“Ranikhet beckons me every year and for me going there is going home”
A bright sunny day on the mountains, the cool breeze with the fragrance of pine and deodar , the breathtaking picture perfect view of the snow clad Himalayan range, mystery forest trails, a starry clear night sky- these are a few of my favourite things and the cantonment town of Ranikhet has all this. Ranikhet the lesser known but a thousand fold more beautiful sibling of overcrowded Nainital is a 90 kilometre drive from the closest railhead at Kathgodam. The property sharks haven’t really been able to enter the Ranikhet cantonment which is on lease land meaning that buying selling of land and construction is an absolute No. This coupled with the efforts of the Kumaon Regimental Centre have really helped retain much of Ranikhets colonial and Kumaoni charm.
At Ranikhet you can spend your days doing ‘nothing’ and still be having the time of your life. A number of hotels and home stay options are available –West View Hotel one of the oldest heritage hotels has always been my favourite as the architecture and décor have something strikingly ancient about them transcending you into the bygone era. Start your day with a steaming hot cup of tea (accompanied by biscuits dunking them into the tea the ‘pahadi’ way) looking at the rising sun spread its golden glow over majestic peaks of Trishul, Nanda devi, Nandakot and Kamat. Everybody walks in Ranikhet and surely the best way to explore Ranikhet is on foot. The picturesque and challenging 9 hole golf course takes your golfing experience to an altogether different level. It is a haven not only for the golfers but also for the click crazy tourists. Located close to the golf course is the Kalika temple devoted to Goddess Kali. Also in the close vicinity at Chilliyanaula is the Haida Khan Babaji Ashram which has a temple devoted to Lord Shiva. One can find many foreign tourists living in the ashram to understand Hinduism and live the Hindu way of life.
The drive to Chaubatia ( apple orchards) about 10 kilometres from Ranikhet is through dense Deodar and Pine forests and there are chances that the headlights of your vehicle may fall on to a startled leopard who has strayed on to the road. On the way is the ancient 8th century Jhula Devi temple dedicated to Goddess Durga with numerous bells hanging in its premises each representing a fulfilled wish of a devotee. Chaubatia located at a height of 7000feet has apple apricot and peach orchards,Bhula dam, some beautiful churches coupled with cool fresh breeze breathtaking views and a lot of nature. The story of Chaubatia – Well I will leave that for another day.
Like I said walking is a fashion in Ranikhet so just follow any forest track and enjoy the walk – you can try out the various local berries- Hisaloo(yellow coloured berries), Kaphal, Ghingaroo(red coloured berries) to name a few.The forest has many abandoned dilapidated churches – serene and peaceful with their high ceilings and majestic construction. If possible try checking out some of the Old Grant Bunglows with their archaic fireplace, attics, wooden flooring, chimneys in the kitchen, creaky stairways, – One of such beautiful bunglow I remember frequenting as a child is ‘Himalayana’ just a little off the Mall Road home to the moutaineer couple Mrs Leela Rao Dayal and Harishwar Dayal.Then there is the home of the legendary kumaoni soldier -Col RamSingh and his wife Dolma.
An ideal place to spend your evening is the Ranikhet Club- a heritage property with an old world ambience. The Himalayan view from the club is spectacular and you also have accommodation available in case you want to stay in the club itself. You are sure to find some good company at the “Seven Peaks” Bar of the club- probably an retired Army Officer who has loads of interesting stories of his good old army days to share with you. The club also has fairly good restaurant which interestingly serves local kumaoni dishes in addition to the claimed Mughlai, Chinese and Continental cuisine.
Before leaving do visit the army run Kumaon Woollen factory and pick up shawls , scarves or coats as a souvenir from this beautiful place. This of course is in addition to the innumerable unforgettable memories you will be carrying from the land so aptly called “Queens field”