The mountains of Kumaon draped in green, stitched together by rivers in their youth, bejeweled with lakes, frequented by clouds and often shrouded by mist. Roads meander through the placid forests, painted with sunlight making its way through the sieve of oak leaves. The brighter parts of the road overlook high mountains and vast valleys, while the dark ones are conceal the growls of tigers in their afterlife.
Through a dozen years of my travels to and through Kumoan, I have learnt to enjoy the serenity of this land and with this ride to Bhimtal and Mukteshwar I expected to experience the same again. We had a comfortable 6 days in hand to travel from Gwalior to Mukteshwar and back and thus there was no need to twist the wire too much. Just as it should be.
Started from Gwalior on 28th December, taking the route via Agra, Hathras, Kachla, Badaun, Bareilly, Haldwani and Bhimtal. The road is mostly two lane and traffic comes across at towns which seem like bottlenecks blocked because of an overflow of cycles, rickshaws and trucks.
Kachla is where we crossed the Ganges. The bridge across this river is a modern, little noticed structure. But I always stop at the bridge to glance at the old rickety bridge on the behind the rail lines.
The bridge was a single lane, shaky structure carrying two ways of traffic, one at a time, being closed frequently to make way for the narrow gauge trains which also went through the same single lane. I have spent hours waiting to pass the bridge over of the years. Although its great to have a better bridge, the nostalgia seems sweet.
The roads from Bareilly to Haldwani is now 4 laned, after years of struggling through construction work and diversions. We reached Bhimtal just after sunset. Weather was pleasant, view of the lake was soothing. We lit a bonfire, making us warm as we spent time working the wood to keep the fire alive. The sky was clear, stars bright. We sunk in our chairs, listening to the crackle of wood and stories from memories.
Next morning started with a golden sunrise and ended with a ride to Sattal. This set of lakes is merely 10 km from Bhimtal. My favorite is the Garud taal. We spent some time around this peaceful lake, a lot of time actually, as it was almost evening till we left. The true beauty of this place is indeed in taking time to absorb its serenity.
The night was again spent working the wood in the bonfire at Bhimtal.
The next day, we head to Mukteshwar. A rather less frequented mountain top, named after the Shiva temple which is located on the mountain top. Two ends of the summit makes the sunrise and sunset point. The sunset point offers a vista of vast valleys, while the sunrise point overlooks snow clad peaks.
Locals say leopards frequent forests in and around Mukteswar. Bears are rare and tigers are rarer. Overall, the place is right to relax.
The next day, we made a our way back to Bhimtal. We were there by evening, thus celebrating coming of the new year by the bonfire, gazing at the lake. We returned the next day, via Delhi, stopping by at the capital for a night.