Thursday, 22 November, 2007

Come and Get Lost

As my feet slipped on the morning forest dew, I bent to clear the assortment of forest witherings to make my way towards Ram Singh - my forest guide. An unattended brochure of a luxury forest resort met my eye. The leftover of a reckless tourist gave me the words I was looking for.

It's title read : Come and Get Lost - The Binsar Forest Retreat.

And that is what this cozy haven perched on top of Almora is all about. It brings to life Pico Iyer's words like never before :

We travel, intially, to lose ourselves;
and we travel, next, to find ourselves...
And we travel, in essence, to become
young fools again - to slow time down
and get taken in, and
fall in love once more...

Nestled in the heart of Kumaon hills is Binsar, a picturesque, sleepy hamlet only 30 kms off Almora, Uttaranchal. It is 120 kilometres from Kathgodam, the nearest rail route. Perched at an impressive altitude of 8,000 feet, it offers a majestic view of the snow covered Himalayan peaks - the mesmerizing ranges Chaukhamba, Trishul, Nanda Devi, Shivling and Panchchuli. From here, on a sunny day, you can have a glimpse of the holy shrines of Kedarnath, Badrinath and Gangotri. Binsar also happens to be a trekking paradise. One can trek in the salubrious air, amidst misty mountain tralls, towering oaks and rhododendrons. This sleepy hamlet amidst orchards, silver streams and green meadows, has unmatched beauty to offer.

For my trip,I opted for a taxi ride from Kathgodam to Binsar which cost me Rs. 750/- I was riding with my mother and the price worked out to Rs. 375/- per head. Taxi's normally don't go all the way to Binsar and most tourists take another ride from Almora to Binsar (30kms). The ride from Kathgodam to Almora (90 kms) is across the Kumaon hills with dense pine and deodhar forests to add to the delight which some scenic rivers that flow through the valley provide. Almora is a lovely town with a population of 40,000. Uttaranchal is dotted with places that have a connection with the mystic mythological stories of ancient India. The stories sound ridiculously surreal to the naked ear but the people here strongly believe in the existence of the tales. In any case, they are very imaginative and interesting to hear. It is unfortunate that tourism here does not get the attention it deserves because the place is truly beautiful. But the lack of development ensures that you break your head bargaining with taxiwallahs for every ride. My experience backed by some research tells me that I paid a just price for my ride.

The ride from Binsar to Almora is back-breaking to say the least. I thought of using 'bumpy' but realised I would be very biased to the place to call the ride only 'bumpy'. But the place does justice to the pain. At 8,025 feet is an isolated rest house that offers a remarkable view of over 300 kms. of the Himalayan mountain range. The rest house is a property of the Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam which has access to some of the best locations in Uttaranchal by virtue of it being a government body promoting tourism.

The price at Rs. 900/- per room is undeniably very good. The charm of the place is that they offer only three hours of solar-generated elecrticity per day from 6p.m. to 9p.m. The nights are candle-lit. Sunrises from the hotel are the most awaited. The darkness of the night breaks into the madenningly beautiful dawn. At dawn you can see the sun rays kissing the western face of the Himalayas to create a stunningingly picturesque moment. So much so that I am ashamed to use words to describe it. Each morning of my 3 day stay was unique.

On one particular morning, after it had rained the previous night, the clouds formed a carpet of white over the nearby villages to create an unreal scenery for all of us at the Tourist Rest House. For kilometres across the Kumaon Hills, the valleys were covered in a thick layer of white clouds. For hours - unmoved, sleepy and languid - these clouds revelled in the early morning sun. The image still creates magic as I write about it.

Lastly, Binsar is not a place to go with family for 3-4 days because it offers precious little for tourists on the move. But if you want to lose yourself to the rhythmic beauty of virgin nature. If you want to heal. If you want your soul to dance again. Come to this incredible little place in our country.

...And your soul will not stop dancing again