This little-known hillstation in Uttarakhand lets you rediscover the myriad colours of nature
Words & Photographs: Ambica Gulati
The fresh mountain air tingles my skin as I tread carefully with my camera on the uneven terrain. The sun comes out with chirps of birds and sway of breeze. Its rays dance over flowers while buzzing bees and butterflies collect their morning feed. This is Kanatal, just 38 km from the crowded hill station of Mussoorie. In Garhwali, Kanatal means an invisible lake, which is what people say used to be here.
“On a clear day, you can see the peaks of Kedarnath and Badrinath,” says Amit Sachan, pointing to the green mountains in the distance. This is a chance meeting designed by the morning sun between two tourists staying in neighbouring properties. We are standing at the edge of a mountain step, which houses two small concrete rooms, a glass house and many apple and peach trees. This is Goat Village, without a goat though. Here, people pay a nominal amount to experience the rustic mountain life or take a ‘digital detox’ as Sachan calls it.
But I am in the nearby Kaudia Estate, housing three luxury Swiss cottages. It is a cosy home away from home with warm smiles and fresh home-cooked food. No stark, ugly concrete resorts or buildings are anywhere in sight in the vicinity. Clouds and forest are my companions. I can’t even see a small village. In fact, not many people know about this secluded part of the mountain, so it’s the perfect place to lie on my back under a tree and let the breeze wash out the city noise.
Kaudia Forest Trail
The tall deodars of the Kaudia range are home to many species of flora and fauna. My first encounter is with a fighting troop of monkeys. Scampering and screaming, they seem menacing to me and I ask a guide from the homestay to come with me but villagers, emerging from hidden paths with big bags carefully placed on their heads, seem unfazed and walk calmly on the trail. The trail is about 6 km long and people have sighted deer and other fauna. There’s a nominal fee of Rs 20 for those who walk in the forest.
Even the king of Tehri used to go with his caravan from here all the way to Tehri, says my guide. I watch the smokey skies and look for the hidden villages, but the thick greens didn’t allow any intrusion. There had been a fire in the forest and the smoke lingers still.
Road to Tehri Dam
The area is popular with adventure lovers. Some are learning rock climbing and others are walking a tight rope bridge. We don’t stop to enquire about the activities, for we are on the way to Tehri dam which is now a tourist hub. Crossing Chamba, the little village on the way, our driver takes a detour. He comes to a slow halt outside a small Shiva temple. A sadhu is busy reciting the Shiv Purana while a priest gives prasad. There is no one but us there. Most tourists and pilgrims go to the famous Surkhanda Devi temple in the region, we are informed.
Through the curvy roads, crossing a very crowded market area, we find ourselves on the road to Tehri. It seems like a few minutes, but is actually over half an hour, and we see a green shimmer of water in the distance. The boating area of the dam is always full. There are long queues. We simply enjoy the view. A café and washroom facilities are pro- vided. One can see the submerged palace of the king and the villages when the water level is low, we are told.
Kanatal is quiet. And it’s the silence that appeals to me. We head back to Kaudia Estate where some grills and bonfire await. Day giving way to dusk and dusk to night, the change in colours from blue to dark blue to black is breathtaking. The birds have gone home. The flowers are sleeping and the flames are the only colour in this pitch darkness. Had it not been for the twinkling lights of the cottages, the area would have been lost to human eye. I call it an early night, for there is a plan to lunch at the famous Rokeby Manor in Landour the next day en route Dehradun.
Landour is where author Ruskin Bond lives. It’s also a quiet cantonment area with a 150-year-old St Paul’s Church and an old post office. Char Dukan is actually four shops near the church where you can enjoy your cup of tea with Maggi in peace. Woodstock School is also closeby and Rokeby Manor was built by the British in 1840. Black stone walls, brick arches, wooden staircase and hard bound books take us back to the 19th century. Now, this is a heritage hotel with an upmarket restaurant. Its old world graceful culture, tasty food and cosy interiors make it a perfect end to a green mountain sojourn.
How To Reach Kanatal
There are trains and flights till Dehradun. Then one can take a taxi to Kanatal, which is almost a three-hour journey. There is a diversion from Mussoorie, so you can avoid going inside the crowded city.
The article first appeared in In Sight page, ST Plus, the Sunday magazine of Sakal Times, published on 29.09.2019 (the English edition of this paper is no longer being published).