Kumaon – Nov 2016 (Part – 1 Mary Budden Binsar)

25 Nov

Uttarakhand is truly Gods own land. So much of natural beauty – and thank God its still rustic & natural. The state can be split into two broad areas – Garhwal ( Rishikesh & Upwards – Uttar Kashi / Gangotri / Kedarnath / Badrinath) & Kumaon – Nainital / Almora / Raniket / Binsar / Dunagiri..

Garhwal with its famous 4 Dham Pilgrimage route is more crowded. Its easily accessible from Dehradun and there are multiple flights from Delhi to Jolly Grant. Kumaon is accessible from Kathgodam – the last railway junction before the hills.

This was my 7th trip to this beautiful state. Mary Budden Cottage was on my bucket list for long – so when we were planning an all boys getaway in the hills – it was an easy choice.

Getting there

Getting to the Mary Budden property from Bangalore was a 24 hr journey – Flight to Delhi, the night train from Old Delhi (Jaisalmer – Raniket Expresss leaves at 1030 PM  and arrives at 530 AM) and then a 4 hr drive to the property in Binsar (110 Kms). We consciously took the night train so that we could be at the property by 10 AM Vs the Shatabadi which would have got us in only by 3.30 – 4 PM thereby losing a precious day. Old Delhi Railways station is a mess – and if you are a lady travelling alone think twice before taking this night train. One can also drive from Delhi to Binsar – but thats a 9 – 10 hr long drive. The drive from Kathgodam is great – excellent road – no U Turn and pin bends. Considering that we do Bangalore Mysore 135 Km in 4 hrs – this 4 hr journey was a breeze.

Geo Highlights & when its best to visit 

The property is at an altitude of 2100 metres ( ~ 7000 feet , most Hill stations Ooty, Darjeeling, Simla, Mussoorie are at 7000 feet) and is deep inside the Binsar wildlife sanctuary. After you cross the sanctuary entrance you drive nearly 12 km to get to the estate. Roads are great all the way from Kathgodam – just the last few kms inside the sanctuary are dirt roads. The sanctuary is 47 sq km , dense evergreen forest – mainly Oak, Pinewood and Rhododendron. Animals that inhabit these forests are Leopards, Wild Boar, Barking deers, Mountain Goats , Porcupines etc.

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Best Time to visit is Spring  – March end / April – thats when the Rhododendron trees are in full bloom making the forest a carpet of pink and red. May / June is also a good time when the apple orchards and fruit farms in nearby Ramgarh are ready for plucking. July / Aug / Sep is Rainy season – best to avoid. Oct / Nov is again a great time to visit. Dec / Jan can be very cold with over 5 feet of snow. Its mid Nov when we visited and it was sub zero at night and early morning – we needed 4 layers. Snows from Mid Dec – at times till early March. Feb is a bad time to visit – its dark / gloomy / cloudy and rains.

About the Property 

There are two properties – the main one which is the Mary Budden estate and a second one that is unique – The Daler Village homestay

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The main property is spread across five acres, on the slope of a hill, facing a large verdant valley. Its one of the 5 estates inside the Binsar Wildlife sanctuary. All these estates date back to the British era and post the formation of the sanctuary no new real estate development is allowed. The property has a 100 year+ history and Mary Budden a missionary was the last British resident. The current management took it over in 1990 and it has been offered as a home stay to guests for the last 6 years.

The minute I walked in I could sense energy balance. Its Rustic, Serene and peaceful. You can hear the sound of silence. and yes there is Crisp Fresh air …..

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There are two cottages – the Heritage Cottage which is originally over 100 years old but extensively renovated and the contemporary Rhododendron Cottage that was built recently. Each Cottage has a dining, front room and 3 bedrooms. We picked the Heritage cottage – it seemed more homely and cosy and was perfect for the 3 of us. The Rhododendron cottage rooms are bigger and there is more sunlight – but you may miss history and nostalgia. Its a trade off and we went for Heritage. There is also a beautiful Suite right next to the library below the Rhododendron Cottage. In all 7 rooms – and we were lucky – we had the whole place to ourselves.

The designs are rustic, lovely fireplace, cozy furniture, nice big open verandahs, lots of books and pictures lining the walls. Very British – except for the stiff upper lip and the butter scones.

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The 5 acres are well designed – with enough open spaces. So you can have breakfast in a corner, take the steps down for lunch in another, watch the sunrise from one place and the sunset from another and gaze at the sky filled with stars. Lots of places where you can huddle around a fire. The sunrise and the sunset are a sight to watch – don’t miss it. And this is one place where you can actually see a zillion stars sparkling in the sky. Thats mesmerising –  a star studded sky each with so many planets – and they say we can see less than 1% of the stars in our galaxy with the naked eye. The vastness of the Universe , Infinity can be visualised when you sit quietly and stare at the sky and the sparkling stars. And thats a great antidote to melt the ego that we build over the years.

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The food is delectable and the service is outstanding. Indian, Kumaoni, Continental – the Chef and his team churn out a wide variety of very tasty food that is served with class. Ensure that you ask for one Kumaoni meal – Lai Ki Sabji , Bhat Ki Dal , Kumaoni Aloo, Kumaoni Raita , Kumaoni Chicken , Ragi Ki Roti with Gur (That was a surprise – I thought Ragi Mudda was a Karnataka staple). Most of the food is sourced from the hills and is fresh. They also grow some herbs and veggies in the property.

Deep inside the Forest –  there is no electricity or water connection – so everything is designed in a environment friendly manner. Solar power and rain water harvesting takes care of most of the needs. A generator is a backup. Solar power works fine and the water we got for our bath was boiling hot. But conserve electricity and water when you come here.

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The Daler Village Home stay is unique and I strongly recommend you plan a one night stay here. It has two rooms that are beautifully designed. Great views and total Soulitude. No Internet , No TV , Just greenery and peace. You get fresh veg food cooked as per your choice.

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How to keep yourself busy 

Start by watching the sunrise and do some Yoga in the verandah. Have breakfast and you are ready to step out at 9 AM. There are a few lovely  treks that the property organises

  • A short trek to a temple nearby – 1 hr
  • Zero Point Trek for great views of the snow capped mountains – Nanda Devi , Trishul , Nanda Kot, & Pancha Chuli – 2 Hrs
  • Myoli Walk – 21/2 Hrs
  • Daler Village Walk – 4 Hrs ( Combination of Walk / Drive and Time at the sister property in the village)

You can do a day trip to Jageshwar – leave at 9 and be back by 430. Jageshwar houses a 1000 year cluster of 125 Shiva Temples including the 8th Jyotirlinga. On the way you can stop by the Ramkrishna ashram and visit the Chitai temple. On the way from Kathgodam to the property you will cross the Neem Karoli Baba ashram at Kainchi – so that can be visited while coming or returning. Munsiyari is about 120 Km from here – and thats a base if you want to serious trekking and climbing. The Sanctuary has no jeep rides etc to spot animals – the only way to explore is by foot. And you need to be a brave soul to do that.

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The Cottages have a lot of books board games and there is a Library with a TV and TataSky (No TV in the room). There is no intercom – so ring a nice hand bell if you need assistance.

This is a getaway that is perfect for three nights –  Two at the main property and one at the Daler Village . They allow kids but I am not sure how much they will enjoy – unless they are evolved kids who love nature and books. If you are coming with kids come as two families and take an entire cottage. You can also go birdwatching and  spot over 250 species of birds – best seen again in March / April.

Other Points

  • They have Wi Fi that works 90% of the time and the bandwidth is good, 3G signal is active.
  • Rates are inclusive of all Meals / Tea / Pakodas etc
  • Cottages can accommodate 2 families with 2 kids each , they don’t rent out the third room if two rooms are booked.
  • Wooden flooring can be slippery so don’t walk in your socks.
  • You conserve water so take bath in buckets – don’t forget your toothpastes etc – the nearest shop is a long way away.
  • If you love dogs great – they have two lovely dogs. The younger one is very affectionate and will always like to be near you.
  • Don’t expect a Spa & a Gym here – this is all about being with Nature
  • Food is great – but they don’t serve liquor – so get your own stuff.

In Conclusion 

I have been many to off beat properties – thats slowly becoming my expensive hobby (Check out my blog A Few Good places – https://vak1969.com/2016/01/24/a-few-good-places/) – and this is high up in the list in term of experience & service.

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Places like this are run on passion and not for commercial benefits. Managing a property like this deep inside a forest totally cut off requires a lot of effort – and running this efficiently is kudos to the owner, the manager and the full team. Its classy and it is expensive ( ~ 350 $ / Night) – but when on a holiday you want everything to be perfect as you are building memories for life.

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The occupancy is low – and its mainly foreigners. Maybe the owners should not call it a Home Stay as that conjures images of a few rooms in a property where the owner lives. This is designed like a cottage but is professionally run like an up market exclusive boutique resort. We stayed at a Home Stay in Vermont many years back – Sleepy Hollow, and there are many Home Stays in Coorg – clearly Mary Budden  does not qualify to the traditional definition of a Home Stay. Even the next stay at Dunagiri would qualify close to a Home Stay (More of that in the next blog)

Mary Budden has been on my bucket list for a few years and it has exceeded expectations. We came as a group of three friends and I am sure that I will be back here with my family soon.

My friends left for home with the promise that we would do this once every year in offbeat properties like Mary Budden but I continued my Himalayan journey going deeper into Kumaon – to mystical Dunagiri ( 4 Hr drive from Binsar) . More of that in the next blog.

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Contact Details 

http://www.marybuddenestate.in

http://www.dalarvillagehomestay.in

Sheetal – Manager / Mountaineer / Trek Guide / Host Par Excellence : +91 9711171350

Car pick up at Kathgodam  : Madhusudan + 91 97569 30090

 

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