Nainital & Kausani – Uttarakhand
The fun of Delhi is that the fun dos are not limited to the city. April’s second last weekend, being a 3 day break for many, saw a virtual exodus from Delhi. People dug up uncommon locations and travelled to exotic destinations in Himachal, Rajasthan or Kerala. We decided to go common and drove up to Nainital post work on Thursday.
The route was Gurgaon (3:30) – Rohini (5:30) —Nainital (2:30 next morning ;-), 9 hours gross from Delhi to Nainital). The drive was mostly on plains except for the last 25 odd kms up Kathgodam. The roads are decent – mostly. The stretch between Rampur to Rudrapur is on hell. This 30-40 km road is all broken with almost a foot deep potholes extending from side to side. So if there is any doubt about condition of the car, give this road trip a skip.
When we had started from Delhi – it was raining – rather – pouring and in the first few hours we enjoyed the untimely showers. After Rampur, the sky was clear till Nainital where winter still had a residual presence. We had prior booking so accommodation at that hour was not a problem and we slept snug under extremely heavy quilts that night.
The next morning was bright and pleasant. The sparkling lake dotted with colorful boats seen from our hotel balcony made us realize that we were finally on a holiday. To celebrate – for breakfast we went on a binging spree at this fancy café – Sakleys – tea cakes, chicken sandwiches, coffee / tea and banana pie loaded with fresh cream.
We were referring to Wikitravel print out frequently for eating options, places to visit and activities to do. However, Nainital had this sedate spell on us. Hence we happily skipped 70% of the recommendations.
We did do some touristy activities – mattha tek at the Naina Devi shrine – buying candles – the prepaid 10 rupees rickshaw ride and finally boating at the Naini lake. In the course of the day it had become windy and cold. Almost everyone was wearing multiple layers and having warm Maggi and sipping tea.
The boat ride deserves a little more space. One, there was no haggling – the rate was fixed and the boatman did not ask for any additional tip. Further, the beauty of the surrounding could only be experienced in totality through the panoramic view that the boat ride offered. The boatman was very sociable and set his oars aside to click us.
We spent the evening strolling on the Mall road and sampling chats, gol gappe, chila, fried burger and similar soul food – which was wise on hindsight since the hotel dinner was bad.
We had soaked up enough Nainital in a day. Consequently, early next morning we were showered and ready in our car for Kausani by 8! Kausani is 140 km from Nainital and in combo with some other tourist points like Raniket and Almorah it is a day-night trip with tourists preferring to spend the night at Almorah. We were however committed to our Nainital hotel for three nights so intended to return.
Our first stop was the Neem Karoli Temple at Kainchi, about 27 km from Nainital. A newly constructed sparkling structure with a spread out campus housed the idols – Durga, Hanumanji and the Guru Neem Karoli. The place was very clean but the guards were strict – they were objecting to even the slightest whisper.
We had the special lemonade outside the temple – this comprised fresh juice extracted from Galgal – a member of the citrus family – looked more like green lime.
We drove on and stopped for breakfast. On enquiring, we came to know that the Katarmal Sun temple was a mere 7-8 km detour. This is an eighth century temple dedicated to the Sun God, and apparently one of the four Sun temples in the world. We decided to visit this.
The temple was located on top of a hill. Earlier, the only way to visit the temple was to climb for about 45 minutes to an hour. ASI’s initiative to restore the temple has recently led to the building of a road till about 200 meters away from the temple. However the road is still kuccha, and the scary drive up should only be attempted by pros.
The temple comprised of the main shrine and a cluster of smaller shrines around it. In the sanctum Santorum , there was a stone statue of The Surya perched on his regal chariot drawn by the seven horses. There were other broken pieces of idols as well and we could identify Ganesh, Vishnu and Shiv. We saw lamps and flowers and a priest.
More importantly the cluster of shapely stone structures of varying sizes perched, quite high on top of this hill, secluded from civilization, basking in the brightness of the sun in all their regality, was serendipitous. The place left a deep impression on us. We spent about an hour there absorbing the beauty of the temple and clicking photographs.
Thereafter, we returned to our original route and resumed our drive to Kausani. The closer we got, the more picturesque became the surroundings. We drove through valleys with step farming and serpentine rivers. The road was smooth and we saw unknown wild flowers on the side.
Kausani is a sleepy hill town and we parked at the local market – a cluster of some shops. After tea in one of those, we asked around about sights. Almost everyone recommended the Anashakti Ashram of Gandhiji. Gandhiji had stayed here for a while in 1929 while writing the Anashakti Gita. We hiked up (about 20 minutes) to the Ashram. It was a calm and serene place with a hall full of photographs about various stages of Gandhiji’s life. The view of the valley from there was fantastic and they had a small tower for shutterbugs.
We spent about an hour their soaking in the peace. Around 5 ish, we started our drive back for Nainital. Barring a flat tire, the rest of the drive was uneventful. We reached Nainital at around 10 ish and packed food from Shaan-e-Punjab. Fare warning – it is one of the worst Punjabi food joints that one can think of.
The next morning was a rejuvenating jog around the Naini lake for one of us and catching up on winter sleep for the other. We attempted the rope way but could not make it because of the long wait. Instead we bought sweets (the famous Bal Mithai of Kumaon) and drove to Bhimtaal.
Bhimtaal is also a lake, smaller than the Naini lake. We strolled on the footbridge, took pictures and had the tastiest karhi chawal from a cart.
And then we drove back to face the Delhi Summer of 2013.