The Mountain Affair with Mary Budden Estate

If fifteen days back you would have told me that eventually everything heals and you get over the pain, the stress and all that’s pulling you down – I probably wouldn’t have believed you entirely, but out of social courtesy would’ve nodded my head. You see, when we are going through a phase in life which you don’t entirely understand and can make a head or tail of, every kind advise also feels like complete faff. When you’re in pain, unfortunately you go through it all alone.

Raised in the valley town (now city) of Dehradun, I have an instant connect with the mountains. I have always been a mountain person. There’s a character and grit that the mountains teach you like no one else can – to be strong, firm and not deter even in the worst of times. Mountaineer John Muir once said, “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilised people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity”, and I couldn’t agree more.

Ten days back I took a trip up to Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand. It sits 2,420m above sea level, atop the Jhandi Dhar hills in the Himalayas and used to be the summer capital of the Chand Kings who ruled Kumaon from 11th to 18th century AD. It is almost an hour and a half drive from the little mountain town of Almora, and if you are going by road from Delhi directly like I did, it will take almost close to twelve hours one way, if you don’t take a night’s halt in Nainital/Bhimtal.

Binsar has a handful of heritage family estates that date back to almost two centuries, and one of them was the one I was going to be staying at – Mary Budden Estate.

Mary Budden Estate was bought in 1899 by Ms. Mary Budden herself, and was then converted into a school for local orphans. It lay neglected till about a hundred years later when renowned photographer and writer Serena Chopra bought it and turned it into her mountain home. The estate is spread over 5 acres of land and has a cottage that sleeps 6 in three rooms and has additional 3 double rooms in the lodge. The rooms are just what you expect them to be in the mountains – cozy and warm, and the carefully chosen antique furniture adds to the old colonial charm of the estate. Since the estate is solar powered, we had been advised to not carry any heavy appliances or gadgets that might need to be charged frequently – and that set the tone for the holiday. Disconnected.

The room at the lodge at Mary Budden Estate

The drive up to the final destination was harrowing to say the least – not because of the views or the mode of travel, but because of the unwinding roads, lack of frequent breaks (you have to enter the sanctuary before 6PM) and the continuous hairpin bends. If you plan to drive down, make sure to take a night’s halt and then continue on your journey because Binsar is close to a three hour drive from Nainital too. The fag end of the journey from the forest check-point to the estate is made longer due to the broken roads.

I plan a lot and for people like me it is slightly uneasy when things are not in our control. The majority of the first day was spent in the car in what looked like an unending journey with roads that go as far as the eyes could see. That journey isn’t for the faint hearted, let’s just leave it at that. I fell asleep feeling dizzy that night. But I woke up in the middle of the night around 3am suddenly and I don’t know why but I opened the doors of my room to witness snowflakes falling and making a blanket of snowfall outside my room. I cried. I cried like a baby. I had never felt this joy before…of tasting snow, of letting go and trusting the universe to heal.

Pain is a pesky part of being human, I’ve learned it feels like a stab wound to the heart, something I wish we could all do without, in our lives here. Pain is a sudden hurt that can’t be escaped. But then I have also learned that because of pain, I can feel the beauty, tenderness, and freedom of healing. Pain feels like a fast stab wound to the heart. But then healing feels like the wind against your face when you are spreading your wings and flying through the air! We may not have wings growing out of our backs, but healing is the closest thing that will give us that wind against our faces.” – C. JoyBell C.


PS: There’s a lot more I have to tell you about my experience at Mary Budden Estate and Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary. Stay tuned for the next blog post! 


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