The hot, dry Delhi air slapped against our faces, making us yearn for some respite. All we wanted was cool air, serene green surroundings, and soothing bird calls. Research on the internet threw up a name that fit the bill – Binsar, in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand.
Another click helped us zero in on this Himalayan hill destination, and described it as “beautiful, quiet and wild…with rich natural surroundings among dense forests.” The sanctuary, set up in 1988, is a protected area with thick oak forests, and is said to have 200 bird species. Perched atop the Jhandi Dhar hills, 33 km north of Almora town, Binsar is said to have been the summer capital of the Chand Kings, who ruled over Kumaon from the 11th to 18th Century AD.
Click after click led us to sites with similar jargon: Alpine flora, ferns, hanging moss and species of wild flowers”, and, wait for it, “the majestic view of the Himalayas – a 300 km stretch of snow peaks”.
Leaving behind the sweltering heat, power cuts and acute water scarcity, we took off for Binsar, daydreaming about all that we had read and heard. Never mind that our vacation budget was shot to ribbons, thanks to inflation and rising petrol prices – Binsar, here we come!
But the pleasure was short-lived. As soon as we emerged from the the air-conditioned comfort of the Shatabdi Express at Kathgodam station, a rush of hot air hit us square in the face. “No worries, we will soon be in cooler climes,” we consoled ourselves, as we got into a cab. We had been told that “the drive from Kathgodam via Bhimtal, Bhowali and Almora is beautiful”.
Alas, the drive to Binsar was hot, dry and dusty, and lined with denuded hills, looking as if like someone had peeled away their green cover, leaving behind brown scab. The acrid smell of burning pine needles rudely jerked us out of dreams of pristine green environs. “Forest fires are raging in these hills. This year is particularly bad, as there are no rains to douse the fires,” said the local cabbie.
Sensing our discomfort, the cabbie began to blame politicians for the sorry state of the hills. “The local leaders of the BJP and Congress couldn’t care less. Look at Himachal and Kashmir – stiff laws on land acquisition by outsiders have saved them. But in Uttarakhand, land has been bought by all and sundry to set up industry, hotels, resorts…nobody seems to be bothered about the environment or the people living here,” he said, pointing to plastic packets and bottles that litter a small ravine on the winding road.
Another eyesore awaited us – serpentine queues of LPG cylinders, even in places such as Almora and Bhimtal. “People wait for two to three hours daily for the delivery truck to arrive,” the cabbie informed us.
Dried rivulets, brown pine trees and shrubs, and hot gusts of wind lined the route to a village close to Binsar. As we walked into our hotel room – exhausted by the dust and disappointment – we spotted ceiling fans running, and desert coolers placed in strategic corners. So much for our flight from Delhi’s heat!
In the evening, a cool breeze wafted through the valley, offering some solace. Only the thought that Delhi was engulfed by a worse heat wave made us feel a bit – a little bit – better.
Src: Business Line