This post is a continuation of the series documenting our travels through a small part of the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand, India. We were now in the small village of Gagar. 2 nights at the amazing “The White Peaks” in Gagar had gone by in a flash and we just had one more night here before we moved on to Pangot for some more birding.
In Kumaon there are numerous famous hill stations – Nainital, Kausani, Almora, Ranikhet just to name a few. We didn’t want to do the usual touristy thing of running around from one town to the other. So we just saw the small places in and around Gagar on our first 2 days in Gagar.(The White Peaks , Part 2 – A tea garden, a temple & a lot of birds – A beautiful sunny day in Gagar). On our last day at Gagar we had decided to do a day trip to Ranikhet, which was the closest of the famous ones to Gagar ( Nainital was closer but we wanted to avoid the chaos that Nainital has become nowadays).
Mohan, the caretaker at White Peaks had prepared an excellent breakfast consisting of grilled sandwiches & Poha. We filled up our tanks and waited for Mussaratbhai and our car to arrive.
Soon Mussaratbhai arrived and we were on our way. We just enquired casually whether Mussaratbhai had eaten breakfast. He hadn’t! We didn’t want a diabetic driver on a empty stomach driving us around on the hills. We insisted that he stop at the nearest place to have breakfast.
Luckily for me that place turned out to be the restaurant outside the Kaichidham temple where I had my time with the crested kingfishers the day before. Sadly there were no Kingfishers in sight today, but there were a pair of oriental white eyes enjoying a buffet of flowers just outside the temple.
They gave me some good shots and posed around for me till Mussaratbhai completed his breakfast.
There were also a pair of hill sparrows nearby and hey seemed to be feeling neglected with all the attention the white eyes were getting. So I took a few photos of them as well.
The next 2 hours were spent listening to obscure hindi songs played by Mussaratbhai and listening to his stories from his times in the region. Time just flew by and we were soon in Ranikhet.
We paid the town tax to enter this mainly army cantonment town. The first site we visited in Ranikhet was the Kalika temple. The temple was a short but steep climb from the parking area. The area was filled with loud and raucous rhesus macaques who were terrorising a group with kids just ahead of us. The poor kids thought eating chips on the way to the temple was a good idea. Only for groups of shrieking monkeys to descend on them and grab their packets away.
We had no food on us and were not bothered by the motley gang. The temple is a typical small hill temple devoted to the goddess Kali and run by an outspoken baba on a wheelchair. He assumed I was Bengali and I did nothing to change that speaking to him in Bangla learnt from my two years in Kolkata. He told me to keep my camera away as no photos were allowed. We paid our respects and quickly descended to the car before the monkeys changed their mind about harassing us.
Mussaratbhai then took us to the terrace of a restaurant just across the street from the temple which had unobstructed views of the Himalayas. Before I could start taking photos of the peaks my attention was drawn by something circling overhead. It was a group of Himalayan vultures. Even though they were high in the sky, the birder in me couldn’t resist a photo or two before moving on to the beautiful view in front of me.
This was a great place to take some portraits and thankfully I had my 35mm in my pocket and the best model with me. So I changed lenses and did the needful.
After we had taken satisfactory photos of the view I changed lenses again as the vultures were still circling overhead. I was lucky to get a pair flying close to each other for a decent photo.
Next on the itinerary was the famous golf course at Ranikhet, one of the highest golf courses in Asia. It was autumn now and the grass wasn’t as green as it would be in spring. But it still was a beautiful sight. I managed to find a white wagtail sitting on the course fence and got a few photos before turning my attention to the course itself. ( Birds always come first, the course isn’t going anywhere!)
We then ventured in to the pines for a short walk amidst the tall trees. Even here I managed to find a huge spider which had spun a web bigger than me in between 2 trees and took a few photos.
After enjoying our walk across the course for some time we returned to the parking area where Mussaratbhai was ready. We skipped the Kargil museum here as we were running short of time and we wanted to return back to Gagar for a late lunch .( Mohan’s food was too tasty for us to even think of eating elsewhere!)
So we drove back to Gagar uneventfully and ate the delicious lunch kept ready. It was well past our normal lunch hour and we were so hungry that we forgot to take the customary photos of the food.
Mohan was supposed to take us to the temple at the top of the hill in Gagar that evening. But we didn’t want to be stuck on a steep hill path in fading light. So we asked him if it was possible for him to guide us there early next morning. He agreed and so the rest of the evening was spent lazing around in the bungalow.
We took portraits, macro photos of the superb range of succulent plants and flowers around till it got dark. After which we settled onto the couch for our last evening sitting in front of the fireplace, enjoying coffee and biscuits with a pile of travel magazines in between us. Bliss!
Soon it was dinner time and Mohan had prepared Black Pepper chicken for me and Matar Paneer and Dal for the better half. Each dish was tasty, in my three days here there wasn’t a single meal that could be called average. Everything was exceptional!
We slept peacefully and woke up early so that we had enough time to hike up and down the hill before leaving Gagar.
I got ready first and had my time with the birds till the better half got ready. The birds were kind to me today too and I got a few good photos of green backed tits, warblers and streaked laughing thrushes.
My friend Kali was already up and about and she came running from the adjacent fields on seeing me around. Pawan had got coffee and biscuits for me. As had become the norm now I had the coffee and Kali finished the biscuits.
The better half then had her coffee before Mohan led us up the hill along the same steep path that we had taken two days ago. We passed the temple where we had spotted the barking deer and went further along the forest path with Kali now in the lead.
The hill top was in view after a few minutes and that always gives me some fresh energy and me and Kali were racing to get to the top of the hill. She was too fast for me and was waiting for me at the top as if waiting for me accompany her in.
The temple is a simple structure with spectacular 360 degrees views of the hills around. It was a clear blue morning and the entire himalayas were clearly visible. That made me glad that we hadn’t attempted this hike in the evening.
After satiating our eyes and sd cards with the amazing views all around we descended via the same path and got back to the bungalow. It was the best short 2 hour hike I had done in a long time.
Mohan then got busy in preparing breakfast for us. We had already packed and kept our luggage ready. We stowed the camera gear away safely till Mohan laid out breakfast. The hike had added to our appetite and we devoured a handful of omelettes among the two of us!
After breakfast we couldn’t resist asking Mohan to take a few more photos of us on the porch.
We took a photo with Mohan & Pawan, the caretakers at the White Peaks who had made our stay comfortable and memorable ( We were also a kilo or two heavier thanks to Mohan’s delicious cooking!)
We then gathered our stuff and were dropped to the car by Mohan and Pawan. Kali accompanied us all the way down to the car and we fed her the last packet of biscuits that we had kept just for this time.
We then waved goodbye to Kali and boarded our car. The White Peaks which I had just stumbled upon in my research for this trip became the highlight of the trip. I would surely be back some day to enjoy the hospitality and the views.
More than the views and the food & hospitality we would love to be back to give Kali more belly rubs.
Next on the itinerary was the birding hotspot of Pangot on the other side of Nainital where we had booked the amazing looking Jungle lore birding lodge. But that is a story for another post. Some other day, some other time.