the consequence…don’t we ???? After crossing Rewari city, the road became deserted. Trees formed a canopy over the road. More the places became secluded….. more the outside temperature dropped…… :)(as shown in our car dashboard panel).

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Eventually the temperature reached zero degrees!!!!!

It was a moonlit night, we could see the stars so clearly in the sky, which is a rare sight for people who lives in cities.

 

In the moonlight, we could see that the vegetation on both the sides of the road was growing denser.We saw wild rabbits hopping on the road to cross it ………….their fur greyish in colour…….and blood red eyes shining in the head light.

Road condition began to deteriorate gradually………..somewhere in between Chirawa and Jhunjhunu we have to stretch our neck to see thro’ the windshield which exactly is the spot from where if we cross will bring minimum damage to our car………….we crossed those stretches without our car suffering any under belly injury.  confirming that Ertiga has a good GC.

Finally we reached Fatehpur………and Madam Navigator……..turned us Left & Right and Left & Right &……………..until at 5.30 a.m we suddenly discovered we were sitting inside our car, in a narrow lane surrounded by old Rajasthani Havelis!!!!

Weekend Trip to Bikaner from Delhi by Road...........

Bhulbhulaiya(maze) of Fatehpur(Blueline marks the lane we got stuck)

 

 

” Enough is Enough”….we thought……..and decided to take our age old practice to ask Tauji, Bhai sahabs, Annas who will gladly tell you the correct route. But the only problem was it was 5.30 a.m and 0 degree outside…….. why the hell anybody will be out of their cosy bed!!!!!!! All of a sudden we found two men approaching….. and Rohit jumped out of the car and asked for their help……they gladly guided us out of their city :P…………..
Ahhh………..finally we found the NH11 and the road condition improved drastically…….. We were over excited and superbly happy………. we saw the Sun coming out of the horizon………… This special morning needs some special selfies….

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Selfie time !!!!!

At about 7 a.m. we thought of taking a tea break………….it was still 1 degree outside………..

We got off the car………….it was chilling cold , we touched the sand……… got a shock………cold like never experienced before…………..

The kind-hearted bhai sa(meaning brother(tea stall owner)) lit a bonfire for us and what a relief……….

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Lassy preferred to stay inside the car……..

 

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Tea stall(Writing on the wall means….Welcome….please be seated)

At about 9.30 we reached the Resort(Balaji Resort) which is situated at a distance of 16 kms. from Bikaner.

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Cottage where we stayed

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Oasis in the desert-Balaji Resort

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Play area..

After we reached Balaji Resort, we were given a warm welcome by the owner Brig. N.L.Verma. Balaji Resort  is owned and managed by Brig. N.L. Verma and his family. They live in the same premises. We were asked to sit and relax in the lawn and were served  refreshments. We relaxed under the warm winter Sun and had a chat with the owner and his son. We were really impressed to hear the way they have converted the barren land into an oasis.

We were welcomed into a warm room and ahhhh……….there lies the warm bed. But we resisted the desire of cuddling ourselves under the warm blanket and having a long deep sleep.

After freshning up, we went for a walk to explore the premises. It has a sprawling green lawn. There are only two AC Deluxe rooms and five rural huts. All the cottages are built  to give a feel of Rajasthani architecture.

It has a huge parking and play area too. There are two swimming pools but they are not in good shape.

It was 12 midday and our stomach asked for food. We ordered Gatte-ki-Sabzi, dal fry,butter paneer, rice, roti etc etc.

We were served food in an hour. The food was finger licking good………..but Lassy said it was whisker licking good :).

We requested Mr. Verma to arrange for a camel-cart . We set out for the safari at around  2p.m. We opted for 2 1/2 hrs of journey thro’ the desert(charge 1800 rupees).

THE DESERT:

The safari was an unique experience for us. The sound of the ghungroo tied on the camel’s leg along with the sound of the wind blowing thro’ the desert created a never before experience. It was midday but the wind was chilling cold.The camel moved on the desert  track leaving behind its footprint and the mark of tyres. Small shrubs and Acacia plants are the only vegetation to be seen.

We could see herd of cattles roaming about, some deserted huts. We noticed wired boundaries  frequently, the owner of the camel said it is to demarcate boundaries. We were surprised to hear that, we never thought that even these arid stretches of barren land can have owners ……………maybe some years from now these huge pristine stretches will be teeming with tourists just as is the case of Sam sand dunes, Jaisalmer.

We were moving deeper inside the desert. Initial excitement of the safari was gradually vanishing and we were bored of viewing the sand, the shrubs…..the thorny Acacia.Suddenly we noticed a Black Buck standing some distance away…. we all sat up straight with excitement…….the Black Buck too stretched its neck in excitement(?????) and then it was a single jump……….she vanished in the thick cloud of dust. Most of us has seen Black Buck in the zoo…….but in the wild………in their home……….they are amazing.

As is obvoius, for the rest of the journey we sat there attentively, though Lassy and Anushka were the most attentive ones. Lassy very often sat straight and started sniffing…… must be getting the scent of all the animals hiding nearby :).

Weekend Trip to Bikaner from Delhi by Road...........
Through the desert

We saw Chinkara(deer) hiding behind a shrub, Vultures sitting on top of trees, Eagles and fox’s den dug up in the sand.

We came back to the resort after thanking the camel and its owner. The evenings were complete mastii time………….chatting, watching movies, singing and all these over hot pakoras and tea and cold drinks………

We had our yummy dinner and slept early as we were extremely tired .

Next morning , I woke up at 8.30a.m. and went out with my camera , just to explore the place.

Some clicks :

Weekend Trip to Bikaner from Delhi by Road...........
Green bee-eater

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Hardwork of the people has turned large stretches of arid desert into green patches of farmland……….they use groundwater (bore upto 300 feet) and use long pipes and sprinklers at regular intervals to water their field.

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Using sprinklers and pipes to water their farm

 

BIKANER CITY:

(Bikaner city founded by Rao Bikaji is a moderately large city. The areas we covered were quite clean and not as congested as some old cities like Varanasi. Like Delhi, they have number of gol chakkars and you will go gol and gol about the chakkars if you don’t ask for guidance :P. if travelling in your own vehicle avoid getting into the narrow lanes because those are very congested…….we got stuck up in such a lane and to our amazement the people use middle of the road as parking…. we saw the traffic police standing at a corner of the road looking at the traffic helplessly.

The city has a number of Sati mandirs. The fact that Satis are worshipped as Goddess even in this modern era clearly indicates that even today there are people who support this heinious crime. There are large bill boards placed at public places educating people against female foeticide. These facts points at the darker side of the vibrant state Rajasthan.)

After finishing off our breakfast (hot paranthas served with dahi and achar)………. we went for the city tour.
We planned to cover three places: Devi Kund Sagar(The Royal Cenotaph), National Camel Research Centre and Junagarh fort.

Our first destination was Devi Kund Sagar(The Royal Cenotaph). 

“The members of ruling family of Bikaner subsequent to Jet Singh, the great grandson of Rao Bikaji, have been cremated here.On the sides of reservoir of water lie the Royal cenotaphs of rulers of Bikaner dynasty from Rao Kalyan Singhji to last Maharaji Karni Singhji as well as those of their wives and other important members of families.There are cenotaphs (Chhatries) of 22 SATIES of royal family prior to Maharaja Gaj Sigh Ji (1745-1787). There is also one cenotaph of a SATA (male sati) of a ruler.The architecture of the cenotaphs is the prime attraction of this place. Maharaja Surat Singh’s Chhatri is built entirely in white marble with spectacular Rajput paintings on its ceiling. Close by is a Dargah of Rustal Ali Shah Peer which is held in high esteem by muslim community and other people.”

Entry ticket was five rupees. You need to put off your shoes before entering the cenotaph. There are large number of cloth shoes kept at the side and those shoes are really important(as the floor is carpeted with Pigeon guano ), we understood this as soon as we entered the huge premises.

It covers a huge area with numerous chhatries dedicated to the Kings and Queens. Some of the chhatries have beautiful Rajasthani painting done on the ceiling.

Weekend Trip to Bikaner from Delhi by Road...........

Information about the Royal Cenotaph

Weekend Trip to Bikaner from Delhi by Road...........

Chattries made of marble  and sandstone

Weekend Trip to Bikaner from Delhi by Road...........

Rajasthani painting done on the ceiling of one of the chattries

From there we moved to the National Camel Reserch Centre. We reached there at 1.30p.m.. On our arrival at the gate of the centre we were informed that it opens at 2p.m.. We were really depressed, especially Anushka…….she was waiting eagerly to meet the Baby Camels.

Because of scarcity of time, we couldnot wait at the centre and moved to our Next destination…… The Junagarh Fort.

JUNAGARH FORT:

The area around the Fort is perfectly congestion free with smooth flow of traffic. The parking  was inside the fort premises. It was a great feeling to enter through the huge gates of the fort in your own vehicle(gave actually a royal feel :P).

The ticket rates are: Rs. 50 for adults, Rs. 30 for children and students.The best thing is that the ticket rate includes a Professional Guide who will accompany your group throughout the palace.

It is a huge fort with number of palaces. The Fort is a confluence of Gujrati, Rajasthani, Moghul, European Architecture. All the Mahals are unique with different styles of architecture and history.

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Anup Mahal

Weekend Trip to Bikaner from Delhi by Road...........
Jharokha

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Multicolored floor
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Royal bedroom

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weekend Trip to Bikaner from Delhi by Road...........

Anup Mahal(goldleaf design can be seen)

Weekend Trip to Bikaner from Delhi by Road...........

vegetable colours used to paint the doors

 

Weekend Trip to Bikaner from Delhi by Road...........

Inside Badal Mahal

Touring thro’ the Fort nearly took one hour. One hour of continous walk left us tired and hungry.

Research work was done on the internet before visiting Bikaner to find the restaurants which serves best Non-veg. food in the city. Getting a Non-Veg restaurant in this area is really difficult. We went to Gallops(ranked number one in our research!!!!), situated just opposite to the fort. The food was served within 20 minutes, and the yumminess of the food will get 3 out of 5. The price was on the higher side.

We reached back at our resort at around 6p.m. Nothing noticeable in the way other than an iron khamba(pillar) was standing right at the centre of the road(i.e NH11)………..सबको सुमती दे भगवान (translation (roughly): God shower everyone with wisdom).

The next day at around 10 a.m. we started our homeward journey………….we were determined not to follow the same route while going back. The owner of the resort informed us about a different route which according to him was superb……….

The second thing yet to be done is to buy sweets and bhujiyas………how can one come to Bikaner and return without gorging on these delicacies???? We were guided not to return to Bikaner city which will be congested at that time of the day …. instead they told us about a place named Dungargarh which is 40 kms.away from Bikaner and is on our way. So, as was decided we halted at Dundargarh and bought lots of sweets and bhujias and gorged on the famous dal kachori of the area. The Kachori was too good……… the sweets are a real treat ……. and that too at a much much lesser price compared to Delhi.

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@Dungargarh…to enjoy kachoris and sweets

After filling our tummy we moved on……………

When we were  near Ratangarh( Churu, Rajasthan on NH 11) we passed a railway crossing, just next to the Railway crossing we saw a mandir. MAndir is quite a natural sighting in India but what excited us was a big board mentioning about Thar Natural History Fossil Museum.

Fossil museum ???? but where exactly is it??? Suddenly we noticed in very small font it is written that the museum is just under the mandir(temple). Anushka jumped up in excitement at the mention that the museum has fossils of Dinosaur.

These sort of hidden treasures are real treat for those people who travel by road.

Now something about the museum:

Thar Natural History Fossil Museum : –
This is a private museum of Mr. Trilok chand attray which contains collection of Fossils, Minerals ,Rocks and Ores of different types from all over the world.
Fossil Department : contains 2.5 billion years old cynobecteria that is most ancient record of early life on the land of India.Trace fossils of Trilobite,Fossilized bone fragments of Indian Dinosaur ( Rajasaurus Narmadensis ),Theropod Dinosaur, Big Ammonites, Bivalves,Brachiopods,Forminefera, Radiolarians,Corals, Leaf-Impressions ,Petrified Wood, Amber inclusion of Termites etc.
Mineral Department :-
This department contains a lot of minerals from all over the world like Diamond,Corundum,Topaz, Varieties of Quartz,Beryl and Emeralds,Aquamarine,Garnets,Obsidian,Lapis,Malachite,etc.
Rock Department : contains kinds of Rocks specially mother rock of Diamond,Igneous rocks, Metamorphic rocks , Sedimentary rocks etc..

Arnab and Anushka went below the mandir to discover the hidden treasures in the museum, while I went out with my camera as I saw different species of birds flocking the area.

Both of them came out after an hour or so……….with great excitement………….they have seen the fossils of dinosaur apart from the fossils mentioned above. They also saw flexible limestone(!!!!!!). Yes, the museum is a hidden treasure in the Thar which I think few people know about.
Some of my photographs of the birds:

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Red-vented bulbul
Weekend Trip to Bikaner from Delhi by Road...........
Jungle wabbler
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Sparrow bathing in the sand

We left Ratangarh at about 1.30. Our next halt was 60kms. away at a place called Laxmangarh and offcourse it was to refuel ourselves.

Just opposite to the Mody Enginnering college on the NH we saw number of shops selling burgers, pizzas etc. etc. They looked yummy and clone of KFC.

We ordered our food from there. We were amazed when we dug into the burgers, chicken popcorn, chicken fry(crusted top KFC style)……..they tasted so good…… yeh log agaar “MAKE IN INDIA” start kare to KFC aur Mc Donalds ki to chhuti……. (rough translation..if these people start their own company then KFC and Mc Donalds will have tough time).

Weekend Trip to Bikaner from Delhi by Road...........

Looks like KFC………tastes soooo yummy at half the price of KFC

We took additional precautions not to return to the route which we followed while going to Bikaner. Whenever any confusion arouse, we cleared it from any Tau jis, Bhai sas………..passing by.

This was our return route:

Weekend Trip to Bikaner from Delhi by Road...........

 

The road was really smooth . It ran cutting through the Aravalli range of mountains. Smooth road with great scenic beauty……….what more can a traveller ask for… .To add to our excitement we saw a family of Nilgai crossing the road.

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Moving through Aravalli

Weekend Trip to Bikaner from Delhi by Road...........

A tollplaza near to Neem ka Thana bypass

 

Rest of the journey was uneventful………….We returned home at 9.15p.m………..

what we did for the rest of the journey????????

…………………Discussing about our next tour……………. 🙂

 

An enriching road trip in Himalayas: Chaukori to Munsiyari

Its the story of a monsoon drive on a scenic mountain road between Chaukori to Munsiyari in Uttarakhand.

Whenever I think of penning down my memories about Munsiyari….I am baffled. A plethora of bright green rain soaked images comes into my mind. Those innocent faces with whom we spent a few days will always remain in our heart.No words can describe the  ecstasy we had, when the clouds sailed under our feet and we felt ourselves at the top of the world. Munsiyari is not just a travel destination but an experience.

So, I thought of writing my experience in a series of two: the first part about our road trip and the second about our stay.

Here goes the story of the road trip from Chaukori to Munsiyari…………………..

On the previous evening before leaving from Chaukori one of our friends who had visited Munsiyari recently, gave me a call . Her only piece of advice was to be alert of your surroundings while travelling because the mountains and the forests enroute have hidden treasures which  can be discovered only by being attentive.

The next morning the excited and fully-charged team, a.k.a me, my hubby, my daughter and my two pet dogs ( Lassy and Chocos ) started off for Munsiyari. Distance from Chaukori to Munsiyari is 95 kms. Thal is a vital pit-stop while travelling towards  Munsiyari because it is the last place enroute to  fill up fuel tank and rumbling  stomach.

Distance between Chaukori and Thal is 23 kms. and it passed in a whisk enjoying curvy roads of the mountains moving under the canopy formed by the branches of the forests.

At Thal, we filled up the vehicle’s tank. Thal to Munsiyari under perfect condition can be done in 2½ hours.

From Thal,   the lofty mountain slopes cloaked in dense green forests towered over the road and on the other side the colossal river Ramganga flows in the deep gorge.The river has a deep greenish tint. The magical monsoon has resurrected the river, celebrating its new life it danced over the rocks , gurgling and bubbling it flowed on its journey. The forest is so dense that the daylight cannot penetrate it’s thick vegetation and reach the moist, green floor.The continuous buzzing sound of the cicadas from the forest further mystifies the surroundings.

White fluffy clouds dribbled down the mountains and the breeze gently steered it’s  direction. The whole atmosphere was so “Monsoony”, the Sun could not be seen, the breeze carried the aroma of rain-soaked soil and the forest vegetation. We could see the rain chasing us and when we halted near Tejam, it almost caught up with us.We hurried inside the car and drove away only to be chased by it again.

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White fluffy clouds sliding the mountain
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Serpentine road moving along Ramganga

Just a few kms. after crossing Thal, the monotony of the deep green forests were intervened by bright pink inflorescence hanging from the small shrubs growing on the branches of the gigantic trees. The beautiful sighting brought our car to a halt. We moved closer to the brae which housed this beautiful flowers. Our excitement reached its zenith when we discovered those pink flowers were Orchids…for the first time we saw Orchids growing in their natural habitat..hidden in the deepest forest, kept as a secret from the rest of the world.  On further search on the net we found those were Fox-tail Orchids.

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Heart-shaped branch ..host of the Orchid
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Fox-Tail Orchid

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The road condition deteriorates after Nachni but the pristine beauty of the place compensates it.

Monsoons give birth to numerous stream-lets which plunges from great heights into the valley and hurriedly rushes towards the river . From far they look like white threads cutting across the deep green Herculean mountain slopes. After a while the mind becomes so trained that they can spot these thin threads from far across the valley.

It was raining heavily and rainwater were gushing across the causeways. The newly born voluminous streamlets after diving from the top, hurled across the causeway and plunged,  disappearing in the darkness of the forest down below. The roads at the causeways are eroded off its top layers due to the continous flow of  rainwater in monsoon. You need to drive really slow on such roads. We saw a car at such a causeway, with all its people out of the cabin guiding the driver, from every possible direction, to ferry the causeway . The driver wore a terrified look on his face, the car satirically bore a sticker “Tough Boyz” on its rear wind shield.

The rain grew in strength as we moved further up and our hope to see Birthi falls enroute was doomed. But, no one can pass-by Birthi without halting there for few seconds..it is the enormity and grandeur of this Falls, on such a heavily raining day that is sure to bind you to this place atleast for few moments. We sat in our car, and soaked ourselves in the ferocious yet inexplicable beauty of the Birthi .

But,  on our way back from Munsiyari, our wish was fulfilled by Mother Nature. She was calmer on that day and we didnot miss the chance of exploring the Birthi Falls.

According to the sign board placed at the site from where one has to walk upto the foot of the Falls, recorded the height as 125 mts. There is a small shack selling Maggi and tea ,just near the signboard. We planned to sip into a hot cuppa tea after relishing the beauty. Our uphill walk started, the path has a gentle gradient and is easily doable . At each turn we paused for few moments and immeresed ourselves in the beauty of the place.  Just as it seemed that we have already reached the Falls, we discovered that there is one more turn waiting for us and we moved forward to discover the surprise waiting for us on the next turn.A surprise did certainly wait for us on such a turn ….I saw a greyish stone with a slight blue tint move !!!!! I, with a little fear and lots of curiosity moved towards it and what a sight it was. A chameleon with its expert skill of camouflage has perfectly matched its color with the stone. Sensing our presence, it crawled inside a critter but it came out with confidence on presuming we meant no harm. We clicked as many photographs as possible of this beautiful creature….Agama Rock Chameleon.In few seconds we became expert in spotting them and were filled with wonder on noticing how each of them perfectly matched the shade of the stone on which they were lying.

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The board reads “Height of Birthi Falls 125 mts. “
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Plunging down the cliff….Birthi Falls

 

Swinging with the twists and turns of the stone stepway we reached the top…we turned back to behold the  amazing minuscule landscape painting far down below. The gorgeous Birthi Falls swooped from a colossial cliff and fell into a pool. Many people were bathing in the pool and few came out with bleeding feet as the leeches by the pool had a gala time .

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View from the top

 

For reaching Munsiyari, one has to cross the Khalia top Pass which has an altitude of 3500 metres. There is a small temple at that altitude and on a clear day Panchachuli, Rajrambha, Hardeol, Nanda Kot, and Nanda Devi ranges can be viewed from this point. Roads became steeper and narrower as we approached towards Khalia Top. Inspite of the road getting tougher, we were brimming with excitement  as it was the first time we would be crossing a mountain pass. The temple appeared as a silhouette through the curtain of torrential rain but, on our return journey we had a better view.What we saw on that bright clear day was like a leaf from a Painter’s file.  The serpentine mountain road was guarded by the steep mountain slopes covered in green carpet on one side and on the other side the slope sinks into the unfathomable depth.Eyes tries to find the end of the curvy road slithering on the mountains, which vanishes somewhere down below.

Numerous Rhododendron trees lines the road. So many photographs flashed in my mind of these trees in full bloom during March and April, where did I see them I donot remember, but the enchanting enigma of these place which those photographs revealed during the blooming season was carefully preserved somewhere in my mind.

After crossing Khalia top, it takes half an hour to reach Munsiyari.

I returned from this trip with bagful of memories….Memories that I will nurture throughout my Life…

Meet you at Munsiyari in my next blog……………..

 

 

 

 

Part 3: Journey to the five hidden gems of Uttarakhand-Chaukori

Monsoon in the mountains is magical..the raindrops touching the ground fills every living creature with life. The slopes covers itself in a carpet of green. The clouds sailing often gets stuck in the valley arousing a desire in us to touch them. The musical sound of raindrops fills the air.
As our journey of exploring the Himalayas in Uttarakhand continues….we discover the Monsoon beauty amongst the Pine forest in Chaukori.

Soaking our feet in the  Kosi river at Kausani and drenching in the monsoon rains of Himalayas filled our souls with contentment and peace, but it also left an indomitable spirit of exploring the Himalayas more. Continuing our spree of exploring the mountains of Uttarakhand, we left Kasauni and started travelling deeper into the mountains to our next destination …Chaukori.

The winding roads, the slopes  lined with pine trees,the rust colored soil peeping out of the freshly bathed-in-rain green colored grass ,which almost has covered the ground, accompanied all along to Chaukori. We were esctatic to see numerous baby Pine trees growing under the shade of the Mother Pine tree, encircling it, which added a deeper green hue to the forest.

After passing Kanda, we concentrated on the signboards besides the road, so as not to miss our resort,Chestnut Grove, a lodge at a place named Vijaypur, located 5 kms. ahead of Chaukori.

Several bends after Kanda and a scenic drive on the lonely mountain road brought us to the gates of Chestnut Groove. With no human settlement nearby and hidden in the Pine forest, this is for sure  “The  faraway land ” from the fairytales.

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Chestnut Groove, in the faraway land.

There was a staff at the gate who helped us with our luggage and welcomed us warmly to the place.

The property has only three  cottages. The cottages were on a terraced slope lined with pine trees.Keeping in sync with their mantra of eco-tourism ,cottages were made of bamboo and the inner walls were plastered with mud. There were two picture windows overlooking the pine forest. A big bronze bell was hung beside the room, we were instructed to ring the bell , to call staff members. My daughter was pretty excited at this innovative idea but just got  one chance to do the job, as the staff members were always around.

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The bronze bell with “Chestnut Groove ” engraved on it…

 

 

We were overzealous to explore the place but it was past midday and our stomach was frantically crying out for food. On our insistence of having our lunch in the open air they placed a table and few chairs outside our room. The food was good but the ants found it too- good and in no time they were marching towards it. We were determined to win the war against the ants so we  finished our food fast, leaving only little crumbs of food for them. But, it seemed they were happy with it and marched away victoriously with the crumbs…a win-win situation for all.

While having our lunch, we could see the clouds slowly gliding towards the Pine forest surrounding us. Eventually, the Pine forest stood draped in impenetrable white cloak of cloud and it started to drizzle. The musical sound of raindrops falling on the Pine trees, the cool breeze blowing over the forest, the trickling of the raindrops from the pine leaves on to the ground, the rain bathed mountains, engulfed all your senses and left a ever- lasting image of a rain soaked Chaukori in our mind.

The rain stopped after the clouds  exhausted all its waterdrops. We prepared ourselves to venture out when suddenly a juvenile Hoopoe ,completely drenched in rain, clinging on the bark of a Pine caught our attention. It looked like a ball of colorful cotton.

 

My daughter and Lassy (our 11 years old dog) wanted to stay indoor and have some “Me” time, while the three of us, my Husband, Chocos(our 1+ years old dog) and me decided to go for a walk. We hopped down the terraced slope, firmly placing our feet  on the layers of pine leaves which has carpeted the ground and slipped under our feet. As we breathe in the air, rich with aroma of pine , a feeling of tranquility descended on us. Breeze whispered in our ears and the cacophony of birds broke the silence of the place.The shrill call of the slate-headed parakeets dominated over all the other birds, they flew in flock making their way through the pine trees,encircling the forest only to get back and perch on their favorite tree. The blue whistle thrush, which had its nest on the roof of one of the cottages, was busy looking for food on the ground.

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The awe inspiring moments ..walking on the terraced slope lined with Pine

Smoke from the chulhas(stoves which uses wood or coal as fuel) of the villagers living across the valley , announced the end of the day.The villagers have lit up the chulhas to prepare their dinner.

We went back to our room to take the  photography equipment to capture the sunset.As the Sun prepared to take leave for the day,the sky which was covered with grey clouds almost throughout the day, gradually became an infinite canvas with splash of  unlimited colors on it….It perhaps contained more colors than the human eyes can perceive.The sun, near the horizon,played peek-a-boo. Sometimes, it hid behind the clouds and its scattered golden rays added more color to the sky and sometimes it was visible as an huge orangish red disc.

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Smoke from the chulhas across the valley declared the end of the day
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The last rays of the Sun for the day..
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……The lights in the valley came alive

The valley unhurriedly threw itself in darkness. Then one by one the lights from the village homes, in the valley, came alive, it appeared like hundreds of stars twinkling in the sky. The silver light of the moon lit up the metal road. It was getting dark and the recent narration of a hotel staff about a woman who was taken away from nearby village three days back by a leopard ,was inspiration enough to move ourselves hurriedly towards the hotel.

As we entered the resort premises, we saw a chulha throwing out smoke and reddish- orange flickering flames swaying itself out of it. I went to the cook and asked him ..what was he cooking. He replied happily that he was cooking ” Pahadi Chicken ” on it and explained excitedly that cooking it on chulha will add smoky flavor to the dish. The scene took me and my hubby to our childhood days , when our moms used to cook on earthern stoves.Moms had to bear with the smoke coming out of the chulha, control the temperature manually by putting more woods into it or removing some woods from it, but the taste of the food was so heavenly.  No doubt, the modern day gas stoves are so much easier to use but we have compromised with the taste.

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“Pahadi chicken” being cooked on an earthern chulha in traditional way
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Pine wood used as the fuel.

We thought of walking inside the premises, but cockroaches in large numbers were flying over the place. Their ” Intrusion ” deterred us from exploring the place at night and we went back to our room.

We entered the room to find Chocos and my daughter were jumping around excitedly in a spree to hunt down the cockroaches and almost on the verge of being titled “The cockroach Hunters” , while Lassy was an onlooker enjoying the thrill.

After the cockroach hunt was over and we reclaimed our territory from them, we settled down to play a more peaceful game of ” Cross word “. In the meantime, Lassy and Chocos completed their dinner with the chicken stew prepared by the staff. It was 9p.m…and keeping in sync with the locals clock it was time for dinner. The people in the villages religiously follow “Early to Bed, early to Rise “.

The food was served, there was daal(pulse), mixed veg. ,roti , rice and chicken.The smoky aroma subtly blended with the chicken curry and imparted it a heavenly taste. The kheer( sweet dish made from rice and milk ) was perfect.

After having a short chitchat session, we went to bed.

A whistling sound, interrupted my sleep.I sat up on my bed and looked towards the window..it was dark outside, my watch confirmed it was 4.30 a.m. I sat still listening to the whistle carefully.  Then it dawned on me that it was the Blue Whistling thrush,who lives on the roof of our nearby cottage. They can whistle just like humans and Whistling Thrush are the ones who breaks the darkness of night and welcomes the first ray of the sun.

In the morning we had our breakfast and filled our stomach to the fullest as that day we were to travel on the most unpredictable road of our journey, landslides during monsoon are quite common on this road. The road that leads to our next destination…Munsiyari.

As we were settling down in our car, we saw a Blue Magpie sitting on the roof of the kitchen. The staff said its a regular visitor and they feed him. What a wonderful parting gift …a  Blue magpie sitting so close to me and  enjoying its food,unworried about its proximity to Humans!!! What a beautiful sight of co-existence !!!!

Useful info:

How to reach:

  • By Road:From Delhi 483 kms.
  • Nearest airport: Pantnagar airport
  • Nearest Railhead: Kathgodam

About Chestnut Groove:

Website: http://www.chestnutgrove.grandhimalayanadventure.com/

 

Continue reading “Part 3: Journey to the five hidden gems of Uttarakhand-Chaukori”

Part 2-Journey to the five hidden gems of Uttarakhand: Kausani by the Kosi river

Secluded from the chaotic cities, nestled in the Pine forest lies the Kosi Valley Retreat, near to Kausani, a hill station in Uttarakhand,India.
Read thro’ the blog to enjoy the unique experience one goes through at this place.

Gem 2 : Kausani
Soul of India lives in her villages. To discover India, one needs to travel to her villages. Village life, though has undergone drastic changes due to the influence of the outside world but still retains some of the deep rooted traditional values.
We always prefer staying at villages…it connects ourselves to our roots.
We booked our  stay at a small village named Simkholi, about 18 kms.away from Kausani, a popular weekend tourist destination near to Delhi. A few twist and turn on the awe inspiring mountain road with the slopes lined with Pine trees , after a small village called Manan brings you to the gate of Kosi Valley Retreat. As our car climbed the entry road, we saw a double storied stone cottage placed centrally in a sprawling lush green area. After the whirring sound of the car engine ceased, we could only hear the chirping of birds.

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Double storied main building of the Kosi Valley retreat

The place looked like a photograph out of a glossy travel magazine.It is nestled in the endless lush green pine forest which is characteristic of places like Kausani, Almora.It has a central building with 4 rooms, an independent cottage and few tents.

After we came out of the initial phase of trance, we could realize our stomach was rumbling.

Food is an integral part of any travel experience. Savoring the local flavor, knowing the ingredients used and learning new recipes has always been a part of exploring a place for me.
The food was cooked in Kumaoni style using fresh ingredients. The spinach stew, the dal, masala bhindi never tasted more delectable. The chicken prepared in their authentic way is a “must have “ at the place.

The place gets its name from The Kosi river flowing by. From the day, the Kumaon vacation was being planned, I have always imagined myself sitting by the river gazing lazily at the high mountains surrounding it while soaking my feet in the cold water of the Kosi. We balanced our way down the slope through the pine forest and reached the river. We sat there for a long time with our feet dipped in the water….It was just like the way I have always imagined. We saw the little village boys and girls herding the cattles through the river. They took a break from their job and sat on a huge rock. They spent a while chatting, giggling and splashing water at each other. Life, here was slow………you have time to enjoy “The Moments”,which we urbanites have lost in the urge of fast-paced “Development”.

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A small walk thro’ the Pine trees to the Kosi river

The fluffy, white clouds which were sailing across the sky gradually transformed into denser, blacker form. Winds blew through the pine trees creating a sharp whistling sound. The clouds rolled down by the side of the mountains and covered the area in a heavy mist………..Torrential rain pounded the region.

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Dense clouds rolled down the mountain

The fierce avatar of the mountains during heavy rains makes one realize his fragile existence. Water gushed from the uphills towards the lower region forming numerous mini streams, everything that came in the way was washed off. The Kosi river which was calm and docile, metamorphosed into its “Rudra Roop” or destructive form. Water flowed over the huge boulders on which we were sitting peacefully few hours ago…it dragged with it huge logs of trees and all the debris which was lying lifeless in the river.

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Landscape changed when it started to rain
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Rain water gushed towards the low lying region

The birds flew hurriedly looking for shelter to save themselves from the ferocity of nature.The old, weak branches fell from the trees and were drained away by the force of the water.
Tiny rain droplets skilfully balanced itself on the Pine leaves.

Such downpours are a rare sight for people who dwells in city like Delhi. Me and my daughter didnot want to loose the chance of dancing in the rain. We went out and within no time we were totally drenched. We stood their with our arms flung open and face upwards and closed our eyes. We could feel each rain drop on our skin.The raindrops washed away all weariness and anguish and sowed the seed of peace within us.

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Rain drops on the Pine leaves

It rained almost throughout the night. Next morning everything was calm and more green. The tiny stream-lets have disappeared and life was back to normal.

The birds were chirping happily … the bees were hovering over the flowers. Miley, the cute little guard dog was busy with his never ending activities.

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Bee covered in pollens..a busy day …

We left for our next destination -Chaukori . On our way, we visited the Kausani Tea Estate. As soon as we entered the premises the aroma of tea filled us. The tea pluckers were busy in the tea-garden. The tea Estate has a factory in its campus and a sell counter…but, unfortunately the counter was closed and we couldnot buy any stuff.
There are number of shawl factories at Kausani. The factory is an effort to provide livelihood to the local weavers. They have an outlet with the factory. Kausani shawls are quite popular with the tourists for the good quality of material, the unique design and the affordable price.

Continue reading “Part 2-Journey to the five hidden gems of Uttarakhand: Kausani by the Kosi river”

Part 1: Journey to the Five hidden gems of Uttarakhand

Summer vacations brings with it oppurtunities to take long break from the hectic daily schedules and venture out in search of beauty, peace and fun.
Summer of 2016 took us to the 5 hidden gems of Uttarakhand, India.

Gem 1: Naukuchiatal.
Its a calm, serene small city by the Lake which invites all nature lovers .

To choose from the unceasing bucket-list a few names during vacation is the toughest challenge faced by any avid traveler.

This summer after much discussions on the pros and cons of our places of choice we finally zeroed in on the” Kumaon circuit vacation”.

The northern state of Uttarakhand in India is divided into two administrative divisions : Kumaon or Kumaun and Garhwal.

The gross plan was chalked out.. We will take leave from office for 9 days and try to reach up to Munsiyari halting at different places in the route and staying there for a night or two.

As a planner my work started immediately . It took a day and a search through number of blogs to finalize the fine print of the vacation. The route will be :

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Route for ” Kumaon Vacation”

We will be starting our journey on 11th June and will return on 19th June.

Day 1 : Delhi-Naukuchiatal

Day 2: Naukuciatal-Kausani

Day 3: Stay at Kausani

Day 4:Kausani- Chaukori

Day 5: Chaukori- Munsiyari

Day 6: Stay at Munsiyari

Day 7: Munsiyari- Binsar

Day 8: Stay at Binsar

Day 9: Binsar- Delhi

Rains have already started in the mountains, so we tried to keep our staying options as  near as possible to the route road. Knowing that Munsiyari is deep within the mountain terrains and it has numerous landslide points on its route, we were a bit apprehensive about whether we will be able to make it or not. But, vacation plans in the mountains during monsoon cannot be full-proof , so we left that part of the plan as a surprise element.

GEM 1 : NAUKUCHIATAL

Day 1: Delhi- Naukuchiatal

Nainital district has four major lakes: Nainital, Bhimtal, Sat tal and Naukuchiatal. Naukuchiatal is the least explored lake in this region thus it is calm, unspoiled and clean. For all those people who would love a peaceful weekend vacation near to Delhi, this a good option.

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Lakes in Nainital District

According to our plan we just had  one day to enjoy and explore the beauty of Naukuchiatal.As we wanted to utilize the time in best possible way , we left for the destination early.

We, The team of 5 (My husband, my 10 years old daughter,my two dogs,Lassy and Chocos and me)left Delhi at 6.30 a.m and reached Naukuchiatal at 2 p.m. We had our booking at The Camphor Tree Resort.
On reaching Naukuchiatal, we were instructed to follow the road encircling the Tal(meaning Lake), until we reach the end of the road. We followed the instruction and came to a halt when we saw a black colored huge iron gate with the words “ Outside Vehicles Not Allowed “ written on it.

I made a call to Samir Rana, the owner of the hotel and waited there. From the corner of our eye we could see a small car exhausting itself to compromise the steep sloped narrow road which vanished among the houses. We were too frightened to discuss about the possibility of that road being our way to the hotel….silence gripped our car.

Suddenly, the black gate opened and we were welcomed in.As the gate closed behind us, we were cut-off from the cacophony of the outside world and were transformed into a  world of tranquility. The road moves by the side of the lake and under a thick canopy formed by the branches  of gigantic sized old trees.Large number of empty brightly colored Shikaras were anchored on the side of the lake, under the trees, waiting for maintenance.

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Shikaras anchored by the side of the Lake

An old styled Iron gate welcomed us to The Camphor Tree. Samir Rana  is the third generation owner of the property. In the 1940’s it was owned by a British Colonel and was a seven stone unit hunting and fishing Lodge.  Samir, revamped the main building lately and it serves as the boutique hotel now. It is a perfect amalgamation of the old and the new world….while you can see the ruins of the colonel’s stone hunting lodge and the colossal ,shady more than 100 years old Camphor tree with its root spreading large and deep…at the same time you can smell the scent of the new paint done on the building.

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Old styled Iron gate welcomed us to Camphor Tree
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First glimpse of Camphor Tree
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The Camphor Tree
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Ruins of the Hunting lodge and the revamped building co-existing

The rooms were large, spacious, neatly decorated. Our main attraction was the Bay window overlooking the lake. At Camphor tree, either we were exploring the place or we were sitting by the Bay window watching people laughing, chitchatting while boating on the Lake.

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The Bay Window….everyones favorite

A visit to Naukuchiatal remains incomplete without a  boat ride.

After having a superbly delicious lunch, we planned to go for boating . The boat stand was just a 2 minutes walk from the resort.

The scene at the boat stand was just in contrast to the serene atmosphere in Camphor tree ,the Lake was teeming with holiday crowd. There were lots of options available for activities : kayaking(for 2), shikaras(will be provided with boatman) and peddle boats.My daughter was more keen on steering the boat herself so we opted for peddle boat.

Naukuchiatal or the “Nine cornered Lake” is the deepest Lake in the Lake district of Nainital. Mythology has ,that if anyone can visit all the nine corners of the Lake within a specified time he will be granted a boon by Lord Brahma. Keeping with the belief, there is a Brahma Temple by the Lake(near to KMVN).It is a matter of fact that all the nine corners of the Lake cannot be viewed at the same time from any point. The mythological stories adds an element of mystery to the place.

We were given an hour time to boat. My daughter was desperate to explore the Lake as much as possible. She was so excited to get the new responsible role of being the captain of the boat. She steered skilfully  through the fleet of boats. We never thought that our 10 years old daughter will be strong enough to peddle the boat for 1 hour or, so tactfully will make her way through obstacles. Vacations are time when you discover The Real Self, it helps to come out of our cocoon.

The Lake was surrounded with lush green mountains on all sides. The sky was overcast with clouds and the breeze created ripples on the water. The sides of the lakes were buzzing with people busy with different water activities.On one side of the lake number of kids and teenagers were enthralled by Zorbing….their laughter and  screams of excitement filled the air.

 

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Boat Stand, Naukuchiatal
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Kayaks, Shikaras,Peddle boats..Spoilt for choice
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Zorbing

Bhimtal, near to Naukuchiatal is famous for paragliding. While boating we saw number of paragliders hovering over the Lake. Paragliding…..one of the innumerable ways to quench the thirst to fly for humans. Para gliders sailed through the air and sometimes went in circles before vanishing behind a mountain. We saw people Kayaking,the pair of paddlers keeping in-perfect sync with each other to keep them afloat.The colorful Shikaras  disturbed the regular pattern of ripples on the water and created a streamline trail behind it. Our 1 hour was almost over and we went back to the boat stand.

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Paragliders hovering over the Lake
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Tourists enjoying a ride on Shikara

We saw some of our fellow Resort mates had perfectly laid set-up for fishing near our Resort. The camp chairs were laid, box full of baits kept in one corner and they were relaxing in the camp chairs  with fishing rods in one hand and can of beer in the other. A perfect vacation picture !!!!!!

We lazily walked  on the side of the Tal while  the sun slowly went down the horizon. Only the silhouettes of the boats and the people sitting on it were visible. The lake now resembled a pool of gold and the tiny boats floating on it.

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At sunset….pool of gold and the boats floating on it….

As it was getting dark we went back to the Resort. The lights surrounding the Lake came alive . The reflection of the lights on the lake and the numerous lights twinkling like stars on the mountains painted a mesmerizing scene. The moon shined brightly and lit up even the darkest corners.

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Camphor Tree at night
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The moon shining bright

We were tired after the days activity and wanted to retire soon to bed. We had an early dinner and went to bed only after meeting the chef and noting down the yummy chicken recipes.

Next morning, I woke up to the chirping of birds. I went outside to discover that the place is filled with birds who seemed to be regular visitors.Some were busy filling up their tummy from the feeder, some were comfortably perching on trees, while some were tirelessly flying in groups over the place and their chirping energized the atmosphere.

After having our breakfast we left for our next destination……Kausani.

 

Useful info:

Travelling to Naukuchiatal:

  • By Road (from Delhi): Delhi- Rampur-Rudrapur- Haldwani bypass-Bhimtal-                                                                         Naukuchiatal(approx. 8hrs.)
  • Nearest Airport: Pantnagar airport
  • Nearest Railway station: Kathgodam (approx. 27 Kms. away)

Boating charges:

  • Shikara   300 for 30 minutes
  • Pedal boat  200/hr.

Tariff of Camphor Tree:

  • Deluxe rooms at 3500 a night including breakfast
  • Suite rooms at 5000 a night including breakfast.