When I signed up for a writing retreat with Himalayan Writing Retreat, Chetan Mahajan, who runs the retreat, said, "Binsar is truly something." And it was! Tearjerking sunrises, comfort food, star-studded sky, and conversations over bonfires are only a few things that describe Binsar Forest Retreat. I was here for the writing retreat hosted in Binsar then. Concealed inside the dense Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary in Uttarakhand, this homestay is a world of its own, and once you enter, you won't want to step out even when the internet is scant. As you enter the stay, happy barks of the resident cuties — Tara and Chanda welcome you. The common dining area comes alive with travel books, comics, and picture books, some of which are from the priceless collection of Preetam and Pallavi, the hosts. The retreat offers around six types of rooms, all eco-friendly and designed with wooden interiors. Expect massive windows with langurs and civets lurking around.
The Nandaghunti rooms offer the best view because you can spot the peaks of Nanda Devi. That's where I was put up. Surrounded by boundless greenery, all rooms have a balcony or a patio. Nandaghunti's balcony is almost tucked inside the woods. If our days ended with the cranky civets prancing on our roof, they began with birds chirping. The sunrise from the glorious Trishul peaks coaxes us out of our beds. At around 6 am, black coffee (or chai, if you prefer) is sent to the rooms. Settling on the chairs on the balcony, one can stare at the sunrise for as long as one can. Every day, the sky, a different colour and mood, is a treat. While my roommate would sketch the mountains, I'd hold back the lump in my throat.
I love local delicacies, and this retreat does so much with local produce that you'll find yourself checking out the menu to know what you'll tuck into. And that's fair because these folks make the most fantastic shahi tukda (the best I've had, and I'm from Hyderabad) and Apple Jalebi. The dinner is served with soup, and exciting dishes like popcorn soup appear. Meals are elaborate — you've been warned. As it's a common dining area, you'll break bread with strangers.
While you're here, remember to go for the forest trails. The good peeps at the retreat take you for sunset trails, Zero Point walks, etc. These walks take you through jungles where (sometimes) you can spot wild boars too. So rewarding!
Back to the basics: I took the Ranikhet Express, an overnight train from Delhi to Kathgodam and booked a taxi from Kathgodam to Binsar. You can also take a Shatabdi Express, which drops you off at 10 am, and you can board a shared taxi or book one for yourself.
The five-hour journey on the ghat roads took me through villages with homes perched on hills, Bheemtal and its teal blue lake, markets of Almora rustling with the sound of school bells, and local politicians and residents protesting against the government. As if things weren't beautiful enough, we dashed through roads with waterfalls on the side, clear skies with the Moon at 12 pm, and sweet shops selling local delicacies (please do eat warm gulab jamun). On reaching Binsar, we crossed the rocky, narrow roads of the forest to reach Binsar Forest Retreat.