September 23, 2014
My encounter with Kumaon happened by chance and I instantly fell in love with this heavenly abode. River Ramganga separates Uttarakhand in two divisions; Kumaon and Garhwal. My destination, Kumaon is to the north-east of this river. Mountains have always enchanted me. To me they are an epitome of humility enormous, strong, tall yet calm and mysterious. I’ve spent many a weekend climbing peaks on the Western Ghats and enjoying a bird’s eye view. Ergo, I was yearning for an expedition in the Himalayan paradise for quite a long time now.
My flight tickets to New Delhi were booked and the prospect of travelling to North India for the first time thrilled me. Sneha and I were all set to camp with Wildrift Adventures over the long weekend, this Independence Day. With negligible research, we set-out on an unknown adventure in the Himalayas.
“To see the world, things dangerous to come to,
to see behind walls, draw closer,
to find each other, and to feel.
That is the purpose of life”
– The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Sunset from our campsite at Sattal
I got down at Haldwani, a small town in the district of Nainital which is about 269 kms away from New Delhi. My arrival was welcomed by the pouring rains and I had to haul my way out of the furious crowd to meet Lalitji, a pahadi from the village of Sattal. As I sat in the jeep, little did I know that the Kumaoni adventure had already begun.
1. Road trip up to the mountains in the night
My trip began with an adventurous ride up in the hills. It was pitch-dark and the lights emitted from the headlamps of the jeep were our only accomplice. It was an absolute dramatisation of a haunted scene. Imagine complete darkness on long winding mountain roads with heavy downpour of rains. Suddenly you see a flash of lightning followed by the sounds of thunder. The lightning reveals the deep valley and you discover that your vehicle is on the slippery edge. You catch a glimpse of the mountains in the background and you feel daunted. Yes, it was a scary ride, but an experience of a lifetime!
I must give brownie points to Lalitji who drove adeptly even in the challenging conditions. Not only are you guaranteed a view of your life, but also you are taken through the most daring and adventurous narrow winding roads.
Our campsite at Sattal
2. Trekking in Sattal
The rains showered over Kumoans all night long and even the first light of dawn had to prune through the dense rain clouds to rise and shine. It was a beautiful sight to see the sky change its colours only to give way for the golden sun dazzling in the sky. It was a perfect morning, the birds added a sweet melody to the pitter-patter of rains.
Trudging through the forest of Sattal
Being a nature-lover, I chose to walk the entire trail environed by the vast expanse of dense oak, pine and deodhar trees. We reached a point, where one of the lakes resembled the shape of Garuda, sanskrit name for eagle. Garuda is also a mythological bird who is the mount of Lord Vishnu. Lalitji told us here, that the lake was thus called the ‘Garud Tal’. He told us that Sattal was indeed a confluence of 7 lakes-Ram Tal, Laxman Tal, Sita Tal,Bharat Tal, Hanuman Tal, Nal-Damayanti Tal (a Man-made lake) and Garud Tal.
3. The soulful choir
I traversed through the coniferous forests and reached the Sattal Christian Ashram which was built by revered Stanley Jones. I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of members of a youth club singing in a chapel just next to it. Young hearts of all faiths came together to sing, dance and recite excerpts from the Bible. It was here in these hills, that I saw a candle of faith enlightened.
4. Bonfire in the Himalayas
At night in our campsite, we were served a simple home-cooked meal that was packed with lots of flavour. We played antakshari and rollicked over the anecdotes created through the performances in dumb charades. The night was abuzz with melodious Kumaoni songs sung by the pahadis around the bonfire.
Our meal area :)
Kumaoni songs by the bonfire in our meal area