Delhi to Ramgarh, Mukteshwar

The LONG Week End-12 Aug to 15 Aug 17

Though we are a veteran couple, our daughter  Neerja (Nanu is her pet name) has a very busy schedule round the year with long working hours and travel schedules with in India & abroad. Despite official hagglings of this meeting and that conference schedule, she had planned to spend a quiet extended week end break to refresh and rejuvenate at less frequented hill destination in Uttrakhand. She completely ruled out visiting Ranikhet and Nainital where she lived and studied respectively for half a decade during her childhood. She also ruled out Shimla and Mussoorie and we narrowed on to Bull Kumar’s Shivpuri Resort located in lush green forest on road 15 km across Rishikesh to Badrinath.

Unfortunately, the resort was fully booked and we settled down for our next option and good offer of my senior Signals friend Brig Puri to revisit his cottage in Cloud Nine nestled amidst a lush green forest and landscaped apple orchards on the main Bhowali-Ramgarh- Mukteshwar road in the Dev Bhoomi Kumaon Himalayas. I have said revisit to Cloud Nine as we had enjoyed his hospitality some three years back earlier too. The other main consideration of this holiday was taking our pet Lab Happy Bhatia which was only acceptable in Shiv puri resort or Cloud Nine.

Since I have travelled nth times on this route, after hurriedly packing with our minimum essentials clothings, snacks and food stuff, on 12 Aug we left around 8 am following conventional route Noida- Gajraula- Moradabad-Rampur- Bilaspur-Rudrapur-Haldwani- Bhimtal-Ramgarh to Cloud Nine located around 350 km from Noida. The road journey was uneventful as it was full of cars, mini buses and taxis of holiday revellers speeding up to make the most of their upcoming four-day weekend.

The road from Rampur to Rudrapur is bad with big potholes and all sorts of traffic snarls-bullock and horse carts, tractors, trucks, cycles and e-rickshaws. We had lunch on roadside Punjab Di Potli Dhaba short of Bilaspur and the food was indeed good especially the dal makhani cooked in desi ghee. We passed through 5 toll barriers and though the first four exempted the toll showing my exserviceman card, the fourth near Rampur would not agree and we paid Rs 110 toll.

The highest so far for traveling four kms as the road beyond Rampur towards the hills around Bilaspur, Rudrapur and Haldwani was chaotic except for me who has got emotional bond, having lived and stayed in a farm near Bilaspur as I did my matric from Rudrapur way back in 1957. Near Kathgodam from a small shop Harish Store we had short stop to purchase bread, butter, eggs and milk and to my amazement it was located next to die hard Berari  Col Chowdhury’s house. Since we wanted to avoid driving in hills in darkness, I reluctantly planned meeting him on our way back journey. However, alas, that did not materialise in the end.

The Swiss Village in the Himalayas

The hills start from Kathgodam and so does the cool breeze of the mighty Himalayas. The sal, deodar and rhododendron trees with red flowers famous for making wine and syrupy red juice to rejuvenate tired mind, body and soul, gradually start replacing the pine trees with their peculiar fragrance. Due to silvery clouds majestically gliding over the Bhimtal, we could not see the serenity of the lake and surrounding hills as the entire Bhimtal valley looked like an ocean.

After quick hot tea with pakoras at Bhowali, we took our last leg of 33 Km drive to Ramgarh divided as Malla (higher elevation) on the main road and Talla (lower elevation) on a side road. Located at the height of 7200 feet, it is the fruit bowl of the Kumaon region famous for its delicious apples, apricots, peaches and pears orchards. Ever Since Nainital has become air conditioned overcrowded Karol Bagh and Ranikhet seams bursting with tourists, Ramgarh and Mukteshwar have emerged as exquisite tourist destinations.

The erstwhile Cloud Nine located around 12 km from Ramgarh towards Mukteshwar has been renamed as the ‘The Swiss Village in the Himalayas’.

There are large numbers of small well maintained cottages on narrow winding serpentine road surrounded by thick forest frequented by the leopard(s) and tiger(s) and at the end of bend 11 at the height of 7500 feet is located the red roofed, neat well maintained O-14 cottage of Brig Puri where we reached around 5 pm and were destined to rendezvous for our short recouping holiday.

The exquisiteness, tranquility and the breathtaking unobstructed views of the snow peaks of the Nanda Devi and the Trishul ranges of the Himalayas during clear weather beat the European Swiss Alpine serenities. I would like to compliment Mr Sudhir Saxena and the entire team of the Swiss Village in Himalayas for its excellent upkeep, security and house keeping services.

O-14 Cottage

O-15 cottage

Immediately on arrival at the main gate, we were greeted by ever smiling ‘Wahe Guru Wahe Guru’ chanting smart Sikh gentleman Ram Singh who discreetly claims to be an exserviceman and heads security along with Eshwar Damodaran the F&B Manager. We were given the key of O-14 and motorcycle borne guide took us to cottage as it was getting dark and silvery grey clouds had engulfed the entire complex making driving risky and slow.

There was cold breeze and we shivered & happy looked very excited and scared probably smelling prowling big cat in the forest around. We were tired; I brewed tea, ordered some food that’s very very expensive from the resort’s restaurant and went to sleep in the well laid cottage.

Dahlia flowers in O-14

Road side Apple Orchard

Bagh (Tiger/leopard), Devi Devtas (Gods & Godesses) and Bhoot (evil spirits)

Kumaonis though worshipper of Lord Shiva & Goddess Kalika, like all other hill tribes believe in various village / local gods & goddesses, presence of tigers and leopards commonly called bagh and almost everyone has been influenced with the presence of bhoot or evil spirits.

All hill tribes have one thing common, they fear and revere the gods and goddesses, tigers and the evil spirits- the later two lurking every where with their evil powers and their stealthy and illusory habits of suddenly appearing and disappearing in the deep dense forests, high hills and narrow valleys often at night elevating them to the supernatural status than other worldly beings!

No wonder the ever smiling Gorkha security guard Thapa cautioned us of the invincible presence of these supernatural beings and tiger(s) and leopard(s) called by him as bagh only upto the extent that Happy must be protected by keeping him in doors during night and poor visibility.

Having lived many years in Ranikhet, my wife Rajni was deeply concerned about Happy’s safety and security.

Neerja and Happy

Next morning we got up early and Nanu and self went for a long walk with Happy on winding down hill road with cottages interspersed along one side with red and green painted tops. There was abundance of white butterflies attracted by varied varieties of flowers grown in wild and in some of the well maintained cottages. Ramgarh is good for those who, love eerie silence, birds and butterflies watching, nature walks, yoga, meditation and trekking.

I and Neerja enjoyed walking with Happy and while going down hill was tempting to cover longer distances climbing up on way back exhausted us immensely. We drove in the afternoon to local shop to purchase fresh vegetables that were much cheaper than the NCR and got freshly plucked apples from the road side orchard at one third the price of the Mother Dairy in Noida. Incidently, many know Ramgarh as apple country but the entire NCR is supplied of tomatoes grown here. While tomatoes were Rs 100 a kg at Noida when we left, these were available at Rs 30 a Kg in hills.

Yes, there was constant stream of cars laden with holiday mongers heading towards Mukteshwar and by the evening of 13 Aug there were around ten holidaying families with kids enjoying abundance of nature’s bounty in the Swiss Village. It was amazing in one moment the entire area was engulfed with clouds gliding inside our cottage, if doors and windows were open, while in the next few moments, it would be sunny with enjoyable warmth.

Sadly, due to excessive construction of the multistoried buildings, commercialisation and excessive tourism, vandalisation of forests by contractors, politicians and bureaucratic mafias, the hearts of those who love these hills has been veritably saddened. I was equally saddened when I saw one resident tossing garbage in poly bag from his cottage window. Also, many visitors holidaying, littered places with empty mineral water and whiskey bottles, empty cigarette packets and poly packs ruining the fragile eco-system of the hills.

On 14th after our long morning walk, while Neerja read her books, I supervised wild grass cutting and pruning of plants in the cottage we were staying (O-14) and the adjacent one O-15 belonging to Brig Puri’s daughter which had some guests. We both, to unwind and rejuvenate enjoyed nature’s tranqulity, peace, solitude, gentle cold breeze and floating silvery clouds, far away from the hustle bustle of our hihgly polluted Noida, enjoying nature walks with Happy and sleep.

Though we missed the amazing view of the Himalayas due to rainy season, but the lush green valley was a joy for ever. Rajni kept indoors and mercifully during the last day of our stay after much cajoling the housekeeping staff, some dish TV channels were activated so that she could watch some TV serials.

Incidentally, when we left our home for hills, there was sadly red alert on one TV channel announcing heavy rains and land slides in Uttrakhand in the next 48 hours. While my wife wanted to cancel the trip, I and Neerja pursuaded her to take a chance. Throughout our stay, the sky remained heavely overcasted with high probability of rains. Though I love rains and more than that the smell of hot pakoras and steaming mugs of tea, along with refreshing breeze and lurking fears of land slides. Luckily there were no rains till we arrived back home with renewed synergy.

15 Aug around 7.30 am after light breakfast, we left Cloud Nine for way backhome. It was heartening to see school kids carrying paper tricolour flags and buntings and singing patriotic songs and at Bhowali on the road side school national flag was unfurled followed by rhythmic singing of the national anthem. We also purchased Kumaoni speciality ‘Baal Mithai’ from Bhowali.

Surprisingly, none of the halwais new its origin and were amazed when I narrated them that poor cook Joga Massih’s invention during World War-1 while serving in a British Regiment. After the chaotic experience of traveling on poor road surface from Rampur to Rudrapur, we decided to proceed via forested Kaladhungi road. Large numbers of two wheelers, cars, tractors, auto and e-rickshaws and trucks were seen flying tricolour but this tempo gradually declined as we progressed towards the NCR.

While enroute we saw some barefooted sadhus on their padyatra, it was heartening to see mod young sadhu driving on new motorbike with trishul and national flag well fluttering. With the drive through the lush green Kaladhungi forest and Jim Corbett and my Regiment’s home ‘The cool breezy Kumaon Hills’,humming ‘Bedu Pako Barra Massa’ one of our Regimental songs, I desire visiting hills again while my mind seemed wholly taken up with reminiscences of Robert Frost’s this famous stanza:-

‘The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep’.

  • Musaffir

    awesome travelogue….!

    • Col NN Bhatia (Retd)

      A BIG THANK YOU Musaffir!

  • Patrick Jones

    Welcome to Ghumakkar,Col Bhatia.
    I share your concern with commercialisation of the beautiful hills and littering. We need stringent laws and sincere enforcement of the same.

    • Musaffir

      Plastics…plastics…poly bags, are the biggest menace…a railway journey one need to take anywhere in India, on either sides of the railway tracks, these can be seen strewn all over, in all shades of colours…all the way, as long as the lines go…

      • Patrick Jones

        True, Musaffir. Swachh Bharat remains only in dreams. At a traffic junction the other day a man reclining at the back of an Audi SUV downed the glass to throw out litter. All I could do was to show an expression of disgust.

    • Col NN Bhatia (Retd)

      Due to excessive tourism, lack of job opportunities and commercialisation has led to vandalisation of these sacred places by the Forest and the Bureaucratic Mafias that sinks hearts of all those who love these majestic hills. It saddens my heart seeing oak and pine trees lying prostrate along the roadside felled by contractor mafia. They are dwarfed by men swarming over them, hacking them with pathetic little machlets and saws humming like charging mosquito brigade. Some trees stood resolutely but crippled, a main limb ripped out to human greed and landslides. At places these trees hang over the road as I gingerly drove under them wondering if my car’s radio antenna would zap them. Nainital, Mussorie & Shimla have become like air-conditioned Karol Baghs with chole bhature culture.

  • Welcome aboard Col Bhatia.

    I frequent this side of Kumaon quite often and try to update the best route here – https://www.ghumakkar.com/delhi-bhimtal-road-routes-explained/

    Because of rampant and unorganised construction, right now there is a total ban around 5 KMs of Nainital, as the crow flies, so it essentially covers all of Lake District. The only way to construct a house is to submit a plan and then the court would look at it. If there is no danger to the ecology then the plan gets through. So technically it is not a complete ban but its a big enough deterrent.

    So my guess is that as the current construction which was approved in the past, gets over, we would then begin to see the benefits of this restriction.

    Just a short read on hills, rains, pakoda and hot tea, and my chakras are getting charged :-).

    Hope to read more from you. Wishes.

    • Col NN Bhatia (Retd)

      A BIG THANK YOU Mr Nandan for your welcome and comments. Its been too late & too less to protect ecology of Nainital. I had spent my child hood in Bilaspur-Rudrapur region from 1950 to 1957. I did my matric from Rudrapur in in 1957. In those days it had the only high school between Rampur & Haldwani. I visited Nainital first time in 1957 as part of the school athletics team & once drove on a cycle in 1956 from Bilaspur to Gurgaon! Due to my love for the region , I was fortunate enough to follow the footsteps of my elder brother & was commissioned in the famous ‘The Kumaon Regiment’ with long posting & stay in Ranikhet. My daughter studied in St Mary’s Convent Nainital.
      Its time we protect the fragile ecology of the region. You may not be aware that the Britishers first thought of Nainital as India’s summer capital. BUT due to fragile rock structure, the railway line could not be extended beyond Kathgodam and Shimla got that honour. I have many anecdotes to share like invention of famous Baal Mithai which is only available in the Kumaon Division but let us leave them for the future episodes.

  • Welcome aboard Col NN Bhatia.
    It takes a lot of time for a place to become a popular one and not too long for it to get cluttered with rubbish and trash. Story of all “tourist” attractions? Well, it is quite saddening.

    Things are not quite different outside of Swades.. A visit to some iconic attractions in UK revealed similar mess.. Moral – where ever there are tourists , the story is the same.. Hope tourists across everywhere realize this.

    All the mess, and vandalizing apart, this story is a very interesting one. Great start for a wonderful journey with Ghumakkar, Sir!

    Best wishes.

    • Col NN Bhatia (Retd)

      A BIG Thank YOU Ms Archana Ravichander for publishing my article and comments thereafter. We need to maintain ecological balance in our fragile hills as they are located in the highest seismic zone and thus exceedingly vulnerable to earthquakes. Multi-storied concrete monsters not only look ugly in hills setting but could be very disastrous if adjoining land slides or there is God forgive an earthquake.
      I am a die -hard Kumaoni having been commissioned in the Kumaon Regiment known for its valour & triumph and Dev Bhoomi Kumaon is part of that martial tradition and culture..

  • Col NN Bhatia (Retd)

    Enjoy Kumaoni song- Beru Pako Bara Masa… Kumaoni folk song..very popular regimental song of the KUMAON Regiment..dancing on this rhythmic tune & song is most fascinating.. also sung by the Garhwalis & the Garhwal Rifles…
    http://bedupako.com/songs.php?page=show_song_details.php&songid=4&n=0&back=no

  • Pooja Kataria

    A Very Warm Welcome and my sincere regards to you Col NN Bhatia.
    I loved the way you mentioned every single details about your trip. It was really interesting reading about your experience, mukteshwar and its surrounded area has always been on my top list when it comes to visiting Kumaoni hills.
    I echo your thoughts about how people litter and make the surroundings unpleasant. I believe, It is same almost every where.
    Coming back to your story, I believe that you had a leisure time reliving tyour memories.
    Looking forward to see more travel stories from you.
    :)

    • Col NN Bhatia

      Thank you Ms Pooja for your encouraging comments on my Ramgarh travelogue. I do enjoy visiting less traveled hills & places & writing-have over 150 articles & four books to my humble credit including on my regimental life ‘KUMAONI Nostalgia’-Kumaon being my regiment.
      My three travelogues are lined up with Mr Nandan Jha / Ms Archana & I do hope they publish them.
      With age (I am 75-still going strong) our traveling now has reduced BUT I remember cycling from Rudrapur to Delhi/ Gurgaon in 1956 as a school boy & much later while posted to Ranikhet & Kanpur driving down to Gurgaon /Delhi during every holiday on scooter with wife & two small kids (now grown up adults).
      Dev Bhoomi -the Kumaon hills are our home as I am from the Kumaon Regiment. I love visiting them again & again & writing about them that synegises me immensely.

      • Pooja Kataria

        Woah! It is wonderful to know that you cycled from Rudrapur to Delhi/Gurgaon! i am from Gurgaon but, sadly, I can not imagine our generation (considering you are still young and going strong) doing it nowadays. That is the difference past few decades have brought especially in India.
        I remember my Dad would take us to our Granny’s home during summer vacations on his winters but that was 60 -70kms not very far compared to you. but I still remember as it has its own beauty but challenges two especially when the travelers were four.
        Would request you to share the link to your articles if possible and the books.
        once again i thank you for sharing your experience with us.

        • Col NN Bhatia (Retd)

          I know late Brig Kataria, Capt JS Kataria & two more Katarias in the Kumaon Regiment. Are you related to any one of them.?If you are interested in my articles- I just wrote tribute to Marshal of the Air Arjan Singh, you may kindly contact me on my email id [email protected] as they are not related to Ghumakkar/travelogue.. Thank YOU Pooja for your consideration and admiration. God bless.

    • Col NN Bhatia (Retd)

      Thank YOU Pooja for your valuable comments. Being commissioned in the Kumaon Regiment ,I am part of the Dev Bhoomi Kumaon from where our troops come. I am simply very fond of the Kumaon Hills. When I was posted in Ranikhet during 1973-1978 we made nth number of trips on our scooter from Ranikhet to Delhi /Gurgaon & back my wife holding with two kids (now grown up adults) and a small suitcase! I also similarly travelled four times from Kanpur to Delhi & back where I was posted before 1971 War. Now I am 75 years old, travel less but write a bit more. I have over 150 articles & four books to my credit including one ‘KUMAONI Nostalgia’ on bravery & sacrifices of my Regiment.
      I have three travelogues in que & it is on Nandan & Archana to publish them.Hope you enjoyed Beru Pako Bara Masa whose link is given below in my post. God bless.