Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A few inches away from heaven..... (My review of The Binsar Retreat on

Life is defined not by the number of breaths you have inhaled but by the number of moments which have taken your breath away
The Binsar Retreat nestled in the midst of The Binsar Sanctuary gives you an ample opportunity to measure your life in a true manner. Binsar had always been on my mind and one must appreciate Club Mahindra’s efforts to increase the awareness of Binsar as a preferred hill station in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand. So having zeroed down on Binsar for our longest stay at any place as tourists, it was important for me to select the place which will make the most of it. Few wonderful minds would already have started pondering and should have come to conclusions for MAKING MOST OF IT like 7 course meals, a small theatre with ‘n’ number of Hollywood and Bollywood flicks, clean swimming pools, Jacuzzi, gymnasium, discotheque and the list goes on. For these minds, we actually have all these things available in our cities (if you happen to be from big city) and what’s the point in living the same life if you want to run away. Ahh, did I forget to mention about carrying the laptops and blackberries and cringing about not able to finish the office work on vacation! GET LOST!
Well, that’s how The Binsar Retreat defines your experience in its resort! COME AND GET LOST! The GET LOST here is a milder version and talks about the experience while the conclusion of earlier paragraph by me was instructive and rude  ! So for a person like me who is madly in love of nature and its beauty, it was not a difficult choice to make. Reviews by the fellow tourists on, The November 2011 issue of The Lonely Planet magazine, a failed attempt to sneak into insipid Club Mahindra Resort prompted me to finalize The Binsar Retreat as my preferred stay in Binsar and booked four nights. I was lucky to get the most in-demand Tent No.1 (check the November 2011 issue of the Lonely Planet) from where you can get the awesome view of the jungle and the snow peaks of Himalayas. Heartfelt thanks to Mr. Mahendra Singh Rana, the manager of The Binsar Retreat for allotting me this tent.
After we had left from the beautiful Kausani with slightly sunken hearts due to no-show by the Himalayan snow peaks, we had kept our fingers crossed for Binsar. The snow peaks are normally not visible in the summer due to clouds as well as smoke on account of forest fires (both manmade and natural…..what’s that?.....I guess it’s mostly man-made!) So it is unfair to blame it on snow peaks for their no-show as they are always visible but you need the vision to see them. This can be applied to life also. There snow peaks, there are clouds and there is vision. Wise minds must have understood and the not-so-wise minds must be grinning over the fact that they have not understood.
The grazing area of barking deers
So, the Binsar Retreat is situated atop a hill and is probably the nearest to be at the epicentre of the wildlife sanctuary. You would wonder at the use of the word ‘epicentre’ which is generally used for describing seismic actions but when I couldn’t resist if your civil life is about to be turned upside down. It is no less than a ‘good’ earthquake!  From the entry gates of the Binsar Sanctuary, it took us good 20-25 minutes to reach the ‘parking zone’ of The Binsar Retreat. The road is tricky inside the sanctuary and two big SUVs coming opposite may lead to a massive traffic jam (another civil phenomenon) inside the sanctuary  The parking zone is the convergence point of The Binsar Retreat and another resort, Grand Oak Manor! The beautiful Binsareshwar Mahadev temple is visible and is at a walking distance from this point! Make it a point to visit this temple if you love clean temples. Also check the well in the nearby area with eternal source of mountain water.
So at the parking zone, we parked our car. It was only our car in the parking zone technically indicating that we were the only guests at the Binsar Retreat. A Mahindra 4X4 pick-up truck was waiting for us to shuttle us to the resort. The road to the resort is not for the faint-hearted and kudos to Mohan, the Kumaoni version of Michael Schumacher (or Jenson Button or Lewis Hamilton etc etc) who aptly drove the truck and made it a success story to reach the entrance of The Binsar Retreat. We walked on the dusty path shadowed by the dense forestation to reach the reception area of the resort. Refreshing glasses of the sparkling ruby red drink, Buransh (Rhododendron Juice) were waiting for us. Unfortunately, it was not the season of Rhododendron bloom otherwise we would have been astonished by the sheer site of red rhododendrons surrounding the resort.
Reception Area, The Binsar Retreat
The reception area is simple but classy. Cane furniture inside the room with enough amount of books in the shelf makes it an ideal place after the lunch if you are not in the mood of siesta. We headed towards our tent and I actually felt like marking the places to come back to reception. The resort sprawls in the huge area (which I couldn’t measure) and it is actually a hearty walk if you are strolling around within the resort itself.
When we reached our tent (the famous Tent No.1), the first thing which came from my heart (and not actually from my mouth) is “Oh My God” – Remember Farhan Akhtar exclaiming after seeing the red car in the parking lot in ZNMD?

Our Tent, Tent No.1, The Binsar Retreat
Our tent was situated at one end of the resort giving an unrestricted view of the green jungle and the hills. It was just quiet. What I could hear was some bird chirping in the forest beneath or my own breath when me and my wife were silent. I actually took some time get in sync with that amazing peacefulness which is absolutely extinct in our civil lives. We turned lucky the next morning itself with the Himalayan snow peaks like Trishul and Nandadevi becoming clearly visible in the morning. It was just the matter of opening the tent and they are visible. They are so grand and beautiful that you can actually watch them for hours. We keep on worrying about so many trivial things in life and somehow miss the grandness of the world. The Himalaya reminds you this fact. Enchantingly Beautiful! This is called as luxury and it doesn’t come from 7 course meals or discotheques or movie theatres!

The ‘View Point’ which is the highest point in the resort (Mind you, the resort itself is situated at 7500 feet above sea level!) gives a fantastic 360 degree view of the sanctuary and further stretches to the horizon. It is the best place to have your evening tea especially if you are accompanied by Mr. Mahendra Singh Rana, the manager of the resort or Mr. Prashant Singh Bisht, the owner of the resort! We were privileged to have the company of both of them while watching the brilliant sunset over a refreshing glass on lemon tea. The view point is also the best place to explore some wild life of Binsar sanctuary which normally leads a covert life. Everyday we spotted the barking deers which come to graze in the greenery after the sunset. They actually gave us goose bumps on the first night  as they kept on making the typical sound in the night and was actually breaking the calmness.

Low visibility of Himalayan Peaks
The wildlife sanctuary is known for the variety of birds residing and could be regarded as an ornithologist’s haven. The main animals are the barking deers, the mountain goats (Ghural as they are known locally) and the most evasive and most sought after animal, the leopard. The resort also arranges a jungle trek with a local guide. Our guide was Hemu Upadhyaya whose village was situated in the sanctuary and was aware about every nuke and corner of the sanctuary. We managed to have hearty jungle walk as well as trek and saw the Himalayan peaks like Trishul, Nandadevi, Nandaghunti, Dangthal and Panchachuli from the ‘Zero Point’. Since we started our walk slightly late (by 9 AM), we couldn’t spot too many birds and the condition was further exacerbated by the forest fire which has eaten up their habitats. So it is recommended to set off early in the morning for curious bird watching. You are guaranteed to spot barking deers and mountain goats on any day. I can’t guarantee that for leopards. We spotted its pugmarks as well as errr.. droppings but not the leopard itself. Generally, it is said that the big cats see you more than 20 times before they are visible to you. I suspect we were not visible to the cat for more than 20 times during our stay and hence, couldn’t spot the beautiful animal

And I forgot to mention the most important part of the Binsar Retreat (or in general for all the resorts situated inside the sanctuary). The Binsar retreat is an eco lodge which means it respects nature. There is no electricity available inside the sanctuary and hence no TV, fridge, AC, bulbs, tubes, playstation etc etc. So the day may look good but the evening turns out to be more thrilling. We were accompanied by 2 kerosene lanterns kept in the porch of our tent and had a solar rechargeable light inside the tent and a solar lantern. The sight of fire (though in the flame format) and the smell kerosene is enough to fend off the wild animals. But this reason was not convincing for us and I actually was awake for a long time on the first night of our stay trying to capture every sound around my tent  But the other days were fine and I had a very sound sleep for all the nights. After sunset, the footpaths are illuminated by solar lights to make the environment less challenging.

As I mentioned that there is no electricity means there is no fridge means there is no storage means what you eat is freshly cooked! Rameshji, the head chef with apt instructions from Mr. Rana keeps on dishing out wonderful stuff all the time in your platter. The food is never heavy on spices and hence, very friendly with your guts. But still the traditional cooking makes it a delicious affair. The morning starts with hot cups of tea at your place or at the view point. It is followed my sumptuous spread for breakfast like paranthas, toasts, Kumaoni jams (plum, apricot etc etc), macroni, baked beans. What a beginning! Rameshji’s culinary skills are impressive and he’s ably helped by all the staff of the resort. We were so impressed by his cooking style that my wife has taken his phone number and wishes to call him whenever we are cooking food in Kumaoni style.

It is not only the place but the people who make your stay most memorable. I can vouch for the staff of The Binsar Retreat. This is the best staff I have even come across during my stay anywhere till date. Led by the very friendly and approachable, Mr. Mahendra Singh Rana, the staff is a big asset of this resort. We spent a lot of time having conversation with Mr. Rana over sunset. He takes utmost care of all his guests. I really appreciate his skills. I believe he should be called as a CEO of Resort than manager. It is certainly difficult to manage a resort in the midst of jungle and yet provide all the comfort. Salute to the vision of Mr. Prashant Singh, the garrulous (this is an apt word used by one of the fellow tourists and I couldn’t find a replacement to it!) owner of this wonderful resort. We also spent a good time talking to him about his adventures about going solo on bike in Ladakh, going to Man Sarovar and many of his adventurous trips across India. My aspiration to make such adventurous trips is being fuelled by such kind of individuals and their stories! The description is not complete without mentioning Mr. Rana’s man Friday, Ravi. Probably the youngest amongst staff, he’s always on his toes so that you have the best experience at Binsar Retreat. He’ll be the first person to say Good Morning to you with the kettle of hot beverage, he’ll serve you the food when you are in the dinig room, he’ll welcome you in the resort with the refreshing glasses of Buransh, he’ll bring you maggi and veg pakoras when you feel tha pang in your stomach and he’ll accompany you in the night to you tent if you are scared of the dark!

We had an experience of life time at The Binsar Retreat. Plucking the plums and apricots from trees, appreciating the beauty of the wonderful flowers, staring directly at the barking deers, appreciating the Himalaya for hours, sweating our way through the jungles! Life couldn’t get better than this. We were probably few inches away from heaven itself

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