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Only the paws and wet black nose wedged in between gave away Pluto’s hideout under the couch. It was the Diwali weekend of 2013 and my flatmate’s young Labrador couldn’t comprehend the source of the catastrophic sounds that boomed from all directions. To watch him whine, fret and dig deeper into the quilt with her, while I frantically closed all the windows, was heart wrenching. Mumbling the choicest of expletives at the firecracker bragging on our street, we swore that the house needed to be abandoned during the festive season next year.

To say that 2014 Diwali was remarkably calming would be an understatement. Photographs of Pluto chasing a sunny patch on the floor to snooze with abandon are testimony enough. We were in the company of hills, clouds and birdsong—the ideal getaway from Delhi’s “thundering" Diwali. Our sanctuary? Pangot.

The hill town, 15km from Nainital, is one of the most stunning locations on Kumaon’s Nainital-Corbett National Park circuit. If you choose to drive, like we did, you have to wind your way through the busy plains from Delhi to Rampur on National Highway (NH) 24 and turn left towards Nainital via Haldwani. From there, forest patches start springing up till you are fully ensconced in thick foliage, with just the meandering road in front. Every now and then the forest opens up into clearings that are filled with herds of contented cows. The quiet is broken only by the jingle of their bells.

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With batteries charged, the first day was spent trundling up the Naina Peak. It was nothing too ambitious and the three of us, accompanied by a local guide, managed to hike up the 7km stretch in just over 2 hours. Unassuming clusters of village homes, sauntering shepherds, oak trees and rhododendron were our constant companions. From the Naina Peak, at a height of 8,563m, the view of the snow-clad tops of Nanda Devi, Trishul and Nanda Ghunti was reward enough.

As ardent fans of Jim Corbett books, we were both also inclined to try a short Corbett trail. That took most of the next day.

My memory from an earlier visit to the Corbett museum was hazy, so we made this our first stop to get oriented. Minus any elaborate exhibits, the museum at Kaladhungi village (41km, from Pangot to Kaladhungi​) only houses simple remnants of his life in India. But there is enough to excite any Corbett admirer (timings, 8am-5pm in winters/8am-6pm in summers; entry, Indians, 10, and foreigners, 50).

Close to the museum is Chhoti Haldwani, a village that Corbett bought in 1915 to develop as a model one. His legacy is kept alive by a Corbett Village Eco-Tour that helps arrange short trips. One can choose between birdwatching, a heritage trail, and a hike into the deep teak forests (Corbettvillage.in).

After a quick stroll around the village, and a meeting with the Corbett Gram Vikas Samiti that runs these tours, we only had time enough to catch the afternoon safari in the national park through the Dhela entrance (44.2km from Chhoti Haldwani). Its 521 sq. km is replete with diverse flora and fauna—the short jeep safari that we opted for, given that Pluto was back at the cottage, offered a small glimpse.

The Jim Corbett park is home to the spotted deer, elephants, birds and tigers. Photo: S Burmaula/Hindustan Times
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The Jim Corbett park is home to the spotted deer, elephants, birds and tigers. Photo: S Burmaula/Hindustan Times

Back at the cottage, Pluto’s enthusiastic welcome made us forget about the lack of sightings. As the sun set behind the Kumaon mountains, we settled in on the balcony, hoping to return to our original plan of doing little.

It was Diwali night. A fountain of firecrackers against the dark sky in the distance grabbed our attention. The hills absorbed the sounds, diluting them to a mild rumble. A little Diwali reminder—not such a bad thing.

Every fortnight, Weekend Vacations offers suggestions on getaways that allow for short breaks from metros.

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