Winter’s best kept secret is a trip to Binsar in Uttarakhand, its Kumaoni homestays and the view of the snow-capped Himalayas.
Uttrakhand offers swathes of snow, picture postcard vignettes of white landscapes and thick forest covered mountain ranges with trekking and birding options in charming colonial homestays and resorts.
Opt for off the beaten track, snug places to park yourself with a hot drink and watch the snow bring its silver curtains down on one of the most stunning panoramas of the Himalayan peaks in Binsar like Nanda Devi, Trishul, Shivling and Kedarnath Peak.
Binsar Widlife Sanctuary offers superb views and is the right spot for some peace and quiet. The former capital of Chand kings of the 11th century and a preferred location for the Raj’s residents, Binsar’s quiet charm is hard to resist. There are proper roads and pathways up the forest ranges that are best for trekking and long walks.
It’s home to many wildlife species including leopards, barking deers, mountain goats, porcupines, foxes, langurs among others. It’s a haven for birding with over 200 bird species like magpies, laughing thrush and forktails.
Spread over 47 sq km, the sanctuary is preserved with strict rules about electricity and laying pipes for water etc. The homestays and resorts keep it natural by relying on solar power and mountain water. Local naturalists and well-informed guides make for good company to accompany you on the treks and walks and show you the flora and fauna. Pines, oaks, rhododendrons, Himalayan herbs and shrubs and barks are also used by local communities to make body oils, bathing bars and organic cosmetics.
Located inside the sanctuary is Bineshwar Mahadev Temple, set in a lowlying grassland surrounded by pine forests. The 16th-century temple’s twin white domes with orange tiny awnings make a striking contrast to the emerald pine forests around.
Simba’s Cafe is named after the friendly canine and is slap-bang opposite the Bineshwar Mahadev Temple. It’s a good place to gather after a long trek, with a steaming cup of coffee or a hot bowl of noodles that is a favourite here.
From fresh seasonal vegetables, lentils, beans and fish and mutton that are characteristic of Kumaon and Gharwali, Binsar’s resorts have local cooks who dish out homespun fare.
The 19th century Grand Oak Manor speaks for the history of old Kumaon and is Binsar’s sweet spot to stay. The former summer home of Sir Henry Ramsay, complete with a tiny white chapel, has now passed to Almora’s family of Lal Sah Gangola and is under their care.
The additional perk is the trek up to Zero Point. This is the highest point of Binsar in the sanctuary at about 2408m. A two hour trek will offer a stunning 350km panorama of the Himalayan peaks. You can even spot Kumaon’s Panchachuli and Nepal’s Machapuchare and Annapurana on a clear day. Also called Jhandidhar, Zero Point is a robust trek that is worth it if your lungs and legs are in good shape.