This is an English version of one of my Bengali write ups which published in one Bengali magazine ‘Tathyakendra’ on 1st April, 2009. We, a group of 15, all members from our family traveled Kumaon in the year of 2008. After 11 years I am reminiscing here one of my most memorable tours. It is an updated one; it will help my readers to know about Kumaon tourist places.
Distance from Kausani to Ranikhet was approx. 60 kilometers. That road too was narrow and curvy so our driver was driving carefully. Although the road was not in a bad condition it was not as smooth either. On our way we stopped for refreshments at a roadside store named Kumaon Fruit products. This store sold items such as Rhododendron juice which was quite refreshing, apple chutney, Apricot jam etc. I was recommending anyone who passes that way to taste the Rhododendron juice which was squeezed from its flowers. We reached Ranikhet in about 2 hours 15 minutes after starting from Kausani. On our way just a couple of Kms near Ranikhet we came across an army firing range and saw some jawans(military personnel) practicing. I got to hear the sound of guns for the first time in life. Soon after we came across the famous golf course in Ranikhet and stopped for a while to admire the natural landscape with views of Nanda Devi and Trishul peaks. We clicked few photos and got on with our journey to Ranikhet. In Raniket we booked room at Hotel Parvati Inn.
Parwati Inn in Ranikhet was a beautiful hotel in the midst of scenic beauty. This property had an impressive structure with a good view of Himalaya. My Room was Himalaya Facing and was beautifully worked up with wooden work. We got nice view from the rooftop. Rooms were spacious. Hotel staffs were friendly and quick. There were frequent power cuts (but usually restored within minutes). Overall it was a good value for money. I really recommend this hotel.
After lunch we went to roam around. Ranikhet was a hill station and cantonment town in Almora district. It was the home for the Military Hospital, Kumaon Regiment (KRC) and Naga Regiment and was maintained by the Indian Army. Ranikhet, which suggests Queen’s meadow in Hindi, gets its name from a local legend, which states, that Raja Sudhardev won the heart of his queen, Rani Padmini, who subsequently chose the location for her residence, giving it the name, Ranikhet, though no palace exists in the area.
In 1869, British people established the headquarters of the Kumaon Regiment here and used the station as a retreat from the warmth of the Indian summer. At one time throughout British rule, it was also proposed as the summer headquarters of Government of India, in lieu of Shimla.
We first went to KRC (Kumaon Regimental Centre) Museum. Maintained by the Kumaon Regiment and the Naga Regiment of the Indian Army, the museum had a wide collection ranging from stories of the heroics of the First World War till date. It had on display the various weapons captured, flags of enemies captured by the army and also the LTTE boat captured during Operation Pawan. It had stories of the First and the Second Param Vir Chakra who belonged to the Kumaon Regiment. I also got to know the list of all the Army Generals who belonged to the Kumaon Regiment. Photography was prohibited inside the Museum. Interesting to see were the weapons captured during the war, some of them weigh nearly 80 kg and required at least 2 people to carry and load it. A visit to this Museum was must when going to Ranikhet. One got a strong feeling of patriotism when visiting this museum. Entry fee Rs. 20.
Next we went to Chaubatia. Located about 11 kilometres from Ranikhet, this place had plantation of apricots, peaches, chestnuts, and almonds and was famous for apple orchards. With a wide variety of Himalayan flora, it also offered the picturesque views of snowcapped Himalayas. Apart from fruits, one could buy fresh juices and honey from the garden store on the way out. No entry fee required there.
After that we went to Jhula devi temple. Jhula Devi temple was located at a distance of 9.5 km from the town of Ranikhet near Chaubatia. It was said that the dense jungle near the temple was once full of wild animals, leopards and tigers used to attack local villagers. The villagers prayed to Maa Hindu deity for security, and sooner or later deity Durga came during a shepherd’s dream and suggested him to unearth her idol. This temple was built at the spot where the shepherd found Goddess Durga’s idol. Since then pilgrims came to make a wish to Goddess Jhula Devi. And when their wish was fulfilled they come again to thank Jhula Devi Maa by offering a bell to the temple. The popularity of the temple could be realized by number of bells hanging over the temple walls. The temple priests had to timely shift the old bells to a different place to made room for the new bells that are tied every day. In addition to bells, dried coconut and prasad were offered to the Goddess. This place had a calm environment and a sense of spiritual peace to it. No entry fee required.
I went for a walk to Ranikhet market which is about a Km or so from Hotel Parwati Inn. It was a regular market place that I found in small towns. If you are interested in buying products such as gooseberry murabba, pickles, jams etc. then there was a mobile van in Ranikhet market which sells all such kind of goods. On the way to market I also found a War memorial and next to it was a training academy for cadets. On the way back from market I saw a number of cadets marching along the road. While driving through Kumaon hills you would notice in particular a tree that had pretty baby pink flowers and stood out amongst the greenery. When asked, Girish, our driver, said that tree was called “Payon” by locals and was considered to be auspicious. That explained why most homes we passed by had this tree in their yards. Then I reached hotel and had our dinner. Next day we would move to ‘queen of hill’ Nainital.
We started early from Ranikhet towards Nanital. On the way we visited Kainchi Dham. This temple was one of the most prominent pilgrimage sites in India founded by Neem Karoli Baba. Apple Co-Founder, Steve Jobs who visited Kainchi Dham in the year 1974 also influenced Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook Founder to pay a visit, which he did in the year 2008 and in 2015 again. After his visit this already popular tourism destination in Uttarakhand gained more recognition and was congested with devotees. Till this time, 108 temples all over the world are built in the loving memory of the saint. And there was more to the place as the temple celebrates the birthday of Neem Karoli baba and the foundation day of the ashram every 15 June by organising a fair.
We reached Nainital around 4 pm. Nainital, was a popular hill station in India. Nainital also houses the Governor of Uttarakhand, who resided in the Raj Bhavan. Nainital was set in a valley containing an eye-shaped lake, approximately two miles in circumference, and surrounded by mountains, of which the highest are Naina. The Kumaon Hills came under control of British rule when the Anglo-Nepalese War (1814–16). The hill station town of Naini Tal was founded only in 1841, with the construction of the first European house (Pilgrim Lodge) by P. Barron, a sugar trader from Shahjahanpur. In his memoir, he wrote: “It is by far the best site I have witnessed in the course of a 2,400 km trek in the Himalayas.” In 1846, when a Captain Madden of the Bengal Artillery visited Naini Tal, he recorded that “houses were rapidly springing up in most parts of the settlement. Later, the city became the summer residence of the governor of the United Provinces. You could freely enter here.
In September 1882 a landslide occurred at the north end of the town, burying 151 people. The Assembly Rooms and also the Naina Devi Temple were destroyed in the disaster. A recreation space called ‘The Flats’ was later designed on the location and a brand new temple was erected. To prevent additional disasters, storm water drains were constructed and building bylaws were made stricter. In the latter 1/2 the 19th century variety of “European” schools for boys and women were founded in Nainital.
At the entry point we had to leave our rented vehicle. Outside vehicle was not allowed inside Nainital town. We stayed there at Hotel Pratap Regency. This hotel was very well located close to the main bus stand. The hotel was on a highland beside the lake and because of its location, you could get unrestricted view of the Naini Lake from its long terrace. Rooms were of good size and comfortable with clean attached bath. The hotel staffs were friendly and provided good service. The only issue, if you had knee problem, you had to climb up steep stairs to reach the hotel from the road, but that was a common problem of any hill station. Hotel staff helped us to carry our heavy luggage to 2nd floor, as there was no lift. This hotel had a nice view of lake. Room was good and colors on the wall were awesome. Our room had a circular bed. There was twenty four hour hot running water in toilet and additionally had a shower tub. Room service was also nice. The day we reached Nainital it was little bit cold. So, we ordered Tea and Pokodas. They were really tasty. I would also recommend this hotel to everyone.
After checked in we freshen up ourselves and went for a walk on Mall Road. The Mall was a most popular name in Nainital city. A busiest road in day time, The Mall runs side by side of the Nainital Lake. Britishers constructed The Mall Road which passed through the center of Nainital and connects two main ends of Nainital city, Mallital and Tallita. In spite formally renamed as Govind Ballabh Pant Marg, the Mall road still locally known as and famous by its previous name. Tourists and locals liked to walk on the Mall to enjoy the beauty of Naini Lake mostly in the evening.
Mall Road had a number of hotels, travel agencies, banks, showrooms, department stores, shops, restaurants and cafes. You would find some of the best hotels and restaurants of Nainital located on the Mall Road. It was one of the busiest and crowded during the day time. Parking was prohibited and the road was closed for vehicles during the peak seasons so that the tourists could easily walk besides the lake in Nainital.
With the cool wind blowing over the lake through the road, a night walk around the mall had its own particular appeal. It was a famous shopping center among tourists and provided a splendid view of the Nainital Lake. Some specialties which you could find here include unique candles in different shapes and sizes. Wooden artifacts and locally produced handloom products were also popular among the tourists. Also an interesting fact about this place was that many popular Bollywood movies like Kati Patang and Koi Mil Gaya were shot here.
I saw the colors of the sky became duller and the shades of blue were taken over by shades of orange and red. As the natural light faded, one after another all the jam-packed lines of residences lighted up, illuminating a yellow and fluorescent glow. In a matter of minutes, the display in front of our eyes changed into a breathtaking and awe-inspiring spectacle. All the lights reflected on the Naini Lake, presenting an identical image of the scene. Truly a sight for sore eyes. Then we came back to our hotel for sumptuous dinner while discussing night experience. Tomorrow we had plan for Nainital sightseeing.
In the morning I woke due to the sound of heavy rain. When it rains in Nainital it became livelier! The rains didn’t hamper it and there was a myth that rain increases the beauty of the hills. The pouring rains made the trees look greener, the mountains loftier, and the skies more alluring in Nainital. The rains enhanced the beauty of Nainital with clear washed roads and clouds towering down to our feet. At around 2.30 pm rain stopped we went for aerial ropeway ride.
The aerial ropeway is located in Mallital which was the upper end of the Nainital city. It was about 2 km away from the Nainital bus stand. We hired auto-rickshaw to the start point. The Aerial ropeway in Nainital is one in every of the largest tourist attractions. With many visitors flying in on a daily basis, aerial ropeway carried people from Mallital to the Snow View Point, one of the popular places to visit in Nainital. This three-minute ride was no less than a dream as it offered you the best bird-eye view of the Nainital City and Naini Lake. Two trolleys were designated for carrying passengers to and fro. The cabin capacity was a maximum of 825 kg or 11 people. The aerial ropeway was made in collaboration with swiss technology with a state-of-the-art positioning and view. The ropeway had got a steep climb both uphill and downhill offering passengers an outstanding panoramic view of the surroundings.
Mallital is the upper end of the Naini Lake and the Mall road where we found great shopping places. A variety of multi-cuisine restaurants and eateries are gift in this area providing some finger-licking tasty food. When we reached Mallital, we went for Candle shopping and pinewood crafts, made by local artisans.
Snow View Point was one of the most beautiful spots in the Nainital as it offered a magnificent view of the snow-covered mountain peaks of the Great Himalayas. A large pair of binoculars was installed at the Snow View Point for the visitors to have a close look at the snow-covered peaks.
There were provisions for children’s entertainment at the Snow View Point. An amusement park had started and in the open area one could find food stalls, offering hot chocolate, Maggi, tea, coffee and soft drinks. The ropeway ride was chargeable on both sides. There were different rates for adults and children. For adults the prices were Rs. 300 for a two-way journey and for children it was Rs. 200 for a two-way journey.
The ropeway remained functional from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm on all days of the week. The total exploration time it took by us to explore the Snow View Point through ropeway is about 2 hours.
Then we started our shopping. Nainital was also famous for handmade candles, home-made jams, squashes, juice concentrates and fruit preservatives. One could buy all this and more from authentic shops in Bara Bazaar, The Mall Road, Bhotia Bazaar and Mallitaal. One could also buy fresh Cherries, Apples, Strawberries, Mulberries, Peaches and Blueberries. After our ride, we continued downwards to the crowded and hectic side of Nainital, the Bara Bazaar. The Bara Bazaar was a lesser known market in the city, unlike the Mall Road; this market consisted of narrow passages surrounded by lines of congested shops and houses one on top of another. It was also the place where you get almost everything sold at surprisingly low prices, from vegetables and daily requirements to fancy candles, mugs, and clothes. When I stepped into the maze-like arrangement of the bazaar, a collection of loud and disturbing sounds filled my ears.
Be it a shopkeeper offer prices bargain, a person aggressively arguing about prices or a motorcycle whizzing past you, might be even a man singing 1950s retro songs, certain inexpertness in his voice that made it even more genuine. A lot of shops and houses that surround me were built in the late 1860s and had barely been tweaked after that. Nainital Bara Bazaar was a place where I saw the rawness of local life and culture. After purchasing few sweaters and wax dolls we came back in our hotel around 10 pm. After dinner I became sad to recall that next day was our last day of Kumaon tour.
Also read KUMAON DIARIES- PART 3
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