OFFBEAT WEEKEND BREAK FROM DELHI: VILLAGE WALK TO KAFURA IN MUKTESHWAR .

A casual walk in the villages of Kafura, Peora, Nolikan and Sonapani in Mukteshwar treated me with more surprises than I had anticipated. Out of these, I spent most time in Kafura. As I left Leela Orchards Home Stay, Sona Pani in Mukteshwar, within minutes I arrived at a cemented path way leading to the village. Thick forests of pine trees dotted the either side of the path way. A pair of birds, which I was unable to identify, sat atop a tall tree, filling the otherwise calm looking jungle with their shrill calls. The pathways were flooded with dry cones and dry leaves of pine trees. People from plains take these back home for decoration and other such frivolities. People from the village use the dry pine cones and leaves for bonfires and fuel for cooking.

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Me amidst pine trees in Kafura village near Peora and Leela Orchards Sonapani Home-Stay, Mukteshwar, Uttarakhand

DO YOU KNOW THE USES OF PINE TREE?

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Extraction of resin from a pine tree. In Kafura village near Leela Orchards Sona Pani Home-Stay, Mukteshwar, Uttarakhand

A mysterious object on the fringes of the path-way caught my attention. It was an unpolished metallic cone, smooth from outside, coarse from inside. I picked it up, trying to understand its purpose. Nearby, I saw some cuts on a tree. “An assault by a black bear?” I asked myself. A bear has no sense of design. A bear can’t scratch a tree in faultless symmetry.  A bear won’t stick a cone under the cut, eh! Turned out, the cones were the collection bowls used to store the resin dripping from the cuts of the pine tree. The cone is not tied but inserted in the cuts, the resin binding it naturally to the tree. The resin thus collected is used in making adhesives like Fevikwik and paints. A cone typically fills up within 20-30 days. Sometimes acid is applied to the cuts to hasten the process. I picked up a discarded metallic cone from the ground as a souvenir. Perhaps, I will make it a pen holder or a tooth brush holder and remember my trip every-time I use it. I didn’t know that pine trees produced resin. Mostly the much romanticized pine trees are actually disliked by the locals.

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One of the traditional house in Kafura Village near Peora and Leela Orchards Sonapani Home-Stay, Mukteshwar, Uttarakhand
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Me lying on a bed of dry pine needles. On my way to Kafura near Peora and Leela Orchards Sonapani Home-Stay, Mukteshwar.

LYING DOWN ON A BED OF PINE NEEDLES AND SAYING HELLO TO GOATS!

Moving a little ahead, I came across a bed of dry pine needles. These are slippery and can cause a fall during trekking and hikes. I made a pit stop and decided to lie down on the bed, close my eyes and put my olfactory and hearing senses to work. Expecting it to be itchy, I was surprised to feel its soft, smooth texture under my back. A brief rest later, I was greeted by a herd of goats. I sat down on a rock. A credulous calf came running to me and buried his/her nose in my palms, looking for roti.  The adult goats grazed at grass dispassionately.  “Roti maang raha hai.”, (The calf is asking for roti) the lady shepherd told me in her indecipherable speech. It was hard to communicate with her due to her speech impairment. Though verbal communication was irrelevant! The lady handed me over some roti. The adult goats abandoned their pretense and rushed towards me, competing with the calf for that small piece of cooked wheat paradise. I have never tasted grass, but I am sure roti tastes better than grass. What did they say….The Roti…err….grass is always greener on the other side.

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Breaking a roti with goats with the lady shephard. On my way to village walk in Kafura. Near Peora and Leela Orchards Sonapani Home-Stay, Mukteshwar, Uttarakhand

The pine forests gave way to a clearing. The cemented path-way disappeared. The large open field was utilized well by a gang of boys playing cricket. I turned left and discovered visually delighting paths. Big sized white stones were half buried in mud, making it perhaps, useful in the season of monsoon. Sometimes, the path was accompanied by walls of stones placed above each other. My most favourite part was when it took a U shape. The white peach flowers, the lone traditional house in the distance, the local women sitting and chatting made it all the more atmospheric.

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The U shaped path to Kafura Village. Near Peora and Leela Orchards, Sonapani Home-Stay, Mukteshwar, Uttarakhand

CONNECTING WITH THE LOCALS OF KAFURA, MUKTESHWAR NEAR LEELA ORCHARDS, SONAPANI.

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Bonding with local kids in Kafura Village near Peora and Leela Orchards Sonapani, Mukteshwar

‘Jai Shree Gorakhnath Devta’, the board at a temple read. The brown exterior of the temple was complemented by a riot of pink peach flowers. The flowers were in abundance and added drama to the already picturesque views. I am told, people from all over the village come here during jagar. Dagariye come and sing in the night. They convey people’s problems to Gods. Every village has their own.  While I was immersed in silently admiring the yellow and pink flowers, rows of houses atop a mountain in the distance, the sounds and smells of the place, three shy village kids were staring curiously at me.  They would hide and seek, giggle when our eyes locked, unaware that the backdrop of the lovely village, their home, is making them all the more charming. A casual walk in the villages of Kafura left me with more memories than I had anticipated.

The view from my #SoulWindow is PICTURE POSTCARD PERFECT!

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The picturesque temple in Kafura Village. Near Peora and Leela Orchards Sonapani, Mukteshwar, Uttarakhand.

FAQ:

  • How to Reach Kafura near Leela Orchards Sonapani Homestay, Uttarakhand?
  • Where to stay in Kafura, Mukteshwar near Leela Orchards Sonapani Homestay, Uttarakhand?
  • When to visit Kafura, Mukteshwar near Leela Orchards Sonapani Homestay, Uttarakhand?
  • Why is Sonapani called as Sonapani (meaning Gold Water)

Pls click here for answers to above questions:

LEELA ORCHARDS SONAPANI HOMESTAY, MUKTESHAWAR, UTTARAKHAND

Related Blogs:

WHY THIS BRAVE WOMAN LIVES ALONE IN A FOREST IN MUKTESHWAR, UTTARAKHAND?

Discover the former homes of Tagore and Mahadevi Verma near Aamari Resorts

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The entry point to Kafura Village. Near Peora and Leela Orchards Sonapani Home-Stay, Mukteshwar, Uttarakhand.

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#MyGrationSW : Why This Brave Woman Lives Alone In A Forest in Mukteshwar, Uttarakhand?

THE DENSE FORESTS OF ADJOINING villages of Peora, Nolikan and Sonapani in

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Terraced Farm of Kamla ji near Leela Orchards, Sona Pani, Mukteshwar

Mukteshwar look deserted and lonely from a distance. Once you start to see through the dense foliage, you discover it is teaming with life. It is populated with birds, butterflies, reptiles, wild animals and humans who chose to call it home. As I took an evening walk in the forest with Manvendra, who runs the Leela Orchards, Sonapani home-stay in Mukteshwar, he educated me about a brave lady who lives all by herself in the middle of a dense, dark forest. Engrossed in his tales, I kept my eyes and ears alert for any sign of wildlife around the trail. After few minutes, we arrived at a makeshift gate to a lone white building in the distance. The gate was nothing but horizontal wooden logs loosely hooked on to vertical wooden poles. It was not meant to ward off humans but animals. The animals who rob her kitchen garden of fruits and vegetables she so painstakingly grows with help of laborers. This is apparently a big deterrent to most farmers in the Mukteshwar and nearby Ramgarh area. The white house was locked when we entered the lawns. Its architecture was a mix of modern architecture and traditional architecture of the region. In Uttarakhand, ‘Bakuli’ refers to the group of house, mostly of the same family. As the family grows, more addition to the existing building is done generation wise. Cattle are always tied in the ground floor room. This particular house was not a Bakuli since the next generation chose to stay in the glitzy capital of India, New Delhi.

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A Mix of modern and traditional architecture of Uttarakhand, isolated home of Kamlaji near Leela Orchards, Sona Pani, Mukteshwar.

Himalayan Spangle, a beautiful butterfly, clung fiercely to its pupa on a tree in front of the house. Much like the lady we had come to meet. She refuses to leave this place despite all the adversity. I would soon know why she still clings to this house in the middle of nowhere.

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Himalayan Spangle holding on to a pupa. In Front of Kamlaji’s house. Near Leela Orchards, Sona Pani, Mukteshwar, Uttarakhand

जड़ाऊ को अभी भगाया, बंदरो ने भी परेशान कर रखा है…..” (I have just shooed away the Swamp Deers aka Barasingha. The monkeys have been troubling me too.) The meditation of the Himalayan Spangle was disturbed by her coarse voice, unadulterated and unmeasured. Her name is Mrs. Kamla Pandey. She was delighted to see Manvendra, who is also a family friend. Kamlaji and Manvendra are neighbours and co- owned a dog. The dog lived upto an astonishing age of 18 years.

Ever since her husband, Late Shri Narayan Dutt Pandey, former sub inspector in New Delhi police breathed his last, she has resolved to stay all by herself at this isolated house in the middle of a dense forest, rife with wild animals. Danger from wildlife, lack of human interactions, irregular electricity supply and the challenges in keeping the soil of her farm fertile and grow organic vegetables and fruits has not deterred her. She has been living here alone since past 7 years. Sometimes her brother, who lives in a village nearby, pays her a visit.

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Natural Water Spring used for irrigation and daily use of Kamlaji. Near Leela Orchards, Sona Pani, Mukteshwar, Uttarakhand

She cooks food by herself. She has to walk for 3 plus kilometers to catch sporadic public transport to main town near the Sathkol Ashram. She sources grocery supplies from village vendor who sometime visits her and from a shop near the Ashram gate.

बस ऐसे ही बगीचे में घूमना फिरना….मजदूरो को देखना…चाय पानी देना…यहाँ पे बगीचा है….मकान है मेरा….मैं कैसे रहूँ यहाँ…..?” (Just roaming around my garden, checking up on the laborers, giving them tea and snacks…..Here is where is my house, my garden….How can I leave this place?), She replied with a sunshine smile when I asked, “What do you do here all day?”

She showed me around her sprawling terraced farm which she called bageecha (garden). It was abundant with pink and white flowers. In March the hills of Uttarakhand burst with a riot of colours, thanks to the flowering season.  From Mid May to July, these flowers will give way to abundant fruits like khubani (Apricot), aadu (peach), plum, apple, pear. Nearby a tree was drooping with the weight of tens of jamer. It looked like an Orange, but I was told it is so bitter that its consumption harms teeth. It is used like a lemon, in chutneys and pickles. The apples trees were pruned to encourage new growth which is good for the health of the tree and the fruits. The dark brown, leafless branches of the tree made it look like it is dead. In reality, the tree was just gearing up for the upcoming fruiting season. I uncovered a plastic sheet to see spring water flowing under the ground. This is the natural irrigation source for farming in the area. Some of the beds in the farm were dug up. She told us, she pays laborers to dig up the soil.  It helps in keeping the soil fertile otherwise it becomes hard and unfit for farming.

Kamlaji showed us around with a big smile and vivaciousness which is difficult to match up to. Her enthusiasm for life and positivity belied the challenges that she faces in her routine life. Before shifting here, she lived in Delhi for many years with her husband and kids. Her kids still live in New Delhi and following the footsteps of their father, they serve in police too. Her kids visit her at this place in summer.

“Do you ever miss New Delhi?” I ask

“याद आती है पर क्या करें ? मजबूरी है…यहाँ छोड़ दें तो फिर बर्बादी है न…..क्यूँ? ” (Yes, at times I do miss Mumbai. But if I abandon this land, it will all be destroyed. No?)

Whenever she misses her former life in New Delhi, she visits her children and live with them for around 3 months.

“पर अब अच्छा लगता है यहाँ भी……परदूशन नहीं है …हवा अच्छी है…अक्टूबर में फिर जाउंगी दिल्ली तीन महीने के लिए…..” (Now I like it here…There is no pollution….the air is fresh…In October I will visit New Delhi again for 3 months.)

Note: It is a part of a series which I run on my blog. You can follow the hashtag #MyGrationSW series on my Instagram, Facebook and Twitter too. (Links below). To read other migration stories on my blog, pls see the tab MyGration Story.

The view from my #SoulWindow is BRAVO!

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Kamlaji at her isolated home in a forest. Near Leela Orchards, Sona Pani, Mukteshwar, Uttarakhand

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LEELA ORCHARDS SONAPANI HOME-STAY, AT MUKTESHWAR: WEEKEND BREAK FROM DELHI IN BUDGET!

A VACATION AT LEELA ORCHARDS SONAPANI HOME-STAY AT SONAPANI, MUKTESHWAR is a perfect weekend break from Delhi, Noida and Gurgaon. It is managed by the cheerful Manvendra Singh Barathokey and his mother. It was such a great last minute decision to stop at this lovely home-stay in Mukteshwar. On recommendation by a friend I stayed here for 2 days clubbed with a satisfying trip to Nainital and Ramgarh. It was drizzling when I reached. (I visited in 1st week of March.) The next day it was a pleasant sunny weather.

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The 4 rooms of Leela Orchards Sonapani Home-Stay, Mukteshawar in Uttarakhand. You can view Almora and the snow capped mountains from here. If lucky then rainbow as well.

Unfortunately I have stayed in only few home stays despite having traveling to more than 150 destinations since 2008. My lovely experience at Leela Orchards Sonapani is pushing me into trying more home stays in future. This wonderful property overlooks Himalayan range. It was such a memorable evening sitting with the family, sipping tea and talking about many interesting topics as bonfire warmed us. I learnt so much after this interaction. He educated me about the interesting details of local lifestyle and the centuries old temples in the vicinity.

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The living room of my ground floor ‘suite’ at Leela Orchards Sonapani Home-Stay, Mukteshwar (Uttarakhand)

ACTIVITIES AT LEELA ORCHARDS SONAPANI HOME STAY, MUKTESHWAR:

The LEELA ORCHARDS SONAPANI HOME STAY makes you lazy. The nice weather, breath taking views right from the balcony of the room and the cozy rooms make you want to just sit and laze around. On the other hand, there are so many interesting things to do near the property that you will end up extracting yourself from the cozy bed. I spent much of the time exploring the pretty villages Peora, Nolikan and Kafura. The path to these villages was gorgeous. It was easy up and down hike lined with pine trees and white, pink and red flowers of fruits. I went in the month of March and in every direction I set my eyes there was a riot of color since it’s the flowering season.  I also walked in the jungle area behind the home stay and met a brave spunky lady who lives all alone in the middle of the jungle.

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Village walk in Kafura, Poera and Nolikan is possible near Leela Orchards Sona Pani Home-stay, Mukteshwar, Uttarakhand

If you choose you can cook your own food at “Heere ki khan” using firewood and chulha (Traditional mud oven). Nature walk, birdwatching is also recommended here. You don’t even need to go anywhere. Just keep your eyes peeled and you will see exotic birds right outside your room. I was amazed to see a flock of gorgeous White Crested Laughing Thrush. Himalayan Spangle, Wild cock, Grey Headed Canary Flycatcher, Blue Capped Redstart, Himalayan Bulbul, Green Backed Tit, Black headed Jay, Barn Swallow are some of the other birds I spotted.

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This was my favourite part of the rooms at Leela Orchards Sona Pani Home-Stay, Mukteshwar. I would sit and eat Maggi here, looking at the misty mountains. Or read a book.

One can also visit NGO Chirag and NGO Aarohi in Peora village. If you are fit, I would recommend an 8 kms long trek from Leela Orchards Sonapani to Mukteshwar temple. Visit to ancient Kapeelshwar Temple on river bed side is also a must. It is near a primary school. You can donate money and books to the school, if you wish. Within 40 kms of range, you can visit Jageshwar Temple, Chitai Temple, Sun Temple (In Almora), Kasar Devi Temple and Binsar.

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En route my walk to Kafura and Peora Village near Leela Orchards Sona Pani Home-Stay, Mukteshwar, Uttarakhand

THE ROOMS AT LEELA ORCHARDS SONAPANI HOME STAY, MUKTESHWAR:

The rooms are large and cozy. True to its genre, the rooms exude a home like warmth. I told them it is like staying at a relative’s house. The wood paneling was soothing to the eyes. There are a total of 4 rooms in the home stay. 2 rooms are on the first floor while 2 rooms are in the ground floor. I stayed in the ground floor. The moment I entered the room, I took a pause in the drawing room before rushing to see the bed room. The drawing room delights with its thoughtfully done up furniture placement. 3 large windows overlooked the verdant valley and the distant mountains of Almora and others. Cushioned seats lined the windows. I would fold my legs on the couch, pull a blanket, slurp on my Maggi Noodles and hot tea while enjoying the misty views from the comfort of my room. It sure felt like home, though in an exotic location. At other times, I would sit by the window and read one of the many travel magazines so thoughtfully kept by the owners on a writing table nearby.

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Manvendra Singh Barathokey and his mother at Leela Orchards Sonapani Home-stay, Mukteshwar. In far distance is their ancestral home. (Pic: Leela Orchards)

The attached bedroom is large. The bed is King Size and is cozy. It has large windows and wood paneling. The charging points are next to the table. There is no dearth of cupboards and almirahs in the drawing room as well as the bedroom. When I entered the door of the attached bathroom, I was dumbfounded for 2 minutes. It was so huge that I was comparing its size to my first flat in Mumbai (I stayed in Mumbai from 2008 to 2015). Manvendra told me the same, “Travelers from Mumbai often tell me my entire flat is the size of this washroom.”

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Views of Almora during my village walk/trek in Poera and Nolikan near Leela Orchards Sona Pani Home-Stay, Mukteshwar, Uttarakhand

When I checked out the upper rooms, I found them equally good if a bit smaller. The drawing room disappeared. The size of room and washroom was a bit smaller. But it’s still great for 2-3 people. (Extra beds are available). The washroom has a back door about which Manvendra told me, “Guests love to open this door while brushing their teeth and shaving. It offers them views of the mountains.” The reduced indoor space is compensated with even more grander views of the valley below. There is ample space in the large terrace and I am sure it serves as a perfect private space for families and friends. I also took the stairs to the rooftop in the night. Almora city was all lit. The lights made the city look like a giant glittery fish. As if the construction on hills was done to make it look like a fish.

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Manvendra at Leela Orchards Sona Pani Home-Stay, Mukteshwar, Uttarakhand

HOW DID SONA PANI GET ITS NAME? THE FAMILY HAS AN INTERESTING TALE TO TELL:

Leela Orchard Sonapani has an old natural spring in the middle of the property. The area is named Sona Pani (Literal meaning: Gold water) because of the perceived medicinal properties of the natural spring water. The folklore has it that during the British Raj era, some British army officers from a cantonment nearby tasted the water while crossing the ridge. Impressed with the quality of the water, during much of the second half of the 19th century and early 20th century, ponies and horses were employed to supply the water from this natural spring to the British officers of the nearest army garrison which was Almora.

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Captain Kushal Singh Barathokey. He gave Sona Pani its name. (Credit: Leela Orchards

Captain Kushal Singh Barathokey was one of those officers. He was a much feted soldier of the 3rd Queen Alexandria’s Gurkha rifles. Upon his retirement, the British asked him to select land of his choice. Of all the land Captain Barathokey chose this particular land and christened it ‘Sonapani Estate’. The subsequent generations took care of the land. Manvendra sure is a deserving inheritor of the land.

Manvendra’s grandmother, a housewife was a dynamic lady. There is an old family house near the Leela Orchards Sonapani home-stay. When this house was built, Sona Pani area was a dense forest frequented by fierce tigers. While the house was being built, she used to stand at the construction site, holding the rifle for the safety of workers. She used to say to workers, “If being a lady I can stand here with a rifle, what’s making you so scared to build a house here?” She used to come all the way from Almora to Sonapani on a horse for the construction of the house.

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Great Grandmother of Manvendra from Nepal. Leela Orchards Sona Pani, Mukteshwar (Pic credit: Leela Orchards)

The dining room of Leela Orchards Sonapani is decorated with the many hats collected from India and other countries. It is the part of the collection of Manvendra’s father. Manvendra’s father Late Shri Dipendra Singh Barathokey was a businessman. The Leela Orchards was his brainchild. He may not be around but his legacy lives through the property. Manvendra’s father was born around the same time the ancestral home opposite the home-stay was built. He later named the home-stay after the name of Manvendra’s grandmother.

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Delicious Steamed Rice, Bhat Ki Dal, Saag, Badi at Leela Orchards Sona Pani Home-Stay, Mukteshwar, Uttarakhand. I also ate maduwe ki roti with ghee and jaggery.

THE FOOD AT LEELA ORCHARDS SONAPANI HOME STAY, MUKTESHWAR:

Me along-with Manvendra, his mother and his cute cat sat together next to a bonfire in the

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How about dining al fresco, next to an earthen oven. At Leela Orchards, Sonapani, Mukteshwar

night. We talked for hours, losing track of time. Manvendra is the go to person if you want to learn about the local culture. Despite his young age, he had answers to all my questions. We sat at the canopied open area just outside the kitchen and the dining hall. The family, staff and the pet cat stay in this part of the resort. The conversations were followed by a delicious home cooked dinner including hot maduwe ki roti, smeared with ghee (Clarified butter) and jaggery. On the next day, I demanded to eat more local meals. I was served delicious bhat ki dal, mixed green leaves saag, home-made pickles, fruit chutney (I over ate) and badi in a mildly spicy curry. It was a very satisfying meal which left me begging for more. There is a large kitchen garden near the home-stay where the family grows vegetables, fruits and more. You feel the difference in the food since it is all organic. It’s enriching experiences such as these which keep me motivated to travel. The warmth of the family has made this trip special.

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My room in Leela Orchards Sona Pani Home-Stay, Mukteshwar, Uttarakhand.

RESPONSIBLE TOURISM AT LEELA ORCHARDS SONAPANI HOME-STAY, MUKTESHWAR:

The home-stay promotes treks, long walks and communing with nature, none of which makes you guilty of adding carbon footprints. I was also delighted to see bottles of filtered water and not mineral water bottles which generate plastic. All the food that you eat is pesticide food and organic. Little initiatives like these go a long way in creating a better planet. I request that if you go there, please pack all the plastic which you generated and bring it back to the city and dispose. I myself collected all the chips and wafers packets which I brought along and stashed them in my bag. It is always good to clean your own mess.

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Late Shree Dipendra Singh Barathokey with his pet dogs at Leela Orchards, Sona Pani in Mukteshwar

BEST TIME TO VISIT LEELA ORCHARDS, SONA PANI, MUKTESHWAR:

March and April: I went in March and the entire area was a surreal landscape. It is the flowering season and I could see rows of red, pink, white, yellow flowers in whichever direction I set my eyes on.

Mid May to July: It is fruit season. Expect trees laden with peach, apricots, apples and much more.

July and August: Monsoon is a great time to explore the rich flora and fauna of the area. I was shown some monsoon pictures which made me think of planning a visit again in monsoon.
September to January: Best season to see clear views of the Himalayan range is from

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This old mansions is the ancestral property of the owners of Leela Orchards, Sona Pani, Mukteshwar, Uttarakhand.

HOW TO REACH LEELA ORCHARDS HOME STAY, SONAPANI, MUKTESHWAR:

  • I reached Bhatelia via bus (Rs.35) from Malla Ramgarh Bazar area. I started at 11:30 a.m. and reached 12:15 p.m. Just a little ahead of Bhatelia is Mukteshwar main market. Plenty of shared cars were available at Bhatelia.
  • I booked a reserved taxi to the home-stay on the spot for Rs. 500. If you take right just ahead of Mukteshwar Market, a check post of IVRI campus (Vet College) appears. As you drive from Bhatelia, you will arrive Sitla after 9 kms. The home-stay is 5 kms from Sitla. The Leela Orchards, Sonapani is 30 minutes away from Bhatelia by cab.
  • Landmark: Ask for Satkhol Himalayan Ashram anyone. There is a main gate to the ashram. After entering the gate, If you take the road on right hand side, you will reach the home-stay after 2 kms. It is the last construction in this direction. You can drive upto the home-stay. The roads are great through most of the journey except the last 2 kms. Tip: Public transport is available from the road outside the Ashram. The frequency is low. On return, I waited for the 2 p.m. direct bus to Bhowali which took me 2 hrs. From Bhowali, I took shared cab to Nainital and then to New Delhi. Bhowali to Nainital is 20 minutes and costs Rs.20 in shared cab. Nainital to New Delhi via Govt bus starts at 9 p.m. from Nainital bus stand and reaches 6 a.m. at Anand Vihar, New Delhi.

Alternatively, book a reserved taxi from Nainital/Haldwani/Almora/Kathgodam/Ramgarh. The home-stay also arranges pre booked taxi on demand.

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Village walk to Kafura Village near Leela Orchards Home-Stay, Sona Pani, Mukteshwar, Uttarakhand.

WHAT IS THE COST OF ROOM AT LEELA ORCHARDS HOME STAY, SONAPANI, MUKTESHWAR:

The pricing is reasonable and affordable since the tariff is inclusive of bed tea, breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, all taxes for 2 pax. This makes it ideal for couples, family, friends and corporate trips. If you go dutch with a friend it is an even more economical option since the cost is split into two. It can’t get more affordable than this.

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Grandmother of Manvendra, Leela Orchards Sonapani home-stay, Mukteshwar is named after her by Manvendra’s father (Pic: Leela Orchards)

PLAN A VACATION. DISCOVER THESE PLACES NEAR LEELA ORCHARDS, SONA PANI, MUKTESHAWAR:

MYGRATION STORIES- WHY IS THIS BRAVE LADY LIVING ALONE IN A FOREST IN MUKTESHWAR

LUXURY WEEKEND BREAK FROM DELHI IN RAMGARH NEAR NAINITAL

The view from my #SoulWindow is full of warmth!

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“Some people have the entire flat the size of this washroom in Mumbai.” The huge wash room of Leela Orchards Home-Stay, Sona Pani, Mukteshwar, Uttarakhand

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The Himalayan Range as seen from Leela Orchards, Sona Pani, Mukteshwar (Credit: Leela Orchards)

WARNING : COPYRIGHT TO ALL THE IMAGES AND TEXT HERE REMAINS WITH ME. YOU CAN NOT JUST LIFT THE CONTENT AND USE IT WITHOUT MY PERMISSION. STRICT LEGAL ACTION WILL BE TAKEN IF CONTENT IS STOLEN. YES, I AM SERIOUS.

Offbeat Activities to do in Mussoorie with Mosaic Hotel

I HAVE AVOIDED GOING TO MUSSOORIE ever since I started traveling in 2010. I dreaded going there after hearing all the horror stories from fellow travelers. So, I was skeptical when I was invited to visit Mussoorie. I anyhow said yes after much contemplation. I always make sure to experience a destination myself rather than blindly believing in the hearsay. I planned the travel with parents. Unlike the new age ‘travel snobs’, they are fond of clichéd touristy places. However, I found many offbeat things to do in Mussoorie.

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My parents doing the ‘half’ nature walk!

As we left the stuffy plains of Dehradoon and entered the serpentine roads of Mussourie, many school teenagers raced past our car, as if Mussoorie is shutting down next day onwards. Girls, prim and proper; boys, rash and bursting with over confidence!  I am again skeptical if I made the right choice.

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Views you see in every direction!

That said, the mist laden mountains in the distance promised me a utopian world. The car stopped just at the start of the barrier of the famous Mall Road. The Eco wall at the Mosaic Hotel where I was staying, welcomed us. I was told it was soon turning into a selfie point with the passer byes, thanks to its striking green walls, punctuated with bright unusual flowers.

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Pics above : Mosaic’s attic suite; Charcoal, al fresco restaurant amidst mist

I was delighted to enter in my Attic suite. I always wanted to stay in an attic though never got the opportunity. The attic suite at Mosaic had 2 bedroom. The ground floor had a master bedroom with a huge washroom with a bathtub. The stairs from the lounge area of the ground floor led to an attached room on the attic. I was pleasantly surprised to see that attic came with a separate washroom too, which is not the norm.

Walk 1: VILLAGE WALK

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He owns this 100 year old traditional house!

We headed for Bhatoli village near the famous Kempty Falls. Bhutoli turned out to be a corn paradise! Tons of corn were scattered around carelessly, some arranged on wires painstakingly, giving a unique character to the village. One of my co traveler Poonam’s guess was that Bhutoli was named after Bhutta (corn). It was the best experience for me as we were taken to a 100 year old house built in traditional style.

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The kitchen inside the wooden house. Our hosts fed us fresh boiled corns.
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Exterior of the 100 year old traditional house

Earlier all houses were built in similar fashion but only this building survives now. A wooden structure, I climbed up the narrow stairs only to enter a gate so low, I had to bend to get inside. I was told this style was invented so that any miscreants (in those times British Officers) would not be able to run away in a jiffy in case a fracas happens. The sliding windows were so small that you could barely pass a hand through it. There was a rooftop window, much like their car versions these days, which worked as a natural ventilator/exhaust/chimney/light source. The rooms had a stair to the lower floors, used as a storage space. The couple lovingly cooked boiled corn for us in their charming kitchen as my eyes scanned the spartan interiors of their lovely house. You could count their belonging on fingers. Just the kind of lifestyle I like!

Corn galore at Bhatoli Village.

Walk 2 – CAMEL’S BACK LOOP POINT

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Camel’s Back point: Can you spot the sitting camel and its hump?

Post lunch, I booked full body massage and steam bath for my parents at the hotel, while I moved on to one of the 10 walks conducted by the property in Mussoorie. The Camel’s back loop walk started right from the hotel. A right turn just at the start of the barrier, took us to the Mussoorie few care to visit. The road here was devoid of tourists. Only locals strolled by tending to their chores. Few foreign tourists enjoyed the soul nourishing views of the valley from the many ‘Hawa Ghar’ (Wind House) which lined the roads. (See Picture)

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These Hawa Ghar are great for sitting and appreciating valley or ruminating over a sunset!

We passed a mosque, an ancient British building where British officers once indulged in skating. The skating rink is still there. We were delighted like kids when our cheerful guide Deepak pointed towards a rock which looked like a sitting camel, hump intact. We were lucky to spot it before mist swallowed the quirky attraction. After few minutes, we reached a graveyard, the stones of which were engulfed by foliage. British were buried here in pre independence era. After languorously admiring a setting sun behind colossal mountains, we called it a day! The walk ends at mall Road

Walk 3 – NATURE WALK 

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Tents en route!

On the second day, a short drive took us to ‘haathi paon’, thus named because of a rock which looks like Elephant’s legs. I am fond of nature walk, which is just easier version of trekking. The 2 hour trail took us to the forest area. I stopped dead in my tracks as I passed the pine trees wrapped in mysterious looking mist. Lying below it were Rhododendron trees, which must color the town red with their flowers every March. It was a smooth walk till the Wishing Well. It is said that when you turn the back towards the well and throw a coin, it must fall in water without hitting the inner walls of well. My parents and co travelers did try (Not me!), none of them succeeded though. Parents returned from here in car and we moved as steeper climbs lied ahead. We passed some tent in the forest and old style huts en route.

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Have you played cricket in a location as scenic as this?

My favourite was the residence of George Everest. It is a stark white building, in the middle of nowhere, now inhabited by ‘langurs’ (Monkey species) and lovers who love to write on historical buildings. I am sure the small sit out area facing the valley was also the favorite spot of the legendary surveyor and geographer. The location of the house is eerie and it is touted as a haunted house.

House of George Everest (Pic 1 – Sit out area, which opens to valley!)

There is no major building in sight. All one sees is mist, mountains and an observatory up in the hill. I peeped inside to see small charming rooms, each boasting of its personal fireplace. Old world! We had a bowl of Maggi and tea in the makeshift stall and moved on to explore more vistas. We also plucked some chestnut, the tree laden with fruits, to boil it at home and eat later.

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Chestnut

Walk 4 : NAG TIBBA AND LANDOUR

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Charming House of actor Victor Banerjee

The last walk started at Char Dukaan in Landour and ended at Lal Tibba from where one can see many snow peaks. The route passed many charming bunglows, cafes, houses of famous personalities like hotelier Sanjay Narang, writer Ruskin Bond and actor Victor Banerjee. The streets here are quieter and bereft of any tourists in sight. Though I am sure the place does see tourists in peak season.

Folks at Landour Bakehouse have whacky sense of humour (Pls click to read)

Mussoorie grew on me slowly and I wondered why I took so many years to come here. I believe if you go offbeat in Mussoorie, you will discover many of its gems lurking in corners you are not suspecting them to be. I went in August end and there were hardly any tourists in sight. Even the mall road was not as horrifyingly crowded. I wondered why August is called off season, since I experienced the mist, sunshine and rain all in one day.

EAT YOUR ENEMY:

Chef Dheeraj Singh at work. Sisnu leaves on the right (mise en scene for Nettle soup!)

My father touched a thorny leaf at the Lal Tibba. Suddenly, he had this strong urge to scratch at all the affected parts. A local helped him alleviate the suffering by applying a local leaf. It was ‘sisnu’ aka nettle/ Bichchu Ghaas (Scorpio Grass). Turned out that was exactly our lunch as we reached Mosaic Mussoorie. The Executive Sous Chef Dheeraj Singh gave us a live demo of how to make Nettle Soup. The leaves were burnt on stove to kill its thorn and thus the scratching sensations it produces. The ever smiling chef rustled up a flavoursome soup in no time. I have always wanted to eat it in Sikkim and Nepal where it is more popular. This was my first time and loved it. The ever smiling Chef hosts a TV show on Care World TV. Check his videos on You Tube. (Search his name)

Stay (Upscale):

Stay at the well appointed Mosaic Mussoorie. The rooms are luxurious, cozy and have cheerful interiors. Family can stay in the attic suite or attic rooms. One can choose depending upon the budget. The location of the hotel is perfect. It is just at the start of the barrier of Mall Road, which means you can park your car in a parking lot behind hotel and move it anytime easily. Check their contact details and tariff here.

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The scandalous Fried Ice Cream

Eat:

Mosaic Mussoorie has two restaurants. Random and Charcoal. The cuisine at random is varied. I particularly loved the scandalous fried ice cream (My first time), Veg Wonton Soup, Veg lasagna topped with micro greens, Nettle soup. The breakfast is sumptuous though you can avoid the lackluster stuffed parathas. I liked the breakfast buffet where you can make your own salad, combine breads with different variety of cheeses, pick up healthy vegetable shooters, fruits, flavoured water and juices. Charcoal is an open air restaurant where you can see your food being barbequed live. Dining here during a misty weather is unforgettable. When in Landour, eat at the Landour Bake house. Grab the valley facing seats (Their sense of humor is too good, see picture)

Shopping:

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My parents shopping for local outfits at Bhuttico. I support local weaves over big brands!

 Shop for high quality shawls at Bhuttico, a goverment enterprise. My mother merrily picked up some ‘sadri’ (waistcoat for me), Shirts (for dad) and Shawls. There are many Kashmiri shops which sell products from Kashmir. You can also pick ponchos.

For local handmade jams, jellies and cheese, head to A Prakash & Co in Landour (Phone – 632544)

Kempty falls:

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Oops!

Go if you really want to. I was curious thanks to its fame, so made a half an hour car journey from the Mall Road. I was part impressed, part disappointed. May be because I have seen enough waterfalls in Maharashtra and they fail to excite me now. So decide for yourself.

How to reach:

New Delhi to Dehradoon

Train number: 12017, Dehradoon Shatabdi (Comfortable air conditioned sitting car. Includes meals)

Dehradoon to Mussoorie cab/bus: Approx 1 hour (32 kms)

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A Local women at Wishing Well

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My parents drinking one of the sweetest water ever at Wishing Well

WARNING : COPYRIGHT TO ALL THE IMAGES AND TEXT HERE REMAINS WITH ME. YOU CAN NOT JUST LIFT THE CONTENT AND USE IT WITHOUT MY PERMISSION. STRICT LEGAL ACTION WILL BE TAKEN IF CONTENT IS STOLEN. YES, I AM SERIOUS.

 

Sursingdhar : A truly offbeat escape with Himalayan Eco Lodge near Delhi !

I am always running from pillar to post in my travel. Since this year, I am trying to train myself to slow down. My trip to Sursingdhar turned out to be slow travel thanks to my parents who prefer it that way.

 

I am new in Delhi and was looking for a great weekend break with family, away from the chaotic megapolis. I asked many friends for suggestions. All of them suggested nice places near Delhi but with a warning that since it’s June, so expect a lot of ‘beer and tikka’ crowd in almost all the popular hill station destinations near Delhi.

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My mother watching the sublime sunrise from the balcony! In Silence!

I wanted a respite from the cruel Delhi heat and the crowds. Then suddenly, my mind raced back to a blog I read by Manjulika on Sursingdhar many moons ago. I remember, after reading her blog, I dreamt of going to that quaint little village, sitting in my tiny apartment in Mumbai. It was not an easy task from Mumbai but from Delhi it seemed cushy. An 8 hour comfortable drive on the smooth roads was what was promised to me.

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The lyrical sun rise from the balcony of Himalayan Eco Lodge

I zeroed in on Sursingdhar and it exceeded my expectation. As our cab neared the Himalayan Eco Lodge (at an elevation of 7000 plus feets), I was delighted to discover its remoteness. The resort is built right in the middle of a nondescript village. We had booked the first floor cottage facing the valley. This is the best you can get here.

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Parents at Himalayan Eco Lodge

It was a delight beyond words to watch the villagers pass by in slow motion, the many exotic birds filling the only pine tree opposite our balcony, the sun rising poetically from behind the hills. I have been told that on clearer days, one can see snow capped mountains, especially the Nanda Devi. We didn’t get to see that due to mist but we didn’t mind. Our loss was compensated with an unhindered look of a rare rainbow, lining the sky. An excited me woke up my parents to savor the miracles of nature.

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The rainbow we saw from our balcony in Himalayan Eco Lodge

The balcony was my favourite place. I would not want to leave the place and spend long hours, doing nothing but just staring romantically at the many species of exotic birds, mountains, villages, mountain dogs, tress laden with local fruits like ‘pahadi seb’ (Apple), chulu, peach etc. In complete silence I gazed at them.

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Snacks in the balcony!

My silence was punctuated only by chirps of a bird and the ‘thak thak’ sound by a woodpecker who could not stay at one spot for more than a second. Like an obsessed lover, I followed the movement of the woodpecker on the pine tree opposite the balcony. The gorgeous bird would play hide and seek with me as if enticing me to ‘Catch me if you can’. Soon the tree was full of many woodpeckers. Till this day, I had not seen so many at a time.

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My obsession was killed by a staff member who showed up with flask full of tea, pakoris (fritters) and cookies. It was a perfect snack to indulge in, since it started drizzling lightly. As we sipped the tea, cool breeze caressed our faces gently, bringing with them the scent of the pine trees that surrounded the resort.

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Snacks in the balcony!

 

Post the tea break, me and my parents decided to take a walk in the beautifully landscaped garden and the village beneath. I was told that the owner is a lover of plants and gardening, especially the many flowers.

Picture above : Flowers and chulu fruit

There is no way you can ignore the riot of colors dotting the Himalayan Eco Lodge at Sursingdhar. Red/ purple/ yellow/ pink/ white/ blue colored flowers almost blinded us with their unbridled beauty. Even our balcony was inundated with flowering plants. Did I forget to mention that pots filled with flowers hung above our head as we chatted over tea in the balcony.

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As we entered the village just outside the resort, we had our eyes peeled. Just interacting with the locals, observing the local lifestyle and mountain houses, plucking the fruits from the trees are some of the simpler joys of life we savored here. One of the villagers, a charming lady, invited us over to her house for tea. We unfortunately could not go as my mother is understandably not fit enough to climb the steep paths.

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Post a session of carrom at the lawn facing the valley, we huddled around the bonfire in the garden. We as a family, bonded over conversation laced with sweet nothings over the bonfire

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New Tehri Town as seen from our balcony

The meals served to us were simple yet delicious, healthy and light on tummy. We were delighted when we were served local village food from Uttarakhand after sampling familiar food for past few days. I am mentioning those with a rough recipe (Not tried at home yet)

 

  • Kali Daal Ka Chausa: (Pic 1) It was so delicious, I ended up having 3 bowls of this lentil based dish. Black Urad Daal is ground coarse and raw and then roasted with ghee (Clarified Indian Butter). Spices, tomato, onion, garlic and water are added to it gradually and simmered until done.
  • Palak ki Kapli: (Pic 2) It’s a spinach stew which is nothing but roughly chopped spinach cooked with onion, tomato and water.
  • Plum Chutney: (Pic 3) Plum fruits are available in abundance here. It’s a spicy sauce made with plums, sugar, spices and chillies.
  • Bathue ka paratha: (Pic 3) It’s a local saag (Green leafy vegetable) which is mixed with the dough alongwith spices and turned into delicious breads to be had with plum chutney and pickles etc.
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Our cozy room at Himalayan Eco Lodge!

The next day, the ever smiling manager Kuldeep at Himalayan Eco Lodge suggested me a 1 hour trek around the village. I lapped up at the opportunity. The trek is decent and a mix of pucca road and dirt tracks through the village. It’s an easy trek through pine and deodar forests.

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Me during the trek!

En route I saw local temples, got birds eye view of the village, exotic birds, even a scared fox, cute Himalayan kids waving at me and villagers going about their work. I also saw trees laden with local fruits like pahadi seb (apple), aadu, pomegranate, Malta etc. The weather was pleasant, what with breezy winds and a light drizzle punctuating the experience.

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Temple en route the trek!

Ever since I have been back from Everest Base Camp trek, I had been craving to do a 1 day trek! You would be wondering why one day. Because I wanted to test my fitness level! Post EBC, I had gained a lot of weight (From 75 kgs to 100 kgs) because I ate like mad after shifting to Delhi and my bodily movement was restricted to basics such as fetching a glass of water ‘all by myself’.

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Trek tracks!

During the trek, I realized that I was momentarily breathless in just an hour long trek. I used to jump on such trails earlier. I was embarrassed that the guide could hear my huffs and puffs…. But then I thought what the heck, its ok. He would think of me as ‘just another fat, spoilt brat from Delhi’. And I have no patience left to explain my ‘Fit to Fat’ story to one and all. Anyways, it was an alarming day for me. During the trek I promised myself to commit to a strict fitness regime as soon as possible and get back to my original shape and weight.

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Did the kid like me? He’s emoticoning so not sure!
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The temple at the end of the trek!

QUICK GET AWAYS:

  • Tehri dam : Once a bustling town, it is now submerged in water due to the dam project. One can see some of the remains of the town including a palace peeping from the water. Today it has become the hub for water sports. It is half an hour away.
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My father trying Jet Skiing at Tehri dam!
  • New Tehri Town/Chamba: Great for shopping for local jams, pickles, chutneys, Rhododendron and malta squash. It is 20 minutes away.
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Rhododendron and Malta squash!
  • Kanatal/Dhanaulti : A quick ride on smooth roads will take you there. However, the climate and weather and landscapes are quite similar to Sursingdhar. So you can skip this one if you want a peaceful vacation in silence.
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At Eco Park in Dhanaulti!
  • Mussoorie and Landour : Just ahead of Kanatal are these combo of popular and offbeat destinations.
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Maggi at Dhanaulti!
  • Haridwar and Rishikesh: Just 3 hours away, the twin spiritual towns are a great excursion, especially in winters.
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In Rishikesh, against ram Jhoola on their wedding anniversary!

WHEN TO GO

March, April, May: Busy months.

June and July : The occupancy is lower than other times.

December, January and Mid feb : Expect light snowfall.

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Himalayan Eco Lodge, Sursingdhar!

PRICE:

It’s a great deal for Rs. 5600 on double occupancy including buffet style breakfast, lunch and dinner. Why it is a steal deal is because your meals are sorted and most of the activities are centered around the resort. You don’t really need to go anywhere.

Best rooms: Ask for room number 2,3,4 which face the snow capped mountains. You can see Gangotri, Kedarnath, Badrinath and Nanda Devi from here!

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Me during the aarti at Har Ki Paudi, Haridwar!

WARNING : COPYRIGHT TO ALL THE IMAGES AND TEXT HERE REMAINS WITH ME. YOU CAN NOT JUST LIFT THE CONTENT AND USE IT WITHOUT MY PERMISSION. STRICT LEGAL ACTION WILL BE TAKEN IF CONTENT IS STOLEN. YES, I AM SERIOUS.