Sunday 28 December 2014

The Ramgarh Bungalows: A Perfect Retreat

A rare decision, unsure days leading up to it, a nervous few moments - all of this ended up with Tina & I finding ourselves in the lap of quiet & blissful nature. Our last hill-destination holiday was in Jan '07...since then we never came around holidaying in hills, until 2 weeks ago when the idea came to us once again.

One major reason for avoiding hills was sheer commercialization at places such as: Shimla, Nainital, Mussoorie...However, this year - Tina found a perfect retreat for us - The Ramgarh Bungalows (a Neemrana property). Nestled peacefully away from maddening crowds of Nainital - at a driving distance (approx. 340 kms from Delhi) and promising the best of comfort along with experience of pure nature!

Until a week before our travel date (25th Dec), it was snowing hard in & around Ramgarh. Roads were blocked and we were told to wait until 23rd Dec before making any further plans. At the same time, we were comforted by weather forecast - it was supposed to get clear & sunny soon...and it did.

We started early on 25th morning, in order to reach our destination well before evening hours - we figured, what-ever the roads & weather had to offer, it would be easier to manage during day time.

The quality of road all through was decent to good - patches of broken road & pot-holes were definitely encountered, but overall the drive wasn't bad. With 20 minute breakfast break at Gajraula, a refueling halt and snow on both sides for last 5 kms of hilly road - we still managed to reach our destination in a little over 7 hours.

Unlike all other properties that we have been to - this was 5th Neemrana property that Tina & I were visiting, The Ramgarh Bungalows is quite unique. This property comprises of different cottages, each at a different height and most surprisingly, not in the same complex / area owned by the property.

(Image courtesy: The Ramgarh Bungalows' website)

This picture is the best to explain the above mentioned uniqueness - the green roof building in left of the picture is the oldest building, where they have their reception, kitchen, driver's dorm & also 3 cottages (Old Bungalow, Rose Cottage & Vista Villa). Move to the right, past small walkways & shops, is the Writer's Bungalow (red roof) - a 2 room, quaint cottage. Further to the right and 500mts. of steep climb, comes the most exotic, 4 room cottage - Ashok Vatika (green roof). Lastly, the red roof building on the right most of this picture is known as Cliff House.

Tina & I stayed in Yellow room (Ashok Vatika). Breakfast & dinner is served here - but for lunch, one needs to go down all the way to the Old Bungalow & then climb up. It may not sound much - but 500mts. of steep climb was a challenge and in our 3 attempts, we never managed the entire climb without a breather-break. I think this is part of the charm, part of the experience that no other place offers (Glass House on the Ganges has similar distances, but not steep climbs).

Day 1 was spent soaking in the the place - letting the freshness & purity get rid of our journey's tiredness. Hot coffee & vegetable pakoras for snacks was just the thing we needed to re-energise ourselves. Though the sky was cloudy, but the cloud-cover too was unique. 

I just sat there looking & admiring the sky for sometime - living in Delhi, there are a few things that we forget completely - vastness of sky & freshness of air. Both of these were abundantly available for us and I made the most of this opportunity. Evening was spent around a small bonfire, making friends with another couple.

Service staff needs special mention here - post dinner, they suggested we use hot water bottles to warm our beds. With temperatures going below 0 degrees, it was definitely cold. The multi-layers of blanket & quilt, along with room heater, would have been insufficient had the hot water bottles not been placed in our beds well before we settled in to sleep.

Time between retiring to our room and finally getting into bed is a bit boring. There is absolutely nothing to do (surely, you don't go that far to watch television - though there is one in the common area). Tina decided to get on with her book-reading, while I sat down to write. The few hours' experience of a fresh & peaceful place was inspiring enough. I managed to strengthen some of the ideas floating in my mind, give them a rough shape, something that can be built up on easily.

We woke up early the next day - to a clear blue sky & brightly shining Sun. After breakfast with new friends made the previous evening, Tina and I were ready to try one of the suggested walking trails. 

The shortest trail was 45 minutes one-way (from the Old Bungalow). Both of us realised that for city-dwellers like us - walking 90 minutes, on such terrain isn't possible. We decided to remove any objective / destination from our trail walk (reaching streams / rivers / orchards are some of the trail-end objectives). We decided to walk for 20 minutes downhill - so that we were left with enough energy to walk back (uphill!).

Most of the trail was cemented walkway - some parts were 'kucha' road. The view of hills, greenery and clear blue sky was breath-taking. More-over, it was absolutely quiet. We stopped at times, not to take a breather, rather to try & hear something...even if that sound was distant. No vehicles, no humans and no animals around - made this walkway clean & peaceful. It was clean enough for us to sit in the middle, or lie down if we so wished to.

We returned to our cottage (Ashok Vatika), post lunch and realised Sun wouldn't be brightly shining for long. It was a no-brainer, to sit outside and get as much reading (for Tina) and writing (for me) to achieve.

Though I too had a book to read - but the atmosphere was such that I couldn't soak in everything this place was offering along with what my book had to. Instead, I felt a strong inspiration to write.

With time passing, sun about to set, temperature started to fall and wind became chillier. Tina went inside, giving up the pleasures of open spaces, giving in to the falling temperature. One can wear adequate layers to protect oneself from cold temperatures - which would include gloves to keep fingers & hands covered. But - I was on a writing spree (actual paper & pen writing), I couldn't wear gloves...neither could I get up, go inside and lose my inspiration. 

Since I had already given a rough shape to my ideas, it was all the more a reason for me to want to sit & write. I had 2 strong ideas at the time...and the location inspired me to pen down a small poem for my beloved. The next three posts on my blog have been written there. I can't remember the last time that I wrote as much...all thanks to the perfect setting there.

Sun had set behind the hills by now, but was still active - colours in the sky were truly mesmerizing. Day 2 ended with a lot achieved.

Day 3 was the day of our return. Once again we started early - once again we had a bright sunny morning. I finally decided to read up the last 30-40 pages of my book (quite an appropriate locale to read up about Yogis & Yoginis and the magical-sounding world of saints - 'Autobiography of a Yogi').

The Ramgarh Bungalows has a small jam factory - which sells jams to all other Neemrana properties and guests could purchase as well, choosing from a wide variety of options. Tina picked up two - and that was the end of our refreshing, re-energising, inspiring & extremely comfortable stay at the Ramgarh Bungalows.

This post will be incomplete if I don't mention that all meals were excellent - ranging from local cuisine to international as well. Staff is well trained, helpful & exceptionally courteous. I think such high standard of food & staff runs common across all Neemrana properties.

Now I am back in Delhi, it is half past three in the morning - but my experience of The Ramgarh Bungalows has been such a superior one that I couldn't wait for morning to put this post out!

You could click here to see a snapshot of our stay & the fun we had.

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