Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Travelogue.. Part Two !

The second leg of our vacation was the one which was most eagerly awaited. On Sunday night, we boarded the Ranikhet express from Old Delhi station for our journey to Kathgodam, the last railhead and the gateway to explore the eastern Uttaranchal and Kumaon regions. The train was supposed to reach Kathgodam at the unearthly hour of 5 am, and we were always apprehensive about the cold weather at that time (Kathgodam is around 550m above MSL). Thankfully, the train was late by an hour and a half and by the time we pulled into Kathgodam at around 6.30 am, it was slightly better. The taxi I had booked was already waiting for us, though there were plenty of taxis asking if we wanted to get to any of the many destinations that can be reached from Kathgodam – Nainitial, Almora, Ranikhet etc. We got into the taxi and left in the backdrop of the rising sun to our destination – the Club Mahindra Valley Resort in Binsar !

I had heard a lot about the journey from Kathgodam to Binsar (120kms, takes around 4.5 hrs). For the initial part, we had the meandering river Kosi for company (and I could not, still do not, believe that this was the same Kosi river that causes so much havoc further downstream in Bihar). As we moved along with the river, the morning sun rays and the shallow river bed made for some great photo opportunities. The road condition was mostly good, the turns not too sharp and we proceeded at a fair clip (stopping in the way for a wonderful snack of Bhajiya, Aloo Paratha and Tea !). We soon reached the town of Almora, which in itself is a good hill-station. As we entered the second half of the journey, we started gaining in height and soon, the magnificent snow-clad peaks of the Himalayas appeared on the horizon. It was surely a case of so near, yet so far ! (the peaks are about 250kms away in a straight line and yet seem so near !). Finally, at around 11.30 am, we passed the entrance gates of the Club Mahindra Valley resort in Binsar (around 1800m above MSL).

We were greeted not just by the courteous staff at the reception but also by an array of colorful flowers in the resort. After checking into our apartment, we quickly set about exploring the resort and its surroundings. As is well known, the resort is known for its natural beauty. There are also many opportunities available for talking long walks around the resort (though you have to be fit enough since it is all in a hilly area and there are hardly any flat patches available). The first evening was well-spent at the activity center, where a game of Housie kept us all entertained (though without any returns !). For the second day, we had booked a cab for sight-seeing (the no. is 08057245755 for good deals). Now the issue with a place like Binsar is that most of the sightseeing places (apart from the Binsar sanctuary) are a good distance away. We first went to the Bell Temple and from there to the Jageshwar temple complex (around 60km away). Jageshwar is a nice little temple complex consisting of 108 small temples spread over a small area. But because it was so far away, it was almost 4.30pm by the time we reached the Binsar sanctuary on our way back. It was probably the worst time to visit the sanctuary. Firstly, there is a steep entry charge (Rs 150 per person and Rs 250 for your vehicle). The vehicle then has to travel another 15km inside. We were all excited to visit the famed Zero Point, from where you can get a wonderful view of the many Himalayan peaks. The last leg in the approach to Zero Point can only be done on foot and sadly, there is no information displayed in the Park that gives us either the direction to Zero Point or the distance (the estimates we got from people there were in the range of 1 – 4 kms). While me and my wife did set out, we were finally thwarted by a combination of the cold, the setting sun (since it can quickly get dark after sunset), lack of fellow travelers and most importantly, absolute lack of any signs/directions that could have helped us. For a park that we spent almost a thousand bucks visiting, this was the least we expected. Sadly, we returned disappointed (though we got decent views of the Himalayas while on our way – including the Nanda Devi, the highest peak completely in India). TIP: Visit the Binsar sanctuary in the mornings ONLY !

The third and final day of our stay was devoted to just relaxing at the resort, since the whole point of visiting any Club Mahindra resort is to savor the experience of staying there. After a lazy yet tasteful lunch at a small hotel just walking distance from the resort, we had a good afternoon siesta and then we visited the other Club M resort there – the Manipur Villa. It is located about 500 feet or so above the Valley resort and the private road that takes you there makes for a thrilling ride ! Though not as vast as the Valley Resort, it still is a lovely place, with the many log huts giving a different experience altogether. So in case you are not travelling with children, the Manipur Villa might be a very good option. Our last evening there again was spent at the activity center – where we indulged our vocal chords in a wonderful Karaoke session organized by the guys there. My 18-month old daughter also enjoyed the open space in the resort and the steps to our room and towards the hotel (she simply loves climbing stairs !)

And so ended our stay at Binsar as we departed the next morning, filled with sweet memories of a fine resort and a great experience!

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