|Rishikesh (trip through Kumaon Garhwal and Corbett) |
|We reached Rishikesh at 11 PM. Rishikesh at 11 PM is very sparse, and we had to do a bit of searching to get to Ganga Resort (there is another GMVN property in Rishikesh which is within the city - did not look impressive at all). The Resort has the best spot in Rishikesh. It is right on the river, over looking Triveni Ghat on the opposite bank. The DLX rooms are good, clean, have huge verandahs overlooking the river and are a steal at 2300/-. The hotel is spacious, has a great dining hall. Food is good. There is a paved area between the hotel and the river where you can sit, stroll. It is a great feel. There is a green landscaped area within the resort too. |
The hotel can arrange rafting for you. I think it was around 700 per person inclusive of everything + pickup/drop from/to hotel. The drop will actually be you yourself rafting close to the hotel. The rafting is for 4 hrs from Shivpuri. I personally think this is a great option if you are not planning to stay in one of the rafting camps. If you start at 6, you will be back by 10 and have time for a hearty breakfast. You can negotiate the time if you have a big group.
We did not have much to do in Rishikesh. We wanted to see the Jhulas and visit the Maharshi Ashram. You can go around in Rishikesh in shared Autos. Laxman Jhula is overcrowded. There is a German Bakery and Devraj Coffee Corner just before the bridge which gives a good view and serves truly international menu. We liked Ram Jhula more. We also did a back and forth boat ride on the river. The ticket counter is just below Ram Jhulah.
To reach the Maharshi Ashram, you need to hire a auto/jeep. Now you can do this from any place you want to, you just need to negotiate the rate. We hired it from near Bharat Mata Mandir at SwargAshram. There is a famous Choti Wala restuarant just below this place, which then leads to the Ram Jhulah. You can get a shared auto/jeep from Laxman Jhulah (right side of the bridge when facing north) to Bharat Mata Mandir/Choti Wala/Ram Jhulah. From there the Sumo to Maharshi Ashram charged us 200 rs for return and 15 minutes stay. You can/should negotiate.
We really liked the Maharshi Ashram. I would suggest keep at least 1 hr with you for this spot. Do not hurry. There is quite a bit to roam around. There are several blocks of now deserted cottages. If you are with family/friends, get into one of the cottages and just feel the peace, ambiance, and sing couple of lines from your childhood beatles memories. If you are alone then meditate. There is a care taker who will try to charge you. If you can convince him otherwise then that is fine as he is not authorized to charge you. So - bargain if you can/want to. He charges 100/- per person if I remember correctly.
Lot of food options in Rishikesh. We had to retire early for a long long journey next morning so we took food at the hotel itself. It was good.
|Planning (a trip through Kumaon Garhwal and Corbett) |
|A lot of planning went into the trip. I wanted to cover both Kumaon and Garhwal. We are a couple with a 5.5 year old. Five things were must for us. Catch the snow, Nainital (re-kindling old memories of my partners childhood trip), Birding, Corbett and keep the travel time as balanced as possible. We had 2 weeks in our hand. After lot of research we fixed on |
Pune->Delhi->Rishikesh (2 nights)
Rishikesh->Auli (3 nights)
Kausani->Nainital (2 nights)
Nainital-> Pangot( 2 nights)
Pangot-> Corbett (2 nights)+1
Corbet->Delhi (1 night)
Why 2 nights in Rishikesh ? - Because I calculated we will reach Rishikesh very late and it will be impossible to make an early start next morning.
Plus I wanted to spend some time at the Maharshi Ashram. Beatles after all constanly played in my ears for a peroid of 2 years!.
Why 3 nights at Auli ? - Again because I knew we will be late and dead tired when we reach Auli from Rishikesh. 1st Night would go as if it was not there.
Why Kausani ? - That is the best place to break the journey mid way to Nainital. Gwaldham was another option but we wanted to reach Nainital before
evening and spend some time in Kausani too. Gwaldham is a great place to stay. No point putting up just for the night.
REMEMBER - when you see google directions between places in these mountains, there is an exponential factor you must add to the time shown by google.
Max avg speed that you can hit is 25-30 Kmph. The roads are good. But you will need the occasional stops.
Corbett was the first in our plan list. Online bookings open 45 days in advance at http://corbettonline.uk.gov.in/AccMainMenu.aspx. PLEASE USE THIS FACILITY AND SAVE YOURSELF FROM PAYING RIDICULOUS AMOUNTS TO AGENTS AND/OR SIPPING BEAR BESIDE A SWIMMING POOL AT A LUXURY RESORT OUTSIDE THE FOREST WHILE TELLING YOUR FRIENDS THAT YOU ARE IN CORBETT FOR JUNGLE SAFARI. (if you are from outside India, the rules are a bit different - please check it up on the above-mentioned site). I wanted to stay in Dhikhala. There is lot of information on the net comparing the different rest houses - given I was with a small child, and I wanted to hit the grassland as early as possible to get my shots - Dhikhala was my only choice. Other option would be Bijrani which I will try next time. Or - may be one could also do 1 day Dhikkhala and 1 day Bijrani or vise versa. That way you are sure to cover a lot of the ground (Dhikala to Bijrani will take you through some roads which are not covered in the Jeep Safaris). But that also means you waste time packing/shifting hotels - it matters when you are travelling with family - if singles with a back pack - definitely go for it.
The online booking is not as bad as irctc tatkal (all seats being reserved in precisely 3 seconds) - but Dhikala does fill up pretty fast. So be sure you calculate the days properly and hit that page at 10 AM sharp on the right day. Be ready with a govt approved id card and your debit card. Net Banking options are not that varied yet. For the second day you will have to use another govt approved id card - because you cannot use the same name/id card for separate bookings within 3 days at Dhikala, and the catch is, you cannot ever get 2 or 3 consecutive days of booking. So if you are travelling alone - then I do not know what you will do. Otherwise obviously for the second day you will use the name/id card of your fellow traveller(s). I do not know what I would have done if I wanted to book for the 3rd night. Probably used a slight deviation in my name and another id card. Thats Ok. The gate keepers of Corbett understand this problem.
Now, about the jeep safari booking. I spent several hours/days researching who would be the best. There are hundreds out there. The minimum quote I got from them was 10000 for 2 nights. However, every time I called Corbett Help Desk at 9759363344 and 05947251489, they reassured me that Jeeps will be available at the Reception and they will charge 5600/- (4 safaris - including 1 going from Gate to Dhikala, 2 at Dhikala next day and 1 returning Dhikala to Gate next to next day) at govt approved rates. I am happy, I stuck to that. I got the best driver and guide - whom I will introduce later. But to be on the safe side, and get the full time of the 1st safari, plan to reach Ramnagar by 1 PM so that you can reach the national park gates by 2 PM, with your Jeep. If you cannot find the office, call the above numbers, they will guide you. The jeeps are available in front of the reception. Make sure that you carry all the id cards you used while doing the online booking. The online booking will have all the permits (for the forest + the driver + the car).
Also, remember the grasslands of Dhikala are 2.5 hours away from the entry Gate (Dhikala Zone). Though wild life (Tiger???) can surprise you anywhere, you are most likely to find Elephants, Deer , Birds and the elusive Tiger, close to the grass lands around Dhikhala compared to the road to Dhikala. So if you are opting for day trips, you are going to miss the early mornings and late evenings of the Safari - and that is the only time you would see most of the wild life. So I would not recommend day trips while staying outside the forest.
Make it easy and simple. Book for 2-3 days (Dhikala and or Bijrani or any other FRH) in the forest, by remembering the 45 days rule. Take a Jeep when you reach the reception at Ramnagar. Enjoy your stay - (better still - take the driver I took ) - see the most of Wild Life. Remember, at Dhikala at least, getting a guide with your Safari is not easy. There are very few available. The Jeeps are ready to go at 6 AM. If you are 15 minutes late - you might miss the only available guide.They will charge 500 per safari. So if your driver is a guide too then you are saving that money. From that perspective if you get a Driver+Guide at 8000/-, for 2 days, at non Govt Approved rates, who is confirmed to be good - then that is still a very good deal. Now you can stretch it more if your guide really knows the forest. In the forest, it is all about having the experience of what movements can happen where and when. Recognizing the sounds of the forest and knowing where to wait, which road to move on. And if you are going to Corbett ONLY to see the tiger - then you may very well spend more on that guide, if you know he is kind of the mougli out there. For me, I wanted to see and shoot any thing moving. If I saw the tiger that would be added bonus. And it was my first time. Hence wanted to go simple.
Elephant safaris are booked only after you reach Dhikala. I am personally not very excited about them. As they are very slow they will cover a limited ground and chances are you will see nothing. If you are VERY lucky you might have the best view of a lurking Tiger which none other can see because they are in the Jeeps. But let me tell you - chances of that is really really rare. Anyway - you can decide after you reach Dhikala. If you are really interested - make sure you book for the next morning/evening as soon as you reach Dhikala. You will be able to book at the reception of New F.R.H.
I was planning Auli for ages. The best and (technically speaking) only place to stay in Auli is at the GMVN property. So that being a no brainer, I booked
at their online booking site http://www.gmvnl.com/newgmvn/online_reservation/. Since I was reaching on 30th March, which is the end of the skiing season, I was able to get rooms online on 23rd Feb. If you are planning to do Auli in Jan/Feb/Early March, I would suggest to book at least 2 months ahead.
The date of 30th March is important. I chose that date after several phone calls (09568006602 Reception Auli GMVN and 09568006622 GMVN Online Reservations) and confirmations. 31st March is the LAST date you can ski in Auli. It is not the best time to ski because the snow would have retreated by then, but still, technically that is the last date the GMVN folks will give you equipments to try your skiing skills. I did not have a choice to get there earlier. 28th March was the earliest I could start from Pune. If I could start before 28th, I would have broken my Rishikesh Auli journey. It takes 12 hrs by road and it will churn your stomachs if you are not regular being driven on mountain roads. It is recommended to break it at may be Karna Prayag. Do not take this warning lightly. Nothing wrong with the road condition though. It was excellent.
There are two others properties in Auli. One is called Cliff Top Club Resort http://www.ctcauli.com/home/clifftop/clifftop_club.htm. It is halfway between the GMVN property and the Skiing slopes. There is another basic resort just below the skiing slopes. That is also run by GMVN. Both of these were deserted when we reached there (10th March). So I cannot comment. I think they run
only during December/Jan/Feb.
Again, the best place to stay in Rishikesh is GMVN Ganga Resort. It has the best frontage by the Ganges. I booked on 2nd March for our stay on 28th and 29th March. Again it turned out to be an excellent choice.
Travelling from Delhi to Rishikesh was another thing to be planned. I had a flight from Pune landing delhi at 12:50 PM. I knew it will take me 5-6 hrs to reach RishiKesh. The only option was to hire a cab. Note, there is a night train from Delhi to Haridwar (12205 NANDA DEVI EXP). It reaches Haridwar at 4 in the morning. From there you would get rides to Rishikesh. For us, we wanted a clear day in Rishikesh with a good nights sleep so we opted for same day journey to Rishikesh. I chose Taxico (01163646364). They gave me the cheapest drop option @ 2700. They kept their word so I can recommend them. But if you want to by pass them then you can directly call Mr Kapil (09756303030) or Jeetender (08936984315). These are the guys who get all the Uttarkhand drop pickups through Taxico. You can give my name (Debanjan) to Jetender as reference.
Ok - so I kinda already said that. The 5-6 hrs drive from Delhi to Rishikesh can suddenly become a 9 hrs drive as the road is extremely congested. I will not call it a highway and any breakdown or traffic issue in the road can cause you a 2-3 hrs delay. So plan accordingly if you are starting from Delhi Airport to Rishikesh.
I spent few days researching hotels in Kausani. Something not quite far from the town and yet amidst the mountains. I finally booked at Natures Valley Resort. http://kausaniretreat.com/. I booked through booking.com. It turned out to be an excellent place.
I did not do too much research on where to stay in Nainital. We wanted to stay on the Mall road and I initially wanted to stay at
the Alka the Lake Side hotel. It turned out to be a bit too expensive and they came back with a last minute cancellation with some renovation issue. Then I booked at Hotel Evelyn. They do not have any online booking facility. You can call them at 05942235457. Its location is right on the Mall Road overlooking the lake. I booked through phone. They asked me around 2500 per night. I also booked for 1 night at the KMVN Tallital. This I did through KMVN online booking site http://www.kmvn.gov.in/. The reason I did not book both days in Tallital was that I did not get rooms. Tallital had the best rooms of my whole stay (book the Royal rooms). Choose Room number 2. Note though the Tallital property is bang opposite the lake, it is not on the Mall road and it is 10 minutes walk from there to the shops on the Mall road. But you can park your car at Tallital. If your hotel is on Mall Road then every time you will enter Mall Road you will need to pay 100 Rs. And there is no parking allowed on Mall Road. Parking is allowed at the end of the Mall Road in a field. They charge around 200 for 10 hrs.
This was by recommendation. We booked at the Jungle Lore. 2 nights. All fooding and lodging inclusive Rs 9320. The rates may vary by the time of the year. Again excellent place to stay and most importantly amazing food. Will say more on trip details. The Cheer Cottage is the best room, close to the dining cottage, with a lovely view, big warm attic, and grand verandah and if you are into birding
your will not need your 150-600. You can almost shoot with prime lens. If you love more of a forest experience, away from every one else, then you can choose the Magpie cottage. It has an attic too. 2 minutes climb down from the dining cottage (around 30 steps). And you can be assured no one is going to hear you and you will hear no one else. Complete peace within the forest. But no verandah. No view as such.
This took me lot of time again. The best way to keep moving in these mountains is in your own/rented car. It is costly. Approx 2700/ to 3000/- per day, depending on the type of car. It is possible to book point to point - but - that will take away precious time from your days and nights to get the right person/car and negotiate and bargain the price and in all probability you will end up paying more as they will charge for both ways. Now, the decision of which days of your trip you will keep a car and which days you will go point to point will depend a lot on what you will do at a place and what is your schedule. With some meticulous calculation you can save a few thousands (which we did). Otherwise, you can just get a car from Delhi and keep it for the whole tour. It helps. You can contact Jeetender Ji (08936984315). He has lot of contacts and can arrange a car for you. Another contact in Rishikesh is Goldi Ji 09897381800. He is good natured and I knew him from another friend personally. Though I did not travel with him finally, you can give my reference to him (Debanjan). Another option is allseasonsz.com. They had the cheapest rates of 2500/- for Swift Dzire. They have offices in Delhi. Their email is firstname.lastname@example.org. I was in coversation with them for a long time but finally dropped out as they seemed to be a bit too mechanical. Now, the problem is, when you are hiring a car for 2 weeks, the driver becomes a very important factor. A grumpy driver (who never talks but only) always complains about every detour you take can spoil your trip. On the other hand, a driver who has great local knowledge who would pro-actively take you few kms away to show you a view, or a help you get a bird, can completely change your trip. But this is a difficult one, because you would definitely not know the driver from before. So - Luck!. I found Jeteender Ji, who took us from Delhi to Rishikesh, quite knowledgeable and entertaining. You can try him. Otherwise, whoever you hire from, be very sure that you explain in written the routes you will take and the places you will go. Specially if you are into Birding, mention that you might do unscheduled stops and you might go for early morning drives etc. We hired our car from Tayal Tours & Travels Rishikesh (09997921532). We were lucky to get a Ertiga for 2500/- per day. Our driver was not the best we could have imagined - but he was OK. We hired the car from Rishikesh To Corbett. The rates vary by the number of days you have the car and also on the pickup and drop location. You should definitely bargain who ever you hire a car from.
|Prologue (a trip through Kumaon Garhwal and Corbett) |
|We had a wonderful wonderful trip through a Uttarkhand from 28th March to 11th of April. Unfortunately I had a heart wrenching end to it when I lost my Nikon 7100 and Lumix Lx7, in Delhi Metro - along with thousands of priceless pictures of my family - the journey - rare birds - and rarest of wild life. I had the worst 3 weeks in my life, chasing Delhi police and a thief. And I found her at the end!!!. How I found her will be another blog I will link here later. Sadly, I lost most of my pictures. But there are some which I am sure you all will like. |
The trip itself was great and here is my experience with lots of useful information. I will break it up into a planning section and then narrate the trip place by place.