Takeaway

Khirsu, a pocket of pines in the hills

Partha Pratim Sharma | Updated on September 28, 2019 Published on September 27, 2019

Touch wood: Thick forests of old pine, oak and deodar trees in different shades of green   -  PARTHA PRATIM SHARMA

A dreamy village in Uttarakhand, Khirsu is just right for those who like long hikes, or a laid-back holiday

Moss, it has been said, grows facing the north. It certainly led us to a village in the north, seemingly directing us by popping up here and there on our way to Khirsu in Uttarakhand. Just some 20km from the tiny town, we found old moss growing in the dense forest of oak and deodar trees, with signboards that warned us about elephants and deer in the vicinity. We stopped every 100 metres or so, enthralled by the water dripping from the moss and the variety of colourful orchids blooming on the trunks of the majestic old trees. The depth of the jungle is such that we couldn’t leave it without embracing all that it had to offer. And that is why it took us more than two-and-a-half hours to reach Khirsu from there.

The heavy monsoon rain and ensuing landslides were disrupting my travel plans this summer. Most of the little-known villages in the northern hills that I like to travel to become inaccessible in this season. So, some days ago, when the rain clouds looked like they were busy elsewhere, I decided to hit the road. I wrapped up work early, called up some friends — and drove down NH9, the highway that links Delhi to other parts of north India.

I had a place in my mind, a hamlet hidden in woods of blue pine trees. Khirsu is about 335km from Delhi. By the time we reached Kotdwar, which is about 220km from Delhi and the gateway to many hill towns in Uttarakhand, especially in the Garhwal hills, it was already 6 pm. It was dark and had started to rain. So we decided to spend the night at a hotel in Satpuli, just ahead of Kotdwar.

The morning was misty, but we were raring to go. The drive up to Khirsu, some 60km in the hills, was as memorable as it was enjoyable. Unlike most hilly roads, which tend to be bumpy and broken, this was smooth, canopied and densely forested. We took our time, stopping every now and then, looking at the flora and the fauna, and examining the pine trees. Then, of course, there was the moss, leading us on.

It was noon when we reached Khirsu. It is situated at an altitude of 1,700 metres, though a couple of hilltops reach up to 2,200 metres. It is colder than many other Garhwal towns; it even snows there in the winter. When the weather is clear, you get a panoramic view of the Himalayas. You can spot the snow-crested Trishul, Nanda Devi, Nandakot and Panchachuli peaks.

The village, with a population of 50, has 13 houses, of which three or four are closed, with the inhabitants having moved to bigger towns. But it does have a school, an inter-college and a sprawling playground, open to children living nearby. There is a government-run GMVN tourist guest house, and two other somewhat basic hotels.

Every house has its own patch of vegetables. Most villagers cultivate corn and kinnow or kinu — a sweet and juicy citric fruit. Many keep cows, and cow milk is one of the regular sources of income.

Khirsu is for those who love nature more than anything else. All you can do in this hamlet is go for long walks. When you are hungry, you can stop at one of the two tea stalls in the village. You can sip your hot cup of tea, and have a Pahadi lunch consisting of mooli ki thichouni — a popular Garhwali dish of radish, cauliflower and potato, cooked with cumin seeds, red and green chillies, coriander leaves, onion, ginger and garlic, and the gravy thickened with bajra flour. Eaten with raita and rice, it makes for a heavenly meal.

A park, large and well maintained, with many sit-outs and huts, is right behind the GMVN. You can also walk down a kuchcha road to two nearby villages in the area, breathe in the fresh mountain air and listen to the birds sing as you trek.

Because it does not have a busy mall road, shops selling trinkets or roadside eateries offering burgers or dosas, this is not a spot that you will find on the regular tourist map. But it is ideal for a laid-back holiday. This small and quaint pocket tucked away in the hills is just right for those travelling alone, as well as couples and families. And, of course, it’s perfect for those who like to hike.

Most of the pathways, leading to thick forests of old pine, oak and deodar trees, reflect different shades of green. Along with the moss growing everywhere, and the fascinating ferns and orchids, there are mushrooms growing on the ground, covered with decaying leaves, bark, wood and manure. There is an unforgettable fragrance of wildflowers, herbs and dried leaves in the air and the sound of birds chirping is like music.

It is, in a nutshell, one of the most picturesque destinations you can visit — serene, clean, quiet and beautiful. I thanked the rain gods for the mesmerising, monsoon getaway.

Travel log
  • Getting there

Though Khirsu is off the map, a visitor will not find it difficult to reach the village. Most tourist destinations in Uttarakhand are connected with Khirsu

By air: There are flights to the Jolly Grant Airport, in the capital town Dehradun. Khirsu is 150 km from the airport. You can arrive by bus or taxi

By rail: Kotdwar is the nearest station. You can take a taxi or a bus from the station to Khirsu, about 115km away

By road: Most Uttarakhand cities are connected to Khirsu by bus. You can also drive from Delhi, which is 335km away

  • Stay

There are not many private hotels available. The Khirsu GMVN Guesthouse (www.gmvnl.in) is the best option in town. It also has a forest rest house and a private budget hotel

  • Things to do

The forest department takes care of a large nature park with walking trails. You can also walk down to two villages in the area, breathe in the fresh mountain air and listen to the birds sing as you trek.

Walk in the woods to check out varieties of moss, orchids and other wildflowers

  • Eat

The GMVN Guesthouse has a nice restaurant with open-air seating. Two tea-stalls in the village serve Pahari dishes

  • BLink Tip

For more on Khirsu, watch:

https://youtu.be/Qr8cRts84m4

https://youtu.be/EyM_FU9VFNg

Published on September 27, 2019
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