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.
DO YOU KNOW THE USES OF PINE TREE?
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.
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.
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.
CONNECTING WITH THE LOCALS OF KAFURA, MUKTESHWAR NEAR LEELA ORCHARDS, SONAPANI.
‘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!
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)
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Pic above: A local filling pots with water during sunset in Nal Sarovar Sanctuary.This picture won a photography contest and was featured in DNA newspaper.
I took the smooth highway from Ahmedabad to reach Sanand. It is the nearest town which facilitates access to the offbeat Nal Sarovar Bird Sanctuary. Sanand is a dusty little town; its only claim to fame is that it is the manufacturing hub for Nano cars. I could not spot any Nano car. However, I found myself in the middle of a sea of Chakkdis in all possible colors; reveling in their kitschy glory. A Chakkdi is a quirky vehicle unique to rural Gujarat. It looks like a motorbike is attached to a wooden cart.
Pics above: Left- I was sitting in this doodh wali gaadi. View from my seat. Right-The gaadi stops, passengers disembarking near the sanctuary.
Giving a miss to the chakadi ride, I hopped on the ‘doodh wali gaadi’ instead. The vehicle originally meant for carrying goods was cleverly converted into a passenger carrying taxi. The driver waited for close to 45 minutes until he ensured that at least 3 men are hanging precariously from the rear of the jeep. As if this was the unsaid rule in rural Gujarat.
It is not really the proper way to reach the sanctuary but I never skip a chance to travel with locals, in their style. In no time, I was accompanied by dozens of rural men and women occupying every inch space of the massive vehicle. Those who could not find a seat, hung from the rear of the vehicle, rest sitting atop it. 20 minutes into the ride, the driver stopped the vehicle for more passengers. I wondered where will he make them sit. Without a second wasted in discussion, 3 adults climbed atop the front of the vehicle and made themselves comfortable. Their soiled legs, dangling in front of the driver’s seat, were the highlight of my hour long ride to the sanctuary.
The ‘as-smooth-as-glass’ road from Sanand to Nal Sarovar Bird Sanctuary passed though idyllic villages of Gujarat. The lush green landscape offered a glimpse into the lifestyle of rural Gujaratis who lived on the fringes of either sides of the road. One moment has stuck to me from that journey. I spotted a woman doing her chores as her kids and peacocks roamed nonchalantly around her house peacefully. My experience has taught me that such utopian scenes of man animal harmony is common in rural Gujarat and Rajasthan.
54 kms (from Sanand) and more than an hour later, I was dropped unceremoniously at the crossroads near the sanctuary. Eerily, the only tourist who was walking towards the sanctuary was me. I entered the main gate gingerly; my attention caught by the wetlands on either sides of the road. I was excited to see huge numbers of migratory birds perched on every inch of the vast expanse. A tout approached me with a Rs. 500 boat ride offer and I gave in. Containing my excitement and faking my poise, I hopped on to the boat. By the time I started my boat ride, it was already 5 p.m. and the sun had started to melt. I could finally spot more tourists in a distance, quietly enjoying the bounty of nature.
A flock of unruly gulls gheraoed my boat from all sides, harassing me for food. Their cheap antics didn’t match their elegant beauty. White in colour, they were gorgeous; the touch of bright orange beaks and feet made their appearance dramatic. Their abundance did not take away from their beauty. Their ‘pirate’ act was an interesting spectacle.
Nal sarovar sanctuary is actually a large lake which spans approximately 120 kms. Announced a bird sanctuary in April 1969, it is one of the largest bird sanctuary wetlands in India.
The shallowness of the lake and the characteristic reed beds and marshes makes it unique. This helps a variety of aquatic plants and avian life to thrive. The oar of my boatman fell when we were in the middle of the lake. My jaw dropped when the boatman jumped in the lake and heroically picked up the ore as I waited for him, swinging on the boat, in the middle of nowhere. The water barely touched his knee.
Observing my baffled face, the boatman educated me that the maximum depth of the lake was 4 feet. No wonder, the shallowness makes it the an ideal feeding haven for migratory birds like greater and smaller flamingos. Their main diet is blue green algae which are in abundance here. Come November to February and it’s a paradise for migratory birds and bird-watching enthusiasts alike. Migratory birds travel from as far as central Europe (upto 3500 kms.) every winter. Apart from the local birds, these migratory birds traverse to Nal Sarovar in order to escape the harsh winter in their homeland. An impressive 200 species of birds call this place home.
For few months it is a safe home for birds like stints, plovers, grebes, black tailed godwit, brahminy ducks, bitterns rosy pelicans, white stork, sandpipers, crakes, waterfowl, different species of wader and herons. Different species of fish, insects and aquatic plants and insects are also food for these birds.
I passed through many large numbers of different species of birds, as the boatman navigated the boat poetically. Incongruous ‘Cross’ installed in the middle of the lake intrigued me. Cormorants used the crosses to display their “I am drying my wings” pose.
By now, the gulls had deserted my boat leaving me alone with the boatman and nature. Absorbed in the beauty of the moment, I suddenly realized that we had left not only the gulls but any sign of humanity and civilization far behind. We had ventured deep in the lake. It was one those moments I cherish in my travels- communing with nature in utter silence. For a moment, the thought of being looted did cross my mind. But over the years, I have learnt to trust the people of this country and rightly so.
The boat swam languorously in the lake, crushing the aquatic weeds gently under its rough exterior.There were birds in every direction I set my eyes on. Thanks to a setting sun, they had congregated for their ‘End Of Day’ seminars! The flamingos or pelicans eluded me. Never mind, the boatman pointed out a large flock of flamingos heading towards a resting ground for the night. They moved poetically, in a perfect V shape. Their faint noise felt like a lullaby.
Nothing can parallel the extraordinary feeling of gazing at scores of birds returning to their home. The erstwhile silence of the place was punctuated with their collective sounds! The interesting aquatic plant life attracted my attention equally. I strained my eyes and spotted beautiful aquatic plants, some jutting out of the water, some with gorgeous patterns; some flourished beneath the water but easily visible.
I chickened out when the boatman offered to take me deeper into the lake. Though I was dying to discover more of this place, I politely declined as it was getting dark and I had no clue how to go back to Ahmedabad. I didn’t even know where I was staying overnight and what I was eating next. Practical logistic worries quashed my romantic indulgences and I asked him to return.
As we were about to return, a magical moment unfolded before my eyes. I asked him to stop the boat as I saw the Sun change hues from a bright yellow and orange to a mellower deep red. The Sun shyly hid itself behind the trees and shrubs, the water in the foreground reflecting its colors. The bewitching reflection made it look like someone had scattered gold in the lake. The birds lent an ethereal quality to the moment. They frantically passed the Sun many times. It seemed like they were taking turns to enter and exit the Sun.
Before I realised, the setting had hypnotised me. Casting a magical spell on me, Nal Sarovar had exceeded all my expectations. Till date, it remains one of my most beautiful winter evenings.
It’s not every day that I am surrounded by thousands of migratory birds with a breath taking background of an orange sun committing suicide. For hours, the only sound I heard were the flapping of wings and the sound of ripples every time the boatman gently caressed the water with his oar. Bliss!
The surreal sun down is still one of the best I have ever seen. And I have seen many! The overwhelming beauty pushed me into a contemplative mood, encouraging me even to shed a tear. My travels have taught me that one absorbs more and feels the place more when one travels solo and is left alone to commune with nature.
WHEN TO GO- November to February is the best time. Sighting is easy at this time.
HOW TO REACH- Ahmedabad is nearest railway station/airport. Nal Sarovar is 61 kms away from Ahmedabad. I suggest book a cab from Ahmedabad. Traveling like locals might land you up in travel. Post the boat ride, I was stranded in dark for hours. I will soon write a blog on that horror.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
New Tehri Town/Chamba: Great for shopping for local jams, pickles, chutneys, Rhododendron and malta squash. It is 20 minutes away.
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.
Mussoorie and Landour : Just ahead of Kanatal are these combo of popular and offbeat destinations.
Haridwar and Rishikesh: Just 3 hours away, the twin spiritual towns are a great excursion, especially in winters.
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.
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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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.