Parking our car in a clearing at the forest’s edge, we walked along a roughly paved cliff-hugging pathway to reach Binsar Forest Retreat. The homestay has an enviable location on a secluded ridge inside Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary, in Uttarakhand’s Almora district. The property features a collection of wood and stone cottages with gently sloping slate roofs. All of them overlook a sweeping panorama of the Kumaon Himalayas that includes the perennially snow-capped peaks of Trishul, Nanda Devi, Sunanda Devi, Panchachuli, and Nanda Kot.
Because the retreat is built on land that belonged to a Major Edin during the Raj era, it is locally known as Edinpur. In all likelihood the area was his hunting ground as tigers roamed freely right until the 1920s. Now the forest is a protected reserve with a variety of flora, avian life, and a sizeable population of deer, wild boar, and fox. Preetam and Pallavi, who own the property with Delhi restaurateur Rajesh Ojha, are wildlife enthusiasts. They live on-site, imbuing the place with the warmth of home while ensuring it follows green practices. Besides the location, it was this emphasis on sustainability that appealed to me. The property runs entirely on electricity generated from solar panels. Geysers are solar powered, indoor lights are energy efficient LEDs, and solar lamps light outdoor paths. An added plus is that there are no transmission lines to mar the mountain views.
During my stay, my favourite spot at the property became its magnificent terrace. I sat there reading and basking in the sun, enjoying mid-afternoon G&Ts. In the evening, it was the perfect place to watch the sun go down. The sky transformed into a riot of colours, especially when there were clouds. Sometimes, a group of circling Himalayan griffon vultures added to the drama. Meals at the retreat are fresh and feature local produce. Breakfasts for instance included millet porridge, farm-fresh eggs, and home-baked bread. The daily all-vegetarian set menu, a mix of local Kumaoni cuisine and continental fare, is written out on a blackboard in the dining room.
I enjoyed hearty meals and memorable dishes like ragi pancakes, mushroom and corn casserole, local wild spinach with cottage cheese, and gakat kidal, alocai Kumaoni lentil stew. Many walking trails lead into Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary. I loved the two-hour Ghoralkot Walk, an easy path suitable for all age groups and fitness levels. Though the trail includes a steady uphill slog for about 90 minutes, the sight of snow-capped views through oak and rhododendron forests more than makes up for it. At a viewing platform near the halfway mark, my eyes feasted on close-up views of stunning Himalayan peaks from Nanda Ghunti to Panchachuli.