Choukori to Almora – A Beautiful Journey Through the Hills of Kumaon

Almora, Choukori

This is the third part of my Nainital Trip Series published after A Memorable Trip to Nainital – The Lake District of India (part I) and A rain-drenched day at ‘Queen’s Meadow’ Ranikhet (part II). Hope you enjoy reading this one too 🙂

Hum jo chalne lage chalne lage hain yeh raaste/ aa ha… manjil se behtar lagne lage hai yeh raaste/ Aao kho jaaye hum Ho jaaye hum yun lapata /Aao milon chale jaana kahan na ho pata…

(Meaning: The road also keeps going as we continue our journey/It feels the journey is better than the destination/ Let’s get lost /Let’s travel with the road not knowing where to go)

The song from my favorite Hindi movie Jab We Met was buzzing in my ears. With winding hilly road as far as eyes can see, pines and cedars lining the road and sunshine on my shoulder (especially after two days of incessant rain) what else I could think of! It was a pleasant, sunny morning. We were headed for Almora after spending the last night in Choukori. Luckily, I could manage the front seat right in the driver’s cabin to enjoy the journey to the fullest.

Almora, Choukori
Sometimes the journey seems better than the destination.

Earlier that morning… we got up at 6:30 and rushed to the balcony of the hotel to get a glimpse of sunrise. It is something you must experience in Choukori, a secluded hill station in Almora District of Uttarakhand. But ‘thanks’ to the ‘Weather God’ we were again deprived of this natural phenomenon, just as we were in Kausani and Ranikhet. When the sun finally peeped out from behind the thick cover of clouds it was already 7:30. 😦

Angan Resort, Choukori
When the sun finally peeped out it was already 7:30

Nevertheless, Angan Resort in Choukori was a beautiful place to stay. There were groves and bushes all around. The garden was in full bloom with cosmos, marigolds and dahlias. The green slopes dotted with cottages created wonderful vista in the soft sunlight.

Angan Resort, Choukori,
That’s our resort in Choukori

But the ultimate joy was yet to come. As the morning grew older the mist dissolved and the sky became clearer. The Himalayan peaks – Nandakot, Panchulli, Trishul – all were shining bright in the daylight. It seemed that the pastures, the hills and the resort – the entire place was surrounded by an array of snow-capped peaks. It was AMAZING!

Just one day ago it was really difficult to imagine a sunny day like this. Weather changes so fast!

Himalayan peaks, Nandakot
Snow white Himalayan peaks were shining bright in the sunlight

The previous day, Kausani to Choukori has been a long journey via Gandhi Ashram, Baijnath Temple and Bageshwar where the rivers Gomati and Sarayu meet.

Gandhi Ashram also called Anasakti Ashram (‘Anasakti’ refers to the spiritual state of selflessness and non-attachment from materialistic pleasure) where Mahatma Gandhi wrote ‘Anasakti Yoga’ (The Gospel of Selfless Action). The ashram has a museum displaying some of the rare photographs of the Mahatma in various stages of his personal and political life.

Gandhi Anasakti Ashram in Kausani
Gandhi Ashram in Kausani – Image: Jean Pierre Chanudaud (Flickr)

Baijnath Temple is a millennia old temple dedicated to Lord Shiva (Vaidyanath, hence the name Baijnath). It is now an archeological site. Built in 1204 A.D. this temple is one of the oldest continuously worshipped temples in the country.

Baijnath Temple, Himachal Pradesh
Baijnath Temple

Still standing strong the temple is a silent witness of the River Gomati’s journey for over thousands of years.

Gomati River, Baijnath
Gomati River in front of Baijnath Temple

Coming back to where we started … we left Choukori for Almora at 9:30 in the morning.

I think the best thing about the journey from Choukori to Almora (Town) is that you can enjoy the view of snow-white Himalayas all along the way. Our route included Patal Bhubaneswar in Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand. Patal Bhubaneswar is a natural wonder – an ancient limestone cave with numerous mythological stories hidden in its womb. Descending into the grotto through a narrow opening in the rocks is a thrilling experience which will soon turn into a pleasant surprise as you reach the chamber at the bottom. Camera isn’t allowed inside. And I am in no mood to describe what is inside the cavern. This is for you to discover because some things are better to be discovered than found. 🙂

Hotel Shikhar was our immediate destination in Almora. Our stay in this moderate budget hotel was really enjoyable. Its strategic location allows easy access to the bustling town center and market. You can also spend hours sitting on the terrace watching at the Himalayas and soak in the scenic beauty of Kumaon hills.

Hotel Shikhar Almora
View from the hotel’s terrace in Almora

The next morning was scheduled for Almora sightseeing.

Our first stop was Ramkrishna Kutir, a small monastery operated by the Belur Math. The monastery, nestled in the lap of the mountain, offers a peaceful resort for prayer and meditation for everyone in search of peace and salvation.

Ramakrishna Kutir, Almora scenic beauty
the mountain offers a peaceful resort for prayer and meditation

The star attraction of Almora Zoo is definitely leopards. These leopards are found in the jungles of Kumaon Himalayas and they are the protagonist of the book Man-Eaters of Kumaon by the famous naturalist-hunter Edward James Corbett, popularly known as Jim Corbett in Northern India.

Leopard at the zoo, Almora, Nainital
A female leopard at the zoo

Our next destination was Golu Devata ka Mandir – the temple of Lord Golu, a deity seen as an incarnation of Lord Shiva and is widely worshipped in the villages of Kumaon.  It was a small but beautiful temple boasting hundreds of thousands of wishing bells. They say if you write down your wishes on a paper and tie it with a bell in this temple your wish will come true. The existence of uncountable bells and letters is perhaps the proof if it! 🙂

Golu Devta ka Mandir, Temple of Lord Golu, Almora
the temple having millions of wishing bells

However, here are a few more glimpses of Almora’s scenic beauty for your eyes only 😉

Himalayan peaks, Almora, Kumaon
Soak in the beauty of the Himalayas
Almora town, Kumaon, Uttarakhand
Almora Town

After completing our sightseeing in Almora we returned to the hotel. We had to pack our bags for the next leg of our trip which was from Almora to Lucknow by 13020 Bagh Express which departs from Kathgodam at 9:55 at night.

See you in Lucknow…

A rain-drenched day at ‘Queen’s Meadow’ Ranikhet

Ranikhet Army Golf Course

This post is a sequel to A Memorable Trip to Nainital – The Lake District of India, the first post of my Nainital Trip Series. Hope you enjoy reading… 🙂

Finally, the day came… we were about to leave Nainital for Kausani. I woke up very early, at 5:30 that morning. Put on my hoodie and got out of the hotel room to take a look at the lake, and the promenade, and the buildings all around for one last time. The sky was still dark; the lake was still plunged into darkness; the streetlights were still on and some fitness freaks were seen jogging up and down the Mall Road.

Nainital Lake, Dawn, Kumaon, Uttarakhand
The lake was still plunged into darkness

Suddenly, the temple bell (Naina Devi Temple) started ringing – ting-ling-ting-ling – piercing the silence of the dawn. That moment, standing alone on the balcony, I felt a pang in my heart. The pang of separation from my beloved Nainital.

We started for Kausani at around 8:30 that morning. The sky was dull and gloomy and the drizzle started. It seemed that Nature reflected my mood at that moment! As we proceeded with our journey the drizzle continued giving a hint of the inevitable downpour later. After two sunny days in Nainital the rain was a sheer disappointment. A thin layer of fog limited our vision. We sat inside the bus with all windows tightly shut, and cursed the unexpected rain silently.

I was vaguely looking at the rain-washed road and trees along the slopes of the hills when I suddenly realized that the view outside was quite interesting. It was different but beautiful. This realization wiped away all the bitterness and filled my mind with joy and hope, once again. “Nature never did betray The heart that loved her”… She always compensates one way or the other.

I caught a few glimpses of the hills and towns bathed in late monsoon rain.

Rain, Ranikhet, Almora, Kumaon, Uttarakhand
“Nature never did betray The heart that loved her”
Town, Ranikhet, Almora,  Kumaon, Uttarakhand
Colors of monsoon at Ranikhet, Almora

On our way to Kausani via Ranikhet our first stop was Kalika Mandir, an old temple nestled on top of the hill overlooking the green slopes. Then we halted at Ranikhet Golf Course in the Army Cantonment area and spent some time there. Rain could no longer spoil my spirit neither the excitement of stepping on a golf ground for the first time in my life.

Unfortunately, I didn’t see any golfer on the ground. After all it’s raining out there…who’s gonna come out for a practice!… But as I looked around I found them grazing at their own pace. 🙂

Cattle, Ranikhet, Golf Course, Kumaon, Uttarakhand
No golfers on a rainy day, only cattle grazing on the fields…

The Army Golf Course at Ranikhet is a wide-open space soaked in quietness. I think the combination of rain and fog made the atmosphere even more dramatic.

Ranikhet Army Golf Course, Almora, Kumaon, Uttarakhand
Ranikhet Army Golf Course

The sprawling green field with varying elevations and towering pines lining the boundary is altogether a treat to the eye.

meadow, Ranikhet, Golf Course, Almora, Kumaon, Uttarakhand
The sprawling green field has varying elevations and towering pines lining the boundary

The pitch-black highway runs through the green field and finally disappears into the mist.

Ranikhet Army Golf Course, Almora, Kumaon, Uttarakhand
The highway runs through the green field and finally disappears into the mist.

I wanted to run like a kid but didn’t dare, as the ground had already turned slippery from continuous rain since morning.

After roaming around amidst the greenery of the golf course for nearly two hours we were back on the road. It was cold and my hands and feet got completely wet from the rain. What I badly needed at that moment was a cup of brewing coffee which I got only after reaching the hotel. Poor me…

I have been on the hills in monsoon when we made our trip to Namchi, Sikkim. So, I have seen it raining on the hills. But in Ranikhet and all the way to Kausani it was more pleasant an experience than it was in Namchi.

It was almost 5 pm when we reached our hotel in Kausani. I switched on the TV in my room while leisurely sipping my coffee. The news report said that this untimely downpour was the side effect of cyclone Hudhud that left my favorite port city Vizag in utter destruction. My heart sank at the scenes of devastations that were showing on the news channel. My memories are still fresh with beautiful pictures of from our trip to Vizag back in 2010.

We stayed at Himalayan Mount View Resort in Kausani from where you can expect breathtaking views of snow-clad Panchchuli peaks of the Himalayas. Since it rained all night I gave up all hope of any scenic view next morning. When I got up at 6:30 next morning rain had stopped but there was no sign of the sun god. A veil of mist covered the hills and blotted out the peaks from our vision. As the morning grew older (it seemed) the mist got heavier and hovered down the slopes of the mountain offering an obscure view of the surrounding.

Himalayas, peak, resort, Kausani, Almora, Kumaon, Uttarakhand
A veil of mist covered the mountains.

And that’s when I spotted this beautiful visitor who got herself perched on top of a tree and posed for me. 🙂

bird, twitter, Kausani, Almora, Kumaon, Uttarakhand
A beautiful bird perched on top of a tree and posed for me…

To be continued…

A Memorable Trip to Nainital – The Lake District of India

The boat pier at Naini Lake, Nainital

I always have a penchant for hill stations. The Himalayan Mountains with their magnificent snow-capped peaks and green pastures, standing tall in silence always attract me. So… when I got the proposal for a trip to Nainital I readily accepted it. The magical charm of lakes was bonus with the beauty of mountains. And now, when I am writing this post I feel happy about the decision I made in haste.

Nainital, the City of Lakes at the heart of Kumaon Himalayas in Uttarakhand is one of the most beautiful hill stations in India. The scenic landscapes dotted with emerald-green lakes surrounded by mountains and pleasant weather almost year-round attracts tourists from all across the country.

Nainital - the 'Lake District' of India, Kumaon, Uttarakhand
Nainital – the ‘Lake District’ of India

Nainital district, also popularly called as the ‘Lake District of India’, consists of several naturally created freshwater lakes and mountains. Tal means ‘lake’ in local language. They say there were more than 50 such lakes most of which now have disappeared. The effect of human civilization!

Sometimes the thought of ‘how fast we are losing our forests and natural resources’ dreads me.

Where to Stay

At Hotel Shalimar in Nainital, Kumaon, Uttarakhand
At the hotel in Nainital

We stayed in Hotel Shalimar, a budget hotel with a strategic location ensuring quick access to the town’s mall as well as spacious rooms overlooking the Naini Lake. The boat pier was visible right from the hotel’s veranda.

(You can read my review on TripAdvisor for a better idea of the hotel)

But if you are looking for a luxurious accommodation there is Grand Hotel on the Mall Road to offer you magnificent view along with high-quality service. . However, these are examples only. Hotels are aplenty in Nainital.

We reached the hotel at around 1 pm and took a much-needed shower and had lunch. After that we set out to explore the town.

Things to do

In my opinion there are five must-dos in Nainital District which are –

#1 Boating

You will find two types of boats in Nainital for recreational purposes – paddleboats and rowing boats. The view of white swan-shaped paddleboats lining up the wharf at Naini Lake was simply inviting.

The boat pier at Naini Lake, Nainital
The boat pier at Naini Lake

However, we finally went for a rowing boat since it can accommodate up to four people at a time excluding the boatman. Charge is Rs 210 per boat for a 30-minute ride. As we were enjoying the ride on the pristine water I looked at the promenade along the lake. It was lined with maple trees. There yellowing leaves were looking fiery in golden streaks of afternoon sun.

Nainital, Lake District of India, Kumaon Himalayas, Uttarakhand
A boat ride in the lake and soak in the beauty of the place

On my asking the boatman said that the depth of the lake in 128 feet which, I thought, is formidable! Fishing is allowed but you need special permission from the concerned authority. As we returned to the dock a wonderful sight caught my attention. A gaggle of geese gathered along the bank where some tourists were standing and throwing foods at them. It seemed like the ducks were asking – Hey! What do you have for us? 🙂

A gaggle of geese at Naini Lake, Nainital, Kumaon, Uttarakhand, India
A gaggle of geese at Naini Lake

#2 Ropeway

From my experience I think this is the first and foremost thing to do when you are in Nainital town. The ropeway or the cable car takes you to the Snow-View Point situated at a height 2270 meter from where you’ll not only get a panoramic view of Naini Lake but also a breathtaking view of the snow-capped peaks far away. One ride (to and from) costs Rs 150 per head for adults and Rs 100 for kids.

Ropeway at Nainital, Uttarakhand, Kumaon, North India
Ropeway at Nainital – Image: journeymart.com

The board on the counter says the timing to buy tickets is from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. But when we reached there by 4 p.m. the counter was already closed. The ropeway is operated by the government. As we inquired we were told that there is a quota for daily tickets. As soon as the quota for the day is full the authority closes the booking counter. Unfortunately, that was the thing happened with us. We had to return disappointed because we did not have the time to go back the next day.

#3 Sightseeing

Sightseeing in Nainital mainly includes visits to Bhimtal, Sattal, Naukuchia Tal, Nainital Zoo, Waterfall, Sunset point and Khurpatal.

Bhimtal is situated at a lower altitude than Naini Lake. The aqua blue water beckons onlooker to have a boat ride or at least spend some time by the waterfront. Fish lovers may like to see the aquarium situated in the middle of the lake. Although the tickets for boating and aquarium are separate you have to collect them together from the waterfront office in case you wish to find out what’s in store at the aquarium.

Bhimtal, Nainital Lake District, Kumaon, Uttarakhand, India
Lake Bhimtal

It was a bright sunny day and we thoroughly enjoyed boating under the sun. The smell of fresh water brought by the cool breeze rejuvenated my soul. It was the serenity of the place that I liked the most.

Sattal Lake, Nainital, Lake District, Uttarakhand, India
Sattal Lake

Sattal is a combination of three lakes joined together naturally. Apart from boating facility there is one more attraction. It offers a 15-minute trek to the church on top of the hill on the other side of the lake.

I enjoyed trekking along the narrow, steep walking trail with giant pines and other coniferous trees creating a canopy over my head. The trail ends in front of a Church. I sat down in front of the closed door of the church and tried to feel the silence and sanctity of the place amidst the constant chirping of crickets.

Church, Trekking, Sattal, Nainital, Kumaon, Uttarakhand
The trek ends in front of the church by the lake Sattal

The lake Naukuchia tal is comparatively smaller than the previous two and to me the most beautiful one. The place was much quieter than the other two spots…probably because of lack of crowd. The boat wharf here is built with floating buoys. I stood at the end of the ramp facing the lake and felt like I was floating away – it was amazing! 🙂

Naukuchiatal, Nainital, Lake District, Kumaon, Uttarakhand
Naukuchia tal

On our way back we halted at the temple of Hanuman ji – Hanumangarhi Temple. The huge statue of the ape god standing like the guardian of the hills inspires awe and admiration.

Hanumangarhi Temple, Nainital, Uttarakhand
Hanumangarhi Temple

Your Nainital sightseeing is not complete if you don’t visit the Waterfall; take a bird’s eye view of Khurpatal and watch the sunset from the sunset point there. We rented a small car for Rs 500 that will take us to the waterfall and return to the mall from where we started. The waterfall is about 15-20 minutes drive from the town center. It was nice sitting by the waterfall under the towering pines and listen to the sound of rippling stream.

On our way back we were to see Khurpatal and sunset point. 

Khurpatal, Nainital, Kumaon, Uttarakhand
Khurpatal

The sun was nearing the horizon. So, we left the waterfall behind and arrived at the Sunset Point, which awaited us with a grand surprise. I peeped down the cliff to discover the scenery that swept me off my feet! The sun was about to hide behind the mountain and I could capture only the following image in poor light. 😦

“It’s almost impossible to watch a sunset and not DREAM” – I read this quote somewhere. When we were watching the sunset at Khurpatal these lines occurred to my mind … so true!

Sunset, Nainital, Lake District, Kumaon, Uttarakhand
Sunset at Nainital

Nainital Zoo, official name Pt. Govind Ballabh Pant Zoo, is one of India’s few high-altitude zoos. Here you will get a hint of Kumaon’s rich flora and fauna. Be prepared for a face-to-face meeting with some of Himalaya’s rare animal species such as snow leopard and black bear. In addition, there is leopard, Siberian tiger, wolf and wide variety of birds.

Leopard at the zoo, Almora, Nainital, Uttarakhand
A leopard at the zoo
Adventure, Paragliding, Bhimtal, Kumaon, Uttarakhand
Paragliding – Image: skybirdadventures.com

#4 Paragliding

This one is for adventure lovers. If you have a strong heart and feel the urge to fly like a bird go for paragliding at Bhimtal. The cost for a single trip is Rs 1500 per person. I thought I need some more time to gather the courage to take up the flight. However, here is a glimpse of the Bhimtal paragliding site for your perusal … 😉

Paragliding site, Bhimtal, Nainital, Uttarakhand, Kumaon
Paragliding site near Bhimtal

#5 Shopping

Even if you are travelling on a budget, shopping is UNAVOIDABLE.

To me, shopping is a part of travelling, especially in a place like Nainital where you’ll find so many things worth buying. The mall road is lined with stores offering woolens, candles, woodcrafts and ornaments. There were trendy woolen caps, scarves, stoles, ponchos, cardigans and jackets for kids, women and men. Price for women’s caps range from Rs 100 to 500 depending on the knit quality and design of the items.

However, I could not resist buying a few sets of woolen cap and neck-scarf for my sister and me.

woolen cap and neck-scarf, Shopping in Nainital
My new woolen cap and neck-scarf

Well… how do you like my new accessories?

The Mall Road leads to the main chowk (‘market’ in vernacular term), flanked by a Gurdwara and Nayna Devi Temple at one side and a Mosque and a Church on the other. The chowk is the recreational center of Nainital town. There were Tibetan and Cashmere stores as well in the main market.

Nainital is also famous for candles. You’ll find a variety of candles at the stores. In fact, candle making is an art here. Diwali was round the corner and I bought some colorful pieces of candles as a souvenir to take back home.

Eating in Nainital

After shopping we had some snacks (Aloo Tikki) and a cup of hot chocolate from a street-side eatery. There is no dearth of food outlets in Nainital – from full-service multi-cuisine restaurants to small street-side food stalls there is something for every budget. You’ll get a list of eateries in Nainital here. If you want to relish a cup of coffee in the afternoon while enjoying the view of Naini Lake Café Coffee Day on the Mall Road would be the right place for you.

Just like every good thing has an end, our Nainital exploration came to an end and we left for Kausani the next morning. But deep inside my heart I felt an urge to coming back in the city of lakes someday.

To be continued … 🙂