The hilly roads kept winding on and on, a narrow undulating ribbon, all the way from Bhimtal in Uttarakhand. Closer to my destination Binsar, shops and guesthouses began to mushroom on either side of the road, amidst all the dust and debris of unabated construction. My last trip here was 10 years ago, when Binsar was practically unknown to enthusiastic holidaymakers from the plains.
The part of Binsar where I was headed is still off the beaten track, literally. And so we drove on, crossing the first checkpoint for entry into Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary, after which the hotels and eateries began to get sparse, and then vanished altogether.
The road got narrower as we drove towards the top of the Jhandi Dhar hills, a single lane where different driving rules applied, entirely nicer than the ones followed down in the plains. Past the government-run Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam (KMVN) guesthouse and close to the main barrier for entry into the national park, the car turned off into a gravelly lane before pulling up at Mary Budden Estate, the refurbished 19th century property named after its last known inhabitant.
Nestled in the midst of dense oak and deodhar, with a view of the hills shining golden in the afternoon sunlight. My city lungs were confounded by the plentiful fresh air for a while, before going on to greedily inhale it in big gulps.
Following the al fresco lunch on an appetite built up by the brisk mountain air, I curled up with a book outdoors. In the course of the afternoon alone, I spotted over 10 species, not surprising given that it has been declared an “Important Bird Area” with over 200 avian species.
I woke up the next morning to the mellifluous sound of birdsong, only to see a thick blanket of cloud stretched out over the valley in front of me. There went our plans of hiking up to Zero Point inside the forest reserve, the spot from where Nanda Devi, Nanda Kot and the Panchachuli range present themselves to eager visitors in good weather.
The morning was spent on a long hike in the forest—the best thing to do in Binsar—walking through the dense copse of oak and pine trees, with only the ebullient estate dogs and the occasional firewood collecting local for company.
On our way back to the plains the next morning we turned a curve on the road, to see the famed Himalayan peaks glisten in the distance, thumbing their nose at the stubborn clouds. I could now get back to the heat and dust of the plains without any regrets.