Sat Tal (India)

October 2010

I’ve just come back from an amazing weekend get-away near Delhi.

The place is called Sat Tal (Hindi for seven lakes). It is located near Nainital in the Kumaon region of the Himalayas in Uttarakhand state. It is 350 km from Delhi and 20 km from Nainital. The main attraction of the place is that you can stay in a tent on the hills and do adventure activities near the main lake.

There are two ways to reach Sat Tal – by road and by rail, of which rail is the better, less tiring option.

  • Road: The route is Delhi, Ghaziabad, Hapur, Gajraula (stopover to eat), Moradabad, Rampur, Kathgodam, Sat Tal. Be prepared for unpredictable mammoth traffic jams on the way, especially at Rampur and railway crossings. Internet says the road journey takes 7 hours, but 10-11 hours is more like how it actually works out. There’s a McDonalds drive-through at Gajraula.
  • Rail: Convenient night train (Ranikhet Express) from Old Delhi railway station to Kathgodam (30 km from Nainital / Sat Tal), and back. Taxis to Nainital and Sat Tal are readily available from Kathgodam.

We could not get the train tickets, so we hired a 10-seater Tempo Traveler and went by road. We were a group of seven people from office. We started on Saturday at 4am from Gurgaon, picked up some friends from Delhi, and eventually reached Sat Tal at 4pm, asking our way around as we neared the destination.

We were too tired when we reached there, but were blown away by the first view of the camp where we were to stay. We had booked the Sat Tal Birding Camp (they have a nice website). It is a set of 5-odd tents pitched on opportunistic flat clearings on the mountain slope. Hence all tents are not at the same level – the dining tent is perched at the top, and you have to climb down to the lodging tents. The tents themselves are amazing – very spacious, housing comfortable double-beds with mattresses, wooden chairs and tables, bed-side tables and lamps, and attached washrooms with hot showers and clean loos. More importantly, they have electricity and charging points. The camp site is 4 km uphill from the main lake.

Although it was already evening, the staff was very prompt in serving us a sumptuous lunch. The caretaker was very helpful in suggesting the activities we could do during our stay. We headed to the lake as it grew darker and colder. We hired paddle boats and soaked in every bit of the one hour we were there in the still, dark, murky water of the lake. We were the only tourists around at that time. The vendors near the lake offered to cook pakodas with tea for us, but we were too full and too tired. So we returned to the camp. On our request the caretaker arranged a bonfire for us. After spending a few hours there we headed for dinner late at night and then retired to our tents to get some precious sleep.

To our surprise we managed to wake up early next day – this usually happens in the mountains. After tea, we trekked down to another small lake close to the camp site. The lake was full of fish and we took a quick swim in its icy cold water. There was a small fresh water stream running nearby where we spent an hour. There was also a flower nursery adjacent to the lake where vans were being loaded with flowerpots to be taken to Delhi.

We trekked back to the camp for breakfast and checked out by noon. The caretaker informed us that we could do some adventure activities near the main lake within the 2-3 hours we had at our disposal, so we headed there. Vinod is a known guy in that area who takes visitors for rock climbing, rappelling (just the reverse of rock climbing), kayaking and river-crossing (well, more like lake-crossing). Due to lack of time we decided to skip kayaking and did the other three. Near the rock climbing site we spotted a huge tree that had fallen into the valley but had been held mid-way from falling fully by other trees. So we invented this adventure-activity of our own by walking on this tree a la tightrope. One slip and we’d have landed in the deep ravine below!

After an exhilarating couple of hours at the adventure stuff, we headed back to Delhi in the afternoon. We reached home late at night.

Overall, the trip was a great experience, though it could have been less tiring had we taken the train!

Expenses:

Tempo Traveler (taxi): Total running 800 km @ Rs. 15/km
Taxes: UP state tax Rs. 500 per day, Uttarakhand state tax Rs. 500 per day
Camping: Rs. 2000 per person per day incl. all meals (Sat Tal Birding Camp)
Boating: Paddle boats (4-seater) @ Rs. 190 for one hour
Adventure activities: Rs. 150-200 per activity per person
Bonfire: Rs. 350

Overall expenses: Rs. 5000 per person