Friday, June 03, 2011

Pangot : Driving through clouds

Hovering clouds and cool breeze greeted us almost halfway on the Kaladhungi – Nainital road. It was a pleasant respite from the shearing Delhi heat. Not much have changed on the Kaladhungi – Nainital road since my last visit about 5 years back except for the entry fee to Nainital has doubled to 100 bucks. This is more than any single toll one pay for the Delhi – Jaipur expressway. Such type of open looting of tourists by government agencies is one reason why I hate Uttarakhand hill stations. Can anyone explain on what authority the Nagar Palika collects money, that too a substantial amount. To me it is penalty for taking pains to visit Uttarakhand. One would be better off visiting Kerala which to me is the most tourist friendly state in India.

My stay for the night was planed for Vinayak. I wanted to avoid Nainital which must be buzzing with tourists in this summer. Therefore, instead of going down to Nainital, we took the left turn immediately after the toll post. This road goes to Kunjakharak via Kilbury, Pangot and Vinayak. I had booked my stay at the Vinayak FRH which is about 22km from Nainital. For most part it was an uphill drive where occasional clouds and rains greeted us. Driving through clouds and desolate hills, we had reached Pangot, a small hamlet located some 16 km from Nainital. My altimeter said that we had reached an altitude of 6350-6400 feet.

With the impending rain in mind, I had enquired at Pangot about the distance to Vinayak. The response was mixed – from 3 to 6 kilometers. I decided to continue as I had at least an hour before dark. Barely a kilometer further my drive was stopped by the sight of a landslide ravaged stretch of about 100 meters. Given the clouds hovering above and the condition of the stretch, it was apparent that a heavy rain would easily block this stretch and we may get stuck next day. Pangot is the last substantial human habitation on the route. As there is not much human habitation or vehicular movement beyond Pangot, a landslide may take some time to be cleared. I had to reach Corbett next day and Corbett was more important to me than Vinayak. So we decided to return to Pangot.

There is a grocery shop at Pangot on the main road which also serves as kind of meeting / waiting point for locals commuting to other places. A road branches out from this point, down to the main village. Pangot is being promoted as a birding paradise. Many private resorts have come up in the area and all of them are located close to the main road. We decided to check the Janardan Resort, located barely 50 meters from the shop. Built out of carving on a hill face, this is a small property with six double room cottages. On climbing up the stairs, the place exuded a mystique charm with a majestic view of greenery and hills around. The manager asked for price of 1500 which was bargained down to 1400. This is quite decent price given the rates of some other resorts on the area which has a net presence. In India, anything available on net is always costlier and hence I almost always travel without prior booking. Besides being cheaper it also gives me the flexibility to check habitability of the place. I had enquired with Jungle Lore Birding Lodge which asked 4500 per night for a couple with all meals. Kafal House asked 3500 for same package. Both asked around 1000 extra for child. Paying 5000 for such remote place sounds ridiculous to me. If you go to Pangot for a day, then you will at most have a dinner and breakfast, not all three meals. Thus it would be advisable to bargain a price without meals.

Pangot turned out to be a very peaceful location. Most of vehicles seen on the main road went down to the Pangot village. Only a handful continued towards Kunjakharak. The resort provided a beautiful view of the hills and jungles of the surrounding hills. Sitting on the verandah of the cottage we watched birds and people that went past in the distance. What kept us engrossed is the tranquility of the place. The greenery all around, which got engulfed in clouds that kept flowing past us from time to time. On occasions the clouds devoured our resort as well making it very cold.

As expected it had rained heavily at night. It got quite cold during the night. We did not carry any warm cloths as we did not expect it to get that cold. Imagine shivering in peak May summer. In the morning we had decided to explore the area around. We went down a British era trek that leads to a village and a temple down. The trek starts right opposite the resort. But because of clouds and accompanying rains / moisture we could not explore much. Contrary to what I read somewhere on net, there were birds. Waking up before sunrise, I saw many varieties. Unfortunately I could hardly recognize any. Most birds disappeared by 7 am.

After a decent breakfast, we decided to head out for Ramnagar en-route to Corbett. The distance between Ramnagar and Pangot is around 70 km. Driving down was a real challenge as visibility was down to barely 50 feet because of dense cloud cover. I was actually scared and stopped at one place for visibility to improve. We had given Nainital town a complete miss despite being very close as we wanted a peaceful outing rather than touristy one. We liked Pangot a lot and we will try to make a comeback to this place for a longer stay.

To end : Janardan Resort turned out to be VFM. Not a luxury property, but it is decent with clean rooms and running hot water and electricity. We were charged only 250 rupees for the dinner and breakfast. You can not expect much of menu option to eat in such remote places, but it was home cooked food served hot by the manager – cum –cook. He also cooked the Maggie we carried with us. I recommend it.

(Journey undertaken on 26th may, 2011)