The ‘hill-station’, that entity which promised us pine forests, log huts and cognac, is an outdated species. Civilization has left us with a more practical version called the ‘hill-city’, which is an elevated hub of commerce and construction. Is it time to bid goodbye to old, romantic visions of a wilderness interlude and make our peace with this new avatar that may be unattractive but comes with wi-fi and pizza? It’s not like someone can issue a direct court order to civilization asking it to stop right there. Or can they? That’s exactly what happened to a huge swath of forestland about 33km from Almora, Uttarakhand.
Once you enter the Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary (Rs 150 per person/ 250 per vehicle) it’s as if you’ve entered another era – almost like a ‘freeze frame’ button got pressed on some cosmic remote control. Slivers of sunlight barely penetrate the thick pine forest cover as you drive up and the chances of spotting wild animals and birds is higher than chances of seeing a human being.
Days here are spent taking long, unplanned walks along the ridge and its meandering trails, hunting for snow views and picnicking at Zero Point – where stalwarts like Nandadevi, Trishul and Panchakuli stand at attention as part of a majestic 300km range. The forest is a mystical, magical being that can be best interpreted through a guide/naturalist (Rs 400 for half day/ Rs 800 full day). They will point out wild herbs and flowers that can break kidney stones and cure diabetes and help you identify tracks of the kakkar (barking deer) or goral (mountain goat) or even catch a glimpse of the mighty leopard himself.
There are those who plan a visit here as a day trip and then there are those who stay inside this cocoon of solitude. For the more outdoorsy type, Binsar Retreat offers eco-friendly luxury tents that leave no barrier between you and the wild but if you don’t want to be quite so brave, there is the Grand Oak Manor, which has the best location in the sanctuary and oodles of history but is plagued by maintenance issues. But the jackpot, the big treat in this region is the Mary Budden Estate – an old estate of two beautiful cottages featuring silk upholstery, vintage fireplaces and three course dinners.
Whether you visit the Sanctuary in high style or low fuss, you will realize that no other hill retreat will ever come close to this enchanted experience and no matter how many years down the line you return, the Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary will continue living in the past long after you’ve raced into the future.
- Binsar is a great back-to-nature experience for children without the ordeal and inconvenience that comes with the outdoors.
- Good books or back-lit reading device is a good idea if you’re staying at the tents.
- Do not travel without a sturdy pair of walking shoes, the area is best explored on foot.
- Do not walk around the forest after dusk or leave children unattended – leopards are not a legend here.
Sharan spends her time writing and traveling, and when the stars align she gets paid to do both together. She has authored two Lonely Planet Guides and several features for Lonely Planet Magazine as well been a contributing writer on firstpost.com. She had just finished writing her first novel and blogs on www.antsinherpants.com.
To know more about Binsar, and indeed about many many more interesting places around Delhi check out our Short Escapes from Delhi.