I crossed the Ganga at sunrise. Well, I say sunrise; it was more that misty white haze that conceals even the least special of highway towns. There is rarely a glorious, celebratory sunrise in Delhi or the plains that surround the city. Day creeps in apologetically in muted, chalky tones. The canopy of smog mars any clarity and the thick air is damp, even in winter.
Along the highway to Nainital, skeletal trees are interspersed with pylons, half-finished concrete homes and sorry looking suburban factories that look like they have undergone heavy shelling. I sped past bizarre power stations that resemble wacky light installations, with clusters of halogen woven into a strange patchwork of metal and luminescence. Sober wedding venues lined the highway, their sparkly fabrics and fuchsia lycra looking distinctly less glamorous in the dull light of dawn.
As the fog faded away, like soapy water disappearing down a plug-hole, I discovered that the trees were not naked, but had full branches indicating early signs of spring. With every village I passed, the view got greener and greener. Bullock cart drivers wove around dung patty pyramids, proving that I was heading into the countryside. Reassured by daylight, I dozed off with fingers crossed that my driver would refrain from overtaking now that we were on narrower mountain roads.
When I awoke we were driving into Gagar and a luscious sea of rain-drenched emerald green surrounded me. I later found that sunrise was far from unceremonious at The White Peaks. As I sipped on my masala chai, plonked in the middle of the expansive terrace, golden rays emerged from behind the peaks and soft spring sunshine glistened on dewy leaves. The crisp, still air was only punctuated by the far-off melody of truck horns and birds competing in their morning song. A stroll out of the gate took me up a winding path that revealed panoramic mountain views, embryonic signs of rhododendron flowers desperate to blossom and sprawling oak forests for as far as the eye could see.
I returned to find perfectly cooked moong dal tarka and aloo gobi on the table. Mohan, who acts as caretaker and cook, works his magic with locally sourced ingredients, transforming organic ingredients into culinary masterpieces. I was delighted to find a life-time supply of peppermint and green tea and cumin-covered biscuits.
In the evening, a thick mountain fog descended. Not the flat, dreary kind, but a majestic, rolling, thunderous fog, which was followed by a dramatic storm. I ensconced myself in front of the roaring log fire with a hot water bottle, with the full White Peaks library at my disposal. I took this opportunity to revisit the poetry of Rabindranath Tagore, who stayed in nearby Ramgarh for some time. I drifted off to sleep by the fire – surely a true sign of a home away from home – until Mohan gently woke me up, and I headed upstairs to a ridiculously comfortable bed.
The following morning (not at sunrise!) I decided to investigate Ram Garh market, which is an hour’s walk away. I meandered around the village, bingeing on chai and pakoras, befriending adorable children and stocking up on homemade honey and jam to take back to Delhi.
It was reluctantly that I called my driver to arrange a time to leave The White Peaks; I wish I could have stayed in this blissful sanctuary for longer.
The White Peaks cottage has two double rooms: the Woodpecker Room and the Magpie Room
Location: Gagar is 25km from Nainital and the perfect place from which to explore the relatively touristy nearby hill stations