A Journey to Uttarakhand...
“Bhaiyya, please zara dekh ke chalo!” hollered Kunchi* from her seat at the back of the Indica. While she frowned at the driver, I reached out for my notebook and jotted down our itinerary for the next 5 days.
It was October, 2007. We had just arrived in Dehra Dun by the early morning Shatabdi Express from Delhi and boarded the cab booked for us. Our itinerary read: Dehra Dun – Nainital – Rudrapur – Haridwar – Rishikesh – Dehra Dun**. It was to be an office trip to understand these markets on our industry-basis. I could not have asked for a better route. Of course, there was my temperamental colleague, Kunchi, saddled with me but that hardly mattered. I was happy and excited and knew that it would be the ride of a lifetime!
I was not wrong.
Today, I wonder if we had taken a risk in travelling to these far flung places all by ourselves, in a cab. But nary did a thought cross our mind about any kind of danger when we were at it – on the road trip to Uttarakhand hot-beds. We drove by night, the road lined with dark forests on both sides, and the driver playing his favourite Punjabi beats to the maximum decibel. Kunchi did not mind, she was a true Punjaban after all. But my imaginative mind would ponder over the reason behind the driver playing music so loud in the middle of the night. Was it because he is scared that he might come across a translucent lady in white by the side of the road? Or did he know of any secret harbored by these dark forests. Were there spirits from the nether world, besides the wild animals lurking in the shadows of the moonless night?
“Dear,” Kunchi would somehow intercept my thought. “He is feeling sleepy and is trying to keep himself awake.”
We would cross long distances on such eerie evenings and reach our destination cities in the dead of night. I recall seeing Haridwar still resplendent with lights at such a late hour. The lights and the Ganges beckoned us and we could not resist from alighting from our car and taking the steps down to the holy river. I have never been a spiritual person and yet I could not name the feeling that shrouded me that night when we were sitting by the river side with a calm breeze blowing and the sound of tinkling bells. We had gone about our work in the city the next morning and returned at dusk to be met with the amazing sight of a thousand diyas floating down the river. It has remained etched in my memory for ever.
As we bade goodbye to Haridwar for another holy town, Rishikesh, we found ourselves wanting to linger around the Ganges for some more time. I have memories of stopping by a small temple by the side of the river and spending a few quiet moments, sitting on the steps and dipping our feet in the cool waters. Perhaps that was the solace people speak of, the reason behind pilgrims coming to Haridwar.
A group of river-revelers..
Our ruminations were broken by a giggling group of little boys who were frolicking in the water, diving from top of the steps.
“Didi, hamare bhi photo lo,” (sister, please take our photo) they cajoled, spotting our camera.
Later on, Kunchi and I would smile happily as we looked at the impish boys’ pictures.
Rishikesh was a hurried affair, having reached the temple town during the dying hours of the sun; a slight chill in the air. We had marveled at the colour of the river changing along with the fast shifting sun rays before jostling our way through the Lakshman Jhula. Years ago, I had visited Rishikesh with my family and posed for the mandatory photograph on the bridge. Just as the camera was being clicked by a helpful passer-by, a cow decided to head-butt its way through us and a monkey decided to jump upon us. Both at the same time. I still have the photograph at our Guwahati home. Maybe I should get it framed.
The Lakshman Jhula in Rishikesh
For me, the highlight of the trip was the charming hill town of Nainital. I had always been enamoured by the lilting name of Nainital. ‘A beautiful name veiled a beautiful place’ is what I felt, though this does not always hold true . We had reached Nainital again very late at night and till then all I had witnessed through the winding roads were twinkling lights on the hillside. It was left for the morning to reveal the beauty of Nainital. I woke up to birds chirping and pulled aside the heavy curtains to find myself looking over a thick grove of Deodar trees. More was to follow. I stepped on the lawn of the hotel towards the restaurant for breakfast and it was from there that I had my first view of the Naini Lake, a shimmering pool of azure depths. Later, as we took a stroll along the mango-shaped lake, we were tempted to peep inside the shops selling various memorabilia. I remember buying a small wooden toy to remember this beautiful hill town and its lovely lake, nestled amidst green mountains.
A glimpse of the lake
The Naini Lake
While I loved every bit of the time we spent at Nainital, Kunchi had a tough time negotiating the downward hairpin bends. That was the only time I saw vulnerability hit the otherwise fiery Kunchi, a girl difficult to please and yet credulous to the extent of being naïve.
The winding roads of Nainital
Another high point of this trip was when we had come back to Dehra Dun and found that we had some time to kill before boarding the Shatabdi back to Delhi. I remembered my old house in Dehra Dun where we had stayed way back in 1991. A strange desire to see the house overcame me and I asked the driver to take us to Panchsheel Park, a small colony near the Forest Research Institute. It was almost 17 years since I had lived in Dehra Dun and yet, I found myself guiding the driver effectively, as if I had never left the city at all. We reached the colony and took the familiar circuitous route around the lichi orchard. The orchard was still there. And so was my old home. It looked the same, except for a little change in colour. I did not stop, though, to meet my aged landlady. I always have this fear of going back to an old memory, in case something scars it in present times and spoils it forever.
My old home in Dehra Dun
I looked at my old home one last time and told the driver to move on. I did not want to know anything about the home or its owners.
And thus, I returned to Delhi, ending my 5-day sojourn to Uttarakhand, filled with reminiscences worth a gold mine. It was a difficult trip, no doubt owing to our job, and yet a fulfilling one. One that saw us sail through the spiritual realm as well as hilly abodes, and explore the crests and troughs of emotional and physical states. It was the ride of a lifetime.
*Name has been changed.
**The journey has not been reported chronologically.
(This is an entry for Indiblogger and AmbiPur's 'The Perfect Road Trip'.)