It had been an uncharacteristically indecisive day on the road. I was somewhere in the middle of my long summer in Kumaon and had randomly landed in Ranikhet. After wandering to an ancient temple and water source in Someshwar, I’d hopped into a shared taxi to Ranikhet with no plan at all. It was that kind of summer where I roamed around Kumaon and went wherever the road took me. The fruit season was in full swing and in an extreme bout of happiness, I walked out of the shared taxi to settle myself at a fruit seller’s shop in main Ranikhet Bazaar.
Introduction to Ranikhet and Brief History
Ranikhet is located at 1830m and lies in Almora district of Kumaon region in Uttarakhand. It is a cantonment town that was built by the British in 1869. It is said that Lord Mayo, the then Viceroy of India was so wonderstruck by the beauty of Ranikhet that he contemplated shifting the army headquarters from Shimla to Ranikhet. I was shocked to know that Ranikhet was under the rule of Nepal for a short duration and was amalgamated in the British empire in 1816.
A walk around Ranikhet is a great idea to spot the quaint and charming British estates surrounded by green gardens full of colourful flowers. Ranikhet is also home to the Kumaon Regiment and is completely dominated by the army, to feel like a pollution free and green tourist destination. Nature lovers are in for a treat, as beautiful forest trails abound all around this fairytale colonial town. Life goes on in Ranikhet at an unhurried pace. Old bungalows and churches still exist in their original glory and 2-3 days is a good time to spend in Ranikhet.
Green Beauty of Ranikhet
I went on a stroll around Ranikhet and was instantly enamoured with the natural beauty. The town is blessed with beautiful rolling hills and spectacular views of the snowy Himalayas. It has wide open spaces, a stunning golf course and breathtaking walks in the numerous forests surrounding Ranikhet.
Ranikhet is surrounded by dense pine, oak, rhododendron and deodar forests that house wild animals like barking deer, leopard, jackal, langur, red fox, and porcupine among others.
Legend behind the name ‘Ranikhet’
The name Ranikhet literally translates to ‘Queen’s Fields’. The locals tell this legendary tale : ‘A Kumaoni queen, Rani Padmini was enchanted with the green hills around Ranikhet and asked the King to build her a palace there. The King built a grand palace for her where she had wished for. When the queen started living here, the name ‘Ranikhet’ took root.’ There is no trace whatsoever of the palace but the gorgeous lush green environs against the backdrop of the mighty Himalayas sure make the visitor want to believe in the legend.
Climate / Weather in Ranikhet
Ranikhet has pleasant weather in the summers and gets quite chilly during the winters. The monsoon season starts around June with spectacular dark clouds in the Himalayan ranges. The entire region is then covered in stunning greenery. The temperature falls below freezing point with occasional spells of snowfall in winter.
The best time to visit Ranikhet is when the weather is clear and there’s a chance of savouring grand views of the Himalayan peaks.
Attractions in and around Ranikhet
I was recommended a walk in Ranikhet and what a memorable time it was! A gentle stroll of around 5kms starting from Ranikhet Club leads towards Chaubatia. On the way, there are many old bungalows from the British times. Majkhali is located around 5-7 kms from Ranikhet and is popular among the locals for its gorgeous sunset views. There are excellent hikes in the forests around Chaubatia that will please the nature lovers.
Ranikhet’s Mall Road starts just past the army grounds and is 3 kms long. Shop for a classy variety of tweeds that are made locally in the workshop.
Jhula Devi Temple
According to the locals, the original Jhula Devi temple in Chaubatia was constructed more than 700 years ago. One can see a number of bells in the temple, as devotees offer bells as a mark of respect once their wishes are fulfilled by the Goddess. Jhula Devi Temple is around 7 kms from Ranikhet and is a popular pilgrimage spot for locals.
Haidakhan Babaji Temple
Haidakhan Babaji Temple is a place of spiritual devotion which was established more than 100 years ago. It is located around 5 kms from Ranikhet and is surrounded by fruit trees with a majestic view of the valley flanked by the mighty Himalayas. The melodious bells and chanting of devotional songs sung in the evenings feels calming. A recommended experience for anyone looking for some peace and quiet.
The Chaubatia gardens are a favourite picnic spot for families. The gardens were originally established as a British Sanatorium, and are also home to the Government Fruit Garden. The garden has over 150 varieties of fruits including apricots, apples, peaches, plums.
Apart from the gardens, the biggest charm of Chaubutia is the amazing panoramic views of the snowcapped Himalayan peaks. It is a riot of colours with flowers that bloom during spring, from March to May. There’s also a sunset viewpoint at Chaubatia that promises an unforgettable evening.
Kumaon Regimental Centre (KRC) Museum was established in the 1970s and is maintained by the Kumaon and Naga Regiments of the Indian Army. The KRC Museum has an excellent collection of memorabilia from past wars and campaigns, and a display of the different weapons used by soldiers.
Upat Golf Course at Kalika
Among the prettiest and highest golf courses of the country, this 9-hole golf course is the crown jewel of Ranikhet! This 1920s gold course is located 5 kms outside Ranikhet near Kalika village and is one of the prime reasons for some visitors for visiting Ranikhet and staying there for a long time.
Although its an army golf course, civilians can also access it by paying a nominal fee. It remains open throughout the year. Even if one doesn’t know how to play golf, the very sight of seeing this beautiful green meadow surrounded by the majestic Himalayas is simply ethereal.
Where to Stay & Eat in Ranikhet
There are cheap places to stay near the Main Bazaar in Ranikhet. Recently, a few old colonial bungalows have been converted into heritage homestays and boutique hotels. For food, it is a good idea to eat at the place where you are staying.
In Ranikhet, one can try Kumaoni food at one of the dhabas in the main market. I ate madua ki roti, bhatt ki churkani, aloo ke gutke, palak ka dubka at one of the eateries that the locals were crowding.
One afternoon, I had run out of places to stay for cheap and randomly started walking out of Ranikhet. Within no time, evening meant that the light started fading rapidly. I had reached around Kalika village and got really lucky to find a ride in a pick-up taxi that was heading to Sitlakhet. It was dark by the time we managed to reach and it was only my good fortune that I managed to save the day!
Sitlakhet is noted for its fruits orchards of peach, plum, apricot, pear. In fact, the fruits that I was enjoying in Ranikhet were mostly grown in Sitlakhet. I had a nice time in the peace and quiet before moving to Almora.
How to Reach Ranikhet?
Delhi to Ranikhet is a distance of 350 km by road. It is a nice, pleasurable drive if one drives down in a car. The nearest railway station is to Ranikhet is Kathgodam which is 70 Kms from Ranikhet.
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