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An Offbeat destination- Exploring like a local

“You could go trekking in the night too. People do that. But you have to be careful as there are leopards in the forest.” Said the chai vaala at the base camp of Dayara Bugyal. If only we had known that we could trek after dark, it would have saved us a day.

Well, we face it every time we visit a new place. No matter how much you read about it, nobody can tell you better than a local would. And we always felt a void between wondering about a lot of things, assuming what they could mean and what they actually meant. So this new year's day, we decided to visit with 'My Local Dost', who have some really offbeat places with some local hosts to make the travelers explore like a local. We only had 2 days with us so the place had to be close to Delhi. We narrowed down our choices to Manila, a little village in the Almora district of Uttarakhand snuggled in the Kumaon region. We were told that we will have a homestay all to ourselves and that the balcony has a view of some prominent peaks like Nanda Devi, Trishul, and Panchachuli. So we set off for the destination on the night of 31st of December on our Bajaj Dominar 400.

The Route from Delhi to Manila, Uttarakhand

Delhi – Moradabad – Kashipur – Ramnagar – Jim Corbett – Mohaan – Marchula – Maulikhal – Manila.

The total distance is 365 km. The roads are good for most of the time but you can find patches due to construction around Moradabad.

As we crossed Ramnagar and entered into Jim Corbett, the roads became beautiful. It was an amazing experience riding through Jim Corbett. You find a dense forest on both sides. It is cold and humid. There are a few streams flowing through the roads too. You are accompanied by the open Safari Jeeps and the road is well kept. Just adhere to the speed limit and do not honk.

Our ride through Jim Corbett we took a decent number of breaks and were late by our expected arrival. We got a call from our host Mr. Ravindra Rawat as we were some 30 km away. It was 5.30 and the dawn had fallen already. We knew that we had missed the jungle walk that our host is known to arrange for his guests which is a thrilling experience on its own. He gave us directions on the call as the place is offbeat and is hard to locate on Google maps. We were following the map for Manila Devi temple but when we realized it’s heading inside a dense forest we called Mr. Rawat for assistance. Realizing that we came a little ahead, we took a U-turn and reached his place.

The Homestay-an abode all to ourselves

It was dark already and the temperature had fallen to 4 degrees. As we got down from our bike, Mr. Rawat with his guy Ballu was waiting for us outside. He called out for me to get in and said that Ballu will help Yaduraj with the bags. I was hesitant in the beginning as we were at a totally strange place with forests all around and only that one house stood in isolation. “Come on, you get in. It’s cold. We will take care of things.” He said again. I looked back, Yaduraj was unfastening the bungees. I thought I would wait, but then the cold drove me against the thought. I followed Mr. Rawat in and entered a dimly lit room. I took off my shoes and he led me up the stairs. He opened the door for me to a room and I saw a lit fireplace in a corner, wooden sofas with colorful throw pillows on it and walls painted in burgundy. I sat down taking my gloves off. Mr. Rawat went out for Yaduraj and asked Ballu to pour me a warm glass of water saying, “Have this, you must be dehydrated”.

We settled near the fireplace and had tea. Mr. Rawat showed us around the house and asked us to take whichever room we liked. We took the one with the balcony that showed the peaks (well that’s what we had gone for). We changed and returned to the fireplace. Mr. Rawat asked if we wanted to have drinks. We agreed. “Would you like to have it in the jungle?” Both of us looked at each other. It was 9.30 pm already. So we asked him if it was okay to go at this time of the night. He answered with great excitement that it was. We were tired but I was very certain that if we go, we will have an amazing memory to look back to. So our host drove us to the forest.

Driving through the dense forest of Manila

We went out and had drinks in the middle of the darkness with headlights on. He told us about his mountain running and some stories about how he ran till the highest motorable road in the world – Khardungla pass. We came back and he took us to the rooftop. We were freezing. But then we looked up and saw a dense sheet of stars right above us. It felt as if we could just extend our hands and pick one. The sky looked so close. We spotted Orion. Our host told us stories of how he chased a jackal with his dog ‘Zara’ the other day. We had dinner which was prepared mostly by locally picked vegetables and spices. We had the famous palm jaggery in the dessert.

Yaduraj obsessing over the local palm jaggery

We were tempted to watch the sunrise and so we slept early, hoping for a clear sky so that we can spot Nanda Devi and the sun rising from behind it. It was 6.30 in the morning and I opened my eyes to the lilac sky that our room overlooked. I jumped out of the blanket and positioned the camera to make a time-lapse. As I did I realized that I came out of the blanket barefoot and wearing only a t-shirt in 2 degrees. But this is what the beauty I witnessed had asked for. Every time a wave of chilly wind flew, it embedded the vision that my eyes saw, deeper in my skin. Like a hammer works on an anvil, shaping something, to beautifully preserve, for years to come.

This window overlooked Nanda Devi peak. Its like a dream come true.

Later in the morning after we witnessed a complete sunrise right in front of some prominent mountain peaks, we had breakfast. Our host led us for a meander to trails around and we went for a little hike. He drove us to some snuggled places that only a local would know.

We went exploring some old houses that remained after the villagers migrated. We sat at the top of a mountain, watching birds and clicking pictures. It was so peaceful that we could clearly hear the pecking sound of a woodpecker.

The remains of the abandoned houses

It was an amazing experience and it was even better because we had our host Mr. Rawat who told us stories all through the way. And his spirit as a mountain runner was so infectious that we just blindly followed him. And he would, at regular intervals look back for us and tell us things like, “Are Quechua ke shoes pahan ke sochna nahin chahiye. Climb up cummon.” So yes, thanking My Local Dost and our coolest host Mr. Rawat, we close this blog looking forward to visiting him again and other such amazing hosts more often.

“There are books that people heartily placed in exchange for other books”

A happy journey on its closure All the pictures are taken originally by us with Nikon D3300 fitted with a Tamron 70-300mm zoom lens. For a few shots, a tripod was used too.