Far From The City Lights in Corbett

The Himalayan Outback provided the perfect pandemic escape for the author and his companion
Ramganga river in Corbett National Park
Ramganga river in Corbett National Park

Remember those vast vibgyor 70mm skyscapes from the Robert Redford/Meryl Streep-classic, Out of Africa Those sheltering skies, the teak, rosewood canvas chairs and tables with bespoke brass screws and rivets The candlelit meals in the middle of the forest The head shampoos by the riverside The verdant, green, rolling mountains everywhere The silver ribbon of the river slicing through the wilds The lavender sunsets

The Himalayan Outback (THO) in Uttarakhand&rsquos Marchula village &ndash just a six-and-half-hour drive from Delhi &ndash offers all this and more. That &lsquomore&rsquo includes fly fishing lessons, gourmet meals starring freshly baked cakes, kebabs, curries, desserts, and the best scrambled egg this side of the Suez Canal, among other things. Ah, but I get ahead of myself. Let&rsquos begin, as they say, from the very beginning. Cut to November 2020. Like countless others, claustrophobia set in for me in a Delhi flat. I was straining at the leash &ndash yearning to be elsewhere, breathe easy, look at nothing but wide expanses of green, swim in rivers and scramble up mountain slopes. Fantastic mirage, that Or so it seemed from the confines of my little second-floor walk up in South Delhi. And then serendipity led me to THO. Covid-negative reports and travel pass in hand, a conservationist friend (and avid tackler) and I set off on the six-hour-plus journey through the heart of the Corbett National Park on the outer periphery of which, overlooking the gurgling Ramganga river, lies this piece of paradise. We exited the city, glided along the smooth expressway for four hours before turning left towards Kashipur. 

Suddenly, we found ourselves right in the middle of sugarcane country. Tractors laden with sugarcane chugged past the road that wound through increasingly dense forested terrain that seemed to come alive with birdsong. Everything here was about the legendary Jim Corbett the name of the park as well as those of the innumerable small, medium, large hotels, lodges and camps within the charmed periphery of the National Park. Not terribly imaginative, that

Exit the Corbett National Park, and the road ascends sharply through the hills till it descends to a hairpin bend which sets you on the road to THO near Marchula. For a while we thought we were lost, with nary a soul in sight and the evening shadows lengthening. We needn&rsquot have worried, because suddenly in the gloom, the beaming welcome party, comprising our affable host and THO owner Mickey Sidhu and his major-domo Pritam Singh, came into sight.

They walked us down to our pristine riverside cottage overlooking the Ramganga that cleaved through the mountains. Soon, we got goosebumps when we saw nilgais, a mother and a child, cross the river to the other side where lay dense forest The courteous, efficient staff quickly settled us into our charming cottage with a cozy sit-out under the thatched awning. They also fetched us steaming hot water in gleaming brass buckets as we munched on some cookies and drank tea. By this time, we had sunk into comfortable, classic, campaign furniture beds, while admiring the decor of our very pukka, Brit-turn-of-the-century cottage. Nothing uber luxurious yet, everything spoke of good taste, comfort, beauty. 

Skins tingling post bath, we sauntered out to the sit-out at the centre of which was a roaring bonfire, around where we sat munching on delicious shami kebabs, drinking rum toddy and red wine. Then we retired to an open pavilion for a proper sit-down, piping-hot, four-course meal topped with hot apple pie with ice cream &ndash all of this, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Around us and all over the camp comprising six snug cottages, there glowed over a hundred kerosene lamps &ndash like so many fireflies setting the night afire. As a matter of policy, there are no electric lights anywhere, except (by popular demand) in the cottages. Over us, the deep aubergine sky glowing with stars blazed like so many diamonds across the inky vastness.

We settled into our beds, the sound of stillness all around us, and fell into a deep sleep from which we woke to the sound of birdsong at the crack of dawn. Tea and cookies were had at sunrise point, on the platform overlooking the river edge, with Jack and Jill, the majestic Bhutia mascots of THO, for company. Want breakfast by the riverside watching the waters rush by You can Want to go on a birdwatching trip with an experienced guide You can Want to take a drive, then an up-and-down walk, followed by a pontoon ride across the river to have lunch at a neighborhood resort that reminds you of Thoreau&rsquos magical forest retreat in Walden You can &ndash just ask the staff and they&rsquoll organise it all for you. Ask the head-chef, Gajendra, to pack you a picnic lunch or lay out a special candlelight dinner. He will

The icing on the cake Fly fishing and trawling the waters for the great Indian Mahseer. It is the raison d&rsquo&ecirctre for this unique place which happens to be popular with seasoned tacklers worldwide. The star attractions here are the fly fishing and tackling lessons, and the expert guidance from their head fishing guide, Bobby, who also holds the world record for the haul of the largest Mahseer fish on fly. This eco-aware facility also adheres strictly to a &lsquocatch and release&rsquo protocol, in keeping with the best conservation practices. If peace, quiet, the sound of the river, the roar of the tiger, and the sound of the breeze is your idea of the perfect trip, then this blissful and secluded spot of tranquility in the breathtaking wilderness of Corbett is an absolute must-do.

Bon voyage

(All images courtesy&nbspRunjiv J. Kapur)

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