Perched on a hillock, which the handsome owners claimed, was one of the highest in Kumaon, the Grand Oak Manor had been built by the Commissioner of Kumaon way back during the British days. The hill had been chosen for the strategic view it offered of the rest of the hills and hamlets in the region. Picked up by Sindhu’s (present owner) great grand father around the time the Brits left the country, Sindhu turned his inheritance into a boutique hotel, and now, run it along with his wife Shikha, offering an exclusive experience of living in the hills in complete harmony with Nature. Call them for a booking enquiry and the first thing they will warn you of is the fact that Grand Oak Manor doesn’t own a television set. You either bounce off after that, or stick to the thought of visiting the dame. We stuck. And looked forward to it….
We reached Binsar after a long and somewhat dreary drive from Chaukori (Read: Binsar — 6th Halt in our Uttarakhand Roadtrip). Grand Oak Manor is located about 7 kilometers inside the Binsar Reserve. However, the last bit, about 700 meters, is a rough climb through a kuchharoad, and the hotel sends its own jeep to fetch the guests. Ratanda (our driver) though was convinced that his Innova could make it till the hotel. We said fine, and bumped along just like how we had at the Misty Mountains in Jhaltola, to find a magnificient Oak tree standing in guard for this magnificent bungalow, all resplendent in the afternoon sun — the Grand Oak Manor!
As our bags were being taken in, we signed off with Ratanda. He had been a part of our Uttarakhand road trip this far, but Binsar onwards, we had been advised to take point-to-point taxi.
And as the hotel staff handed us refreshing glasses of rhododendron juice, Sindhu and Shikha greeted us and oriented us about the Grand Oak Manor. They needn’t have, really. For, we were in love with the place at the very first sight. The stately rooms living and reading rooms, the lovely grounds, the charming chapel under the Oak tree, the old stables over-looking the hills, the hammock here, the stone table there, all that we wanted to do was run up to our room, shower, and get back to the porch or the grounds to live that bright afternoon to the hilt. And we did just that. After a hearty lunch though, for, it was piping hot and waiting for us.
Ah! The food at Grand Oak Manor. They spoilt us. Lunches were the basic and extremely home-like Dal-Chawal-Roti-Sabzi-Chicken and so were the breakfasts – Paranthas-breads-milk-juice-omelette etc. The dinners were elaborate — an array of different cuisines. They caught us by surprise every evening. And we jumped with joy each time. The first night, it was a delectable Continental spread laid out in the first floor verandah with beautiful lanterns around us. God! Were we bowled over by the gesture!!! Imagine the darkness of the hills in front of you, chill of the evening setting in, lanterns around you and you are being served your dinner in courses. Just Wow!! One of the most beautiful dinners ever, we simply need to close our eyes to relive the joy we felt that evening.
The next evening, food was a rich spread of Kumouni cuisine. Starting from the brass thal, bowls and the glasses to the breads and curries and chutneys, everything was Kumouni. We couldn’t thank Shikha enough for arranging this for us. For, everywhere we went in Uttarakhand, it had been the usual Indian food. But for the awesome chef at Grand Oak Manor and her thoughtful hosts, we wouldn’t have known or eaten the Kumouni food at all.
Stationed at the Grand Oak Manor for 3 days, we longed to do nothing. Not even go sight-seeing around Binsar (which we eventually did though). Yes, we did go for the customary morning, evening guided treks, but those were faily easy ones and no, we didn’t go out in the hope of sighting the snow-clad Himalayas or the leopards of the jungle. By now, the hills had driven us to a content state. We were content to park ourselves on the stone railing and brood away. Or chase the birds and butterflies. Or look into the hills and sing. Our daughter was content chasing and trying to dig out lizards assisted by Sindhu!!! Twice I did try to sit with my laptop and write, but couldn’t. The three days of stay there had blacked out my mind completely. All I could do was look out for the beautiful birds, gape at the magnificent trees, marvel at the beauty of such a basic lifestyle, request for endless rounds of lemon tea, sit with my daughter to sketch the charming chapel under the oak tree, sail with the clouds, eat Kaphal ( a wild red berry that grew in abundance this time of the year) seasoned with salt and jeera powder……all three of us were convinced that we could live the rest of our life this way. Oh why did we have to get back to our regular city life? Why? Why? Why?
For the complete Uttarakhand itinerary, where to stay, what to see and what to buy, read — An Uttarakhand Roadtrip This Summer