Since I am veteran of the Kumaon Regiment, I and my family look forward visiting the Kumaon Hills every now and then. During the Dushera holidays my daughter Neerja (Nanu) who has a very busy office schedule desired to visit Ramgarh for the third time as stress buster. And that’s one place where our pet lab Happy Bhatia can also go freely.
On a very short notice, we planned to visit the Cloud ‘9’ in ‘The Swiss Village Resort’ at Ramgarh in the Kumaon hills that has the climate unequalled, salubrious, pleasant and bracing in its pristine setting. On 18 Oct, self, my wife Rajni, our daughter Neerja with our pet Happy Bhatia packed up with minimum essentials and left at 7.30 am for this unsurpassed Kumaoni destination located between Bhowali and Mukteshwar in the Nainital district. This must be my nth visit to the Kumaon Hills and third one to Ramgarh.
Our starting journey was uneventful and unimpressive. From Noida we straight away hit NH24 and from Dasna to Babugarh the NH is being widened and from bullock carts to road rollers, dumpers, heavy load carriers, cars and bikes of all shades and the JCB heavy vehicles made our journey painfully slow. We wasted good 4 hours reaching Babugarh- the small military cantonment 7 km from Hapur towards the holy pilgrimage of Garhmukteshwar where Army’s Remount Veterinary Corps Equine Breeding Stud (EBS) is located. We stopped at ‘Enroot Dhaba’ for the aloo kulcha with chana breakfast served with plenty of white butter and gur and were pleased to learn that this joint was owned by one Mr Jain from Noida.
The road from Rampur to Rudrapur ever since 1954 when I travelled on it for the first time, till date is in bad state inspite of the fact that lots of tourists ply on this road visiting Nainital, Ranikhet and other Kumaoni destinations.
Around 2 pm we neared Rudrapur and I requested my daughter on wheels of her SUV 500 Mahindra to stop at my alma meter A N Jha Rural High School where I studied from 1954-1957. Incidentally, between Rampur and Haldawani, this was the only high school in the entire region then. During those days, it was an obscure small town in the Terai region where one could see leopards and cobras and frequented by the farmers who came to sell their crops and purchase their daily needs. I did my Matric from this school in 1957. Since the school was closed for the Dushera holidays, I was fortunate enough to meet the only soul, the lecturer of English in the institution now upgraded to Inter College.
We reached Kathgodam by 3.45 pm and were terribly hungry and stopped at wayside dhaba ‘The Hut’ where we had tea and couple of plates of hot pakoras. As we crossed Bhimtal, it became very dark and we purchased a loaf of bread, some eggs, milk pouches and the vegetables from a road side shop around Bhowali. Needless to say, my wife was very worried over our daughter Neerja’s driving in the darkness in the hilly terrain with hair pin bends and steep climb though she has been chairperson and driven SUV 500 Mahindra from Singapore to Guwahati some years back in the ASEAN Car Rally.
Around 6.45 pm in the pitch darkness of hills, we suddenly saw bright lights in the wilderness of the Swiss Village in Ramgarh signifying that we have reached our destination good 3 hours late. We were warmly received by Mr Bakshi and Mr Gill of the resort who gave us the keys of the cottage belonging to my friend Brig Puri where we were destined to stay for the next three nights. Our daughter Neerja worried about our dog Happy’s safety, inquired from the staff about the presence of the बाघ synonymous with the tiger/leopard of the big cat family. Typically in the Kumaoni way they said, परसों it prowled around hair bend 14 where our cottage was located and provided a scooter driven guide. It took quite some time to me to convince two nervous ladies our daughter Neerja and my wife and her mother Rajni that in the Kumaoni परसों means two days to twenty years backwards! They recollected similar conversation during our last visit to this place 2 years back and laughed over it with lingering apprehensions!
Cloud 9 after initial hiccups has come up well with semi urban setting with villas and cottages with Khabrar Hill on the northern side and Jim Corbett like hunting forest on the southern slopes with thick jungle of oak, cedar, pine and rhododendron trees whose red flowers make excellent rejuvenating syrupy juice, frequented by the leopards and the tigers. The local Kumaonis living in these hilly areas are simple, shy, poverty stricken, smiling and helpful folks.
The site offers panoramic view of the Trishul, Nanda Devi, Nanda Kot and other sacred snow capped mountain peaks rivaling Swiss Alps. Known as the daughter of the Himalayas, Nanda Devi is a two-peaked massif- the eastern summit Sunanda and the western summit Nanda which is the second highest peak in India (7816 m). The Trishul peak (7120 m) is the highest of a group of three mountain peaks that resemble a trident. The Nanda Kot peak (6861 m) means Nanda’s fortress. According to the ancient Hindu scriptures, it is Goddess Parvati’s sacred abode.
Being from the Kumaon Regiment and having served in the Kumaon Hills and other mountainous regions for many years, having left Delhi at 30 degrees Celsius, the wind chill effect at 4 degrees Celsius in the Swiss Village made us shiver. We quickly got in to our Cottage O-14, which had all the basic comforts, with the blowers on, we quickly cooked tastiest omelets that we enjoyed with bread, butter and brewed Nescafe Cappuccino coffee while Happy enjoyed boiled egg and milk and we all slept like logs.
During this trip, Neerja desired to leisure around the Swiss Village with long strolls, lounging on the chairs, enjoying sipping endless cups of tea and coffee, reading books, chatting and playing with Happy as these would go a long way in relaxing and lifting our spirits.
We all went for a jungle trail watching mountain birds and squirrels with all the quietness of jungle with far off occasional growling sound of heavy truck heaving uphill. While we enjoyed, we were all tired and returned back to our cottage to quench our thirst and rejuvienate after rest.
The next day morning, again after the breakfast I and Neerja went for long walks with Happy on a lesser walked jungle track. After the long strenuous stroll, we ordered sumptuous but very costly lunch from the Swiss Village
Restaurant and tried taking the best pictures of the imposing Himalayan peaks covered with clouds and haze. As the sun drowned in the West, it suddenly became cloudy and cold. I had ordered some fire wood from the Swiss Village Customers’ Care staff and lighted a bone fire reminding me of my campfires as boy’s scout and Gentleman Cadet (GC) in the Indian Military Academy. We ordered pizzas from the resort’s restaurant and slept as on the 21st early morning we had planned for our return journey. I feel our trip was too short for the real relaxation and fun but in the corporate world, long holidays are honestly a pipe dream!
After an early morning tea and few snacks, on 21 October 2018, we packed our meager belongings and left for Noida at 7.30 am, driving down via Bhowali- Julikot-Kathgodam-Haldawani. Stopping at Bhawani Mishtan at Bhowali we purchased popular Kumaoni Baal Mithai . At Julikot, Neerja purchased some potted plants from a roads side nursery and after hot tea and pakoras, we left for our onwards journey via Kaladungi- Moradabad road. After every visit to these hills, I find large scale commercialization is ruining the eco-system of the region. With the connivance of the politicians, bureaucrats, jungle contractor mafia, forest cover is dwindling. Massive concrete and steel buildings are coming up in seismically fragile region prone to earthquakes to satisfy the egos of neo-riches wanting to acquire dwellings destroying local ecology and raising conflict between man, wild animals and local fauna and flora. I was saddened to see UP 16 and Delhi numbered plate vehicles tossing plastic mineral water bottles while driving up in the hills. I regret we could not chase them traveling in the opposite direction. It is time we stop such nefarious activities.
Unlike the poor Bilaspur-Rudrapur road, this route is much better and quicker. But our enthusiasm and happiness was short lived as between Gajraula and Dasna (Ghaziabad), since NH 24 is being widened and there were endless caravans and cars of the long weekend levelers, we covered these 90 kms painfully slow in snail speed in 6 hours, reaching our home in Noida dead tired around 1030 pm. Our journey to and fro was the most tiring and does not encourage me to travel more often as rather than stress bursting this road journey was stress accumulating. I wonder when Mr Nitin Gadkari, the honorable Minister of Transport and Highways will bring about अच्छे दिन on the Indian roads as the central government and his tenures expires the next year!