Who hasn’t heard of Nainital? This pristine hill station at the foothills of the Himalayas in Uttarakhand has probably hosted most of you during one summer vacation or the other. Not me, though. I’ve only recently started exploring North India and made my first trip to this gorgeous state a couple of weeks ago.
Destination: Nantin Camp, a rustic, no-frills, very comfy camp in Bhowali, a short drive away from Nainital.
From Delhi to Jim Corbett, and after a few days, to Nainital, the journey was scenic all the way through. Neeraj, a member of the Nantin Camp staff, was waiting for us at Nainital and he accompanied us along the curvy road until we reached an almost imperceptible slope leading upwards, that broke off from the main road. The only landmark was a small flower vendor. If not for Neeraj, we would have definitely driven past. We parked and began a steep-ish climb up to Nantin Camp.
THE TREK TO NANTIN CAMP
Mist veiled peaks loomed in the distance, and below, cascading drop peppered with tall trees and dry grass. I should probably confess that my hike up to Nantin Camp was a test of fortitude. While the temperature was far cooler than I was used to in scorching South India, I was still red-faced and with every step, I wondered when the trek would end. Neeraj, like a warrior, took my bag and walked ahead like he was walking on the beach, and after stopping ahead for us a few times, we signalled to him to leave us and go ahead.
The minute he was out of sight, us unfit urban dwellers flopped down on the path to catch our breath, and it was one of many, many breaks we took over the course of that 1-1.5 km trek up the hill. I’m glad we did, though, for it was the first glimpse we got into untouched, unfiltered Nainital. Through our panting and puffing, we heard a woodpecker on a tree nearby, pecking non-stop, as if cheekily keeping track of the length of our break. A gust of wind made leaves swirl down to the forest floor, almost covering pine cones that were slightly smaller than the size of my face. We picked them up and at once, that Christmassy scent filled the air. We walked on, and finally, the first sign of life – a barking dog, guarding a tiny group of houses, that probably didn’t need guarding up here in the wilderness.
ABOUT NANTIN CAMP
An unassuming, two storied, brick red structure nestled among lush greenery, Nantin Camp exemplifies simple living. Once you arrive, the chaos and cacophony of city life seem so distant and you’re enveloped in silence, except for the rustling wind and chattering birds.
I must admit, while I crave adventure and enjoy roughing it from time to time, I love coming back to a clean, comfortable space. You see, I’m not a very outdoorsy person and having dirt around me at all times, the bugs, the outdoor bathrooms – I could do without it! Naturally, when I heard the word ‘camp,’ I had my guard up.
So when I walked in to the rooms, I was beyond thrilled! Bright doors (yay!), amazing comfy wooden beds with new quilts softer than the ones I have at home, ample charging points clean floors + washrooms and great views! This is the kind of camp I like – a mix of rustic and cosy!
On the first floor, the main doorway leads to a room with two beds, and there is a room on either side of this space. Each of these rooms have 2 double beds and a loft that can sleep three. So if you’re a large group, you’re sure to have fun crashing here! Another advantage of visiting in a group is that you can avail of adventure sports that aren’t organized if you are just a couple or small group.
You’d never guess that Nantin Camp is over a decade old, by looking at it. Probably the only signs of wear and tear are the washrooms, which do tend to discolour over time. The rest looks absolutely brand new and everything is in top condition. Before I forget, do bring your own toiletries and towels when you visit!
A little restaurant in a wooden cottage has benches and desks for meal times, but you could also sit outdoors on tables and stools made of old tyres. The outdoor sinks are made of tyres too, and I quite liked having my morning meals here. The parathas for breakfast was a great start to the day. However, the tea was suuuuper sweeeeet and mild.
Dinners were had in the little patio – a common area on the top floor. We had a hearty, simple meal of dal, mixed vegetables and rotis with salad on our first night and on the second, we bought back some chicken from the market and the cook made some fabulous chicken curry!
WHY I LOVED IT
As a digital marketer, the internet is my lifeline. And I was completely cut off, not only from data, but also calls. It was a mix of agonizing and refreshing to have to endure that trek again for a few minutes of network, which wasn’t worth it, so we tuned in to nature instead. On the second, I headed back down to check if I had any pressing work and the climb back up wasn’t as bad as Day 1. Pretty sure that if we all do that trek for a month, we’d have abs.
That night, there was a thunderstorm and ordinarily, on an occasion like this, I’d have stayed indoors and watched TV. However, thanks to no network or TV, we sat in the patio for a long time, watching the silhouette of trees being lashed by the wind every time there was a flash of lightning. The feeling of having time on our hands and nothing to do was alien to us. I wish there would have been a stack of good novels at Nantin Camp, though.
Lastly, the staff was wonderful! Homely, warm and so genuine! They worried when we didn’t come back at the time we said we would on Day 2, and when we checked out, they woke up at 5 am to see us off as well as carry our bags back down the slope. I loved interacting with them and getting a glimpse into the hardships of mountain life through their eyes.
Whether you’re a nature lover, thrill seeker, someone who picks donuts over the gym… anyone! Nantin Camp is a fresh change of pace and it offers more than just wonderful climate and views. I, for one, left with a ton of inspiration and appreciation for mountain life!