Reaching the Sattal Mission Estate and Methodist Ashram
Finally the drive through dense oak and pine forest and we reached a quiet clearing. Here we offloaded the bicycles and the picnic lunch, taking care not to disturb the flora and fauna. This is an ecologically fragile area and home to 500 species of resident and migratory birds, 20 species of mammals, over 525 species of butterflies and over 11,000 species of moths, beetles, bugs and insects. The area is rich with plants ranging from orchids, rare climbing plants, ferns, lichens, fungi to medicinal herbs and shrubs, said our guide. You have to be really a patient sitter if you want to observe the birds, their flights and understand their calls.
A shine of emerald attracted us and we walked over dry leaves, feeling them crunch under our shoes to reach Pannatal (Panna is emerald). Enthralled by this magical lake, I went in closer, touching the waters, secretly hoping that the dream would never end. I had seen such places in fairytales only—no sound, no sign of humans, just our feet disturbing the leaves on the ground and the shimmering green water.
A little above, a small trail led us to the sign which read ‘Christian Ashram’. This was the Sattal Mission Estate and Methodist Ashram in the area since 1937. One side was a white cross. And on the opposite side were the pews of concrete. A sign said ‘please use this place only for meditation and prayer’. A little research showed that this was established by an evangelist and missionary E. Stanley Jones (1884-1973). It is situated on the banks of Sattal on a former tea estate. St. John's Church is part of this ashram.
Walking a little more through a narrow path, the dry leaves crushing under our feet, we reached the buildings where the missionaries stayed. From there we got a bird’s eye view of the lakes—Nal Damyanti, Ram Lakshman, Sita, Hanuman.
The weather was good and the day young and we had lots more to discover, so we began the trek downwards. Back near the emerald waters, we enjoyed our picnic. And then began a journey to childhood, trying to keep our bicycles steady, everyone holding out for each other. Until it was time to go to Bhimtal.
More to see:
• Garg Parvat which is the source of river Gargi.
• Hidimba Parvat after the demon Hidimba from Mahabharat.
• Vankhandi Maharaj, a monk and environmentalist has created a sanctuary for the wild animals around the hill. The area is known as Vankhandi Ashram.
• The hill of Karkotaka is named after a mythical cobra, where the famous snake temple is situated.