The one thing you need after a strenuous bout of exams, is a break and that is all one can think about. My friends and I were desperate to get away from the stress of being a student in Delhi, if only for a weekend. We knew most mainstream tourist places would be jam packed and after a lot of to and fro we picked our target destination – Bhimtal, a small town named after the lake it is a home to. The most important factor being how convenient it would be for a weekend getaway. We wanted to arrive early so we set off post dinner in a car taking NH 24 and NH 87.
Anyone who has been on this route knows how bumpy and back breaking it gets after a point. There are plenty of dhabas along the way where we would stop for a rest, refuel and take a break from the road! It was roughly around a 6-hour drive from Delhi to Bhimtal. The road as well as the scenery improved as we climbed higher in altitude. The lush green hills with the occasional terrace-farming fields interspersed with rivulets was a sight to behold. We passed the Bhimtal lake in the early morning light as we drove to the hotel.
The lake is nestled between the hills and the morning sun rays bouncing off the large expanse of lightly rippling water made us want to stand still. We wanted to check into the hotel and get out almost immediately because the sight of the lake had surely ensured swift dissipation of any sleepiness. Though a guide is not strictly recommended, we wanted to explore a little more than just touristy spots and hence got ourselves acquainted with one.
The first thing to do was to go boating in the lake or the ‘taal’. We rented out a boat with an oarsman and set out in a small, simple wooden boat. Our guide joined us and while we were rowed around the peaceful lake, he told us about the town’s history and how Bhimtal was named after Bhima of the Mahabharata. Bhimeshwara Mahadev Temple, an old Shiva temple built by Bhīma during the vanvas of the Pandavas, was not too far from our current location. He said the town was older than Nainital, which is just around 150 years old. Bhimtal has been a stoppage for the travellers going from the hill region to the plains and vice versa for a long long time. Our guide suggested we might enjoy a trip to his village and was a little surprised when we consented and seemed excited. We wanted to see Kumaoni culture up close and what better to do than go to a native person’s home! We went along with him to his village, Pastola, a few kilometers away.
The beautiful village was a delight in itself. We were greeted by some sort of art on the floor and walls which was similar to ‘Rangoli’ but more intricate and with rice paste. We were told it’s called ‘Aipan’, a symbol of fertility and also to ward off evil. The village was a myriad of colours with brick red to yellow of corn cobs drying on the roofs. The women were jovial and were dressed in a long skirt called a ‘ghagri’, a blouse called ‘choli’ and an ‘odhni’. Everyone was warm and welcoming.
Kumaoni food is very simple and highly nutritious to help survive in the harsh mountain winter cold. We were treated to aloo ke gutke- potato wedges sautéed with whole coriander & cumin seeds with other spices in mustard oil. Eaten with mandua ki roti- tawa roti made of finger millet and served with ghee. To our famished stomachs, it felt like a feast! Even though our hosts spoke in broken Hindi, we were made to feel more than welcome and almost like the guests of honour.
It was a wholesome experience. Moreover, it was the hospitality of the warm and generous people of the hills that really fed our spirits.