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Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Ramgarh: The Valley of Joy

We heard excitedly as the waiter said, "this is today's fresh juice and is made with the apricots plucked from the orchards of the village below." Saying this, he poured the thick, yellow liquid in our glasses.

Fascinated we were as we tasted the lovely juice sitting in the dining hall of the Neemrana Ramgarh Bungalows.

But then, everything about Ramgarh seemed fascinating. Be it the intoxicating silence of the hills, the chilly breeze, the red cheeked pahari children or the beautiful view, just about everything was so out of this world.

The road less travelled

Why Ramgarh? That seemed to be the question on everyone's mind as we were about to depart to the place. After all, we were travelling to Uttaranchal, a state which boasts of being home to some of the most popular hill stations like Nainital, Mussoorie, Almora, Ranikhet.

Well, the only thing that prompted us to make our trip to Ramgarh was the place where we chose to stay. In the photographs we got to see on the Neemrana website, the Ramgarh Bungalows looked like a fairyland. With the seemingly decades old bungalows atop the hills, the place really drew us.

Our journey was surely no fantasy drive. After waiting for one and a half hours on the Anand Vihar bus stand and sitting sweating in the bus for another half an hour, we finally dozed off with a resolve never to step into a Hina Travels bus.

However, when the bus finally started moving, the cool breeze from the window dried the sweat off our face.

Reaching Nainital on a hot June morning was no consolation. After walking almost half a kilometer with our luggage, we finally managed to get a taxi to go to Ramgarh for a price which didn't sound outrageous.

Even in the short 45 minute drive, I couldn't keep myself awake as the Avomine tablet kept lulling me back to sleep. My husband however thoroughly enjoyed the beauty of the unwinding roads up to Ramgarh.

Our retreat

6000 feet above sea level. This is what the little board stuck in front of our room said. A cosy den called English Bungalow was where we were supposed to spend our next two days.

We were already refreshed by now just by inhaling the fresh, unpolluted air of the mountains. And by the time our luggage was settled at the English Bungalow, we were engulfed by a magical feeling.

After all, we were few thousand feet above the scorching Delhi heat and away from the ever-honking cars ... magic it surely was. For us, landing in Ramgarh was like putting an emergency break on an accelerating vehicle.

Just to think that all we had to do at this place was enjoy the fresh breeze, eat and sleep seemed to drive away the all our blues. Supposed to be one of the oldest possessions of the Neemrana Ramgarh property, our room had a heritage feel about it.

The high wooden bed, the fire place and the high ceiling- everything seemingly belonged to another century.

After digging into a heavy breakfast of mouth watering poories subji, milk, cornflakes, eggs and fresh juice, we made ourselves comfortable in the two easy chairs kept right outside our rooms. As the chilly breeze caressed our faces, our mind and body felt miraculously at ease.

Sleeping at such a place felt like a crime. Considering the ambiance and weather, it felt as though we just had no right to waste a single second on sleeping.

So we decided to to look around the place and see the other bungalows. As the place slowly unveiled itself, we kept falling deeper and deeper in love. With British style bungalows built overlooking the hills, the place was truly a paradise.

Fortunately for us, all the rooms weren't occupied so we felt as though the whole place belonged to us. We made ourselves comfortable in two of the rocking chairs kept outside a suite. Red, green, violet, white ... our eyes were being feasted on the flowers of countless varieties.

The wall in the veranda was adorned with an array of butterflies and insects as we continued to cradle in the lap of nature. We found ourselves wondering how would life be living in a place like this?

At least as of now, the concrete structures didn't seem to have invaded the green blanket on the hills. Of course we knew that it wouldn't be the same a few years from now. Already, things are changing ... the beautiful land is being coveted by people from cities like Delhi who probably see a great future in this place.

"Yeh to dev bhoomi hai madam," was what one of the hotel workers told us when we told him that Ramgarh is one of the most beautiful places we had ever seen. Elated, he went on, insisting that this place is so good that's why in these hills are written so many of our ancient mythologies.

Room after room was examined by us, the curious couple from Delhi who seemed so awestruck by everything here.

My husband discovered a huge tree, overlooking a beautiful view of the valley, under which he said would be perfect to sit and meditate. And surprisingly, we did sit, closed our eyes and soaked ourselves in the glory of our surroundings.

The location was perfect and at the same time, we found ourselves marveling at the intelligence of the hoteliers. With the tagline 'Non-hotel Hotels', they somehow know exactly where this concept would work.

The supposedly 'British era' rooms were no luxurious suites. Taking cue from the antique structures of the rooms, the hotelier has customised the furniture accordingly.

So we found ourselves staring at a high wooden bed, antique chandeliers and a full wooden furniture at Ashok Vatika, one of the latest Neemrana Ramgarh Bungalow under construction.

The workers informed us that all this furniture and raw material is being especially purchased from Chandni Chowk in Delhi and some procured foreign countries.

That there is no cell phone network connectivity here except BSNL doesn't seem odd at this place and the absence of a computer at the reception didn't even strike us.

At Ramgarh, being close to nature almost came naturally without any extra effort. So when my husband suggested that we should take a small walk on the hills, I winced at the thought. How can we walk in the middle of the day? But miraculously we did and I found myself enjoying it, forgetting the the strain of the journey.

We returned, fresh and ready to gobble down the entire lunch spread out which included mutton, cabbage, paneer, dal, chapati, rice and the pahari raita made specially after my request ... bliss.

Blessed land

As we spent more and more hours at Ramgarh, we realised that the place is truly blessed, not just by the bounty of nature but also by the good hearted citizens. It was a pleasure talking to each and every person there, whether a part of the hotel or not.

Everyone seemed to have so much time to be polite, to stop and listen, to explain. Life was moving at its own pace here and the people there were in no hurry to speed it up.

So it was hardly surprising when we talked at length to an old lady here without realising that she is the mother of the person who owns this and the 10 other Neemrana properties.

Aman Nath's mother, addressed as mataji by the hotel staff came across as an unassuming, dignified old lady. Managing her 6-year-old granddaughter, the lady chatted away to glory with two people almost quarter of her age.

Never even for a minute was the conversation boring as mataji told us about the Neemrana hotels, the time when she, along with a friend of hers stayed at Ramgarh and stitched curtains for the rooms with their own hands.

And yet, even though she said she was 80 or more than that, there seemed to be no sign of fatigue. Yes, the body looked fragile but the enthusiastic spirit seemed ever active.

We were taken aback when standing in her small two room set in the hotel, she told us that she wishes to embark on a journey to the hills, to discover more about the interiors. Well, probably that's what keeps them going.

Nature's bounty

It was exciting to know that the jam and juice-making unit was located in this Neemrana property. Using the fresh fruits plucked from the Ramgarh village, the jams and juices, apparently were made without any preservatives.

A heady smell of apricots was tingling our noses as we were being guided to the jam making unit. Our guide stopped in front of a small room as we shot a questioning glance to him ... Surely, this room can't be where all the jams and juices of Neemrana are made? Well, apparently it was.

Astound, we looked around. The so called jam making unit consisted of a small area of total three rooms. One compact space, full of shelves was where all the jams and juices were kept lined up for storage. This room led to the main room, where all the preparation was done and finally a wash cum waste room.

We made ourselves comfortable on small stools looking at the jam making procedure. They finely cut the fruits, boiled its pulp with sugar to a certain temperature then poured them into the jam bottles, which were then covered with a layer of wax and let to cool.

It seemed unbelievably too simple to be true. Sensing our surprise, one of the jam makers scooped up some hot jam to a small plate and gave us to taste. Fancy eating a hot jam! But that hot jam indeed was yummy. Equally exciting was to taste the sweet, juicy apricots, fresh from the Ramgarh village orchards.

But days later, sitting in Delhi, as we munched on to those apricots we carried all the way from Ramgarh, the taste somehow seemed to have faded.

After travelling seven hours to Delhi amidst an air full of pollution, honking cars and the ever running city people, the apricots had lost its feel ... Well, we have to go back there again, to taste the fresh fruits, to inhale the fresh air, to taste the lovely fruits, and ... to meet the people.

It reminds me of our last moments in Ramgarh when our car prepared to move out of the hotel, we saw the whole staff, queued up with hands folded to see us off. We had left a family behind and we had to go back to visit them again. Our fairyland is calling us back.

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