Misty Mountains Jhaltola - Finding Oneself

Misty Mountains Jhaltola - Finding Oneself

We need to lose ourselves amidst nature before we can really find ourselves. Finding yourself in The Misty Mountains resort, Jhaltola is as easy as it gets. I use the term ‘resort’ very loosely here of course – it is more a collection of cottages built around a common dining area. Don’t get me wrong – I actually mean this in a good way. The cottages are all arranged such that they have uninhibited views of the Nanda Devi range, have ample privacy and really leave you with no cause for complaint!

We’d thoroughly enjoyed our stay at the Club Mahindra Corbett Resort. The brilliantly cold weather had worked wonders for us all. We now eagerly looked forward to getting to the Misty Mountains Jhaltola since it is at a much higher altitude of nearly 2000Mtrs and promised to be colder. The kids were super – excited hearing that it had snowed in Jhaltola the previous week. Apparently, there was still a fair bit of the white stuff to play with. 

On the eve of our departure, I called Madhur Chhabra, the owner, to check on the route etc. The conversation went something like this:

He: Are you coming from Kathgodam?

Me: No. We’ve driven down from Mumbai and are at Corbett currently. We’ll be coming from there

He: What time do you plan on leaving?

Me: Around 6 in the morning

He: That should be fine. You’ll get here around 5 in the evening. Make sure you’re here no later than that

Me: Sure, but why?

He: The last 3KMS is on a muddy path that turns to black ice when the temperature drops to 0, which is around 5 every evening

Me: We have a Pajero, Creta and an Innova. Hope these cars will make it up fine?

He: The Pajero will. The Creta might. The Innova won’t. Once you reach Raiagar, give me a call and I’ll send my man down in our 4WD jeep. He will get the luggage and occupants of the Innova. The other two cars can follow him

Me: One last thing. Hope you guys have heaters in the rooms?

He: Yes. And electric blankets. How are you finding the weather in Corbett?

Me: Very cold. We’re loving it.

He: Well, in that case I suggest you carry at least two thermals per person with some very warm jackets. If you think Corbett is cold, it’s way colder over here

Me: Don’t worry. We’re all geared up. Just ensure the rooms have heaters

He: That they do

Me: Great, see you tomorrow then

While the conversation was innocuous on the face of it, the one thing that struck me was the man didn’t bat an eyelid when I said we’d driven down from Mumbai. Evidently, he was used to people doing such things, which was great. 

Getting to Misty Mountains, Jhaltola

Paying heed to Madhur’s warnings, we left sharp at 0600HRS the next morning. The resort chaps were kind enough to give us some packed sandwiches and fruits. The route took us back past Ramnagar, towards Haldwani along SH 41. A drive of 40kms brings you to Kaladhungi, where you turn left onto NH 109. This bypasses Nainital to get you on towards Jhaltola, where the Misty Mountains is located. The roads are pretty good, a far cry from the state they were in when I last visited Uttarakhand in 2008. 

By 0800HRS we were way past Nainital and decided to halt for breakfast. A little outside a village called Ghorakhal, we stumbled across a small shop built on a curve of the highway. It had a large wooden table & rudimentary benches set up alongside it. The shop was actually on the terrace of a house, which in its turn was built into the side of the mountain. The couple running the establishment lived there. They were more than happy to allow us use of their table to sit and eat and access to their home for the ladies to use the washroom.

Breakfast break
The kids exulting at the chance to stretch their legs, and excited at the prospect of seeing snow soon


Sanju promptly invited them to share our breakfast, which they were happy to do after shyly refusing a couple of times. The man, Rawat, made brilliant cups of tea for us and Maggi for the kids, which we all downed with the sandwiches and fruit that the Mahindra guys were kind enough to give us. After a happy meal (not the Mcdonalds variety – the real stuff!), we paid Rawat for his hospitality and continued on our way. 

NH 109 is the main arterial road through the Kumauni belt of Uttrakhand. It connects key towns from Haldwani to Nainital, Almora, Jageshwar, Jhaltola and onwards. For the most part, it is a fairly well – paved 2 – lane highway. It makes its way up and down the lower Himalayas, steadily gaining altitude from Haldwani as you go deeper into the mountains. The road winds its way through the ruggedly beautiful mountain passes, with quaint bridges snaking over thundering rivers as you make your way from one range to another.

Google maps soon told us that we’d left the other two cars behind by about 20 minutes. This was a lot considering we left together post breakfast and had only been going for about an hour or so post that! A couple of phone calls revealed that Dipika, the 8 year old traveling in Sanju and Simran’s Creta, had been throwing up in regular intervals of 30 minutes. Consequently they had to stop repeatedly and not go too fast when they were moving. We slowed down for Aditya and Shradha’s hired Innova to catch up with us, and after a quick smoke break, continued on our way. Sanju followed at the best pace he could. All the way till Almora the road steadily wound its way up, gaining about 1000 meters in altitude over a distance of 135KMS.

NH 109 makes its way through Almora and though the going is slow because of the traffic, you actually don’t mind the drive. Unlike a Shimla or Dehradun, Almora still retains its old world charm, not ripped away by ugly monstrosities that have sprung up in the name of modernization. The buildings are quaint, town largely clean and though the traffic gets a little unruly at times, I was thoroughly impressed to see efficient – looking policemen manning key junctions and ensuring there were no snarls. Given the topography of the town and the fact that a national highway goes right through it, this is no mean task!

By 1130HRS we were past Almora and crossing the ranges that house Jageshwarji and the Binsar valley. So far, ours was the only car that had made no ‘puke stops’ and we were reasonably thrilled with it. Suddenly, Aditya announced “Papa vomit is coming.” Without so much as a by – your – leave, he threw up on the passenger door on the right of the car. So much for gloating! We stopped to clean up, which gave Sanju enough time to catch up with us.

Luckily for everyone, Addy had chosen a very picturesque spot for ‘vomit to come’. Everyone made the most of the unscheduled halt, meandering down the valley, taking pictures etc. The fact that it did take us the better part of thirty minutes and about 10 liters of water to clean the car and make it bearable to sit and travel in it meant that everyone got a welcome break to stretch their legs!

By 1215HRS or thereabouts we were on our way once again, driving down (actually, driving up) NH 109. We soon passed the Shree Shree Maa Anandamayee Ashram (no clue who that is, but the ashram looked very serene from where we were), and Khankari Gunth, a small village. It being 1300HRS by then, close to Sanju’s curfew hour for lunch, we stopped at a dhaba bang on the highway for a meal. Again, this was constructed on a sharp curve as the road ascending up a mountain, and the dhaba – actual was on the terrace of a house built into the side of the mountain.

On the menu was a thaali consisting of saag, curry, papad, roti, chawli and rice. The other choice was Maggi. We each had a thaali with a couple of Maggi’s thrown in for good measure. Like the kids hadn’t had enough of it so far! The food was brilliant. And I don’t say this because we were hungry. It was actually fantastic. Simple, wholesome and home – cooked, with the colours, flavours and freshness of every ingredient simply bursting out at you. 

At lunch, Simran’s mom asked “Young man, how much longer to Misty Mountains Jhaltola?” It took me a moment to realize she was talking to me. “Who else will I ask? Are you not the group leader?” I wanted to tell her that I only wrote the blogs but thought the better of it. No point arguing with an army officer’s wife, especially one who addressed you brusquely as ‘young man.’ I don’t remember when I was called that!

“I think around 70KMS or so aunty. 2 to 3 hours I should say.” I replied.

“What do you mean ‘you think’? What kind of a navigator are you? There is a huge difference between 70 and 90!” she said dismissively.

“I mean I don’t have access to the map right now, and nor do I know exactly where we’ve stopped. So it’s a little difficult to estimate how much more we have to travel exactly.”

“I wonder how you’ve done all these earlier road trips you claim!” she snorted, going back to her curry and rice. I looked up to see Sanju and Simran smiling wickedly at me, as if to say ‘gotcha’ as I sheepishly grinned back at them.

“Bhai what saag is this? It isn’t sarson, nor palak or methi,” I asked the chap running the dhaba to change the topic.

“It is called saag. That is all I know. In the winters the entire mountain – side is full of them,” he announced. Before I could react to this strange revelation, Simran’s mom interjected, “This is a wild herb that grows in these mountains. All the locals eat it during the winters. Very high on minerals and creates good body heat during the cold,” she said, getting up to wash up after her lunch.

“Dad was posted in Munsiyari for almost 5 years, that’s how mom knows all this, and this region pretty well,” explained Simran, laughing at my bewilderment.

A drive through heaven


The drive from this point on took a whole new turn, literally speaking. So far, we had thought the drive was through beautiful landscape. That was nothing compared to what we were now going through. Traffic was reduced to a stray vehicle every hour or so. The road was a black ribbon winding through a canopy of firs, birch and other trees, revealing glimpses of the Nanda Devi range on the one side, and towering mountains on the other. There was a cold, pleasant nip in the air.

Driving to Jhaltola in Uttarakhand
En route to Jhaltola

For once even Avantika was quiet, staring at the awe – inspiring sight out of the car windows. Her not constantly prattling on about something or the other was itself worth the drive. If life can get any better, I’m not aware of how! The late afternoon sun peeped in through the canopy of leaves above the road, dappling the windscreen with sunlight. Whenever we could glimpse it, the Nandadevi range looked truly spectacular. There were times when we thought we could almost reach out and touch the snow – capped peaks. An optical illusion of course, very real, nonetheless.

By 1600HRS we were at the Raiagar village, which from Misty Mountains Jhaltola is a quick 5KMS away. We called Madhur and he promised that the car would be waiting for us at the base of the mountain that houses his property. A 15 minute drive got us to another small hamlet, where a Mahindra Marshall 4WD was waiting for us. Aditya quickly had his bags transferred to the Marshall and we proceeded towards the resort. It was still only 1630HRS, and we were comfortably within the time – limit specified by Madhur. What he hadn’t told us, was how treacherous the drive up was, even without the danger of black ice!

The excitement all begins, when you get off the main road to the private road leading to the property. To start with, the ‘main road’ is a single lane mountain road, though not too bad. The turn off is essentially a climb up at a 30 degree+ incline along a mud path. Between the main road and the mountain path is a 3 feet wide crevice, spanned by two slabs of granite. These are vaguely placed approximately where the wheels of a car are likely to be.

Driving up the mud road to Misty Mountains Jhaltola
The Pajero gamely makes her way up the mountain to Misty Mountains Jhaltola


This effectively means that not only do you have to aim your vehicle such that both front wheels get onto their respective slabs of granite, but you also have to line it up such that the rear wheels follow in an exact straight line. Considering the turn – off itself is a ‘turn – off’, it takes some nifty maneuvering of the vehicle to accomplish this!

Madhur’s driver of course had no problems, and simply thundered onto the mountain path. I gingerly aimed the Pajero, and made it without any issue too. Thankfully, so did Simran who followed behind in the Creta. From thereon, it was simply a question of navigating hairpin bends at an incline of 30 to 35 degrees, on boulder – strewn mud paths pretending to be a road, barely wide enough for the Marshall, let alone the Pajero, with a sheer drop on one and forbidding walls on the other side. I loved it. 

The Creta got stuck on more than one occasion, with Simran having to allow it to roll back a few meters, before torqueing up the steeper inclines or parts where the mud afforded less traction. With the Pajero, despite it being a 2WD, we faced no such problem. This was thanks largely to two factors. One is the powerful diesel mill she runs on with very high low – end torque. The other is the fact that she’s a real wheel drive. So even if the front wheels lost traction, the rear one’s had enough bite to simply push her through.

For kicks, I would simply bring the car to a complete halt at the steeper inclines, and then rev the engine to see if she would start up the steep hill from a dead – stop. Each time the Pajero responded admirably, simply picking up from where she’d left off. Absolutely brilliant fun driving up to the Misty Mountains!

The Misty Mountains Jhaltola

Madhur came out to greet us as we reached the property. An unassuming, bearded gentleman, with eyes that gleamed with intelligence and depth that only comes to those that are in the habit of looking ahead way into the distance – like a mountain. He had Raju escort us to the rooms, and promised to send in some tea and pakoras, figuring we’d need some nourishment after the long day’s drive. By the time we made our way to the rooms, it was nearing night, and had gotten very, very cold. Thankfully, the cottage was equipped with a warm sigri with blazing coals on it, warming up the room.

Posing at the Misty Mountains Jhaltola
Catching the sunset upon our arrival


Madhur had allotted one family cottage and two smaller cottages to us. The family cottage is a double – storied unit. It comprises of three bedrooms with en suite bathrooms and a large living area. The one we had was also equipped with a small attic room, which can easily accommodate 3 children or two adults. Overall, it had a capacity of 8 adults and a few kids thrown in for good measure. The smaller cottages meanwhile comprised of two bedrooms and one bathroom. Again, cozy and comfortable for a small family. Everything was solid and well – built, comfortable and very homely.

We allowed the hot pakoras and tea to soak the cold out of our bones, before splitting to our respective rooms for a hot shower and change. Despite the temperature plunging below 0 by now, our bathroom pipes happily gushed with piping hot water from the resort’s solar tanks. The other cottages weren’t so lucky though. Raju, the man – Friday assisting Madhur, had to tramp up and down the mountainside ferrying buckets of hot water for them to bathe. Anyway, this out of the way, we once again assembled in the family cottage for a few pre – dinner drinks. Much needed given the long day and freezing weather.

Outside the cottage, Misty Mountains Jhaltola
Posing outside one of our cottages


Dinner was served in the main restaurant / kitchen area. This was a relatively new addition to the Misty Mountains Jhaltola when we were visiting. The dining area is a small room covered with glass walls on three sides, and a warm, welcoming open kitchen on the fourth. The meal was outstanding, if I may say so. Comprising of parathas, black dal, aloo gobi and a chicken curry, it hit the spot. The highlight though was the assortment of homemade pickles and condiments. I didn’t even know that half the vegetables in those pickles could be pickled!

Sigri to warm the rooms
Our constant companion throughout the stay at Misty Mountains Jhaltola

We wrapped up by 2145HRS, snuggling in for the night. We were to be at the Misty Mountains Jhaltola for 4 nights, and couldn’t wait for the morn to start exploring the place.

Reading next

Club Mahindra at Corbett National Park
Discovering Gangolihat & Pithoragarh




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