Archive | December, 2014

Rustic Soulitude – by the River

30 Dec

A gurgling river, chirping birds, a himalayan cliff that rises majestically a few thousand feet – and no sign of humanity. Some places cannot be described by words they need poetry. Soulitude by the Riverside is one such place. A place that is black and white – a place you will love and give a perfect 10 and want to come again and again or just say this is not my kind of place. I give it a perfect 10.

A sister property of the Himalayan Soulitude this one is very different. 7 rooms , designed in a rustic and elegant style, it feels like a modern day Ashram for its peace and tranquility but comes with all the modern amenities that one could think of in a  5 star hotel. The best of both worlds.

Located at 4500 feet, you can reach the place only by trekking 2 Km along the river. A beautiful Trek – the hotel sends porters to the pick up point to carry your luggage.

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Its bright and sunny and 30 minutes later you reach the hotel to be welcomed by friendly staff and a bright well lit, well designed hexagonal lobby. Warm and friendly this is also the TV Lounge (TATA Sky) and the reading room. In this remote corner of nature Wi Fi works and the whole place is operated with Generators. Remember you are in the midst of a forest , with the river Kalsi less than 25 feet away.

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The rooms follow the same theme, large , spacious, well lit , facing the river – Rustic but super comfortable and functional with all the amenities you could think of. Bed warmers and heaters and a Kashmir style fireplace keeps the room warm. There is no carpet and central heating and at night the temperature drops, there is a nice cold breeze from the river. So good to be dressed in multiple layers as you head to bed. We stayed on Dec 30 and the temp varied from a high of 20 in the day to almost Zero at midnight.

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The other units that comprise this unique resort are the dining room and a Yoga Hut on the river bank. They also have large stretches of kitchen gardens where they grow a wide variety of herbs and vegetables to meet the needs of the kitchen. Food is royal and sumptuous – served in brass plates, Indian, very rich, very filling – ambience is Rajasthani. Every single thing used in the hotel needs to be carried from 2 km afar – so the more you become self dependent the better it is.

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But the jewel in the crown is a trek to PariTal (The lake of the fairies) – a short 20 min trek its along the river and you need to be nimble to cross boulders along the entire stretch. Its a nice trek best done after 10 AM when the first rays of the sun start to wriggle out. You can spot a lot of monkeys climbing the vertical ledges of the cliff and if you are lucky you can see barking deers and maybe a panther or leopard sun basking on a ledge. (We did not see them but yes at night we heard the barking deers)

As you reach Pari Tal you hear the sound of the gushing waterfall beckoning you and the first sight of the Tal is divine.

Emerald green crystal clean water swirling in a large pond, fed by white water rollicking down the slope with a sense of purpose. The chirping sounds of the bird die down in obeisance to the beauty of this spot and as you stand alone you can sense peace, tranquility and joy in every pore of your body. You experience nature at its best. This is the place where you want to come and sit to find answers to life’s problems, this is the place you want to sit hand in hand with your soulmate, not utter a word but yet have a deep connect. This is the place to meditate. To be with yourself. To Recharge. I wish I could have stayed for hours.

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This place is unique. Soulitude in Himalayas is marketed well and has become a perfect family getaway. But the DNA of Riverside is very different. This is not a place for noisy kids or large groups. Its a place to come alone or with people very near and dear to you. There is no commercial element here – No Yoga , No massage – just you and nature. I have travelled a lot and I am constantly searching for offbeat locations – but I don’t think there is anything like this anywhere in India. It targets a specific clientele – who will keep coming again and again. Kudos to Manish Chandra the owner for having created this beauty. Its a lot of of passion and investment of time and money to manage a property like this with these high standards.

We had no plans to spend a day here – our booking for 4 nights was at Soulitude in the Himalayas. It was a sudden impulse that I requested for the last night to be spent here and fortunately rooms were available. Planning a family  holiday in the last week of Dec to the foothills of the Himalayas can be stressing – flights / train need to be on time (Fog), kids should not fall sick, nobody should trip and bend an ankle or fall sick, lugging around 5 suitcases with lots of woollens – is all a project in itself. And I am so happy that on the last day of a wonderful holiday I could find my dream location.

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And as I was sitting on the rocks with the water lapping my feet I recollect the words of the guide at Mukteshwar and how he defined God (Bhagwan) – Bh for Bhumi (Earth) , Ga for Gagan (Sky) , Va for Vayu (Air) and N for Neer (Water) – our ancestors knew it – elements of Nature and Fire is all it takes for a happy peaceful lives. In the name of development – We just messed it up.

Points to note 

1. Website , http://www.soulitudebytheriverside.com

2. Distance from Kathgodam 60 – 90 min , 35 Km , Tavera costs Rs 1500

3. Summers can be hot – 30 degrees + , winter mornings and nights are very cold, rains heavily in Monsoon

4. Travel light – and wear good trekking footwear

5. With family – best to do 1 day , solo – you decide , at least 3 days I would recommend

6. Distance from Soulitude in Himalayas – 30 Km , 60 Minutes, Its a small detour from the way to Sattal. We left Himalayan Soulitude at 10 , finished our Visit to Sattal and were at the Riverside property by 1.30 in the afternoon

Himalayan Soulitude in December

29 Dec

Always on the lookout for offbeat locations it was by pure chance that I bookmarked “ Soulitude in the Himalayas” many month back. The minute I visited the website I knew I wanted to go there – and that’s what we did for the Christmas Holidays this year.

On a cold winter day the flight to Delhi landed on time at 20.40 and we were in the Lemon Tree hotel near Anand Vihar station by 10 PM. This is the best place to stay if you have a 615 AM Shatabdi from Anand Vihar Junction to Kathgodam. Delhi was a cold 2-degrees but we made it well in time to the warm comfort of the Shatabdi Executive class. The drive from Lemon Tree to the station is less than a Km – 5 Min . The train was on time and we reached Kathgodam at 11.30 AM. A 45 km drive up the hills and we were in the hotel by 1.15 in time for lunch.

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Soulitude in the Himalayas is located at Village Gagar, in Ramgarh Town, Nainital District. Located at 7200 feet – it’s a small homely hotel with 10 rooms nestled along a hill slope with amazing views of the Himalayan peaks (Trishul, Nandai Devi, Panchachauli and Nanda Ghunti….) from every room.

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There are 6 rooms in the main building, a cottage with 3 rooms and one Suite. Rooms are designed very aesthetically and are warm, vibrant and welcoming – the type you see and say “ I wish I had a house with rooms like these”. With room names like Blessed, Nirvana, Awakening, Quietude, Peace, Bliss, Joy, Delight & Celebration. Many of the books were on Ramakrishna Paramhansa  – you can sense that the owner and designer have a strong spiritual connect and this hotel is run more out of passion and pride than for making money. Room rates vary from 6 – 12K/ night in peak season and include breakfast.

The kitchen serves delicious food through the day – Indian & Continental- very tasty, very homely. Decent spread that includes Soup, Salad, Multiple dishes, 1 Non veg & Dessert. The service is excellent. (Food is Buffet and room service is limited, meals are priced at Rs 750 / person) The main building has lovely warm places for people to sit down and read books, and chat over a warm fireplace. You can even enjoy your drink (But BYOB). The hotel has Free Wi Fi that Zips and excellent phone connection with 3G.

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Hot water is available 24X7 – there is no central heating but they provide heaters in every room. In Dec it can get real cold with night temp close to Zero – so do be prepared with thermals and multiple layers of clothing. Tata Sky connection is available in common places – not all rooms have TV. Nirvana Suite where we stayed had one. Lots of Books and DVD’s – to spend your time in the evenings.

It’s a 6 Acre property on the hill slope and they do have a small garden that the manager told us is  a riot of colors in spring and includes many fruit trees like Apple, Kiwi, Cherry, Almonds, Apricots, Walnuts and Plums. The garden is on a terrace – so limited walking space.

After you have enjoyed the rooms, hospitality and food – there is a lot to be done in this area. Gagar is a small village and not a commercial hotspot like most hill stations. Here is what you can do

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Devi Temple Trek (3 1/2 Hrs) A nice trek to the top of a hill that is at 8000 feet. Takes about 75 min to reach , level 2 trek ( Since it had snowed recently there were stretches of ice and slippery black ice). At the top you get an amazing view of the Himalayan Mountains. You also get to meet a Babaji – Yogi Ranganath who stays alone and manages a beautiful Shiva temple. He belongs to the Nath Clan and his abode is very close to the cave where Garg Rishi meditated. The baba was a wonderful person and offered us Ginger Tea. His meditation room with the fire “ Dhuni” made the room warm and spiritual. If you leave at 10 AM you can be back in the hotel at 1.15 for lunch. We loved this trek.

Mukteshwar Trip (5 – 6 Hrs) Its 30 Km away but takes well over an hr along the hill roads. On the way we crossed an apple Orchard – the season is June – July so all we saw now was dried trees in a snow covered mountain.

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Mukteshwar has some nice views of the mountains and a Shiva temple (some say its 5000 years old) where supposedly the Pandavas came and prayed to deliver them from their sins. Mukteshwar rocks also provide an opportunity for Zip Lining and Rappelling for the courageous. We had lunch at a lovely place called Nirvana – great food, reasonable priced – free Wi Fi, now who would expect that in Mukteshwar when even in Bangalore you don’t get free Wi Fi. ( Nirvana is located about 30 min from Mukteshwar on the way back to Gagar)

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Sattal – 7 Lakes ( 3 – 4 hrs , best done on the way back to Shatabdi / Kathgodam) – This located on the way from Gagar to Kathgodam – so it may be a good idea to include this on your way back as Shatabdi leaves only at 3.45 PM. Again a 30 Km drive that takes about 75 Min. A set of 7 lakes named after the characters in the Ramayana – 5 of them are connected. They are crystal clean and the long 1 hr boat ride across them is serene. Fortunately last week of Dec was off-season and we had the beautiful lakes to ourselves. Finish the boat ride and enjoy the Rajmal Chawal / Kadi Chawal Lunch in the small neat stalls – but beware of monkeys – one of them snatched away a pack of chips from my daughter.

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Other Treks in that locality  – Forest trek 2 Hrs, Mahadevi Verma Cottage Trek – 2 Hrs. Given the season and recent snowfall we stayed away from these as the paths were slippery.

Nainital (6 – 7 Hrs) – The famous hill station of Nainital is located just 30 km away – A 60 – 90 min drive. Like most famous hill stations it is commercial – we stayed away. But if you are interested in a Cable Car ride, Monastery , Shopping ( bakery, namkeen, candles, woollen clothes) , Boat Rides – do check it out. Nainital is also on the way to Corbett so if you are planning a stay at Corbett you will cross Nainital.

Day Trek to Riverside – The folks at Soulitude also recommended a day trek to their other property – Soulitude by the Riverside , an amazing property on the Kalsi river. We stayed there for a night so more of that in a separate blog. I strongly recommend that you spend a day here – but if you are not its a must that you do the day trip, the property is peace and tranquility embodified and the highlight is a lovely pool called the “Pari Tal”

Tea Gardens and “Bell Temple” (2 Hrs) – you can also do a short trip to a local govt Tea garden and visit a Bell temple nearby. Start at 4 PM and end by 6 PM. The tea garden is small – nothing in comparison to what you see in Darjeeling or Conoor. But the ” Bell Temple” is unique – you can hang a bell and pray for your wish to be fulfilled.

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Other lakes like Bhimtal, NaukuchiaTal are also short drives of 60 – 90 minutes. (For those from the South – Tal means lake – and all these places are named after the beautiful lakes located there)

We enjoyed our holiday thoroughly and I am sure the lure of the Himalayas will draw us here once again. Maybe in a different season when the flowers bloom or the Apple orchards are brimming with fruits. I am looking forward to that.

Other Important Tips 

  • For booking your car in advance you can contact Nafees ( 9412963653) or Madhusudhan ( 9756930090) – drop from Kathgodam to Soulitude is about Rs 1500 – 2000 depending on Tavera / Innova. Day trips vary from Rs 600 for a few hrs to Rs 1500 for the trip to Mukteshwar. Book cars in advance.
  • Shatabdi reaches Kathgodam at 11.30 AM and leaves at 3.40 PM
  • Roads get shut when it snows – for at least 24 hrs. the road from Soulitude to Mukteshwar sees a lot of Snow in Jan / Feb. From Kathgodam to Soulitude the road is open almost all the time.
  • Locals say that it Snows from Jan – Feb almost 8 – 9 times – Snow in Dec is rare. Although this year it snowed on Dec 15th.
  • A 3 night at Soulitude in Himalayas (Gagar)  and 1 night at Soulitude in Riverside is recommended. Do the Riverside on your way back – its at 4500 feet and a small detour on the way back to Kathgodam from Gagar.
  • 3G connection is available across all the places / roads.
  • Get good walking shoes – all the treks need shoes with grip. Hotel provides trekking sticks.
  • Arm yourself with creams and lotions for dry skin – and also some sun creme , at 7200 / 8000 feet the sun in the day can be harsh on your skin resulting in sun burns
  • In winter the treks and drives start only by 10 – 1030 AM. Days are sunny in dec with bright blue skies. At night you can see a sky studded with stars. Our room had a sky light and it gave an amazing view of the sky from your bed.
  • Even the walk from Nirvana to the main building is a small steep trek and can tire you out initially.
  • We had great family time – but being a group of 2 – 3 like minded families would have added to the fun.
  • http://www.soulitude.in, For all details and booking. Plan your travel well in advance – the place gets sold out months in advance. Payment is 100% advance