Monday, 1 September 2014

Kumaon Hills

Welcome here – to my blog and very first post !  I have been posting my travel images on  Facebook and Flickr but  had this urge bothering me for  a while to also share the experiences , the journeys,  the varied emotions , the fun , the fears , the rewards  and all of that which allows me to come back with fabulous  memories . 
Each journey is an experience by itself, has its own flavour and no two destinations tell the same tale. 

My first trip this year was to Kumaon , Uttaranchal . We were approaching March and I certainly did not want to let go the precious “carry forwarded” leaves of previous year into anything but travel and that we had to use by the first quarter .   I decided on Dhanachuli, a quaint village in the foothills of Kumaon Hills.
I was to put up at Te Aroha, the beautiful property, a summerhouse transformed  into a boutique hotel , in  a  setup overlooking the mighty gorgeous Himalayan ranges.  My pick-up was arranged by the hotel from Kathgodam.

As I stepped out of the train in the early hours of 5 in the morning, a blast of chill wind on my face made me realize instantly how clean and fresh this region must be. The chauffeur was trying to reach me , there was no delay in coordination and within minutes I was inside the comforts of  the SUV .
Winding through the narrow mountain trails, awaiting the sunrise during the drive and finally seeing some light after about an hour. Suddenly the car enters a dense forest area , with minimal early morning light and mostly barren trees all around and some streams, the views were still not very clear. I wanted to halt and take few pictures and breathe in the freshness but  a sudden fear runs through me in the middle of this nowhere dense woods with only birds chirping and sound of the wind even with the windows closed.  A deep silence and we drive through this patch for about 15 minutes or more.  Now we are driving in better visibility and a sense of relief. Let me tell you, this fear was completely unnecessary and my drive to Te Aroha was very pleasant and comfortable.

Te Aroha welcomes you with so much love, pampers you and completely spoils you with  all the hospitality . 
After breakfast  in my  personal balcony  and soaking in the atmosphere for a while , I decide to trek down the valley along with the guide from the hotel. The only disappointment after I reached here was the heavy blankets of clouds which obstructed the views of  the gorgeous snowy  ranges . The staff brought in a little hope as they said tomorrow can be a better day.  I started  the trek , which took me around 3 -3.5 hours to go around the village through the terraced fields. This region is famous for its fruits (mainly apples & pears) . I could see the barren fruit trees all around and the dried branches at my arm’s reach.  I was told should I have visited this place after a couple of months the valley would be covered with reds/yellows /oranges…So that ensured a second visit at another time of the year !

I was welcomed here by an old generous gentleman who offered me tea and had a chat about his farm and daily life.  Life and People in the mountains may be simple but  are certainly tough !

The trek took me through the terraces of cultivated land and homes of the locals. I was also invited for a local meal over lunch at one of the homes. Basic preparations with local home grown vegetables tasted  all so good.

Reached back at the hotel and took an afternoon nap only to wake up and realize it’s almost time for sunset.  The sunset views from the backyards of Te Aroha are simply beautiful .  I walked few steps above for better view, but the bone chilling wind was leaving me numb. I wanted to get few nice shots but each time I was on the shutter , I knew this was not stable ! Well with tears flowing down my eyes  due to the cold , managed a few clicks.

Next morning I was to visit Mukteshwar – my excitement doubled as I was told the views from certain points in Mukteshwar is simply mindblowing ! So a short drive took me to the view points in Mukteshwar  , but  though the views were pretty  did not meet my expectation as another day with blankets of clouds was waiting for me. None the less the temple in Mukteshwar  was interesting as it was inside some cave/rock  with an old sadhu narrating some interesting snippets about the place.  There was another  green coniferous  patch, through which some visitors like me trekked through. This was a short path which took not more than 30 minutes.
On my way back I stopped by at a store for kumaoni  handwoven shawls and stoles. The local products like jams and other preserves made from locally grown fruits taste awesome here. It’s much much different and better from our popular brands. The freshness lingers in the taste.

The dinner back in the hotel  is again an experience . Apart from the delicious food, individual tables are provided with  “angithis”  to  counter the cold . It feels so much at home warming your hands and feet  over a charcoal burner and having your food – Loved this !
When back in the room , there are hot water bags already under the quilts . Very minor gestures are kept in mind and you are surprised every now and then .

The third morning  greeted us with some sunshine and the guide promptly shows up and takes me on an uphill climb – after about 30-40 minutes we were at this some what flat land where some farmers  were  busy at their work. And far beyond I see the white range end to end , clear blue sky above . I wish to just stand and gaze. I lose track of time and soon realise the clouds have started their hide n seek play. I take in the views, capture some and we walk back.  The guide tells me about another forest path that opens up to some beautiful views at the other end. I agree and don’t regret. 

My 3 days stay comes to an end. A beautiful stay in an offbeat location.  Te Aroha compels one to visit again and again.  Dhanachuli is a quaint and quiet space. It’s not for the ones who need activity filled vacations.  It’s a place to go away from the noise / away from the chaos .  It’s a place to wake up amidst chilled mornings and to be greeted by lofty clouds and majestic peaks .Where you can just sit by the large glass windows and take in the views .

To reach Dhanachuli -  Reach Delhi  then take an overnight train to Kathgodam from Old Delhi Rly station.

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