Tales from the fruit bowl of Kumaon
Imagine being woken up by the sweet alarm of a blue whistling thrush, followed by a symphony of calls of a variety of birds and butterflies. Ramgarh offers refuge to the weary soul with its tranquil beauty and rustic olde worlde charm.
Late April 2019, my family and I planned a trip to a hill station named Ramgarh in Uttarakhand. This small and quaint Kumaoni hill town, nestled in the lap of Himalayas at an elevation of 1,518 m, is a perfect getaway from the scorching heat of summers in the plains. Ramgarh is tucked away from the madding crowd and the hustle and bustle of more popular town among the tourists i.e. “Nainital”. It is a must visit destination for those wanting to witness the untarnished beauty of Uttarakhand along with its rich avi fauna. Dense forests and fruit Orchards of this region are home to a diverse species of resident and migratory birds. Within a span of just 2 days in this place, a birder can easily spot over 50 different species of birds.
It took us about four and a half hours to reach Ramgarh from our home. The drive from Bhimtal to Bhowali road meandering through lush green alpine forests and hilly terrains felt quite rejuvenating. As we entered the gorgeous landscape of Ramgarh, the air felt even more clean and crisp, carrying with it a subtle hint of moss laden Oak trees. I was overjoyed at the sight of snow-capped Himalayan peaks glistening in the sun. The ubiquitous Rhododendron trees had painted the hills red with their bloom. The flower of Rhododendron Arboreum, the State tree of Uttarakhand is locally known as ‘Burans’ and the natives of Ramgarh swear by the healthy heart benefits of its fresh juice.
We had planned our stay at the ‘Old Ramgarh Bungalows’, a 19th century property built in colonial style architecture and run by the ‘Neemrana’ group of Hotels. These old-world charm rustic cottages are surrounded by their own fruit orchards. Aptly known as the “Fruit bowl of Kumaon”, Ramgarh is renowned for its varied Himalayan fruits like Apples, Apricots, Plums and Peaches.End of May to mid July is the time when orchards are loaded with fruits.My room offered the best view along with the property’s vibrant butterfly garden in front of it. A myriad of beautiful flowers bloomed in this well curated butterfly garden and thus attracting many insects and butterflies.Pretty blossom of tall Himalayan Horse – Chestnut trees against the backdrop of a verdant valley was a sight to behold.
As the evening set in, I felt a sudden drop in the temperature. We decided to have an early dinner and then retire for the night. Next day, I woke up quite early before the sunrise owing to the sweet alarm of a blue Whistling Thrush. It was now time for me to sit out in the garden and watch our winged friends. While I sipped my morning cup of coffee, I heard Himalayan Treepies calling from a distance. A pair of Grey Bushchats got busy tending to the needs of their juveniles. A flock of chirpy Russet Sparrows frequented the same bush. A Himalayan Bulbul was pleasantly occupied with preening itself. Noisy Streaked Laughing Thrushes gathered all around looking for food. A vigilant Striated Prinia (also called Himalayan Prinia) constantly called in alarm. There was a mixed flock of Jungle Mynas and Chestnut-tailed Starlings perched on the tree top. A beautiful Verditer flycatcher came flying out of nowhere and sat on an exposed tree top branch. The melodious call of this bird soothed my ears. I watched the Ashy Drongos sitting upright high on a tree, often making aerial sallies to snatch insects and returning to the same perch. Small parties of Plum- headed Parakeets rushed through the sky with their musical “tuitui”. The musical notes of Parakeets were later followed by the long drumming sound of a Woodpecker. I saw some Red-rumped Swallows sitting on electric wires. A crimson Sun bird hurriedly sipped nectar from bell shaped pink flowers. As sun rays filtered through the leaves of Horse-Chestnut trees, Common Windmill Butterflies started fluttering around their flowers. The place bustling with the sounds and activities of birds made me sense the stillness of time.
After a long exciting session of birding and photography, I now looked forward to having a filling breakfast with my family. We tried some homemade jams in exotic flavours of Plum and Apricot along with the famous fresh Rhododendron juice. The rest of the meal was taken up with conversation about weather and the wildlife found in the area. We were told that Leopards are abundant and Barking Deers show themselves every once in a while. If lucky, one can even spot Goral (Mountain Goat)grazing on the edge of a cliff. Very rare and elusive yellow-throated Marten also dwells in the surrounding thick forests. After a while, I decided to go for a short trek in the nearby orchards. I took a downhill road that reached talla (lower)Ramgarh. Ramgarh is divided into parts – Talla (lower) and the Malla (upper). A friendly bhutia dog accompanied me probably in an anticipation of getting a reward. During my walk, I spotted other Himalayan birds like Eurasian Jay, Long tailed Minivet,red billed blue Magpie, Grey winged Blackbird, Rufous Sibia and a Great Barbet to mention a few. I could luckily catch a glimpse of an elusive Maroon Oriole.
On our way back home, we stopped at a point from where we could see the residence (now turned into a library) of a prominent Hindi poet and a writer Mahadevi Verma. Another eminent personality in the history of Indian Literature, Shri Rabindra Nath Tagore too had found abode in the hills of Ramgarh. Parts of Gitanjali were compiled by him in these serene surroundings. This shows that the place is not only a paradise for bird lovers but also for writers. Looking at the photos and recollecting sweet memories from the trip, I pondered whether the pristine environs of Ramgarh will always remain sheltered from the commotion of other main hill towns and hence retain the charm.