Notes to a 20yr older me.
I wasn’t feeling very well. However aborting the ride was not an option. I did give myself the luxury of starting late. The weather was cold and I had my doubts about the dew freezing on the corners.
So it was past 6 when I left home. Ma was apprehensive as usual. Papa, realizing that I intended to go, was supportive. I guess he understood the wanderlust. He has been in the shoes before.
It was a perfect autumn morning – crisp, cold and clear.
While I do not think you would have forgotten the above image, I will still remind you of it.
Today, 25 yrs later, the moment is so sharply imprinted in my mind as if etched by laser. It was a beautiful summer afternoon in Nainital and I was at the steps of the TRC office next to Tallital rickshaw stand. Goal was to investigate for the upcoming Mukteshwar trip. Above the counter hung a picture very similar to above, Panchachuli at sunset from Munsiyari. Next to the counter stood a young man, frayed jeans and a soiled black jacket, asking animatedly about the picture. What stuck me was the excitement in the eyes and how they lit up on finding that he could get there in two days. And then he bounced down the steps and rode off on his bike parked outside.
Within me, a young impressionable boy of fifteen, seeds of wanderlust were sown.
Day 1: Nainital – Almora – Berinag – Chaukori – 185Km
Nainital was just waking up. As the moon fast disappeared behind the Camel’s Back, first rays of morning hit Tallital. The two silhouetted hills form a composite “V”. Lake simmers with reflection in the foreground. Each ripple reflecting sun rays in its own unique way. The sight is one to behold.
I hope 20 years from now, the trees still dot the skyline and no highrise displaces them from their places.
As I turned towards Bhowali, the cold hit me. Multiple layers of warm clothing inside the riding jacket did little to keep the cold wind at bay. So I slowed down to wait for the morning to warm up.
Bhowali is a fast growing town due to its location being en route to Almora, Ranikhet and other places in the interior. It also has space to grow in multiple directions. I wouldn’t be surprised if by your time, Nainital – Bhowali – Bhimtal is one continuous stretch of habitation.
The road from Nainital to Almora is a quite wide allowing for speedy traffic. I wasn’t in a hurry to go anywhere. So I took it easy and stopped often. I was in these parts at this time of year (Nov) after a very long time.
It wasn’t long before I crossed Kaich. Over the last several years the temple has grown manifold. The charm of a quaint little temple by the riverside is lost.
Post Kaichi, the road follows a river valley. This is my kind of road. Park the bike, sit on a road side parapet and hear the river sing in tandem with the birds. But then I had miles more to go.
I guess this year the rains have been plentiful. Seasonal waterfalls were still active though not as plentiful as in August when I rode to Katarmal.
Garampani and Khairna were up ahead. While I didn’t feel like it, owing to an uneasy stomach, I felt obliged to make a customary stop for alu and raita. I recalled how once Akshay and I brought a bus ticket only till Khairna so that we have as much time as we want to gorge on the staples of Garampani. We were returning from a fun trip to Binsar. That’s another story.
The name Garampani comes from the fact that this place is down in the valley and much warmer than the surrounding hills. Khairna is a little down the road. At Khairna, the road splits, crossing the river towards Ranikhet on one side and follows the river towards Almora on the other. Once upon the time Garampani was hub of activities. Now Khairna has taken over, though it is difficult to say where one ends and other starts.
Stopping at a shop in Khairna, I decided to subsitute a plate of raita for a tablet of Combiflan. The spicy alu and hot tea was just what I wanted to pep me up.
The road then follows the river all the way till Kakrighat, after which it rises towards Almora. At Kakrighat there is an old temple on the banks of Kosi River
As the road rose towards Almora, I spied a few mules descending towards the river. The bridge was reflecting in the river and it looked like an opportunity for a perfect frame. Quickly stopping and disembarking, I took the camera out and waited for the mules to reach the water.
Several frames later I was on my way to Almora.
As one approaches Almora, the first glimpse of snow-capped peaks is seen. Layers upon layers of mountains shadowed by the three peaks of Trishul. The visibility was good but not perfect. A haze hung among the distant mountains.
Almora bypass offered a way to avoid the city’s traffic and I turned that way. Soon I was above and other side of the city.
As I crossed Almora, the Pine jungles started. The roads become narrow and the traffic went down.
I love the Pine jungles.As Kipling said, once you have breathed the pine jungles of Himalayas you will come back to die there.
The trees are generally straight with branches higher up. The falling needles ensure there is little undergrowth. Cattle trails are marked all over. Besides the smell, the ability to walk in the jungle unhindered makes me love those.
After a while I took a small break – to smell the pines and enjoy the autumn sun filtered through the trees. I had been riding for more than three hours. There was a lot of temptation to lie down and take a nap on the pine needles. I avoided that as I had a long way to go. Still it was a welcome break.
Sitting there I wondered, after twenty years how much of this jungle will be remaining. The pressures of humanity were showing up everywhere.
At Barechhina, one roads goes towards the ancient Jageshwar temples. I took the other road which goes towards Dhaulachhina and onwards to Seraghat. The road rises through some magnificent jungle to peak at Dhaulachhina. From Dhaulachhina a trail goes towards Binsar. I can imagine it goes through some pristine jungles and worth a hike once.
While it was still early in the afternoon, I decided to stop for lunch. At the start of Dhaulachhina there is a small road side eatery which serves simple but tasty food. In season you can eat fresh greens plucked from the fields.
After lunch I walked down the street taking in the small settlement feeling. The street was busy as it was a mid-way stop for many buses. passengers were scattering among the various places to eat. This is one place which will be unrecognizable in 20 yrs.
Beyond Dhaulachhina, the road descends down to river Saryu.The road condition also worsened. I was somewhat tired now. So decided to take another break. Fifteen minutes of soaking the sun and a combiflan later I was good to go.
At Shareghat, there is a bridge over Saryu and you cross over to the other side. There was a lot of water in the river and several boys were fishing. A gentle breeze, water flowing and boys idly fishing. Its was a serene moment. And I felt sleepy.
Few kilometer later I found an ideal spot. A wide road shoulder with a raised bank. The river flowed some distance below and across the river cattle grazed. Perfect place for the afternoon nap.
As soon as I lay down, the eyelids became heavy and I was fast asleep in the balmy sun. I woke up a little while later. Too lazy to get up, I lay there enjoying the sun, the gentle breeze and the sight across the river. The criss-cross pattern made by goat tracks on the hill-side grabbed my attention and I took a few snaps.
After about 45min, I started on the last leg for the day.
Soon I reached Berinag. I am told that Berinag has seen better days when tea was grown on the hills around it. Now it seems like a struggling hill station. Most tourists prefer Chaukori over Berinag.
The road from Berinag to Chaukori is another amazing stretch. The road follows the top of a pine-covered ridge. On the North are the snow-capped peaks towering above the hills. The road condition is also surprisingly good. I hurried down this stretch to catch the sunset.
Chaukori is a small town dominated by KMVN guest house. For years this was the only place to stay. However over the last few year new hotels and resort have cropped up.
I first wanted to check out the other places to stay. So drove past the Ojaswi resort. It seems closed. So I returned to the main road and entered the KMVN guest house. Since this was a lean season, I easily got a room at KMVN guest house. The top floor rooms have a better view, so I choose one of those.
By this time I was extremely feverish and collapsed on a chair. After a while I adjusted the chair to give me a perfect view of the snow-capped peaks. A beautiful sunset was awaiting me.
It was almost 1700hrs and pangs of hunger were bothering me. So I ordered tea with veg noodles. while the tea was rejuvenating he noodles were nothing to write about. It ended up doing double duty as diner too.I also helped myself to a tablet of Combiflan.
After the sun went down, I changed and tucked myself in to sleep. Few hours later I was woken up by the cook, asking what I wanted to eat. Declining any extra food, I finished the rest of noodles. Quite refreshed, I tried my hand at some star trails. That wasn’t a successful experiment. So I went back to sleep.
In spite of not feeling well, I had done well for the day. I was living a long pending dream. One thing I have learned is that one should hold onto their dreams – small or big. opportunities will come to fulfill them and those then need to be taken. I guess 20 yrs from now you would have fulfilled many of these and jotted down a few more.