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Pristine Binsar

In spite of being born and brought up in Allahabad, I was unaware of Binsar, the hill station of U.P. which now comes within the newly carved state of Uttaranchal, till the son of our friend told us about its exquisite and pristine beauty. Like a true daughter of my father who, like most Bengalis, was a great tourist, I started planning to visit the place. But there were a few odds which dampened my spirit, like no direct connection by train from Bhopal to Kathgodam and changing trains at Delhi always a great put-off. Coolies and taxi-drivers get on one’s nerves.
But luck was on my side. Last year that young boy rang up to say that he along with his wife and daughters was planning a visit to Binsar again and whether we would be interested? How could I even dream of declining such a golden offer? I didn’t. He even made the train reservations and booked a room for us at the Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam (KMVN) Guest House.
Everything fell into place and early last February when we arrived in Delhi, managed the coolies, the taxiwalas and finally took the train for Kathgodam with our young companions. We arrived in Kathgodam early morning, hired a taxi and travelled together to Binsar. It was a three and a half hours journey through winding, hilly roads and lots of greenery. On the way we passed by the diversions for Nainital and Ranikhet and moved towards Almora, which was the district headquarters for Binsar. After that the pines, rhododendrons and oaks became denser and the roads steeper, but not to make us throw up; the children, however, did. The temperature was pretty low in the early morning and was becoming cooler by the kilometre. so we opened our bags and gradually put on additional woollens.
We had been forewarned that Binsar at 2310 metres (app 7500 ft) would be very cold and it could snow too. But I was quite excited and wished it to snow. We were armed with all kinds of winter-wear as that’s what we would be needing there being no comfort of a electric heater, it being a thermal/hydel-power free zone. Located as it is within the Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary, there is only solar energy, enough for lighting the Guest House between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. Other hotels and guest houses do have thermal power but not the panoramic view of the Himalayas. So residents of all other places come to the KMVN Guest House to view the mountain ranges and avail of photo opportunities.
When we arrived in Binsar that bright sunny morning we were welcomed by the staff of the guest house in a fashion I had never experienced before from a government establishment. It was such a pleasant surprise. And throughout our stay they were the same happy, cheerful, serviceable, and very affable lot, from the manager down to the bearer.
Though we reached after the breakfast hours the staff were decent enough to prepare and serve it to us and that too on the deck. The deck in the Guest House is something extraordinary. It is a huge terrace with a balustrade all around on top of some rooms a little away from the main building acting as a view point, overlooking deep green valleys down below but offering an incredible view of about 300 miles of the Himalayan range, stretching from Tibet to Nepal. The peaks that were visible from the deck were Kamet, Nandaghunti, Nandadevi east, Nandadevi west, Trishul, Nandakot, Shivling,Choukhamba, Kedarnath and Panchchuli.
As I looked towards the mountains I was awestruck. I have been to numerous hill stations in India and abroad but never seen such an expansive range of a snow-capped mountains from one place. Even with wide angle lenses of our camera it was difficult to capture the whole range in a frame. It was a sight fit for Gods. I felt I was blessed to be able to witness it. All my fatigue vanished as I kept gazing at an array of distant white peaks. All of us forgot the passing hours and stayed there till sunset simply gazing at the numerous peaks, watching the playful monkeys, butterflies, numerous birds and the splendour of the forest below.
The deck remained the hub during the day throughout our stay in Binsar. Our favourite joint, we assembled there after breakfast, chatted with other inmates, and enjoyed the sunshine with numerous cups of hilly ‘chai’ which keeps one warm, while the young tourists left on a trek. The staff also occasionally sat around with us when their work was done and told us the names of each of the peaks and narrated the interesting local folklore associated with them. From here we got the best view of the villages in the valley below and the colourful huts on the hill slopes, and also the red Rhododendron laden trees. We would walk down the less steep roads and return for lunch to the deck again, admiring the peaks in the light of the setting sun.
Although we were told that it had been an unusually warm winter yet it snowed. It seemed I had willed it as the days and nights till then had been clear. Even on the day it snowed we kept visiting the deck to see the progress of the snow covering the valleys and tree tops. The cars kept in the front yard also got covered with thick snow, so did the red roof tops and the chairs on the deck, the pathway and the steps. It looked like Christmas and very filmy and after a few hours it looked like a skating rink. We were forced to return to the lounge as it became bitterly cold. The flip side was that the monkeys did not visit us nor did we hear any birds sing. The Rhododendrons were crushed under the snow, but I knew they would bloom in their own time again. When it stopped snowing a day before our departure, nature provided a spectacular rainbow for us in the sky. I was reminded of Wordsworth’s poem, “My heart leaps up when I behold . A rainbow in the sky.”
The rooms of the Guest House are very thoughtfully designed and adequately furnished, each with a large bay window towards the east with chairs to sit and admire the scene through them, the beds facing it. I had never imagined the view I would be in for through that in the mornings. At around seven every morning the bearer would serve us piping hot tea in tumblers with a few biscuits, draw the curtains of the window and wow! The view would be out of this world. The sun would not be visible but its glow would. We would wait with bated breath and gradually the sight would unfold itself. We had seen the sunrise at Tiger Hill in Darjeeling but to view it lying on the bed with piping hot tumbler of tea warming one’s hands is something “regal”. After another tumbler of tea a while later, we would reluctantly bathe out of respect for the man’s labour who had brought in buckets of hot water for the bath. Since we were without any heating, we were provided, very thoughtfully, with extra blankets and hot water bags too. The room also had numerous candle stands to keep it lit up till solar- powered lights came on.
The food throughout our stay was very tasty , prepared fresh each time, with a variety of dishes .Generally a vegetarian affair, eggs were also served to supplement for the diehard nonvegetarians. On the day it snowed, the solar batteries had not got charged, so we had candle light dinner and the newlyweds were provided more romantic colour to their honeymoon. Some broke into songs and others danced.
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The hilly people are very proficient in knitting woollens and the guest house displayed a variety of caps, cardigans, mufflers and shawls for the visitors. Each piece was knitted with skill and was priced very reasonably. Each article had the name and address of the person and the proceeds were duly filled in a register and passed on to the villager. It was a surprise to see such faithful adherence to honesty and to the cardinal principles of eco-tourism.
The exemplary hospitality of the staff was the garland to our very fulfilling trip to Binsar. They treated us like their own honoured members of the family. In their service there was never any lapse or shortcoming. Though the breakfast and dinner were part of the package of the room tariff, they served each individual with great eagerness and care. We returned home with the wish to go there again sometime.

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About The Author

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Vandana Bagchi

Home Maker/Housewife

Madhya Pradesh ,  INDIA

Born and brought up in Allahabad. Educated in Allahabad and Delhi. Taught in various reputed schools in Delhi, Mumbai and Shillong. Now enjoying retired life in Bhopal

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