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Himalayan Village, Sonapani - The Journey and The Destination

Himalayan Village, Sonapani - The Journey and The Destination

A write-up of my trip from to via Sonapani (near Almora and Mukteshwar

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This is less of a travelogue, and more a story of 5 bravehearts - some of who had set out for the unlikeliest journey of their lives. This is the story of Mohit, Rahul, Ranjan, Hari and Ajay. We planned one evening over drinks that we all must re-live the times we spent in our respective college rock-shows by making a trip to Sonapani in Uttranchal, where the annual Himalayan Arts & Music Festival was going to take place on 14th and 15th September 2007. This festival is organised annually by Ashish (the owner of Himalayan Village resort, to celebrate the birthday of his daughter, Vanya, who has turned four this year). We planned this trip without the encumbrances like our respective wives and kids (brickbats/bouquets - out with'em!!!).

We all got together at 3am on 14th September, loaded our bags and bar into a Honda CR-V, and set out for a quick 8 hour drive to Sonapani from Gurgaon. 3 of us were going there for the first time!


Dreading the traffic on NH24, we braced ourselves for the worst, and at 4.30am, realised that the worst was behind us! We had beaten the trucks, the trollies, and the buses at their own game - the game of hogging the road. The early start really helped, and we were already well past Ghaziabad.

Excited and hungry, we went past Moradabad bypass and took Ashish's suggestion (as someone who had set up the resort at Sonapani and had done the Delhi-Sonapani stretch multiple times, he had the credentials to give such advise), to turn towards Kashipur, and took the right of the fork to Bazpur, en route Kala Dungi, giving Haldwani, Kathgodam, potholes, and horrendous traffic a miss!

About 10km short of Nainital, we stopped by at a small roadside dhaba for some breakfast. We had clocked in there by 9am!

 

Due to the presence of some ducks, a fountain, and a waterfall, the breakfast turned into brunch, and we finally set out again at around 10.45am. After entering Nainital, we circled around the lake to re-fuel, and took that opportunity and turned it into a photo-op. Many a click later, we started our descent towards Bhowali, and after multiple calls to Ashish, and multiple enquiries from locals, found our way to the road leading to Talla Ramgarh and Malla Ramgarh. That's the road where we had our first cans of beer! I had packed a 6-pack with loads of ice in a Heineken travel cooler, and oh boy… was that handy!

 

Once past these Ramgarhs, we turned towards Sonapani, by giving the road to Mukteshwar a miss! The journey from here on was breathtakingly scenic. We came across the oldest still-used bridge in the area, deep gorges, with stream flowing through the ravine, and some ashrams!

 

The road was desolate, with few vehicles passing us. Soon, we reached Sonapani, and missed the turn to its parking! This miss led to a hair-raising experience of trying to turn a largish SUV in the space enough to turn a bicycle, with steep fall on one side, and a mountain wall on the other. After many 3-point turns, and finally managing the near-impossible retracting on this tiny concrete pathway that led to nowhere, we finally reached the place where we had to park our vehicle.

 

This parking path was just about sufficient to glide the vehicle in, after giving it a sharp, tight 90-degree turn, on a path that had deep tyre marks due to recent rains, and had a few feet of drop on one side with the consolation of a barbed wire fence hoping and yet miserably failing in its effort to give you the peace of mind of stopping your drop, and a mud embankment on the other! The fear  was of scraping the vehicle on the either side, or worse still, of slipping down the barbed wire side, and getting completely and hopelessly stranded.

 

After managing this miraculous feat and reaching the parking, we realised that getting stranded would have meant that all others who had reached before us, would have also found their vehicles stranded, with no way in the world for them to take their vehicles out!

 

But we had managed. We took our bags out, and realised that the Heineken travel cooler had remained completely dry despite having been packed with ice. We made some impressed sounds about the intelligent design, and handed over our baggage to the baggage handlers (mules)!

 

After a 25-30 minute hike past some gorgeous mountain views, a meadow, and a pine forest, we had our first glimpse of the Himalayan Village - its humble entrance hesitantly proclaiming that we had reached Sonapani.

 

Once in, we were greeted by Ashish, and were ushered in to the one and only hall - that was the dining hall for all times. The lunch that was served, reminded us of home-made grub.

 

After getting into our rooms and some bit of unpacking, the mystery of the missing melted ice from the earlier-mentioned Heineken travel cooler was unraveled. Rahul's bag was the culprit, and the melted ice had made its way into his clothing. The discovery happened when he got into his bermudas, and realised an uncharacteristic dampness in his seat.

 

We turned the verandah outside into a dhobi-ghaat, one cottage into a community bar, and settled down with our vodkas. It was 4.30pm.

 

At 6pm, we heard some strains of music making their way down to where we were sitting, from the top of the hill where the dining hall was. And we figured it was time for making our way up for some music. Cameras, et al, and us - we all entered the dining hall and realised that it had been turned into a make-shift auditorium for the 25-odd residents to listen to the music that was to be pumped out by the musician trio - Rajiv, Joy and Anupam. Rajiv plays the concert flute; Joy and Anupam play the guitar. All of them sing.

 

The auditorium lighting was a row of earthen lamps placed on the window sills, and the stage lighting was similar row of earthen lamps placed on the floor behind the musicians. The entire ambience was surreal! The evening had pop, rock, jazz, and blues in store for this enviably fortunate audience, and the music kept flowing along with the assortment of drinks (including a bottle of Cointreau brought in by Srikant). Naturally, the music was equally shared, while the booze didn't have any such luck!

 

There was much jollity and bonhomie amongst the resort residents, and, as a result, we finally wound up at some late hour in the evening (a euphemistic way of referring to the wee-hours in the morning), went to our respective cottages, and crashed.

 

In the morning, when I woke up, I realised that the sun was mockingly perched at about 30-degree angle, and was teasing us about our uncivil behaviour of sleeping late the previous night (or the same morning). I disregarded it, and went through the motions of getting ready for a new day, while slowly, others were also starting to show some signs of life.

 

Only when I reached the dining hall, and asked for tea, did I realise that the time was only 9am! (The sunrise does happen fast and hard on these hills!)

 

The day started lazily, and the breakfast was had by about 10.30-11am. That's when the disparate character of the various festival attendees came to light - some set out for short or long walks, while others pulled out the drinks; some settled down for intellectual pursuits like scrabble, while others went for a massage in the verdant pine forest under the canopy of blue skies.

 

Since it was a lazy day, we had the time to take a look around. The Himalayan Village is situated on a hill with its dining hall being at the highest point, and the other cottages sprinkled along the slope at various levels. All cottages have running hot and cold water (hot water comes thanks to some interesting rigging done by Ashish, wherein an LPG cylinder heats up the water as soon as your turn the hot water tap).There are two beds, with bright coloured sheets on them. There are verandahs that overlook the great Himalayan mountain range (view starts from Trishul to your extreme left, and moves past Trishul Wall, to Nanda Devi, to Panch Chuli on your extreme right). All cottages have the trapping to catch rainwater and funnel it down to put it to some interesting use. And from all around the resort, you can catch a glimpse of Almora. The place is extremely green, and we were told that it gets its fair share of snowfall during the winter months. Vegetation around the area is government-planted pines, which, otherwise is not normal to this region. This, besides the innumerable varieties of beautiful flowers and fruits that grow robustly because of the climate. All in all, a cocooned paradise on earth.

 

As the evening arrived, news traveled that the musicians will be playing unplugged, sitting around the bonfire. Wow!

 

The gentle strains of a rhythm and a lead guitar, and the haunting notes of the concert flute, filled the crisp air, and warmed the audience's heart, giving company to the warmth generated by the crackling pine-wood bonfire. The evening turned into night, and night to the early morn... and the enthralled audience didn't still have enough. Sometime during it all, the musicians brought an end to this magical experience, and gently moved away, leaving some of us to make our own music.

 

When we finally slept is not remembered by any of us. But when we woke up, we were face-to-face with the great Himalayan range that had deigned to appear and be visible to us, coming out of their normal 'purdah' of clouds. We slowly got ready, as if in a trance. Weighing heavy on our minds was the fact that we will be leaving this magnificent place soon. We bought the customary bottles of apricot-cardamom jam, and the Himalayan herbs, signed the visitor book making promises to return, delayed our departure as much as possible, and finally left for the desert called Gurgaon around noon.

 

After having started back, these bravehearts realised that they hadn't seen any TV, hadn't read a newspaper, done much of surfing, or indulged in any of those corporate activities which typically fill our otherwise mundane lives in the big city. But then, who missed it when the place offered all, that no other place had offered to us in years!

 

And then, OKTaTaByeBye asks us to write a travelogue on a place where the last thing we wanted to say was OK Ta Ta Bye Bye. Sigh! But then, such are the ironies of life!

Hope you enjoyed reading my travelogue.

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This Travelogue 'Himalayan Village, Sonapani - The Journey and The Destination' was posted by Travelure on Thursday, September 27, 2007.

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5 Comments on 'Himalayan Village, Sonapani - The Journey and The Destination'
A travelogue about a trip to Sonapani (near Almora and Mukteshwar
On 8/29/2008 11:38:02 AM sunshine said...

nice one! good information.

On 10/26/2007 9:24:28 AM Meena said...

thanks for sharing your experience with us. Great deal of information... .

On 10/8/2007 10:47:34 AM Express Gypsy said...

very descriptive... thanks for sharing...

On 10/1/2007 9:07:34 AM Mischale said...

Loved the way you've narrated the journey and your experience... it makes a good read.. .

On 9/27/2007 5:08:48 PM Bob Symn said...

Very detailed and informative...

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