Binsar , Uttarakhand

After Jim Corbett National Park and Nainital, our next stop was Binsar, about 150 km away. The journey was uphill and winding. Since almost everyone, except me and a couple of others, suffered from motion sickness, it was a quiet journey, punctuated with frequent breaks for vomiting!

On our way, we stretched our cramped legs and ran about in the lush green Golf grounds of Ranikhet. I was told that parts of the movie, Raja Hindustani, were shot here.

Ranikhet

We finally reached Binsar, located on the Jhandi Dhar hills of Himalayas. This was the summer capital of the Chand Kings that ruled over Kumaon between 11th and 18th centuries.

We fell in love the moment we set eyes on our hotel, the Club Mahindra Resort Binsar. The beautiful cottages with their sloping green roofs simply blended into the surroundings. It was a bird-lover’s paradise. We could simply enjoy the views of the mountains with tall oaks and pines, the motley-hued birds that made their homes in the gardens, the rich flowers in their full bloom attracting a variety of critters. We didn’t have to set foot outside the premises. We all had much to do right inside the cozy confines of our resort. There was karaoke, art and craft, zip-lining, rock-climbing and other activities. The food spread was delicious, but we walked the extra mile (literally) to find cheaper alternatives to our dining experience. We went exploring up the slopes of hills nearby to see the locals and their daily lives up close, and sometimes lost our way too!

One morning we drove up to Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary where we stopped at KMVN (Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam) Resort. We snuck up to its wide balcony and stole glances at the majestic snowy Himalayas. The clouds were being nasty, trying to hide the jewels behind, but we were still blessed with a few sightings. We were shooed away, as the views were solely reserved for the guests of KMVN!

To Zero Point

We hiked the winding path up to Zero Point with an awesome Guide who taught us so much about the flora and fauna of Binsar. We watched a noisy woodpecker building its nest, learnt about the medicinal value of Rhododendrons, watched the sunlight dapple our path through the shady branches of Oak trees, observed the spores dotting the underside of fern leaves and simply went crazy with pleasure at finding ourselves at such a divine place. At zero point (the highest point of Binsar) with the clouds still teasing us, we had the Darshan of Himalayan Peaks like Nanda Devi, Trishul, Shivling and Kedarnath. Our Guide regaled us with tales of trekking some of its slopes. We began dreaming of the day when we would go on such an expedition!

After a relaxing stay at Binsar, it was time to make our way back down to Khatgodam. On our way we stopped at Naukuchiyatal Lake for a boat ride. Before I knew what was going on we were strapped with life vests and shoved into a boat without a driver! We were on our own! Only later did I learn that Prasad wanted to go on a pedal boat, while the others chose a motor boat that came with a driver! I spent half the journey fuming and fretting, refusing to join him in pedaling. I kept thinking what would happen if the boat overturned or something. Was the lake too deep? Would Prasad, who was the only one at the time who knew how to swim, be able to rescue us?! And then as I felt brave enough to enjoy the stunning views all around me, I joined him in pedaling. We made our way back. What an exercise we had that day! We deserved to gorge on plates of crispy pakoras and spicy maggi at the eatery beside the lake, while watching a flock of ducks putter about.

Naukuchiyatal Lake

We drove past Bhimtal with its Island Aquarium on our way to Khatgodam. There we spent the night at a cozy hotel before we caught a train to Delhi the next day. The Capital was eerily quiet as some kind of Bandh was going on. We were glad to be out of Delhi and on our way to Hyderabad.

Manasa.

Dear Appa

Dear Appa,

You turn 60 today. Happy Birthday! 🙂  

60! What a milestone! How does it feel?

We thought of writing this letter to you as a gift, as there’s nothing else we can give right now. And of course, we are sending loads of love and prayers your way.

While we were growing up you were working in places like Libya and Muscat. Even though we missed having you around all the time, we were able to afford a better lifestyle, thanks to all the hard work you put in, so far away from your loved ones. We remember the first time you left us. It was to Libya and a ton of people-your family, your subordinates from work- had all gathered at the airport, sending you off. As we watched the plane depart, we all burst out crying. I guess it goes to show how much you were and are still loved.

Manasa– Of all the things you’ve told me, the thing that I always remember the most and which changed the course of my life was when you asked me to take over your place and look after amma and madhi, when you weren’t around. It made me more responsible, a grown-up, all of a sudden. You wrote us letters. Letters that taught me stuff like the difference between ‘riding’ and ‘driving’; letters that told me tales of your adventures working in a desert environment; letters that answered my big questions on God and Love.

When we knew you were coming to visit us, our happiness knew no bounds. They were the best 30 days every year!

There was nothing you did not know, no book you hadn’t read, or so it felt to us as we were growing up. You were a fount of knowledge, our very own encyclopedia! You knew so much about all the bands, the music, the comics, the movies you grew up watching. We were introduced to Abba, Beegees, Neil Diamond, qawwalis, The Sound of Music, The Pelican Brief, John Grisham, Sidney Sheldon, and Erin Brockovich quite early on.

You’ve always been the Master of a show, any show. You can set a stage on fire with your ultimate singing, dance moves and wisecracks. Our friends and family can’t stop praising you for all the entertainment over the years.

Madhurya – I remember all the times you and amma stayed awake waiting for me to return home from parties or my volley-ball practice sessions. And driving me to work early in the morning (even when YOU didn’t have to leave so early for work) and waiting to pick me up and driving through rush-hour traffic, while I dozed off!

Manasa – You were patient when I looked for jobs in the UAE, often taking me along for work, where I shadowed you and learnt so much. And when I was down and depressed you were always there for me, trying to cheer me up. I remember how you drove me around to my job when I finally snagged one and it was quite out of the way from your work. I can still picture your ruffled hair and your tired eyes, but you never complained about the traffic and long hours. And then it hit me, no man would ever be able to do the same for me. Ever (Sorry Prasad!)

Madhurya – Thanks to you and amma for everything I’ve achieved so far. Thanks for trusting me enough to let me make my own choices. Thanks for the freedom, the education and the love you have given me.

We thank God for your health and your presence in our lives. Sorry you won’t be getting the big birthday bash we’d planned for you in Udupi. That will have to wait till we get through this pandemic. We love how you and amma are keeping yourselves sane and healthy with exercise and prayer during this lockdown. You guys are an inspiration!

We love you Appa and so do your sons (in-law) and your grandkids. We look forward to many more years, stories, lessons, blessings and love. With you.

Love,

Your daughters.

And NOW from the littlest member of your fan club… ( drumrolls please….)

Nainital, Uttarakhand

We booked a day trip to Nainital from our resort- Club Mahindra Corbett National Park.  I remember walking along Mall road with the Naini lake (lake shaped like an eye) on one side and the Kumaon hills on the other. It was vibrant; The streets were buzzing with people. Hawkers were selling colorful knitted shoes, scarves and hats at exorbitant rates.

We took the aerial ropeway to get us to the Snow View Observation Point. The cable car seemed rickety. With hearts in our mouths we made our way, trying to enjoy the magnificent vistas of Nainital and its vicinity.

 There was quite a bit of walking involved and that too at high altitudes. We felt heavy and out-of-breath. There was an amusement park and a lot of eateries. We hired traditional costumes for the kids and had their pictures taken. Then we spent some time at the observation point trying to catch a glimpse of the Himalayas.  

We went boat-riding on Nainital. It was magical! The unspoiled natural beauty on one side, the hills stacked with multi-colored buildings among towering trees on the other side, the emerald lake beneath our boats, all put us in a blissful mood, except when the boatman made us move here and there to get some good (& some weird) family pictures. The boat seemed to be losing its balance at such times. I don’t remember how much we paid for the boats, but I remember it being quite expensive.

We ladies were on a mission! Tibetan Market- that was our target. It was densely packed with tiny stores and gullible tourists willing to shell out high prices for beautiful clothes, jewelry and handicrafts. We loaded our bags with quite a few things, much to our husbands’ dismay, while they prayed to Maa Naina Devi at the alluring temple beside the market.

We visited the famous G B Pant High Altitude Zoo, where we had to do quite a bit of walking on uneven paths as the animal enclosures were scattered on a vast area.

Manasa.

JimCorbett National Park

The Tiger is  a large-hearted gentleman with boundless courage and when he is exterminated – as exterminated he will be unless public opinion rallies to his support- India will be the poorer by having lost the finest of her fauna.

-Words by Jim Corbett, a British hunter, tracker, naturalist and an author of several books. He played a key role in establishing the Corbett National Park in the 1930s.

This was 4 years ago. I was going through pictures of our trip to the World famous Jim Corbett National Park. We flew to Delhi from Hyderabad and drove to Club Mahindra Resort in Uttarakhand, about 240 kms away. It was raining cats and dogs and the city was clogged with traffic. Boy were we glad to leave the crowds, the sludge, the air thick with pollution behind! 

Our rooms were spacious, cozy and clean like all Club Mahindra Resorts. The Resort is situated on a riverbed, so we simply splashed about in the water or relaxed on boulders beside the river in the mornings. There was a big pool at the resort that kept the kids busy for hours. And the food? It was quite a spread. There was too much food! And so expensive too. So now and then we tried other dining options like the dhabas and other little eateries. The Resort provided good entertainment for the whole family in the evenings. There was bonfire, music, dance, laughter and good socializing with the other guests.

We booked a guided walking tour to the nearby Garjiya Devi temple which took us beside a river, across an old bridge, through a jungle, on a narrow path hugging a hill and down across the river (Kosi river ?) again with a hop-skip-and-jump on boulders. It was quite an adventure with the little ones. Our guide was very helpful as he led us. A long queue of devotees was snaking its way towards the temple situated on top of a hillock. We simply bowed to the goddess from the outside and headed back to our rooms, this time in auto-rickshaws. 🙂

Apart from a visit to the Jim Corbett Museum, where we had a glimpse into the life and times of Jim Corbett, we even went on an eco-tour of a Kumaoni village, where a local family served snacks and beverages. We explored the village, watched locals carry pots of fresh mountain water from a pipe where we took a refreshing sip or two, visited the spooky temple and enjoyed the beautiful views of river Kosi flowing down below

One morning we even went on an Elephant Safari in the Seethavan, about which I have already written at length here. It fills me with joy to look back on that memorable event, even after all these years.

And then the Jeep Safari…. I can’t get enough of it. I mean we’ve gone on so many, yet it thrills me every. single. time.

I simply enjoy waking up early in the morning when it is still dark outside, bundling up and making our way into one of India’s enchanted jungles. To my mind it feels as if we’re about to enter the Jurassic Park. A wave of awe and fear washes over me. Jai Shree Ganesh, We send up our prayers. We are determined to spot a Tiger or a Leopard or an Elephant, but you never know what you might find. Or not. As the gate closes behind our jeep, we leave the world of men and enter the abode of the untamed wild.

It is refreshing to breathe in the cool, unadulterated air of the Jungle; The environs look like the fresh face of a child as it wakes up; The sky still, but vibrant, the early morning sun splashing colors as it takes center-stage. What’s not to love about an early morning foray into a Jungle, especially if it is one of the oldest, most prestigious Jungles of India?!

We did not spot a Tiger or a Leopard, but we had a great time watching a variety of birds like the Bee- Eaters, Black Drongos, Common Flameback Woodpeckers, Red Jungle Fowls. A playful Jackal wished to walk only on the paved road, instead of limiting itself to the rough woodland. It kept following us for quite a distance.

Book I’m currently enjoying

We went on to explore Nainital and Binsar about which I plan to write next. So please humor me.

Manasa.

In the time of Coronavirus (In Switzerland)

Some of the things we’ve been doing with our 2 year old during these uncertain times are –

  1. We have a huge field next to our home. It is usually empty and whenever Mike and I are not working, we like taking long walks while Neel cycles.

2. Trying to keep in touch with my friends and family, especially the ones in Switzerland. We are constantly messaging each other to find out how everyone’s managing their kids at home.

Neel is missing his cousins and friends a lot!

3. It is so difficult to manage a toddler at home, especially being a working mom. I have prepared lots of activities for Neel to play with while I work. Though it doesn`t keep him busy all the time, it certainly helps once in a while.

4. Reading lots of books. I am currently reading Liane Moriarty`s “Nine Perfect Strangers” and I am enjoying it thoroughly.

5. Mike and I sometimes play scrabble after Neel has gone to sleep. I enjoy this so much more than watching TV.

6. Baking!! I have started baking breads, buns and cakes.

7. I began working on another Crochet mandala which I hope to transform into a blanket!

8. As the weather gets better, Mike enjoys working in the garden with Neel. Neel loves to help his papa and tells me “Mama, stay here” (to make sure I don`t disturb them)!

8. I decided to learn something new and ordered materials to learn Hand Lettering. I’m practising my new skill every single day.

Honestly, when we are not working, Mike and I are truly enjoying this time we are getting with Neel. We are very thankful for the life, health and time we are blessed with. The only downside to this whole situation is that we will not be able to visit our family in India as planned. I really hope and wish that we will get to see them all soon.

Madhurya.