Make Kathgodam, nestled in the foothills of the Kumaon Division of the Himalayas, your first stop from Delhi. If you don’t wish to drive the 275 kilometres, you could take the comfortable Kathgodam Shatabdi Express that departs from the capital early in the morning. Carry on to Bhimtal a little over an hour away in a taxi—these are easily available at the railway station. Remember to start early from Delhi so you have the evening to unwind by pretty Bhimtal Lake.
The next day, stop at the Butterfly Research Centre housed inside a colonial bungalow. Bhimtal is supposed to have 240 of India’s 1,300 butterfly varieties and the visit is fun even for those who aren’t lepidoptery enthusiasts. The same day, drive past Bhowali along the Kosi River, all the way up to Kwarab. Cross the bridge into the Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary, which remains open from sunrise to sunset. There are several stay options in the surrounding area, but nothing beats the experience of staying inside the park. Remember to book in advance as these tend to fill up easily. Early the next morning, trek to Jhandi Dhar nearby for a stunning sunrise over the Nanda Devi and the Panchachuli range. Most resorts can organise walks around the sanctuary, the residence of more than 200 species of birds, with a naturalist.
From Binsar, drive through the beautiful heart of Kumaon to reach the fertile Someshwar Valley. You might encounter lush fields and villagers dancing to the hudkiya bol, a local folk tradition that celebrates the harvest. The mighty Himalayas are never away from view. Drive via Baijnath to look at some Katyuri-era structures, including a black stone idol of Parvati. Spend an unhurried hour or two on the banks of the Gomti River, known for its giant mahseer, a freshwater carp native to this region. Someshwar has a few options to stay, but it is ideal for camping, and the landscape makes up for the lack of infrastructure.
The following day, pack up and leave for Ranikhet, a lovely Raj-era cantonment town set amidst tall deodars. Stop en route at Dwarahat, a small, obscure idyll to look at the Maa Dunagiri Temple here, which is a great lesson in medieval Katyuri architecture, the hallmark of which is a circular shikhara. Break your long drive back to Delhi from Ranikhet, at the Corbett National Park. This is your last dose of Kumaoni wilderness, so make it last by going on a safari. If you can book a forest bungalow inside the park in advance, you have a shot at an elephant safari. Only Dhikala Forest Lodge, located in the park’s core area, has electricity. But staying at any of the other basic, yet clean, bungalows surrounded by nothing but the sounds of the forest is an unmatched experience.
Day 1 Travel to Kathgodam from Delhi. Drive up to Bhimtal and stay overnight.
Day 2-3 Explore Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary.
Day 4 Drive to Someshwar via Baijnath; stop by the Gomti River to get a glimpse of the giant carp that live in these waters.
Day 5-6 Drive to Ranikhet via Dwarahat, stopping to see Katyuri-era temples.
Day 7-8 Drive to Corbett National Park; go on an elephant safari.
Day 9 Drive back to Delhi.
★ Kumaoni cuisine is hard to find not just outside of Kumaon, but also in the region. Sample a traditional thali at Grand Oak Manor, Binsar. In spring, you can try the delicious rhododendron pakoras.
★ Adventurous eaters can try bhutwa, a preparation from offal, and saan sun, which is smoked lamb skin, at the roadside tea joints around Someshwar.
★ Don’t miss the fiery Kumaoni snack of spicy potatoes accompanied by nose-tingling mustard and cucumbar raita, served at numerous small eateries along the route.
Appeared as “Mountain Dew” in the March 2015 issue.
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