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Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Munsiyari…Panchchuli…

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Part 3 of the Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Munsiyari…

Night at Binsar went by quite peacefully and I woke up to a bright, sunny morning at 7am. As I walked out of my cottage, I noted for the first time the structure and location of this very well laid out Eco-camp. It was a marvel constructed painstakingly amidst the Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary, perched on the hill as a green jewel.

As I spread out the much-soaked clothes in the sun, I met Gaurav. He offered a cup of tea, and over it shared several pieces about the property.

Binsar is perched on top of the Jhandi Dhar hills. At an elevation of 2412 meters AMSL, Binsar is situated amidst the Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary. I learnt that the route to main Binsar goes right from the gate of the sanctuary where we met the guards last night.

The Camp is located in the non-core area of this sanctuary, in a place called Dhaulchhina. This is the shortest possible route to Munsiyari and saves a lot of time and distance, as compared to the one that goes via Bageshwar.

Gaurav shared that his father, Kesar Singh Mehra, a former businessmen and one of the founding activists behind the establishment of the sanctuary in 1988, set up the resort as a eco-friendly destination, primarily catering to the nature-lovers and bird-watchers. He went on to share that the Camp is frequented by over 200 species of birds and one can expect to learn about the aviary world.

By now, Nitin was up and ready with his arms and ammunition – the Camera! Gaurav guided him to a viewpoint they constructed right the top of the hill, located at a 5-minutes trek. Nitin came back with amazing set of images – spectacular mountain panorama of evergreen Himalayan ranges and valleys. The views of major peaks like Chaukhamba, Panchachuli, Nanda Devi, Nanda Kot, and Kedarnath are distinctly visible from there. Sitting leisurely at the camp, one couldn’t even fathom what vista laid just a five-minute trek ahead! This was a clear sky day, which offered a 180-degree Himalayan view. I must share with all readers here that such vast panoramic view can been seen only from Binsar and Kausani in Uttarakhand. In fact, there is a location called the ‘Zero Point’ here, which offers amazing views of the magnificent range. Binsar also offers an excellent view of Almora town.

As we sipped the superbly made herbal tea, prepared from the herbs grown in-house, Gaurav helped us with sourcing five litres of petrol from Almora through his contacts. This was done as the next filling-station was at Berinag, another 65kms ahead. Since we rode almost 430kms on day one, I didn’t want to take risk of running on an empty fuel tank in case of any exirgency.

Thanking Gaurav for his splendid hospitality, we resume the ride for the day at 10:30am. Our stay was really pleasant here and in fact, I have already planned upcoming my winter-break with Neha here!

For details of Binsar Eco Camp, you may visit their website (http://www.binsar-ecocamp.com/index.html). Highly recommended for peace-lovers.

Hereafter, the ride was approximately 160kms. The route we took:

  • Dhaulchinna – Berinag via Sheraghat – 65kms
  • Berinag – Thal – 27kms
  • Thal – Munsiyari – 68kms

The roads were really good between Dhaulchhina and Berinag. We rode through dense forests for the first 15kms and them descended steadily into the valley; we reached Sheraghat in almost an hour. This is where you witness the Saryu River. From here, Berinag is an uphill ride of about 35kms.

Berinag came in another hour and we filled our fuel tanks at the HP petrol station located outside the town, and moved ahead towards Thal. Berinag, located at 1740 meters AMSL, is a tiny hamlet; I was told by locals that both Nanda Devi and Panchchuli peaks can be seen from here. However, I could not observe these peaks during our halt from here.

It is important to note that 6kms after Berinag, there comes a crossroad called Udiyari Bend from where the roads bifurcate; the left one goes to Chaukori and the right one descends towards Thal. Again, after 18kms, there comes another bifurcation called Bharad Bend, from where a U-turn shall take you to Thal. The other road from here goes towards Bageshwar. I came across a very good map of this area at the KMVN rest-house at Birthi; reproducing an image of the same for the readers. Very useful, it is…

We arrived in at Thal, a small hamlet, at about 1:30pm and locals guided us to Mehta Restaurant for lunch. Finished, is what the cook shared! So we moved to another small eatery right next to the police station, and ate the easily available Thali – Daal, Roti, Chawal!

As we crossed the Ram-Ganga Bridge to enter Thal, I saw a very age-old looking temple complex on the banks of river. I learnt later that this is a Lord Shiv Temple, and it is here where from several decades the famous Thal Mela (Fair) is held. This temple also has a significance as it is believed that all Kailash Mansarovar pilgrims from here would take a bath in the Ram Ganga and then only proceed towards the pilgrimage. It was amazing to learn that before independence, the revolutionaries organized the Fair to commemorate the ‘Jalianwalan Bagh’ massacre and since then, the Fair became an annual feature. However, people shared that since the trade from Tibet slowed down, now the significance of the Fair is steadily diminishing. Some history this small hamlet has…

Munsiyari was about 67kms from here and we hoped to reach there by 4:30pm. Weather was really good, bright and sunny and we rode almost non-stop.

We rode quite leisurely after Thal, clocking 30kmph. En route, we rode alongside the Purvi Ram Ganga River, a river with such whitish water flowing as if milk it were! We had never seen anything such; see for yourself…I also made a video here, capturing the pristine beauty of this river in images was nearly impossible. See it on Youtube at (http://youtu.be/oQXS5O_Vlpo).

Villages in Kumaon are really captivating. Every now and then, you’d come across the group of school-going kids, who make all sorts of gesture to grab the bikers’ attention, while the elders look upon at us as the ‘spoilt-ones’! Well, I don’t blame them – imagine what your and my Mom would say upon hearing or biking exploits!

At around 4pm, we arrived in at Birthi, where the mighty Birthi Falls could be seen and heard at a distance. However, we didn’t stop and kept riding, hoping to reach Munsiyari by 5pm and catch the magical rays of setting sun on the Panchchuli peaks.

Well, nature has its own plans! As we crossed Birthi, I could observe the onset of clouds – dark and threatening – over our heads. I feared the repeat of what we faced yesterday, and asked Nitin to speed up.

Just as we neared Munsiyari and the milestone declared 14kms more to go, it started to pour, as heavily as it could get. We rode non-stop from this point, getting wet in the lashes of the rain, right at the altitude of 2700 meters AMSL! I could see captivating views of the hills from this height; yet, stopping and clicking pics in such rains would have been sheer stupidity! Some hard luck…

We reached Munsiyari by 5pm and were really glad to find Bilju Inn located right on the main road, as we entered the town.

Shivering, we quickly checked into the hotel and changed into dry & warm clothing. By now, rainfall had stopped! We noted the magic that unfolded outside – see for yourself.

Whole of the evening hereinafter went in drying clothes and other gear in front of the room-heaters! However, we did find the room very well laid out and service to be good. Once warmth came back in our bodies, we chalked out the plan for next three days.

For Day-3, were decided to stay and relax at Munsiyari, exploring this magical town at leisure…

To be continued in the next blog…

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‘Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Munsiyari…’ was written in 5 parts. You can read all 5 parts of this travelog here.

Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Munsiyari…Ride to Binsar

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Part 2 of the Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Munsiyari…

For the mountain-rider in me, the hills of Kumaon have always been enchanting and luring. During last four years, I travelled in this land of hills almost like a religion – Kumaon always attracted me towards itself.

While holidaying at Ranikhet three years ago, my wife introduced me to Munsiyari – the Him-Nagari of Uttarakhand, she shared. Since then, I was longing to visit this place.

All these years, one or the other thing came in way of actualizing this wish. However, earlier this year, Nitin and I resolved we would surely ride our bikes to this destination in this year itself.

So, once the monsoons ceased to lash the hills and landslides gave way to safer routes, we planned the much-coveted Trip.

The total distance from Gurgaon to Munsiyari and back is about 1300kms, so we planned a 5-day trip. However, we froze only the first 2 days’ itinerary, thus:

  • Day 1: Gurgaon – Dhaulchhina/Binsar
  • Day 2: Dhaulchhina/Binsar – Munsiyari

For the rest of 3 days, we thought of various options – staying over for a day at Munsiyari, or travelling to Kausani and then Ranikhet, or staying at Almora and then riding back home…we explored various options and finally agreed to decide it en route itself – in the true bikers’ way!

Some homework helped plan the Trip. I took advice from Nandan Jha, a true Ghumakkar! His advice came really handy; he shared that we shouldn’t halt at Almora on Day-one and rather drive ahead to stay at the Binsar Eco Camp. He had explored this place earlier and mentioned good things about it on Ghumakkar.

We also planned in advance our stay at Munsiyari. From amongst the set of resorts(!) and hotels mentioned on the travel-sites, we zeroed down on Bilju Inn. Reasons were simple – this property had geysers installed in their washrooms – a rarity in the sleepy hill-stations of the Himalayas! To top it, we found that this was a newly constructed property and had large rooms at a decent tariff.

Armed with above plan, we started from Gurgaon on October 12, 2012 at 5:15am. Ride to Binsar was approximately 425kms; an early start was a must. We planned the first day well rather elaborately:

  • 200kms: Breakfast: Gurgaon to Moradabad (5am to 9am) (NH 24: via Garhmukteshwar/Gajraula)
  • 110kms: Lunch-break: Moradabad to Haldwani (9:45 to 12:30pm) (NH24 to Rampur / from Rampur NH87 via Bilaspur/Rudrapur/Haldwani)
  • 115kms: Final Destination: Haldwani to Binsar Eco Camp (1:30pm to 6:30pm) (NH 37: via Khairna/Almora)

Morning ride was really great! Weather was extremely pleasant, and turned rather chilly as we crossed Ghaziabad and rode towards Moradabad. With almost negligible traffic, we rode non-stop and took a brief halt at the Ganga-bridge at the holy city of Garhmukteshwar.

Our breakfast break came briefly after at 8:20am, when we stopped at the McDonalds at Gajraula. We had covered 150kms in about three hours – good start!

McDonalds is built right on the highway; around this place there are several other eateries too – Dominos, local players, so options are aplenty.

After a sumptuous breakfast and rest, we resumed the ride. Moradabad came in about an hour; roads till now were simply fantastic! We took the Bypass and reached Rampur soon after. From here, we rode ahead towards Rudrapur via Bilaspur.

Man! These were some bad roads! And bad they were for good 30kms! One really needed to look for tarmac from amongst potholes on this stretch! Negotiating this stretch rather carefully, we arrived at Rudrapur city by 1140am. Haldwani came shortly after at 1245pm; roads from Rudrapur via a forest range to Haldwani were really good.

As I always say during my rides, may God bless VG Siddhartha of the Café Coffee Day chain for opening so many outlets all over the country! At Haldwani, CCD was our lunch-halt. Sandwiches, brownies and coffee – this was real relaxation our bodies needed after a 300kms ride. And good food was a must to boost our spirits for the ride uphill – 130kms to Binsar. After all, you can’t ride empty-stomach!

We resumed the ride at 2pm. As we crossed Kathgodam, straight roads gave way to the serpentine roads of the hills. Though I had initially thought of taking the route via Bhimtal, Nitin rode straight ahead on SH87. Good chance, this was! This road was newly constructed and turned out to be a real smooth ride.

Here I must share with the readers that on our way back, we took the route via Bhimtal. Big error! Please avoid this route – poor roads and heavy traffic will make you forget that this route is shorter by 5kms! At Bhowali, both routes converge and we continued our ride on NH87 towards Almora.

I forgot to mention this earlier; as we resumed our ride from Kathgodam, the bright sunny day gave away to the cloudy sky. Around Bhowali, it started to drizzle and then came a heavy burst of downpour, as we neared the Kainchi Dhaam. This forced us to take an unscheduled break at a nearby tea-stall. Treating ourselves to a hot cup of tea, we wondered if rain would halt our ride so abruptly – we were still 80kms away from Binsar!

Our prayers were answered; the rain stopped in about 20minutes and we recommenced our ride. Minutes after, we arrived at the Kainchi Dhaam, where the famous Ashram of Baba Neeb Karauli is located. This is where Steve Jobs found solace during his maiden trip to India in the seventies!

Surprisingly, sun started to shine over our heads as brightly as if it never rained! With boosted spirits and some warmth back inside us, Khairna came shortly after. It is a small hamlet, about 96kms from Haldwani. This is the point from where roads to Almora and Ranikhet bifurcate; tourists and travellers love to have light refreshments here. The road ascends to Almora, which is about 33kms from here.

We reached Almora by 4:45pm. Whew! This was some ride till now – 400kms!

As we touched Almora, a signage declared Binsar to be 33kms ahead, on a road that diverted to the left. As we took this de-tour, we thought of it to be some kind of bypass to avoid the congestion of bustling Almora city. However, this wasn’t right; people guided us back to the heart of the town and then after several rechecks, we came back on our route to Binsar.

At 6pm, as we reached Binsar, sun was setting behind the mountains. This was some scene. And we clicked a lot of pics here! What a view it was!

As the sun was setting on one side, scary, dark clouds were looming from the other. Again, I could observe a few raindrops. You’d note some of them on the adjoining image too…

Scared, we quickly rode towards Binsar Eco Camp.

This is where it started to go all wrong!

As we entered the resort, we realized we have arrived at Binsar Eco Resort, instead of our destination Binsar Eco Camp! All this while, in our misplaced enthusiasm, we were chasing a wrong address! 20minutes wasted in this confusion, the managers here guided us to what we thought was the right address. Not to be…

Another 30mintues ride, sun had finally set and rain was looming over our heads! We reached the entry gate to the Binsar Wildlife Sactuary, where to our dismay, the forest gaurds told us that we have come on an altogether wrong route. They shared that Binsar Eco Camp wasn’t located at Binsar; it was at Dhaulchhina!

It was 7pm and drizzle was persistent. So we requested the guards to tell us the shortest possible route. That they did, and how!!

We were guided towards a route, which went through the wildlife sanctuary, just beneath the core-jungle-area (we were told this later!). Now, as we entered this lonely, scary track, came down the heaviest downpour one could imagine.

Well, I must share that I have travelled on some very lonely stretches; this was proved to be the scariest of all. Completely dark it was, we brothers rode our bikes non-stop in the only source of lights – the bikes’ headlights! This was a typical forest track, and rains made it all the more difficult to negotiate the ride. We stopped several times to check the signal of the phone – no respite. What made us ride ahead in this pitch dark jungle located upon the mounts in the dead of rainy night was the my belief/experience – people in hills don’t lie! After all, the guard had said that the forest track would end in 13kms and route to Dhaulchhina would emerge!

Bang on right he was! Just as my bike’s meter clocked 13kms, we came out to a neat tarmac. By now, we were completely drenched and shivering. And it didn’t help that there weren’t any signage that could guide us to either left or right. Fortunately, mobile phone’s signals were back and we called the Camp to locate the address.

30minutes later, amidst heavy rains, we arrived at Dhaulchhina, a hamlet where Binsar Eco Camp was located above a hillock.

We arrived inside the property to find it covered in pitch dark – there wasn’t any electricity and no power backup too! Well, I must say by now I was kind of irritated and lost my cool at the young Gaurav Mehra, son of the owner Mr. Kesar Singh Mehra, for not installing any signages of his property anywhere on route, right from Almora. Young, but smart lad he turned out to be! He quickly gauged the reasons behind my annoyance, conversed very politely, trying to dowse my displeasure. We couldn’t see much in absence of electricity; candles were all we had to quickly change into fresh & warm clothing! It was very cold out there!

We were guided towards a small bon-fire near the kitchen area; we desperately needed to dry-up our gloves and shoes at least; they were extremely necessary for the ride next day.

We chatted for an hour, about a lot of things. By now, some warmth had seeped in – both from the fire and Gaurav’s pleasant demeanor; we felt better. He shared that the right route to Binsar Eco Camp was from Almora towards Dhaulchhina, which is a distance of about 33kms and NOT towards Binsar. He also shared that the guards at the sanctuary’s gate guided us to take the track just beneath the core-forest-area, in order to save time! Some nerve-chilling revelation to us, this was!

Over dinner, we learnt many things about Binsar. Simple, vegetarian food came as a seven-course meal to us hungry, tired souls!

Almost immediately thereafter, we went off to sleep, praying for a clean sky the next day…

Ride to Munsiyari to be continued to the next blog…

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‘Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Munsiyari…’ was written in 5 parts. You can read all 5 parts of this travelog here.

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