Tag Archives: Uttarakhand

Birdwatching in Pangot

Pangot is a small village located in Kosiyakutoli tehsil of Nainital district in Uttarakhand on the way to Kilbury wildlife sanctuary. It is rarely visited by general tourist but is very popular with wildlife and birding enthusiasts. The village itself is popular scenic destination for breathtaking views and for the variety of birds found around this region. Situated at a height of 6510 feet, the temperature remains cool all year around and even cooler during the winter months.

We visited Pangot in November 2020 for a short duration of 2 days, it was an ideal time to visit, weather-vise. It was cold but not freezing.

We stayed at Jungle Lore Birding Lodge. When we arrived, we could hear peaceful sounds of birds and the views were spectacular as we could see the beautiful valley and surrounding mountain range. My first impression was never to leave this place.

Entrance to Jungle Lore Birding Lodge

As we approached the entrance to the place, we saw many Streaked Laughing Thrush, Grey backed Shrike and Eurasian Tree Sparrows.

Streaked Laughing Thrush
Eurasian Tree Sparrows

The Jungle lore birding lodge, nestled in the laps of nature, is extremely warm and welcoming. Our host/caretaker, Bhuvan and the chef were very welcoming. We were introduced to our bird guide Mahesh Rajpoot for the trip. We quickly checked in to our rooms and took a tour around the property. It was a bit after lunch time when we arrived and we were all hungry from the 3 hour journey from Jim Corbett. The chef had prepared a simple yet delicious spread of mouth watering dishes and I’m not exaggerating!

A group photo of us with the staff at Jungle Lore Birding Lodge.

Soon after lunch, Mahesh took us to their in-house bird hide where we waited for a while patiently. We saw more than fifty White Throated Laughing Thrushes not more than 20 feet away from us. It was an amazing moment as this was the first time I had been to a hide.

White Throated Laughing Thrushes
At the hide patiently waiting to see what nature has to offer.

After spending a decent amount of time there, we decided to check out some other parts of the lodge. Another hide, a bit above where we were was more in the open, and gave us a chance to see Oriental White Eyes and Black Chinned Babblers playing in the small pond of water. We tried to get as many photos of these birds as quickly as possible as the sun was setting fast. This moment was simply beautiful.

Oriental White Eyes playing in the small water pond of their own.
Black Chinned Babblers

The sun had set and it was time for dinner. As we feasted on delicious food, our guide Mahesh decided on keeping a look out for nocturnal birds like the Nightjars and Owls. Later, after dinner – we followed him on the torch lit road on the outskirts of the village. We hopped to spot an Oriental Scops Owl, but the darkness and silence was overwhelming and slowly hope was being replaced by fear of the unknown. We thought it was near to impossible to spot anything here.

Enjoying the beautiful sunset in the background as we sit at the hide looking at the birds.

We reached the end of the road and stood silently as Mahesh tried to listen to the sounds of the Owl calling from far away. After a few minutes he heard the sound too, but very faint and distant. The only way we could see this bird was by calling it closer to us, so we did. As the owl came closer, we could hear it clearly responding to the calls.

With his keen sense of hearing, Mahesh spotted it right above us on a branch. He asked us to get ready with our cameras as he would point the torch at the direction of the bird just for a moment so we could get a shot, yet not to blind it. He flashed the torch light and there it was. We saw it!

Oriental Scops Owl

Capturing this tiny little owl on camera had its own challenges. Firstly we had to point our cameras vertically up, which was a strain on our neck and back as we didn’t carry a tripod (duh!). Secondly, focusing on this tiny bird alongside leaves of a similar size needs patience. Thirdly, we got a very small amount of time to get our camera settings right, focusing on the subject and capturing it (lucky for us, it did not move) within the time the torch light was on. But in spite of all the challenges, the experience and the joy that came with it was totally worth it.

Next morning, we were up early as we were filled with hope for many interesting bird sightings like the Hill Partridge, the Koklass Pheasant, and the Cheer Pheasant.

Although roads are fine in the sanctuary, its recommended to take a local taxi to drive you in. Jungle lore had arranged a taxi beforehand for us and all of us left in the wee hours for our birding adventure!

We were taken to different spots and had to really wait patiently and quietly to hear these birds. The taxi driver would drop us at ccertain points and we would do birding on foot for a while, just to be picked again by him some distance away.

Pangot Mountain Range

Luck was running low most of the morning when it came to seeing some new birds or pheasants. But we saw a lot of small birds like the Black Lored Tit, Black Throated Tit, Green Backed Tit and Oriental White Eyes.

Black Lored Tit
Black Throated Tit
Green Backed Tit

Along the trail, we also spotted many kinds of woodpeckers like the Himalayan, Brown Fronted and the Rufous Bellied too.

Brown Fronted Woodpecker
Himalayan Woodpecker
Rufous Bellied Woodpecker

We had reached the top of the hill and from here we could see such amazing views of the mountain range and the valley below. It was a perfect time for a tea break and some snacking.

Tea break with a breath taking view!

Returning back to Jungle Lore, we did stop at a few points to try our luck spotting the Cheer Pheasant, as we couldn’t see it early in the morning. No luck this time as well. But we did see some new birds we had not seen before like the beautiful Mistle Thrush.

Mistle Thrush

This region is also home to many birds of prey like the Himalayan Vulture, Steppe Eagles, Himalayan Buzzards, Brown Wood Owls and many others.

Himalayan Vulture
Himalayan Buzzards

Morning seemed slow and after lunch Mahesh suggested we go downhill to the village for some bush birds.

Bob in the taxi

On our way, we stopped at a point where we saw a huge Brown Wood Owl roosting up in a thicket of creepers and tree leaves a bit off the road. Mahesh informed us that this was it’s usual roosting spot. It was certainly a good one, as it was practically impossible to get my eye (and lens) focused enough to spot it’s beautiful feather design while it slept peacefully behind the dense leaves.

Brown Wood Owl perfectly hidden behind the branches and leaves.

On reaching the lower grounds near the village we saw some other usual lower Himalayan birds like the Red Billed Blue Magpie, Himalayan Bulbul, Black Headed Jays, White Throated Laughing Thrush , White Capped Redstart and many more.

Red Billed Blue Magpie
Himalayan Bulbul
Black Headed Jay
White Capped Redstart

We also saw a new bird especially found only here, the Golden Bush Robin (female).

Golden Bush Robin (female)

The sun had set and we decided to come back to the Brown Wood Owl spot, hoping to get a better view. And yes we did. The owl moved from its original branch and landed on an open branch. It was almost dark so Mahesh had to point his torch towards the owl position so we could photograph it. It was one of the highlight moment of this trip!

Brown Wood Owl at night

With this we had completed our day’s birding at Pangot. It was time for us to get back to our stay at Jungle Lore, enjoy a lovely meal and relax.

Next day was bright and clear and we were as usual full of hope to spot the celebrities of the sanctuary – Koklass and Cheer Pheasants. We were not so successful the day before and had our fingers (and toes!) crossed for this day.

Hill Partridge, a lucky spotting!

This time we left half an hour earlier to reach their usual spots sooner. We waited patiently as our guide mimicked the call of the Koklass Pheasant. Pressure was high and even a simple rustle of the moving leaves added to the anxiety of the climax.

The Wait!

This time around we all were extremely silent. Even a slight footstep sound or a rub against a dry leaf would alarm these ground birds. We could hear it approaching closer, climbing up towards the road. We knew it would run across the road any minute. We were ready with our cameras. It came out in the sunlight just for a brief moment and disappeared on the other side. We did manage to get a few shots in action.

Koklass Pheasant

We were thankful to Mahesh, for showing us so many birds around the place.

I am not sure if I was comfortable birdwatching from a vehicle at Pangot, as the birds here are very shy (I guess due to hunting). The view from the vehicle is restrictive, the sound from it is a negative factor and getting off and on the vehicle created a big distraction in my opinion. That was the only set back of this trip. On the hind-side, the sanctuary and noted birding spots are a bit far and the terrain needs a four wheel drive.

In any case, I love nature, and being here on the hills of Pangot and walking along the different trails alongside rivers and small villages was exactly the kind of vacation Varnica and I love the most. This will surely be one of the most memorable trips we have ever taken.

Coming from a metro city like Mumbai, I never thought I would ‘like’ to be stuck in a traffic jam!

I hope Pangot has now made it to your list of places to go ‘When (you are) on a Break!’
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Also please check our the list of birds we spotted on this trip on my eBird page

Kausani : Best view of the Nanda devi range

Date of the trip: 21st Nov 2020

Let me give you a couple of moments just to absorb the magic of that stunning blog cover photo. And just so you know – it’s real, and it’s magnificent. The three Trishul peaks right on your face in Kausani are hypnotizing and slyly overshadow the humble Nanda Devi peak. For us, they reminded us of the queen of Himalyas – Mt Kanchandzonga.

Now with our travel story,

Kausani is a small sleepy (but touristy) Himalayan town North East of Ranikhet. Geographically, very close to the Nanda devi range. The route was scenic and roads are of good quality. Kausani is not very far away from Ranikhet. It’s a straight 2 hour drive, so it can be considered for a day trip when staying in Ranikhet. However, with a more chilled itinerary (like ours) it can easily be stretched into an overnight thing.

View from the road when travelling from Ranikhet to Kausani.

Our intention on this trip was to (extremely) slow travel. We wanted to enjoy the scenic route as much as the destination and therefore took a lot of breaks to admire the valleys and riverside villages and fields. Villages were preparing for the upcoming harsh winters by drying pumpkins and other gourds, preparing preserves and pickles.

The route goes via many farming villages and along the Kosi river. Short pauses on almost all bridges and wherever the river was adjacent to the road, it gave us abundant opportunities to bird watch. Our eyes were always peeled to spot kingfishers, waders and dippers or black or hill partridge.

Stop over at Khatarmal Sun temple :

While driving to Kausani (or Almora) from Ranikhet one stop (worth the detour), is Khatarmal Sun temple. Keep a watch on google maps as the diversion to it is very hard to spot.

Intricate carvings and designs, clear skies and valley view overlooking Almora, makes this pit stop worthwhile.

Katarmal Sun temple is one of the first sun temple of the country. The labyrinth of small temples of shiv-parvati around it makes this majestic structure mesmerising.

Walls of smaller temples are decorated with unknown lost ancient language inscriptions and divine designs.

Checkout the small café at the entry gate run by the locals. Easy snacks to eat and tea are available here along with locally sourced pickles and jams to shop. Himalayan scenery from this vantage point is outstanding.

A short 10 min uphill hike is required from the parking lot to get to this place through the village, edged with fruit trees.

Where to stay in Kausani :

There are many lodges/guesthouses/hotels of all budgets here. KMVN (Kumaon mandal Vikas Nigam) is a much sort after accommodation for it’s excellent Sunrise views of the Nanda devi range.

Season for visiting Kausani :

It’s an all year round destination. However, as the town is situated on lesser Himalayas and there is hardly any blockage or aerial distance between Nanda devi range and the Kausani ridge, the temperatures drop considerably once the sun goes down or if winds blow. Snowfall is common during winters

What to see and do in Kausani :

Like all Himalayan towns with epic views, this one also has multiple scenery viewing points like sunrise point and sunset point. A gazillion ancient stone temples also enrich the history of this town. A number of seasonal waterfalls like Rudrahari waterfall are great ways to enjoy the natural beauty by hiking to it.

Walking in pine forest after watching the golden sunrise.

Off-course, we always find time to go for walks and bird watching where ever we go. While walking back after watching sunrise, we had an excellent birding session. Checkout the ebird list here and Sunny’s instagram account for the photos.

Places we missed visiting in this trip, but are definitely going in our ‘next time’ list :

Me and Sunny trying to capture the stunning Trishul view in our memories for ever. No amount of photographs or videos do justice to the feelings.

Hiking trails all around Kausani off-course tops our list. Guided walks in the flora/fauna rich forests around the town to various waterfalls and temples are worth the experience.

Although we missed it in this trip, it would be awesome to visit the planetarium and observatory to check out the night sky and maybe do some astrophotography. 

Watching locals go about their daily chores while getting maximum sunlight . Or did I just need a reason to look at those snow peaks again?

The highlight of this town is the Anasakti Ashram. Constructed on mountain overlooking the Someshwar valley and view of snow-capped mountain, this ashram was abode of Mahatma Gandhi for some weeks. He was so mesmerized by the beauty of this town that he proclaimed that it is no less than Switzerland itself. Since then ‘Gandhi Ashram’ has become no.1 tourist attraction of the town which is nicknamed ‘Switzerland of India’ by the father of the nation himself. It is possible to stay in the ashram but they don’t have any online portal for booking. It’s in our list for next time, missed it due to pandemic restrictions.

Interested in literature? Spend some time in museum dedicated to the famous poet Sumitranandan Pant. He was born in this quaint town and had his most inspiring work written here influenced by mighty snow capped Himalayas . Oh! I think these majestic mountains and oak forests can turn anyone into a poet. But only few of them can land their work in our school syllabus! :p .The museum displays his personal items, drafts of his poems, letters, his awards, books, stories etc. Due to shortage of time, unfortunately we missed this one too, it is in our list for next time!!

Sunrise photography session. It’s a serious job for the men in our family! :p

In the town there are innumerable travel agents and guides who are more than interested in taking the visitors to see all the popular tourist spots for a fee. That’s a great way to enjoy what the town has to offer and help the local economy.

What to eat in Kausani :

As we were there for only a day and were someone’s guests, we did not checkout any food places in the town.

No trip to any cold Himalyan town is over without a plate of my favourite pahadi Maggie!

On our way back to Ranikhet we took the route via Lodh and stopped at ‘Rudraksh restaurant’ (located here) to eat their Kumaoni Lunch thali.

The family that owns this hotel owns the surrounding fields and most ingredients are locally sourced from the village. Kumaoni food is pre-cooked and has set thali menu depending on availability of ingredients. Servings are off course unlimited.

We stopped here for lunch. Other meals are also available.

Visited : November 2020 : Too hungry to click proper pictures!
Tthis was how our thali looked: Kumauni style rajma/Aloo ke gutke/Bhang ki chatni poured generously over radish salad/Bhat ke dubke/Steamed rice. Just the stop needed to warm ourselves during midday winter chill in the Himalayas.

During our visit to Kausani, we felt that it’s a wonderful and beautiful town in it’s own sense. A super short visit may not do justice to enjoy everything this place has to offer. Looking at a gazillion hotels and restaurants might make you think of it as touristy (these do reduce the charm of this place). But over the years beauty of this place has attracted lots and lots of visitors, mother nature has been really generous with providing the town with excellent views and hiking opportunities. Many famous entities like Mahatma Gandhi and Sumitranandan Pant have added to it’s rich history.

Kausani surely deserves more than a stop over or a day trip! We WILL be back for a longer stayover next time!

Mobile phone time-lapse of the family enjoying the magical golden hour in Kausani.

I hope Kausani has at-least found a little place in your list of places to go ‘When (you are) on a Break!’

Have you stayed in Kausani? Please feel free to add in our ‘next time’ list so we can get to it next when we are in town!

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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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