Our first stop after the hour long car ride was Nainital. The scenic view of the glorious, emerald green mountains dotted with tiny houses all over and the sapphire blue sky with a few fluffy white clouds floating about, was certainly a much welcome break from the everyday, monotonous, pollution filled city life. Situated at 6837 ft from the sea level and popularly known as the 'Lake District' of India due to being speckled with lakes, Nainital's varied topography is set in a valley containing a pear-shaped lake known as the Naini Lake or Nanital, according to colloquial language.
From it's mouth watering food to it's fascinating culture, Nainital has something to offer every kind of soul.
After checking in at the hotel, we set out for sightseeing. One of famous Shakti Peeths of the Hindus, Naina Devi Temple is a place of great devotion for the people. It is revered because it is considered to be the place where Goddess Sati's eyes fell when her corpse was being carried by her husband Lord Shiva. The word 'Naina' means 'eyes' in Sanskrit, hence, the name. The place offers an almost immediate atmosphere of peace and serenity to the millions of devotees that flock here every year.
Naina Devi Temple is located at the Northern end of the Naini Lake. The temple is at walking distance from the Nainital Bus Stand.
Situated at an height of 2290 meters on Ayarpatta Hill, Tiffin Top is a very famous viewing and picnic spot in Nainital. Also known as Dorothy's Seat, it was built by a British Army Officer, J.P Kellet in the memory of his wife, Dorothy Kellet. Presenting a 360 degree panoramic view of the beautiful city below as well as of the majestic, snow-capped Himalayas, it's not only a certified treat for the eyes and the soul, but also candy land for aspiring and professional photographers. All you need to do is grab a picnic basket(along with the camera for photographers), sit down and bask in the grandeur and magnificence of mother nature. Oh and you certainly wouldn't want to miss the sunset from here!
To reach there, one can go on horse back at Rs. 500 - Rs. 700 or, for the adventure lovers, one can opt for a trek to the hill; it's easier on the pocket too.
Eco Cave Garden was the third spot on our 'places-to-visit-in-Nainital' list. A natural park maintained by the local administration, the Eco Cave Garden is a cluster of interconnected caves and hanging gardens and one of the favorites of the tourists for fun and entertainment. The caves here are named after certain animals in accordance to their size. For example, the Tiger Cave is wide enough for three persons at a time but the Porcupine Cave is so narrow that people have to crawl the whole way. If you're looking for a little adventure and some fun, Eco Cave Garden is the perfect place for you. After exploring the caves, you can sit back, relax and enjoy the musical fountain show conducted in the evening.
You can reach the garden by taxi or on foot at any time of the day between 9:30 and 5:30.
A natural, freshwater body, situated amidst the valley of Nainital, the Naini Lake is the apple of the eye of the town. The pear or crescent shaped lake the most famous piece of attraction in Nainital. According to Hindu mythology, it is the eye of Goddess Sati which fell from her body when Lord Shiva was carrying her corpse on his shoulder. The magnificent, crystal clear, emerald green water body is a soothing balm to all the five senses as well as régal de luxe(luxury treat) to photographers. For a tour around the lake, you can hire either a painted gondola-like boat at Rs. 200 or sail-boats the Nainital Boat Club at Rs. 300. Pedal boats, too, are available at Rs. 150 per hour.
Ranikhet is a small but charming hill station and cantontment in the Almora district of Uttarakhand. It is the home for the Military Hospital, Kumaon Regiment (KRC) and Naga Regiment and is maintained by the Indian Army. Unfortunately, due to being pressed for time, we were not able explore this alluring little destination but we did find the time to stop on our way and admire the grand, sprawling, lush Upat Golf Course. The picturesque view of the tall pine groves and the majestic, snow covered Himalayas, the fresh, cool breeze; everything about the place just made us more and more regret for not being able to pay it the deserved attention.
Originally known as Valna, Kausani is a hill station in the Bageshwar District of Uttarakhand, 52 kms from the north of Almora. Unparalleled in it's beauty, splendour and grandeur, Kausani is famous for it's more than 300 km wide, panoramic view of the grandiose Himalayan Range.
The day we had checked in at the hotel in Kausani, we were too exhausted to go out on a scout of the town; we had an early dinner that evening and were in bed immediately after. At around midnight I had woken up to get a glass of water and noticed that a soft but bright light was streaming in through the slightly ajar balcony door. Thinking that the balcony light was left on, I went outside to switch it off and was left speechless. It was a full moon night and the dazzling beams of the bright, radiant moon as it fell on the snow covered mountains, made them look like a thousand diamonds shimmering together in the fathomless darkness of the night. Added to that, the fact that the clouds had gathered at somewhere just below the peaks of the mountains, gave a surreal, ethereal effect, making it seem as if the mountains were floating on a bed of white fluff. The whole view of the mountains in front of me was so exquisite, so magnificent, so splendid that all I could do was stand and stare; at that moment, I think I could have defined the word 'breathtaking' better than the thesaurus or the oxford dictionary ever can. When I returned to my senses, I dashed back into the room to get the camera and wake up the others. Within five minutes, not only our balcony but the balconies too, were occupied again with rapt but absolutely silent gazers; the landscape before us, bathed in luminescence, had left us absolutely bewitched. Call it fate, luck, fortune, but if I hadn't woken up for the glass of water, the next morning, I would have had to look at the pictures of 'the Himalayas on a full moon night' on somebody else's camera, realize what I had missed and sulk.
The sunrise at dawn was certainly another enchanting spectacle of mother nature. In contrast to the mountains looking like shimmering diamonds in the brilliant moonshine, the soft but rich glow of warm sun at dawn, made the snow capped peaks appear like glittering gold. From a personal point of view, though, I would say the night spectacle was better than the sunrise.
Gandhi Ashram or Anasakti Ashram in Kausani is famous for Mahatma Gandhi's stay here for two weeks in 1929. It consists of a small museum displaying Gandhiji's words and pictures along with a study center. A 24-hour available accommodation facility for tourists is also provided.
Located at a distance of about 5 kms from the main town and spread over an area of more than 200 hectares, the Kausani Tea Estate is the most important industry in and around Kausani. It's organic, high-flavored tea is exported to many countries including Australia and the US. This destination is perfect for people looking for a calm and blissful day under the warm sun and of course, with a cup of tea in hand.
Munsiyari, a Tehsil and Sub Division, is a winsome hamlet in the Pithoragarh District of Uttarakhand. Lying at the very base of the Himalayas, at an elevation of almost 7500 ft, it's the cherry on the cake of our trip. It's the absolute Utopian destination not just for normal tourists and nature lovers but also for adventure lovers, trekkers and mountaineers. The town is surrounded on all sides by snow-covered mountains with the key attraction being the trekking route to Khalia Top.
Munsiyari is at a distance of almost 200 kms from Kausani with a 5 to 7 hour drive depending on the weather conditions. As a result, we had to take our lunch on the road at a place called Phal. It was then that I had noticed the Himalayan Range suddenly seemed a lot closer than at Kausani. After that, during the drive, I had fallen asleep. When my eyes had opened next, I had woken up to another overwhelming and heart-stopping sight - the Himalayan Range enveloped in sparkling white snow, was closer than ever; so close that you could just reach out and touch it. I have been to many hill stations in North India but never had I ever seen the glorious, legendary Himalayas so much at a stone's throw away. Luckily, the hotel room that we had reserved, had the view of the whole landscape just like back at Kausani. Munsiyari is known for it's quite low temperatures and since it was already evening, the 'cold' weather had turned to 'chilly' and 'freezing'. Our guide advised us to not exert ourselves further and go to bed early that night. Unfortunately, that night my sleep hadn't broken at all, but, the positive side of it was that I woke up in the morning feeling fresh and exhilarated. The whole morning was spent by in touring the local market. Following that, the most anticipated and most favorite part of the trip finally arrived - after an early lunch, we set out on a camping expedition along the route to Ralam Glacier. It took us over two and a half hours to reach Lilam Gaon from where the camping site was another half an hour trek; our camping site was a small grassy hill at a slightly higher altitude than Lilam Gaon. The trek was really very taxing with the air thinning out more and more and the weather getting chillier, with every step; but when we reached our destination, the reward was more than worth it. As I walked over to edge of the hill, what I saw was doubtlessly incredible - the clouds that were, until now, floating aimlessly above in the sky, now clustered below me along the mountains. It was a splendid sight with the sun just about to disappear behind the peaks, the sky as if painted with varying shades of pastel orange, yellow, red and pink and the accumulated clouds slowly growing denser by the minute as the snow took on the various colors of the setting sun.
The night was freezing but thankfully the wind wasn't too high. The result was a peaceful sleep under a starry sky and waking up next day to a glorious morning.
Before leaving Munsiyari, that morning, the guide took us to an open mountain top from where the the whole 360 degree panoramic view of the Himalayas could be experienced. Among all the peaks, the most important and closest is Panchchuli or the Five Peaks. According to Hindu mythology, in the Mhabharata, Draupadi, the wife of the Pandavas, is said to have cooked for the five brothers on the five distinct peaks; hence the name 'Panchchuli'.
Almora, known for its cultural heritage, handicrafts, cuisine and wildlife, is a district in the state of Uttarakhand, situated on a horse saddle-shaped ridge of a mountain. The eastern ridge is known as Talifat and the western ridge is known as Selifat. Almora had served as a break from our continuous, exhausting but very much soul satisfying trip. It was different from the rest of the destination in the way that it offered a variety of choices for entertainment and exploration - food, culture, flora and fauna and handicrafts. Since we were pressed for time, Almora had to be done in a day. Fortunately within that limited time we were able to scout the local markets to at least buy some souvenirs and some food items. Khoya Singori and Bal Mithai were definitely my favorites but you can also try out the rabdi-falooda; it's a don't-miss-or-you'll-regret thing.
The place where our journey started and ended, unfortunately, couldn't be given the proper attention and touring that it needed. Our train was at 7:30 and we had reached the town at five; hence, all we could do is pack our dinner from a nearby restaurant and board the train to go back home.