Picture tall Himalayan peaks towering over the entire landscape, pine forests, old temples, green terraced fields, beautiful people, age old traditions and culture..that’s exactly what Kumaon is.
Me and my brother took a trip to Kumaon in the winter of 2009. So what makes Kumaon different from other hill regions is the brilliant views you get of the tallest and most beautiful Himalayan peaks like the Trishul, Nandadevi,Nandakot and the Panchchuli. Winter is the time to go to Kumaon, you get clear skies and the snowline is lower,so the peaks look more majestic(not that they look less majestic otherwise). Kumaon is also the place where you are most likely to see unadulterated rural life in India, untouched by dirty construction,sloppy roads and unplanned development(in most parts,not all). Despite Kumaon’s popularity, several parts remains very untouristy, especially Binsar,Mukteshwar, Chaukori,maybe even Munsiyari.
Our first destination was Binsar. We reached Kathgodam by train from Delhi, it wa cold,and soon we saw the best sunrise of our life. That’s when you realize what pollution has done to our skies. . The early morning journey was simply great with the energetic Kosi river flowing by. After almora the landscape changed and soon we were into some thick forests. The views were also great with the soft morning sunlight on the peaks. This was the signature Kumaon landscape we were looking for, and there it was,right in front of us, The towering,inspiring Himalayas, very different from the not so tall-snow capped peaks you see in Himachal Pradesh.
Our first halt was at the village of Katdhara,inside the Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary. Katdhara was pretty much like the perfect Himalyan village. The oak and chir forests were very refreshing. The views of the Himalayas were great. The entire Himalayan range from Nandaghunti to Nepal was visible. Now was the best part of the village stay, excellent,hot,piping,organic,tasty,authentic meal, a Kumaoni lunch of masur dal and some local green vegetable. The rest of the afternoon was spent wandering through the woods and being awed by the Himalayan views. In the coming days, we got a chance to eat more Kumaoni meals, rotis made from different millets(mandua,ragi), different varieties of vegetables, dals and “bhang chutney”. The best part was, there was no electricity, since the area was under the sanctuary. So with spending dark cold nights, being warmed up by hot food and angithis(charcoal fire) in a cosy village, I was living my dream.
We then stayed at the Gaunap village in the sanctuary itself. This village was a little like Katdhara,a typical kumaoni village with bright green terraced fields and white houses, but was even more lush, and if you managed to disappear in the woods, listening to bird song was almost certain.Gaunap like Katdhara was . The homestay of Sunder Singh was a comfortable one and had some electricity. We had to walk up to the village temple some 5 mins away to get a panoramic view- even the far away garhwal peaks were visible from here. There was a lot of birding to do here, a lot of good homely food to be taken ,a lot of silence to absorbed and plenty of peaks to gaze at. We were lucky to see a full moon rise behind the peaks on one day.
Our next destination was the top of the Binsar area, that’s where the KMVN(government rest house) was located. Now after spending 4 wonderful days at a village stay, why would we go and stay in a soulless government resthouse. The reason was simple, the terrace of the KMVN as THE BEST VIEWS in Kumaon. Period. The climb from Gaunap to KMVN was slightly long and tiresome, but with the views getting better and better, you think it’s worth it. The sunset,sunrise,the daylight, all of it was fabulous. You get to see colors you haven’t ever imagined. The layers and mountains before the peaks and the mist that covered them and also changed it’s colour from red to yellow and finally to white was breathtaking.
After spending a day and a night at the KMVN Binsar,we headed for Chaukori. The drive to Chaukori was a long,but a pleasant one. The road till Dhaulchinna bad but the forests made up for that. We stopped at HillView to have more Kumaoni food, but it paled against the homemade kumaoni food we had been gorging on at the village stays. The drive till Berinag was full of terraced fields,green rivers and plenty of dense oak and chir forests. We reached Chaukori by sunset. Now views from chaukori are quite different from what we had seen earlier. First of all the angle with respect the the Himalayas is different,so you get a lot of closeup views, especially those of the Panchchuli. The Pachchuli particularly looked very very beautiful. The village of Chaukori was actually very interesting, the vegetation different from Binsar, and it had turned red when we were there, we also got to see a fox while driving nearby.
The next morning surprised us with cloudy weather, so we decided to go to Patal Bhubaneshwar which is a BIG,BIG holy cave. It was really spectacular,but I must admit I haven’t seen too many other caves to compare it. We had a great lunch at a dhaba next to the cave entrance. It started raining by the time,it continued till late in the night. Now comes the climax of the trip. The next morning we got views I can never forget. The heavy rainfall in Chaukori,and heavy snowfall at higher altitudes had brought the snowline down. And most of the clouds had settled just below us. So we were just above the huge ocean of clouds. All the peaks also looked brilliant with light clouds and jet streams all over them.
Now began our return journey to Kathgodam, which was quite uneventful untll a leopard just crossed our car, jumped down into the river, swam to the other side of the river and fled. This was somewhere near Bhowali. We reached Kathgodam by 5pm and we boarded our train back to Delhi late in the night. So ended our trip, with a promise to return back some day.
So here’s some info:
1. How to get here? Get to Kathgodam from Delhi by train. You can take a taxi from here. I would like to recommend my driver: 09719223476.
2. Where to go? Binsar’s the best,nd it’s just 4 hours from Kathgodam. Other good places in the area are Jageshwar, Mukteshwar, Kausani. Chaukori is a little further away,but very beautiful. Nainital is a possible option too,but we skipped it.
3. Accommodation: Stay for a day at the KMVN Binsar, the village homestays in Binsar can be reached here: http://idyllichavenindia.com/properties.html. We stayed at the KMVN Chaukori, but I would recommend staying at one of the other guesthouses there. You can see their TripAdvisor reviews here .
4. When to go? October to March. Summer and monsoons are a no if you want to see the Himalayas.