Binsar the Beautiful


I left home with a tankful of petrol, Rs 3000 in my pocket and nothing in my bank account. Does not speak volumes of my financial acumen, but hey, i get by. This was the i’m-in-between-jobs-ride and i had nothing better to do in Delhi. So i thought that a ride would be the best way to spend the last of my cash. So i rode. It was one of the occasions when i did what i do best – travel alone.

I have made countless trips, visited many places known, unknown and little known, but even after all the travelling i have never been able to sleep the night before. The excitement of the impending trip is enough to keep me up all night and this time was no different. I hit the bed looking for some shut eye and it was a long time later that obdurate sleep did come. When i woke up, the watch told me that it was 4:22 AM. Shit! As per my original plan, i am already an hour late.

The problem was Moradabad. The previous day, there were some communal clashes and a curfew had been imposed on the city and some surrounding villages. I have never travelled in this route before and i did not know how close the highway went to the affected areas. So the idea was to cross it before sunrise. And now i have through pass through violent rioters in full daylight. Awesome!

Anyway, coming back to my leaving home with a tankful of gas and a handful of money… I had been in touch with a certain Sundar Singh, whose number (09410590980) i found on a very helpful site on travel in India. The post said that he arranges for homestays in the villages in Binsar and also acts as a guide in longer treks. A  quick check on the Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam (KMVN) revealed that Sundar was giving me a room in his village for half the price of the cheapest room in the KMVN Rest House and the price included all meals. I was sold!  Also, the village was supposed to be in the middle of the Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary!

The first roadblock on the way was the bridge over the Ganga at Garhmukteshwar. The ancient two lane bridge was fed on both sides by four lane highways and it created one hell of a bottleneck. In spite of the fact that i reached Garhmukteshwar by 6 AM, it took me over 45 minutes to negotiate the nightmare. There are two ways to get to Binsar, and while going, i took the Moradabad – Bazpur – Kaladhungi – Nainatal – Almora route.

Route

Barring the bottleneck at Garhmukteshwar, the road from Delhi to Modarabad is pretty good. Just before entering Moradabad, it is recommended that you get on to the Moradabad By Pass road. You will pass a couple of toll plazas and at the end of the bypass, you take a left (feels more like a U-turn) and ride on heavily potholed roads till Kaladhungi. After that, it was a different business. The Corbett National Park was making its presence felt and through it ran a black ribbon of a road.

Immediately after Kaladhungi
Patchwork on the road. Signs of Corbett all around!

Right after Bazpur, i could see the mountains and with every passing kilomete, they grew closer and closer till suddenly i was halfway up one. In front of me lay the expanse of the plains and the green carpet of Corbett, which i had just skirted. It was bang in the middle of monsoons so the greenery was unbelievable.

Finally, the hills!
Here i come, you sexy twisty road 😀

The roads were practically empty and the tarmac was perfect. I was a bit apprehensive about riding hard as my rear rubbers were almost without any tread. But the thing with roads like these is that once you start the cornering, you forget everything else… the lean rules your world. Thankfully all went well. Very soon i was within 40 kms of Nainital and i decided to take a break after riding non-stop for around 240 kms.

Road to Heaven
Glee!

As i said earlier, the route i took was less frequented by the touristy lot, who preferred to come to Nainital via Bheemtal and Bhowali. The ride was fantastic and since this was my first time in Kumaon, the greenery was refreshing. The mountains were spectacular and the gain in altitude was perceptible. Khurpatal appeared suddenly to my right reminding me that i was in the Lake District.

Mist-topped
Khurpatal!
I don’t need to go to no Switzerland

Very soon, the otherwise empty roads showed signs of automotive presence. Nainital was close and it welcomed me with a massive traffic jam. Once the jam cleared, i took the Mall Road by the side of the Naini Lake and i must admit, for a touristy place, it was very nice. Like Darjeeling, where i practically grew up, Nainital had a charm of its own. I wouldn’t mind coming here for a relaxed weekend if the company was right.

Nainital

When you drive through the Mall Road, the Lake is to your right. From the intersection where the lake ends, you have to take a left for Almora and eventually, Binsar. Road conditions, barring landslides is generally good and even if you are driving lazily, you should reach Binsar within three hours.

From Nainital, Kosi shows you the way to Almora
Clad in green
Amazing drive!

Around 30 kms from Nainital, at Garampani the road splits into two. The one heading heft across the bridge on the Kosi, leads to Ranikhet while the one going straight leads to Almora and eventually, Binsar. You can also reach Binsar via Ranikhet and Jageshwar. This route, although much longer is more often than not, in a slightly better shape (this i heard, no first-hand experience though)

My first knowledge of Almora was imparted through the Jim Corbett stories. As a kid i was fascinated by the man and how he trudged through the mountains and waited all nights on the branches of trees for the elusive man-eating tigers. There was a sense of foreboding. With the years of images superimposed on my mind, i almost did not expect Almora to have any resemblance to a modern town. I was thinking more in terms of pack-mules, muzzle-loaders, khakis, sola topees and mem sahibs. Sigh!

Almora’s sole soccer ground!
The town and its strange light
Another view of Almora Town

Once you reach Almora, Binsar isn’t far away – a mere 30 kms. Since Almora is the last big town on this road, the traffic too gets even thinner and you start enjoying the drive even more.  Roughly halfway between Almora and Binsar is Deenapani which has a KMVN Guest House and many smaller private cottages. If you do not find accommodation in Binsar, Deenapani is your best bet.

Somewhere close to Binsar
Man’s best friend. Dope takes a well-deserved breather

Interestingly, not many people know that Binsar is not a place / village / town per se. It is the name of the wildlife sanctuary that was once contiguous to the Corbett forest belt. The sanctuary in turn owes its name to the 9th-10th century Shiva temple that can still be seen today. The manifestation of Shiva worshipped in the temple was called Bineshwar, a name which the Brits later corrupted to Binsar. Today the temple is called Binsar Mahadev.

The entry to Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary is on the Almora-Jageshwar road (State Highway 37). You need to register your vehicle at the gate and pay the dues. You can only enter or leave between 6am and 5 pm and once you enter, preserve your ticket and the receipt as it is valid for three days and during this time you can enter and exit multiple times.

Entry to Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary

From here, a narrow road branches off and snakes its way up the mountains all the way to the Travellers’ Rest House (11 km). The Binsar Mahadev Temple sits at the end of a small meadow 7 kms from the entry gate, by the side of the road. Sundar Singh had been guiding me on the phone all the way and i was supposed to meet up with him at the TRH and then proceed to his village, 4-5 kms in the forest. Since this road is access controlled, the staff of the TRH as well as the forest officials have a hard time getting any transport. So when one of the forest guards asked if he could hitch a ride with me, i obliged. If someone approaches you for a lift, please do.

Clear skies… no pollution…
Binsar roads
Somewhere close to the TRH

At the TRH, i was welcomed by Sundar Singh, who turned out to be a strapping young fellow and not a middle aged man like i thought he would be. He is an expert trekker and guides amateur trekkers to Roopkund, Milam, Sundardhunga, etc. It was also revealed that i would actually be staying at his house in his village.  Before the trek to his village, i wanted to relax for a bit and so i went to the terrace of the rest house, famed for its view of the snow capped Himalayan peaks. Unfortunately, as it was the middle of the monsoons, the clouds had covered almost all of the peaks. So much for the view!

What i did see, however was a cluster of a few houses, deep in the valley below surrounded by a sea of green. Sundar Singh pointed to one of the houses as his! I was looking at my destination and i was thrilled.

Peak peeks!
Peak peeks – II
Looking towards Nepal
My destination. One of the houses you see here is where i spend the next two days

I used this break to down one entire pot of sweet milk tea. I needed all the energy for the trek even though all of it was downhill. Immediately after leaving the TRH the trail plunged into some of the deepest forest. It was drizzling and everything was wet and glistening. At certain places the forest was so thick that it was almost dark.

As the trek started…
Forest walk
Dead and red
Sundar Singh leads the way
Forest walk
Dark and wet and beautiful!
And the occasional clearing in the forest
The road leads on…
Nature’s carpet

The downhill trek did not take much time and within 40 minutes, the village was in sight. It was called Gaunap and was more like a cluster of 10-12 houses on a slope arranged neatly around terraced fields. In all, the village was home to not more than 50 people. This is as remote and quaint as could be. I was already loving it. Sundar Singh turned out to be as much of a talker as i am and very soon i learned that the nearest town is Dhaulchina, 10 kms away. The kids go to school there, walking for 20 kms everyday.  On their way back sometimes they carry groceries and other supplies often weighing as much as 10-15 kilos.

Gaunap in sight!
My home for the next two days
And my little grumpy neighbour
And thus ends the day

Like most other villages in the forest, Gaunap has no electricity.. forget about running water. The government has given each house a solar panel to recharge some batteries so that they can at least run a few bulbs. In Sundar Singh’s house, he has done up four rooms which he lets out to travellers like me. The food is cooked by his mother and other than the rice, everything else comes from the family’s fields.  If you were to follow on my footsteps and find yourself in the dining room of Sundar Sing’s house, do not forget to ask for the desi ghee. Just add half a teaspoon to your dish and enjoy the heavenly taste!

You stay there as a part of the family. So if you can help these people with their work. I for one, was so excited on seeing a rajma tree for the first time that i immediately proceeded to harvest two of them. I was later told politely that the second plant was not ready to be harvested as yet.

Dinner-time
After dinner sky!
After dinner sky -II

It had been a long day. Began with a long ride, then was followed by a long walk and all i needed now was a long sleep. People do not lock their doors here, and i am glad that neither did i. I woke up in the middle of the night to go to the loo and realised that i could not see anything. A minute later i figured out that the clouds that were coming from the valley below had entered the room through the open door. So i slept , for the rest of the night in a room full of cloud!

Morning came in the form of Sunder Singh’s brother Mahesh bringing me a whole pot of some amazing herbal tea. I went to the balcony outside my room and finished the gallon of tea over the next hour and half while looking at the clouds moving around in the valley in front of me. Even the herbal tea was made from plants in the family’s garden.

View from my balcony. Good morning, folks!
Cloud-play

After i was well tea-d and well fed, Mahesh and i went out to survey the nearby mountains. Both days we spent hours walking across mountains and resting on rocks by the many streams. In the afternoons, i would have another gallon of tea, spend some time in the family’s fields undoing much of their hard work and then come back to my room and write reviews of the international edition of the India travel guide by candle-light.

Mahesh Singh replaces Sunder Singh
I’ll follow you into the mist..
.. and the mist is gone!
So what if there are no trails.. just scramble up!
The snow clad pics are still hidden by clouds
An old Shiva Temple near the village

The walks were purely aimless. Mahesh knew the hills like the back of his hand so i could go anywhere i liked. We spotted some exotic bird species, some mountain goats and once from a great distance, a leopard. The forest around the village was composed mainly of tall pines and the ground was covered with pine needles. The rains had washed them clean and the red needles lay in fine contrast to the bright green of the freshly sprouted grass. Sometimes it would rain, then in a matter of minutes the sun would come out. Often, the clouds would come rushing in and i would lose sight of Mahesh. So i would wait where i stood and shout at the top of my lungs like a little girl until Mahesh found me.

On a more serious note, if you are ever trekking in these hills, especially in the hills, be careful of something the locals call bicchoo ghas (stinging grass). Although it is technically not a member of the grass family, the first part of its name is true. Even the slightest touch to exposed skin feels as if a red hot needle has been pushed in. I learned the hard way, so you just stay the hell out!

Looking at somebody’s village. A patch of green in a larger sea of green
Clouds above me… clouds below me..
Discarded pine needles and the emerging juvenile grass
Walking on pine needles, all day long

On our walks, we would never carry water because we knew that we would encounter a gadhera (a mountain stream in Kumaoni language) every 200 m where we could quench our thirst. It was also fun to wade into the almost waist deep pools and try to catch the little fished that swam around in then in lightning fast speeds. Many of these gadheras mergee further down to give rise to larger streams, locally known as gadh (rhymes with ‘bar’).

Eden-esque
Another one
I had to wade through knee deep, ice-cold water to get there for the shot!
A stream’s eye view
Mahesh, my best pal in Binsar

The night before i was supposed to leave for Delhi, the heavens opened up. It rained the entire night but held for a moment in the morning. Mahesh needed to get back to Almora where he studies in the high school and i was more than happy to give him a ride. So, the moment we left the village the rains came back and in spite of the rain gear, i got drenched in a matter of minutes. On top of that was the trek back to the TRH which was now uphill the whole way. Eventually after much huffing and puffing i managed to reach the TRH and by the time i left from there it was already 8 AM. That evening, i reached home  at 8:30 and it had been raining the whole way. This time, from Almora i went straight to Bhowali and from there i passed through Bheemtal, Haldwani, Kathgodam and Rudrapur and joined the Delhi highway at Modadabad.

Return Route

The greenish blue Kosi river that you had seen earlier in the post was unrecognisable. The muddy waters roared and frothed and fumed while from the mountains above me fell a steady stream of rocks and loose earth. I had to get out of there before there was a major landslide as I was to begin my big new job the very next day. So i drove 400 kms in pouring rain. In the process, i lost my glasses, ruined my mobile phone and spoiled the  magnetic strip of my debit card. Still, no regrets because i knew that while i was hating it that very moment, in the future (which is now) it will be another experience to share with you.

I have not yet decided what the next post is going to be. This new job takes up too much of my time, but i would love to get back to my dearest Madhya Pradesh.

So long then…

Fatboy in green hills!

Oh and i still had Rs 270 left!

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78 thoughts on “Binsar the Beautiful

      1. Thanx…i was guessing the same as evident from the greenery from your pics. Plz inform that whether the roads are safe for driving up to Binsar from Delhi in a SUV considering the rainy season…would a 1 night stop in between is advisable…and where ?

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    1. I like your blog..superb..in March 2016…I am planning a trip to mukteshwar,Binsar,chaukori,kausani,munsyari,nanital…with my wife.. Both are sixty plus but fit….where should we stay at binsar..with electricity etc.as a nature lover..I like to trek like you…as a guide how is sunder sing ?two days halt at binsar ,munsiyari,nainital and one day at mukteshwar,kausani ..chaukori…will OK?… I will like moderate jungle trek…or just wandering… Please guide me…March end..can I see flowers.. Etc

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  1. Wonderfully engaging travelogue on Binsar; captured quite perfectly on camera. Deserves to be a primer for all budget travelers planning a trip up there.

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  2. Great account of a wonderful trip! The photos virtually take you there! What a choice for a homestay!

    A few quick questions on the route:
    – Did you take the direct Kaldhugi-Nainital road or go via Haldwani? How was this route? I am surprised that despite it being shorter, most choose t go via Haldwani – any pointers to why?
    – You mention that you take the Almora-Jageswar road to get to Binsar WLS – is there a different gate from the one that goes off the Almora-Bageswar road? This route takes you a check post after which you drive 10 kms or so till a KMVN resort? Are we talking of the same route? (If you do not turn right to go to Binsar WLS, you can proceed direct towards Bageswar and Club Mahindra falls on the way?)
    – How was the road condition via Rudrapur?

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    1. Mr Kumar, what a pleasure it is to see your comment on my humble blog.

      – While going, i did take the Kaladhungi Nainital Road. The stretch from Moradabad outskirts to Kaladhungi is a nightmare. I swear Mr Kumar, i saw potholes that could swallow my bike. But after Kaladhungi… in fact from the moment we crossed into UK, the roads were much better. While coming back, it rained the whole way from Binsar to Delhi, so i took the Bhowali-Bheemtal-Haldwani – Rudrapur road as it is in a better shape

      – I think i made a mistake here. It IS Almora-Bageshwar road that i took. I checked into the forest post and parked the bike at the KMVN resort and from there i trekked. In fact i was quite surprised to see that google maps does show the village i stayed in..only its spelled ‘Gonap’

      – Rudrapur road in pretty good shape. In fact the entire highway is with the exception of the bottleneck at the Garhmukteshwar bridge

      When i travelled (mid august) a section of the road between Garampani and Almora (in total like 4-5 kms) had been washed off and was just dirt and rocks.

      Like

  3. Lovely write-up with really awesome photographs, buddy. 🙂

    Just knew about Binsar Wildlife sanctuary. I mean, I just knew that it exists there but now it is added to the options of my future rides.

    Thanks for bringing this to us so nicely. 🙂

    Like

  4. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this. Chanced upon your blog since we too are planning a Kumaon tour in January 2012.

    So some questions which would be helpful to us for our planning.

    1 We would be travelling by road in Indica from Agra . As per your suggestion, should we prefer Moradabad-Haldwani [and not Moradabad-Kaladhungi] route?

    2 Any idea about Agra-Etah-Bareilly-Haldwani road condition?

    3 Any idea how much time it should take from Agra to Nainital?

    4 How is road condition within Kumaon?

    Thanks

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    1. Kumaon will be beautiful in January. Almost no cloud cover will translate into breathtaking views of the snow capped peaks.

      1. See, the Moradabad-Kaladhungi (A) route is some 25 kms shorter than the one via Handwani (B). But when i went i took A and it took longer because of the state of the roads. There were almost no roads till around 5 kms before Kaladhungi, which is precisely where the uttaranchal border starts. Having said that, it was also the middle of monsoons and st that time even the best roads take a beating. Hopefully they have been repaired by now. As soon as you cross Kaladhungi, you enter the buffer zone of the Corbett Tiger Reserve, and its beautiful. This approach also has better roads and the traffic is almost negligible.

      2. I am sorry, i do not have much knowledge about that route

      3. From Agra, it should take around the same time it takes from Delhi, maybe an hour or two more. I am looking at a driving time of 7-8 hours given the roads and the traffic are decent.

      4. Roads in Uttaranchal are generally excellent, so Kumaun is no exception. But you might come across stretches where recent landslides have washed away swathes of the road. But then thats not under anyone’s control, is it?

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      1. Came back today and now all pics were visible
        Amazing & detailed write up \ pic
        finally decided my journey to Binsar on 25th jan after reading this
        thanks

        Like

  5. good stuff…would love to see a summary of places you have visited on the right navigation bar..or a map with push pins to the places you have been to easily jump to those posts..

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  6. How beautiful. I’m heading towards Sattal tomorrow night, and if I get the time, I’m surely going to take a detour towards Binsar and Gaunap.

    And I’m definitely going to follow your blog more often 🙂

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    1. Hi Shivya,

      Its quite a distance from Sattal to Binsar, but all the best to you. Do call Sundar Singh in advance in case you wish to spend the night at his village. In case you do so, i recommend you take walks in the neighbouring hills and splash around in the little streams that are so abundant in the region (at least they were in the middle of the monsoons when i was there). All the best and have a great trip. I am off to read ‘the shooting star’ now.
      😀

      Like

  7. grt work dude….
    i had some qution’s. i had travelled in my car tupto mussoree around 285 km frm delhi.
    do you think i cud trvl up to binsaar like road condition are gud for a guy like me. m planing to go in this month itself. pls aadvise or shuld one tk break at nanitaal.

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    1. If you have driven to Nainital, i am absolutely certain you will have no problems getting to Binsar. But please make sure, you leave Delhi as early as possible. I usually leave delhi by 4. If you manage to do that you will be 4-5 in the afternoon. Have a nice trip!

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  8. hi dude,
    I just returned last week, visited Nanitaal first day went to Binsar for three days stay at Club Mahindra there visited Jageshwer/Bagheshwer Temple from there i headed to Ranikhet for two day stay and while returning visited Bhimtaal for some hours.
    It was beautiful/Fun filling holidays, but…. without greenery as i expected and saw in your photographs as well. but still views were great spl’y in ranikhet. don’t expect low temprature except Nanitaal which was quite cooler.
    Roads were great in mountains, but UP IS UP as Rampur is reaaly bad. otherwise way is smooth.

    Thanks for your advice.

    Like

  9. I was born and brought up in the hills of NE India and have travelled to pretty much all the hill stations in S.India but I have never seen greenery as glorious as the ones you’ve posted here. I am now going to plan a trip to N.India as soon as possible.

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      1. Aizawl, Mizoram..but I now work in Bangalore. 🙂 . Great blog btw, I’m still reading your older entries. I came upon your blog while googling for information about the Pink Floyd cafe in Pushkar.

        Like

  10. Pink Floyd cafe is strictly OK types, if you ask me. But in case you are in Pushkar to ‘chill’, any place would do. Thanks for visiting the site, Mos. Hopefully you will keep coming back and tell your mates about this. Cheers!

    Like

  11. Bodhi awesome post and the photos are breathtaking! Even though I have work piling up, I just couldn’t resist reading this entry (not that I tried to resist very hard:P). Totally gng to make a trip to Binsar.

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  12. hello sir..wow and simply wow..fantastic description with equally supported by photos…on around 10th September i am also going binsar..it will be a solo car driving from delhi..i tried to call sundar ji cell number..as you have given..but he was not picking phone..any way ..before going i will try to call him again……once again thanks a lot for sharing such a beautiful travelogue……..

    regards rakesh

    Like

  13. Beautiful write up and photographs. I would be visiting Binsar next year but would be staying at Club Mahindra. Any idea how far is Gaunap from Club Mahindra? After reading the blog I am keen on visiting this village.

    Like

    1. Hi Ninad

      I have what can be best described as an irrational hatered for resorts. No matter how close they claim to be to nature, you still feel sanitised and distrant. But thats just me. Gaunap should be 6-7 kms trek from CM.

      Stay at the village if you can. Your money will go straight to the community.

      Like

      1. Thank you very much for the quick reply. I will definitely trek to Gaunap. I have a young daughter so it might not be possible to stay there.

        Like

  14. hey. beautiful write up. appreaciate it.
    i am planning a trip to Binsar and sadly ready ur blog a little late so booked KMVN. just wanted to know on way to Binsar are there more picturesque views around(here n there) ?
    also it sais binsar bird and wildlife sanctuary. should we expect any ? 🙂

    thanks in advance !!

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  15. Hey Hi,
    I was looking to know more about Binsar since next week at this very time I will be on my way to the very place.
    I loved the pictures, the information was immaculate and attention to detail be it how things were or what you felt truly added to the entire experience.
    Thank you so much for writing this post!

    Like

  16. Bodi, this is one of the most engaging and inspiring travelogue on Binsar. Mesmerising & unpolluted beauty of the place is well captured on camera. I am planning a trip to Binsar in October end. Would it be safe for 2 female travellers to take a leap into this picturesque landscape without much thought?

    Like

  17. Wow what a wonderful ride you had….I am planning to visit Binsar this month and I found urs….which covered completely about it…thanks for sharing the info….very well written…:)

    Like

  18. I really want to visit Binsar in March. Do you think it’ll be okay to go there in a car? How was the road all along? How long did it take? from Delhi?

    Like

  19. Great review ..very informative.

    I have visited Binsar myself a few times, and would recommend Mir Bahay to anyone travelling and looking for an off-beat destination.

    Like

  20. Hey, Your article are very good, I am also planning to go Binsar in july 2016, please help me following topics :

    1. As we’ll reach Kathgodam railway station on early morning, what will be the best option to reach binsar from there.
    2. During Kathgodam to Binsar journey what are the places / sightseen which we can cover on the way.
    3. What are the places near to binsar should visit during 3 day stay in binsar.
    4. During return to kathgodam from binsar can we cover nainital in one day.

    Hope i’ll hear you soon.

    Like

  21. Crawling such depths of the internet to reach this post of yours was worth it for me. Its informative and did give me chills for the upcoming vacation i had planned to Binsar back in May. Unfortunately though, that was also the time when Uttarakhand fires happened and the skies were filled with smoke. No need for me to tell you what all I could see at zero point and the ‘greenery’. *facepalm*
    It was still beautiful enough, as we went ahead to Munsiyari.
    I was so inspired by you, I started writing my own travel experiences.. See http://www.diarypixelmy.blogspot.com but don’t judge haha, I’m no professional yet.

    Like

  22. “Satkhol” is a small beautiful Hill Station near Mukteshwar.

    Stay option

    “Veselka cottage” is a small home stay where you can have a nice time
    With nature. (www.veselka.in)

    Like

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