One clarification at the beginning, if you're wondering about this fairly unique itinerary, you need to speak to my sister. Well, point though made, if you knew my sister you'd know better.
There were prayers to be offered at the holy Ghat of Hari-ki-Pauri (Steps to God/Heaven - now we know why its 'holy')and a must-have dip for the kids. Somehow the cold doesn't seem to deter them at all, they're stripped (and that's another thing, we lose all our Indian concepts of shame and shyness when it comes to things remotely religious, there are men and women of all ages in various stages of disclosure, nobody cares a hoot - convenient Indian permissiveness)- the kids have a good time and we are finally off, its 4:30am in the morning guys, fairly early.
I like driving off early in this country. The roads are clear of all unnecessary traffic. you make good time and yes in the summers the temp is really comfortable.
Incidentally there are about 3 routes to get from Hardwar to Ranikhet. The first one and the fastest route is to drive through Najibabad - Kashipur - straight on to Ramnagar - via Corbett National Park go on to Mohaan and onto the State Highway 24 thru Kumeria & move on up the small and exteremely pretty townlets (perfect word really) to Ranikhet. Caution the road is less used, but OK in maintenance. Stop at an eatery called 'Daana-Paani' on the way, clean roadside food served quick and with a smile. Views on the road are fabulous, you cross three ridges on the way - just road and valleys dropping off on both sides, yes truly awesome. You're likely to see some wildfe and definitely beautiful birds, if the season and time is right.
The second route essentially is via Nainital/ Bhowali. Haridwar - Najibabad - Kashipur - right turn to the Nainital road to Rudrapur and then Kathgodam. The you can take the road thru Bhowali and Bheemtaal to Ranikhet. Or you can decide to go through Nainital (stop to eat at Mountain View/ Trail - I guess that was the name; the Kumaon Raita and the Noughat cake is to die for). Eating done, you can move on to Ranikhet through Almora or Khairna.
The last route is the one I want to go thru, but haven't yet, same thing through Hardwar - Najibabad, but then on to Kotdwar and then Lansdowne (super pretty and picture postcard beautiful place)and then on to Ranikhet. This is the longest route but arguably the most beautiful. When I do this one, I'll post.
Moving on to the trip then. The rest of the gang have slumbered between chips and augementative song requests and interminably long waits at the Najibabad railway-crossing. (these guys are crazy, they pass 3 to 4 trains at at one go. If your caught in one you're basically...). We reach Ramnagar. Stop at the Bus-stop - there's a chaiwala just opposite who makes fabulous tea in brass vessels and the only decent hotel for miles (Ajanta, again I guess, my apologies) where you can use a clean loo, in excahnge for ordering breakfast. Food by the way is served, fresh, hot and tasty, recommended.
Suddenly we're greeted with enthuisastic groups in open jeeps. Corbett has come. It takes 2-3 hours driving from Hardwar to Corbett. Its about 7:30 am. time to see animals, the guys in the car awake and attentive we drive on through the Dikhala Gate of Corbett and onto Mohaan. For all a stop recommended along here, there's the Golu Devi Mandir here. Revered and really unique in location - in the middle of the Kosi river and perched atop a pillar-like hillock. Good to visit, nice to experience.
We move from Mohaan to Kumeria. There's a village eco-system project here. Good effort at preserving the traditional ways of the hill folk by WWF. A bunch of tribal houses with motifs and all, nice friendly people, open to chat. The road starts to climb ; for the motion-sick, a word, take those Avomine pills, or chew on Ginger (yes it really works). Fascinating views of the Kosi are a bonus and reveal themselves at every bend. A local bus, truck or two is all you'll meet here, better still are the deer who jump across for some lucky souls. I stopped here, to savour the silence. you can hear the leaves rutle and even fall, it's so quiet. And the bells from a make-shift temple with obviously many devotees tinkles downwind.
On through Didihaat and a string of vollage towns. If you're a shutterbug, be sure to carry extra film or batteries. The views of the mountains start here and soon the beauty of it all starts to get unreal, like some tourism film in a playback loop. We took a break along the way, mostly becuase the kids were getting restless and surely becase the air's so crisp and nippy, you want to take a deep breath to clean out the cithy smog form your lungs.
2 right turns and after Tarikhet comes Ranikhet. Now Ranikhet's claim to fame has been the cantonment, but once you get over the sheer peace and amazing beauty of the place there are other things to see. There's the Golf course and in Spring the Chaubatia Gardens are not to be missed. Shopping and some good old learning for the kids at the Tweed Factory - great stuff very reasonable.
The best way to see Ranikhet is however on foot, but you need some time for that. The Market/ bus-stop is avoidale. Though all provisions will come from there and there is some really reasonable lodging there too. But the place to put up is at Ranikhet Club. You can book in advance on phone, or try your luck if its off-season.One place to avoid is Norton's Hotel at Ranikhet, a friend stayed there and can't stop his horror stories, beautiful property of youre gone terrible with neglect and bad management.
The other good place to stay is a wee bit away at Majhkali. Approx 3 km away. here there are homestays and some rooms available. we did some poking about, you can land a decent room for 2 at 1000/- but do bargain. Why? because teh views and the air is even better. There are long walks, and open spaces for all.
Ahead are the Villages of Dwarsu, with a beautiful Mahakali temple, the local school and some good eateries. you can take this road on to Almora on the way back, but we were running late and headed back the way we came.By the way, when here you must try the sweets the region is famous for. I have a friend from Almora she can't get over the 'Baal Mithai' and the 'Singori'. Bal Mithai is really really sweet, made from condensed milk and coated in little sugar balls (yes calories bomb. Singori is the one I like though. Its again milke based, but less sweet and comes uniquely wrapped in leaf. the leaf and the coal fire smoke over which the milk was thickened gives this sweet a wonderful aroma.
Evening falls, the hillside changes colour to a rich orange. Soon the only sounds on the road are the chorus of crickets. The gang in the car is slumbering again. pleasantly tired, as I take on the 8 hour drive back to Hardwar. Once past Corbett, the roads are fabulous. easy driving. The only rough stretch is between after Dhampur, (yes of Sugar fame) between Nagina and Najibababd (UP roads will never change!)
The drive back has thankfully been without incident. I made rather good time. We plan to put up at Haridwar for the night andthe next day. The Singori's in the car are wafting their aroma. Ranikhet lingers on. Yes it has that ability to stick to you, drawing you back, greedy for crisp air, breath-taking views of the Himalayas and a sense of freedom and space that's so precious nowdays.