Located right in the middle of a forested hillside of Jhaltola in Kumaon Himalayas, the Misty Mountains Retreat is a boutique hideaway that offers uninterrupted panoramic views of some of the loftiest peaks of the Great Himalayan Range. Elegantly crafted by an enterprising homey couple, this sylvan home-away-from-home is a supremely unspoiled heritage refuge that makes you feel closer to nature and seek inspiration from the majestic Himalayas. A few weekends before, we stayed here for three days to escape the plains and this is what I have to say about the property and the region.
About Jhaltola (2000m – 2600m)
Spread at an altitude ranging from 2000m to 2600m, the hillside of Jhaltola is located at an eminence in the lower Himalayas at the western extremity of Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand. Now clothed by a mixed forest, with a few varieties of Oaks among many others, the hillside is an erstwhile tea estate gifted by the British to the descendants of the explorer pundits of Milam. The view of the snowy Great Himalayan Range from the Jhaltola ridge can hardly be surpassed. To add to this extraordinary vantage point, there is an old temple dedicated to Lamkeshwar Mahadev, Lord Shiva, atop the ridge from where views ranging from Trishul to peaks in Nepal could be obtained. The tranquillity around the ancient temple, snow-capped Himalayan peaks, verdant terraced fields, curvy meadows and dense woods, the hillside houses every reason for a mountain lover to spend a weekend.
Not only for the extraordinary Himalayan views and an array of flora, the salubrious hillside of Jhaltola is abound with a good variety of wild mammals and birds as well. The famed temple of Ram Mandir is located in the settlement by the same name at its base. Mercifully, the region is yet to witness its unfortunate rise from a mere village to a touristy hill station. The settlement of Jhaltola, just below the forest cover, could be reached through the shorter road connecting Almora with Chaukori or Patal Bhuvaneshwar via Barechina, Dhaulchina and Raiagar. Although this road could be taxing and hot, as it approaches through lower parts of the valley, the scenery on the way well repays the labour. The hills on the either side are thickly clad with pine forest and present magnificent views of the lower hill scenery of the Himalayas.
The Misty Mountains Retreat (2020m)
The Misty Mountains forest retreat is located near Ram Mandir, just a few kilometres towards the pilgrim hotspot Patal Bhuvaneshwar from Raiagar on the Chaukori – Almora road. Save for the Misty, hotels, homestays or guest houses are not an option in this part of the green Kumaon. The aesthetically crafted Misty occupies just five out of the 1000 acreage of the tea-estate-turned forest hillside of Jhaltola Estate. The estate itself dwells on a rounded ridge of considerable dimensions which is surrounded by an amphitheatre of mountain ridges piled one upon another, some dark with rock and forest, and others shining in all the bright resplendence of eternal Himalayan snow. Once you are at Ram Mandir, the Misty is reached by a tad steep and narrow motorway especially carved out for the purpose.
With its wholesome cooler climes, the Misty is a place not only of refreshing beauty but natural profusion which has been shaped into a garden wooded with luxuriant fruit trees that apart from adding attraction to the landscape are pleasingly associated with ideas of real wealth and comfort to those who holiday beneath their shade. The owners, a nature loving and enterprising couple – Ms Ambika and Mr Madhur Chhabra – have turned this forgone jungle estate into a woodsy retreat. In about a decade, the Misty has graduated to be a forested retreat that has a capacity to entertain up to 50 guests at the same time. With well-appointed cottages that conform to the holidaying needs of large families, children, couple, friends or even office groups; recreational hall and an open dining space, the property has it all.
My Experience at Misty Mountains
Earlier last month, we got an opportunity to spend three days in the natural luxury at Jhaltola where we experienced total peace and felt quite rejuvenated. Sipping some caffeine free tea at the KMVN Chaukori, I fished out the route map creative, from my mobile, which I had already downloaded from the website of Misty. No sooner had we crossed the junction at Berinag than a call from Ms Ambika flashed on my phone. She gave me road directions to reach her property which we located without any trouble at all. On the way we visited the office site of the NGO Avani, which is doing exemplary work to empower local communities.
Manoj, along with his Misty vehicle was patiently waiting for us at the retreat-owned parking site just below its forest cover. The next three kilometres were completed on Misty’s vehicle. As we approached the Misty on a bumpy road, the chug-chug of the engine was the only noise that broke the calmness of the jungle. With our movement, scores of wild pheasants strutted towards the shrubbery on either side of the motorway. We knew we were going to enjoy the next three days of our stay at this birdlife haven. We were allotted the cylindrical Rosebank cottage which was located just at the upper end of the forest clearing. The luxuriantly furnished room was not only spacious with a trendy entresol that could comfortably accommodate another couple inside; the wide view from the windowpane encompassed almost the entire Misty landscape against the backdrop of the Great Himalayan Range.
The following morning we lazed around trying to make a few photographs of the views and the birds. The after-spring haze rising from the valleys below succeeded in obscuring the icy peaks from our vantage point, in fact, from almost the entire Kumaon region. Later on we hiked the short trail to Lamkeshwar Mahadev temple (2308m). Starting from right next to our cottage, the paved pathway, locally called khadanja, climbs roughly 300m through dense woods covering a distance of two km to reach the Shiva temple, the original and the main shrine. The temple is surrounded by a sacred and dense grove. Dedicated to God Vishnu, the other temple at a distance of 600m from this shrine is situated atop the ridge at 2360m. Soaking in the views from the terraced courtyard of Vishnu temple, we sat for an hour at the top.
The forest cover in the lower ranges looks detached around habitations. Seen from a distance, the rising hills form light fringes with dark patches on its side wherever the forest predominates. A substantial portion of the hill-faces in the valleys of Bageshwar region were dug for mining talc powder. Below the white snowy outlines, the forests become dense and continuous. With plains to the southeast; towards the eastern, northern and western slopes the eye sometimes rests on miles and miles of country where not a glimpse of the ground can be discerned through the dark foliage leaving blue hues. The nearer ridges have a very imposing appearance; a rich green forming the ground – of different tints, according to the kind of tree that predominates, with oaks leading the pack – while sometimes singly, sometimes in groups, the long tapering summits of the pines appear piercing through the dense mass of extra dark foliage.
Later in the evening, we hiked to the Pokhar area where the heritage house of the legendary Rawat family, gifted by the British after they left India, is located. The olden house offers equally good vantage point especially towards the end of the day. In the evening, we went over to see other cottages and recreational area. As if assembling a set of bestsellers; designed uniquely, each cottage offers a different view and serves a distinctive purpose. The common room is a large hall that doubles up as an assembly and a recreational place stocked with college classics as well as travel literature lined up in shelves.
Our initial regret of a hazed view was compensated by the forestlike charm and organic living maintained by the owners at the Misty. The rustic appeal of the Misty; warmth and friendliness of the owners, especially Ms Ambika, made us believe that there is more to a Himalayan retreat than just the views.
The way I saw it
Ambience and Location: 4.8/5
Accommodation and Staff: 4.4/5
Food and Dining: 4.5/5
If you wish to book your stay here, you can contact at +91 800.66.677.22 or reach out to them through their website. I’ll advise an advance booking.
Disclaimer: This particular visit to Jhaltola was based on an invitation from Misty Mountains. The views expressed here are free of any bias and are solely based on my experience.