Tag Archives: Kumaon

Ranikhet : 15 things to do when you don’t feel like doing anything

Date of the trip: 14th Nov 2020 to 3rd Dec 2020

Ranikhet, a small sleepy mountain town in the lower hills of western Himalayas, home and headquarters of Kumaon and Naga regiment – it’s where my parents currently live. When you have a home in one of the most scenic towns in the country, and when (you are) on a break after 7 months of lockdown – there is no point looking anywhere else – just pack your bags and take the flight!

Nobody can resist the invitation when these majestic Himalayas call!

Jump directly to15 things to do in Ranikhet, when you don’t feel like doing anything!

Nainital is the most popular tourist destination in the Kumaon region (undoubtedly!) but having visited both the cities, I feel the ridge town of Ranikhet often gets overshadowed by the valley city of Nainital. Nainital is full of hustle – bustle, glittery market lights and eating places, but nature lovers are in for an overwhelming experience in Ranikhet where you walk on the beautiful forest trails which abound in this fairytale colonial town, while a life goes on in Ranikhet at an unhurried pace. It’s far more peaceful and serene than Nainital, needless to say, Ranikhet is more like a town we would love to visit even when we are on our own.

Ranikhet is a mountain town settled around an army cantonment. This town was a summer establishment for British since the 1870’s before becoming home to Kumaon regiment. Apart from the military, this town is famous for its majestic views of the Himalayas and Nanda Devi range and Jhula devi temple.

As the sun rises above the Ranikhet ridge, the sleepy town gets on with the day to day chores.

Best time to visit Ranikhet:

Every season has its bests in Ranikhet. Specially for birders to note, this town lies en-route the migration channels of Himalayan birds. Although residents are abundant, each season has its own bunch of avian visitors.

For best views of the Himalayas, Mid October to Mid March is the preferred time.

December temperatures starts to drop below zero degrees while January and February can get snowfall. Ranikhet, due to its close proximity to Himalayas has a very localized weather which can change drastically throughout the day. It may rain unexpectedly throughout the morning and clear out into a bright sunny day during noon, just to go back to an overcast evening. Temperatures fluctuate accordingly.

During our visit in November (autumn), these pink blooms with their sweet nectar were covering the valleys along with golden/drying autumn foliage of Oak, Horse chestnut, Pine and Deodar. All trees were hosting a plethora of birds and animals during the day.

How to reach Ranikhet :

Delhi is the nearest International Airport, while Pantnagar receives flights from Delhi via Dehradoon is 75 km away. Kathgodam is the nearest railhead and is about 50 km from Ranikhet. The New Delhi – Kathgodam Shatabdi is most convenient. Due to the prevailing lockdown we however had to take a taxi and go by road all the way to Ranikhet – which was to be our home base for next two weeks.

We landed at Delhi airport around midnight and by the time we crossed over into Uttarakhand the sun was up. After getting off the highway near Moradabad we stopped at New Shri Sai Dhaba for a cup of tea. Soon we crossed Choti Haldwani (home of the great Jim Corbett) and started our uphill journey. Road between Choti Haldwani and Nainital can be a bit more dizzying as it has continuous sharp curves. Beyond Nainital, up in the higher mountains, it’s a bit better as there are longer straight roads between the bends. We reached Ranikhet by lunch time.

Our first flight (Mumbai to Delhi) experience post lockdown. Not very comfortable with things covering the face but at-least safe!

Where to stay in Ranikhet:

Like most hill towns in the country, there are innumerable guest houses and homestays in the city. But to truly enjoy a relaxed holiday amidst the pine forests looking at the beautiful range, absorbing the essence of the place, you must try to stay a couple of days in the old British houses turned into Resorts, like Chevron Rosemount , Holms Farm  Heritage, Yak and Yeti or West View etc… Construction of new buildings is not allowed in the town hence unlike other tourist destinations, this town is quiet and does not have mushrooming resorts everywhere. Even if you do decide to stay in one of the local homestays or guest houses, try one meal at these hotels and you will definitely come back with lot of landscape photos and satisfied pallets.

Chevron Rosemount. We did not stay here but enjoyed some meals and coffees here. The chef here is outstanding and the Himalayan view from it’s garden is unforgettable.

How to travel in and around Ranikhet :

Of course, like any other holiday destination, having your own private/rented car/bike is always a plus (Zoomcar from Delhi, perhaps?). You then have flexibility to move around as well as stop anywhere without any problems. Roads in this patch of the state are in excellent conditions and road trips and biking groups are very popularly seen on them. However, private taxis are readily available from all hotels (private tie ups) as well as the city taxi stand

We stop multiple times through out the road trip. Pausing to enjoy the view or spotting a bird sitting in the clearing for a perfect picture are always big part of our trips.

Before we go ahead, a point about safe wildlife interactions :

Be aware of your surroundings while venturing out at any time of the day or night. People are safe and helpful but being cautious and aware of wild animal’s presence is important. Deer, Macaques and Langurs however cute, can be ferocious. It’s never a good idea to try feeding, cooing at them to attract their attention or trying to touch them. Ignoring them and walking away is the only way to stay away from their business. Photograph the animals, if you need to – from a safe distance so as not to disturb them. Be sure to keep a lookout at the local news on current leopard sightings. Leopards and other animals like foxes and bears are used to human activities so they normally avoid crossing paths. But if caught by surprise, might misinterpret your excited actions as an attack and may retaliate in fear. Understand, no wild animal hunts humans for food unless really necessary, self defense and fear may result in negative interaction.
We are venturing into their home after-all.

And finally,

15 things to do in Ranikhet, when you don’t feel like doing anything:

Ranikhet is mainly a leisure holiday town. A heaven for people like us who want to unwind after a hectic office schedule. Slow traveling and pausing at each turn to appreciate the peaking mountains and forest sounds. Some days when I got up too early, amidst pin drop silence – I could hear the breeze blowing through the pine leaves and reminding me of the ocean waves in a distance. The freshness and purity of the air rejuvenated all my senses. Its a feeling that needs to be experienced and expressing in words is impossible.

One of our favorite pass times when we did not feel like doing anything. Pulled out a rug, found a sunny spot with a view and… siesta time!

Other than rolling on a rug, catching up on some reading and sketching (see photo above) we spent our time in the town doing these 15 things and found ourselves in complete peace of mind and relaxed – all lockdown blues washed away!

01. Watch the rising sun.

Sun rises behind the Ranikhet ridge and there is no easy way to see the sun rising directly. The whole Nanda Devi range is clearly visible from most view points and the golden snow peaks gleam majestically when you see the range, getting its first beam of light in the morning, golden hour and it gets more and more magical with each passing moment. 🙂 . It is truly enchanting. No amount of photographs or any kind of lens can do justice to what we saw that day. During our stay we tried and tested a lot of view points for the best sunrise and sunset photos. Finally figured that the best spot to enjoy sunrise is – a viewing platform ahead of the Narsing Stadium, just above Pathak Bakers. In addition to this, the view of the sun rise from Haida khan temple is equally (if not more!) rewarding.

Sunrise view after Nanda Devi range got its first snowfall. Getting up early in freezing weather was so worth it. (Check the cover photo on top to see what Sunny is clicking!)

02. Enjoy a cool evening and a fabulous sunset.

 For sunsets, there are innumerable places and all top each other. The complex cloud formations, endless valleys to the horizon, multitude of hues and the glowing orange ball of setting sun behind the false horizon – nothing can beat the romance of this moment.

Sunset view from Seven stones sunset point.

To make a great evening of it we headed to the sunset point on Chaubatia road, Foresta Cafe – near Seven Stones viewpoint. The chilled industrial vibe and soothing ambience of this eatery is great for some instagramable pictures!

There is a different taste to instant noodles in the mountains. Order for some hot coffee or tea with mommos to go with it – evening will certainly be memorable. “Pahadi wali Maggie’ is no joke. Who have tasted it will agree!

03. Watch the Trishul rise above the clouds (and go back!)

Winter and spring  months are the best time to watch the Nanda Devi range. The cycle of the range hiding and revealing behind the clouds is what holds the magic of this town. 

Falling in love, guaranteed! The triple peaks of Trishul (screen left) are the prominent features of this part of the range. Nanda devi peaks 2nd highest in India humbly stands on the other end (screen right).

04. Visit local old temple and churches.

Like all high altitude villages, endless faith and hope is needed to keep the people going, face the hardships due to remoteness and tough weather conditions. Ranikhet being a British stronghold has a big bunch of old churches too, most of them in ruins. Some old unused churches have been converted into army veer-nari (war widows) welfare institutions. Each of these temples and churches have interesting history and stories about them.

A couple of thousand brass bells aorn the walls of Jhula devi temple, Ranikhet.

Jhula devi was built 700 years ago to save the villagers of surrounding valleys from man eating leopards and tigers. It’s a popular temple to make wishes and promises. The perimeter around the temple is full of hanging bells, devotees offer bells as a mark of respect once their wishes are fulfilled by the Goddess. Its a popular pilgrimage spot for locals.

St Bonaventure’s church area is decorated with multicolored flowers. This church runs a primary school adjoining it.

A visit   to St Bonaventure Catholic Church, is a sweet reminder of colonial architecture. The original interiors and wood work is preserved carefully including. Although now removed, one of the rifle rack locks are still attached to one of the benches, it is a reminder of a bloody episode in the churchs past which had forced Britishers to carry weapons into the church during an uprising by freedom fighters.

05. Admire the vistas and the peace of Haidakhan temple.

Drive to the neighboring village of Chiliyanaula and visit the peaceful Haidakhan Babaji Temple in the early hours. Its a place of spiritual devotion, and is surrounded by fruit trees with a majestic view of the valley flanked by 180 degree view of mighty Himalayas.  It’s a great place to practice some meditation. The empty compound and melodious hymns playing continuously inspire to introspect and admire the complete Nanda Devi range in silence. It’s sure to make you feel saintly.

You don’t need to be a believer to visit the Haidakhan temple. The peaceful surroundings and open valley view of the Himalayan range is reason enough!

06. Follow the hiking trails and go or long walks.

Every morning we would pick one of the trails before or after Ranikhet club and do leisure birding while enjoying the pine and oak forests. No guide is required if you have you have presence of mind or a general idea of the place. Check the landmarks on google maps before hand. Benches provided en-route for resting let you absorb it all in. Don’t try to finish the hike quickly, take your time and let the moments fly by with cool breeze. If you can, take a rug and have a picnic on the way. Always remember to cleanup afterwards!

Our favorite was the route from Jhula devi temple to West view hotel via forest route opposite the temple. From West view we again took the forest route towards Ranikhet club via Chevron Rosemount hotel and Army holiday home.

Walking on the quiet forest trails of Ranikhet are the real reason I would choose Ranikhet anytime over the bustling tourist cities of Ranikhet. They never disappoint.

07. Visit the Kumaon Woolen Center.

The Kumaon Regiment is the most decorated unit of Indian army but it comes at a great price. Many courageous soldiers have sacrificed their lives for our country, and after them The Regiment has taken the responsibility to rehabilitate their families/wives and children. This particular center sells woolens, clothing and handicrafts hand woven by war widows with traditional Kumauni designs. A must shop stop! Shop with a cause.

08. Buy, use and consume products made by the local community.

Kumauni valleys are full of fruit and flower orchards. A couple of NGOs/ Govt organizations and Kumaon regiment center encourages the locals to collect the produce and make preserves/jams/pickles/honey etc.. They are delicious and we bagged a whole lot of them from wherever we could find them on the shelves. It encourages the local economy and helps each household through hardships.

Umang is one such organization which employs local talent and resources to churn out great quality woolens, handicrafts and condiments. My sweater in the photo is designed and hand woven by the village ladies and presently my plate has toast with wildflower honey on it. Every bite takes me back to my holiday in Ranikhet.

09. Visit the local Ranikhet bazar.

Check out the colorful vegetables imported from the plains and local grown fruits and veggies all out on display in the main bazaar. Its just along one main road, but houses all possible stores with local and otherwise products. Try the freshly cooked local cuisines here wherever you see most locals flock!

Due to COVID restrictions, we did not venture into the market, walking around clicking pictures and experiencing the local colour. Driving through does not justify the experience, but here we are – the new normal!

An apt mural on petrol pump wall at one end of the market road. 😦

10. Walk along the golf course.

The Golf course is closed to tourists. However, the road which passes through the two part golf course is accessible to everyone and can be used for walking and enjoying the sunset and wide open spaces of one of the highest, most beautiful golf courses of the country. (Watch out for flying balls!)

Sunset from golf course.

11. Visit Holm farm heritage stay.

This Heritage homestay was constructed around 1870 for a high ranking British officer with a view of the whole a Nanda Devi range with a private apple and other fruit orchards. Post-Independence it was used by the by our first Prime Minister late Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru and his family as a holiday home and a socializing venue. Other than him, this guest house as hosted Viceroy Mountbatten and many other celebrities and personalities. It is now maintained by the same family which took over it from the Britishers as its caretaker. The architecture of the main building is old worldly but it has some modern cottages now around it. The main hall is adorned with hand painted rose bush wall paper  and old photographs of dignitaries and antique piano now decorates the dining hall. The host, Mr. Himanshu Upadhyay is a very warm person and full of stories. Food is delicious and homemade. It’s a must visit, try booking a cottage for stay here or at-least come for a meal. Personal vehicle/taxi is recommended as the route is through the forest, up a hill and the farm house is invisible from the streets.

Post lunch photo with Mr Himanshu (Second from left) in front of Holm farm.

12. Visit Kumaon Regimental Museum.

Kumaon Regimental Centre (KRC) Museum was established in the 1970s and is maintained by the Kumaon and Naga Regiment of the Indian Army. The KRC Museum has an excellent collection of memorabilia from past wars and campaigns, and a display of the different weapons used by soldiers along with their achievements and mission success stories.

It was very interesting to see photographs and read about the missions and names of the people involved. Many of these stories of battle and courage were very relatable as I had read them or heard about them in the past (or seen in some movie!).

PS: Don’t miss staff of Jhasi ki rani on display inside!

Outside the KRC museum. Drive to it and let the KRC guard know you want to see the museum. Security is high respectful behavior is appreciated.

13. Birding! Birding!

Although I have covered birdwatching earlier with hiking. I think it deserves its own place in this list, I cannot emphasize enough on how delightful birdwatching in this region is. Birds are not shy at all and for an unassuming birder, coming across a huge mixed hunting party while on a hiking trails is no less than a maddening paradise, at one such instance we ended up listing 20 – 25 different species on a single thicket of trees on one of the road bends!! While visiting or staying at Chevron Rosemount, the best part is the birdwatching opportunities from the comfort of the garden (…sometimes an odd barking deer grazing peacefully too) while enjoying some mixed pakode and coffee/tea. The forest maintained around the hotel is a sort after feeding ground for birds. The rare Himalayan birds do their hunting rounds twice or thrice a day, keep the binoculars always ready.

Even if you have never done birding but like to observe new species, these walks through the forests will certainly be joyful!

The Khaleej pheasants, once endangered – are now legally protected by the gov. and often cross the walking route with a large harem and chicks.

For more excellent wildlife pictures from this trip, you must visit Sunny’s Instagram account!

14.  Try your hand at recording the star trail.

Ranikhet being on the ridge and away from any big town or factory enjoys clear skies most of the year giving the visitors from metros (like us) a memorable view of the night sky. This opportunity should not be missed. Star gazing, milky-way photography, star trail photography is a great way to spend some quiet time under the blanket of a million stars. Some cool places to enjoy this hobby is Holm farm, road going across the golf ground, Seven stones viewing point.

One fine chilly night, Sunny dared to step out and set his camera pointing up!!

15. Visit Choti Haldwani and other neighboring towns.

A visit to Choti haldwani is easier to undertake on your way to Nainital/Ranikhet or while returning back. This small village at the junction from when Himalayan roads leave the plains and start going up. It was home to legendry Jim Corbett. His life achievements and artifacts are neatly curated in his family home – turned museum which is a must visit. Most notable are the his letters to his friends and family and journals.

Nainital being the judicial capital of Uttarakhand is a transport hub and one big city of Kumaon making it base for most visitors as it has easiest transport solutions to all surrounding destinations. On the other hand Ranikhet is closer to the Nanda devi range so it is closer to towns which are in direct shadows of the Himalayas. Both cities have their pros and cons. As we were already based in Ranikhet for the fortnight, we decided to visit these towns from there. As we had enough time on our hands we spaced out each out station trip. Typically, to absorb Ranikhet’s true essence, you need to stay here atleast 3 to 4 days then check out the surrounding towns.

These are some other towns we visited during our stay at Ranikhet:

I hope Ranikhet has now made it to your list of places to go ‘When (you are) on a Break!

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Nainital : 7 things to do in a day during a pandemic!

Date of travel : 01st Dec 2020

Nainital is one of the most popular holiday destinations in North India. In the list of best honeymoon destinations in Himalayas, it sits right next to Shimla and Darjeeling. While staying in Ranikhet, one weekday (while my parents went to respective offices – smirk!) we decided to go on a day trip to Nainital.

The valley town being a tourist hotspot, there was an initial reluctance to visit it amidst COVID pandemic. But we adjusted our itinerary in a way that we avoided crowded areas and stuck to open spaces as much as possible where social distancing was easy.

The whole town in itself can be covered on foot and is made for people who love to walk in the sun while enjoying the cool breeze and taking pictures. Having said that, taxis/self drive cars, cycles & bikes and handicap assistance is readily available – so, don’t worry!

Step 01, The golden rule is to use the golden hour. We left early from Ranikhet so we could reach Nainital before the holiday makers get up and get about. We could therefore enjoy the quietness of the city and did not have to be too cautious right from the beginning. We took a private taxi from Ranikhet, but intercity buses and shared taxis are also available between these towns from main bus stands. It takes roughly 2 hours to reach Nainital from Ranikhet.

First view of the valley town of Nainital. Home to many prestigeous schools, fantastic views and starting point for many Kumaoni adventures. The city has a lot of faces and is run by the natives living in these matchboxes houses facing the sun, away from famous Naini lake.

7 things to do in Nainital in a day at the time of a pandemic.

There are multiple tour operators & guides who are more than eager to get hired and show all the viewing points in the city. It’s overwhelming to be approached by so many of them as soon as the taxi pulls onto Tallital. It’s a good bargain to hire them if interest lies in scenery watching and shopping. Otherwise, politely refusing their offers is the way to go. Always remember that they are offering their services to earn an honest living and need to be respected. The guides, often locals have a lot of stories to tell and can be surprising source of great recommendations for eating places. Alternatively, a ropeway ride to snow view point from one end of Mall road is a good choice.

Empty streets is such a rare site in Nainital, early morning certainly has its own charm!

During this particular trip, we wanted to avoid social interaction and did not hire a guide. We were staying and coming from Ranikhet, Himalayan peaks were not a major attraction for us. There was no point looking at cloud covered Himalayan peaks using a telescope which we could see clearly with naked eye from our backyard! (lucky us!) Read more here about, why you must stay in Ranikhet to have the best Himalayan experience!

As we did not have any interest in seeing the view points or get hustled with the crowd, we decided to ask our taxi to drop us at Tallital side of the Mall road and park in the taxi stand across the lake in Mallital. Our plan was to walk and follow this route, call him when were done.

There is so much to see in Nainital, it was difficult to decide where to start. I guess, when in doubt – always start from the top. 🙂

01. Visit G.B. Pant High Altitude zoo.

I have already written in detail how I feel about zoos. They get me excited and I go back to being a 5year old. All the wildlife here are very well kept, healthy and enclosures are well maintained. Most are rescued and have medically recovered from all over Kumaon. Like all high altitude zoos, this one too is made on a hill (very similar to Gangtok or Darjeeling zoo) and as you follow the yellow arrows, you eventually finish a loop going up and down the hill. It has a big veterinary hospital and a very well-constructed and maintained interpretation centre (not to be missed!) within its boundaries.

Overall, our visit to the zoo was much more fun than I had expected. Being one of the first visitors of the day, we had the whole zoo to ourselves for most of the time and ended up spending three hours here instead of our planned two.

We chose to walk slowly and spend time at each enclosure observing the animal/bird’s behavior. We have seen a lot of restless animals and birds in many zoos in India as well as abroad. Fortunately in this one, all were relaxed and basking in the winter sun.  Some big cats were active and the bear was too busy grooming himself to bother about the visitors.

No private vehicles are allowed on the road going uphill to the zoo gate. Road is a narrow single lane with bungalows built at its edge with people walking all over it. There is no way any general driver can maneuverer on that. It’s better to either walk up the hill from Mall road or take a shared taxi from the Mall road at the start of the slope. We had reached fairly early so while going towards the zoo the taxi was empty with only two of us in it apart from the driver. But while returning, looking at the cramped taxis we preferred to walk.

Apart from the interpretation centre there is a souvenir shop, clean paid washrooms and a cafeteria (with fresh delicious snacks) are also present around the entrance of the zoo.

Timing for the zoo (Friday to Wednesday) – 10am to 4pm

Ticket for Zoo (for Indian nationals – free for senior citizens, children upto 5 years) – INR100 p/p

Ticket for interpretation centre (for Indian nationals above 12 years of age) – INR30 p/p Taxi to and fro from Mall road uphill to the zoo entrance – INR30 p/p

02. Walk on Thandi Sadak.

Once down the Zoo hill back on Mall road, turn left to cross the iconic ‘I love Nainital’ signboard to reach Thandi sadak.

A pedestal road spanning 1 km goes along half of the Nainital lake opposite the Mall road. Thandi sadak is lined up with lush greens of pine, deodar and oaks, which restricts warm sunbeams to fall over the road, keeping it cool always. I have walked on this road a decade ago, the enchanting winter morning mist still gives me the chills when I think about it. Not many people come this far, so it’s likely that social distancing will be pretty easy.

Due to our extended zoo trip, we had to skip the Thandi sadak part of our itinerary.

03. Take a boat ride from Naina devi temple to Mall road.

From the base of the zoo, if you take the route of Thandi sadak – the walk will end at Naina – devi temple. It’s beautifully constructed temple dedicated to Goddess Parvati’s reincarnation – Naina devi, on whose name the town and lake is named.

Our plan was to walk to the temple via Thandi sadak and hire a row boat to the Mall road instead of walking to it. We had to off-course cancel the plan and walked directly onto the Mall road.

04. Walk on Mall road.

For decades, Mall road has been the pathway to millions of romantic rendezvous. Walking along the lake with antic street lamps bordering it and café’s inviting aromas of hot chocolate and cappuccinos and fresh bakes will surely make you fall in love with this tiny town. It’s a pretty wide road with a ‘no car’ section, making social distancing quiet easy.

View of Thandi sadak and Naina devi temple across the lake from Mall road.

05. Shop for wood work and candles.

The shops on mall road sell a lot of locally sourced wood artefacts as well as really fancy molded candles. These are good souvenirs to pickup when in town. It was essential that we avoided the popular local markets as they tend to get over crowded during the day, so we decided to only visit empty(ish) mall road souvenir stores.

Some well made fruit shaped candles bought from Nainital.

06. Check out the Murals

This was something that I think I appreciated the most during my visit. A group of artists have painted portrait murals on mall road as an appreciation and to honor civic workers/cleaners who actually keep Nainital pretty behind the scenes. All tourists must pledge to travel responsibly and support the efforts done by all these hard workers in keeping the cities/town we love looking lovable!

Portrait murals of Nainital.

07. Visit one of the many lake side cafes and restaurants

We chose to visit ‘Café LakeSide’ for lunch. The retro ambience and old English melodies made the charming afternoon most relaxing. Hot steaming sizzler and grilled fish was all that one can ask for to end a memorable day in Nainital.

Sizzling delicious lunch at Cafe Lakeside.

Full meal for two: INR2000/-

As we watched the bustling  Mall road below us(balcony seating) and the sun setting behind the hill across the lake with its last beams cutting across the high ridge, it was time to put on our jackets and order for that cup of hot chocolate. Temperatures in Nainital start dropping drastically in the late afternoon as the sun goes behind the surrounding hills, adding extra cool awesomeness to this valley town.

Bonus recommendation!: If by chance you are around till sun down drive towards Pangot to see Nainital lights at night.

I hope this list has given the creamy top things to do in Nainital on a short trip ‘When (you are) on a Break!’

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