As far as hill-station credentials go, the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand lies on top of the list for Delhi’s summer-sapped travellers. But over the years it has become over trodden, with tourists flocking the known places like Nainital, Bhimtal and Binsar. In search of seclusion we came to know about Banlekhi.
Banlekhi village lies about 40 km from the main node of Kumaon, Kathgodam. We were prepared to jostle with other weekend travellers in the train, as long as we would not be part of any taxi cavalcade heading to Mukteshwar, Bhimtal or Binsar, and other expected places off Kathgodam. Thankfully from Bhimtal, the turnoff looked promising. Ancient oak and pine trees filtered the afternoon sunlight on the smooth grey tarmac that wended between them. Windows rolled down; we enjoyed the cool breeze hitting our faces. Not a single car other than ours graced the road. Terraced fields dotted with sluggish but content cows greeted us at our eventual destination, Banlekhi village.
Also Read: Best places to visit in May
On the tip of the highest hill was the namesake guesthouse – our pad for the weekend. The afternoon’s sun had already diminished and a grey veil of clouds shrouded the hill, keeping the view under wraps. After settling into our cottages, we sank into the easy chairs of the verandah, clutching chai cups, waiting for the curtain of clouds to be lifted.
As if precisely timed like a movie-show, the clouds swiftly scattered, revealing the 180-degree view of tree-clad mountains and deep valleys between them. To be in striking visual distance to the high snow-capped Himalayan peaks is the biggest charm visiting Kumaon. But Banlekhi’s draw lay in their absence. The village was on top of its elemental game – tall pine trees poking out of the hills and clouds dodging them in fear of getting trapped.
The hills are blessed with whimsical friends – rain, clouds and sunshine. As we woke up to the sound of birds, the scene was a perfect mélange of all. In a complete ‘back to nature’ view, the grey clouds still mingled with the trees, but the mountain tips were bathed in the yellow glow of the morning sun. The most dramatic touch was infused by a clear rainbow stretching from one end of the hills, arching over the entire valley, and lodging its feet on the other side.
The sun kept us company to Bhalu Ghad waterfalls, 12km from the village. Despite the blazing sun, only the brave-hearted walked under the chilly water of the fall, waxing eloquent about ‘au naturel’ massage on their backs.
The evening was reserved for a short walk behind the cottages to the edge of the Mahesh Khan Reserve Forest, from where the sunset is exceptionally beautiful. Sunlight has a speedy demise in the hills, so we had to trudge quickly to see the dipping sun. We capped the day with a whole minute of seeing it sink behind the silhouetted mountains, casting an orange-blue glow in the sky. These 60 seconds were a close contestant to the sharp rainbow of the morning and left us with memories for life.
It is totally worth the while to take a short break and cool off in the Kumaon hills.
Some home-run accommodations in Kumaon:
Winter Cherry Cottage – The home-run cottage with two rooms is the perfect to sit in the verandah and gaze at dreamy upland vistas.
(www.facebook.com/WinterCherryCottage; Village Buri Bana, Mukteswar-Kumaon; 9899085648)
Himalaica- Stretch in the leafy garden at Shalini and Uttam’s holiday home in Bhowali. Raja, Lama and Cyber are great company if you’re a dog lover.
(www.himalaica.com; Village Shyamkhet, Bhowali-Ramgarh Road, Ramgarh Block; 9811908996)
The Dak Bungalow – Standing in the Kumaon Hills since 1905, The Dak Bungalow has an easy vintage charm about it.
(North Gola Range; 09719816154)