Summers in most Indian cities are scorching hot. We all wish we could escape to the colder climes of the hills, with beautiful views of snow-clad mountains to cool our souls. My parents decided to do just that this past summer. The advantage of being retired with no one to look after is that you can pack up and leave for a full month, and send enticing pictures to the rest of us sweating it out in the plains.
Instead of staying in one place for the whole time, they planned out a circuit of four towns to visit. They stayed for 10 days in each place starting in mid-May and returning home mid-June. They started with the highest point, which was Pangot, and moved down in altitude to Kasar Devi, Someshwar, and finally Corbett.
It was a good trip and many might want to replicate their experience. You could add or reduce the number of places and activities per your choice. Here’s an overview of their trip.
First stop: Ghuggu Kham, Pangot
Elevation: 6,510 feet / 1,980 metres
It was still the middle of summer when they went from Delhi to Pantnagar, and then drove up to Pangot. Needless to say, it was not a comfortable ride. Apart from the heat, the twists and turns of mountain roads can be nauseating.
However, with the increase in altitude, the weather became more pleasant and the scenic drive through the forested area of the Naina Peak Range offered gorgeous views of the mountains. The breeze became cooler as well.
Their stay was in a small village. The homestay was very home-like. The food and the friendliness of the people were something they wrote back about every day.
Since many weekenders travel to the mountains, they had good company throughout their stay. The host’s parents were visiting as well and were great company for them. The hosts even arranged for a campfire in the cool evenings for a bit of socialising in the pleasant weather.
Just sitting at the resort, it’s easy to spot plenty of birds, butterflies, and a plethora of flora. The homestay also offers unobstructed views of the mountains all around. It rained heavily for a few days that they were there and the temperatures dropped to about 12 deg Celcius in the evenings. A nice respite from the heat they left behind.
Of course, if you are a foodie, then there’s nothing like being served hot parathas as you enjoy the stunning views while you eat. The freshness of the food here adds a more wholesome taste to the simplest of foods.
My parents are over 60 years of age and in reasonably good health. However, they don’t trek or walk excessively in their daily routine. This is why I was surprised at the number of treks they did during their stay here.
One of the places they walked to was the Brahmasthali Temple which is over 8,500 feet above sea level. It is a moderate 5 km trek and the views are fantastic on the way and even better from the top. The temple itself is an old roofless structure with some stone idols. The air is usually smoggy this time of the year so you can just about make out the outlines of the majestic mountains. On a clear day, you’d get a wide view of the Himalayas.
Another smaller trek they went on was to a waterfall nearby where they could relax and dip their feet in the cool waters.
Pangot is a birding paradise with over 300 species of birds in and around the Naina Devi Himalayan Bird Conservation Reserve. Some of the Himalayan birds they saw on one of their nature walks were the Khalij pheasant, Black Francolin, Verditer flycatcher, Long-tailed minivet, and Himalayan Bulbul, to name a few.
These treks were well organised and staff prepared fresh lunch on the way.
This tiny village doesn’t have provision stores, so the week’s groceries need to be shopped for from the nearest town. If you have any special dietary requests, you need to let them know beforehand.
Other treks you could do from here are the Kilbury trek, Cheena/Naina Peak trek, and the Sunset Point trek. The stunning views of the surrounding mountains of Nanda Devi, Trishul and Nanda Ghunti are sure to make the effort worthwhile.
Second Stop: Kasar Devi
Elevation: 6,306 feet / 1,922 metres
The next stop was Kasar Devi, which is about a 4-hour journey by car. The stay here was more of a resort than a home. However, the staff were accommodating enough to make them feel welcome and prepared simple home-cooked food for them instead of the regular restaurant fare, which would’ve been overwhelming for the stomach to handle for ten days.
The resort is nestled amongst the mountains and offers brilliant views of the sunrise and sunset. On clear days, one can view the Himalayan range from here.
Kasar Devi town is named after a temple by the same name situated here. The temple is a 2nd-century Hindu shrine which sits high at an altitude of 2,116 metres above sea level.
Swami Vivekananda visited this temple in the 1890s. Just beyond the temple is a hill known as Hippie Hill or Crank’s Ridge as the area has attracted those interested in art, spiritualism and poetry. A band of hippies populated this ridge during the 1960s. Singer Bob Dylan and actress Uma Thurman have also stayed here.
Another attraction here is the Katarmal Sun temple in nearby Kosi. This ancient temple is almost 900 years old and was built by the Katyuri kings of the Kumaon region. The main shrine is surrounded by a group of temples that were built in different years in that era. Many of the more prominent idols from here are in the National Museum in New Delhi. The views of the valley from here are breathtaking.
If you have time on your hands, you should also visit the Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary just 30 km away.
The town of Almora is just 9 km away. They went there for a day trip to the mall and for a movie, and also shopped for alcohol and fruits as they didn’t find much of either in Kasar Devi.
Third Stop: Someshwar
Elevation: 4,573 feet / 1,394 metres
This leg of the journey was just a three hour car ride to Someshwar. It was quite warm here in June, but the open spaces provide some good cool breeze under the shade of a tree. The town of Someshwar is situated on the banks of the rivers Kosi and Sai and is surrounded by the Jayanti and Airi peaks.
The resort here was next to a babbling brook. Dipping your feet in the cool waters while surrounded by greenery is a soothing way to spend a summer day.
Kausani town is one of the places to explore here. Go out for a movie or some shopping around town. It is as crowded as any city elsewhere.
Another place to visit is the Anasakti Ashram where Mahatma Gandhi stayed for two weeks in 1929. Also known as Gandhi Ashram, he practised the Anasakti Yoga here. A stroll through the quiet compound is a relaxing way to spend the day.
Fourth Stop: Corbett
Elevation: 1,300 to 4,000 feet / 400 to 1,220 metres
The penultimate leg of the journey was just over 4 hours, and it was back to the heat and dust of the plains. They added this 1-day stop just to get a break on the road journey instead of going in one full stretch to Pantnagar, as my mom suffers from travel sickness. They could get in a jungle safari where they saw plenty of deer and bison, but no tigers or elephants.
The hotel they stayed in was located in a village between farms with a variety of birds, especially kingfishers, flitting around.
The famed hospitality of the mountain folks is well deserved. The parents of the host at the Ghuggu Kham homestay invited my parents to their home in Ramnagar (about an hour away) and even picked them up and dropped them off from their hotel. They spent a nice evening at their farm with mango groves all around.
From Corbett, the Pantnagar airport is about 2 hours away. When they reached there, they were in for a surprise. It had started raining and since the airport only has smaller aircrafts, it was unsafe to fly out. Their flight got cancelled and they could only get another one two days later. They booked a hotel room near the airport for the stay. Here too, they explored the town, which is like most hill towns but it was better than sitting inside the hotel room. It also gave them some time to recover from their road travels.
They reached back home to Hyderabad just in time for the weather to turn pleasant and the rains to pour down in full flow.
The nearest airport is Pantnagar, which is a small town airport. The rest of their journeys were by taxis hired on the spot. Taxis are expensive here. Pantnagar to Ghuggu Kham (about 95 km) was Rs 3,000 in a non-AC cab. Cab fares are not standard and need to be negotiated. For day trips and sightseeing, it would cost them roughly the same amount even though the distance would have been under 10 km for the day.
The roads are not great around here. Apart from the usual mountain roads twists and turns, the roads are often bumpy and very narrow in many places leading to traffic chaos.
Where to stay
Their first homestay at Ghuggu Kham was with HimWanderer (Harshit Negi). They loved the place, ambience, and hospitality of this place.
In Corbett, they stayed at Kaira the Corbett Village in Chhoi village near Ramnagar.
All their stays were typically INR 3,000 per night (for a couple) inclusive of breakfast and dinner.
Their stay was organised by Soulful Homestay.
What to Eat
A lot of the food served in this region are leaves foraged from the forests around. Stinging nettle is a popular nutrient-rich vegetable that is served here. It is a hardy plant that needs to be prepared in a way to take out its sting.
Local markets sell most vegetables and fruits you’d get in the plains. Keep a look out for local apricot, golden raspberry and local plum trees on your treks. However, do confirm with a local before consuming anything right from the trees or shrubs.
Many restaurants in towns like Kausani and Almora have good North-Indian food varieties. However, tandoor items are usually only available during peak tourist seasons.