For absolute solitude and peace steeped in nature’s glory. Go for short strolls and treks. Ramgarh is known as the fruit basket of Uttarakhand, so visit an orchard, even though you will find plum, pear or peach trees growing all around the place.
The rough directions are: NH 24 or Hapur Road from Delhi. Continue straight, pass by Garhi or Garh Mukteshwar. When you hit Moradabad, turn left at Old Moradabad bypass — this is about 3.5 km. Turn right at NH 24. After about 4 km, turn left at Kaashipur Tiraha onto Muradabad Tada Darhiyal Marg. Continue till Rampur Swar Bazpur Marg. Turn left toward NH 87 and keep turning left to stay on NH 87.If you are not driving down, take the night train to Kathgodam, the nearest railway station, and hire a cab and follow the same route from Haldwani. A non-AC taxi should cost around Rs 1,500-2,000.
There are also comfortable Volvo buses from New Delhi — Anand Vihar ISBT in East Delhi.
Neemrana Bungalows: That’s where we stayed. It’s a cluster of old bungalows spread casually over an acre of land. There are various rooms and category of bungalows, starting from Rs 2,500 and going up to Rs 6,500. We booked through of delhiweekendbreaks.com and got the breakfast included in the package. A 3-day/2-night package in a bungalow cost us Rs 13,500 (per couple).
There are other hotels in and around Ramgarh, the other well-maintained and worthwhile option being Bob’s Cottage, a Welcome Group property, located inside a fruit orchard.
It was that time of the year again. The summer was in, and so were the vacations, albeit for the kiddo only. For us — middle-class, service-class people — it was only about two days. Add to that the weekend and we had four days to go. Heavenly, what say?
With sonny out of picture — he latched on to his granny for a long trip to Kolkata — it was left to the two of us. After eight years, traveling alone? What will we do with each other for FOUR DAYS!? Won’t we get bored?
We were not sure but decided to take the plunge nevertheless.
But where do you go to from Delhi over the weekend? It had to be in the range of 250-300 km to drive down and return in two days. And in budget — recall the all-important classification in the beginning of the piece, ‘middle class’!
But when in doubt, google. And a search threw up some interesting options. Should it be rafting in Rishikesh? Or the solitude of Kanatal? While one thing was a certainty — Himachal and its usual Shimla route was JUST OUT! — rafting was also out since friends said you need a big group to really enjoy it there.
Kanatal had a problem — the sheer paucity of good and pocket-friendly hotels there. So we argued and googled some more, and hit upon some more interesting travel sites. Sanjiv Sharma of delhiweekendbreaks.com was the first to get back — he sent us some interesting options, with the costs all charted out.
But we still had problems deciding. Middle class, much-married couple, not the usual crowded tourist places, lots of solitude, and of course the 250-300 km distance range. My husband spelt out the terms.
Ramgarh it is!
Kanatal and Ramgarh, were the options Sanjiv came up with. We chose Ramgarh because he listed quite a few interesting properties there. Ramgarh is called the fruit bowl of Uttarakhand, we read up. It is 325 km from Delhi and takes about 8 hours to drive down; or so they say online.
And it had nothing but solitude and nature to offer. Perfect.
Sanjiv suggested Bob’s Place, a Welcome Group property, which he said was situated inside an orchard. While looking up on the place, we found Neemrana had a resort — a cluster of old bungalows, which they called non-hotel hotel — at Ramgarh. The reviews were excellent. But more than that, what intrigued us was the fact that Rabindranath Tagore had spent a considerable time in this place while writing Geetanjali.
The place he stayed in is preserved as ‘Writer’s Bungalow’ and is part of the property.
Problem, again: Writer’s had only two rooms and was not available. But we couldn’t resist staying in some part of the property where the great Bard had spent writing his masterpiece that got us, Indians, a Nobel Prize. So we booked into another bungalow with Neemrana and hoped to have a peek inside Writer’s.
Sanjiv’s direction said: Delhi-Hapur Bypass-Gajraula-Moradabad Bypass-Sirsawa Doraha-Tanda-Bazpur-Kaladhungi-Haldwani-Kathgodam-Bhowali-Ramgarh.
On road, and dreading it
So we hit the road on a fine Saturday morning — all the while dreading some 250-km drive on NH 24 within Uttar Pradesh. Four visits on that road in the past so many years, the latest being 2010 summer, had left us cursing and fuming.
It’s called a national highway but the last time we drove on it, it was barely fit enough to be called a village slip road. There were at least 10 flyovers under construction and all seemed abandoned: the construction material and machinery eating up the road, leaving just about space for a slip road to drive on.
It was any driver’s dread.
To make matters worse, we were an hour late than our target time of 7 am. The weather was nice as we hit NH 24 from near Indirapuram, Ghaziabad. Thankfully it was a Saturday, so the usual office-going traffic to Noida was absent, and we were soon breezing on Hapur Road.
“Things have improved,” commented hubby.
“Wait, till you hit Garh Mukteshwar,” replied the eternal cynic in me.
But things did seem to have improved. There was a fresh coat of tar on major parts of the roads, and two of the flyovers were finished, we noticed. The work on the earlier abandoned ones had started, and Garh Mukteshwar took us about two hours.
And, boy, was it as bad as ever!
The road simply didn’t exist on some stretches, while on a few others the authorities had just put on barriers and diverted the road onto wherever they seemed to have found some space. A second bridge on the river, which I had noticed half built since January 2007 when we were driving down to Nainital, was in the same condition. The bridge was built but its approach roads were yet to be connected and only God, or Maya Memsahib, knew what the authorities were waiting for.
For the uninitiated, Garh Mukteshwar, or Garhi, is the nearest place for Delhiites to get a holy dip in the Ganga. And one should strictly avoid it during any religious festival or holy occasion.
It had started raining by this time, and a storm looked on its wake. It was difficult driving and the mouse in me was scared. We saw uprooted trees on the way and I was sure the next one would be on our head; rather, our car.
However, we were saved the adventure, rather the misadventure.
We were approaching Moradabad and the road was definitely getting better. A series of flyovers had been completed and most parts of the road were freshly laid out.
The last stretch… to eternity
We took the Moradabad bypass and were quickly out of the city and on the highway. By this time, we had lost track of Sanjiv’s direction and simply asked for Haldwani. We were told to take a left and then a quick right, and this is where the real pain began — on a narrow road that gave a new definition of bumper to bumper traffic.
A 15-minute drive took us more than an hour.
But the road got better after Haldwani. We stopped to ask for directions. “Drive towards Bhimtal — a right after about half an hour,” came the reply from a roadside vendor. A 100 km more, a ‘passerby’ said.
Ouch. It was around 3 pm.
We took the right towards Bhimtal and proceeded towards Nainital. From there, however, the direction was pretty straight: Bhowali, take the right towards Ramgarh (the left leads to Mukteshwar). As we reached Talla (lower) Ramgarh, we had to take a sharp left and had to go another 4 km downhill before we reached the place.
And we almost missed it.
Our preconceived notion about the splendours of Neemrana Fort on Jaipur highway had given us a very different idea from what lay in store. There were two old bungalows, freshly painted in white — a small, not very well-kempt garden with flower beds, but with a fabulous view of the valley in front. The hill ended sharply where the property ended and it was a deep, deep valley in front of us.
Game on: Finally Cliff House
Our room was on the first floor of a two-storey bungalow called ‘Cliff House’. The entire ground floor was a huge hall, with two breakfast tables, some old-style sofa sets and a TV. The rooms were on the second floor; only two, in fact — a red one on the left and blue on the right. We had the blue room. It was basic — big, clean and airy with old-world charm. The images of splendour and luxury that the word Neemrana throws up, however, were conspicuous by their absence.
Both rooms opened to a balcony and, let cliché rule here, the view was breathtaking.
We sat in the balcony over a pot of freshly brewed coffee and chicken sandwiches. It faced the west, and soon the sky was a riot of colours as the sun slowly set behind the hills. Our basic Kodak was useless as I clicked furiously.
The dining room — a stone’s throw away — was a small cozy room with four small round tables. The whole room was decorated in old-world charm: old-style furniture, paintings, curtains and cornices. The dining hall near Cliff House is part of Ashok Vatika, another bungalow. This is where Jawaharlal Nehru used to stay where he toured Kumaon, they said.
We learnt from the literatures that bungalows were built in 19th century and were once a home to the British officers. The Neemrana group acquired and restored them over a period. The manager, a young, enthusiastic man called Shailendra, told us the first to come up were the Old Bungalow and the Writers’ Bungalow in 1989, followed by Vista Villa in 1994, Rose Cottage in 1996, Ashok Vatika in 2008 and Cliff House in 2009.
We took a tour of the place the next day and found what they say is true to the T. It’s a cluster of old bungalows, scattered over the place. The Writer’s Bungalow is a two-minute walk — it is a brilliant piece of work with huge bay windows and with a neat garden in front. But a dirty yellow government building that has come up in the front blocked the entire view.
Another five-minute walk was the main building, which housed the reception, main office and the kitchen, from where the food is taken in hot cases to Writer’s and Cliff House, we were told.
The main building, though, was pretty disappointing. The rooms faced a garden but were dark and had no privacy if you open the doors and windows. And if you closed them, you don’t get any view or fresh air, of course.
Cliff House was the best, we decided.
Sit back and chill
The food at Neemrana was quite good, that is if you go for the Continental. Their menu varies on a day-to-day basis and is a curious mix of Indian and Continental. The first dinner — Indian food – was quite disappointing. Though the menu was fixed, Shailendra quickly suggested that we could order full Continental if we wanted.
We did and it was brilliant on all the days.
As were their juices — apple and rhododendron; freshly picked from the Neemrana orchards and crushed. Sadly, they were not for sale. We were just about 15 days early, Shailendra told us. Had we been here in the second week of June, the orchards by the bungalows is full with fruit like apricots, plums, peaches and pears.
We were initially skeptical of the sheer lack of any tourist activity. Mukteshwar was an hour’s drive, as were Bhimtal, Saattal or Naukuchiatal. But since we had already visited those places, ultimately we just decided to act like people in their mid-thirties — relax, take it easy, and gorge on the good food.
But, on afterthought, that is because the son wasn’t there — had be been with us, perhaps we would have had to travel to those much-travelled places.
Or would we have gone? We met a father-son duo at Neemrana. The son, Rishabh, a young man of 17, had been coming there since he was 7. He never wanted to go anywhere else, he said. The staff were very friendly and kept him busy all day, he said, taking him out for strolls and treks and playing badminton with him.
We stayed there for three days, and spent the time strolling up and down the sleepy roads. The breeze is fresh and cool and the scenery is beautiful.
But like all good things, this also had to end.
Back to Delhi, or Ghaziabad, was easier. We started early at 7 am and, therefore, managed to avoid almost any jam. Also, as luck would have it we were guided on to Tanda Road from Haldwani, which cut our time by half-an-hour. We were in big, bad, hot and polluted Delhi in by 2.30 pm.