advertisement

A Road Trip Through Kumaon

Your first stop, Nainital, is set around the ebony-emerald Naini Tal (Lake) -- according to Hindu mythology, one of the eyes of Shiva's wife, Sati. Naina Devi Temple is said to be the precise spot where Sati's eye fell when her body parts were scattered throughout the country in a bid to stop Shiva's "dance of cosmic destruction," which began when he discovered that Sati had immolated herself, an act provoked by her father's incessant insults of Shiva. High above the town, at 2,235m (7,450 ft.), is the aptly named Snow View, a hilltop area from where you can see Nanda Devi, India's second-highest peak. Make use of the Aerial Express ropeway; round-trips (daily 10am-5pm) cost Rs 100. You can overnight here, but Nainital is as ghastly as most of Himachal's towns, so we recommend you choose between the smaller Bhimtal or the picturesque Naukuchiatal (Nine-Cornered Lake) -- both are under 30km (19 miles) away from Nainital, and there are recommended places in Where to Stay below. According to local folklore, when you get to a point where you can see all nine corners of the lake, make a wish and it will come true. This is certainly the case if you're looking for picture-perfect serenity, solitude, and enchanting trails, filled with wildflowers. Even if you don't opt to overnight here, make time for a day trip and take a leisurely ride or a swim in the lake. Alternatively, head north from Nainital to remote and lovely Mukteshwar some 50km (30 miles) away.

On a ridge some 2,254m (7,513 ft.) above sea level, where you are surrounded by little more than dramatic views of the Himalayas, conifer forests, fruit orchards, and fresh, clean air, Mukteshwar enjoys one of the most charming settings in the Kumaon. At the edge of town, atop a cliff, is century-old Mukteshwar Temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva. On the same hill is an ashram administered by a hermit whose disciples come from around the world. Behind the temple, a rocky cliff juts out of the hillside at Chauthi Jaali; take an early morning walk here for stunning views.

Then set off for Binsar for the best view in motorable Kumaon. Here, in another of the region's most untouched areas, you can watch the sunrise over Nepal and the sun set on Garhwal. Time allowing, visit the Jageshwar Temple complex, and explore Binsar Sanctuary (Rs 100 per head, Rs 50 per car) for glimpses of Himalayan wildlife. Overnight at Kalmatia Sangam, in Almora (66km/41 miles from Nainital). Although there is little evidence that Almora, with its ramshackle display of concrete and tin, has a 500-year-old history, the town (34km/21 miles southwest of Binsar) does nevertheless attract westerners with its history of spiritual gurus and induction into the hippie circuit. The new or main town is avoidable but do walk through the old town where you will find interesting remnants of local architecture on both sides of a cobbled road; also look out for typical local products like copperware (Anokhi Lal Hari Kishan, Karkhana Bazaar; tel. 94-1131-7500) and stinging nettle. Alternatively, you could simply sign up for the wonderful 2- to 3-day village walks organized by Shakti, ending at their gorgeous resort in Leti, after which Corbett would be the ideal end point.

If it is a choice between Nainital and Ranikhet (don't have to cross Nainital to get to Ranikhet) then head straight for Ranikhet -- surrounded by slopes draped with forests of thick pine and deodar and impeccable views of Nanda Devi. It exudes the ambience of a haunted English Gothic township, forever waiting for a cloak of thick mist and the echoes of a long-lost era to descend.

Whether you arrive from Nainital (60km/37 miles away) or Binsar, you'll first encounter the typically Indian Sadar Bazaar, an unappealing town center that is entirely avoidable. Take the turnoff for the Mall, and head into the peaceful Cantonment area. Ranikhet is occupied by the army's Kumaon Regiment, which maintains a strict code that seems to have had a positive impact on the Sleepy Hollow serenity evident here. You'll encounter an abundance of flagstone colonial buildings topped by tin roofs, many used by the military and in fairly attractive condition, surrounded by hedges and greenery. Lower Mall Road, as you head farther south, is good for walks, with only ancient trees for company. Continue on, past 14th-century Jhula Devi Temple, and 10km (6 1/4 miles) south you'll come upon the state-run Chaubatia Orchards, a great place (though best avoided May-June) for a picnic (ask your hotel to pack one).

From here it's an easy drive to Corbett.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.