As the warmth of the Diwali lamps fades and the smoke from the crackers disperses winter creeps in the hills of Uttarakhand ushering in the cold freezing chill from the belly of the great Himalayas. Woollen garments, which have been gathering dust, are fished from the depths of steel trunks and dried in the harsh afternoon sun. People hurry through their morning chores and gather in their courtyards to soak in the sun and engage in discussions ranging from politics to light-hearted gossip. Local delicacies like Sana hua Nimbu (made from curd, cannabis seeds and big lemon) are prepared with jovial revelry even as the snow covered peaks stand aloof in the distance. Unlike the haughty haze during the summer months and the relentless fog during the monsoons, winter offers the most unadulterated views of the majestic peaks. The allure of the silk draped mountains, which stretch for hundreds of kilometers, rising to embrace the crystal blue skies hypnotizes the onlooker. And it is in Binsar nestled in the heavily wooded hills of the Kumaon Himalayas that these peaks bare themselves with unrestrained pride and tease the wild spirit dormant in all humans summoning them to relish this spectacle of nature.
Beyond the hill station of Almora, on the motor able road to Kafadkhan, is located the entrance to the Binsar Wildlife Reserve. A narrow tarred path straddled by thick forests of oak and pine climbs in serpentine hair-pin bends leaving behind the banalities of civilization. Ultimately it escapes from the grip of the jungle and rides on lofty ridges to culminate at the Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam guest house. Rows of mountains stretch to the horizon playing hide and seek with bluish green rivers which flow stoically along sandy valleys looking up to the towering bastions of rock and snow. Green terraced fields ornament the mountain slopes, dotted by traditional hill houses, where bored cows and goats graze. As the afternoon sun beats down on the landscape one can take a leisurely stroll along the jungle trail to Jhandi Dhar. The silence here is enchanting – the birds sing in the forest complimenting the crunching of dry leaves as one walks deep into the jungle. The call of a barking deer whistles through trees intoxicated by the nectar of nature. Time, abandoning its hasty pursuits, relaxes in the shade of the oak trees relishing the playful games of langurs.
Another rewarding endeavour is a walk to the Forest Rest House and beholding the sun disappear behind the rolling hills bidding adieu to the day. In the courtyard of a quaint colonial building, one can sit with a steaming tumbler of sweetened tea and witness the sky change colours from blue to orange to red to bright pink. As the sun slips behind the distant mountains, the wind returns with its icy breath even as the nuthatches create a ruckus in the adjoining woods. These woods mother and nurture some of the most important animals and birds of the Himalayan ecosystem like the Himalayan Monal, leopard, goral, musk deer, chital and barking deer. For those in the quest of an adventure, Binsar offers a trekking trail - 22kms in distance - to the revered shrine of Vridhya Jageshwar and the temple town of Jageshwar which has Shiva temples dating from the 7th to 18th century. The trail passes through dense sections of the Binsar Wildlife Reserve with splendid views of the Himalayas and a glimpse into the beauty of its lower reaches where one can find solace far from the maddening bustle of the cities.
However the final act of this overwhelming spectacle of raw power of nature in Binsar is ironically the sunrise. At pre-dawn, a pall of shadow looms on the gigantic bulwarks of the Indian Himalayas; Nanda Ghunti, Trisul, Panwali Dwar, Nanda Devi, Maiktoli and Panchachuli, all rising above 7000m, grace the canvas as the first rays of sun break free from the grip of the dark night and illuminate the landscape. Its fire ignites the summits like the wicks of the Diwali lamps fighting the winter winds to spread the light. The hundreds of kilometers of Himalayas glow in the energy of the exuberant morning heralding a new day full of hope and dreams. Suddenly the frostiness infecting the air is burnt in the blaze of the sun which provides warmth and comfort to numb feet and hands. The trepidations of a modern life which trap the imagination of the mind fade away even as the heart appreciates this unsullied camaraderie with nature. And it rejoices as the shackles of servitude are broken and it transcends a mundane existence to bask in the shadow of the great mountains – if only for this fleeting forgotten moment far far away from the prying eyes of civilization!