Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Ranikhet – the Queen’s meadow (A photo essay)

Ranikhet – the Queen’s meadow
Of all the major tourist destinations in Kumaon, Ranikhet was the only one missing from my list of visited destinations. I was itching to visit the place and when the opportunity came during the four consecutive holidays this month, I grabbed the opportunity and we four friends packed our bags and headed for the famed destination. Ranikeht is at a distance of 360 Kms. from Delhi and with usual breaks for B’fast & lunch etc. it takes about 10 Hours drive to reach. As the flyover across the railway crossing, a the major bottle neck near Ramnagar, has since been completed and thrown open to traffic, we had a smooth drive all the way.
We had crossed the Delhi border and entered Ghaziabad by 8.00 A.M and being a holiday we encountered almost no traffic jams en-route. Having reached Garh Mukteshwar at around 9.30 A.M., we stopped at the landmark ‘Skylark Restaurant’ for B’fast. Our next stop was at Pant Nagar where we stopped for some delicious home made lunch at residence of Uncle of one of our friends. By the time we got past Haldwani it was almost 3.00 P.M and the gradual ascent to the hills began just as we crossed Kathgodam. The horizon was covered with clouds and we started anticipating heavy downpour. Having gone past Bhimtal, Bhowali, Garam Pani we reached Khairna wherefrom the road bifurcates, one moves straight towards Almora and the other one turns towards the right, across the bridge over river Kosi, towards Ranikhet. After driving for another 37 odd Kms. we reached Ranikhet.
Ranikhet, literally means “Queen's Meadow”, is perched at an altitude of 1829 meters. As per local folklore, Queen Padmini of Kumaon was in love with this tiny hill station that overlooked the vistas of Himalayan ranges. King Sudhardev obliged her by building a grand palace here and named this place Ranikhet, the queen’s field. Though no trace of the palace can be found here today, but the place still retains the same bewitching attraction, full of flowers, trees and green meadows in the midst of heavenly Himalayan surroundings. The Britisher’s established the headquarters of the Kumaon Regiment here in 1869 as a series of Cantonments starting from Almora & Lansdowne. Ranikhet still is a cantonment town and is the home to the famed Kumaon Regimental Centre & Naga Regiment. However, the main city of Ranikhet is fairly crowded with bus stand and bazaar area thrown in, but the military area offers serene environment. After having settled in the old establishment called ‘Moon Hotel’, which not only commands a spectacular view of the Himalayan ranges but also offers ample parking space in the cramped environs of the market area. After having had some Tea/Coffee, we went out to explore the market area and as it was getting pretty cold, we all retired back to our Hotel room for the night.
Early next morning I got up very early, having been awakened by constant calling of the Rooster, a rarity in place like Delhi. Having stepped out of the hotel room I was greeted with an astounding sight to sunrise across the Himalayan ranges that were glowing in an eerie orange red colour. The constant chirping of birds, accompanied by many fragrances of flowers and multitude of hues & colours, left an extraordinary and unforgettable imprint on my mind. We enjoyed the serene beauty for as long as it lasted and then ambled back towards the hotel. Just at the hotel entry gate we found a tea stall serving the locals hot tea and we too joined the chorus and enjoyed piping hot tea laced with ginger served in glass tumblers. Since our next destination was Soni village and thereafter a visit to the Binsar Mahadev temple complex, we headed back to our rooms and after taking bath checked out of Ranikhet.
Soni is a small village perched at an elevation of 1800 meters on the Ranikhet-Ramnagar road about 18 Kms. away from Ranikhet. We made a stop over at this destination as one of our friends Sh. Dinesh Bisht belongs to this particular village and we stopped here to have a good look around. After staying in the village for about an hour we headed towards the famed ‘Binsar Mahadev’ temple that houses the famed ‘Swarg Ashram’ also. The temple is said to be very old with a naturally occurring Shiva Linga being the main deity. We happened to visit the temple on 6th April, 2012 and being Hanuman Jayanti, I had requested my friends to abstain from eating non-vegetarian food on that day. But as luck would have it, because of the schedule we did not even have our B’fast when we reached the temple and were pleasantly surprised to find that the rendition of ‘Ram Charit Manas’ being recited by students. We made our offerings to the deities of the temple and lastly visited the chief monk of the temple Mahant Ram Giri ji, who insisted that since we had come on an auspicious day we should partake the ‘langar’ (free community lunch) and only then leave the temple precincts. Since we had nothing much to do except to visit some more destinations around Ranikhet, we agreed to his suggestion.
As we had a few hours to spare, I requested my friends to visit the eco-park & restricted forest area, in the immediate surroundings of the Forest Rest House of Soni, which is housed about a Km. from the temple and we made it to the jungle area through the side gate of the temple. The time we spent in the forest area was personally satisfying as I spotted a large number of birds, most of which I had seen for the first time and could hardly photograph because of the dense foliage and flirting nature of the birds, but the plethora of chirping sounds made my day and I could get a few very good shots of the birds. Both the flora & fauna of the region was rejuvenating & soothing for the frayed nerves and worked as de-toxicant for the built up city life stress. Having wandered for a few hours, we headed back to the temple and by the time we reached ‘havan’ (ritualistic Hindu offerings to fire) was taking place and on its conclusion thereafter, community lunch was served. Having partaken the same, we headed back towards Khairna.
We reached Khairna after having driven for a hour & half, where we stopped over at the ‘Highway Cafe’, run by KMVN and had Tea/Cold drinks. Thereafter, we headed for Siltuna village for a survey of the village for finalization of our project of acquiring a piece of land in the hills. After spending some time here, we again headed back and stopped over at Kainchi for some local delicacies like Lemon water & Pakoras and I was quite lucky to find a Barking Deer (known as Kakkar or Ghural locally) loitering over in the forest across the road beyond Garampani and photograph it in the wild en-route. We stopped over at Bhowali for the night at the KMVN run Tourist Rest House. Early next morning we headed back for Delhi stopping in between at Bhimtal for B’fast and for lunch at Garh Mukteshwar (Skylark Restaurant) before reaching Delhi early in the evening. Thus, concluded our short but refreshing tour to Ranikhet.

© S Roy Biswas - All rights reserved