By Monidipa Dey
The forested hills of the Almora district in the Kumaon region of Uttrakhand offer some of the most scenic landscapes and serene views that beckon tourists at all times, especially during summers. A little further up north from Almora, at a distance of 33 km, lying hidden amidst the towering oaks, rhododendrons, and conifers stand the idyllic Binsar, also known as Jhandi Dhar.
Situated at an altitude of 2420 metre (almost 8000 feet), Binsar was the summer capital of the erstwhile Chand rajas, a Rajput dynasty from Kannauj that ruled the area from around 10th c. CE to 1816. In 1988, almost 45.5 sq. km of the area was declared as a wildlife sanctuary, with the primary objective of conserving and protecting the broad-leafed Oaks (Quercus) that grow in abundance in this part of central Himalaya. Binsar hills also have the ruby red rhododendrons in large numbers that bloom during March and April, turning the hillsides into a glorious red.
Owing to the lush forests that cover its hillsides, Binsar is home to many varieties of rare wildflowers, birds, and animals. There are almost 200 varieties of birds that are found here and among the more common ones are the Cheer pheasant, Kaleej pheasant, Black eagle, Lammergeier (bearded vulture), Jungle owlet, Koklass pheasant, Western Horned Tragopan, and the Red-Billed Blue Magpie. The animals seen here include leopards, Himalayan black bear, barking deer, seraw, wild boar, yellow-throated marten, red fox, jungle cats, and the langurs.
While this place does not offer much in the name of adventure sports and other hectic outdoor activities, it offers a spectacular panoramic view of the majestic snow peaks spread across 300 km. The ranges that can be seen from Binsar are the Kedarnath peak, Chaukhamba, Panchchuli. Trishul, Nanda Devi, and Shivling. Besides being a paradise for the bird lovers, the place also offers walks through forested roads and trails where one can experience the calm and serenity of nature.
Among the Binsar forest trails, one can take the path that leads to the zero point, which gives a view of the snow peaks on a clear day. There is another forest road, which takes one to the Binsar forest rest house or dak bungalow. It is here in this dak bungalow that Swami Vivekananda had stayed and meditated for two days when he had visited Almora in 1897. The current colonial designed forest rest-house was built in 1902. From the grounds of this dak bungalow, one can also view the sunset, and it holds a sunset point for the tourists.
Swami Vivekananda, who had extensively travelled in the Almora region in the 1890s, had also stayed and meditated in the ancient Kasar Devi temple, which is just 9 km away from Binsar. Within the wildlife sanctuary stands the Bineswar Mahadev temple, which was built in the 16th c. CE, and is definitely worth a visit. Binsar is a place where one can go and spend a few quiet days, amidst the surrounding forests. This is not a place for the adventure and sports-loving travellers, but calls for the quieter ones looking for a relaxed holiday. A walk through the sun-dappled forested paths, listening to the different bird calls, or simply reading a book with the panoramic snow peaks spread out in the horizon, it is a place where there is not much of internet connection and peace reigns supreme.
Travel tips: Binsar is well connected via motorable roads to Almora (33 km) and Nainital (90 km). The closest airport is Pantnagar (150 km), and the nearest railway station is Kathgodam (114 km). Besides exploring the wildlife sanctuary, one can also explore the Khali Estate (royal palace), Gananath Temple, and the Binsar Sanctuary museum. The best place to stay in Binsar is the KMVN tourist house as it offers the best view of the snow peaks from its terrace, but it has to be booked in advance owing to a large number of tourists that visit the place. Electricity is available only from 7-9 pm, and network connection is pretty irregular, hence bigger groups with traditional entertainments like card games, ludo and books are recommended.
There is a fee to be paid while entering the Wildlife Sanctuary, and care must be taken to not litter the place. Another major menace in this area is the summer forest fires, so one must take special precautions to not throw lighted cigarettes and match sticks while exploring the place.
(The author is a known travel writer. All Images provided by the author. Views expressed are personal.)