An idyllic getaway-Binsar

My wife and I are avid travelers.  In the last 8 years that we have been together, we have practically traveled through the length and breadth of our country. However, for the last year or so, my wife’s travel aspirations were rather stymied by the arrival of our little one. While I was pretty free to pursue my desires of traveling, my wife had to remain at home taking care of our little son.

Recently, after our son turned one, we saw our long pending idea of traveling together taking shape. It was our anniversary and with able support from my parents who volunteered to take care of our son, we decided to head out on our much awaited vacation. Though it was for a short duration of 3-days yet it was a vacation to remember and cherish in times to come.

Once we decided to head out, the next thing was to choose a destination.  I had lots in mind but the one destination that was throbbing in my heart was Binsar. It was my long time desire to go to Binsar.  I had heard about this place a lot and therefore, when the opportunity presented itself, I simply went ahead and grabbed it with both hands. We had 5-days at our disposal (including the weekends) so we decided to drive down rather than taking the more sensible medium of train journey.

Binsar is located roughly 22 km from the famous town called Almora. It is in the Kumaon part of Uttarakhand. As is usual with all the hill stations, Binsar has a distinct “British” feel to it.  Binsar also has the highest bird sanctuary in India which is located roughly at a height of 8000 ft above sea level. Previously, when my wife and I used to go on bike rides we would always end up at budget hotels for the night stay. This time, my wife insisted that I should pick something luxurious for our stay at Binsar. With luxury in mind the obvious choice was Club Mahindra Resorts. While luxury was an important factor, I also knew that Binsar was famous for its breath taking views of the Himalayan range. Due to its height, from Binsar one can see the entire Himalayan range bordering China, Tibet & Nepal. The range includes Panchachuli, Nanda devi, etc. on a clear day. So when I enquired on the net about the visibility of the Himalayan range from Club Mahindra, I was rather disappointed that the location of this resort did not present a good view of the mountains. Further suggestions came in for Mountain Resort, also known as “Khali” estate. Instinctively, I went for this.

The drive from delhi to Binsar was uneventful save for brief interludes of good roads. Being a staunch follower of eicher road maps, I pretty much had my route chartered out. But for some odd reason, I missed a turn from Rampur to Bilaspur and ended up reaching Bareilly. The roads were in a dismal condition. Luckily, I noticed a sign board pointing left for nainital. My wife and I were disappointed to know that we had missed the correct turn long back and now had to cover an extra 45 km to come back to the right way. Once we reached Rudrapur, the roads became better. We were also informed by the hotel that the main highway from Haldwani to Almora was shut down due to heavy rains.  Therefore, we were advised to take a detour which added an additional 50 kms to the distance.  The hilly road started from Haldwani onwards.  We had to take the detour from a place called “Bhowali” towards Ramgarh. The resort was located within the sanctuary therefore; we had to reach the sanctuary gate by 7 p.m. After negotiating some bad stretch in this detour, we finally managed to reach the hotel. It was almost dark when we made it to the hotel. It was a long day in which I drove for nearly 14 hrs so I was dog tired.

Binsar, as mentioned above, is a wild life sanctuary controlled by the forest department.  The beauty of this place is attributed to the rich flora & fauna within the sanctuary and also the amazing views of the Himalayan range. There are only a few resorts that are located within the sanctuary and ours was one of them. The next day, we went for a short trek to a place called “zero point”. This is the highest point in the sanctuary and on a clear day, the view of the Himalayan range is simply awe-inspiring.  Unfortunately, we were not welcomed with a good weather.  As it was rainy season, the entire place was covered with thick clouds which marred the visibility around Binsar. The trek was a little scary.  We had to drive for about a kilometer till the KMVN TRH and from there we had to take a guide. Our guide, Raju bhat was very entertaining. He told us about leopards that frequent the stretch of the trek and also some local folklore.  While my wife was undeterred by the stories of leopards appearing from nowhere, I was literally scared and was always on the lookout for signs of a leopard leaping from behind the bushes. My wife had a hearty laugh at my state. We returned to the hotel and had a hearty meal. After lunch, my wife and I were simply lazing around reading books an enjoying nature at its best.

Our next day’s plan of visiting Jageshwar, one of the few “jyotirlingas” in India had to be altered due to an emergency back home. We started from Binsar as usual and made it home late in the evening.

While the entire experience of spending time in Binsar was amazing, what really made it special was the place where we stayed. When I booked my room in the mountain resort, little did I know that this place has a 100 year old history associated with it.

The mountain resort is also known as “Khali” estate.  Yes, its called “empty” estate.  Legend goes that the locals used to refer to this place as “khali” or “empty’ as there was no vegetation possible in this place. It was the commissioner of Kumaon region who first visited this place and established a cottage and named it “khali” estate after the local nomenclature in the 1850s. Some of its prior owners include an Englishman who was heading the Ruhelkhand-Kumaon railways, a local from Almora town, Mahatma Gandhi’s “Gandhi Ashram”, Nehru’s sister Vijayalaxmi Pandit, Navneet Parekh etc.

The most critical linkage that this estate has with Indian history is when Mahatma Gandhi purchased this place for an ashram called “Gandhi Samaj” for the freedom fighters. This property has 15 cottages which is let out for the guests. Apart from this, it also has 5 rooms within the cottage which were previously occupied by the likes of Pt. Nehru, Vijayalaxmi Pandit, Indira Gandhi, Sardar Vallabbhai Patel etc.  As per the care taker, the resort does not usually give away these rooms to guests as these are heritage properties.  However, we were lucky to get one of the rooms which had Pt. Nehru as its previous guest. The resort is perched on top of a hill overlooking the entire Almora town and a valley. It is surrounded by thick forest of the Binsar reserve.

The staffs at the resort were the highlight of our stay. It was off-season and there were only one more couple apart from us in the entire resort. The staff made sure that the cooked food based on our preference and served us with all their hearts. Even while eating, the caretaker would give us company by engaging in small talks about the village and the place.

Incidentally there is no television in the hotel. As per the caretaker, tv or music is strictly prohibited within the reserve. In fact, even the stereo in the car is not allowed to be played. So, one must be a nature freak to come over here. The resort also arranged for a special history session about the legacy of this place being shared by one of its staffs. The main cottage had such an “English” touch to it with wooden floors, ceiling and old furniture. I was also surprised to find an old German ash tray and wall clock.

The resort also had something very unique-a library containing some very old books. Overall, the place was peaceful and simply perfect for an idyllic getaway.

Now as I reflect upon our short vacation, I recalled how we almost did not reserve a room at the Khali estate. We made the booking via a travel agent.  As it was a rainy season, my wife insisted that the resort should have tv just in case the rain played spoilsport on our plans to roam around. I specifically asked the travel agent whether the resort had a television and they said yes. However, when we made it to the resort and asked for the TV, the caretaker humbly advised it’s prohibited. We were very disappointed but had no choice but to stay on. It was only towards the end of our stay that we realized how lucky we were that there was no TV in the resort. We had the entire nature at our disposal and we had such a great time enjoying every moment of it. We were lucky to enjoy the sound of silence all around us.

I strongly recommend this place to all those who are staunch nature lovers. In fact, I have already promised myself that I would visit my place next year with my entire family.

15 Comments

  • Khali State is the oldest resort over there. At the top (near KMVN Rest House) there is a very very good property named Binsar Retreat where I stayed in my visit……and the Vally view is awesome from there.

  • Jerry Jaleel says:

    The Khali Estate was originally built by Kumaon’s all time favorite Commissioner Sir Henry ramsay (1913-1896), who was popularly known as the ‘King os Kumaon’, and during his 28 years as its Commissioner, he lead the Kumaon-Garhwal area to one of the prosperous regions in northern India with ultra modern ideas. He built cement canals to supply fresh water throughout Kumaon, built modern hospitals and schools, resettle villagers from swamps to fertile lands, encouraged gardening and agriculture and provided jobs for thousands. Sir Henry Ramsay is as famous as Kumaon’s own Jim Corbett.

    I am glad to see that the Khali estate is still in good shape and you had an opportunity to stay there. Thanks for the brilliant post and fantastic photographs!

    Jerry A. Jaleel
    Director
    Jim Corbett Foundation of Canada

  • Jerry Jaleel says:

    Vasanth:

    The large b/w photograph at the bottom of your wall photos is that of Sir Henry Ramsay (1913-1896). After retiring he devoted his spare time in gardening here, producing the choicest fruits and vegetable. This was where he wanted to spend his final years. But his relatives in England tricked him to go there and upon arriving his motherland, he found the life was very boring, he hated the cold, damp country and died there heart broken shortly after his arrival.

    Jerry

    • yes…in fact, at the estate there was a gentleman who recites the history of the place…immaculate english and vast knowledge about the place itself…it was such an amazing experience to have heard it first hand sitting in that cozy lobby and sipping a warm cup of tomato soup….

  • ssk agra says:

    The best photograph,written work also good
    Thanking you

  • Vasanth,
    Very good post & nice pictures.

    Thanks.

  • Ram Dhall says:

    Thanks for sharing a detailed account of Khali Estate, very well supported by some beautiful pictures.

    What is the tariff like !!

    Jerry: Thanks for your informative and valuable additions.

    • the tariff is roughly 4600/- per night inclusive of all meals…there are 15 cottages and the money is worth every penny….for more info, visit http://www.khaliestate.com or call Mr. M.D. Pande 05962-251011/+919412093553.

      october is season time so do call and reserve before you go…you could give my reference in case you wish to stay. just refer me as Vasanth from New Delhi who stayed in the estate room itself instead of the cottage.

  • nandanjha says:

    Binsar seems to be all over Ghumakkar :-)

    When we visited Binsar in 2003 December, we booked ourselves at KMVN, which is right inside the reserve and very well located. While coming back, I guess we stopped at Khali for a cup of tea and were bowled over by luxury. It was beyond our means to stay there. I am sure that the caretaker there would have sensed that but still he took us around and showed us few rooms. I distinctly remember a room at the ground level which was quietly hiding another room at the basement. You sort of displace a wooden block on the floor and you can see a set of stair going down :-)

    @Ram – 4.6 K is still on the higher side. Lets plan a short vacation (4 days odd) in mid October to this area, if we could get this property for 3K a night, b’fast + 1 meal. :-)

  • g. vasanth says:

    nandan…i don’t wish to disappoint you but from what the hotel staff told me, october is kind of their season time….i am not sure if the tariff would be negotiated…:-( however, do give it a shot…u never know it might just work out..!!!

  • Indeed a beautiful trip to Binsar. This write-up sort of re-evoked the feelings during our binsar trip. Just like you, I was also scared about the panthers while trekking down from the zero point. And I was trying hard to be with the group. The camera in my hand was though not allowing me to do it quite often.

    Thanks Vasanth for the trip.

  • Dipesh says:

    Lovely blog. Nice description and good photos. In fact I read your experience in lonely travel magazine first.

  • REwadhar (Ravi) says:

    Very beautiful photo is pulled adored the photos to see spectacular photos.

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