One look at her and her bright smiling face as I came out of the office elevator everyday would make my day. She was the little girl manning our reception counter and the refreshing change in an office filled with oldies. She was like the daughter I had always wanted to have. And over a period of few years, she did become my daughter. Someone who would always bring a smile on your face. She was from the hills. From Garhwal, Uttarakhand.
But this story is not about her. It is about the hills and my search for more such people from the hills, that makes me go back again and again. But this last trip was a little different. It had an element of adventure. And of a different kind. I was going back to Ranikhet, known as the ‘Queen’s Land’ and which falls in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand, India. It was my second trip and this time a solo one.
A month back I had planned this trip and had booked my hotel, return train tickets and also my hired cab. But then came the rains and the series of landslides all around with transport almost coming to a standstill in the valley. I was disheartened. Especially when you look forward to something and it doesn’t happen. I was truly looking forward to this trip. To spend some ME time reading books, going for long walks, relaxing, enjoying nature and writing a few chapters of my book on nature and travel. But I guess GOD had different plans. And so I waited for things to improve. And prayed.
As Paul Coelho wrote in his book The Alchemist about following your dreams and finding one’s destiny, “When you really want something to happen, the whole universe will conspire so that your wish comes true”. My wish had come through. I was on my way. On the train to Kathgodam, two weeks after my actual planned visit.
I was fast asleep when I heard the loud voices of passengers getting ready to alight from the compartment. But it was so dark. Had the train reached much earlier, I wondered. As I came out I realized the actual reason. It was raining cats and dogs. Not much was visible and it was all foggy. My heart skipped a beat. Things were not looking good.
Torrential rains were perhaps an understatement. There were hardly any taxis around too. I called up the driver. The connection did not come through. I kept trying and in the fourth attempt it rang. He picked up and what he said first set me back a bit. “Sir it has been raining non stop for the last 24 hours and I just could not make it from my home. But don’t worry. I have told my friend who stays close by and he should reach you soon”.
Raju reached shortly. Medium height, skinny and with a worried look on his face. And then he welcomed me with a smile. Now I felt a little relaxed. We started. Nothing practically was visible. Only a few headlights from the other end and that too very rare. And what I could hear was Raju’s repeated statement. “I don’t think we can reach today”. I had had enough and so I told him loudly. May be a bit too loudly. Yes, we will reach today. Don’t worry. Just keep driving, take it slow and be careful. The rain suddenly seemed to ease a bit as we went ahead.
But what I had not dreamt of soon appeared in front of us. There was a queue and number of cars waiting in front of us. It was now just about drizzling. We got down, locked our car and crossed the cars in front to reach a small tea shop. And in sight now was an Army crane with equipment and Army men trying hard to clear the debris.
It was a massive landslide and it kept coming. Rocks large, big, medium and more. The fierce wind and rains were back again. I stood there in the shop sipping my tea and hoping for a miracle to happen. A small patch of road had been cleared. But no one was moving as the large chunks were still coming down but in gaps. I realized if we did not move now the road would soon get blocked again.
By then the cars in front had moved forward a bit each trying and collaborating to get a place closer to the tea shop. Our car too. So I egged on Raju.”Raju let’s try now. Else we will keep waiting here”. He refused. “Sir. it is very risky. I am scared”. I pestered till he got a little bit of courage. We went & sat in the car. We moved and were now close to the place where the rocks were still coming down, but the gaps had increased. He stopped and looked at me very scared. I told him, “Mata Rani ko yad karo aur gear dhyan se chorna” (Remember the Mother Deity and be careful while releasing the gear”. And then I shouted out very loudly.”Raju Jao” (Raju go).
Perhaps the power of the word GO was so forceful that he pressed the accelerator hard. And in a few seconds we were on the other side. Safe and unharmed. He stopped the car, took a few deep breaths, looked back and told me. ‘Sab aapme bahut himmat hai’ (Sir you have a lot of courage). I retorted, you are the courageous one. You made it happen. You are the one who brought back smile on my face. He smiled, I thanked God and we drove off. And after about half an hour drive up the mountains, there was sunshine and happiness.
Ranikhet is a picturesque and relatively unexplored hill station. Located at an altitude of 1824 m above sea level it is 59 km from Nainital and 50 km from Almora. The weather in Ranikhet is alpine. Summers are mild and winters are cold. It experiences southwestern monsoon rains during July-September and experiences snowfall in winters.
According to popular belief, Ranikhet got its name when Rani Padmini, queen of Raja Sukherdev, the local ruler, saw this place and was struck by its beauty. She was so captivated by the place that she decided to stay there, and the place came to be known as Ranikhet (literally, queen’s field). The region around Ranikhet was ruled by local Kumaoni rulers and later came under British rule. The British developed Ranikhet as a hill station for their troops and established a cantonment in 1869. Ranikhet is still a cantonment town and is the Kumaon Regimental Center.
The place offers a panoramic view of the majestic Himalayas, ranging from the Bhagirathi peaks in the West to Nanda Kot in the East. Blessed by the Himalayan climate and beauty, the added attractions in the form of ancient temples, pretty picnic spots, lanes for nature walks, the picturesque snow-capped mountains in the distance, pine forests and the native flora and fauna are just some of the things that makes a traveler like me, return to this destination again and again.
We were now about to reach and the chill fresh air was making me feel really good. A few more minutes of drive and we were now near our destination, the resort I was going to stay in. Holm Farm Heritage.
I had been looking for a place this time which was secluded, a little away from humanity and from where I did not need to come out, except for my long walks to explore. And I had found this nest around two and a half kilometers up slope on top of a hill. The perfect place where I could do what I wanted to. Relax, read, write, experience fresh air & nature and walk.
Holm Farm Heritage is truly heritage. It was built by Norman Troupe in early 1870’s. Willy Holm, Troupe’s friend helped in landscaping. The successive owners included Mohd.Amin, F.C.Banyon, Catherine Abbot and from 1947 onward by the renowned freedom fighter, Madan Mohan Upadhyaya. Many famous personalities including our former Indian Prime Minister Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru had stayed here. The current owner Himangshu Upadhyaya who has an eye for details has tried to maintain the property with a lot of passion. It’s a beautiful location with the mighty Himalayas right in front of you, bright colorful flowers all around, the woods, the green, chirpy birds, secluded cottages if you desire and more. Let me take you around..
Th cottage above was my choice and the one which gave me complete privacy. The four nights that I spent here was an experience that I have never had ever anytime, before or after. Peace, peace & more peace..
My earlier trip only a couple of months back during the summers was with my better half and it was an experience of a different kind. It was about exploring Ranikhet and that is when I fell in love with this place and decided that I would be back again and very soon. That time we had stayed in the ‘West View Hotel’ which is situated on a plateau overlooking the west valley of Ranikhet. The hotel is sprawled over six magnificent acres surrounded by pine and fir forests. It is a heritage hotel with the original building dating back to 1918.
The suites and rooms at West View Hotel are set amid a natural setting, taking the travelers on an exotic ride –a blend of history and nature’s beauty. The Annexe block of West View Hotel houses suites furnished in Queen Anne’s Style –a true personification of luxury.
West View Hotel also has some of the best eat-out places in Ranikhet –The outdoor Oak Garden Café, The Coffee Shop and The Dining Room here offer a choice of Indian and International cuisines.
Very close to the hotel and at a walking distance is the ‘Jhula Devi Temple’. The walk itself was so refreshing with hoards of monkeys all around, some relaxing, some acting busy and some following us at a distance. Many may get scared, but we were enjoying the trip but maintaining a safe distance. You never know with these unpredictable guys. And the ones with their babies in tow, looked so responsible and attentive with the cute babies just chilling it out. We soon were there.
Jhula Devi Temple is an ancient temple dating back to 8th century, and is one of the major tourist attractions in Ranikhet and located at a distance of 7 kilometer from the city center. Situated on the Kumaon Hill, amidst the serene and tranquil settings, this temple is dedicated to Goddess Durga who sits here on a wooden ‘Jhula’ and therefore, the name ‘Jhula Devi Temple’. According to local folk legends, idol of Goddess Durga was discovered by a shepherd on the guidance of Goddess Durga herself in his dreams. The temple is situated at the very spot where the idol was found. As per local beliefs, Jhula Devi guards the villagers and their livestock from wild animals in the surrounding forests. It is also believed that whosoever ties a bell on the temple wall, is granted with his/her wish; therefore many tourists come to the temple to seek blessings of the Goddess and to get their wishes fulfilled.
Now let me take you around all the must visit places in and around Ranikhet while you are here.
Binsar Mahadev Temple located at a distance of 19 km. from Ranikhet, this temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva. It is believed that lighting a diya (baked clay oil lamp) on the day of Vaikunth Chaturdeshi in this temple can fulfill the desire of a child. Many pilgrims and childless couples visit the temple during their holidays in Ranikhet. Situated in the heart of thick forests of pine and deodar and with fresh water springs flowing in the area, this temple a must visit for people seeking solitude and peace.
Mankameshwar Temple – At a distance of 500 m from Ranikhet Bus Stand is this temple built in 1978 by the Kumaon Regimental Centre of the Indian army. This temple is dedicated to three main deities namely Goddess Kalika, Lord Shiva and the pair of Radha-Krishna. Mankameshwar Temple is surrounded by eternal beauty and hence it is one of the most picturesque spots in Ranikhet. The temple is a popular temple for locals and remains busy with devotees throughout the year. People, especially the family members of military units in the Kumaon regiment frequently visit to worship in this shrine. The temple is particularly popular during the months of Sawan; unmarried girls keep fasts during this time and pray for a happy married life. The tourists can also visit the Gurudwara and a woolen garment factory, which is located near the temple.
Let’s go around and check out the other wonderful spots in and around Ranikhet.
At a distance of 6 km from Ranikhet Bus Stand, Upat Golf Course is one of the highest golf courses of Asia, located at Upat village near Ranikhet.
This Golf Course is a 9-hole course making it one of the prime attractions of Ranikhet and is maintained by Kumaon Regiment. The green meadow of the golf course at such high altitude is awe-inspiring. This place is famous for providing panoramic views of surrounding snowcapped Himalayan peak. The area is surrounded by lush green forests densely populated with pine and oak trees.
Though primarily used by the army men, golf course is open to general public as well for a nominal fee. The golf club provides membership plans for outsiders as well. Few domestic tournaments are held at this course.
One of the most famous attractions of Ranikhet, the ‘Chaubatia Garden’ is known for their exquisite orchards of apples, plums, peaches and apricots. Located at a distance of 10 km. from the heart of Ranikhet, these gardens are an ideal spot for picnics and day outings. These gardens are also one of the best examples of step farming in the Himalayan region.
Spread across an area of 600 acres with trees of Oak, Cedar, Pine and Rhododendrons dotting the walking trails, these gardens give you ample opportunities to capture nature’s craftsmanship in your memories for lifetime. Views of the Garhwal Himalayan peaks of Nanda Devi, Trishul and Nilkanth from these gardens would surely captivate you with their magical charm.
At a distance of 11 km from Ranikhet and 3 km from Chaubatia, the Bhalu Dam is a small artificial lake in the preserved forest area near Chaubatia Orchard. It is a semicircular masonry dam and constructed in 1903 by a British Viceroy as a source of drinking water for the soldiers. There is a small 70 m long, 6.6 m wide and 9 m deep reservoir.
The surrounding areas of this lake offer some great views of the Himalayan peaks. The small but beautiful garden near the dam, the cool breeze and snow capped valleys makes the dam area a perfect holidaying spot for the nature loving tourists. It is also a popular spot for camping and picnicking.
Ranikhet. Breathtaking views, mesmerizing hill station.
Come to Ranikhet. Experience India Beautiful 🇮🇳