(First published in News Karnataka, May 2017)
With the sun scorching the plains of North India in summers and temperatures soar above 42 deg C, everyone looks for a getaway in the Himalayas. The hill stations get so overcrowded that Nainital or Mussorie’s famous Mall Roads look no different from Delhi’s Paharganj, with tourists and hotels lined up cheek-by-jowl!
It’s very tempting to set off early morning from Delhi crossing the sleepy towns of western Uttar Pradesh and hitting the hills of Uttarakhand in less than six hours. The Kumaon Lake District has several small hill stations that are very picturesque and have lovely views of the snow-capped Himalayas. The key is finding the place that will give you the solitude and solace of being surrounded by green hills with the snow peaks in view. We handpicked a few properties that are in the hills, tucked away from view, yet close to the town but are peaceful and serene: you cannot hear the blaring horns of vehicles, or see another human being for miles
The Retreat, Bhimtal
This is a small family-owned estate property tucked away from the crowded parts of Bhimtal. Padmini Smetacek and her children run this homestay. The bungalow is the family’s property since the early 19th century and they have kept the place looking the same way. The house has little knick and knacks from the ancestors of the family and has comfortable rooms with a homely feel. The property is on their private estate, which has their own small lake and forested areas. You can walk around, climb up the hills and virtually be undisturbed. Bhimtal is easy to access: it just 45 minute drive from the nearest railhead, Kathgodam and by road, it will take you six and half hours to reach from Delhi. The tariff is INR 3500 on double occupancy with breakfast and morning and evening tea.
Jilling Eastate, Maital
Another hour’sdrive from Bhimtal, off the road from Naukuchiyatal, is Jilling Eastate. Run by Steve Lall and his wife Parvati, the estate is spread over 100 acres of pristine forestland and has four cottages for guests. The Lall’s also live in a small cottage within the property. Jilling is not your one of your usual resort properties: it has rustic cottages with simple, home-style décor. It’s completely off the regular tourist map and you won’t find anybody else around, except for the guests and the Lalls. The property is not accessible by road. You have to park your cars in Maital village and them take an hour’s hike to reach Jilling Estate. It is the place to go for long walks. It has a lovely ridge on top of the hill from where you can see Nandadevi and some other peaks. The tariff is about INR 6000 on double occupancy at full board.
Ramgarh Bungalows, Ramgarh
The small town of Ramgarh has a collection of boutique hotels, but Neemrana Group’s Ramgarh Bungalows have the best rooms and views. The property is divided into two: The Old Bungalow and The Writer’s Bungalow, together known as the Ramgarh Bungalows. Like all Neemrana Properties, these two are old British era homes that have been converted into luxury properties. They have a selection of rooms, suites and cottages, but be sure to book in advance as they get sold out during the summer months. Nothing about Ramgarh Bungalows speaks hurry or rush. It’s a laidback place, where you can decide to do nothing. It has quite surroundings and you can go for short day hikes around the area.
The nearest railhead is Kathgodam and by road from Delhi it takes eight to nine hours to reach. You can make a booking using the central reservation engine for all Neemrana properties. The rooms start at INR 5500 and go up to INR 8000 on double occupancy.
Soulitude, In The Himalayas, Gagar
This modern cottage is located in Gagar, near Nainital. The resort has 10 luxury rooms, each offering a view of the snow-capped mountains. The cottage is set on the hills in Gagar village. It offers very good views of Trishul range of mountains. Here, you smell the crisp mountain air and go for long walks, without being disturbed. You could also walk down to the village nearby and spend time understanding the culture of the local people. The rooms start at INR 10,000 and go up to 14,000 per night in peak season.
Mary Budden Estate, Binsar
This is a hi-end luxury homestay in Binsar, adjoining the Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary. The cottage belonged to Mary Budden, the daughter of a British chaplain, who was appointed Captain of the area by the British in the late 1890s. The father-daughter duo carried out their charitable missionary work in Almora and Binsar. The cottage was bought over by an Indian family who converted it into this luxury stay with three rooms in the main bungalow and a separate cottage near the main bungalow with two suites. The estates consist of five acres of forestland abutting the wildlife sanctuary, so you can go for long walks and do a lot of bird watching within the property itself. It takes about nine hours to reach from Delhi by road. The rooms cost INR 22,000 on full board.
Sarmoli Rural Homestays, Munsiyari
This little village tucked away in Munsiyari is the last human habitation on the Indian side of the border with Tibet. Mallika Virdi and her husband Theo set up a small rural NGO called Maati to generate employment for rural women. They have trained the women from Sarmoli village to make carpets, handmade soaps and grow organic produce. But what they also did was to encourage the local ladies to construct rooms in their homes suited to tourists. You can rent a room in the village for as low as INR 2000 per person per day on full board. The village of Sarmoli is surrounded by hills and you can spend time chatting with the local villagers, walking around or even going on a short hike with one of the local women as your guide. This generates additional income for these households and you will contribute to the local economy as well. Munsiyari is near the border, so getting there is not easy. It takes about 16 hours by road to reach from Delhi and about 10 hours from Kathgodam. The best way to do it, is to take a night’s break at Jageshwar or at Chaukori and then carry on the next day to Munsiyari and Sarmoli. This is an ideal place to spend at least a week or two week and with reasonable tariffs, you can easily spend summer holidays with the kids here.
Contact Maati /Mallika Virdi: 9411194041 for bookings