Up up and away : Binsar

You know that trip, the one where you start off heading to a particular place but end up reaching a totally different one? Yes, this was one of those, in more ways than one. The plan, initially, was to go to Haridwar, but it all changed while we were driving there … and we decided to go somewhere we had not been before, Binsar, in the Kumaon region of Uttaranchal.

We started around 2 AM, and headed to Moradabad. The highway is pretty good till about 10 km before Garh Mukhteshwar, where road work is going on. The going became slow and rough, and we stopped altogether as we hit the mother of all traffic jams a kilometer before the bridge over the Ganges. We were stuck there for 4-5 hours, and during that frustrating time, the feeling was that the trip was doomed. Anyway, this post is not about the frustrations, but about the awesomeness later on. So suffice to say, that come morning, the traffic gods smiled and we crossed the river, and hit a beautiful piece of tarmac, that goes on till Moradabad. It had been more than 6 hrs since we left, and we had covered just 100 km.
Tired and hungry, we spotted the perennial Mecca of all road travellers, the golden arches, McDonald’s!! Quick pitstop while we polished away most of their food and we were off again. Since we had lost so much time, and had not slept for over 24 hrs, we decided we would stopover in Nainital and then head to Binsar. Post Moradabad, we came across two options. The road signs said to head to Nainital via haldwani, while google maps offered a route that skirted Corbett Park and went via Bazpur. No prizes for guessing, we took the road less travelled and headed to Bazpur. Twenty minutes into the trip and we were regretting the decision. The road was AWFUL, especially around Tonda. To be honest, there wasn’t much of a road at all. It was a single lane highway, going thru populated towns and villages. It took us 2 hrs to complete the 50 KM stretch to Bazpur.
Bazpur lies at the border of UP and Uttaranchal, and as soon as we entered Uttaranchal, the tarmac became friendly, and more importantly, smooth as a baby’s bottom. The road twisted and turned through the beautifully wooded Corbett Reserve. As we reached Kaladhungi, just before it, we could see a small road heading off into the reserve and towards the town of Kotabagh. For no reason, we decided to head there and take a look see. Couple of miles into the road, we saw a dirt track heading into the jungle. It looked just about big enough to accomodate the beast and again, no surprises, we headed into the jungle. It was beautiful, the entire forest floor covered in yellow orange leaves, a testament Autumn left behind. The trees themselves were dressed in that brilliant green of new leaves. We headed deeper into the forest where we met a couple of folks who told us about this old temple, alongside a fresh water stream, a couple of miles further along, which was also frequented by the local wildlife. As we headed deeper, the road became a dirt path will some serious off roading capabilities. I would not recommend coming here in a sedan.

We reached the temple, which wasn’t much more than a hut, but the surrounding are with the stream and the dense forest was worth the trip. After some pictures we headed back to the main road and towards Nainital via Kaladhungi. The great north Indian plain extends till Kaladhungi, and from here the mountains start. Its almost a surprise because one moment you are on the flat straight roads of the plains, then you take a left and strat ascending a hill. Its quite brilliant. The drive upto Nainital is very nice, what with the thrill of finally reaching the mountains coupled with the smooth and intensely curvy road. The air also gets cooler exponentially and soon our overworked AC got a break. Nainital (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nainital, lies at an elevation of 1,938 metres (6,358 feet) and is a beautiful part of the world. It seems less crowded than other hill stations like Shimla and Mussoorie and much much cleaner. The central attraction is the Naini lake, which shines a brilliant emerald green. we descended down the slopes and toewards the centre of town, the Mall Rd. Soon, we had people trying to sell us everything from strawberries to boat rides. It wasn’t hard to find a hotel, and soon we were all settled in Hotel Prashant. The hotel was just a couple of hundred feet above The Mall, on the zoo road. A pretty comfortable place, reasonable too, with a super friendly staff (ask for Ganesh). The hotel also has some parking spots and provided free shuttles to and from the Mall (brilliant!!)

We whiled away time walking around the Mall, boating, eating, going up the ropeway etc etc, generally relaxing. Which is quite a novelty for me since most of my vacays are hectic do-this, see-that kinda affairs. Good food and a couple of drinks later I was ready to hit the sack. In the morning, we head towards Almora, and eventually Binsar. The drive to Almora is fine till the town of “Garam Pani”. This is where road forks, and one heads to Almora while the other heads to Ranikhet. By now we were at the bottom of the valley, and being accompanied by this gorgeous river. Needless to say, we found a good spot on the road, parked and headed down to the cool waters. Sitting there, my feet in the water, a bright sun making me squint, and the gorgeous gurgling sounds of the water over the smooth rocks, was surreal.

Twenty minutes and ten km down the road I realized I had left my camera by the river. We turned around, and my buddy drove back like a maniac. It was some of the best driving I have seen, even including the driving I have seen him do in car rallies. I rushed down to see that the camera was not there. There were some guys hanging by the river side, and as I approached them, one asked me if I was missing something. You can’t imagine the relief, when he handed over my camera (bless the blokes). To be honest, if I hadn’t gotten it back, the trip was probably over. I would have been most upset about the loss of the amazing pictures I had taken so far. The camera could have been replaced (I just had to rob a bank), but not the pictures. Well, all’s well that ends well.

We reached Almora (the road’s bad….  BAD), and after getting some lunch and buying the local speciality, “Bal Mithai”, headed to Binsar. Now there’s a main highway that heads that way, but we took the more scenic (and steep) route via the Kasar Devi temple. With each mile we rose into the clouds, the air became colder and the scenery breathtaking. Soon though, the heavens opened and it started pouring. Though we were very comfortable and dry inside the beast, we decided that cup of tea, at a roadside shop, with barely a roof capable enough to keep the water out, was a great idea. And it was!!! The most awesomes setting to have some hot tea, if I say so myself. Hot being the operative word, since, you see, I in my infinite wisdom had forgotten to carry a single piece of warm clothing with me (not even a full sleeved shirt/tee), and it was freezing. We drove on and reached the Binsar reserve forest, which is marked my a forest check post. I think the entry to the reserve was Rs 400. The distance from the check post to the KMVN guest house on top is 11 km, and the road is just brilliant, just bloody brilliant. Now everyone may not agree with my opinion here, since the road was barely wide enough to accomodate my beast. Everytime a car approached from the opposite direction, one of us had to back up to the nearest possible passover point. On top of that, the road turned and weaved like a bronco on acid. See… brilliant.

Now there are a couple of places to stay in Binsar, but the KMVN guest house is at the most elevtion and the cheapest. That said, it has its eccentricities. There is no electricity, well, only two hours a day. Thats because they use solar power and generate just enough. You get hot water only in the mornings, at 6 AM. All meals are communal affairs, where a fixed menu is served in the dining hall, and there’s no TV. Nature is the entertainment. Its government sponsored eco tourism. I, for one, liked it. I wouldn’t recommend it if you were trying to go all out and pamper your girlfriend/spouse, but if you want a real travel experience, this is it. We reached the guesthouse at 4 Pm, checked into our room, and sat down to do …. nothing. Now I have been on a lot of vacations, but this one had a lot of firsts. For the first time, I actually relaxed and did nothing. I mean nothing. Lying on a chair by the window, seeing the clouds drift by, and some of them come into the room. For the first time on a vacation, I slept at 9 PM. For the first time on a vacation, I woke up at 5 AM.

So post dinner, I braved the cold and went out to see the stars. Millions of them, lit up the sky like a south delhi house hosting a marriage. I took some pictures and decided to hit the hay, before the crown jewels froze and fell off. Next morning saw us waking up in a hurry, to go catch the sunrise. The sunrise was all you expect it to be beautiful, peaceful, ethereal and simply fantastic. Not even the little kids jumping around and nosey housewifes discussing the gastrnomical delights of the previous evening could dampen the experience.

Next we decided to trek up to the peak of the mountain, a moderate trek of around 5 km, to a place called ‘zero point’. This presents a majestic view of the Himalayas – a 300 km stretch on famous peaks which includes Kedarnath, Chaukhamba, Trishul, Nanda Devi, nanda Kot and Panchchuli. On a clear day you can see the entire kumaon range, and even into Tibet. Unfortunately for us, the day wasn’t so clear, but we still got a glimpse of Trishul (22970 ft) and Nanda devi (25643 ft) peaks. Words fail to describe the sheer awesomeness of the view. The peaks reaching for ths skies while the lower valleys hidden from the view by a bed of clouds. After recovering from a bout of snap-happiness and maxxing out my camera’s memory card, we headed down to the resthouse, and out of Binsar

If you’re looking for a place to relax, unwind, get some physical activity and simply enjoy some of the best scenery India has to offer, you should try Binsar. I cant wait to head back!


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