We nearly missed Gagar, driving up the road on a rain-drenched night, cradled on either side by the dense Maheshkhan forest. But we arrived.
A brief three-minute walk up the meandering trail through the forest took us to White Peaks. A fresh meal of hot chapatis and pahadi dal was all I needed to ease the strain of a mountain drive before I tucked myself into bed, snuggling into my duvet, revisiting Satyajit Ray after years! Retiring to bed with a favourite book, feeling the chill of the night and being thankful for a warm and cosy bed (made cosier with a hot-water bag that you don’t have to get yourself!) is priceless pampering.
Waking up in the morning, to be surrounded by oaks and rhododendrons was a revelation—when we arrived, the night was pitch dark and wet. The vast expanse of greenery around this pristine white cottage made it gleam like a dewdrop on a lotus leaf in a deep blue lake.
The cottage itself has just two rooms—the Magpie Room and the Woodpecker Room—and sleeps just four adults. Both rooms feel intimate even as they exude a subtle elegance. As you step into the courtyard, be prepared to be hypnotised by nature’s embrace. For would-be yogis, there is a small, private balcony overlooking the valley that can be used as a yoga deck; for all those who want to be one with nature, there are endless walking trails in the adjoining oak forests that inspire even the laziest of souls to stay outdoors. Situated amidst glistening silver oaks on all three sides, it is a charming little retreat, an ideal place to enjoy the simple pleasures of life away from the cacophony of crowds. The only sounds you’ll hear are the chirping of birds, the sawing of cicadas and the rustling of leaves in the crisp mountain air.
A perfect holiday home is one that does not let you miss home, of course. Yet White Peaks is the kind of place that constantly evoked thoughts of ‘home sweet home’ for as long as I stayed there—disarming, even assuming that my home boasted a crackling fireplace or a bookshelf within reach of my bedside. The endless cups of amazing adrak chai ambrosia that the caretaker-cum-cook, Mohan, produced every now and then must have done the trick.
Food forms an integral part of the cottage’s identity. Homecooked meals use fresh and organic ingredients, all sourced locally. I savoured the kali mirch chicken, cooked in pungent mustard oil.
The cottage also yielded a good collection of books, perfect companions for idling away the evenings. Bringing along a couple of board games also proved a wonderful idea. In terms of the very pahadi pastime of ‘ghooming’, the resident staff helpfully organised a walk to the nearby market in Ramgarh, which was once home to the poet Rabindranath Tagore. In fact, White Peaks is a great (and peaceful!) base from which to explore the more touristy parts of Kumaon, with several day trips that can be planned from here.
We explored the walking trails in the forest, trailing bird songs, sitting still and admiring the woods, feeling the wind in our faces. Ramgarh proved a nice hour-long walk, with a buzzing market full of history and samosas and pakoras that you must sample. The neighbouring towns of Mukteshwar, Sitla and Nathuakhan offered opportunities to try and grab a glimpse of the elusive leopard. Mukteshwar, about 25km from White Peaks, is surrounded by thick pine forests, and is known for its fruit orchards. The 350-year-old Shiva temple in Mukteshwar is an attraction, as is the spot where Jim Corbett shot the infamous man-eating tiger of this region. Mukteshwar also offers splendid views of the valley and some of the major Himalayan peaks. We stopped at one of the many kiosks selling local produce — and collected litchi honey, apple jelly, pear jam, hand-knitted goodies, and fresh herbs to elevate at-home meals in the big city for months to come.
Nainital is a 45-minute drive from the cottage. To lovers of the Himalaya, Binsar, at an altitude of 8000 ft, offered unobstructed views of the greater snow-clad peaks of Kedarnath, Chaukhamba, Trishul, Nanda Devi, Nandakot and Panchachuli.
A two-hour drive from White Peaks brought us to the picturesque hill town of Pangot. Pangot is a popular place for birdwatching. Over 150 bird species, including the blue-winged minla, rufous-bellied woodpecker, yellow-throated Himalayan martens and khalij pheasant, obligingly put in appearances. Had we been luckier, we could also have spotted the barking deer — or even leopards and civets. You could also plan trips to Almora, Ranikhet and Kilbury, but we threw in the white towel.
All seasons are welcoming at the White Peaks, we heard tell. Spring is a riot of colours at Gagar, with the cottage surrounded by rhododendron blooms in bright bursts of red whilst peach and apple blossoms flaunt hues of pink and white. Summers are breezy and pleasant, just perfect for exploring the numerous forest trails.Monsoons are misty, with the clouds serenading the mountains. But it is the winters we found special, with the little village of Gagar covered in a sheath of snow. And because we couldn’t remember the last time we walked in the woods, gazed at the sky or trailed a bird’s song, it was time for us to reconnect — and come home from wandering concrete blocks closer to home.
Location Mukta Niwas, PO Gagar. 340km drive from Delhi. Kathgodam is the nearest railhead.
Accommodation 2 rooms, the Magpie Room and the Woodpecker Room.
Tariff Rs 7,000 for two and Rs 14,000 for four, including all meals, morning and evening tea; packed breakfast or packed lunches, on request, free of charge
Contact 9810050514, 9810053380, thewhitepeaks.com