With the kind of gadget-hooked year we’ve had thanks to the pandemic making most offline things a digital affair, nothing sounds better than a total disconnect. So when I was invited to stay inside the Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary, one of Uttarakhand’s best kept secrets, the offer seemed almost too good to be true. In Binsar, […]
With the kind of gadget-hooked year we’ve had thanks to the pandemic making most offline things a digital affair, nothing sounds better than a total disconnect. So when I was invited to stay inside the Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary, one of Uttarakhand’s best kept secrets, the offer seemed almost too good to be true.
In Binsar, which is at an altitude of 2,420 meters, stands Mary Budden Estate, an uber luxury boutique hotel spread over five acres of land. The property thrives on sustainability, local sourcing, and solar power (so please leave your hair dryers at home). A 10-11 hour drive from Delhi (taking the Shatabdi is an option too, but the drive is worth it), all road trip exhaustion comes to a halt when you breathe in the fresh, crisp air of the sanctuary, and stand in the quietness and solitude inside the estate, almost whispering as you talk, so as to not disturb the voice of the wind. Gadgets, silenced. Inner voice, activated.
The Estate boasts a mix of cottages and rooms, the most luxurious and personalised one being the Mary Budden Cottage, which carries the name and the legacy of a 19th century British woman who lived here. A three-bedroom cottage, tastefully restored in keeping with current times, has a spacious dining room, drawing room, and three bedrooms. The Lodge comes in a close second, built in harmony with the older colonial cottage. It offers three separate en-suite rooms with two separate dining and sitting areas, all equipped with fireplaces. I stay in the cottage for a night too to experience the main, classic room of the estate, but my favourite is the Writer’s Room, the one I stay in for most nights, perched at the top of the estate. A quaint, cosy space with a living room adorned with books (Prabuddha Dasgupta’s coffee table book is a common favourite across rooms in this hotel), and a bedroom overlooking the garden spot of the estate, this room is perfect for a solo traveller such as myself.
As a property nestled in the middle of nothingness, Mary Budden Estate ensures that while one disconnects from chaos, there’s enough to fuel a sense of connection and mindfulness through various activities, in and around the hotel. I mean the fact that every cottage and room has a library, and has an outside area to lounge, sit, flip through a book, with the view of the Himalayan range in front of you, will awaken and brighten up the best of us. From breakfast with a view, to a lunch in the garden that overlooks some of the highest mountain points, to specially curated experiences, the property has something for everyone.
Let me paint you a picture. The sun is setting, the air is crisp. There’s a garden with some cute tables and chairs, each with a side of a bonfire, and pretty candles. Across from your table is a live grilling counter, with soulful music playing at the side. They call this Eventide Coven. While other, more elaborate experiences are paid for, this is an evening event that happens every day at the estate, making for an intimate evening. A French Press and Murakami book in hand, this golden hour bliss as the night dawns is a memory that will be ‘a happy moment to go back to’ on a bad day for me, for a long time.
If you’re up for some good, not-too-hectic treks, the estate arranges for those as well. For early risers (not city early, hills early), the Darwin’s Walk is a beautiful exploration through dappled sunlight and trees in the forest that surrounds the estate. The idea is inspired by Darwin’s walk of light and shadow, which defined his famous theory of evolution. The walk isn’t too steep, and brings you to the point of a little stream, where you can rest for a bit before going back to your breakfast at the estate. No better way to start the day.
My favourite experience, however, has to be the trek to the Dalar village, also called Hamlet In The Hills. It takes a half-hour drive, and a one-hour trek to get to one of Binsar’s oldest and smallest settlements. The walk to this hamlet — in the middle of literally nothing — is filled with wonders of nature, unique plants, you name it. There’s just so much to see inside this forest that even an hour long trek will feel like a short walk. And, at the end of this walk, the meal that awaits is a traditional Kumaoni lunch. Ragi rotis, Bhat Ki Churkani — a traditional Kumaoni black bean dal — with Jakhiya Aloo (jakhiya is a spice in the Himalayan region used in Kumaoni and Garhwali food), accompanied by Kumaoni Raita. Simple, flavourful, and healthy. Dessert comes in the form of kheer made with finger millets, perfect to complete a satisfying meal. As we head back (after some lazing around), I stop by at Simba Cafe, a small, artisanal cafe at the corner of the road, for a cuppa. Simba isn’t a part of the estate, but it’s inside the sanctuary, and is quite unmissable as a sunset point.
I spend my afternoons at the estate in Serena’s Garden, overlooking the far off peaks of the Himalayan range. This is an al-fresco seating named after Serena Chopra, who bought the property and brought the estate back to life. Cosy day beds are set next to the main dining table to relax on. The same spot is turned into a magical space at night for the Milky Way Dinner, one of the experiences that the property can arrange for you. Under starry skies and the lights set to look like there are stars under your feet, a candlelit dinner makes for the best way to end your day. Us city folks are star deprived anyway.
A special spot (the one that I used to write some very self-aware prose) is the high teaspot called Leopard’s Hill, an elevated spot from where you can see the house which belonged to Lord Ramsay in the British times. Heady mountain air, little sandwiches with a side of pakoras, good coffee, and some Kumaoni local sweet. I had my tea party with three mountain dogs, also the estate’s pets, and the best companions a solo traveller can ask for.
A few days of limited social media, no phone calls (I just notified everyone concerned every morning that I’m alive and kicking), and limited anxiety triggers in a space surrounded with unique ways to absorb the nature around was exactly what the doctor ordered. Energised, I return to city life, missing the ease of falling asleep on the porch on a chilly afternoon, biting into spicy chicken chunks near the bonfire at dawn, the ease of not having to look at my gadgets for hours.
And, of course, Mary Budden’s dogs.