Naturally north: The mountains are calling – India Today

For a mind-boggling panoramic view of the enchanting Himalayas, head to Kausani—a quiet hill station located in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand. Once called the Switzerland of India by Mahatma Gandhi, Kausani is a perfect honeymoon destination. The mesmerising hills create a perfect romantic environment, attracting many newly married couples from across the country every year. Once there, you can witness the ever-changing moods of the Himalayas and enjoy spectacular views of the Nanda Devi, Trishul and Nanda Kot.
The main attraction of these hills is the Anashakti Ashram where Gandhi stayed for a few years and penned his thoughts about the pristine beauty of the place. The ashram is well-stocked with photographs and books on Gandhi’s life. Another ashram situated close to Anashakti, over-looking the Kosi Valley, is the Lakshmi Ashram. Other places you would like to visit when in Kausani are the tea gardens and the pear orchid areas. The tea from this region is exported to all parts of the world.
Well-known Hindi poet Sumitranandan Pant was born in Kausani. The Sumitranandan Pant Gallery was built to commemorate him. A poetry symposium is organised every year to mark the poet’s birth anniversary. The good thing about this place is that it serves as a base for other excursions that you might be interested in. For instance, you can make your way up to Nainital, Almora and Ranikhet. For the religious, there are the famous temple towns of Baijnath and Bageshwar that attract a large number of devotees as well as tourists all round the year.
Wildlife enthusiasts can visit the nearby bird and wildlife sanctuary at Binsar, which is home to more than 200 species of birds, barking deer, leopards and foxes. Electricity supply is limited in Binsar to preserve the natural beauty. While there, you will be spoilt for trekking options. The popular trails are the Bageshwar Sunderdhunga, the Adi Kailash and the Base Kausani trek route. Because Kausani experiences snowfall in the months of December and January, it is best if you avoid these snow-capped beauties during the winters. April to November is the best time to be in Kausani.
There is no direct route to reach Kausani by air; the nearest airport being Pantnagar at a distance of 180 km. You can enjoy the hospitality of the Indian Railways—the nearest railway station is at Kathgodam at a distance of 142 km. Besides, bus services connect Kausani with the other hill resorts, including Ranikhet, Almora, Gwaldam, Pithoragarh and Nainital.

By Ayesha Singh

The trip to Mashobra was very different indeed for my family, me and a couple of friends from our regular holidays and getaways. Thanks to a friend who suggested a cottage that her cousin owns in Mashobra, which to my understanding, till then, was just a small hamlet somewhere near the noisy, crowded and polluted Shimla. I had no expectations or clue about the place. There was, however, no time for any apprehensions either as we were told that we would have to do our own cooking once we were there. So, we got busy working out a cooking schedule for everyone and deciding on the minutest details of every meal, including what fruits to have for breakfast. And the basic meal had to be satvik as one of our members couldn’t have anything else.
Rahul, our Shimla specialist, was all set with his kit for a gourmet Thai meal and he set off on his trusted Bullet to ride all the way from Delhi to his house in Shimla. Amit planned on Balti chicken. From pasta to pav bhaji to cinnamon cake, the plan included everything. Some of us booked our train tickets up to Kalka and then planned on travelling to Mashobra by car. My husband, the avid driver that he is, had already prepped up the family car for yet another road journey which we so love anyway.
Reaching Shimla by road was no sweat and the distance to be covered from Shimla (16 km) to the cottage in Mashobra was achieved in just half an hour. Following road map directions, starting from the tiny Mashobra market, we reached the cottage located in a quaint little village called Purani Koti. Complete with thick pine forests all around and an apple orchard behind, the very European-looking chalet was an absolute delight from inside too. My nine-year-old son fell in love with the warm, cozy attic on the second floor instantly. It was the perfect place to curl up and read a book, listen to music, play a board game or simply do nothing but take a snooze. Even the sunny and airy bathrooms attached to the two master bedrooms had magnificent views. A light drizzle just after we arrived was delightful to look at and to be enjoyed through the French windows in the living room.
The Forest Hill Villa was perfect. It was far away from the city, the crowd, the noise, the heat and of course, pollution. It’s no five-star hotel and is all about “do it yourself”. The villa provides a fully stocked modern kitchen but one has to cook. The basic kitchen essentials are replenished on a daily basis. And then there is Sundar, the caretaker, butler, kitchen assistant-cum-the local guide who is only too pleased to facilitate anything you require, and with a smile.
The cottage is best suited for a group holiday as one has to hire the entire cottage. On the first evening, everyone was too tired to do anything other than relax and unwind. Besides, we didn’t exactly have any itinerary planned as the whole point of the trip was to enjoy life in a commune, the cool refreshing mountain air and take a break from our routine lives. During those three days, we all discovered the hidden talents in each one of us. We figured that the only bachelor among us excelled in babysitting. Did I forget to mention that a truckload of summer fruits from Delhi came too for a holiday with us? Anita and I kept wiping down the kitchen and washing up unconsciously. The kitchen and the dining area was the busiest place in the whole cottage. And we all ate almost non-stop.
Despite the complete lack of an itinerary, we did manage to throw in a few activities. Since our group had people from all age groups, we, on principle, chose to do only inclusive activities. To reach Mashobra, one could travel by train up to Kalka. The nearest airport is Shimla. It would be ideal to have your own vehicle for the sake of mobility and flexibility.
By Barnali Das

This picturesque national park is situated at the foothills of the Shivalik Ranges and is one of the best places to observe wild elephants in their natural habitat. The summer months are especially productive as herds of elephant can be seen descending from the forest to the rivers every evening. The road along the upper Ganga Canal is readily accessible, resulting in some rather close encounters of bikers and motorists with a charging elephant.
An occasional leopard can also be spotted here preying on the monkeys who line the canal. Herds of chital or spotted deer are found grazing around in the open grasslands. Barking deer, hog deer, nilgai, wild pigs and sloth bears also inhabit these forests though you may not always catch a glimpse of these.
The Rajaji National Park is also the best place for bird watching—it boasts of more than 315 species of birds. The trees along the canal are home to a colony of great Indian hornbills. Chestnut-headed, blue-tailed, green and blue-bearded bee-eaters and five species of kingfishers—the Himalayan pied, lesser pied, small blue, stork-billed and white-throated—are found here.
Over 40 species of water birds visit the Ganges every winter. Cormorants, peacock, crows, egrets, lapwings and nightjars, owlets, partridges, pheasants and pond herons are some of the birds that you may see. A short drive away from the park gate is Gauri Ghat. The deserted ghat on the Ganges with shallow flowing water is ideal for an outdoor picnic. If you have a spare day, you can go for white water rafting at Shivpuri. Those with religious leanings can visit Chandi Devi Temple and Har-ki-Pauri in Haridwar and Ram Jhula, Laxman Jhula, Triveni Ghat, Bharat Temple in Rishikesh.
It’s best to drive your own car or take a taxi to the park as Rajaji permits self-driven cars. Make sure it’s a sturdy SUV as the forest tracks are prone to extreme undulation and occasional streams or rivulets. Getting off the car is not permitted as elephants often charge at vehicles without even the slightest provocation. If you want to fly, the nearest airport is Jolly Grant Airport in Dehradun, 20 km away from Haridwar. It’s an ideal weekend vacation for animal lovers.
By Paramita Dasgupta Mazumdar

Palampur is an ideal spot for those who seek to escape from the hustle-bustle of city life and wish to spend some quiet time in the lap of nature. Surrounded by tea gardens and pine forests before they merge with the Dhauladhar ranges, the serene hill station in Himachal Pradesh is the tea capital of north India. Some of you might not know, but earlier Palampur was a part of the local Sikh kingdom and later came under British rule. The hill station gets its name from “Pulum” which means abundant water. It is home to two very important institutions, the Agriculture University and the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research Complex. Besides feasting your eyes on the colonial architecture, you can take a guided tour of one of the tea factories to learn about tea processing. Don’t miss to visit the St. John’s church while in Palampur.
If you have more time in hand, it will be worth walking up to the beautiful Bundla Chasm waterfall. It’s a great picnic spot where you and your loved ones can soak in the freshness of nature. Thirty-five km away from the plush Palampur is a village called Bir, famous for its Buddhist monasteries and Tibetan handicrafts. Surrounded by tea gardens and low hills, it is an ideal landing ground for paragliders. Billing, another village 14 km up in the hills from Bir, is one of the best aero sports sites in the country.
Constructed in 1204 A.D. by two local merchants named Ahuka and Manyuka, the Shiv Temple at Baijnath is one of the most remarkable monuments of the Kangra Valley. Baijnath is one of the 12 Jyotirlingas. The temple is a beautiful example of the early medieval north Indian temple architecture known as Nagara style. For a spectacular view of the magnificent Dhauladhar range, take a 2-km trek to Neugal Khad. The best time to hit this spot is during the monsoons when you can sit and watch it pour from the Himachal Tourism café that provides food and a fine view.
Once home to the famous painter Sardar Sobha Singh and playwright Norah Richards, Andretta village, about 13 km from Palampur, is the centre for various artistic activities, especially pottery. Don’t forget to visit Shobha Singh’s Art Gallery in the village. Ten km away is the Chamunda Devi Temple. A wrathful form of Durga is worshipped here. Palampur is an easily accessible tourist destination. Gaggal is the nearest airport from Palampur at a distance of 50 km. For train lovers, the nearest station is Pathankot at 125 km.
By Ayesha Singh
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