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Mariellen Ward is an award-winning professional travel writer based in Toronto and Delhi.
She is a journalist by profession and has written for leading Canadian and international newspapers, magazines and online sites . Her passion is travel in India, the underlying theme of my writing is “meaningful adventure travel” and she is also an advocate of women’s solo travel. Though Canadian by birth, she considers India to be her muse and her “soul culture.”
She recently visited Kosi Valley Retreat and here’s what she says about her visit!
Here’s how to access and enjoy the spectacular Himalayan region of India
CAN YOU IMAGINE walking and trekking among the Himalayas, the mightiest mountain range on earth? Fascinating and daunting, wreathed in religious mythology and mountaineering lore, the Himalayas are without a doubt one of the most spiritually exciting, wildly adventurous, spectacularly beautiful and deeply serene places on earth.
While mountaineers and the spiritually inclined have long been drawn to the Himalayas, you do not have to be an athlete or an ascetic to enjoy being among these mighty massifs. I was invited by Walk to the Himalayas (WTH) to stay at their Kosi Valley Retreat in Simkholi, in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand, and experience adventure among the Himalayas. I found it exciting, vigorous, relaxing and accessible.
Shivraj, the resident guide at Kosi Valley Retreat, picked me up at Kathgodam train station and escorted me to Simkholi. It was a long drive along twisting and narrow mountain roads, with sometimes a sheer drop only inches away. Up and up we went, into the foothills of the Himalayas, known here as the Sivaliks. Finally, around one curve, I saw the famous white peaks in the distance and had my first glimpse of Nanda Devi, known to be beautiful from any angle, like the goddess she is. This mountain is Kumaon’s highest peak, at 7,756 metres, and also one of the most mystical.
When we arrived at Kosi Valley Retreat (KVR), it was love at first sight. The website describes it as being surrounded by, “towering ancient trees, enchanting chorus of forest birds, mystical flowing river and dense forest.” And it is.
KVR is a lodge made of stone and wood, with stylish rooms, set on serene grounds in a pleasant valley. It is clean and comfortable, without being stiflingly luxurious. The food is delicious and healthy, the staff extremely friendly and helpful and best of all, it’s immersed in the peace and beauty of nature.
Activities at Kosi Valley Retreat
Bajinath Temple trek
Climbing the Burma Bridge
KVR is owned and run by Siddhartha and Latika of Walk to the Himalayas (WTH), an outdoor adventure company that specializes in trekking and outdoor adventure in the Himalayas. And that’s what makes a stay at Kosi Valley so special and rewarding. Not only are three meals a day included, but a wide variety of activities that introduce visitors to the beauty of the Himalayas.
The Golden Valley
On my first morning at Kosi Valley Retreat, I woke up to the sound of birds and sat in the morning sun on my balcony overlooking the Kosi River and the forest until it was time for a jungle walk. With Shivraj, we walked through the forest and spotted two magpies, an owl, several eagles, three people from the village leading oxen over extremely narrow rocky ledges, a waterfall and some scorpion plants.
Shivraj explained that scorpion plants cause an intense feeling, like an electrical shock, and village people use them to treat muscle and joint pain. I touched one very lightly with my finger and it tingled in a peculiar way for many hours.
Back at the lodge, I ate a hearty and healthy breakfast of rhododendron juice (a local specialty), masala omelette, poha (spiced, flattened rice) and fruit. Every meal at Kosi Valley was fresh, filling and delicious, sourced largely from local ingredients. Chef Himmat Singh is from a nearby Kumaon village and knows how to cook local specialties, like a distinctive dal (lentils) dish that is loaded with flavour.
Every day, Shivraj and I set out for adventures, and came back for delicious meals. I explored the local temples, walked along the banks of the river, climbed a mountain to watch the sunset, cycled the rolling road and went for a walk through the nearby villages. We were invited for tea at one village home by the woman of the house, and met a sprightly 85-year-old lady named Parvati.
Hill people in India are known for being honest, hard-working and friendly. Generally, people travel with a higher degree of trust and safety in the hills than anywhere else. The people I met in Simkholi and the nearby villages seem to fit this profile. They work hard and smile easily. In fact, I heard that handsome cricketer M.S. Dhoni is from Kumaon, and sure enough, I saw a lot of people who look a bit like him.
I loved this peaceful valley, alive with prosperous villages, friendly people, bountiful crops, a clean river, rolling mountains, chattering birds and crisp, fresh air. I began to think of it as a “Golden Valley,” almost idyllic, and astonishingly clean. In the valley, it reminded me of Ireland, and in the mountains, of Switzerland.
The mystique of the Himalayas
While at Kosi Valley Retreat, I felt my being open up to the atmosphere of Kumaon. I breathed the exhilarating, earthy scent of fresh mountain air, redolent of pine needles, distant snow, glacial streams. I listened to the sounds of Himalayan birds and the Kosi River as it tumbled over rocks and boulders. I felt the peaceful vibrations and basked in the serenity of the natural environment. I walked among the hills, forests, fields and villages. It was a blissful week and I felt completely refreshed by the end of it.
There is crystal clarity to the air and a mystical quality to the atmosphere of the Himalayas that is uplifting and peaceful at the same time. No wonder so many sages, babas, yogis and sadhus have been drawn here. In fact, this region is known as the Dev Bhoomi, land of the gods. The region is also extremely bio-diverse, rich in flora and fauna, with many pristine forested areas filled with birds and mammals. You can experience the power of nature here, in all its glory.
Kosi Valley Retreat and the Walk to the Himalayas activities and itineraries are designed to capture the spirit of this special place. They make a region of the world — that might be daunting to some — accessible and available. If you have ever dreamed of seeing the mighty Himalayas and walking among the deodar trees, listening to the songs of the distinctive birds, and breathing the pine-scented air, contact the wonderful people at Walk to the Himalayas. They made it happen for me, and they can do the same for you. You may never be the same.
Thanks so much to Siddhartha, Latika, Shivraj, Himmat, Kundan, Deeraj, Indrani and everyone at Kosi Valley Retreat for hosting me and taking care of me.
By Neelima Vallangi
On a cold chilly morning, my frozen hands and toes feeling uncomfortably numb, surrounded by nothing but the solemn silence of the resolute mountains, watching the lofty Himalayan peaks slowly turn pink at sunrise, I made a promise to myself that I will come back to these mountains as many times as I can. Because there’s no good reason in this world that justifies staying away from the joy of getting lost in the infinite beauty of the Himalayas!
In a forgotten valley between the famous hill stations of Almora and Kausani that have captured our imagination for long, I spent a week at Kosi Valley Retreat in the obscure yet picturesque Someshwar Valley where the River Kosi meandered quietly endowing the valley with all its might, impervious to all the attention the hills around were getting. The lower slopes of the mountains and the fertile plains between them were packed green with verdant terraced fields, amidst them children frolicked and women in colorful dresses worked. Hidden beyond the small mountains were the giants, Trishul, Nanda Devi, Nanda Ghunti, Chaukhamba and their ilk. Sparrows, magpies, bulbuls and many other birds flitted around in the branches of the pine trees but the river quietly flowed in between.
In this valley that is something like heaven, I spent my time day-dreaming under pine trees, cycling along winding roads, hiking in the hills, running after birds and talking to Himalayas. If there’s something like homecoming, this was it.
Having seen a lot of Himalayas before, I’m not one to be easily appeased by a quick peek of a peak above the ridges. I have hiked for days in its impenetrable valleys, crossed over several passes, camped in flower filled grasslands and have seen sun cast its first light on the big mountains from right under their noses. But here – in Almora – I am certain that I have never been this spell bound before. When I saw the mighty Himalayas tower over the valleys and sneak up on the several layers of little pine ridges, when I could see the mountain rise from plains of the earth to reach for the sky and everything that’s in between, I knew was becoming privy to a beautiful secret!
While I have been longing for mountains all along, there’s a certain charm to the mountain-surrounded valleys that you cannot deny. Wandering in the verdant Someshwar valley, on foot or on cycle, I often wondered how did I miss this little detail – that valleys is where life is. This is where smiles flourish, laughter resounds, people live and birds chirp.
The thing with the hills is unless you are on top, your view is obstructed. The thing with the valleys is that the gorgeous views are unobstructed, despite being at the bottom! This is the typical landscape in the Someshwar Valley.
My tryst with hiking in the Himalayas had unexpectedly started in Gharwal, marvelling at the very same Trishul that was standing in front of me here in Kumaon. That was 6 years ago, yet looking at the crest of the mountain peaking above the Someshwar Valley, it felt like meeting a long lost friend when I hiked up the small hill in front of the retreat one evening.
The inimitable romance of walking in pristine pine forest listening to the sound of rustling pine leaves that feels like swelling waves of an ocean and basking in the sunlight streaming through the punctured canopy is exactly the kind stuff that dreams are made of. For two days, hiking in the hills overlooking Someshwar Valley, I let myself fully immerse in the little joys of being in the outdoors. There were bigger rewards as well, but life is made up of many of such small moments too.
That night after a tiring climb through pine valleys and ridges, rhododendron filled pathways and countless Himalayan views, we came to a holy temple atop a hill. We spent the night at a forest resthouse. For the record, I was in a cottage. In reality, I was sleeping under the stars!
It was breathtaking alright but it was more heartwarming to see the mountains here without the deep gashes and ghastly bruises inflicted by humanity in the name of development. There is no greater joy than seeing undisturbed forests, even more so in a country like India where we are encroaching into every inch of wild spaces left!
Some of you who were followers of this blog for few years now might remember that there was a time when I was crazy about cycling! I climbed 36 hair pins bends over mad gradients, rode 140kms in a single day, soaked myself silly cycling in the rains and even attempted to ride in the Himalayas. All that was behind me though, it’s been ages since I cycled and last year I even sold my trusted bike! But here in Someshwar Valley, couldn’t resist the temptation looking at the lovely roads of Almora and the mountain bikes at the place where I was staying.
On the first evening, I took the bike out for a short spin – an easy 10km ride in the valley along side the fields. The itch had come back, few days later, we cycled all the way upto to Kausani, 20kms from the valley. The weather was delightfully overcast with cool winds to keep me company, the climb to Kausani was gradual and gently making the ride very pleasant. The cherry on top, however, were the breathtaking views of green valleys and pine mountains.
On the last day, before leaving the valley that gave me so many fond memories, thought it only made sense to hike up the hills one last time to bid goodbye. It rained that morning, heavily. As I made my way up the village into the pine forest over the ridge, this unbelievable sweeping view of the valley welcomed me. As the rain reduced to a drizzle, I stood over a slippery rock wondering if this was Kumaon’s way of saying farewell to me, by delighting me one last time. I walked further ahead on the trail lost in the view when two wild boars grunted and lunged into the forest startled by my presence, reminding me that the forests here as wild as they are beautiful. I scurried back in fear, to the retreat where I was staying. A smile stayed plastered on my face though, how wonderful was it to encounter life in the forests, abode of the wild, the beautiful, and the reckless!
Sometimes, our greatest gifts come in strange packages. Who would’ve thought staying in valley will get me closer to the mountains? Who would’ve thought ignoring the hill station viewpoints will take me to secret hideouts only the locals know about? They say Uttarakhand is known as Devbhoomi, meaning a place where gods live, because of the numerous temples that dot the state. But looking at these mountains and valleys, I have no doubt that in that claim because who else can create a place so exquisite?
Someshwar Valley is situated between the popular hill stations Almora and Kausani in the state of Uttarakhand, India. The weather is pleasant during the summers and can get quite chilly during the monsoons and winters.
How to reach:
Kathgodam is the nearest railway station and Haldwani is the closest bus stop. From here, you can get shared or full taxis to take you to Almora, it takes about 4-5 hours to reach. The valley is at a distance of 20kms from Almora.
Where to stay:
Kosi Valley Retreat is a beautiful 4-bedroom stone building set in a quiet and serene Someshwar valley right on the banks of Kosi river, far far away from the crowd and tourists. The cozy retreat is managed by the sweetest team of locals from surrounding villages who will take care of you like family including stuffing you with lip-smacking homemade and organic food.
I travelled solo and never felt unsafe. Whenever I went hiking or cycling or walking, I was always accompanied by local guides from the retreat who took good care of me.
What to do:
Situated in a pristine corner of Uttarakhand, there are plenty of hiking and biking trails around the property. I went on 2 rides and 3 hikes during my week long stay there. Talk to the team at Walk to Himalayas who can suggest a good itinerary for you. If you love outdoors you are in for an absolute treat as the retreat is stocked with outdoor gear like rock climbing equipment, mountain bikes, camping gear and all that jazz.
Note: My stay and activities at Kosi Valley Retreat were sponsored by Walk to Himalayas. Opinions, as always, are honest and mine.
Neelima is a travel writer and a photographer. She has been travelling in India since 2008. She has travelled from the remote forests of Andaman and Chhattisgarh to the border areas of Nagaland and Kashmir. Her dream is to set her feet in all the states and Union territories of India by the time she turn’s 30.
By Neelima Vallangi
Through the glass windows, I was looking at the night lift its cloak of darkness as a blue dawn fought its way through. The sun crept up the mountains that surrounded me as the first rays slowly flooded the room, the chirping of birds grew louder and I could hear the faint gurgle of the river below. I was still in bed as the orange light blinded me; I adjusted my position to keep the rays away from my face. While I have always loved the idea of waking up to first light gently falling on my face, it is not something that I got to experience a lot. But here at Kosi Valley Retreat, I went to bed every night anticipating waking up to bright sunshine.
I’m not a morning person on most days, but whenever I’m in the hills, I become one. It is impossible not to, when your cue to wake up is not the mechanized sound of an alarm ringing but the delightful cacophony of numerous birds singing. Plus, it helps to be well rested, in the lap of nature where your internal body clock resets itself (BBC: Can a week under canvas reset our body clocks?). Here in this valley, outdoor enthusiasts who prefer a nature fix along with creature comforts can have it all.
My days largely comprised of hanging out with wild nature; Pine trees, Kosi River, Himalayas and its foothills, star-studded night skies, Red-Billed Blue Magpies, verdant green terraced fields and such were my constant companions. I spent a week here without encountering another tourist, which seemed to be a rather rare blessing these days.
On clear nights, sitting around a warm bonfire and listening to the screeching of thousand insects, I looked up into the heavens tracing the paths of numerous shooting stars. However, lazy mornings were spent in the balcony with a warm cup of tea in hand, watching the daring pigeons and hill mynas flutter close to the roof while the little birdies flew in frenzy in the farther trees. Afternoons and evenings were spent hiking in the pristine forest that surrounded the property and cycling in the pretty countryside of Someshwar Valley. But on some days when the serenity of the nature called to do “nothing”, I lazed under a pine tree watching the sunshine escape through its sparse canopy. In the age of sightseeing, it seems we forgot how lovely it is to sit under a tree.
But that doesn’t mean I spent my week in Kosi Valley largely doing nothing. My plan was to actually do nothing, and in fact the place is perfect to just laze around with a book or saunter aimlessly given the serene surroundings of hills, streams and forests. But both Kosi Valley and the team really caught me off-guard there, I had quite an active stay with long hikes and cycle rides on few days. However, the thing that I enjoyed most during my stay was the complete lack of a planned itinerary and how the valley let me in on its secrets, slowly, at its own pace, one day at a time.
Every morning, Shivraj(the manager) and I used to discuss what to do and made plans on the fly depending on my mood. Surprisingly, I found something to do every single day. One day, we made a date with the snowcapped peaks of the Kumaon Range. The next, we cruised along the gently winding roads on Mountain Bikes. On another, we just went hiking in the rain. There was no sightseeing, there was just experiencing the beauty of the valley, often ignored and overshadowed by the mountains that rise up from their sides. Fortunately, Kosi Valley Retreat offers you a rare chance to experience serenity in a valley that is off the beaten track.
Make it Happen
Kosi Valley Retreat is a stone bungalow set right by the Kosi River side in a valley between Almora and Kausani, offering 4 rooms on the top floor, with a dedicated balcony for each room which allows you a close look at the very active birdlife in the surrounding pine forest. The building constructed with stone and pebbles in typical mountain style is atmospheric, and the large glass windows and doors are a delightful touch because you can see the mountains and forest right from your bed.
If you’re into outdoor adventures, talk to the team beforehand and ask for a detailed list of things to do around before zeroing in on the number of days you will stay here. There are enough activities to keep you occupied for an entire week and more, so plan your days well in advance so you are not disappointed that you have to leave out certain treks or cycle rides due to lack of time.
A small team of friendly staff from nearby villages manages the retreat and they take care of you quite well. And, like me, if you hate the oily atrocity that is thrust upon us in the name of Indian food in most touristy places, you will love the simple and delicious Kumaoni food served here. The produce used for cooking is mostly organic, coming from the kitchen garden within the premises.
Kathgodam is the nearest railway station and Haldwani is the closest bus stop. You can get shared or full taxis to take you to Almora from Kathgodam, it takes about 4-5 hours to reach.
Note: My stay and activities at Kosi Valley were sponsored by Kosi Valley Retreat.
Neelima is a travel writer and a photographer. She has been travelling in India since 2008. She has travelled from the remote forests of Andaman and Chhattisgarh to the border areas of Nagaland and Kashmir. Her dream is to set her feet in all the states and Union territories of India by the time she turn’s 30.
In life, each one of us at some point of time have taken this bold stride to take the leap of faith and dared to trust someone else with our life. I was fortunate to get the opportunity of a lifetime this time to literally experience this leap of faith in real while Bungee Jumping in Rishikesh. Even the thought of this experience gives a gush to my brain and shiver down my spine at the same time.
After a 35km drive along the banks of Ganga in Rishikesh and all bottled up excitement, we reached the assembling area where we were given a brief orientation, explaining what to expect, what to do and what not to do. A friend of ours chickened out looking at the video clipping of the bungee jump on the big screen. Every jumper is first weighed and his/her weight is written with a marker on the palm. Based on your weight, the cord is used for different categories of weight. We were made to sign the disclaimer form. That’s when we knew we were in serious troubleJ. I wanted to just quickly get done with it, so that the fear didn’t paralyze my brains and froze me to the ground.
We then walked to the jump site. As we were waiting for our turn, I was all fidgety. Chewed all my nails and mindlessly giggled to hide my nervousness. We could see the jumpers dive into the air one after the other. Jumpers’ screams echoing in the gorge. One of jumpers just went numb and couldn’t take the leap. Then, my name was called out. Walking the 50 feet odd suspension bridge was the longest walk ever. I could see the deep valley down on both sides as I reached the rickety where the whole action was on. They had some real pepped up music there. But I could still hear my heart pounding and resonating in that valley.
Ankles tightly, really tightly fastened. Harness on the chest all gripped well. Rich, the jump master (that’s how he is known) was instructing me. By then I was breathing all heavy. Thankfully, Rich was super cute and that kind of distracted me ;-). I was made to perch at the edge of the jumping platform with my feet half out. Rich asked me to look straight at the red flag which was posted far on the hill. I could almost feel the nothingness under my feet. My knees had started giving up. At that time, Rich whispered from behind, “Don’t let your brains work coz that aint going to help anymore. Just shut it.” I just took all that into me and just switched off my brains. THREE, TWO, ONE, BUNGEEEE…and I just took off. The minute I was off the platform, I was heading at supersonic speed to the ground. The wind was gushing on my face. And the first bounce and I thought my soul is out of my body. Kept screaming my lungs out as I kept bouncing and tossing in the air. As the energy was released off the cord, I was slowly oscillating in the air with the sky below my feet and the ground over my head. Suddenly everything had just calmed down as I was left suspended into nothingness. The most euphoric feeling which can only be experienced and no words can match to express the feeling. YES! I dived from 300 feet, that’s like from the 30th floor, the highest bungee jump of India.
For me, bungee jump was metaphorical to totally letting go off myself to the unknown, to the Divine, to the Space. And jumping off into the lush green ravine with the river flowing below makes it one of the most magical experiences of my life.
It was one beautiful misty rainy day on the winding roads of Kumaon en route to Kausani, when I first saw her. She stood there tall in her complete rawness by the roadside next to the Kosi River. She held my glance hypnotically till I lost sight of her. I knew I would see her again for sure. And that’s how this love affair began at the very first sight.
In her rustic demeanour, made of stone and wood, Kosi Valley Retreat had a strange spell on me. I kept frequenting to Kumaon almost every season and I was again there on the serpentine lanes from Almora. This time I stopped and decided to explore her. Modest yet intriguing is how she appeared. She was a warm and welcoming host.
The towering ancient trees, enchanting chorus of forest birds, mystical Kosi flowing beside, engulfed in thick forest and dense green foliage gave her an enigmatic character. Cozy bedrooms, homemade pahadi food, a spacious dining area overlooking the river, a still serene pond tempts me to extend my stay every time I am here. Time just freezes when you just sit in the veranda and watching the river flow and the perpetual sound of the flowing river just soothes every nerve.
The ever calming sense breathing the stillness around; the wonder of vibrantly coloured butterflies fluttering around you; the adrenaline rush of walking the tight rope of Burma bridge; the chill shivers while exploring the leopard caves behind the Retreat…she has stirred many an emotions within me.
Simple but exotic is how it is here at KVR. What more luxury could I ask for; I would pick a cozy spot under a tree shade with a book and get lost in the world of words and get pleasantly distracted by the humming of a shy Himalayan bird. I have spent my afternoons collecting colourful pebbles by the Kosi river bank or capturing some vibrantly coloured bug or some wild flower in my lenses.
Have you ever watched a sky full of zillion stars? Sitting by the bonfire and connecting the stars to form the great bear, the dragon in the sky left me in such awe. Felt like a kid on my first visit to the planetarium.
Don’t know when was the last time I had seen bright clear blue sky in Mumbai. It’s always grey, overcast heavy with smog. And here in the Himalayas, you see the masterpiece symphony of colours every dawn and dusk and through the clear sunny day, the clouds playfully form shapes. Everything is so vivid and vibrant and flamboyant.
I have never picked my own veggies for lunch. And boy! What fresh organic veggies grow here! The fragrance, flavours, colours all so rich and real, unlike the sad, lifeless, shrivelled, fertilised, adulterated, hybrid food wrapped in plastics in the urban malls. In fact some of the vegetables I didn’t even know how they looked growing on a tree as for all this while I have seen them lying in heaps on vegetable vendors’ cart. Did you know how fennel (saunf) shrub looks like? Imagine eating your mouth freshener out of a plant. There’s one growing right outside the bungalow.
Even before I realised, KVR had weaved so intricately into my life, I would come to KVR at every event that was happening in my life, be it the worst phase of my life or the best ones; as if I was there to share with her like my most dear companion. She mothered me and wrapped me with her serenity when I lost my dad. Felt safe and secure just being there and sharing my elusive side with her. She was my hideout from the world when I wanted to go soul-searching.
And of course, where else would I have been when I wanted to be all spoilt and pampered when I was pregnant. She coddled me with her lazy ambience, her sumptuous cuisines and the idle pondering rambles and lazing on the grass watching the clouds pass through my second trimester.
And then once my daughter was born, I couldn’t wait to open her to the burst of marvels at KVR. KVR was a world of amazement and discovery and exploration for my tiny one with loads of curiosity. They were the most fun filled days of my life seeing my little tot enjoying her many first timers like her first chills of Kosi River, scrutinizing the smallest of bug, chasing tirelessly the bright blue dragonfly, watching her gleam peek into my palm to see the glow-worm twinkle.
Soon my affinity to her had grown to the level of no return. I would crave to go back; to breathe; to live; to amaze. After my rendezvous with KVR, going back to the urban life has been more and more unbearable. In this aspirational lifestyle of urban world where we insanely, forlornly keep running but head nowhere; where our idea of fun is hanging out in the smoked up pubs, hogging on noxious junk food; breathing fumed up air; having belittled existence amidst the tall grey concrete under the smogged sky is probably a typical urbanite’s way of living.
Once you discover a way of living like KVR where you breathe lungful of fresh air, drink mineral rich sweet water from the flowing river of the melted glacier from the Himalayas, eat wholesome rich pesticide-free organic food, bask in the clear blue sky; it hits you that life you lead in the so-called metro is so colourless and withered. You realise that it’s turned into such a depleting luxury to be amongst nature when ironically these are supposed to be the basic necessities of existence.
This hard hitting truth is what spontaneously made us decide to take KVR into our banner, Walk to Himalayas. And make this luxury a permanent way of living.
And that’s how it’s been with Kosi Valley Retreat; quite an affair; a kaleidoscope of emotions. She made me fall in love with myself. The journey in inward has begun and there is no looking back.
The Swahili word safari means ‘long journey’ and that is what a wildlife safari is. A long journey into the depths of nature, an adventure of exploring and appreciating the world of wilderness.
If you are the one who thrives on holidays with exciting adventurous twist, then let the magic unfold.
It was 2pm in the month of May. One of the hottest weeks of the year. This was my first experience of wilderness escapade.
Anticipation, anxiety and excitement as we get ready to wrap ourselves well to beat the scorching desert heat of the summers. The canter honks outside the resort gate and we jumped in armed with cameras and a sense of adventure to head into the jungle. The road passes through small villages bordering large ponds where the rustic life of the locals is a delight to the eye and the camera.
The first view of the Ranthambore Fort in the distance is breathtaking – perched high up on the edge of the tall cliffs, the ancient walls have withstood the test of time. We passed through an ancient gateway, surrounded by huge trees where langur monkeys lounge. Gigantic stone boulders festooned with the aerial roots of banyan trees give a very Indiana Jones kind of feel to the place, and the possibility of sighting a tiger any minute adds to the excitement.
In some time we overhear our guide talk to our driver that he just heard a Chital deer raise an alarm call, probably because it had sensed a tiger’s presence. The sudden surge of adrenaline rush to see the striped cat is something none of us can ever forget. The excitement was pulled up in speed and so were the gears of the canter.
The grumbles and the polite chitchat ceases, perhaps out of reverence to the royal cat. There is a silence of apprehension and excitement – any moment you might be blessed with a sighting of the enigmatic arrogant beast. You wait with crossed fingers and bated breath. A rustling noise – You almost felt yourself stiffen an uneasy feeling in your stomach. It is a deer with her fawn. Anti-climax and a chorus of disappointed exclamations. Yet, leaving you completely mesmerized. Living next to Pantaloons and Westside, where the only wildlife one gets to see are hoardings of ludicrously dressed models, this is a rare treat indeed and you watch spellbound for several moments.
You see deer and antelope a plenty, the primary food of the parks tigers, plus the ever-abundant langoor monkeys. It isn’t for a few minutes until word came across the radio of a tiger nearby, and so at breakneck speed we barrel off along the dusty game trails. It seems lot like a Disneyland ride, the “Jungle Book” rollercoaster, this rugged cart careening through the forest, tree branches whipping past your face, deer scattering as you pass, and a soundtrack of tiger growls playing in the background.
Your eyes scan every inch of land; you are excited at the prospect of seeing the one thing you are silently praying for. The driver turned the engine off and decided to stalk the stalker. The alarm call had come from about 100 feet to our right and, chances were, the tiger was even closer. We waited there for about 10 minutes but nothing happened. The alarm call had since died off and the Ranthambore jungle felt eerily silent. Just when we were about to give up, we heard a rustling sound from behind us, and out came Machali, this magnificent being with her 2 cubs.
Majesty oozed from the way the tigress walked. One could easily tell that she knew she was the queen of this jungle. For that instant, the tawny eyes staring deep into your very being. You are enraptured, unable to break your gaze, so totally in the moment. You are intensely aware of even a blade of grass moving, of the leaves falling around you, of the wild bird’s call. Yet, she has you enthralled; she is the only focus of your being. Such is the magic of sighting Machali in the Ranthambore National Park.
She gave us a brief look, ignored us as if we were part of the landscape. Then she passed her commanding glance at her cubs to follow her. The playful two follow their majestic reign into the wilderness, leaving us totally surreal, mystical and soul quenched.