A good night’s rest makes such a difference to perspective. The night before, all I could think of was how crowded and unattractive Nainital was – even without the tourists it is a wobbly child’s lego city of three storey houses crowded together in space designed for a tenth of them. And how the Ayar jungle camp was a dingy little hole inconveniently located on unmotorable road. But with the morning, I saw that 4 kilometres above the unbelievable bustle, Nainital had bothered to let alone a densely wooded jungle with an abundance of flora and fauna. In the summers, it was cold and all clean, fresh air and birdsong. In the winters (as per the staff and the pictures) it was snowed in and tigers and leopards still called on the tops of the hills. The cottages I had been so dissatisfied with were found to be eco friendly constructions, made without driving in a single nail. The uphill walks that had left me so frustrated the night before had resulted in me getting a good night’s sleep and feeling fresh and fit the next morning. They had some adventure activities too on the agenda. The kids and dads had a grand time scrambling about looking for caves. Except for the indiscriminate use of plastic in the cafeteria, all, as far as I was concerned, was forgiven.
The place really was not as much a family hotel as a camp for adventurous young people. With bonfire, frisbee, rock climbing and I think late night drinking. That sort of place.
But also untouched and beautiful.
After checking out, we planned to visit the Kilbury bird sanctuary. Unfortunately the road was chock-a-block with cars coming in both directions, cars parked on one side of the road and people taking selfies. After going for a few kilometres we gave up and returned to Nainital. From what I saw on these hills later in the trip, I’m sure the loss was all mine!
The last time I had visited Nainital had been as a six year old with my parents. We had travelled by bus and roamed around in rickshaws. We had also gone boating and fed the ducks. I wanted the kids to experience some of that so we headed for the lake.
Nainital boats are quite shallow and don’t look as safe as those in Ooty or Yercaud. We were given lifejackets but friends of mine told me that they had not got any. The ducks too were all on the shore and not swimming in the lake and asking to be fed as I remembered. But the tourists were leaving and the abandoned waters were a joy.
My son was thirsty after the boat ride and while looking for a place I could get water, I saw a small store selling organic produce and squashes. Figuring that a place that sold squashes would also stock water, I went in. But here I was wrong. They did not in fact sell water but were nice enough to give my son some from their own supplies. I browsed the place as a return of courtesy and was pleased to see some nice preservative free jams and also ‘Bhat’.
A break here for digression. My husband’s family are hillfolk. I had heard that term often enough in Corbett’s books but it was not till I met my husband that I realized what a literal translation that was. The people of Kumaon and Garhwal are referred to in Hindi as ‘pahadis’ – the hill people. And have a culture very distinct from what most of us from the south of the Vindhyas recognize as North Indian. Anyway, ‘Bhat’ or black soya bean is not freely available or used in cooking anywhere but in the hilly parts of Northern India. It also happens to be my husband’s favorite food. I thought I would post a link to a recipe but none of the ones I found online is quite how my mom in law taught me to prepare this. This recipe comes closest. Maybe once I am done with the rest of my Kumaon stories, I will put up my own family recipes of bhat ki churdkani and dubka. Anyway, aside over!
By the time we were done with lunch, Nainital had been fully cleansed of the tourist influx. Sitting on benches on Mall road, we took in the sun, lazed and ate ice creams. No one seemed in much of a hurry to get to Ramgarh which was next on our list.
By the time we finally reached, it was almost 5:30 and getting cold. But on arrival at the Ramgarh bungalows, all exhaustion vanished on seeing the lovely Ashok Vatika which is where we were to stay. A colonial bungalow perched on top of a hillock all by itself and surrounded by orchards.
Neemrana have refurbished it but let the old charm be.
The view from my room looked something like this:
We were charmed. The children began climbing trees and generally rampaging around. We were content to walk around the estate. I saw an abundance of flowers. I saw a plum bush and imagined Jim Corbett as a child hiding in one to get a bird when a tiger walked out and looked at him with the ‘Kid, what are you about’ look in his eye. I saw the bushes described by my in laws as ‘sisaund’ which were known for the terrible rashes they gave people and figured they were the nettles that had bothered Corbett during his hunts. I saw the birds and the hills and was at peace. This was what I had come for. Finally, like a pilgrim finding Mecca, I was in Corbett land!