Born and brought up in the plains, have always been fascinated by hills, mountains and water bodies. The whole idea of going up and down the spiralling pathways, the balancing act superbly executed by the hill drivers, the view of the Himalayas, the clear blue sky above, the lush green vegetation around, the cold breeze lashing the face are enough to set my pulse racing even before planning a trip to the hills. So, this time when a sudden plan of a trip to the hills was being conceptualised to end 2008 with elan, the excitement levels were soaring at the thought itself even before the plan seemed possible to materialise.
Getting the people together, the last minute bookings (the long weekend of 25th Dec holidays made it impossible to get train bookings), the budget and finally zeroing on the destination (with so many weekend getaway spots around Delhi) almost made it as if the trip would not take place. But then such challenges at times act as stimulant and as I firmly believe when you want something badly the entire universe conspires to grant it. Yeah so that's what happened and Mukteshwar was chosen as the destination for our escapade. Mukteshwar is a calm, little paradise tucked away approximately 8,000 ft above in the Kumaon Hills and a two hour uphill drive from Nainital. Some research on the place, word of mouth and one image of the place in particular had played a pivotal role in the selection.
So, after sorting all the chaos and confusion a gang of five set out to Mukteshwar via Nainital on 26th Dec 2008, by the night bus of Uttarakhand Parivahan. It is approximately a 7-8 hour drive from Delhi to Nainital and after settling down in the bus at 10.30 we all were set to wake up the next morning in the City of Lakes, but wait it was not going to be that easy, destiny had some other exciting plans for us. As Nainital is a hotspot for the honeymoon couples as well, we were amused with some nice entertainment in our front seat most of the night and thanks to all the mobile music available these days, was awake till pretty late. Every now and then I could feel that the bus screeched to a halt due to a vehicle in the front and then in the light could see the thick cloud of fog all around. Was a scary sight, but being the optimist I am, I went to sleep and depite a constant feeling of being motionless, was hopeful that will witness the next day's sunrise in Nainital.
The next morning when we woke up and found ourselves in a stationery bus with a serpentine queue of trucks and buses in front of us, that it really dawned on me that we are badly stuck and the itinerary for the day might go a little haywire. So, we waited and waited but then the wait seemed endless and the restless gang decided in a spur of moment that we will walk down the maze of trucks and buses to the nearest bus stop, that was Gajraula, some 6-7 kms away from where our bus was stuck, according to people around. And there was a furry of mixed feelings the planner side of me was extremely upset at the turn of events and the delay, whereas the hidden adventurous side of mine was extremely delighted at such an opportunity.
Loaded with bag and baggage we walked around 5-6 kms non-stop the fog and the pleasant weather helped, but then after a while when there was movement in the vehicles, we hopped on a bus headed towards Moradabad. From Moradabad we were asked to take a cab to Kathgodam or a bus to Rudrapur but there were no cabs or buses in sight for our desired destination. Some kind passersby guided us to the new bus stop for buses to Rudrapur. By this time we were famished and tired and the scorching sun did not help at all. Seated in a handpulled rickshaw we headed to the new bus stop and then quickly boarded a rickety rackety bus headed to Rudrapur, our next destination. After finishing all the biscuits, chips, oranges, chocolates, cakes and being dead tired, most of us dozed off in the long drive. The next task in Rudrapur was to find a cab to Nainital. With a missionary zeal we all got onto this task and finally after a lot of negotiation we finally got in the cab but alas it was already 5pm by then. I still couldn't believe it was happening to us. Without food, without freshening up, all plans gone topsy turvy and little patience left we were finally headed to Nainital.
All this while I had been hoping against hope that we will be able to do something else other than travelling the whole day, but then after leaving in the cab all my hopes were diminishing. Now the only hope I had was to reach Nainital somehow. Thankfully, a chance meeting with a friend of one of our gang members had opened doors to stay at her place in Nainital. This was a great respite although the final journey from Rudrapur to Nainital seemed a never ending one. With the growing darkness, around the only thought left in our minds was to just reach someplace. Finally it was 7pm (only 12 hours late) when we FINALLY reached Nainital. The hustle bustle on the Mall Road once again elevated our spirits and an amazing appetizing dinner at the Machan put us back on track and there we were again laughing, making fun of each other, singing and clicking stupid pictures. All energised we hit the market immediately, as there was nothing else to doat that hour of the day and just like other enthusiasts hill station tourists, we armed ourselves with gloves and mufflers. The sight of the Naini lake at night was another cause of relief to all our day's tiredness. The night was spent at that kind friend's guest house with some 4 rooms opened for the 5 of us. The house has a breathtakingly beautiful sight from its rooms on the first floor. A hot water bath and a goodnight's sleep geared us for the next day's excitement.
After a day travelling only to Naintal, we had to make as much use of the next day. So, we all got up early in the morning and were out by 9am as per our plans, headed towards Mukteshwar, Bhimtal and Naukuchiatal. The uphill drive to Mukteshwar was a little nauseating but the scintillating view of the hills pacified and calmed all the senses. We reached Mukteshwar finally, and yes it was worth all the journey we had taken the previous day. Breathtakingly beautiful and a little hideaway this place seems like a shoulder of nature to reach the greater heights. Lying or sitting on the Chauthi Jaali is a memory that can be cherished throughout your life. Atop this cliff hanging in the air, I could feel my soul talking to the nature. Might sound philosophical....hehe.....what I felt here is beyond any description. It is a divine feeling and I just wished I was all alone there for hours reading a book or scribbling something on paper. Our guide for Mukteshwar was a super fit, super enthusiast and an ace phtographer (he claimed he could handle any digital camera thanks to all the foreign tourists he used to cater), 65 year old Mr. Phadke. After our photosession and all our reminiscings on the beauty of nature, we were taken through a forest type area to a small Shiv Mandir in Mukteshwar. The surrounding calmness and the spiritual aura arround the temple was a welcome relief to all the over excitement we felt during the trip. An important place that we missed in our trip to Mukteshwar and which was there on my intinerary was the PWD Bungalow, immortalised by Jim Corbett. No issues, I am sure I will cover it in my next trip :)
Next on our radar was Bhimtal. Now that name was very interesting and the first thing I did after landing up was to ask the locals about the significance of the name. The story is that during the visit of Pandavas at this particular place during their exile, they wanted to attend to nature's call but there was no water around. So, gadadhari Bhim used his gada once to dig this giant lake and relieved all the Pandavas :) ..... A boat ride in this lake is a pleasant experience, especially when you can see nimbus clouds hanging on the montain tops around and the sun playing hide and seek in the clouds. There are no good eating options at this place other than the usual tea, coffee, which we realised after we had a disastrous lunch at one of the locall restaurants here.
After bidding adieu to Bhimtal, we headed towards Naukuchiatal, some 20 mins drive from one tal to the other. Naukuchiatal, as the name suggests is a lake with nine corners. It is a beautiful lake surrounded by hills around and with less crowd. It is said that a view of the nine corners of this lake, all together, isn ominous sight. I tried a lot to look at the nine corners, but in vain. This lake has the option of paddle boating and so, the five of us split into three boats and began an exciting game in the water, something similar on the lines of car racing on the tracks. All set for our paddle boat racing, the objective was to hit each other's boats and race to the first position. The boat fight was soooo much fun and with only our boats ruling the entire lake, we had an amazing time. Playing Antakshari(only tacky Hindi movie boat songs were allowed) and acting like the Pirates of Caribbean, all of us behaved like 6-7 year olds and the child inside us had a field day. Jubilant and satisfied after an awesome boat ride and race and in no mood to return back to sensibilities, the time constraint made us head back to the shore. There is a little coffee shop beside the lake, where you get some nice coffee and snacks to munch on with a view of the lake from the window.
After satisfying both the soul and the stomach at Naukuchiatal, we started on the downhill journey to Nainital. The same night we had a bus to board for Delhi. Our trip to the hills culminated in perfection after a visit to the Naini temple. The Naini temple is aptly named, after Goddess Naini and the position of the temple allows a panoramic view of the entire city. The structure of the Naini temple is quite different from the usual temple structures, it has some features of a monastery, probably that is the hill effect. After paying homage to Naini Devi and soaking in the final calmness of the hills, it was time to start the return journey.
Content with a treasure trove of beautiful memories from the trip and jubilant after answering the call of the hills, here I am back again in the hustle bustle of the city. But my spirits are high and my soul is exhilarated to look forward to my next getaway from the city. As they say, all's well that ends well.......this was one trip that started on all the wrong notes but had a beautiful ending.........Thank you everybody for your participation, key insights and all direct and indirect aid in the accomplishment of this trip and making this one beautiful experience of my life :)