With Uttarakhand gradually opening up to travel post the lockdown, the call of the hills is only getting stronger. With the pandemic still going strong, the focus is on places where one will find it easy to socially distance and practice immersive, conscious travel. Hence we have been looking at hitherto uncharted or seldom explored destinations.
For instance, instead of giving in another time to the joie de vivre of Mussoorie—its bustle that famously continues well into the night, its illustrious residents, vestiges of colonial history and quintessential hill cafés—why not pick the quieter, pastoral quaintness of Kanatal that lies just an hour away? Here are four good reasons to stop by the woods.
Live off-grid and organic
Fancy dining by the riverside and shepherding adorable mountain goats? For those with a thing for living off-grid and in complete contact with nature, Kanatal is perfect. The rustic hill retreat is home to farmstays that, with their Koti Banal-style cottages, replicate indigenous living and country life really well.
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Most of these setups serve simple, but flavourful regional cuisine—mandua rotis, red rice, locally-grown dals, tea infused with wild mint, cinnamon and chamomile—full of nourishment and refreshment. Trek to the nearby villages, go apple plucking in the orchards, and witness glorious sunrises and sunsets cocooned in the serenity of the Himalayas.
Go an adventure ride
Of late, Kanatal has turned into something of a corporate and school trip favourite, thanks to the opportunities for adventure activities it offers. Its hilly cliffs and outcrops are conducive to valley crossings and rappelling.
An hour away is the adventure hub of Dhanaulti, where the much-frequented picnic spot—the twin Eco Parks named Amber and Dhara, and an Adventure Park set within a lush deodar forest, are also located. The clear skies of both Kanatal and Dhanaulti also make for a sublime camping experience, and campsites are available aplenty.
Surkhanda Devi Temple
Another trek for those who don’t want anything very strenuous is the one that goes up to the Surkhanda Devi temple. From Dhanaulti, it is a 20-minute drive up to Kaddukhal, from where the steep serpentine 2-km stairway begins. The panoramic views of the Himalayas and Dehradun and Rishikesh all the way up, are incredible, and if you want to enjoy them without the hard work, hire a pony or a porter.
Read: Driving to Garhwal
Hiking in the Kodia forest
About a kilometre away from Kanatal is the dense deodar-and-pine forest of Kodia, another popular spot to get close to natural springs and rolling hills, just like the king of Tehri once used to. Go birdwatching, pick pine cones and if lucky, you could even spot barking deers, gorals, and wild boars. You can hike, or take a jeep safari.
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Getting there: Jolly Grant in Dehradun (78km) is the nearest airport. The nearest railheads are Dehradun and Rishikesh (76km). Taxis and buses are easily available from both. If you’re driving, head towards Jharipani from Rajpur Road. The New Bypass Road leads one straight to Mussoorie, whereon one can catch the Tehri Road close to Suwakholi, reaching Dhanaulti after 13km and Kanatal after another 18km.
When to go: Kanatal is pleasant and cool all year round, and the monsoon (April-September) is a good time to visit for its misty evenings. The December-March period is best for snow, but do enquire at your hotel about the road conditions.
Where to stay: The Goat Village is a farmstay-style property with standard and deluxe cottages (four apiece) and two condominiums, all on a pay-what-you-like basis during weekdays and non-holidays. However, they operate on a sustainable model and you will be without electricity and poor network connectivity. Phullari Homestay, housed in a heritage structure, has four bedrooms with two shared bathrooms. Other options include Himalayan Roots Kanatal (Thangdar, Kaudia Range) and Atithi Himalayan Homestay (Chamba-Mussoorie Road). A more expensive option is The Terraces, a boutique spa resort with 20 rooms.