Walking through the clouds – Panghoot & around
Garh Mukteshwar - now it looks like River Ganges
As usual the travel bug had started troubling me and coupled with my agenda of ‘Having a piece of Heaven in Heaven’ (refer to my earlier blog by same title), we embarked on our journey to Uttarakhand, during the extended weekend in August, 2012. We were five persons and one amongst us arranged for an Innova for embarking upon the travel and another friend arranged for the stay at ‘Ashoka’s Naini Chalet’ in Pangot. Although I had heard much about the place, being a active briding site, but this was my first opportunity to visit this destination. Panghoot is a village in the Kosiyakutoli tehsil of Nanital District in Uttarakhand, India and the distance from Delhi to Pangot is about 305 Kms. Accordingly, we started early in the morning and got picked up from the pre-arranged point’s en-route. By the time we left Delhi it was almost 8.00 A.M, but luckily as it was a Saturday, we did not face much of a traffic enroute. However, the first topic was as to whether have B’fast at the famous Skylark Restaurant at Garh Mukteshewar or to partake the home prepared one. After much deliberation, it was decided that we would take a break for the B’fast and as there were no good eating joints beyond Moradabad, we would partake the home prepared meal for lunch. Thus, we took our first break at Garh Mukteshwar.
Just entering the Kaladhungi forest area
Headed for the hills - monsoon magic
Friends posing for a photo
A small rivulet on the way
After having had some sumptuous Aloo Pranthas et al, we embarked upon our journey further. I was pleasantly surprised to find the water of River Ganges overflowing its banks at Garh Mukteshwar, as it is a mere trickle during the summer season, when I usually pass by this spot. So I got down from the vehicle and took some shots. We traveled at a leisurely pace and as we drove further towards the Nainital hills, the cloud cover started getting denser. We took a turn from the main Highway towards Tanda and were flabbergasted on seeing the condition of the road, to say the least, there was no road at all, but a series of pot-holes of varying sizes & shapes. This entrapment continued for about 16 odd Kms. and all our entire body parts were put though a rollercoaster ride. It had started drizzling and as we entered the Kaladhungi stretch, it started raining ‘cats & dogs’.
View of Nainital lake from Kilbury
One from the car - monsoon magic
Birds galore - at Kilbury
We negotiated the roads slowly, till we reached the Bara Pathar crossing, wherefrom just after entering the Nainital, we turned left towards the Mall road leading to Kilbury hills, this road leads to Pangot. After traversing some distance, we found locals armed with telescopes enticing tourists to take a look at the panoramic view of Nainital lake & surrounding areas below. We too got down and took some photographs and also had a look through the telescope, so as to understand the topography of the place @Rs.20/- for five points shown by the vendors. It was still overcast and by the time, we headed for Pangot, it was getting dark. We were driving cautiously, as the road was winding and covered with Rhododendron & Oak forests of either side, it was all the more darker. Suddenly, we reached a clearing with a few shops on the road and the road sign read “Panghoot”, as we slowed the vehicle and man came towards us enquiring as to whether we were booked for ‘Ashoka’s Naini Chalet’ and led the way, which was hardly 25 meters from the main road. Thus, we reached Panghot/ Panghoot (as per the Post Office description of name – both in English & Hindi) and checked into our rooms. The destination and ambience of the Resort was magnificent and we ordered some Pakoras & Tea/Coffee for refreshments. At night we had a game of snooker & my friends enjoyed some drinks and I gave company partaking a gallon of Cold drinks, I being a teetotaler and also arranged for a guide to take me for some bird watching early next the morning.
Panghoot village entry & market square
Panghoot - monsoon magic
Ashoka's Naini Chalet - view from Jungle lodge
Ashoka's Naini Chalet
Ashoka's Naini Chalet - view by night
We had a good night’s sleep and I was awakened early hearing chirping of birds and some ruckus being created by the Rhesus monkeys, who were busy eating moths & insects in the verandah, that had been attracted to the lights during the night. I found that it was still raining and had to postpone my sojourn into the forests for the time being. Panghoot is a nondescript but serene & visually enticing village, tucked away into the confines of the Kumaon hills, with forests of Rhododendrons & Oaks enveloping the hills in a ‘Chador’ of green coupled with echoing the tweets of many a colourful birds and with little trails that disappear into interior of forests, that's Panghoot for all the nature lovers. A birdwatcher's paradise, Pangot is 15 kms from Nainital and the drive is through the bird habitats of Cheena Peak range forests via Snow View Point and Kilbury. Some of the commonly encountered birds here are the Lammergeier, Himalayan griffon, Blue-winged minla, spotted & Slaty-backed forktail, Rufous-bellied woodpecker, Rufous-bellied Niltava, Khalij pheasant, variety of thrushes etc. Almost 150 bird species have been recorded at Panghoot and its surrounding areas. Life in this quaint little village is tranquility redefined; the activity of villagers either remains restricted to the confines to their homes or at the small market square, with a laid back life style. As soon as the rain took a breather, we embarked on the trek into the forests for shooting (I mean photographing) the birds. It was steep climb through the forests and the first bird sighted was a Blue Whistling Thrush, but due to dense fog the reduced visibility the Camera could not capture a good image, the next bird I spotted was the Niltava but again the light played truant and due to slow shutter speed, the photographs were not good. However, having trudged some few hundred meters, we heard a loud tweeting sound, I started emulating the same by whistling similarly and as the bird descended, I found that it was a Striated Laughing Thrush. I could hear many birds chirping but due to dense fog and tree foliage, could not spot them and as I had to return back for the onward journey, I retraced my way back to the Resort.
Another birder's group in discussion in another Resort
Rofous sibia - right at the Resort itself
Panghoot - bird pecking on fern spores
Another warbler - Panghoot
On the way back, I encountered my friends who were eagerly waiting for me for the scheduled visit to Chorsa village and they chided me for delaying them and I quickly had Breakfast and we were off. We crossed Nainital, which was not all that crowded because of the intense rain that had precipitated in the region during the previous night and reached Bhowali. However, the person who was scheduled to meet us there had not arrived and informed us that he was near Sattal for running an errand, we took our vehicle and headed there to bring him back so that he could guide us. The road to Chorsa village is being newly constructed and runs from below the Bhowlai Sanatorium gate. The road is unpaved and due to rain there were quite a few potholes, however, enroute we met the JCB operator, who informed us that road upto Bhowali village was reachable, but beyond that the road was almost non-existent. We therefore, drove till Bhowali village and thereafter, started the 13 Kms. trek to Garam Pani, having asked the driver to reach the Highway at Garam Pani and wait for us there. There were several landslides on the way, with hardly any space to squeeze across huge boulders that had slid down the mountain side at many a places and accompanied with water & sludge, through which we had to slog. However, finally we came to a point where the road was totally blocked and we had to slide down the mountain side and cross along the old bridle path that lay below. The valley was totally untouched and pristine, it was nature’s best display of wildflowers and birds et al. But due to the intensity of the trek and treacherous paths, I could not photograph them (only a handful) but it was a trek to remember. The rain Gods who had been playing spoil sport till now, had relented a bit and it continued to be clear till we reached Chorsa village, but as soon as we started with our descent, it started drizzling again. The villagers are always welcoming and warm hearted and they insisted that we wait for some time at their house for the rain clouds to pass through, and we were pleasantly surprised at having been offered tea, to totally unknown persons and it was a very pleasing experience. I was feeling a bit soggy in my right leg and took the opportunity to check out my shoes, thinking that they might have developed some hole or something of the kind and rain water had soaked in, but to my disgust I found that my socks were drenched in fresh blood. We found out the culprit too, it was the Leech that had hitched on my legs, either en-route during the trek or while I was in Pangoot forest. The descent thereafter, was uneventful and after long 5 hours journey, we reached Garam Pani and by this time we were totally famished as well as dead tired.
Panoramic view of Bhimtal lake
View from Chorsa village
Lemon rumped warbler
Grey headed yellow warbler
Long tailed Minivet
Nainital by night
Getting the corns roasted
As I have narrated hereinabove that it had started raining as soon as we started our descent from Chorsa Village and by now it had become unrelenting. We stopped by at Kainchi Dham and had some Pakoras and Tea, but I especially had the famous ‘Lime/Nimboo Water/Pani’. Thereafter, we slowly made our way back to the Resort at Panghoot, crossing by Nainital and had a beautiful view of the lake by night. Early next morning we started our journey back to Delhi and had a break for some fire roasted corns, which is a specialty of the hill regions and shot some photographs also of more birds that were chirping about. The remaining part of the journey was very pleasant till Delhi, with the rains following us all through the way – we were, in a way, the harbingers of the rain clouds from Uttarakhand to Delhi.