A ticket to paradise on the hills

A ticket to paradise on the hills

Allure of Almora

A ticket to paradise on the hills

I am standing on the hallowed soil of a hill station that has hosted innumerable distinguished personalities through the decades. A person no less than Swami Vivekananda set his foot here before he undertook his famous journey to Chicago to speak about Hinduism before an audience drawn from all parts of the world. I am in a town with celebrity connection.

The renowned dancer Uday Shankar loved the place and set up his first dance school in the town in 1930s even as world war raged through the world. His nephew, the famous musician Anand Shankar, composed a piece he named Almora. Several prominent leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru, Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, Acharya Narendra Dev were imprisoned in Almora’s jail during the freedom struggle. Sir Ronald Ross, who won the Noble Prize for medicine in 1902, was born at Almora to a British army officer. Rabindranath Tagore chose this town to recoup from the grief caused by the loss of his child.

Bursting with beauty

As I set my foot in the town of Almora, a vibrant rainbow coloured the sky over the valley. It is an omen of good luck, I decide. The town is situated on a bare saddle-shaped ridge between dense forests of fir and pine trees, with a backdrop of the lofty snow-capped peaks of Himalayas. The serenity and beauty of the Kumaoni hill station lulls my city-worn senses like a shot of sedative. With the chilled winds blowing in from the Himalayas and the eyes soaked in green bliss, I stand spellbound with the beauty around me. The rolling green meadows with the meandering river down below and the pine forests rising up like smiling phantoms, it is a blissful holiday for city-weary people like me.

Sauntering idly, I chance upon the Tagore House where Rabindranath Tagore had stayed during his visit to Almora in 1937. It now houses government offices.

The next morning I wake up to catch the miracle at Bright End Corner, known for its views. My heart skips a beat as the first streak of sun hits the city, the sky lights up in an orange glow and the rays bounce off the snow-covered peaks and the clouds begin lifting in a slow motion. My eyes are treated to a symphony of colour and beauty. Sighing with pleasure I make my way to the nearby Ramakrishna Kutir. It is said that Swami Vivekananda made no less than three trips to Almora; once after the passing away of Sri Ramakrishna, again in 1897 when he gave a lecture on the platform right in the middle of the market place. The last time he came was in 1898.

My walk takes me to the heart of the city where I do the ritualistic obeisance at the much-revered Nanda Devi and Narsingha temples. The Nanda Devi Temple was where freedom fighters congregated to hold important meetings during the freedom struggle. The Kumaoni Hills are filled with temples resplendent with hundreds of brass bells and petitions from the devotees. A very British construction greets the eye. It is the post office and the clock tower built much before Independence. An old gentleman narrated his experience of the announcement of Independence being made on the loudspeaker in this very square.

Secrets of the forest

It wouldn’t have been right to end the day without a trek in the forests, so I walk over the bed of pine leaves with no other sound than the crackling of dried leaves under my feet. The experience of silence during the trek through the pine and deodar forests is exhilarating. The magnificent deodar trees house so many colourful birds and squirrels that I continue to loll by them, training the binoculars on the chirping beings. Legend has it that these areas were guarded by tigers to protect people from harming the Deodar trees.

Kosi River beckons me from a distance, but the weary feet can walk no longer and I return to my haven in the town. This time I discover the ‘Kundan House’ where the agricultural scientist Bosi Sen and his wife, a renowned author, Gertrude Emerson, had lived for almost half a century.

Time is running out. My tryst with Almora is fast coming to an end, but the azure skies, mist-filled forests, the terraced fields interspersed by stone slated barrack-like village houses with their vivid blue windows and doors and the distant Himalayas remain etched in my mind.

Fact file

 Reaching There: The nearest airport is at Pantnagar (125 km) and the nearest railhead is Kathgodam (87 km).

 Staying: There are umpteen staying options at Almora. Ramakrishna Kutir is serene and lovely. Deodar Resort, Snow View Resort, Hotel Himsagar and Kalmatia Sangam are some of the other options depending on the depth of your pockets. The cottages at Kalmatia Sangam are expensive but beautifully done up. Also check out the Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam’s Gollu Devta TRH on Mall Road. It has clean and affordable rooms.

 Shopping: The best places for shopping are located in the old bazaar where you can empty your pockets on Almora’s copperware. The other buys to go for are the shawls and woollen jackets and if it is tweed you care for, it is also available. For those with a sweet tooth, a taste of ‘bal mithai’, the local sweet, is recommended.

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