No one wants to remember a bad dream. And likewise it’s prudent to forget the unpleasant events soonest, if not instantly. Though at times, such untoward happenings turn into a blessing in disguise and the end result becomes heavenly.
That’s what happened on June 5. After having a horrific night stay at one of the rank bad resorts of Mukteshwar, my daughter, Shaguna called Shailendra Singh, the manager of Neemrana’s property at Ramgarh, which is around 25 kms from Mukteshwar. The large smile on her face suggested that there were rooms available at Ramgarh Bungalows and we were on road to Ramgarh at around 11.00 in the morning.
Let me first introduce the co-travellers, my wife Madhu, Aditya – our son-in-law, Shaguna, our seven months old grand- daughter, Kuhu, Adiitya’s friend, Amit and his wife Shefali.
It was a bright sunny day that enabled us to take a good look of the hills and valleys enroute. Travelling through the thickly forested hillsides and babbling brooks, we reached Malla Ramgarh (the lower portion of Ramgarh is called “Talla Ramgarh”, while the one at higher altitude is called “Malla Ramgarh”), where most of the better properties are located, at around 12.00 and met Shailendra at his office housed at the Old Bungalow. The hospitality started immediately after our entry to his room. Water was served and we were asked if we preferred tea or coffee. We requested him to show the rooms first.
We were taken to a heritage bungalow called “Ashok Vatika”, which was about a couple of furlongs away from the Old Bungalow (no rooms were available there at the time of our visit). At the gate a placard stated “Ashok Vatika – a Non Hotel of Neemrana Group of Hotels”. We parked our Scorpio at the parking lot and started walking towards the bungalow, passing through the fruit laden trees, with numerous plums, apricots, peaches, apples greeting the guests. Basant and Rajdeep, in charge of the hospitality showed us the three bedded suites called “ Green Room” and “ Blue Room” and a couple of two bedded rooms.
Needless to say that we almost fell in love with the Vatika at first sight and told Basant to arrange for our check-in at the “Blue Room” and the two bedded room called “Yellow Room”, as both these rooms gave the best view.
While our luggage was being placed in the rooms, we comforted ourselves in the luxurious sitting room. Shagun and Shefali had other plans though. They quietly sneaked out and started having mouthfuls of Himalayan fruits plucked straight from the trees in the lawns.
Our first and foremost priority, which had been bugging us since last evening, was to fill the belly of the almost starving Scorpio. The only petrol pump in the entire Mukateshwar- Ramgarh belt was located at Bhowali, which was around 18 Kms from the Vatika. We had a quick tea and proceeded for the gas station.
Bhowali is a small town that has an average elevation of 1,654 metres (5,426 feet) and is around 11 Km from Nainital. It is a gateway to many places in the Kumaon Hills like Almora and Bageshwar for persons coming from Haldwani route. Bhowali is in the close vicinity of Bhimtal, Sat tal, Naukuchiyatal, Nal Damyanti Tal, Sukha Tal, and Khurpa Tal. This is also a road junction serving all the nearby hill stations from Nainital. Bhowali is famous for its scenic grandeur and as a hill fruit mart. Bhowali is also known for its T.B. sanatorium established in 1912, where Smt. Kamla Nehru, wife of Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru stayed for a while for recuperation.
The hill people, by and large are very friendly and the petrol pump attendants gave a good bit of cleaning to the Scorpio and Honda City, while the diesel was being filled in. I would like to remind the readers that in the hills it is always prudent to keep the petrol tank in a healthy condition and not to wait for the next filling station, which could be 50 kms away, with no guarantee of the availability of fuel. And if you are not carrying any hard liquor, that too need to be picked up either from Haldwani or Bhowali (and there is only one “thekka” – wine shop), as Foreign Made India Liquor is not available at Mukteshwar or Ramgarh.
Bhowali is a highly congested town and parking is a big problem. After leaving the petrol station, we were feeling fairly hungry and looked for a good place where we could have a good lunch. There were a few small time dhabas along the way, but with no parking space, we headed for a restaurant called “Tarang”, which we had spotted on way to the gas station.
The restaurant is a part of the Hotel Sarthak Inn, which not only has ample parking space, but also very clean wash rooms. The food both vegetarian and non-veg was excellent. Tarang is a very reasonably priced restaurant – the bill for six of us with a fairly good appetite was just around Rs. 700-, which included the cost of mineral water bottles and fresh lime sodas.
Coming back to Ramgarh Bungalows, we reached Ashok Vatika at around 3.00 P.M., a good time for my wife to have a small siesta (she loves such relaxations – she is a teacher by profession and her school assignments always finish before 1.00 P.M.). Not used to such luxuries, I picked up the only book I was carrying – The history of science by George Sarton and decided to sit in the verandah, where two hammock chairs along with side tables were placed. Sun was playing hide and seek with clouds and with the sun deciding whether or not to put an appearance, you can yourself imagine the tranquility of the surroundings.
Smart guy as he was, seeing me absorbed in the book, Rajdeep placed two bowls of freshly picked fruits from the Vatika’s lawns on the side tables. Believe me I have never tasted such juicy and sweet apricots and plums in my life (the fruits we get in Delhi are either from the cold storage or a few days old). Amit joined me for a couple of minutes and then started shooting the fruit laden trees with his Canon camera. Suddenly from a short distance I saw Shefali climbing a tree like a trained village belle. Unaware of my presence she was quietly picking up some of the ripe plums. Amit also noticed the act and captured the moments in the camera.
Passing through the verandah, Shailendra who was on his usual supervisory round, waived at me and enquired about our stay and upon my request he told me that there were six 19th century bungalows, which were once a home to the British officers and their families. These were acquired and restored by the group over a period. Shailendra told us that the Neemrana Group established their presence in Ramgarh by launching the Old Bungalow and the Writers’ Bungalow in 1989. This was followed by Vista Villa (1994), Rose Cottage (1996), Ashok Vatika (2008) and Cliff House (2009).
I think before I tell you about our rendezvous at Ramgarh, it would be better to say a few words about the place itself.
Ramgarh is a serene hill station perched at an altitude of 1789 m above the sea level on Bhowali-Mukteshwar Road. It is located at a distance of 26 km from Nainital in Kumaon Division of Uttaranchal. It has an average elevation of 1,518 metres (4,980 feet). The altitude ranges from 1,400 metres in the Talla (Lower) Ramgarh valley to 1,900 metres in Malla (Upper) Ramgarh. The East-West ridge above Malla Ramgarh has an elevation of 2000-2350 metres. This place is rich in orchards and is called the “fruit bowl of Kumaon”, owing to its verdant orchards of peach, apricots, pears, plums and apples.
Putting Kuhu to sleep and leaving her in care of Madhu, Shaguna joined us and suggested a walk leading to the Writer’s Bungalow, which was at a distance of 500m.
Walking through the thick chir pine forests, which suffuse the air with a heady, resiny aroma, we reached the bungalow, which once housed the Noble laureate, Rabindra Nath Tagore, where he composed some of his best works. He found this hilltop village a perfect haven for solitude and tranquility. As a matter of fact, he even thought of setting up a learning centre here, which would have probably turned Ramgarh into cultural capital rather than a hotbed of horticulture, had he stuck to his original plan. But this honour was destined for West Bengal and the learning centre was established at Shantiniketan. However, during his stay at Ramgarh he built a cottage on the hilltop, which is now known as “Tagore Top”.
The Old Bungalow – 1830 and the Writer’s Bungalow – 1860 have a history of their own. These heritage structures once housed the British and Indian officers as well as their wives who travelled on horseback and palanquins. These bungalows were probably used as “Inspection Bungalows”. I believe Ramgarh used to be a small army cantonment.
On a casual visit to Ramgarh, Aman Nath and Francis Wacziarg, the promoters of Neemrana Group, came across these bungalows, which were in a state of despair – the window panes were broken, the doors jarred, plaster on the walls almost shattered and there was an air of forlornness all around. They decided to restore the bungalows and approached the Uttar Pradesh Government for requisite permissions, which though hard to come, were granted subsequently.
Restoration of these properties was not an easy job. But as an urdu poet said:” Kahiye to aasman ko jameen par uttar laayen, Mushkil nahin hai kuch bhi agar thaan lijiye”.
They had the easier option of redoing the structure to the last detail. But keenly interested in preserving the past, they decided to show the inherent charm of the place by restoring these bungalows, even if it meant spending their considerable creative energies and incurring a higher cost.
The restoration work first started on the Writer’s Bungalow, as it was in a better condition than the Old Bungalow.
The Writer’s Bungalow has two suites called the Bird Room and the Butterfly room and both these rooms have some exquisite pictures of birds, butterflies and flowers on the walls. Being situated on a raised site, these rooms provide an excellent view.
On the way back, we took a detour and came via the Old Bungalow, which presents the colonial character of the building, with furniture and accessories keeping completely in tune with the era it belonged to.
By the time we reached the Vatika, Basant had set up a table on the terrace and served piping hot tea and home-made biscuits. The view from our terrace of the surrounding hills and steeply terraced slopes, with a rainbow in its full bloom, had a magical effect. Sunset in the hills is always very romantic and with the mountains surrounded by a heavy mist, we enjoyed the sunset in this sleepy village among the hills and the pace and quiet we wanted on a vacation.
There is a popular saying in Uttarakhand – “Surya Ast aur Uttarakhand Mast”. So how could we be an exception. It was slowly becoming cold and breezy and at around half past seven out came the bottles and the tinkling glasses and the real fun started. The snacks and tid-bids, we had bought on way back from Bhowali, came in handy.
While I was contemplating the bubbles in my beer, Rajdeep reminded us that the dinner would be served at the Old Bungalow at 8.00 P.M. onwards. While the youngsters decided to go down to the dining hall, we requested him to serve the dinner for me and Madhu at the Vatika only.
We came out in the verandah and decided to take a walk in the moonlit lawn. Feeling the twigs crackling underfoot, the sensuous scents of the flowers, the sparkling stars giving a company and with the lovely cool breeze and silence, unless you speak, there was nothing except peace and solitude all around. I had half a mind to tell my wife that it was almost like being on our honeymoon. But then considering that we have two grand daughters, one of whom was quietly sleeping in the room close by, I promptly withheld myself and rushed back to the sitting room to pick my unfinished beer and asked Rajdeep to serve the dinner.
The sumptuous dinner brought from the Old Bungalow, though re-heated, smelled good and tasted like home cooked food- less spicy and suitably oiled. My favourite dish, baked vegetables, which normally is not a part of menus at such resorts, was a treat to savour. The dessert too was superb.
Before going to bed, I normally read a book along with a cup of tea, which Rajdeep provided without any hesitation. It appeared that the staff at Ramgarh Bungalows has been trained not to say a “no”,
The sweet chirping of the birds and seeing Amit and Shefali taking a walk in the lawn, I realized that it was time to get up. Seeing me sitting in the verandah, Madhu, Shaguna and Aditya also joined. Basant promptly placed tea by our side.
As decided, we were at the dining hall by half past eight. The continental breakfast associated with Aloo –Puri, was one of the best morning meals I had for a long time. The fresh juice, perhaps coming straight from the orchards around the bungalows would be remembered for long.
The heavy breakfast made me sleepy and I asked Basant to serve another helping of tea at the terrace, which gave me another opportunity of the unobstructed view of the magical ranges of the Himalayas. In fact on a clear day, one can have a glimpse of the snow-capped mountains too. During a casual talk, Basant told me that life in the hills moves at a slow and leisurely pace and people are unemployed for most of the year. By hiring the young boys from the close by areas and training them, Ramgharh Bungalows have generated employment for a few. Another flavorsome project run by the group is the production of jams and preserves marketed under the Neemrana label, perhaps to make a good use of the fresh fruits from the orchards, also provides some job opportunities.
Now, some of you might ask me – what to do at Ramgarh?
My simple answer would be -nothing. Doing nothing is also something. Walking through the Pagdandis (pathways, connecting the villages), unburdening yourself from the day to day pressures and being away from the chaotic and polluted metros, is in itself a great feeling.
Amidst the tranquility of Ramgarh you can gaze at the star-lit sky, marvel at the sunrise and sunset, admire the beauty of the mighty Himalayas and taste the Himalayan fruits. The motor-able road can take you to close of the Tagore top, where you can enliven the memories of the great Rabindra Nath Tagore.
Mahadevi Verma, one of the greatest exponents of the Chhayavaadi school of the Hindi literature and a Jnanpith awardee, spent a few years at Ramgarh. Her cottage has now been converted into a museum. Unfortunately, being closed on Sundays for the visitors, we couldn’t see the museum. I was told that she did a lot of social work for the down trodden villagers.
Aurobindo Ashram and the Mother Dairy Plant are also places well worth a visit. There is a small market close to the Dairy Plant where a few dhabas serve good vegetarian food.
You could also visit Nathuakhan, situated near the village Bhallard and have a 180 degrees view of Nanda Devi and enjoy a gourmet meals at “Aah Himalaya”, a guest house run by Murad Ali Baig, the motor columnist.
If you feel like having some adventure, ask the hotel staff to organise rock-climbing, rappelling and river-crossing.
Making Ramgarh as base, it is very convenient to have excursions to Mukteshwar, the Taals, Kainchi Ashram Dham, Jilling and Nainital, which are in the vicinity of 20-30 km. If you start little early in the morning, you can have a day return trip to Ranikhet / Almora.
Sticking to the policy of not driving through the lesser known roads in the night, immediately after the prolonged breakfast, we requested for a check out. We didn’t have to go the reception at the Old Bungalow to settle the hotel bill, Shailendra himself came to the Vatika along with the credit card authorization machine. Incidentally, the tariff for the ” Blue Room” – the three bedded suite (the extra bed given was complimentary) inclusive of breakfast, morning, evening tea and one dinner was Rs. 6250 only. You can well imagine the feedback we had given on the Visitors’ Register.
Bidding farewell to Ramgarh, passing through Bhowali, Nainital, Khurpatal, Corbett’s Museum, Corbett falls, we reached NOIDA at around eight, had a quick break at our elder daughter’s house at Indirapuram and reached home by nine.
Thank you for visiting and of course, I wouldn’t be surprised if we bump into each other at the snow laden paths of Ramgarh, may be in the coming winter itself.
P.S. For bookings you may contact the Delhi office of Neemrana Group at – 91-11-461 6145, 461 8962 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.