Kasar Devi - where the pine trees speak
The drive from Delhi takes you around 7 hours – if you start off really early in the morning. Our plan was to load up and leave by 5 AM. But with four children in tow – a one-year old and three 4-legged ones of sundry ages, that’s hardly a possibility. By the time we left at 9 AM, with our two mountain bikes firmly strapped on the back of our car and all the children bundled in, we crashed straight into the Delhi-Noida-Ghaziabad office traffic and it took us 2 ½ hours to negotiate through the mess in erstwhile Mayavati land.
The highway to Almora isn’t anywhere close to what we’ve begun to expect – spoilt as we are with the Delhi-Jaipur and Delhi-Chandigarh expressways. It’s a simple two lane highway on either side, that becomes one-lane fairly often – often enough not to presume that a bus won’t come barrelling down what you considered “your side” of the road! There’s a Bikanerwala on the way, nearing Gajraula, which is a good place to stop over for lunch. Super clean and with an eclectic veggie menu ranging from chaat to dosa to Chinese and pasta, you got to be a real picky eater not to get what your stomach desires.
Tired of the flat landscape and impatient to see the mountains, my three 4-legged ones and I had our heads stuck out of the window – and then, as soon as we passed Haldwani main town, there they were! The mountains, silhouetted against the grey blue sky! By evening we’d reached Bhim Tal, and after an eight hour drive it was tempting to stay over at one of the hotels facing the Bhim Tal lake and just chill. We decided to strive on though, and hit Almora town at dusk. Like any other hill town in India, Almora has a central market that’s bustling with activity, a bus stand where the entire town seems to have gathered, and a German Bakery. Huh?Well, it’s like this. Where there are hills in North India, there are Israelis (read Manali, Dharamsala, Dhanaulti yadda yadda yadda), and where there are Israelis, a German Bakery isn’t far behind. It’s never “German” though, and besides bread and sundry “patice” you don’t get much else. But it’s always there. Intriguing.
Kasar Devi is another 30 min drive from Almora market. If any of the locals tell you it’s “just 5 min away” – they’re clueless! We were staying at a friend’s place – a beautiful colonial style bungalow tucked away off the main road and facing a meadow of pine trees that swished in the wind - almost like they were saying “hello there!”. Picture post card like. It was quite warm for the hills – unexpectedly so, since the cottage had no fans! And the Kasar Devi mosquito – they’re huge! Like one of the locals said, huge and dumb, because they come buzzing straight into your face thinking you can’t see them.
Mohan’s Cafe, about 10 min drive away was our retreat for food. It’s dominated by Israelis which explains the boxes of Tahina that were on display in the front store. They also have an internet cafe there – so you can munch on your tuna pizza and send your emails at the same time. Just get off from the main road and there are some amazing trekking and mountain bike tracks – we did a 6 km stint to Balta village on a super hot day, but a brilliant ride – gave the good ‘ol Firefox bikes a good drubbing. The Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary is just 30 km away and if you’re really adventurous, you can bike the whole road uphill. I wasn’t. I preferred to bike it all the way down – so much easier on the quads!
On our last day there, we popped in at Kalmatia Sangam Himalay Resort. Serenity personified. The super helpful staff took us around the estate, showed us the rooms and gave us some tea. I loved the lotus pond at the reception, the armchair swing in front of one of the cottages – all named after Himalayan birds, the sneak peak of the Himalayas that promises something special on a clear day – loved everything about the place! Definitely coming back.
My top 5 things to do at Kasar Devi:
- Trek, walk, just move those legs – lots of lovely routes close by.
- Bike – you cover more ground that way and get to see more of the place.
- Visit Kalmatia Sangam – to know why, you’ve got to have read the above.
- Eat pahari mutton at the local restaurant.
- Leave the local bhutia pooches alone – not the super friendly variety.