When the pandemic is over, make sure you travel to this secluded forest in Uttarakhand!

26th Feb 2021
Photo of When the pandemic is over, make sure you travel to this secluded forest in Uttarakhand! by Namrata Das Adhikary
Day 1

A different kind of vibe, a wild embrace. Something that you are ought to remember for the rest of your life. I never knew that living with the bare minimum can be so beyond rewarding. And this thought unfolded when I got to live in the lush green forests of Binsar earlier this year.

Binsar is known for its enchanting wildlife sanctuary, located atop the Jhandi Dhar hills, about 30km from Almora, Uttarakhand. It’s a perfect getaway in the Kumaon region, away from the hustle and bustle of our day to day lives. Pristine clear mountain ranges and densely forested areas meet the constant chirping of rare birds. If you are a nature lover like me, you are in for some real treat!

Photo of Binsar, Uttarakhand, India by Namrata Das Adhikary
Photo of Binsar, Uttarakhand, India by Namrata Das Adhikary

The first day in Binsar is all about relaxing and soaking in the vibes around. We have booked ourselves a room in the Khali estate, located right amid the pine and oak forest, facing the vast panorama of the snow-clad Himalayan ranges. Khali estate is almost like a universe in itself. The wooden rooms give the impression of an old school charm, ideal for introverts like me. They have a huge living room and various round cottages, and a dining place that serves delicious food made out of organic vegetables from their kitchen garden. My favourite spot in the entire property is undeniably the hammock. This is where one can unwind and create their own stories.

The beauty property of Khali Estate, Binsar through my eyes

We leave our cottage at around 10 in the morning, full of plans for the day. We have decided to take the offbeat village trails and explore one or two villages located right in the heart of the sanctuary. We hop into our car, and moments later, we are on the way. I can’t help but feel the irreplaceable embrace of the chilly winds while the car accelerates through the forested roads. After about 40 minutes, we reach the starting point of our trek. We pause to soak in some energy from the fresh air, and start the hike!

Day 2

After hiking for about five minutes, I realise that we have left the main roads far away. The sound of the honking cars is now replaced by the crackling, pleasing sounds of walking over dry leaves. My guide stops me midway and narrates various stories of tourists being attacked by leopards and bears. Trust me, as I hear his stories, I am simultaneously putting on a brave face. Indeed, I am freaked out!

“Do you mean to say that there’s a possibility that we might bump into a leopard at this very moment?”, I nervously ask. “Not really. Leopards are usually scared of us, and not all leopards are man-eaters. Most of them try to avoid any encounter with the humans as they too fear for their lives”, my guide smirks as he answers. I am relieved, at least a little.

To be honest, we can’t seem to spot any wild and big animals, apart from some langurs that keep jumping from one tree to the other. While walking through the sanctuary, I also spot stretches after stretches of barren land. Forest fires are a common scenario in these Himalayan forests. During summers, pine trees shed their leaves. Dried pine needles are extremely prone to catching fire. Soaring high temperatures during summer end up igniting these pine needles, thereby leading to wildfires. Hence, humans must be extremely careful with their day to day activities during this season.

Photo of When the pandemic is over, make sure you travel to this secluded forest in Uttarakhand! by Namrata Das Adhikary

After walking for over an hour, we reach this quaint little village called Kathdhara. Our guide informs us how Kathdhara now only has two families living in the entire village. Most of the youngsters have migrated to nearby cities like Shimla or Manali for higher education or better employment opportunities. Seniors have stayed back in the village to enjoy their retirement years. He explains how there’s a possibility for the entire village to vanish with the last generation of humans. Indeed, the importance of access to good education in these villages is of utmost importance. We reach by a local’s house for some refreshment. Aunty, as I lovingly address the lady, offer me sweet lime and water. And trust me, the sweet lime is nothing like I have ever had before. It’s juicy, incomparably sweet and just the kind of fruit I would like to have after a long tiring hike. I scan through aunty’s beautiful house. She and her husband have set up a beautiful barn for their cattle. She offers me to visit the terrace to have a wider view of the entire sanctuary, and it takes me no time to get right up to the roof. I learn how in these forested areas, villagers heavily depend on solar power for electricity. They have solar panels installed in almost every house. Aunty also narrates numerous stories of her encounter with the leopards. She says how leopards often visit their vicinity at night in search of food and water, and when they reach close by, they often switch on the lights to scare the wild animals away! I am so beyond stunned- I can’t imagine living in the forest with bare minimum necessities, with the constant fear of bumping into a leopard every other day. But as they say, you figure things out, and the villagers have indeed aced their art!

Photo of When the pandemic is over, make sure you travel to this secluded forest in Uttarakhand! by Namrata Das Adhikary

Soon, we leave for our next village- Gonap. Kathdhara to Gonap will take around an hour if we walk at a leisure speed. We continue walking through the green vistas, spotting rhododendrons and multitudes of sweet lime trees. I learn that these oak trees go deep beneath the ground to absorb the groundwater. These trees store the water long enough in their trunk, which is further supplied to the village through pipes. I am stunned to know about their way of living, as I cannot imagine getting water supply from oak trees, that too for the entire village!

Gonap greets us with heavy rainfall. Fortunately, we reach just before it started raining cats and dogs. We are tired from the trek, and I clearly cannot wait to have some delicious food and hop onto my bed. We reach the community guesthouse overlooking the valley- layers and layers of mountains meet the eyes. The community guesthouse is run by Villageways, a company committed towards empowering and uplifting villagers in these remote areas by training them on the best ways to become self-reliant through tourism.

Photo of Gonap, Uttarakhand, India by Namrata Das Adhikary

What I love best is how the entire community is extremely self-sufficient! Despite being away from the luxuries of the bigger towns, they have managed to set up their own kitchen garden. Tourists like us get to savour some delicious ‘Ghar ka khaana’ made out of local, organic veggies. Nutritious, delicious and healthy- you won’t be satisfied even after your 100th bite.

Photo of When the pandemic is over, make sure you travel to this secluded forest in Uttarakhand! by Namrata Das Adhikary

After having a sumptuous lunch, we scan through the village to meet and greet the locals. We discuss politics, social issues, and we even discuss their life beyond the forest. What a strange realisation indeed. These villagers live with the bare minimum resources, yet, they lead such a fulfilling life. Today, I also witness the most magical moonrise ever. The moon is bright red, hiding behind the clouds, finding its way to shine subtly on the snowline. When the snowline starts shining as underneath the moonlight, I shiver out of happiness. I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed something so magical in my life before today. It looks so beautiful that I almost cry.

Photo of When the pandemic is over, make sure you travel to this secluded forest in Uttarakhand! by Namrata Das Adhikary

I try to gather myself and my emotions. I head back to our village guesthouse and spend the rest of the night staring at the wide expanse of the sky, looking at the constellation above while sitting next to the bonfire. Our network is bleak, and that made the difference. In a place where connectivity hardly exists, I feel a deeper level of connection with my surroundings.

What is this life all about? I wonder. There was a time when we would get to our gadgets to get away from the world around us. And today, we seek moments to get outside in the world to get away from our gadgets. It’s a harsh reality, and I wish I could change things. Because these are the smallest of moments that make me experience infinity.

Photo of When the pandemic is over, make sure you travel to this secluded forest in Uttarakhand! by Namrata Das Adhikary
Photo of When the pandemic is over, make sure you travel to this secluded forest in Uttarakhand! by Namrata Das Adhikary

There’s no electricity for quite some time, yet, we have a gala time chatting with the locals, listening to weird stories of leopards fighting and putting on a show. Occasionally, I am also afraid of heading to the washroom as we have to walk a bit through the dark for the same. I create fake scenarios in my mind around encountering the leopard and being their dinner. Anyway… soon, as the night engulfed, I retire to bed. Our room is very basic, one you would expect in these remote mountain forests. It has two beds, a small mirror, and the ceiling is pretty close to the head. More than enough for me to have a good night’s sleep.

The next morning, we head to catch a sunrise. We are so drowsy from incomplete sleep, yet, I did not want to miss the morning hike. Soon, we leave our guest house and start hiking uphill. It’s a little too much of a push for someone who didn’t quite wake up from last night’s sleep, but the beautiful sunrise shining in its best golden hues is something I’ll never forget. It has made all the troubles worth it. WOW, what a trip!