Your complete guide to the unexplored treasures of the breathtaking Kumaon hills in Uttarakhand
A is for apple, which together with apricots, peaches and plums constitutes Kumaon’s fruit crop. Centred around Ramgarh, country houses belonging to the Scindias, Birlas and Dalmias dot the hillside, surrounded by orchards bursting with blossom.
B is for bungalow. There are relics of the Raj everywhere in Kumaon. Eminently photogenic, most of them are private houses, forest department lodges or army residences. Those that have been turned into hotels are worth their weight in gold. Rosemount in Ranikhet is the finest example of sensitive restoration in Kumaon. (fax: 011-2254614). Keep your ears open for information about rooms in Raj era bungalows that are notoriously difficult to get, unless you’re a friend of a friend.
C is for cottages: the most cosy hotel room in the hills. Mountain Trail in Mukteshwar (fax: 011-7250008) or Claridges Corbett Hideaway near Corbett Park (fax: 011-6413303) are only two examples. Unfortunately, C is also for concrete, as in concrete monstrosity, complete with cable TV —devoutly to be avoided when there’s the other option.
D is for destinations aplenty. NainiTal and Ranikhet are popular hillstations, Jageshwar, Patal Bhuvaneshwar and Gananath are temple towns which can be visited in a day; Munsiyari is the base for several treks; Choukori is for the closest view of the Kumaon Himalaya take your pick.
E is for efficacious, as in planning a trip to Kumaon with the minimum amount of backtracking and wasted time. Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam (fax: 011-3711296) should be able to provide maps and information on shortest routes.
F is for fish. More specifically mahseer and trout, the former weighing up to 80 pounds. Plentiful in the Ramganga and Kosi rivers around Corbett Park where the gradient of the land is not as steep as it is higher up. Contact Ramganga Resort (fax: 011-4640325) or Call of the Wild (e-mail: email@example.com) in Betalghat for fishing holidays.
G is for guidebook. Nest & Wings guide map of Kumaon (fax: :011-6285891) or the Lonely Planet, guide to India are the only two.
H is for hairpin bends, of which there are plenty, making night driving strictly for the suicidal.
I is for invigorate, which is what the climate does, more or less throughout the year. Especially so during the monsoon and winter when heavy discounts apply.
J is for jeep. Good old Mahindra jeeps are the most widely used taxis plying on fixed routes. Singles and couples have the option of sharing a jeep to lower costs. In-ell other cases, expect to pay the return fare, even for a one-way trip.
K is for Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam (fax: 011-3711296) with an extensive network of adequate, though far from luxurious lodgings. While most destinations offer a choice between well-appointed properties with their own character and KMVN’s offerings, at seldom frequented places like Jageshwar and Choukori you have no choice.
L is for lakes: those at Naini Tal, Sat Tal, Nnukuchiyatal and Khurpa Tal offer boating or fishing or both.
M is for mountains. Snow clad peaks range from Trishul and Nanda Devi to lesser known ones glitter in the distance and can be seen from several vantage points. Kausani, Binsar, Ranikhet, Munsiyari, Choukori, Ramgarh, Mukteshwar, Sitlakhet — each has its own view-point. These are the raison d’etre for tourism’s development, so make sure your room gets a good view. There’s something to be said for being able to poke one eye out of your quilt on a frosty October morning at 5 am and see the peaks turn red with the rising sun.
N is for Naini Tal, every town planner’s nightmare come true. However, with a little ingenuity, it is possible t enjoy a quiet holiday with long walks into pine forests and log fires in the evening.
O is for ornithologists who head for the reserve forests around Corbett Park and at Binsar for serious birding. Pine and oak forests all over Kumaon are wonderful places for bird watching.
P is for precipice at Chauthi JaIi the very edge of Mukteshwar. It’s a view you’re not likely to forget for the rest of your life.
Q is for quarantine, especially during the days of the Raj when patients used to be sent up to Kumaon where the bracing air would do what modern medicine does today.
R is for rhododendron which blossoms in March, and forms sprays of scarlet in the dense green of the forest.
S is for scenic splendour. From the windows of Ranikhet’s Rosemount, all you see are the tops of pine trees; from most hotel windows in Kausani you see the peaks of the Kumaon Himalaya and from the windows of The Lake Resort, Naukuchiyatal the green waters of the lake.
T is for tiger. Although Corbett Park abounds with wildlife as well as birdlife, most people go to see just the king of the jungle. Let it be said that leopards are sighted near Ranikhet and Mukteshwar, just as often as they are seen inside Corbett Park.
U is for utensils of the kitchen variety which are increasingly being provided by those resorts which have time share. Country Bhimtal, Cost Plus, Ranikhet and Mountain Trail, Mukteshwar are pioneers in the concept.
V is for vehicle. Enterprising visitors from overseas travel on two-stroke motorbikes; those based in north India use their own cars. The rest depend on state-run buses, jeep-taxis, or private taxis hired from the plains, depending on their budget.
W is for waterlogged, which is the state of some of the roads during the monsoon. Although it’s the perfect time for a complete get-away-from-it-all experience, it may be wise to travel by four-wheel wheel drive.
X is for X-mas. Winter may be off-season in Kumaon, but the weekend immediately preceding or following Christmas is packed.
Y is for YWCA, formerly a some-what lacklustre hostelry in Naini Tal. ft has since been taken over by the Chevron group and turned into one of Kumaon’s best heritage properties. (fax: 011-22 54614)
Z is for zoology. Those of the dozen resorts in Corbett Park who have an in-house naturalist who’ve studied wildlife zoology have a decided advantage over swimming pools and tennis courts.