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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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)
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.
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.
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