Nothing is more rewarding for city dwellers than the opportunity to take off for the serene and bracing environment of the hills. While the lower reaches of the Himalayas boast of numerous hill-stations, each prettier than the other, there are still many others that remain off the oft-visited track. One such place that lies at just an hour’s drive from the popular hill town of Mukteshwar is Satoli- a small, pretty village nestling in the majestic hills of Kumaon.
Zipping past the sleepy towns of Rampur and Gajrola, as the climb towards Satoli starts, the air turns clear, crisp and blissfully cool. It’s a pretty-as-a-picture cottage named after a lone partridge that caught the owner’s eye when he first visited.
Time seems to stand still as we sit around enjoying the sights and sounds of the rain, stepping outside when it takes a respite to gaze at the snow peaked Himalayan ranges in the far distance and lush-green forested valley right opposite as the ever-changing shapes of flaky clouds keep unveiling their myriad charms. And then suddenly, as a bit of sunlight peeks through the clouds, a rainbow appears — a perfect icing on the cake, especially for those from the metros who might have forgotten when they last spotted one on their cityscape.
It was time now to set out, take a walk and get a feel of the place. We had heard of a local NGO that’s not just providing medical services to people in Satoli and its neighbouring villages but also offering employment to the locals to create organic products. Needless to say, we sure were tempted to pick up a few things for the home and as gifts for friends.
Collecting pine-cones on the way, our companion points to some polyhouses created by enterprising residents to grow vegetables even when the weather is not too conducive for them. We walk into one and are surprised to find quite a variety of healthy veggies like cauliflowers and lady fingers ready to be plucked.
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Another must-do is the drive towards the stretch where you can walk down and sit close to the waters of the River Kosi. Admiring the mountainous vistas and rain-soaked lush valleys covered with dense pine and oak forests is a divine experience.
Among the many shrines dedicated to Lord Shiva, who many consider the presiding deity of the hills, is Mukteshwar that lies just an hour’s drive away. Housing a white marble Shivalinga, the temple is believed to be over 350 years old and stands atop a hillock 2,312m above sea level.
We make a stop at the beautiful Indian Veterinary Research Institute that unfortunately, is out of bounds for visitors. The place, however, boasts of playing host to the Nobel Prize winner Dr Robert Koch who had stayed here for a while in the year 1897. The instruments used by the scientist when he visited the campus, we are told, are being carefully preserved in the Veterinary Science Museum here.
How to get there: One can get to Satoli by road from Delhi – a journey that takes about eight hours. Kathgodam, two and half hours away, is the nearest rail point and Pantnagar, three and half hours away, the nearest airport. Taxis are available but it’s wise to book them in advance.
Accommodation: One Partridge Hill and Dak Bungalow in Satoli. Accommodation is also available in Mukteshwar and Almora
Places to eat: Quaint dhabas offering the staple of the hills – tea and Maggi, Chandi Matti and One Partridge Hill (if not staying there, you need to place your order in advance). Sitla, about 20 minutes away is another option.