The shimmering greenery in and around the serene town of Bhimtal will turn frowns into smiles and take your breath away. A million stars over my head or perhaps a zillion and I kept looking up, speechless at the glory of the night. It was a spectacular sight to behold—the clear sky, the shining web of stars lighting up the dark road with their silver glitter and only a group of six to witness this beauty.
We were on the road going towards the village of Jungalia from Bhimtal in Uttarakhand. The hills were silent and little lights shone in some places, twinkling like the stars. “Look at that star blazing its way,” softly pointed out my guide and host Bindu Sethi. Then she pointed out the Orion and the crystal rim of the moon. This spot, where Nature remained pristine and untouchable, was about 8km from Fishermen’s Lodge, where I had a pampered two-day stay. If you are lucky, you can see an odd fox or leopard on this road, Bindu informed. But we were not so lucky.
A little below was the turn to Naukuchiyatal, the lake with nine corners, for which we would need to come when the sun was still shining. Bhima tal (Bhima being the strongest Pandava and tal means lake) changes colour every second—from all shades of green to all shades of blue. There is an island in the centre with a restaurant. Legend has it that Bhimawas enamoured by Hidimbi, a demoness. Her angry brother fought with Bhima and lost. Weary, Bhima wanted to wash himself and a spring of water spouted out (now the lake).
The hills were silent. We went for an hour-long boat ride, taking a full round of the lake with ducks waddling by our side. The fish weren’t visible in the cold water in the evening. But Bindu informed that one could fish in the lake after getting permission from the government. And if you have a keen eye, you’ll spot some pretty birds too; the area is known as a bird watchers’ paradise.
Bindu believes in quality in all ways. On arrival, I was treated to a glass of white wine on a deck full of flowers. Then we had a sumptuous meal of uncountable dishes and the heavenly carrot cake for dessert. The food was light, well prepared and simply delicious. Bindu has great cooks and you can savour continental or Indian dishes or just gorge on the snacks.
About five minutes walk from the Lodge is the famous Bhimeshwar Mahadev Temple, along the 40 feet high dam. This is where Bhima worshipped Lord Shiva during the banishment of the Pandavas. The present temple was built in the 17th century by Baz Bahadur (1638-78 AD), a king of the Chand dynasty, and the Raja of Kumaon. There is a terraced garden at the back. The city, which is older than Nainital, was probably a part of the famous ancient silk route. The old pedestrian road is still in use. Then Bhimtal came under British rule after the Anglo-Nepalese War (1814-16). The next day we drove to Sattal (cluster of seven lakes), crossing pine and oak trees. There is a ‘Christian Ashram’, that’s what the sign board said, in this area since 1937.We stopped at a clearing and walked through the forest to see the emerald beauties,which we had glimpsed on our drive in the mountains—Pannatal (Panna is emerald). Majestic, magical, magnificent, I couldn’t believe such a place, which I had only seen in fairy tales, actually existed on earth. No sound, no sign of humans, just our feet disturbing the leaves on the ground and there was the shimmering green water.
High up, where the mountains stood tall, was a white cross. And on the opposite side were the pews of concrete. A sign said ‘please use this place only for meditation and prayer’. Awed by the sheer beauty, I felt I was in paradise. We walked through a narrow path, the dry leaves crushing under our feet, reaching the buildings where the missionaries stay and got a bird’s eye view of the other lakes—Nal Damyanti, Ram Lakshman, Sita, Hanuman. Then trekked back to the awesome emerald water, sat there reveling in this mystical communion with Nature; cycled in the forest clearing and rediscovered the simple pleasures of childhood. Floored by the heavens, I came back with dreams in my eyes and magical moments in my heart.
GETTING THERE: Bhimtal is 4,450 feet above sea level, built around a lake. It is 22km from Nainital and 340km from Delhi, where the nearest airport is located. The nearest railway station is 22km away at Kathgodam.
PLACES TO SEE: Garg Parvat, which is the source of river Gargi. Hidimba Parvat. It is now a wildlife sanctuary known as Vankhandi Ashram. The hill of Karkotaka is named after a mythical cobra, where the famous snake temple is situated.
CLOTHING: Summer: Cotton/light woollen; Winter: Heavy woollen
Text by Ambica Gulati