Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Restful Ranikhet

Ranikhet was the second destination on our Kumaon itinerary. After spending a couple of days in Nainital, we commenced our journey towards Ranikhet.

On the way along Nainital–Almora Road we crossed the town of Bhowali and then stopped for a while at the Kainchi Dham Temple. Kainchi is a term used for two sharp hairpin bends in local dialect hence the name. The temple and the adjacent ashram were founded by Param Pujya Maharaj Neem Karoli Baba. The place was quite well maintained and the amusing part was that there were some instructions written in Bengali. Later on I found similar Bengali instructions in some other temples as well. Outside the temple, local grocers were selling fruits like Aloo Bukhara (Plum), Aaru (Peach), Khubani (Apricot) etc. that are not so common in the part of the world that I come from. We purchased a handful of those fruits and helped ourselves on the journey.

Meanwhile Puran, our driver, was expressing his grudge over how the so called saints cheat ordinary people and was narrating how he paid a hefty donation in one of the ashrams for a blessed gold ring which later turned out to be made of a much less precious metal.

After we crossed Ramgarh, the Kosi River kept us company flowing along the road. Though the river looked like a narrow white stream with more pebbles than water at some places, Puran assured us that during the monsoon, the river takes an altogether different shape.

Our next stop was by the side of a natural toad rock which very much resembled a toad just about to hop. There was a hanging bridge as well across the water body (though it was more pebbles to say the truth). Not sure if it was the same Kosi River or not.

It was here that we took a break and at a small restaurant chanced upon some fruit shakes. Though common flavours like butter scotch were also available, we became more adventurous and experimental and ordered Khubani shake and Buransh (Rhododendron) squash. And the experiment turned out extremely fascinating and we even bought a couple of bottles of Buransh squash for folks back home.

Continuing our journey forward we passed through towns like Garam Pani and Khairna and after some time turned left and took a bridge to Ranikhet. The straight road would have led us to Almora.

We stopped for a second time at yet another restaurant where Puran took his lunch. We were feeling not so hungry and helped ourselves with some light snacks. The place is known as Sunset Point but it was right after noon so there was no view of sunset to be had. However, the place provided us with some pleasant views of the valley with steps carved out for farming. There were some bananas available within the hand’s reach but they were not ripe.

Soon we entered the Ranikhet cantonment area and came up to the Jhula Devi Temple. The temple is dedicated to Goddess Durga and the specialty is that the deity is on a “jhula” or a swing. The other thing of interest was the innumerable bells that decorate the temple complex. Perhaps they were put up by devotees for blessings of the Goddess. But I could not confirm as the temple was almost deserted barring an aloof elderly saint who did not appear to be in a mood for conversation.

The temple was only about 7 kilometres away from Ranikhet but Puran told us that we would be visiting a couple of more places before checking into the hotel. Just after Jhula Devi, there was an army check post of the Cargo Brigade where we had to enter our details. They also informed us that photography is prohibited on the road ahead as it is within army area. After driving a few more kilometres, we reached the Chaubattia Gardens. Chaubatia is the junction of four ('chau') paths ('batia'), namely Ranikhet, Bhargaon, Pilkholi and Dehrti, hence the name.

It is located at around 10 kilometres’ distance from Ranikhet. Spread over 265 acres, the garden is maintained by the Government Fruit Research Centre and is home to a large variety of vegetation and orchards. Guides were available at the garden itself to take us for a nature trail. I would recommend anyone visiting this place to take a guide along; otherwise the nature walk would not be that exciting. The vegetation included trees like oak, pine, cedar, wild chestnut, walnut, rhododendron and many more. Only because of our guide Bobby, I could distinguish so many. And only there I came to know that the turpentine oil is extracted from the pine trees. There was a whole range of apple orchards.

I had never heard so many names of different apple types. The ones I could remember are Green Delicious apple, Green Sweet apple, Fuji Red apple and so one. There were pear orchards as well and also plum and peach. And most of the trees were covered with a net. Bobby enlightened us that the nets are to protect the fruits from the birds as well as from the dew.

Then there were a couple of willow trees which Bobby mentioned as Weeping Willows referred to by locals as “Laila-Majnu”.

As we were wandering in the garden, Bobby made us acquainted with many other herbs and trees. He picked up some leaves and rubbed them in his palm and when we sniffed it smelt like hair oil. It was called Bhringraj which is used in hair oils to stop hair loss. Then he made us chew some other leaves which felt like peppermint. He said that they are used in mouth fresheners. The most interesting of them were the shock leaves which actually gave us a sensation of electric shock and our hands were soon covered with goose pimples and the irritation remained for almost an hour.

We also came across cocoons of butterflies in one of the trees. This was the first time I witnessed such a thing.

On our way we came across the corpse of a cow which was the killed by a leopard on the previous day. The leopard had eaten away its hind leg and flies were flying around its fresh wound.

We did not pursue our nature walk into the denser forest and also gave the Bhalu Dam a miss as it was getting late and continued on our drive to Ranikhet.

The last place to visit before we reached the hotel was the Manakameshwar Temple. It was a nice quiet place built by the Kumaon army regiment. Both the laying of foundation stone and inauguration of the temple were done by army generals and the temple was completed within a year in the mid nineties.

We did not pursue our nature walk into the denser forest and also gave the Bhalu Dam a miss as it was getting late and continued on our drive to Ranikhet.

The last place to visit before reached the hotel was the Manakameshwar Temple. It was a nice quiet place built by the Kumaon army regiment. Both the laying of foundation stone and inauguration of the temple was done by army generals and the temple was completed within a year in the mid nineties.

When we checked into the KMVN Chiliyanaula rest house, it was almost evening. The road to the hotel was a winding one through pine forests and the scenery was beautiful. There were pine flowers scattered here and there on the road. We even collected a couple of them as memento. The pine flowers actually look like some crafted wooden object and do not remind one of flowers in any way.

Ranikhet (at 1830 metres above sea level) was like a small little hamlet or at least the Chiliyanaula part that we stayed at was that way. There was nothing much to do but behold nature and enjoy its splendor. There was a lovely lawn attached to our hotel and we sat there for enjoying the sunset which was just about to happen.

Meanwhile we gathered some historical facts about Ranikhet. The name Ranikhet means queen’s meadow and has its origin in the local legend that Rani Padmini of the Chand dynasty chose the area for her residence. King Sudhardev built a palace for her but no trace of the palace was discovered by the later historians and archeologists. In 1869 the place was discovered by Lord Mayo and the British set up an army cantonment here. Still today it is the head quarters of the Kumaon Regiment.

The sunset was pleasant but we could not see any mountain peak from the lawn which also served as a view point for the snow capped peaks. The hotel staff told us that we would be able to see the peaks the following morning if it rained in the night so that the cloud covers would be removed.

And to our great pleasure it rained quite heavily for a few hours in the night and there was a power cut as well. In the morning we woke up with great anticipation for the sunrise which was due around five o’clock. But we were saddened to see that it was still foggy and cloudy and there was no trace of any snow capped peaks.

After breakfast we roamed around the hotel a bit mainly along the narrow road through the pine forest. There was also a temple adjacent to the hotel namely Baba Haidakhan Temple. There were more photographs, may be of Baba Haidakhan himself, than deities in the temple. There were some residential houses clubbed together with the temple which served as an ashram probably. There were many people of foreign origin as well living in those houses and working in the garden.

Our stay at Ranikhet was scheduled only for one night and soon we bid good bye to Ranikhet and headed for Kausani. On the way Puran took us for a tour of the Ranikhet town. There was the small picturesque Nar Singh Stadium and then there was the Somnath Ground where army recruitment is carried out. Puran informed us that just a few months back around five thousand local youths auditioned for a recruitment of only may be a hundred jawans. We drove past Vijay Chowk, the war memorial and stopped at the Upat Golf course which is one of the best nine-hole golf courses in the country. Set amidst pine forests, I am sure it provides a majestic experience to the players.

The Kalika Temple was the last stop on our way to Kausani. There were shrines of Kali, Durga and Shiva in the temple complex which was located a flight of steps up the road. The interesting part was that most of the doors were closed and seeing us hesitate to enter, one of the saints told us to open them and go inside and requested us to close them again on our way out. Later we realized that the doors were closed to keep out the monkeys. The saints and caretakers of the temple were all very elderly people and some of them were on wheelchairs. The temple itself looked very old may be even a few hundred years. But the amusing part was that one of the saints told us that it was more than five thousand years old.

We did not take any more breaks and continued straight to Kausani. We could not see the mountain peaks in Ranikhet and were sincerely hoping to have a nice view of snow clad mountains from Kausani. Did nature grant us our wish or were we disappointed again – that will be revealed in the next post on Kausani. Ciao; till then.


  1. Should have visited Choukori and Munsiyari.Anyway nice writeup.

  2. Yes you are right, but could not do so due to time constraint. Would like to visit Munsiyari at another time.

  3. Ranikhet is an alluring hill station with amazing landscapes views. There are plenty of hotels in Ranikhet and try to make your trip special in most possible way.

  4. Great post and here you are presenting each and everything very nicely and everyone loved to read this post.
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