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.

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.

A (short) trip to Kanha National Park

Let me tell you about our trip to Kanha National Park in Madhya Pradesh: A trip that was to last 7 days, strengthen budding friendship between cousins, create joyful memories and to include a rendezvous with the Tigers at Tadoba National Park, but didn’t exactly pan out as we hoped it would…

Don’t worry, I promise this won’t be a sad read!

One crisp October morning, we left home at 5 AM along with Prasad’s cousin and his family. The kids (now 4 of them) were too excited to go back to sleep. They played, watched movies and laughed a lot! Since we’d packed all our food for the journey, we stopped only to eat them and to refresh ourselves. Prasad and his cousin, B, took turns and drove, paying tolls as we went along. Some parts of the highway were well-maintained (in Telangana) while the others (in Maharashtra) weren’t. We’d planned to break our journey at Nagpur or some other place, but since we’d covered most of our journey by noon, we decided to go ahead and complete it the same day. When we called up Club Mahindra, the resort we were going to stay at, they told us they could give us our suite a day early!

The drive was scenic: huge Teak and Sal trees punctuated beautiful grasslands and snowy Cranes swarmed a lake. We let the kids splash around for a while in one of them..

On our Way

We reached the resort at 5 PM (About 12 hours later!). The staff made us feel welcomed. In fact they were gracious through our stay. Our suite had a bedroom, kitchen, balcony, dining table and sofa that could double up as a bed. There were a couple of TVs too, something I am not too fond of, especially on a visit to a National Park! But everything was impeccable and pretty! We ordered snacks for the kids- Pizza Margherita, fries and Paneer Pakoras. They were super-yummy but super-expensive too!

Since we were there during the festive season, there was loud music everywhere, in and around the resort. Many gathered around a stage to dance to peppy Bollywood tunes at night; We did too for a while. Then we retreated to an Indoor play area where we took turns playing Carrom, Table Tennis, Foosball and Hula Hoop. The Girl in charge of that area had fun chatting with Medha, asking her questions like, “Where did you come from?” and hearing responses like, “India”!

We were having a good time, but there was an undertone of tension throughout our trip. B’s dad was sick and with ticking time, the information we heard from the folks at home kept oscillating between “getting better” to “turning bad”! With it, our emotions too swayed from relief to nervousness.

We were bracing ourselves for the worst!

Morning came and we went exploring the resort and around. It was lovely but noisy. Blaring music invoking Goddess Durga was playing right outside the resort and it was driving me insane! I was pretty sure the Goddess herself would materialize any minute and ask them to shut the hell up!!!

She didn’t…. And since I didn’t have the costume or the courage to appear in front of a bunch of villagers as Mother Durga, I sucked it up and tried to focus on the bright side (Like Prasad was asking me to!).

I watched the Sun rise and the birds frolic on the lawns, exactly the thing I came here to watch and enjoy. Then I sat in the lobby to read some and write some more.

We let the kids hang out at the pool and the outdoor play area to tire them out and to work up their appetites.

Dad and the kids having a good time

Then we had a heavy breakfast at the buffet. Food was good, not great considering the exorbitant price we had to pay. (Around 800+taxes) per meal per person! But there was a ton of options to choose from.

You may wonder why we chose Club Mahindra, of all the other resorts available. That’s because B and his family are its members and our room rent was included in the membership package. That’s it. Plus, we were told that the kids would have a lot of stuff to keep them engaged. And they did.

Our Tiger Safari was booked for 3:30 PM. There wasn’t much to do in the vicinity until then, so we went to check out Kamlesh Dhaba, highly recommended by the kind gatekeeper of the Park. I’m nervous about dining  at roadside eateries for hygienic reasons, but I liked this one because it looked clean. The food tasted awesome too and was dirt-cheap compared to what we were paying at the resort!

The jeeps had assembled by the gate. We got into ours after showing our IDs and paying Rs. 2000 (Around 30 USD) at the counter. This was apart from the Rs. 1750 we’d already paid online to book a jeep for us. The Park is closed to all vehicles except the Government-approved Safari and staff vehicles.

I can still feel the thrill of the gate opening and letting our jeep inside. It felt as if we were entering the Jurassic Park. We were asked to be really quiet and not to trash the place.

Entering Kanha

The park invoked memories of our Yellowstone Trip. Kanha looked no less compared to its counterpart in the US in beauty or immensity. Dense vegetation interspersed with rolling meadows, shimmering lakes teeming with wildlife all left us insane with pleasure and gratitude. We spotted Deer, Sambar, Barasingha (a rare type of Deer), Peacocks and more. In their midst I truly felt blessed. I love LOVE my country and felt so glad that there were people out there who were taking really good care of it!

Feeling blessed in Kanha

In the meanwhile, we were trying to catch a glimpse of a Tiger. He was one of the biggest reasons why we’d traveled all the way from the South to Central India. Our guide informed us that it was not in his nature to seek out human beings and attack them. In fact he feared us as much (or maybe more) as we feared the beast! Anyways, we were hungry to sight him. I reminded myself to savor every passing minute in that holy place, where folks mentioned in our legends had apparently tromped about.

Play of light

And all of a sudden whose eyes our driver spots behind a bush?! No,not the Tiger’s, but a Leopard’s! A female, a mother, with her 3 babies in tow.

Can you spot the Leopard?

She came out, sat a few feet behind our jeep, looked at us and meowed to her cubs, who were still hiding behind the bush. When she took a few regal steps back, we moved too, slowly, our voices hushed, but the cameras clicking away. She made eye contact with us as if to make sure we meant no harm and called to her babies again. We waited with bated breaths to see them.

After a long time, she LEAPED into the air and took off, the cubs whizzing behind her in a muddy-brown blur! We were left with our jaws wide open, a ton of good clicks and our hearts bursting with pride and disbelief at having spotted a Leopard! Apparently, it is an elusive animal and we were able to spot one only because it had been a mother, who was ensuring her kids’ safety! Had it been a male, he would’ve sprung out of our sight in a blink!

Our elusive friend

Everyone treated us as if we’d seen the Goddess herself! No other visitors had spotted a Tiger that day, let alone a Leopard whose sighting is, according to our guides, comparable to spotting 10 Tigers! I think God treated us to such a spectacle for a reason. He knew we’d be going back home, broken-hearted that very evening….

As we walked around the museum, within the park premises and open only in the evenings, we received the dreaded call. Uncle’s condition was deteriorating and it was better for B to return. He asked us to go on without him, but how could we? We’d come together and now there was no way we we were gonna abandon them in their hour of need! We cleared our bills, packed our bags and made our way home.

Hmmm….

The kids had been real gems through the ordeal, which gives us the confidence to visit Kanha (and other National Parks) again. We’d only covered a minuscule portion of the park and there was much to see and do; And what about our meeting with the Tiger?! Heck we WILL go again!!!

Love,

Manasa.