A second trip to the mountains followed quickly on the heels of the first one. This year has been pretty good to us on the travel front, rivalling 2007, our best travel year, when we managed 7 holidays in 6 months! I think we went a little crazy that year, though :)
Anyhow, I digress. Ignorant me had always assumed that Kumaon and Garhwal were one and the same place. No reason why I should have assumed this, I never bothered to find out and I just did. Kumaon (or Kumaon mandal - it's an administrative division), occupies roughly the eastern half of Uttarakhand and comprises six of the thirteen districts in the state. The other seven are part of the Garhwal mandal. We went to the Nainital district of Kumaon, very accessible both by road and train from New Delhi. Apparently the temperature was a salubrious (relatively speaking, since Gurgaon is staying put at 43 degrees!) and sunny 33 degrees or so just the day before we landed. We were lucky to get a couple of cloudy days and some intermittent rain which led to some gorgeous weather. I cannot explain the joy of the cool breeze caressing one's face when all one has been used to for a few months is the hot loo!!
We stayed in Bhimtal, where our hotel was, in complete opposition to its website and tripadvisor reviews - quite a sad piece of work. My research skills has not been up to the mark this time and I was a little down and out about it :) The only redeeming feature of the so-called resort was the terrific views it commanded of the lake, especially from our room. Bhimtal is supposed to be a place where Bhima visited and stayed during the period of the Pandavas 13-year exile. It's a quiet peaceful little town with a lovely lake at it's center.
All we did on the day we landed was saunter down to the lake (a good 2 km walk), go on a boat-ride and horse ride, have some hot yummy simple grub and return to our hotel. The next day, we headed to Mukteshwar, which at around 7000 ft has one of the highest elevations in the region. On the way, we passed through lush tea estates, delectable fruit orchards (apricots, plums, peaches, apples, jamuns) and mountainsides laden with oak, pine and cedar. It was an amazing sight for our jaded city eyes to see trees bending over with the weight of fresh fruit and ripe fruits fallen to the ground, to be had for the asking. At Mukesthwar, the views of the Himalayas were impressive and apparently one could view the Nanda Devi from there on a clear day.
We visited a really interesting temple enroute to Mukteshwar, called the Golu Devta temple, at GhoraKal. Golu Devta is a local god, an incarnation of Shiva. The temple is very small, clean and distinguished by the thousands of bells strung everywhere. Bells tied by devotees, attached to little chits of papers with supplications and prayers scribbled all over them, little bells, large bells, humoungous bells....it was incredibly pretty!
Our enthusiasm for the day's travels was tempered by a bad bout of road-sickness which affected both the kids. They have been on so many road trips, several of them on winding mountain roads and never seemed to be bothered by road sickness. I'd relaxed into the comfort of thinking they had not picked up this particular gene from me. Alas, it seems I celebrated too soon!
Our last day brought us the best views and the Oooh! Wow! moments - Sattal and Naukuchiatal are two other freshwater lakes in the region which are really really pretty. Sattal is the lowest-lying of the lakes (it's actually 7 lakes, hence the name) and this is our first view of it as we were scooting downhill. Divine, isn't it? :)
Lunch was had on the banks serene banks of Naukuchiatal. Some pre-lunch pebble-throwing and tree-climbing activities were of course a mandatory part of the excursion, for the kids and dad!
The verdict? The part of Uttarakhand we saw was very very pretty. The Himalayas, even the lower ranges, are nothing if not arrestingly picturesque. Emerald calm waters and a soothing breeze blowing off the lakes cooled us down on an otherwise sultry day. I suppose the weather gods were upping the mercury a bit to remind us of what lay waiting for us back home :) A short but relaxing holiday in a scenic setting - that was our Kumaon rhapsody.