The Generalist

The purpose is general, the views personal, reading it optional

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Naini Tale - III

Holi day in a holiday
The next day was Holi (or as we Gujaratis call it - Dhuleti). We had heard contrasting opinions on whether we should move out on this day. Our hotel porter had asked us not to leave our room the whole day. In his opinion, even though the colour festival ended by afternoon, drunkards who have had a holy (or Holi) binge might be roaming the streets all day. By contrast, our taxi driver told us we would never know when this pahaaDon kii Holi started and when it ended.

After spending a cold and rainy Holi morning in the hotel, prospects for the rest of the day didn't look too good either. However, we ventured out in the taxi to the Aurobindo Ashram 1200 feet above Naini Tal to meet a relative we had not met in years. The ashram is located in a rarefied atmosphere where it was really cold and the clouds swept around you. The newly constructed quarters of the ashram were very good and we spent a couple of hours there. It seems leopards were frequent visitors there, their target being the dogs guarding the ashram. On our return, we saw a huge monolithic rock, a hill by itself, called, simply, the Bara Patthar (Anglicized version of baDaa patthar). This was where the ashram organized rappelling camps.

Weather was now deteriorating rapidly, and we took shelter in a restaurant back at the Mall for an evening meal. Thereafter, the taxi driver took us back on NH 87 to the Hanumangarhi temple, which was quite serene and offered a good view of the mountains. However, as soon as we were seated in the car to go back to the hotel, it started raining. No, it wasn't rain, it was hail. It was almost a hailstorm that ensued and chilled us to the bone, covering the entire road in white in a few minutes flat, followed by regular rain. Although very cold, we later felt this was also a good experience. We had no chance of moving out again the rest of the day.
More hills & lakes
The last day of our stay rose bright and sunny, and we were enthused to go on a day-long trip. We began, in a taxi, to Ranikhet, located roughly 60km to the north of Naini Tal, although 2000 feet lower than Naini. Wishing our last goodbye to the Naini lake, we set off. The first major town on our way was Bhowali, which was a meeting place of UP and Uttaranchal for fruit produce and consequently, boasted of a fruit market with good variety.

Our first stop was at a place called Kainchidham (kainchii as in scissors, since this village was presumably inhabited, initially, by people whose main occupation was sharpening the blades of knives and scissors). This place has a very clean and beautiful temple. Besides Radha-Krushna, Hanuman and Shiv, it is also dedicated to a certain Neebkarauri Baba, whose influence goes far and wide. According to the taxi driver, the time for an annual foot march of thousands of devotees from Bhowali to Kainchi was due. After an excellent breakfast of hot pakora-s here, we moved on.

A few kilometres on, the river Kosi started accompanying us, its clear water making its way through the rocky mountains and over smoothened white pebbles. At a certain spot on the river, there was a huge rock which resembled a frog in profile, and someone had even painted eyes on the rock. There was an old, but recently strengthened suspension bridge over the river here and it was a great place to snap some photographs. A few miles on, we came across a town of concrete houses called Garampani due to the hot water springs found here at some time. These no longer existed.

Around 30km from this place was Ranikhet, a place of considerable natural beauty dominated by an Army cantonment. Within this cantonment were large playgrounds, a children's amusement park and Army establishments. There was also the large and cool Mankameshwar temple, a gurudwara and some wool and tweed-weaving units, one of which we visited. Just outside the cantonment on the other side, near the parade ground, was an Army-owned golf links. Slightly further on was the Kalika temple, where a little girl, trained well, rang the huge bell for us and offered us prasad. After loitering around the golf links for a while, we were back on our way for the second leg of our trip for the day.

After some time was wasted due to a puncture in a rear tyre, we were back in Bhowali, this time taking the route to Bhimtal. This was a much busier road. Our first destination was Sat Tal (seven lakes). I found this lake to be the most picturesque of all - in a U-, almost an O-shape, with a hill in the middle. We spent half an hour on one of the arms of the U in a boat. The driver was very talkative and quite knowledgeable. He told us that the U represented four kunD-s - the Ram, the Sita, the Lakshman, and the Bharat. Yet another story associated with Ram's vanavaas said that on not finding water anywhere in the region even after 7 days of tapasyaa, Ram fired seven arrows in anger. Water sprang out from the seven places where these arrows hit the ground. Four of these kunD-s were now joined together, while the other three - the Garud, the Nal, and the Damayanti - were deeper in the forest. Adding to the trivia, our boatman told us that a house on a mountain at the far end of the lake was the place where the muhurat shot of the Rajesh Khanna-starrer Kati Patang was taken.

Bhimtal was our next stop. This is another large lake with an island in the middle and with perhaps the quietest waters. A walk along its periphery and a few photographs later, we were on our way to our last spot - the Naukuchiya Tal (nine-cornered lake). This was another beautiful lake, whose waters had entered several nooks and corners. Another long-ish walk along its periphery and some tea on an excellently situated small restaurant later, we finally called it a day.

A couple of hours were spent at Kathgodam where we finally boarded the Bagh Express, which deposited us in Lucknow right on time early the next morning.

Naini Tale - II

Salute to Corbett
The next day, the sun rose and lifted our spirits. In this weather, we could decide to make at least one of the standard tours around Naini Tal. Our taxi driver suggested we visit the Corbett National Park, and we were on our way. The route to Corbett consisted of a descent to the plains, starting from Kaladhungi (35 km from Naini Tal) and then a plain straight road to the park (48 km from Kaladhungi), the road continuing all the way to Haridwar.

The first stop was just outside Naini Tal, at a spot from where the lake Khurpa Tal could be viewed from a height. Breakfast consisted of chhole-puurii consumed in a beautifully situated restaurant in front of a waterfall. The mountainous descent quickly ended in plain country and we reached Kaladhungi, where the first stop was at the Corbett Museum.

The great British naturalist and hunter Jim Corbett made his winter home at Kaladhungi, bought some land there, and settled a lot of native Indians in a village he named Chhoti Haldwani. This house has been converted into a museum. Although aware of some of his exploits, Corbett's life was as yet unknown to me. This was made clear in detail through the illustrated story of his life in the house. The sloping roof and the wood-panelled floor of the house contained memories of Corbett and his sister, Margaret (Maggie), who lived here when the place was much more of a forest than it is today. I was heavily inspired by Corbett's pursuing of something he loved, and also by his multi-faceted personality. I ultimately bought 'The Man-eaters of Kumaon' from a Naini Tal bookshop that evening.

Situated close to this museum, in Nayagaon village, is the Corbett Falls, a moderately big waterfall. The small trek to the fall was in the midst of green, yet rocky, forest land. The fall was beautiful to look at, and the water, as clear as can be. The spot was ideal to picnic in, although that would spoil the beauty of the place. We were on our way again to the park, now along the Haridwar Road, flanked by fields of grain and sugarcane, and plantations of mango and litchi. It looked like prosperous country. Several rivers and streams also crossed our path, occasionally even at road level.

On reaching the park, we found that the next trip into the park was scheduled at 2pm, about two hours away. We made our way to the temple village of Garjia, 7km further away from the park. Garjia is actually a corruption of Girija, and the temple is dedicated to Girija Devi, the daughter of the mountains. The location of the temple is unique and extremely picturesque. It is located on a hill right in the middle of the pebble-laden riverbed of river Garjia. A small footbridge across the then-dry riverbed led to the steps of the temple. The place must be marooned when the river ran full with water.

Corbett country, Tiger territory
Two trips each day of 3-3.5 hours each are scheduled inside the park from the Bijrani Gate. For those more interested in wildlife, and looking out for better chances of spotting the tiger, there was also an overnight trip, with entry from Dhikala. On each day-trip, not more than 30 open jeeps (or rather, Maruti Gypsies) are allowed inside. Each jeep is supposed to have its own guide, who can take the jeep wherever he pleases, and according to the tourists' wishes. We had a vexing, yet humorous, time in the beginning when we didn't get a guide and the young driver coolly told us that they charged for the guide, whether the jeep got one or not. When we finally got a guide, a confused gatekeeper, who had got his gate passes mixed up, asked us where the small child was. When told that there was no child in our jeep, he got even more confused and told us we didn't make an entry for our driver! Now the drivers and the guides were all provided by park authorities, so how is a tourist supposed to make entries for his driver? As suddenly as this controversy had broken out, it died down as the gatekeeper let us go, either after realizing his mistake or being too frustrated to care.

Now making our way into the park, the guide told us the park was divided into three concentric zones: the outermost buffer zone, which also had a village protected by an electrified fence, the middle zone, and the inner 'rest' zone, where these cars were not allowed. We saw a lot of chital and a few sambhar-s in the buffer area, grazing patiently. These are, doubtless, the most common animals to be spotted on day trips.

After a short break in a large clearing where a souvenir shop and an eatery were located, the cavalcade of jeeps moved on into deeper jungle - the middle zone. A watchman's hut with a moat dug on all four sides to protect it from elephants was where the jeeps registered their entry into this zone. Dense forests were interspersed with some clearings and smooth-pebble-covered riverbeds. The jeeps splashed water all around while moving through these beds, and more deer and sambhar-s could be seen on the edge of such clearings. At a point in this forest, the jeeps stopped as we saw a dormant python lying on the side of the road, its belly swollen. According to the guide, it had swallowed a whole langur and had been lying since the previous day, trying to digest after overeating.

After some anxious moments here when our jeep had failed to start, we were on our way again. Now we were separated from the rest of the flock and moved into much deeper, denser forest. Animals were scarce, but the experience of going through deep forest was quite thrilling. The weather added to the thrill, because it had been cloudy for some time and threatened to rain. We surprised a huge male sambhar chewing its food, and after trying to run away, it posed gamely for a photo. Another female sambhar stood right there on the road for another snap. We were also lucky to see a small barking deer. On the way, we also surprised two wild boar who ran on the road in front of us before moving into the brush. On finally meeting up with a few jeeps, we stopped at a tree on whose bark a tiger had made claw marks. This was its attempt to clean its claws after a kill, and it also marked its territory this way. The rest of the trip remained uneventful, marked only by the sight of an eagle perching low and a couple on an elephant ride - the only elephant we saw. So, it turned out, it was an expensive trip, but worth it if only to experience the jungle atmosphere.

Naini Tale - I

This is an account of a trip to Naini Tal and other places nearby that I undertook with my parents recently. It won't make for good literature, but is enough to capture some memories. On account of my being at Lucknow, my parents had come there and our journey began from there.

Reaching the Tal
The beginning was inauspicious as the Bagh Express (bagh as in tiger, not as in garden) was very late coming into Lucknow. Fortunately, it compensated for some of the lateness during the night and we reached Kathgodam - the base railway station for Naini Tal - only an hour later than scheduled. The climb up the mountains took another hour. The road, a National Highway (no. 87), was in excellent condition.

Fickle companion
The weather remained a fickle companion throughout our four-day stay at Naini Tal. While Kathgodam, at a very low altitude above sea level, had enjoyed sunlight, Naini Tal looked gloomy under swirling clouds as soon as we reached. The whole of northern India had been in the grip of the activity of a so-called western disturbance leading to rainy weather and although the skies had cleared in Lucknow, it was a different story at this mountainous place.
The Mall and the Tal
We stayed at a hotel in Tallital, which is to the south of the Naini lake. The sudden cold weather was slightly difficult to cope with, but we decided to pay a visit to the town. The first glimpse of the Naini lake was decidedly spectacular, even in the gloomy weather. The lake is in the shape of a huge inverted comma, and all along one of its banks is the Mall Road of Naini Tal, ending toward the south in Tallital and toward the north in Mallital. Shops included several shawl and woollen stores, tour & travel agencies, eateries & snack shops, etc. Curved driveways marked the St. John's Church, the Elphinstone Hotel and other places. The major means of transport on the road was the cycle rickshaw. In Mallital is the Naina Devi temple, which gives Naini Tal its name. There is also a big playground, perhaps created by the British, for there is a cement cricket pitch right in the middle of it. Thunderclaps sounded ominously on our return journey, and we hurried to our hotel as rain threatened to come down heavily. It didn't, however, and we made our way back to Tallital bus depot for a dinner consisting of aaluu, muulii and onion parantha-s.

Setting the context

I hope this will be the second blog that I will maintain as a 'going concern'. My first sustained attempt at blogging has just been put to an end as that blog was meant to cover only the period when I was pursuing an MBA at IIM Lucknow.

This blog, by contrast, is not meant for any particular purpose, and will consist of some news, some views, some opinions, some descriptions, and such other completely general stuff, not burdened by the question of relevance. My time starts now!