No matter how far we go, there are a few sights that give our life a direction. They become a part of our memory and sometimes, our waking dream.
I’ll call my dream, Binsar.
This was my second time in Uttarakhand’s Kumaon mountain town of Binsar but it felt like a first time. It was the first time in a long time I saw undulated layers of green. This travel to meet friends actualised after many misses. It was the first time I heard silence speak. It was the first time I unlearned to relearn the power of endurance.
Of forests and beings
Before I arrived in Binsar, I travelled through the villages of Deora and Shaukiyathal. While hiking from Deora to Shaukiyathal, my guide, Harish, constantly pointed out Tree of Life Grand Oak Manor to me. Perched atop a green mountain, the forest surrounding the yellow house caught my eye constantly.
When I arrived at Grand Oak Manor, we (the forest and I) took our time to get acquainted. Easy turns, ageless oak and majestic deodar, wordless wind and rhythmic crushing of dried leaves filled our conversations. Occasional insights from the blue rock thrush or asian paradise flycatcher were also welcomed, though we found solace in our company of two.
It was only on my second day when our relationship deepened.
A friend was leading a Healing Forest walk in Binsar (from Nainital) and I joined the group of seven for a half day walk. Our three-hour silent walk was divided into three 30-minute slots and we engaged in various activities that introduced me a new way of experiencing the forests.
During the steep trail from ancient Shiv temple to Dak Bungalow, I learnt to tread gently on the shaded trail. Before we resumed our second segment, we were asked to collect natural aromatic ingredients from the forest and put up a perfume shop of sorts, with an assigned co-owner. And before I left the walk to return to Grand Oak Manor, I spent the last minutes trying to identify myself with an element of the forest—not before listening to what others in the group wanted to be that day.
And when I did return to the bungalow, my heart was where I had left it. Somewhere below Mary Budden estate and on Jhandi Dhar-Binsar Sanctuary Road.
Why did this happen? After all it was not the first time I had walked into a forest. Perhaps this time it was the channelling—to become one with it, to understand that our collective experiences as different beings brought us together and to allow nature to heal, any bruises we may have had.
Of history and sustainability
Grand Oak Manor Binsar dates back to 1860s. Henry Ramsay was the Commissioner of Kumaon in 1856. It is believed that it took him 10 years to find his personal estate and when he did, he chose a property atop Binsar at a vantage point. In 1866 he bought the land where Grand Oak Manor now stands.
After changing many hands in the British military, the first Indian owner was Devi Lal Gangola. His great grandson, Sindhu Gangola takes care of his delicate home with grace.
To familiarise myself with the house, I walked around and found my corner in the sunlit Sunset Lounge. Glowing by the setting sun, the balcony overlooked an open space bordered by my favourite deodar. The following days I spent hours in this space reading—sometimes indoor, other times outdoor but always by deodar on my side.
The heritage home runs on solar power. Since Binsar thrives on limited sources of water, they also harvest rainwater and judiciously use it. A long walk away, the earth of the estate grows cabbage, green peas, artichoke, Brussels sprouts, mustard, garlic and many others. It also supports plum, apricot, walnut and peach trees. Binsar used to flourish with apple orchards. With a shelf-life of 65 years, these trees were felled and made way for new ones. The native names still include the resourceful oak, grand deodar and a few rhododendron trees.
Not for a moment did the surreality overwhelm me. We walked together like lost lovers in silence. I’ll name this companionship Binsar.
Good to know
-There is an entry fee to Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary.
-Binsar is a water-starved and electricity is a limited resource. Please use judiciously and travel responsibly.
-Grand Oak Manor tariff vary seasonally. They start at ₹8500 inclusive of breakfast plus taxes. For reservations or queries, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org and +919602092000/4000/1000. Go here to know more.
-Grand Oak Manor charge ₹500 for room service.
-There is a short 700-metre drive on a 4×4 to Grand Oak Manor from the temple.
-Grand Oak Manor is a heritage property. Please respect the house and its artefacts.
-If you’re interested in participating in a Healing Forest walk, check their Facebook page or their website for details.
When was the last time you felt some thing for a first time?
Note: My stay in Binsar was hosted by Grand Oak Manor.