In the lap of the vibrant Garhwal Himalayas
Quench your thirst and chill out with a cup of steaming hot cappuccino or a delicious ice cream at Cafe Buransh. No, not in the crowded jungle of the multi-storied, sky-kissing-building decorated metropolis, but while viewing a gallery of stunning snow-covered peaks in the Garhwal Himalayas.
Cafe Buransh is your home away from home in the hills. Here, the sheer scale of the mountain range makes you feel very tiny and insignificant, thereby detaching you from your ego — and worries — and letting you live in the moment.
Along the trekking path leading to Deoria Tal in Uttarakhand, the hospitality of simple Garhwalis and the comfort of the homestays touch all sorts of mountain lovers, from those who treasure nature and amateur bird watchers to shutterbugs who dream of capturing the drama of the higher altitudes.
If you have enough time at Cafe Buransh, ask for authentic pahadi (mountain) food that is generally prepared from locally grown veggies that are either plucked fresh from the gardens or sourced from the villages. If you are craving comfort food, try their home-made ice creams, cold beverages or soups.
Deoria Tal, situated at a good 7,800ft, is a lake surrounded by green forests about 190km from Haridwar railway station. Dehradun is the nearest airport. Four-wheelers and mobile network are available till the Sari village of Chopta. From there it’s another 3km to Deoria Tal, which can be covered in about three hours on foot or about an hour on horseback.
To the north of Deoria Tal and what seems like a short distance away as the crow flies is the glistening, snow-covered Chaukhamba massif, which is reflected in the crystal-like waters of the tal (lake). Legend has it that the five Pandava brothers had quenched their thirst at Deoria Tal.
Those who love the mountains can spend a night camping near the lake to collect the mellow memories under a star-dusted sky. The Chopta-Deoria Tal trek is a blend of exotic surroundings and steep, narrow pathways that have terrific thrills at every turn. The splendid vista comprises many high Himalayan peaks — Nanda Devi, Trishul, Chaukhamba, Nanda Ghunti, Kamet, Kedar dome — along with the snow-capped summits of the Himalayan range. It is a fantastic sight that is to be cherished forever.
This trip, which was somehow exciting and soothing at the same time, started from the railway station at Najibabad in Uttarakhand, which we reached at 10.20 in the morning by train that had left Calcutta at 7.40am the previous day.
After light refreshments, at 11.30am we left for Lansdowne, the famous cantonment town in Pauri Garhwal. This hill station located at a height of about 1,700m along the Kotdwar-Pauri Road was founded in 1887 and named after the then viceroy of India. It is well connected by motorable road but remote in its own way.
After a memorable seven-hour journey, we reached the quietest hill station we had been to as the sun was gradually disappearing beyond the tall oaks and blue pines, and turning the western horizon a deep red. It was a heavenly spectacle.
Next morning, we visited the local attractions, starting from the Tip-n-Top view point from where the surrounding ranges and interlocking spurs of Garhwal Himalaya look really marvellous. Thereafter, we went to other places of interest like the Kaleshwar Mahadev temple (it’s the best-known temple here), Santoshimata temple, the regimental museum aka Darwar Singh Sangrahalaya, Bhullatal Lake, St. Mary’s Church and Lover’s Lane.
Besides the awesome natural beauty, Lansdowne has a historic significance also. The Sangrahalaya has all sorts of artifacts from the two world wars and they are displayed along with photographs, captured weapons, arms and other items such as medals bestowed on erstwhile Garhwal Rifle soldiers.
The following morning we started for the picturesque town of Khirsu, a less-visited place that offers a 180-degree view of the high Himalayas.
At a distance of 181km from Haridwar, Khirsu is located at an altitude of 1,900m above sea level and enveloped by the tall pine, oak and old deodar trees as well as colourful rhododendrons. This gorgeous hill queen offers a spectacular, 300km panorama of the Himalayas, including the snow-crusted Chaukhamba, Trishul, Nanda Devi, Nanda Kot and Panchachuli peaks.
The orchards in Khirsu produce a sweet, rosy variety of apple and the place is also making a name for itself in village tourism. It’s undoubtedly one of the best places to head to if you are looking for a picturesque destination to spend your holidays in the lap of the Himalayas surrounded by wonderful landscapes.
Almost 700 people stay in this small village, where most of the work is done by women while the men stay at home. Pauri is the nearest place from where you can buy your essentials.
There are very few hotels and homestays in Khirsu. Among the options are the Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam’s tourist rest house, Hotel Taj Himalaya and Badri Vishal Guest House. The nearest railway station is Rishikesh, which is 125km away.
The Jwalpa Devi temple and the Ghandiyal Devta temple are the two major attractions of the area. During Navratri, a big festival is held here every year. Besides the scenic beauty of this heavenly place in Garhwal, it has two other big draws for nature-lovers — bird watching and star-trail photography.
Clear nights allow long exposure times that interested photographers need to use to capture the trails of innumerable stars across the night sky that happen due to earth’s rotation. These pictures show the stars as streaks across the image, with longer exposures yielding longer arcs.
All the seven members of the Saptarshi Mandal (Ursa Major), other constellations like Kalpurush (Orion) and Rohini (Taurus) as well as Dhrubatara (Pole Star) that we had read about in our school geography books come alive and twinkle in the clear night sky of Khirsu, making the place a paradise on earth.
The author is the registrar of Jadavpur University