The best time to visit the hills is after the monsoons have satiated the hills and they are attired and resplendent in a verdant green with an azure canopy embracing their beauty. At the same time, Chitra Singh laments the commercialization of hill stations which has tarnished their unspoilt beauty.
Strangely people have made our majestic mountains into a commodity. Come summer and a vast majority of people flock to the hills in droves, flooding the popular and approachable hill stations like a river in spate. Their only objective is to escape the forty degree celsius temperature of the scorching plains without appreciating the value of nature in its unspoilt form once they reach their destination. They swarm the facilities, they overflow on the Mall roads, do the touristy things like boating, riding the cable cars and take memento photographs in weird costumes, dished out by the local photographers, whose main objective is to make a fast buck. Predictably they are still pursuing the bright lights instead of revelling in nature’s bounty. They end up scarring the locales to disreputable limits bordering on vandalism, instead of paying due regard to God’s munificence. People end up converting the hills into exact replicas of the very scenario they have left behind. Alas! In their ignorance they do not venture forth to explore new avenues and never realise how grossly wrong they are. It is tourism in its worst form.
It is only the discerning traveller and true lover of the hills who knows that the best time to visit is after the rainy season, when the rains have satiated the mountains with their fervour and enlivened them to their full potential. They have beaten down on the slopes torrentially, or have saturated them with their gentle drizzle, which sometimes lasts for days on end. The mountains revel in the deluges and absorb the pleasure of it like a thirsty traveller imbibing a glass of cool water. Three months of this orgy and the hills metamorphose into a glorious scenic delight.
The abundant trees become lush and green, and the branches are laden with foliage. Their barks are covered with a thick coat of lichen. The dry and bracken undergrowth sprouts up with all kinds of flora, changing the parched mountainside into a lively rich meadow bursting forth with vibrant colour. The summer heat can be quite intense in the hills, because the sun beats down in an uninterrupted manner. Violets, lilies of the valley, daisies, ferns and myriad other wildflowers adorn the slopes, painting a rich canvas. And not to be left behind, the cornflower blue awning of the unblemished sky presents a befitting backdrop to this charming landscape. Therefore, it is only fitting that the adventurous traveller, should take the time out and traverse these uncharted pathways and savour the hidden delights of the mountains in its most appealing persona.
One such destination is little known, self-effacing Ramgarh, a charming getaway in the interior hills, just about twenty-two kilometres from the better known Nainital, in the Kumaon hills. Once it was a sleepy village tucked away at a height of 7000 ft. above sea level, with most of the population looking after the prolific orchards. Entire hill slopes are covered with fruit trees such as apple, plum, peach, and apricot. Ramgarh can be approached after one of the most scenic alpine drives anywhere in the hills. The thirteen kilometre drive starts from the busy hub of a settlement, called Bhowali, which, at a height of 6000 feet, is a confluence of roads coming from Almora, Ranikhet, and Mukteshwar. Because of its strategic location Bhowali is a bustling township, with a flourishing fruit market, and was greatly favoured by the British as a convenient hinter market for the supply of groceries to the more sophisticated Nainital.
As soon as you navigate the eleven km long artery which will lead you to Ramgarh, leaving behind the hustle and bustle of Bhowali, and its melee of humanity, the sound of honking cars and buses recedes, and you enter the enchanting world of the temperate forests. The winding road meanders and gently climbs through tall imposing pines adorning the hillside. Once you have achieved a height of six and a half thousand feet above sea level, the flora graduates to the Alpine and massive Oaks and Conifers take precedence, forming a luscious green canopy. The slopes covered in their mantle of green abundance, dive down and disappear into deep gorges, which even the radiantly shining sun cannot penetrate. This idyllic scenario invites the traveller to halt and bask in the striking panorama. If you are lucky this grandstand view is enriched by the most charming bird song and wild chirping of fauna. Your eye may capture the idle sortie of an eagle high, high up in the ethereal blue sky, or your ears may catch the gurgling sound of a spring rushing by and gushing forth down the slope.
You are just about soaking in these visual delights, when your car negotiates a bend on the road, and you emerge on the summit of the Gagar hills and there spread out before your unbelieving eyes lies the most incredible sight that your heart could wish for. Standing tall on the distant horizon a range of imposing snow-covered peaks, gleaming like silver in the azure blue sky beckon you with their spectacular presence. This silver rampart captures your attention completely and holds you spell bound. The picture is completed with the panorama of the dipping tree covered valley, which sweeps downwards from your feet, and blends into this crown of eternal snow peaks, far away. You are rendered speechless with wonder and awe.
Some of the famous peaks in this part of the Himalayas, are the Kamet, the Nandaghumti, the Ghori Parvat achieving heights over 6ooo metres above sea level, and the Trishul spiralling to a height of 7120 metres above sea level, and the most dominant peak of the Nanda Devi which attains a height of 7816 metres above sea level. A glimpse of these peaks is reward enough for any traveller, because they are visible only from October to March in a calendar year, when the vista is unhampered and crystal clear and visibility infinite.
These pristine hills are beginning to feel the onslaught of the spreading urbanisation. Where once they were covered with abundant apple orchards, today the effect of climate change is leaving its mark, and the orchards are receding to greater heights. In the past the roadsides used to be stacked with rows of crates filled with the famous ‘golden delicious’ apples of Ramgargh; today they are a rare sight. Earlier there was just a smattering of a few picturesque cottages dotting the hillsides in harmony with the surroundings, today hordes of builders are swarming these untouched locales and are vandalizing their purity with all kinds of haphazard and ungainly construction.
Ramgarh boasts of a few picturesque resorts and family hotels like the Neemrana cottages, The Cedar Lodge, The Clark’s Inn to name a few, where one can have a comfortable stay. There are numerous wayside cafeteria where a welcome hot 'cuppa' of tea or coffee can be enjoyed. From the summit of Gagar the road leads down to the base of the valley or ‘Talla Ramgarh’ which is a drive of a few kilometres. ‘Talla’ denotes low lying in the native language. Here it expands into a broad undulating terrain, crisscrossed with streams and rivulets and is the home of many plant nurseries, which provide a gainful occupation for the locals. Not to be missed are the delectable stuffed ‘aloo paranthas’, dished out hot and tantalizing in the small marketplace. This completes a visit to this idyllic getaway, which induces you to pause awhile.