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Home arrow Activities arrow Latest arrow A stay on Crank's ridge in Almora - Uttarakhand (Uttaranchal)
A stay on Crank's ridge in Almora - Uttarakhand (Uttaranchal)
Saturday, 15 September 2007
Parked at the construction site of Imperial Heights at Binsar road in Almora we waited for  the 2007 monsoon to retreat. We explored the surroundings and learned a few things about live on Crank’s ridge – or Hippie hill – and the nearby town Almora. This place is pretty laid back however that might change in the future with the rise of local tourism from Delhi and outside. In the meanwhile we lived at Imperial Heights – a future 1st class resort in the making with a magnificent view on the valley north of Almora.

Almora has quite a few recent historical references – most starting from somewhere in the 1800’s. This place was a trade centre with China – exporting and importing goods over the Himalayas. According to a British report from 1847 merchants in Almora exported clothes, mole skins, grain, tobacco and various drugs and spices. And at same time importing salt and woollens. The Bhutanese had the monopoly on transport. These trading caravans must have been a pretty though ride – many valleys, steep hills and high mountains separate China and Almora. Other British reports tell tales of a hard live of the inhabitants of this area. Like a 1858 report mentioning a Belt of Death, a sickly region between Almora and Bareilly. People with fevers, ague (old term for malaria), swollen bellies, slender limbs and sickly yellowish complexions.

Crank’s ridge was the home of German born Tibetan Lama Govinda – he was one of the foremost interpreters of Tibetan Buddhism. At end of the ridge resides a Buddhist meditation centre together with Kassar Jungle Resort, the Kassar Devi Temple and several telecommunication antenna’s powered by a humming diesel generator. Time has changed considerably – Crank’s ridge became a hallucinating centre of hippies in the 70’s and 80’s. The ridge became Hippie hill – with an infinite source of cannabis growing on the hills.

In 2007 small lodges, hotels and now resorts are a common sight on Binsar road, however it’s still pretty modest. The high season starts somewhere in September, a magnet for young Israeli’s which is the dominant foreign nationality here. Quite a few pensioners from Europe and the US have found their permanent home on Binsar road. An average European or US state pension can provide a reasonable living here. However to adjust to permanent life here is not easy according to several pensioners. Life here is still pretty rural and the general attitudes conservative. Winters are harsh, meaning a temporary relocation to southern India. For above average medical advice one has to go to Delhi.

Drinking water on Binsar road is expensive. A tank of 3200 litre (treated) government water trucked in from the valley does 500 – 600 rupees. (That’s about 11 Euro). In the Netherlands the same amount takes about 1 - 2 Euro. The most accessible natural wells are already depleted. A big water tank near the Kassar Devi Temple is under construction with new pipes cut into the ridge in both directions. To us the new water tank looked pretty small to support an increase of tourism – but it’s probably a big improvement already.

For people driving their own vehicle up Binsar road there’s little parking space. The road is narrow, so most people park on the shoulder. For travellers like us there’s only one place big enough to park a truck – It’s a public space in the woods under the trees without water and electricity. (N29 37 35.6 – E79 40 17.1) A big watertank, movable solar panels and/or a generator is essential to support a longer stay. But it wouldn’t surprise us if the place will be closed down in the future. For those with similar plans – don’t go there if you’re longer / higher or heavier than the average TATA truck or local bus.

Shopping in Almora means a 30 minute shared taxi-ride or a 1 hour walk downhill to the bazaar. Shared taxi’s run all day and ask about 20 rs one-way. The majority are in horrible technical condition – no tire profile, steering wheel with excessive play and gruesome sounds when using the brake. The taxi’s are usually packed far beyond the max. Sitting in cramped space gets a whole new dimension!. When you think no-one else can fit in, the driver just stops and takes a few passengers more, some just hanging on at the back. However when you don’t want to put up with this on the way back, 200 rs will buy the whole shared taxi just for yourself.

The Almora bazaar has one very exceptional thing – it’s car and motorcycle free - which is pretty much unique in India. Late afternoon it’s usually packed with people getting their daily stuff. It’s a 2-3 Km’s long with a wide variety of shops.
And there’s only one beer and wine shop – but finding it is another thing. You have to know where it is otherwise forget it. It’s nothing more than a barred hole in a wall behind the bazaar where the local alcoholics gather to get their daily shot of rum or vodka. Beer is quite expensive compared to the price of strong liquor - the taste is so so. Some restaurants and shops on Binsar road sell beer under the counter though…

As in most parts of India eating out is cheaper than making your own food. And quite a few foodshacks on Binsar road have adapted their menu to a western style flavour. That is almost – Indian taste is hard to beat and trickles down into many of the ‘tourist’ dishes. And it’s chicken or goat only for the non-vegetarians. And when there’s different meat on a rare occasion it’s usually from a  buffalo.

Getting connected to the Internet on crank’s ridge is pretty easy – Airtel’s mobile GPRS service is cheap (19 /rs a day – unlimited access) and works pretty well – with a laptop that is. The antenna’s are just near Kassar Devi temple so well in reach. They might have upgraded GPRS with EDGE technology too increasing the connection speed a few times more. Given you own a EDGE capable mobile phone.

The word is that Binsar road get’s it’s own DSL line too – in September 2007 it was near completion. That’s probably the end of the ole style dialups most internet shacks use on Binsar road – for 40 rs / hour you get a horrible slow connection. (slower than Airtel - GPRS) In Almora DSL speed is sold for just 20 Rs / hour. Of course on totally virus and internet worm invested XP workstations – so their might be a little spamming going on while you do your thing. Oh watch your USB stick, it’s puked on beyond recognition by the heavy virus load running on those machines.

Crank’s ridge has a few magnificent viewpoints into the valleys on both sides. There’s a footpath on the ridge taking you to the Kassar Devi Temple without having to walk the tarmac. There’s a new gravel road cut into the ridge just below Kassar Devi Temple going up to the  Buddhist Meditation centre. At the end of the road there are two splendid viewpoints. In monsoon time think twice before taking any car or truck up there. You might not get back due to the instability of this freshly cut road.

Binsar road has a few shops to get your stuff for daily living. Some of the shopkeepers take a 2 / 3 day ride to Delhi to buy the stuff foreigners like. We found Remia Mayonnaise, Toilet paper, Heinz Tomato ketchup, real Coffee and KitKat for prices which ain’t that bad. Somehow it was a rare find, specially after the typical Indianess of Champawat.

A few nice hang-out’s on Binsar road are Bisht guesthouse, Kim’s guesthouse, Akashdeep guesthouse, Dolmar and new Dolmar restaurant and guesthouse. There are far more places however these are pretty easy to find and have quite a few foreigners hanging out there. None of them have a parking for cars – it’s either just on Binsar road or connected by a narrow foot path.

In all Almora is a comfy place to spend some time – as many foreigners do. For overland travellers like us Almora was sort of a gamble. With little information where to stay with a truck we just tried. And we got lucky – somehow. For a future stay we certainly would come again – however not before we have some assurance the only place to park a truck still exists.

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