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Mukteshwar-Ramgarh : The Fruit Bowl in Kumaon

We were enjoying our vacations in Nainital and the trip was in full swing. We had been offered the best of welcome by this Lake District in hills of Kumaon and the visit offered us everything we could ask for. We realized that we had a day available during the trip where we could sneak out of Nainital for a quick day tour to higher reaches of Kumaon and hence we planned a trip to Mukteshwar on the last day of the year 2016. Accordingly, we arranged for logistics - planned the itinerary, booked a cab and packed a small bag.

We had an early start that day as we wanted to absorb the morning mist with fresh sun rays falling on the Naini Lake. After a small stroll in the morning, we enjoyed a mouth-watering breakfast at the hotel restaurant and prepared to embark on our excursion. We packed some light snacks to munch on during the journey and some woolens, just in case the heights bring more chill. As planned the cab was at the hotel by 9:15 AM and we were already set by then. The cab was zipping out of the hotel compound and rolling on the steep slopes of the hotel exit by 9:30 AM and we were excited about this getaway within the getaway.

A Video Journey Across the Hills

As the trip started, the scenic views of the peaks and valleys and the slopes in between kept us glued to what was being seen out of the windows. We were indeed mesmerized by the beauty that nature had bestowed on this part of the country. As we passed small settlements and viewpoints, we exploited every chance to get out of the car for a few snaps to create memories. On the way, we had another round of snacks at a roadside joint to keep the energy levels high.

After about an hour of drive, the car stopped at a point in the middle of nowhere, and our chatty driver, Sanjay, told us that this is a relatively untapped point which provides some good views. The place was outside of a village called Gagar. We deboarded the car, armed with the lenses, and proceeded to the corner of the cliff to witness the views. And yes, Sanjay was not wrong. The views of Himalayas were simply marvelous and we could see the snow-capped ranges right from there - ones we were expecting to see from Mukteshwar. We spent quite some time admiring the beauty in front of us and walked by the cliff. We continued the journey after about 20-25 minutes of break. The white Himalayan ranges accompanied us until far on our trip until we were on the other side of the hill. In another 15 minutes, we reached our first tourist spot - Ramgarh.

Nestled in the lap of nature, Ramgarh is a destination blessed with an impeccable view of the snow-covered peaks of the Himalayas and adorned with a beautiful and serene environment. At an altitude of about 1800 meters above sea level, this is a small village which has managed to keep its raw untapped charm - away from the bustle of major hill stations. Tourists, in particular, would like this place if they are looking to be away from all action and spend days in solitude and devotion for nature. This village is nicknamed as the Fruit Bowl of Kumaon because of the variety of exotic fruits grown here like peaches, apples, plums, pears, strawberries, and apricots. The place is full of such orchards doing wonders to the senses of the tourists visiting here. The place was originally a cantonment for British Army but managed to save itself from the development and exploitation as in other popular hill stations. That is the reason this place allows you to be in the lap of nature in its true form. We spent about half an hour visiting various plantations and absorbing the magical spell of this hill-village.

Remains of Snow Fall on the Way

As we proceeded from Ramgarh, soon we saw soft remains of snowfall from the previous day coloring a large part of hill slopes and road boundaries in white. This was definitely a sight that made the trip even more worthy of the effort. It took us another half an hour of negotiations with curves of hill roads to reach the outer counters of Mukteshwar. We stopped briefly at the PWD inspection bungalow as it is said to provide great views of the valley. The views were great but we already had been through the mesmerizing views throughout our drive and hence we decided to move to other spots in the town.

Mukteshwar is a small hill town mostly known for adventure sports such as rock climbing, rappelling etc. and the amazing view of Himalayan ranges you get from there. Another one of Uttaranchal's beautiful hill stations, Mukteshwar deriving its name from Lord Shiva is complete with fruit orchards, coniferous forests and rolling meadows at a height of 7500 ft. The colonial imprint on buildings and art is evident here.

The driver dropped us at the gate of the Mukhteshwar Dham Temple. We decided to engage the services of a local guide to help us navigate this town better. We picked a guide named Mangal, who had been at this job for about 8 years and was quite informative. On his recommendation, we decided to go through the touristy ritual of covering all the points and then visiting the temple. The tour began and we took the round-trip walk through the area which covered all the points of interest in the town. The first point was "Naag Fan" rock which is basically a rock structure imagined to resemble a snake.  Nothing interesting or extraordinary, but still a spot on tourist guide's map.

The Crooked Jungle Walk

The Valley Below Behind Us

We continued on the hill trek and were introduced to Chauthi ki Jali after a few minutes of the hike. This area where it is believed that a Demon and a Goddess fought a battle. The place is marked with what is believed to be faint outlines of a sword, a shield and a trunk of an elephant. There is also a ring-shaped structure within a rock. The locals believe, that on Shivratri, an auspicious day, passing through the rock-ring is beneficial for expecting women. Though, the topology, which includes a narrow rocky path to the ring and just a rock on the other side of it makes it a pretty dangerous act.

Next, we went through the jungle walk amidst innumerable trees of Deodar on one side and oaks on other. The walk landed us on a rock cliff which provided great views of Himalayas and to our luck all snow-capped peaks. One that stands out is the Nanda Devi Peak. Nanda Devi is the 2nd highest mountain peak in India and overall 23rd in the world. It stands as tall as 7,816 m above the sea level. We spent about half an hour there and had coffee on top of the peak. Those hot sips worked marvels and seemed perfect for the location.

Later, we walked to the temple. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, the hilltop temple with white marble Shiva Linga and Copper Yoni is surrounded by idols of Brahma, Vishnu, Parvati, Hanuman, Ganesh, and Nandi. You have to climb a series of winding steep stone stairs to reach the sanctum. This temple is believed to be one of the 18 most important Shiva temples in the country and is a revered shrine for Hindus. We spent some moments in the divine atmosphere and then proceeded to descend the stairs. It was already late afternoon and at the main entrance of the area, we noticed a roadside vendor preparing Maggi Noodles. We could not help ourselves avoid the temptation and ordered a plate for us. It seemed to be the best meal we would have had for some time.

After the refreshments, we began our journey back to Nainital along the same roads with the same scenic beauty which accompanied us back to our base. We were back in Nainital by about 4 PM in the evening and covered a few tourist spots in the town before getting back to the hotel. There was a huge traffic jam at the entrance of the city because of the New Year eve rush. Apparently, Nainital is a New Year eve destination for the entire area, including for ones like us.  As we entered our room and prepared for the celebrations welcoming the new year, we were left mesmerized by everything the day had offered to us.

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