Garhwal secret

Garhwal secret

Kanatal finds itself comfortably ensconced in the Garhwal hills. Its idyllic canvas exhibits the majesty of snow-capped Himalayas, emerald fir hills, vibrant floral profusion and spectacular skyscapes, making it a bewitching mountain escape. What adds to its charm is, being a destination completely off the trodden trail.

To be honest, I had never heard of Kanatal; its other lake (or tal) siblings as Nainital, Bhimtal or Naukuchiatal in neighbouring Kumaon having made more of a name and place for themselves in the traveller’s mind. At the suggestion of a friend who’s familiar with all areas unfamiliar in the state, I decided to explore the hamlet. I was to expect no lake there as it had dried years back.

A little cyber browsing for accommodation provided a handful of results, quite to my surprise, and armed with information I charted my plan for a driving holiday. I was travelling from Chandigarh and would need to traverse Haryana and Himachal Pradesh before hitting Uttarakhand by taking the NH 72 that linked Dehradun via Nahan, Paonta Sahib and Herbetpur. Further on it would be a state highway to Mussourie and beyond to reach Kanatal in Tehri Garhwal district.

Land of clouds

These hills are known for playing host to rain anytime and as soon as I reached Dehradun, the gloriously grey skies that had stimulatingly lit up the horizon decided to adding thunder as a soundtrack. A flash of lightening followed and the skies opened. It was no mere shower, it was a downpour and it threatened to be incessant. It was.
By the time I reached Mussourie in the afternoon, the road was hardly visible and the windscreen wipers proved to be inefficient. On the distance map Kanatal was mere 37 km from here. However, the ascend was sharp, the single-lane twisty and the rain added to driving challenges. It took close to three hours to reach at crawling speed. And just as I arrived, as if on cue, the rain stopped!

From among the choices of accommodation, I had chosen Kanatal Resorts and Spa which turned out to be conveniently located on the highway. Post-rain skyscapes are quite stunning in the hills and as I made myself cosy in the balcony, the cottony clouds chose to gallop away letting a beaming sun add glisten to the mist that was gambolling in the hills. As the clouds receded further, the brilliance of dusk lit up the sky. In quick succession tones of auburn-orange, from blazing to demure, began to attire the mountainscape.

With steaming hot coffee in hand and some scrumptious grilled cheese sandwiches to munch on, I soaked in each moment as luminous gave way to twilight that melted into night, which arrived wearing a frosty cloak. It all came enveloped in the sounds of silence and had a tremendously calming affect. My inaugural tryst with Kanatal could not have been more overwhelming.

Next morning the landscape had altered and it felt as if I had slept in one world and woken up in another. The sprucing-up act of rain was vividly on view with the mist having lifted its veil to reveal sparkling green vistas. My eyes, though, were trained at something more stunning in their backdrop: Standing proud as sentinels, were the magnificent snow-capped Himalayas, in particular the Trishul, Chaukhamba and Bunderpuch peaks, seemingly at touching distance. It was the lure of these peaks that had initially drawn me here, and indeed, they turned out to be a sight to behold.

Lasting beauty

It is Kanatal’s altitude (8,500 ft) and its advantageous location at the turn of the hill which allows panoramic views. But what’s a holiday in the hills without the treks and hikes, so after a calorie-conscious breakfast I set off to explore the trails at my own pace, often stopping to catch my breath, at times to sip in its beauty and experience poetic symbolisms up close. As the sun’s mellow glow radiated the environs, each scene seemed a painter’s canvas where even humble grass could have been a muse.

A major attraction closeby was the Surkanda Devi Temple near Dhanaulti, which lies on the route up here. But I gave the goddess a miss and preferred visiting Tehri Dam, the highest rock-fill dam in Asia, about 30 km ahead of Kanatal. My mission, though, got aborted mid-way as a section of the road had caved in and according to locals it wasn’t advisable going forward. I suspected the goddess’ hand in my not making it to the dam. It’s not for nothing that we Indians revere the Lords and are petrified of their wrath!  
Kanatal turned out to be the spot to choose when looking for a weekend getaway — when you are visiting Chandigarh — that’s away from the hustle of a bustling town and yet within close reach of urban flavours, should you want to pack in both experiences.

On my return, I stopped at a Himalayan Weavers, whose signboard I had noticed while driving up. It turned out to be a residence-cum-outlet for the most incredible hand-woven pashmina shawls in naturally dyed shades. The person behind it was a retired economist and his story of preserving a dying craft was as fascinating as his ware on offer. But that tale is for another time.