Have you been to Ranikhet in Uttarakhand? Couple of hours drive from Nainital at an altitude of almost 2,000 meters above sea level lies the enchanting old town of Ranikhet or the ‘queen’s land’. The hill town was founded in the 19th century by the British primarily as an escape from the heat of the Indian plains and also as a recruitment center for the Kumaon Regiment of the Indian Army.
Ranikhet’s nature trails
Today, the town has expanded significantly (including a nine hole golf course) with the eastern part of the town (main bazar) looking out at the snow clad Himalayan peaks on a clear day and the western part of the town where the Indian Army resides (called the Cantonment) – abundant in forest cover, minimal traffic with only colonial bungalows and lodges. Ranikhet is a perfect place to retreat to if you are in search of an uncrowded destination that is pedestrian friendly and quiet compared to other towns in the Himalayan foothills.
Getting to Ranikhet takes a bit longer than it does to Nainital, therefore if you plan to visit keep aside at least two days just as travel time. There are a couple of trains from Delhi that bring you to Kathgodam train station from where we can arrange a taxi to Ranikhet which takes approximately three hours. The journey to Ranikhet is scenic and the roads are good. If you hire a private taxi, you can stop at multiple places enroute to soak in the views and take photos (our favourite is the route from Kaichi dham temple to Ranikhet), get piping hot chai, eat freshly roasted corn on the cob and fresh fruits from the orchards.
A colonial bungalow now operating as a heritage lodge
If you are looking for a place to stay, we can recommend hotels and lodges although staying in the Cantonment in one of the heritage lodges is our preferred choice. Some of the 200+ year old bungalows built by the British have been converted in to heritage hotels and still maintain their colonial architectural look and feel.
Other than the heritage resorts in the Cantonment, the area has retained most of it’s forest cover and there is barely any new construction. The roads and nature trails are clearly marked and are clean unlike those in the main bazar. Ranikhet especially the Cantonment is a haven for nature lovers and wildlife enthusiasts. There are plenty of nature trails in the Cantonment that one can walk and birding is brilliant all year round. If you are lucky you may even spot a leopard, sambar deer or barking deer. The wild Kalij pheasant is abundant as chickens are to a farmhouse. We can also arranged guided walks to villages around Ranikhet if you are keen to explore local Kumaoni lifestyle and traditions.
Chaubatia Garden and Orchards
A visit to Chaubatia garden and orchard is highly recommended. There are guides who can take you to different trails including a trek to Bhalu dam which is about three kilometers from Chaubatia entry point. Bhalu dam is an artificial reservoir that was built as a water source for the soldiers back in 1903.
Chaubatia has a beautiful flower garden that attracts several butterflies and birds. Adjoining the garden is a fruit orchard and depending on the time of the year you visit, you may see apples, apricots and peach trees. For those of you keen to buy locally made products, a visit to Kumaon Regimental Center (KRC) Woollens (a community driven project) is highly recommended. KRC Woollens is located in an old church in the Cantonment and sources products made by villagers and local shops of Kumaon. Here you can purchase not only clothes but also organic honey, tea, spices, cosmetics and pulses.
Hiking in Chaubatia Ranikhet
A visit to the nearby KRC Museum is also a must. A 30 minute guided tour by a retired soldier is very interesting as he narrates the story and history behind the artifacts on display and talks about brave soldiers of the Kumaon Regiment who fought and gave up their lives defending the nation, both pre and post independence. You are not allowed to take any photographs with your cameras or cell phones.
As such, Ranikhet is a great alternative for those of you seeking solitude and open green spaces. Because it takes longer to get to it doesnt draw the madness that the hills witness in the summer months. Please feel free to contact us if after reading this, you get inspired to visit Ranikhet.