I always feel attracted to the mountains and only natural science could be held responsible for it. This is in accordance with Newton’s law of universal gravitation, which states that ‘Every particle attracts every other particle in the universe with a force which is directly proportional to the product of their masses’. This law fits very nicely in my bonding with the mighty mountains. They keep on calling me now and then and hence whenever I get a chance to flee from my daily chaos, I found myself travelling towards them.
In June this year, I got such an opportunity, so I planned a trip. I didn’t want to experience the same crowd and traffic of the city so I simply waved off the idea of visiting cities like Shimla, Nainital, Dehradoon, etc. I explored for some less crowded, quite, remote, and serene places in the Himalayas and finalized a trip to Binsar, Chaukori, and Munsiyari, located in Kumaon region of Uttarakhand. I was accompanied by my sister, her husband, my nephew and my better half.
We started our journey by car at 6 am from our home town Kanpur and reached to my sister’s place, Shahjahanpur in almost four hours. After a break of an hour we started driving on national highway (NH 30) which passes through Shahjahanpur, followed by a turn after Bareilly to NH 109 to Kathgodam. On the way we stopped at Satish ka dhaba on Bareilly-Haldwani road. Kathgodam is a nice, small city. Whenever I pass through this place, I always admire its beauty. It is a town where you will find stores of many big brands and the luxury of a big city in a relatively very small area in addition to the beauty of a hill station. It is the gateway to the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand. The terrain is plain till Kathgodam.
We halted at Kathgodam for a tea break and around an hour later, we started our onward journey to Binsar via Almora. Almora is 87 km from Kathgodam on NH 109. Binsar is 25 km ahead of Almora but as you cross Kathgodam, hilly terrain starts, so it takes around 4 hours to cover a distance of 115 km. Our stay was already booked in Binsar Eco Resort.
At a distance of 95 km from Nainital, Binsar is situated at an altitude of 2,420 m, one of the most scenic spots in the Kumaon Himalayas. During the 7th to 18th centuries, Binsar was the capital of the Chand dynasty. Binsar is an ideal place for avid nature lovers, writers, adventurers, bird watchers, trackers, etc. Certain things cannot be explained but only experienced. Although the monsoon season hadn’t started, the entire region was lush green. No sign of pollution, very sparse population, dense forestation, tranquillity it offered was amazing. The only sound you hear often was, twittering of numerous birds. By the time we reached Binsar, it was around 10 in night. The roads are otherwise safe for driving, unless you drive carelessly.
As we were on leisure vacations, the next morning we decided to roam only to the nearby locations. At a distance of 4 km from our resort, there was Gairar Golu Devta’s temple. Lord Golu Devta is regarded as the ‘Lord of Justice’ and believed to be the incarnation of Gaur Bhairav (Shiva). The devotees visiting Golu Devta temple present clothes, turban, and shawl in white color to the deity as a token of their love and respect for the lord. En route to Gairar Golu Devta temple, we stopped at some unknown points for random clicks.
The Binsar Wild Life Sanctuary is just 2 km away from the Golu Devta’s temple. It is a reserved habitat for variety of wildlife species. You can find here musk deer, gorals, leopards, jungle cats, black bears, porcupines, langurs, foxes, barking deer, flying squirrels, and chitals. There is an entrance fee to enter the sanctuary. At the time of our visit, the entry fee was Rs. 150/person for Indians, 75/person for Indian students (on showing valid id card) and 650/person for foreigners, and Rs. 250 for a small car. Child below the age of 5 years, is exempted from the entry fee. Taking the required permission, we entered the sanctuary. This sanctuary is situated in the lap of Kumaun hills in Himalayas on the top of Jhandi Dhar. As you move forward, the forest gets thicker and denser. On the way, we had lunch at Simba Cafe. The cafe is situated amidst dense forests in a very peaceful location.
In front of Simba Cafe, set in a low-lying grassland and surrounded by pine forests, is a small ancient temple, Bineshwar Mahadev, built in the 16th century and dedicated to Lord Shiva. Near to this cafe, there is also a 19th century Grand Oak Manor that speaks for the history of old Kumaon. It was the former summer home of Sir Henry Ramsay, who was the commissioner of the Kumaon and Garwhal districts during 1856 to 1884 and was dubbed by the authors as “The King of Kumaon.”
At around 3-4 kms is situated the Tourist Rest House (TRH) of Kumaun Mandal Vikas Nigam. Being located in the dense forests of Binsar Wild Life Sanctuary, there are some restrictions too, as you cannot organize campfires, electricity is provided only for limited hours in the evening. Mobile network except BSNL and Vodafone are not available, you can’t wander outside after dark as it may be dangerous, etc.
Starting from TRH, there is a nature trail of almost 2.5 km. The trail leads you to the highest vantage point of the Binsar wildlife sanctuary, the ‘Zero Point’, through beautiful forests of oak and rhododendron. The path up to Zero Point is although strenuous but very beautiful. You can watch many species of birds and may also encounter with wildlife. On a clear day, you can have a glance at the 300 km stretched panoramic view of mesmerizing ranges and majestic view of the snowy Himalayan peaks like Chaukhamba, Nanda Kot, Kedarnath, Trishul, Nanda Devi, Shivling and Panchchuli will steal your heart. Although we couldn’t see the distant snow-capped peaks because of heavy mist and clouds.
The next day, we visited the city of Almora and the Katarmal Sun Temple. Almora is a small hilly town. Swami Vivekananda had a very special connection with Almora. Swami Vivekananda had always been attracted and fascinated by the Himalayas. In Almora, he inspired Captain Sevier and Mrs. Sevier along with one of his disciple Swami Swarupananda, to look for a place to establish an Ashram. They found it in Mayavati, 6,400 ft. above sea level. Swami Vivekananda set up the Advaita Ashram in Mayavati in Kumaon in March 1899 and stayed a fortnight in January 1901.
In September 1890, Swami Vivekananda meditated in Kasar Devi cave near Almora. This place also houses a temple known as Kasar Devi temple which is at a steep ascent from the road. There is an old Shiva temple a few meters above the Kasar Devi temple. The view of the Almora town from this temple is very picturesque.
In Almora, there is one more point which is related to Swami Vivekananda and that is Vivekananda corner. Earlier it was known as the ‘Brighton Corner’, named after Mr. Brighton. It is situated at the endpoint of the Mall Road. It is a vantage point that offers some of the most picturesque views of the valley and the sunset amidst the mighty Himalayas. It is also known for various meditation centers and the famous Swami Vivekananda Aashram, which also houses a library.
At a walking distance from the Vivekananda corner, there situated a newly constructed shopping mall, Raghunath City Mall. Although it is still under construction but some portion is now open for public. Stores of many big brands are already there while many others are in pipeline. We had a heavy lunch there at ‘Little Punjab’ restaurant. It serves good food and yummy ice-creams. You should go for fresh fruit ice-cream.
The next day we visited Sun temple at Katarmal, which is 16 kms away from Almora. It is the second most important sun temple after the Sun temple at Konark, dedicated to the God Sun in India. One has to walk for around 1 km to reach the temple. The temple was constructed by the Katyuri Kings in the 9th century AD. The temple is known for its unique architecture and various carvings on its walls ceilings. The temple complex consists of one main shrine and is surrounded by 45 smaller shrines that are carved out of stone.
The next morning we left for Chaukori via Bageshwar. This and much more in my next post, which is following very soon…
What to See:
Binsar is a scenic, sleepy and a cut-off travel destination, which offers you the natural beauty in abundance. So enjoy the tranquillity and beauty of the place. Kasar Devi temple, Katarmal Sun temple, Binsar wildlife sanctuary are the main points of attraction in Binsar. The famous Zero Point, Bineshwar Mahadev, Grand Oak Manor, Khali Estate (Former home to Sir Henry Ramsay) are all within the wildlife sanctuary. You can also trek to different villages from the wildlife sanctuary, however taking services of guide is advisable in such case. You can also visit the zoo in Almora which is the nearest town.
When to Go:
Binsar is at an elevation of around 8000 ft. and can be reached in any season as every season has its own charm. The climate here is salubrious because of dense forests all around and the height. Although the best time to visit Binsar is October-November and the summers.
The summer season, which extends from April to June, remains quite pleasant as the temperature hovers in range of 150C and 300C. This is the best time for trekking, etc. After April, mist and clouds start hiding the snow capped mountain ranges.
The rainy season turns Binsar completely lush green but monsoon brings also with it many related inconveniences and dangers like driving on hills in heavy rains, land sliding, flash floods, slippery roads, etc. So one should consider all the pros and cons before planning for Binsar in rains.
Winters in Binsar are very chilling and freezing as the lower temperature falls to subzero range. Winter season stretches from October to February. Snowfall on height is quite normal. So it is the best time for honeymooners and nature lovers.
How to Reach:
Binsar is well connected with most of the important towns and cities of Uttarakhand through all weather roads.
By Air: Pantnagar (PGH) is the nearest airport, which is around 150 km away. It receives daily flights from New Delhi. You can easily find taxis from the airport to Binsar.
By Road: Binsar is easily reached using public as well as private transport. Buses from ISBT New Delhi, Haldwani, Kathgodam, Nainital, Almora to Binsar are easily available. Taxis are also available from the aforesaid locations.
By Train: Kathgodam (KGM) is the nearest railway station at a distance of 120 km. Kathgodam is well connected through rest of the country. Trains from New Delhi, Kanpur, Lucknow, Bareilly, Kolkata run on regular basis.
Where to Stay:
There are not many options available to stay in Binsar as it is a remote and cut-off place. So it advisable to book hotels and accommodation, well in advance. The options available there could be classified in luxury/deluxe and budget hotels. Mary Budden Estate, Tourist Rest House (TRH) of KMVN, Bisnar Forest Retreat Resort, Grand Oak Manor, Khali Estate are some luxury/deluxe places to stay, right in the middle of the wildlife sanctuary.
Simba Cafe and Lodge and Idyllic Heaven are budget accommodation within the wildlife sanctuary. Club Mahindra Valley Resort may also be a choice but it is in Binsar valley, quite far from points to be visited. Binsar Eco Resort (also known as Clarks Inn Binsar), Kasar Jungle Resort, Mohan Binsar Retreat, Imperial Heights (all on Bageshwar Road), Binsar Eco Camp and few other options like this are also available.
Where and What to Eat:
Mohan’s Retreat on Kasar Devi-Binsar Road is a good choice for Indian food. The views from the restaurant are amazing. Bird Song at Club Mahindra can be a good choice for really good cakes and authentic local food. Within the wildlife sanctuary, The Acron at Grand Oak Manor serves delicious Kumaoni and Indian cuisines in very nice ambience. You can have good food at the Simba Cafe and at TRH Binsar (available only at the lunch time).
What to buy:
You can purchase mufflers, sweaters and hand-knitted Kumaoni Shawls along with buying locally made handicraft items including the beautifully crafted wooden products as souvenirs. Rhododendron squash, local honey and handmade soaps that Binsar is known for, are other products that you can buy from here.
Binsar is near to many famous tourist destinations. Almora (25 km), Naintal (90 km), Kausani (50 km), Ranikhet (68 km), Baijnath (80 km), Bageshwar (62 km), Jageshwar (60 km), Gananath (30 km) are few nearby locations.