Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Kausani, in Himalayan view

Kausani Range View
For most travel lovers from Delhi, a trip to the hills is a favorite weekend getaway. A long break at the year end offered us the perfect timeout. Nainital was our original intent, but Kausani came much recommended from colleagues.

We started off on a wintery thursday morning, with dense fog covering quite a bit out of the route out of Delhi. The traffic was sparse. We crossed Ghaziabad and Garmukteshwar rapidly and reached Moradabad by late morning.

Going from past experience, we decided to take the Kaladhungi route to Nainital, as it was quite scenic and well paved the last time I drove. Little did I know that the road was being paved, and came across the worst road I have ever seen. Over a period of 3hrs we covered approximately 10 kms, bumping over stone of every size and type - the poor car received many a beating.

The climb from Kaladhungi to Nainital was quite scenic though, with coniferous forests covering the route. We reached Nainital around late lunchtime and quickly checked into our hotel near the lake. Nainital has quite a few narrow winding climbs, and despite all my driving experience, landed a bad gash to the car that I badly regret.

Nainital was cold. Freezing cold. The mall road was lit up, but few tourists sauntered around the streets. We quickly made our way across the market, looking to buy a few souveniers. A friend had asked for some wax creations. We were surprised to learn that wax is a major produce of the region, with exquisite wax creations unlike anything we've seen anywhere before.

Next day, we got off to a late brunch, savoring the steaming hot maggi, bread pakodas and steaming tea served around the lake. A walk around the lake added to the sense of joi de vivre.

The standard road to Kausani from Nainital goes via Almora, but a recent landslide had made the route untenable. So we took the alternative longer route, via Ranikhet.

Ranikhet is an active cantonment town, with well paved roads and a beautiful view of the Nanda Devi range. The drive from Ranikhet to Kausani feels like a drive to nowhere, with winding narrow roads that cut across river valleys and sleepy village hamlets. Yet no doubt beautifully scenic.

We landed in Kausani after a 4 hour ride, only to realize that the hotel we had booked, advertised as an “eco-hut”, was just about that. A small hut. With a painfully long winding climb. And under construction.

Anashakti Ashram
All hotels seemed choc-a-block for New Years, but thankfully we found one with vacancy. Krishna Mountain View is a charming 3/4 star hotel with a brilliant view of the Himalayas, situated right next to the Anashakti Ashram. The Ashram was the abode of Gandhiji, when he wrote his treatise on the Anashakti yoga. A statue of his still stands in the Ashram, and is a major tourist spot in Kausani.

Next morning we did a quick hike up the mountain path bordering the hotel to reach a forest covered temple, that provided a sunny view of clear blue skies, cottony clouds, lush green trees, and brown mud tracks.

Kausani has a pretty shawl factory, where shawls are still made by hand. An old weaver patiently showed us the process explaining the warp and weft of the fabric. We were humbled by the amount of effort he put into each shawl, with each thread woven with great care.

Baijnath temples
We also made a quick trip to the Baijnath temple, stopping over at the tea gardens briefly enroute. The architecture of the temples resemble those in Puri and those in the South. The temples are eons old, said to have been built by the Pandavas, in honour of Lord Shiva.

After a good two day stay in Kausani, we decided to head back, taking the Ranikhet-Kathgodam route back. This route was clearly more scenic than the climb, with the road taking a circuitous mountain path, along the Corbett sanctuary. The road from Kathgodam to Moradabad is badly maintained, but not as abysmal as the route through Kaladhungi.

For those who plan to follow: Avoid the Kaladhungi route to Nainital. If going to Kausani, the Kathgodam route is the best bet. Kausani is a worthy visit if seeking peace and quiet, but it ain't no party place with just a few shops to keep busy. Krishna Mountain View is a great hotel, but may be a bit pricey - budget travellers may want to consider staying at the Ashram itself which seems well maintained. Finally, a navigation device like the MapMyIndia navigator we had is an invaluable asset to navigate the poorly mapped roads of the hills. God speed!
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