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Roadtrip to Binsar

Roadtrip to Binsar

Binsar Valley

 Mountains, forests, pretty hill stations – BINSAR has something to offer to everyone. If you are staying at the Club Mahindra Binsar Valley resort, accessibility to everything becomes that much easier! The Binsar sanctuary, Almora town, Kasar Devi and Bageshwar Dham are all within striking distance, promising an eventful 3-4 days.

Mother and son on a mountain slope

Trekking through the Binsar sanctuary

 

New Delhi to Binsar

Taking NH9 via Ghaziabad and Hapur is the shortest route to Binsar from New Delhi. The roads are uniformly smooth, and one can make good time. Although the distance is about 400Kms, with the last 100 odd kilometers through the mountains, the going is pretty good. Of course, one can also choose the Meerut route, however, that is longer and doesn’t make too much sense. Unless you fancy Meerut!

 

We left from the Holiday Inn at Aerocity at 0500Hrs on 27 December. In about five minutes, we were engulfed in debilitating fog and visibility was down to under 10 meters. Let alone street signs, even sighting the cars before us was a huge challenge. After making a few wrong turns, we finally got onto the route towards Ghaziabad. We were a convoy of four cars, however, thanks to the fog, it took all of ten minutes for us to get separated!

 

Despite the fog, we made good time and hit Haldwani by around 12 noon. As soon as we started ascending the lower Himalayas, the fog miraculously disappeared, making way for the sharp winter sun! Either road closures or the vagaries of Google maps meant we traversed through Nainital town. We’ve been to Nainital on several occasions during our roadtrips to Uttarakhand and I’ve always loved the town. Not this time though. The lack of winter rains meant Nainital looked dull, dusty and was surprisingly hot! For all those denying the existence of global warming, I strongly recommend a trip to the Himalayas! Even the most ardent naysayers will be forced to acknowledge that we’re at the mercy of unpredictable climate changes, a situation that appears to be worsening with each passing day.

 

We stopped for lunch at a village called Manrasa, in the main market. The place was crowded, as all mountain markets tend to be, and there was no dearth of dhabas to choose from. We settled on Kishan Dhaba, which for some strange reason was bustling with customers. After a short wait of fifteen minutes, we were served the ubiquitous thaali, with side portions of samosas and jalebi. I never cease to be amazed by the mind-blowing food one gets at the dhabas in North India. For a princely sum of RS. 550, four of us stuffed ourselves to the gills, and walked out with assorted packets of locally baked bread, biscuits and samosas.

 

We zipped through Almora, Kasar Devi and by 1600Hrs, after 11 hours on the road, got to the Club Mahindra Binsar Valley resort. Not bad, given the fog we had to contend with for nearly 300 of the 400Kms we had to travel!

 

Club Mahindra Binsar Valley

 This is supposed to be one of the marquee Club Mahindra resorts. From the outside, the place certainly doesn’t disappoint. It looks picture perfect, nestled on the side of a hill, with pretty cottages dotting the slopes, fronted by beautifully manicured grounds. The staff is courteous to a fault, and everything works as it should. The only downside is the interiors of the rooms.

We’d visited this property way back in 2011, when it was relatively new, and I had memories of a very tastefully made resort, with well-appointed, cozy rooms. I distinctly remember the cozy rugs that lined the floor, adding a lovely warmth to the rooms. Unfortunately, not anymore.

 

The rooms are downright rundown. All fixtures look dated, like they belong to an erstwhile ‘dak bungalow’. The lighting struggles to banish the night and the walls are in desperate need of a lick of some cheering paint. As for the flooring, for reasons best known to them, the management has banished anything that resembles a carpet or a rug, leaving bare, ugly tiles to greet you as you enter your living quarters. We’d booked a one-bedroom villa, with a nice balcony. The balcony though, wasn’t much use after dark. It only had a single, low-wattage bulb that added nothing to the ambience. If anything, lighting it up only made everything look even more dreary. Club Mahindra seriously needs to look at refurbishing the rooms. If I had to choose one word to describe them, it would regrettably be, PATHETIC. Given the steep membership fee they charge, upkeep of the rooms is basic hygiene that they need to maintain.

 

Other than that, like I mentioned, the staff are very courteous. The food is as good as one expects it to be, and everything works like clockwork. No complaints on that front. If you can get over the disappointing rooms, it’s not a bad property. Is it good value for money? Probably not.

Binsar – Things to Do

Binsar is a nice place for a 3-4 day trip. We were there for three days (including the day we got there) and decided to make the most of it.

The Chitai Life

Cottage in the mountains on a sunny winter morning

If you love the Himalayas and surrender to them, they bless you in their own way. Ritika and I are blessed to have met Mansi and Ashish Bhatt during our 2021 roadtrip, at Kausani. Our shared love for the mountains and pride in Kumaoni culture meant we stayed in touch, and this time around, ended up being guests at their beautiful homestay, The Chitai Life.

 Suffice to say, we spent a delightful afternoon, soaking in the ambience of the lovely bungalow and enjoying the most spectacular Kumaoni lunch we’ve ever had. All this, served up with the love and attention to detail that we’ve come to associate with our gracious hosts, Mansi and Ashish.

 

Couple in front of a cottage in the mountains

The cottage has massive windows, affording breathtaking views of the Himalayas from the comfort of one's armchair. Or bed!

 

The bungalow is nestled in a valley adjacent to the eponymous village, barely 4KMS from Almora zoo, and 8KMS from the heart of town. A mere 20-minute drive from the bustling Almora market gets you to The Chitai Life, surrounded by mountains and reserved forests on all four sides.

 

The bungalow is an ode to Mansi and Ashish’s love for the Kumaon mountains. As you enter the premises, you are greeted with a lovely lawn that seamlessly flows into the valley beyond, giving an impression of a frontage that melds into the snow-capped peaks on the horizon. The home itself is beautifully laid out, with a living room, one bedroom and open-design kitchen cum dining area on the ground floor. The floor is peppered with generous skylights at unexpected places, rendering the need for artificial lighting during the day, completely unnecessary. Seeing it on a winter afternoon, the home looked breath-takingly lovely, bathed in warm, diffused sunlight peeking in from the glass roof overhead. Bear in mind that this is a two-storied home, which means, it would’ve taken some very clever designing to have skylights on the ground floor! And clever, it is.

 Dining area of a cottage in the mountains

The open kitchen & dining area, leading to massive French windows 

 

As you move up to the first floor, there are three tastefully appointed bedrooms. These would put the most luxurious hotel room to shame. Everything, right from the linen to the fixtures, are a testament to the personal touch of the couple who’ve built the place. A thoughtfully placed rug here, or a comfortable lounge there, each and every article adds to the functionality of the rooms, while enhancing the aesthetics. And then there are the massive windows, enabling sweeping views of the majestic Himalayas. All smartly built using double-glazed glass, which means one can enjoy the mountains from within the cozy womb of the Chitai!

Bedroom of cottage in mountains

A room with many views, and the comfort to ensure you're happy staying there to enjoy them!

 

What takes the cake though, are the little knick-knacks that bring out the Kumaoni flavour of the place. 

If there is a traditional Kumaoni window gracing one wall, you find the other is finished in an organic mixture that enhances the ambience. The place doesn’t scream opulence. Rather, it whispers melodies of a comforting luxury. Soothing, rich, comforting and one that envelopes you in its gracious embrace. There are some places you do not want to leave from. The Chitai Life is one of those!

 Cottage in the mountains

The Chitai Life is surrounded by mountains on all sides

 

For the ‘Biplobi’ in me, the best part was the massive rainwater harvesting infrastructure that they’ve built into the plans. I don’t remember the exact figures, but Ashish informed me that they harvest and store enough rainwater to last them for two whole months. That is with a full complement of 6 adults occupying the premises. Reminds me of the water travails we heard about when we’d visited the Parvada Bungalow, near Mukteshwar. Or the horror stories of water shortages in Shimla, Mussoorie and Manali, to name a few, that we read about every summer. The solution is so simple and evident, yet we’ve so far refused to embrace it. Thankfully, with environmentally aware youngsters like Mansi and Ashish taking charge of the Himalayas, our heritage, this is changing for the better, and fast.

 mountain cottage living room

The living room at the Chitai Life. It speaks for itself!

 

We spent a lazy afternoon as guests of Mansi and Ashish. Of course, the sumptuous Kumaoni meal they’d served up meant that being ‘lazy’ came easy enough to us!

 

To start, there was Jakhiya Gajar, mountain carrots prepared with a local herb, jakhiya, Aloo ke Gutke, which resembled a dry aloo chaat and Urad and Moong dal pakoras for starters. These were accompanied by a tangy Kumaoni raita and chutney that simply hit the spot! For main course, there was Gahat ki Dal, prepared in a traditional cast iron pot and the quintessential Bhatt ki Dal, Palak ka Kapa and local Hari Sabzi, or Saag. What helped was that every ingredient used is grown by Mansi and Ashish at their bungalow! 100% organic and fresh off the farm.

 People with a Kumaoni meal

Mansi and Ashish with the Talwar clan

 

A word about the saag – in all our trips to the mountains, this is easily the most delectable preparation, with every local dhaba serving up its own version of it. Interestingly, the main ingredient here is a variety of ‘grass’ that grows on the mountain-sides during the winter months. For the life of me I can’t figure out what it is. No one I’ve spoken to has been able to demystify this unidentified green either!

 

All in all, we lived up the Chitai life, and left wanting for more!

 

Binsar Zero point Trek

 

We spent our last day trekking up to the Zero point in the Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary. The trek starts from the base of the cliff, which is a 30-minute drive from the Club Mahindra. The last 8 KMS or so are over treacherous terrain, which made driving the Pajero a joy! The trek up to Zero point is a further two-odd KMS and is an easy walk through the woods. In about 40 minutes we got to the summit, where a machaan has been built for viewing the mountain peaks.

 Hiking through the mountains

En route to Binsar Zero point

 Machaan at Binsar Zero Point

View from the machaan at Zero Point

 

The place offers mind-blowing views of the Panchhuli, Trishul, Shivling, Chaukhumba and Nanda Devi range. It’s a staggering experience, to see these peaks all in their magnificent splendour.

  

We spent a lovely 20 minutes admiring the mountains, before heading back. The kids, of course, wanted to hang around for more, however, I told them that our accommodation at Munsiyari, our next stop, would afford us views of the Himalayas from our very tents. That was enough to get everyone going, as we headed back in anticipation of the next destination, and the adventures it would bring!

 

 

 

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