“I went looking for pictures and found a spot straight out of some NAT GEO Documentary. This is the spot I found”
|Folks, this is a narrative of our experience of driving across the heartland of India and then meandering though the Garhwal hills, through 2 Weeks and 6000 kilometers.
Part 1 of this travelogue is authored by my husband Pawan while yours truly takes credit for the rest of this post.
After our vacation at Pondicherry, I asked my wife, where’s the next vacation going to be? She gave me a cold stare and pop came the reply, Pawan, I am sick of visiting the oceans and the seas, this time I want to be in the mountains, up north , we have done the Ooty’s and Munnars so many times. I smiled and said OK, to contain the barrage of word that would have followed ;-). But that one liner set me thinking and browsing and sniffing through places in the mountains. After much mental math and route calculations, finalized on 3 locations with the following plan for each:
1. Rishikesh – 2 nights – Ganga Aarti, Rafting and some bungee jumping etc.
2. Uttarkashi – 2 nights – Visit Harsil, Sattal and or Nachiketa Tal and get to Gangotri
3. Rudraprayag – 3 nights – Koteshwar then Deoria Taal, Chopta, Tungnath + Chandrashilla
Route finalized! So how do we get there, fly or drive? Drive obviously, no doubts. As soon as I said drive, wifey had a hundred questions but she knew that I won’t budge. So you’re fine with the driving plan I asked. She said “Do I have an option?” and it was sealed, We’re Driving.
Next were the dates. Tough one to find 2 weeks with both of us working full time and school going kids. Looked up the calendar and the weekend of 8th April popped up. It’s Ugadi in Bangalore. Meant long weekend and both of us would have wrapped up all March /year end activities at work and summer vacations would have started for kids. Bonus, since Char Dham yatra would be almost a month away, we would escape the peak season crowds. SOLD!
Minor alteration to the plan: “Pawan, I want to spend a couple of days with my parents before we go wandering, how do we do it”? OK you guys fly to Delhi while I drive solo, will pick you guys at Meerut (my in-laws’ house) and rest of the plan remains the same. SOLD!
So this is how the itinerary looked:
1. 7th April – Drive to Hyderabad – Sleep.
2. 8th April – Drive to Sagar – Sleep.
3. 9th April – Drive to Delhi – Catch-up with friends.
4. 10th April – Reach Meerut
5. 7 nights on the hills (as above)
6. 18th April – Drive back to Meerut
7. 20th April – Drive to Sagar
8. 21st April – Drive to Kanha National Park, take the evening Safari
9. 22nd April – Drive to Hyderabad or Nizamabad
10. 23rd April – Reach Bangalore.
Once the plan was finalized, wifey called her parents to let them know the finalized plan and check if they were home during those days and if they would be willing to come along. Even before she could start the ‘willing to come along’ part, Mom-in-law said, “haan theek hai, hum bhi chalenge”(that sounds good, we will also join you guys).
So here we were, 1 XUV, 2 weeks, 3 generations, 6 people, 7 nights and 8 days and the mighty Himalayas. Reservations were made accordingly and we were all set for the road trip. Age range of this road trip gang: 6 years to 76 years and yours truly being the solo driver for the entire trip.
Additional Equipment for the trip:
- iPhone installed with Raah.co App – tracking my location every 5 seconds so my dear ones could know my exact position on the map (It proved to be an amazing app and a must for those who go road tripping often) – more of this app during the course of this trip narrative.
- Mobius Dashcam – capturing every detail of what was in vision for 110 degrees
- Android Phone – with the google maps lady (sparingly used)
- Sony Camera and a Lumia Windows Phone doing their duty with the pictures
- Car charger to make sure the 3 phones have enough power all the time
Solo Drive – Me Myself and the Highways
Day 1: Bangalore to Hyderabad
The plan was to start at 1PM but could start only at 2PM from Sarjapur road on the 7th. Drive to Hyderabad was fairly uneventful except that I got caught up in after work crowd at multiple places on the way. Spotted a Bentley and a Jaguar in the middle of nowhere which was a welcome surprise in the land of Boleros, Sumos and the ever so existent, Maruti Suzukis of all shapes, sizes and colors. But then, this is the district of the daal (pulses) traders of the south and they better be rich, so Bentley it was. Some-day maybe, I thought, and kept driving.
Since I was supposed to drive north of HYD, Country club at Medchal sounded like a good option to crash, so as to avoid the city traffic. Didn’t realize that it was far removed from the main road and was in some hidden alleys of Medchal, though it looked fairly straight forward on the google maps. Lost some 20 odd minutes to locate the place. By the time I checked in it was 9:30 already. Ordered food, ate and crashed, had a long day ahead.
There’s hardly anything to say on the road conditions between Bangalore and Hyderabad. Well laid roads and the amazing Hyderabad outer ring road. As soon as I reached the HYD ORR, put the car on cruise with speed set at 130, and the entire HYD ORR stretch between NH7 entrance to Medchal exit was done in approximately 35 minutes.
|I’ve always felt the need for a Seventh Gear on the XUV once you cross 110 kmph mark and I missed it all through this trip. Cross the 2000 mark on the RPM dial and the car feels like saying “TOP GEAR PLEASE” . With a lot of power still at its disposal and the lack of a higher gear, the RPM needle climbs dramatically with every mark on the speedometer needle once you cross ~125 kmph.
But hey, 6 gears is pretty good and served me bloody well, for this beast is truly “a car made for the highways”.
Day 2: Hyderabad to Sagar
Google maps said 875 kms via the north south corridor, through the dreaded Hinganghat route so I hit the road early. The kitchen at Country club wont serve anything before 7:30 and they said earliest they can serve tea is 7:15 AM. Not worth the wait, I have my cigarettes and some highway dhaba will do a better job, so come 7 AM and I was behind the wheel. Drove for some 30 odd minutes and stopped for refueling. Took a few minutes to wash the front and rear windscreen and had a tea at the nearby tapri. Back on the wheel, U2 started singing ‘It’s a beautiful day’ and it was a beautiful morning indeed. Clear skies, sparse traffic and butter smooth tar underneath, the XUV was munching miles on cruise, hungry for more.
Around 10:15 crossed the Peeparwada toll plaza and hit a rough patch. After travelling on some really nice roads you are forced to say “Really? NH? Are you serious?” Drove through this patch for some 40 minutes and came across another small toll point. Paid Rs 30 toll for travelling through the ill maintained road for some more time before I found the divided tarmac. Bliss! Not long lived though. 15 minutes on I hit another rough undivided patch that lasted another 10 minutes. The signboard said Hinganghat 19 ↑ and the expectation was set. This is nasty zone I told myself, sit tight and relax, it will pass. Reached the Hinganghat Railway crossing around 11:45, saw the traffic halted and knew the railway crossing is acting up. Saw a small dhaba right there with a few crates of eggs and decided to have an omelet. 4 eggs, 1 Paratha and 1 liter of chilled water, rejuvenated. Just then I noticed a truck crossing over from the other side, and the chotu at the dhaba said, “Sir, khul gaya phatak” (Sir the crossing has opened). Got back in the car and glided past the crossing.
2 minutes past the crossing you will come across a big set of rumble speed breakers which come almost unannounced, and if you’ve caught speed by then, it will be fun.
I had already crossed Nagpur and driving through this no man’s land where population was scanty, came across the MKHS HIGHWAY PLAZA, a huge setup with a fuel station and decided to stop. Turned out to be a good place to halt. Had another omelet with toast and Tea. Replenished my supplies of Water, Amul Buttermilk and a couple of Mango juices (need my sugars) and stowed them in the chiller compartment. Soon I was driving past the Pench forest range of MP and U2 singing ‘Still haven’t found what I’m looking for’. Decided to stop for a lil bit and let the wilderness soak in. It was dry and hot but was a welcome change from the highways. Spent some 10-15 minutes there and started driving again. The road wasn’t the friendliest and the undivided two way traffic made the proceedings slow but it kept moving. Drove through a mild drizzle on the way too. Noticed a massive road widening project underway which by the width seemed like 4 lane divided highway should come good. The sad part though, lots and lots of trees were felled to make way for the road. The bad side of a good deed.
Driving Through the Pench Forest
Rest of the drive till Sagar was a smooth sail, couple of rough patches but overall the north south corridor held through nicely. The setting sun carved an orange outline on the skies which kept getting richer as the sun descended, creating some beautiful views as I drove through. Reached Sagar a few minutes after 7 pm.
Oranges Of The Sun – Watch In HD + FullScreen
Noticed that the car had quashed quite a few bugs all over the front side and the ORVM casing looked like a bugs’ battlefield. A lot of dust too had accumulated along the rough patches so asked the watchman at the hotel to get the car washed and cleaned up before 7:30 AM, ETD tomorrow. Delhi awaiting and the ever so discussed Yamuna Expressway, I was already eager to hit the road. Had a beer, ate and crashed.
Came across some stupid drivers along the way who were driving unawares of their surroundings. Interestingly, all stupidity happened on the same day. See the attached video.
Trip route so far:
Day 3: Sagar to Noida
Checked out of the hotel sharp at 7:30 AM and was greeted by my sparkling fresh Dolphin Grey Beast. The cleaning guy had done a good job and the XUV was ready to roll. Cranked up the car, set the destination to Sector 19, Noida on google maps and obeyed the google lady for directions. “Turn left on to National Highway 26” she said, and I did that obediently. Once on the highway, the google lady was muted, ‘3 Doors Down’ cranked up and cruise speed set at 120 kmph, me and the XUV were sailing towards Jhansi. Saw a flock of birds on the way happily flying alongside for a few seconds.
Now that’s a good way to start the day, isn’t it?
Flying Alongside – Strictly Watch In HD + FullScreen – Else you will loose the whites
Took a lunch break AT MORENA (HOTEL RAJ PALACE) around 12:50 PM. Veg only place but the food was good. Rejuvenated I prepared myself mentally to drive through Agra, asked the google lady and she showed only yellow roads with some red patches all the way till entrance of the Yamuna expressway. It is annoying to drive through a busy city while the highway mode is turned on in the mind :-), but no choice, had to drive through the traffic. The usual Agra buffaloes, gaumatas (cows) and cycle rickshaws slow down the traffic movement. Meandering though the Agra roads I noticed a Delhi registered taxi (Swift DZire) making his way through the traffic and followed her serpentine trail to hit NH2, after which the cab was dismissed as the cheetah decided to resume highway mode. Finally at 15:15 hours a big signboard welcomed me on the Yamuna Expressway.
The 3 lane road looked inviting, set the speed back to 120. Cruise! After some 15 minutes of 120 kmph zone decided to up the speed, and the cheetah was doing 140+.
At the 2nd toll plaza on the Expressway the operator scanned my toll slip and an alarm sounded, followed by some longer louder beeps. The operator handed the toll slip back to me and I noticed a policeman asking me to park the car on the side. Parked the car and went to the policeman only to realize that it’s an expressway not freeway GRRRRR!!!. A Speeding Ticket was waiting for me in the policeman’s hands and the recorded speed showed 143.8 kmph. Paid the speeding fine and started driving again. Felt glad they are using the technology optimally else you normally see a police van with 5-10 policemen waiving their hand in the middle of the road.
Maintained a steady 110-120 after that without any further beeps or tickets :-). As soon as I got off the expressway, was greeted by slow moving Noida – Greater Noida traffic and then snail paced traffic around sector 18. Around 17:30 I reached the destination.
|Phase I and 2175 kms completed successfully, now time for some friends and masti. Tomorrow I drive to Meerut to join the family.|
|Rest of the trip is much better narrated from the emotional heart of a woman, my wife Meetee, who along with kids and her parents accompanied me for the rest of the Uttarakhand trip.
Over to the lady!
God’s invitation to Devbhoomi and we go, road tripping
Do not be misled by the title. No one invited us. We just assumed, as Gods usually manage their PR a bit differently than us mortals.
My husband is a driving freak who looks for ways to grab the wheel and run. I drive but usually find highway driving too much focus for too less traffic, so am basically a “runner” for him.
April 11th 2016
Started off from home with the family in a buoyant mood. My father got the front passenger seat as the navigator. One of the 3rd row seats was opened up to accommodate one of the kids while the other seat kept lowered for the luggage and it all fit in well. My daughter and son fought for the last seat in XUV and settled for a sharing formula. Folks, this travelogue is from the point of view of someone who has spent 12 odd years based in Bangalore and is a hard core UPite at heart, from the time Uttarakhand was still UP. Love and loathe everything that is good and bad in my state and region. So pardon my exuberance for simple things that I grew up with but find so difficult to find in Bangalore and around.
From Meerut, its NH 58 that takes you to Rishikesh and by virtue of being a highly commuted route, the NH 58 is dotted with all sorts of eating pleasures. The kids spotted a McDonalds and started jumping up and down to have a snack there. After feeding kids their bland McDonanld’s, my dad and my husband started hunting for a dhaba for good old aloo parantha and cold thick lassi. There are many dhabas who serve these with decent hygiene and will custom make your order of paranthas with pickle and curd. Despite each of us telling other to watch out for the calories, we all had those solid tandoori aloo paranthas with a thick stick of butter and mixed pickle. This one was immediately after the Saharanpur Road intersection at Rampur Tiraha, but you will find many on the way.
Road is good and after this stop, we made good progress till Mangalore. Road was rowdy after that and we slowed down quite a bit. Also, Ardhkunbh was underway at Haridwar and the traffic was crazy. Kept on looking for some place to stop for lunch but nothing satisfied all, so everyone kept going, hungry.
We reached Rishikesh at around 3 pm. After checking in, we inquired after the lunch option. Nothing great, just to feed starving souls. Had lunch at the hotel itself. We had booked a 2 bed suite at a property called “Aloha on the Ganges”. The façade looked like an apartment and it actually is an apartment complex which is shared by the owner residents and the hotel. It’s very surprising to see name plates on some of the doors while walking through the corridors and room numbers on the others. A major part of the complex has been taken over by the hotel to convert to a reception and a restaurant, both impressive for Rishikesh though. Received preferential treatment and our apartment was on the top floor with the best views.
Once in the apartment, there is a beautiful view of the Ganges and the mountains. Pretty happy so far! This was my first tryst with Ganges after almost 30 years. The river and the mountains that we had been talking about all this while but could not find time to visit were finally within our sights. We will be seeing the same view over and over again for next few days and be never tired of it, however that first sight was like first love, all over again.
In the evening, went down to the open air restaurant and took pictures, lots of them! All of us kept coming back to the point where we had a clear view of the river, and the contrasts of the backdrop were breathtaking.
Had a wonderful veg-only dinner by the river in the open air restaurant and ended our day.
April 12th 2016
First ray of sun on my face via the window. Sun poked through mountains and the river of course was flowing nonchalantly. Why would anyone want to go anywhere and miss on this? But go we had to. Plan was to go bungee jumping and engage in some adventure sports, visit the Neelakanth temple and end the day with river rafting. As it turned out, the site that does bungee jumping and other activities has a weekly off on Tuesdays and Neelkanth was the only other option for the morning session. My mother was all for it, to see and touch the holy presence of Lord Shiva, so no choice.
|Before I proceed, for uninitiated, a large part of Uttrakhand what primarily consists of Garhwal region, is Lord Siva’s territory. As per Hindu mythology, this whole region is His abode and Rishikesh, the gateway to it. There are thousands of Shiva temples all around in the region with various activities of His life indentured in form of temples. I am a devotee myself, however my communion with Him is more of a rational worldly kind rather than religious. So it was tough for me to keep getting directed to temples.|
When in here at Rishikesh, it is hard for general public to believe that you are visiting for purposes other than religious. Most places are purposefully kept under the influence of the Gods (Lord Shiva Primarily) where Non-veg food and alcohol is not served, not openly at least and the whole environment is deliberately imbibed with spirituality. Lot of yoga centers are scattered around the town.
In any case, we start for Neelkanth Mahadev temple on the beautifully paved NH 58 and hoping to find similar roads. We take a right turn off the NH and that’s the end of good roads. Got a glimpse of the Ganga River flowing freely from this road for a few minutes, and Pawan mentioned ‘that’s one awesome rafting site’. But that is the end of our dream of a good road.
Beyond this point, the road is more adventurous than any roller coaster in Disneyland. Our stomachs that had till then been pretty stable, turned into jelly on the road. Our breakfast was ready to revolt and jump out of our mouths and only will power prevented me, my mom and my daughter from throwing up every 5 minutes. It is not the winding roads but the nonexistence of tar on the road, and the potholes that were there aplenty till we reached the temple. The temple itself is well managed and waiting time in queue for Darshan was not too long on an average day (though not on festivals). It has a small Garbh Griha and commands a huge line of devotees from around nearby places. We served Jal (water) on Shivalinga and started back. Ride back was the same, bumpy for 70% of the route, but for the tummies, there was nothing to throw up.
Evening was blocked for rafting and the hotel activities desk had made all arrangements to drop us to the rafting site along with our raft, a guide- Parvesh, and bring us back to the hotel. It is a nice sport if you have done it before. Apart from Pawan, all of us were novices and my father opted out. He gets to opt out of lot of things because we are too scared to argue with him. We all put on our safety gear, got a quick rowing lesson from our friendly guide and entered the boat.
|So as you know, a raft is just an inflated tube. Not a canoe, not a coracle, just an air filled pipe, and for the first few minutes, you are pretty sure that you will lose your grip and slip into the river, which looked beautiful from far. Up close, well, I could see my mother thinking about what would happen to my Dad if she goes under. Guide will tell you that you can float 72 hours with life jackets so no worries, which is not reassuring …Are they not going to look for us for 72 hours?|
We had opted for a short ride, 3 kms and there are no major rapids in this stretch. It starts somewhere around our hotel and ends at Ram Jhoola (hanging bridge built in :-). We jumped around, screaming and hollering and waiting to die at the first rapid and then started enjoying. 20 minutes later, we were confident enough to put down our feet in water and relax. Not too bad actually. 40 min later, it was awesome. Why did we not choose the 9 km rafting track, I wondered? My daughter, who is the only swimmer in the family even jumped in cold water and we felt rather proud of her. Once on the shore, I too took a plunge in the holy Ganges and wondered if all my sins till date are washed away. Will be careful sinning from now on. Hopefully!
|But now, the Lakshman Jhoola seems so small compared to what we witnessed a few days later. Continue reading.|
Happy folks we were, drenched and cold. The hotel arranged Mahindra Bolero was waiting to drop us back to the hotel. Raft mounted on top of the vehicle, we were back at the hotel in about 20 minutes from Ram Jhula.
Around 8 pm, we drove to ‘Triveni ghat’ for the Ganga Aarti. If you are a believer, these aartis are a must attend. The songs, the lamps, incense, everything is enough to take you to higher presence. If not, you can still enjoy the relaxation and rejuvenation. Loved the cleanliness of the ghat which is what divinity is to me.
Trip Route from Meerut to Rishikesh
April 13th 2016 – Rishikesh To Uttarkashi
After breakfast, we started for Uttarkashi which is 170 km from Rishikesh. Took NH 94 till Dharasu bend and then NH108 further towards Uttarkashi. We had seen only a very small part of gorgeousness that is Devbhoomi in Rishikesh. When traveling on these roads, mountains opened their arms, River Ganga accompanies you for a little bit and then gently hands you over to her sister, river Bhagirathi. Colour of the river changes from one form of blue to another. River Beds becomes rockier and wider saying that while the river now is staid, it has immense power of destruction as seen time and again. There were earth diggers all around on the beds, presumably for making bunds on the banks. Roads are in constant need of repair and road rollers and pavers abound.
|In this constant battle of civilization vs nature, a significant contrast is presence of innumerable deities like Khachdu Devta and Dhari Devi to name a few, established and revered by locals to appease and protect from the wrath of elements. To remind us that we are guests and are welcome as long as we abide with rules of the house.|
At around 12:15 we stop for tea at a small place Aryan Hotel in Chamba (Tehri District) on NH 94 and the he signboards showed Tehri Dam was just 24 Kms away. In the plains 24 kms would have meant nothing but on the hills that’s an hour long ride, may be more so we kept heading towards Uttarkashi. Soon we could see the Tehri Dam reservoir in short spurts and Pawan was constantly looking for a better spot for a picture. Found one such spot near Ram Gaon where we all took some pictures with the reservoir in the back drop. The picture here says it all.
|Jungle Fires Update:Notice the small bunch of smoke rising above the mountain on the left. We saw these fires and smoke along most of the route. These are the jungle fires engulfing huge areas across the mountains this year. What were expected to be clear skies with clear visibility was marred by this smoke and misty mountains for most part of our trip.|
|One small incident that served us a lesson: My son wanted to throw up and we have a set routine for such emergencies. Pawan stopped the car, he and I jumped out along with my son to avoid having vomit all over the car. While both of us were handling my son, washing and cleaning, the car started moving back. It was on a slope and was moving downhill, with my parents and daughter inside. In our confusion, we tried stopping the car with that hands after pushing my son out of the way and realized will not be able to do that. My father inside tried to put the hand brakes a little harder, but nothing helped. We are pretty strong people but an XUV with people and luggage inside, even Khali the wrestler will have problems. Once my husband realized this, he rushed to the front to jam the brakes, and would you believe, I tried holding that moving car all by myself. Not that I was successful, but with family inside this was all I could think of doing. In any case, it was over in few seconds, but we both had shaking hands and legs for another 30 min or so.
Lesson learnt, brake the car in gear while on slope, use hand brakes always to maximum and be alert.
Pawan’s version: I had to stop the car a couple of times earlier, once to get some coke and limca and the next time to get some hajmola candy for everyone, just in case if the mountain giddiness sets in again. Both the times, the car was parked on a slight uphill slope, parked in gear and the handbrakes on. On the 2nd time though the ladies complained that I went out letting them sit in the car without the AC. So on the next stop, I kept car ignition on while me and my wife were attending to the kid. May be in a hurry I did not pull the hand brake to the max.
Beyond Ramgaon, we followed the Bhagirathi river, watching it from varying altitudes and distances but all along till Uttarkashi it was like following its trail, upstream. Trip to Uttarkashi went without any events and road conditions were mixed. You find lost and found drivers here on the mountains too, but thankfully they take notice in time. With the char dham yatra just a month away a lot of road repair was going on at multiple places which slowed our pace. A brand new Uttarkashi bypass is under construction as Uttarkashi town itself becomes a bottleneck during the season which sees heavy traffic every year.
|Forest Fire Update: See the heavy smoke emanating from the mount right in front. This fire continued for the next 2 days while we were here and had spread to the mountain behind as well.
We took the Uttarkashi bypass and landed at the “Shiv Parivar Resorts”. We were surprised to learn that we are the only ones at the resort as it was off season as travelers in this part of the world is a seasonal affair. Infact these folks were expecting us a couple of days later (some mixup on their end) and they were surprised to see us here today itself. While none too happy with the arrangements, I could not overlook the nice and warm, Mr Shiv. Since I liked the guy, we decided to stay put. Better part of the rest of the day was spent in clearing the room of that awful musty smell.
Later in the evening, we went down to Bhagirathi which flows right across the hotel. No really, the sound of the flowing river can be heard from the room, which was well provided for, and at night this sound is even more amplified by the quietness, as the night descends.
|River Bhagirathi is said to be originating out of Lord Shiva’s hair. When prince Bhagirath prayed to river Ganga to come to wash away the sins of his ancestors, she complied but problem was the destruction her landing on earth would bring. So Lord Shiva, like the good God he is, offered to receive her in his hair, thus controlling her flow. Since then, this tributary is named as Bhagirathi. Hindu mythology has great snippets of information and legends and I will try to keep up based on what I know.|
Quantity of water is less these days as the snow in the upper reaches has not fully melted and there has been less snowfall as well. Come May when the Char Dham yatra starts, river bounces to life. But for us, it was like living a dream. Being so close to a mountain river which has been described by poets as a seductive nymph or an angry goddess. It was like being with a super star and a humble one at that who caresses your senses without demanding anything in return. If only we could do the minimum and keep our rivers clean, loving them with the same zest like they love us.
Around 8 at night, whole town is indoors. There is a bridge close to our stay (which says is built at the cost of INR 56 cr. an irrelevant but pretty interesting information since it is a small bridge) but there are no street lights. It is eerily calm, however there is no fear. We go out for a walk. Moonlight shining on the waves in the river and stones on the banks create an effect which can only be described as heavenly. There is no living being around apart from us. We do not speak, afraid of breathing, not to destroy that silence which I used to think is gone forever from our lives.
April 14th – Uttarkashi
A good night’s sleep, cold water bath and fresh sun on Bhagirathi welcomes us into a new morning and this is the view I woke up to from the hotel room. This is the bridge that costed 56 cr and took 9 years to complete.
Everything seems quietly happy, including us who were served with Aloo Paranthas with fresh curd. Pawan has planned for visiting Harsil and Gangotri today, but considering the amount of road work we saw on the way, me and my daughter dissuaded him from going for the 70 odd kilometer drive, and he did not.
We lazed around, slept, gazed at the scenery, took a walk on one of the trails which gave us a more rewarding view of the Bhagirathi who was with us day and night. She was gurgling on stones at some points, deep and lost in thought in others. Went for a short afternoon drive and spent some time at the Kashi Vishwanath temple in center of the Uttarkashi town. This is not the same as Varanasi’s Kashi Vishwanath. Again, clean temple with recent renovations makes it a pleasant visit. Town itself is simple, uncomplicated with friendly people who will go to any lengths to ensure you have understood the directions. Cometh evening, we are back at the river bed by the hotel, relishing the serenity and calmness of the banks.
Who needs Nirvana, this Bliss is enough!
|An observation: From Rishikesh to Uttarkashi, we met people who will say “Namaste” to you with folded hands and a smile. An art which city folks have lost in ‘Hi’s” and “Hey’s”. It could be a habit developed due to constant branding of the place as a spiritual abode, but is very pleasant change.|
Some pictures to elaborate the serenity and calmness of the place we are at:
The Route From Rishikesh to Uttarkashi
Uttarkashi to Rudraprayag: The Road Less Traveled
April 15th 2016 – Uttarkashi to Rudraprayag
It is a rather delayed start, but at around 10:15 AM, with reluctance, we say our goodbyes to the host who probably was not expecting us this time of the year (off season and all) and started off for Rudraprayag.
Pawan had done some research on which route to take from Uttarkashi to Rudraprayag and he opted for a route little longer than the usual rather than the regular route through Ghansali. He wanted to go around the Tehri Dam reservoir from the other side, one more time and we did have that option. Google suggested 8 minutes slower, but never told how the road conditions would be and we set off for it.
This route, trust me, is not meant for the faint hearted or ones with a weak stomach. and this road really is a road less traveled. The usual route from Uttarkashi goes through Ghansali and lands straight to Rudraprayag. We somehow end-up doing the ‘not so normal’ on our road-trips often, and this was another one of those, exciting aberrations :-). These roads are very narrow with hair pin bends every 2 minutes and at some places the road itself wasn’t there, just some path cut-out of the mountain. At some places the road was so narrow that even one car had to go through with caution. Sometimes when approaching the bend, seems like you will fall off the cliff. The valleys below are deep and when you see across, you can feel the insignificance of your existence while on the mountains.
|The thing about Himalayas is, they are a pretty young range. Due to developmental activities, there is deforestation and constant movement of rocks and stones. Every rain brings about a small or big landslide that breaks the roads and creates deep gashes on the sides of the mountains. Seems everyone here is in a constant fight for survival. For outsiders like us, it seemed ethereal at this time of the year, but for natives and governments, we could see the challenges they have in bringing good roads, power and water to these areas. There are hand pumps for village folks to pump water which makes their life easier, else the women in these hills spend most of the day ferrying water up and down for domestic use.
Mountains themselves have an identity. Some of them are pretty warm, covered with green, looking happy and prosperous. Others however are just rocks, intimidating and angry, beautiful nonetheless. There are lonely stretches in this route where there is no living soul for miles around (there could be, we do not see them). Places where landslides have occurred, mountains look injured with an arm or a leg missing, standing there, watching your every move, assessing your intent. I stopped looking at deep ravines below for some of these stretches. And these are the places where though you have left your life in the hands of the driver, you also need Gods. City life has made things easier for us where we think man has more control, but here, we have very little. A small slip, a little more to the left or right and things might turn out to be very different.
Driving in these hills is much disciplined. Due to risks involved, drivers do not jostle to overtake. They let you pass, hold you if they cannot and back up if the road is too narrow for both the vehicles. Small villages appear from nowhere, with a shack of food and tea. Food in general is tasty and fresh, though the places might not seem very hygienic. Milk tea is mostly available in these shops and lunch will have rajma /chawal, maggi (noodles) and dal/chapatti. Tea is extremely sweet, so always opt for sugar on the side.
The drive was supposed to be 6 hours, so we were confident and kept stopping in the way. Google maps kept us aligned. My parents marveled at what Google can do. Roads are broken or rough at many places which slows us down.
Around 5 and a half hours later, we are on a road that runs parallel to Tehri dam reservoir. The dam was built in 80-90s. There are notices around warning of the danger of going too close as the level can go up and down. The valley is deep and mountains have marks on them showing the level to which water rises. Large dams for hydroelectricity, irrigation and water supply are being debated as being not so ecofriendly, but the marvel of human ingenuity and engineering feat cannot escape you when you are here.
My dad, who is a Civil engineer and has been with state irrigation department all his life, shared nuggets of information about how and why dams are required for a young developing country like ours. He rues lack of maintenance which reduces the life of the dam. Funds are approved, but projects are regularly delayed pushing the cost upwards.
Pawan finds his picture perfect spot for the reservoir. One more view of the reservoir, from the other side of NH 94, our route from Rishikesh to Uttarkashi.
And then out of nowhere at 14:50 hrs, on an unnamed road, we are at the Pipaldali Bridge, probably the find of this trip.
A mammoth 400 meters long suspension bridge built over the Bhilangna River, a major tributary of Bhagirathi. It’s an amazing piece of engineering and considering that it was constructed during the late 90’s, the task would have been even more daunting. The erosion lines along the banks say clearly, how tall the water levels climb when the reservoir is full and how much the water levels have fallen at this time.
The altitude, the terrain, the inconsequential location where this bridge is, the height above the water level, and the fact that you can drive over it. Mind-blowing! Overlooking at the reservoir from the top of the bridge, seeing both the sides is equally magical too. I am surprised the bridge never finds mention in any of Garhwal/Uttrakhand brochures or websites. But for those who happen to yonder towards this part of the world, please do visit it to admire it by yourself.
|Pawan still says, if he had known a bridge so majestic would fall on the way, he would have made sure to find a picture perfect spot for it. Also the fact that it was 3:00 PM and we all were hungry, dissuaded him from walking across the bridge for the pictures. Alas, there’s only a few pictures here that don’t do real justice to the magnificence of this awe-inspiring, engineered work of art.|
Driving Over the Bridge…. Awesome!
Here is the exact lat: long coordinate for Pipaldali Bridge on google maps (30.372732, 78.555240)
Couldn’t resist admiring the reservoir in satellite view. The green trail is the partial route we took through these mountains to Rudraprayag.
We stop for food at Peepaldali village. Food is good. Toilets are Indian, clean by rural standards but not fresh. Better to hold till you reach the hotel. We reach Srinagar driving along Alaknanda post lunch and proceed to Rudraprayag. We are tired as the journey has taken 9 hours instead of 6 and it is already dark. Have tea at a small lodge. People seem less friendly, town appears dirtier and crowded and over commercialized. Can see huge piles of garbage on rocks behind the shanties despite polythene banned in Uttarakhand. Not sure of their waste management. Do they segregate, recycle or just dump in the river?
Reached “Monal Resort” in Rudraprayag around 7 pm and the lights are not on. On inquiry, we are told that we are the only ones, exactly like the earlier place. This is “off season”. This resort is huge, I am not comfortable as being the only family checking in. We are tired and Mr Mahavir, though honest, does not have words of positive assurance when he tells us that our booking was not informed. Mr Shankar, the manager, is more of a PR guy and welcomes us, which gives us some confidence. We check in, have dinner and crash. I dream of dark mountains and beautiful Bhagirathi all night long. Alaknanda is yet to create an impression. I can hear her rushing through the stones, will meet her tomorrow.
The final route between Uttarkashi and Rudraprayag
Rudraprayag and Vicinity
April 16th 2016
Woke up early. Curtains do not block light and days start early. Am checking my phone, see a little bright orange light peeping out of one of the mountains. Curious, I go and stand in the balcony. And this is where the matronly Alaknanda greets me, introducing me to the Sun, shyly coming out from behind the mountain. There are two ways to feel close to the Almighty, extreme fear and extreme beauty. I had already experienced one, now felt the latter. Overcome by gratitude for such a sight, I did a Naman to Surya. Picture below does not even begin to describe the vision. Sun slowly moves out and comes out in full glory. I wake up my kids to show them who say “wow” and go back to sleep.
We visit a nearby attraction, a Shiva temple called Koteshwar Mahadev built around a natural cave around 4 kms from the resort. We plan to visit with whole family. It is a natural cave close to river and has steps to take you down. The steps are quite steep, made of concrete and hot at that, and the temple nowhere in sight. You need to remove your slippers after a certain point, so only Pawan and kids go down to the actual cave. My mother and I decide to pay obeisance from outside the main temple. Locals do not take this kindly, but what to do. Concrete stairs are burning and we are queasy about taking off our shoes.
|Legend of Koteshwar Mahadev is that a demon spent years praying to Lord Shiva. A simpleton that He is, he gave a boon to the demon. The boon was that the demon will be able to kill anyone who he touches on the head with. Surprise, the demon turned on the Lord himself. Well, to be fair, he was a demon! Lord had to run for his life and take shelter in this cave where he meditated.|
But it’s not just the temple that took us there. Right across the temple, river Alaknanda flows through a gorgeous gorge. Water is freezing almost numbing if you stand in the water for a couple of minutes, and clean. It is a mini canyon. Dad tells me that there was a plan to build the Koteshwar dam which was shelved for reasons not known to him.
But the view as usual is nothing short of spectacular. Not sure if we have seen any movie that has been shot, maybe not. Better as it leaves us free to explore.
We climb up the stairs huffing and panting, whereas locals just run up and down. There is no obesity for obvious reasons.
|Wondering why Lord Shiva chose most difficult locations for living his life. The more difficult destination is, more Lord seems to be pleased when people come to visit Him. I personally think He wanted some space, He did not want us humans to be ravaging his abode every moment of the day asking or offering something. But we being humans, have found ways and means to disturb Him. Hope he is not too displeased. He meditates, may be that is helping Him forgive our transgressions. We try very hard not to make every visit temple oriented, but that is the way it is. There are temples everywhere, most of the sharp turns on the roads are marked by a local deity. Can’t avoid going to a scenic spot and not entering a temple.|
Second part of the day is for me and Pawan to take a trek to Kartik Swami temple.
|Lord Kartik is Lord Shiva’s eldest son and is Hindu god of war. Legend says that both Lord Ganesh and Lord Kartik wanted to be the first to be offered prayers by human beings. Lord Shiva asked both of them to run around the whole earth. One who finishes the race first gets to be the first one to be offered prayers . While Lord Kartik boarded his vehicle, the eagle, and raced across the earth, Lord Ganesha walked around his parents saying that he considered them to be his whole world. Lord Shiva was pleased and gave him rights, Lord Kartik got angry and offered his flesh and bones to his parents (don’t ask me why). This temple symbolizes where supposedly his bones are buried. This is one of very few temples of him found in north India as he moved to South after his estrangement from his parents.|
You need to take a 40 km drive to Kanakchauri to reach the base of Kartik Swami temple and take a “mild trek” of 3 kms to reach the temple ( as per Uttarakhand website http://www.euttaranchal.com/tourism/rudraprayag.php) We decide to go without kids and parents considering the trek involved. We started off at around 1PM on the Rudraprayag- Pokhari road and will cover around 40 kms.
Well, 25 out of those 40 kilometers were the scariest drives we have ever taken. Seriously! The climb is intense, almost to 40 degrees at a few places. Whosoever made the road never thought 4 wheelers would ply on this. The road is too narrow and has no barricading anywhere. At some places the road had caved in and at some places the debris from above had spilled over that further reduces the road width. Pawan nicknamed the drive to “Phadu drive” and if he says that, it should be.
Some Excerpts from the drive
I tried calling my mother to let her know what to do in case something happens to us and where to find our Life Insurance policies, but reception and data had both gone off. Of course, there is this milk van which runs up and disappears in the mountains. I asked Pawan to drive back as not a soul was in sight, but there is no place to attempt a U. Moreover, he probably thinks it is good fun, but fun was the last thing this kind of drive will be for me. The village Kanakchauri which is the base for the trek is not visible anywhere. And then suddenly, it appears. A group of small huts with dhabas. We are thankful just to arrive at the base. Now starts the good part…“mild” trek for next 2.5 – 3 kms up the mountain to the temple. We buy “Prasad” and ask the woman shop keeper how much time it will take. It is already 2.30 pm and we want to be back to Rudraprayag before dark. She smiles and says, an hour at the most.
|Another thing, don’t blindly believe a “Pahari” (mountain dweller) for the time taken it will take to climb or on how far something with respect to time. Everything is just “2 minute” away and as we found out, it never is. The idea of distance in kilometers is nonexistence for locals. Its more like Time Travel and Theory of Relativity. Their bodies have adapted to mountains and ours are still at the desks in an air conditioned corporate office, there is no comparison. A good thumb rule is to start your journey without any intent of completing it. If it happens great, if not, well, it wasn’t meant to be.|
So we start. First 5 minutes looking great. First 15 minutes, not so much. The “mild” trek was actually a steep incline of around 45 degreeswith stone steps. Believe me, I tried. But we both realized that we will never be able to make it to the top and back in light. Thought of driving through dark on treacherous Pokhari road was already giving us heebie jeebies. We started back, ruing delay in starting and convincing ourselves that we would have made it if we had time and did not have a younger and older generation waiting for us at the base. Women in the village appeared to be empathizing desi city folks, and to be able to converse with humans in Hindi when there was nothing for miles around was better than any jibe they could throw at us. What a waste of legs and bodies, they might be thinking!
Sorry Lord Kartik Swami, God of war and Son of Shiva, may be some other time. We offered apologies and started back. Had a bun omelet at a small hamlet (one of the very few who served eggs) and reached our hotel without further ado. Happy and regretful, came to know that my daughter and mother have jelly guts and are in need of rest. We have dinner. I do some reading and writing and crash. Sleep is fitful and uneasy.
|The Forest Fires were visible here too and the whole area looked foggy from far. See this picture:|
April 16th 2016
Husband wanted to go to Tungnath and Chandrashila trek. Since he had skipped Harsil and Gangotri, I had no reason to oppose. However the initial plan of me and my daughter accompanying him was dropped as daughter had fever last night and I was scared after yesterday’s experience of Kartik Swami drive. He leaves alone at 8 am. We plan to have a relaxed day, hiring a cab to go to Sangam, a lunch somewhere and back to prepare for our trip back to Meerut.
Cab came at 11.30 am. We were ready. Cab was a ramshackle Bolero. My mom asked, no AC? Driver looked at us amusingly and says “Where will you find one“? No Ola or Uber. Only local taxis with specialization in mountain driving. We did not have to go far, so we settled a fare, boarded and went off to Sangam.
Sangam at Rudraprayag is the place where Mandakini and Alaknanda rivers converge and flow through as one. At this time of the year, you can see two different colors of the rivers blending into one. There is steep staircase with a drop of 30-40 ft which takes us to the place at the banks.
|One point to note, all these places are pretty dangerous and there are no life guards or any other warnings available. People familiar with Mountain Rivers know that water looks innocent from far but has high velocity and is capable of carrying huge boulders even in steady season. Waters at this point are rapid and fall through stones with speed that thrills but scares too. Steps are steep with no barricades.|
I see lot of foreigners having some ritual done with a local pandit at the banks and having a bath there. I am all for respecting local traditions but hate it when the area is in spoils. The place where you can sit with some safety was turned black with soot due to fire based offerings. Shoes are supposed to be taken off and our feet burnt on hot stones and still warm charcoal.
My son, 6 years of age, was the primary target of our fear this time. There have been numerous instances of people being washed away in these gushing waters. He was not supposed to move at all lest he goes too far in water. Sitting so close, there was a bit of churning in my stomach too. Probably it takes some getting used to. We all held hands to feel safe. When the foreigners left, we went to the same place and found it much more placid, though our bums and feet all got coated with soot.
It is a beautiful spot which needs more attention and development. The convergence itself appears much more picturesque from above where you can actually make out 2 different colors. The approach to the place is nice when you start on the staircase. But the lane to the staircase is filthy with smell of urine and open drains. It will be worth it, if you get to sit close to both these rivers at one spot.
|I am happy to have traveled off season as we avoided all crowd and were mostly the only ones at the hotels we stayed. It has its perks. But let me tell you, travelling off season also means that most of the resorts are poorly stocked and staffed.
We have been eating Aloo parathas for a week now for breakfast and Toor Dal /Aloo Gobhi for rest of our meals. Aloo parathas do not seem so enticing anymore. And we are turned off of Toor Dal and Aloo Gobhi for at least a month. Nothing else is available. We try eating nutritious by having curd, but curds somehow are mostly sour. Milk is thin and watery. Mountain livestock is different from plains and is adapted to tough terrain. Summer brings about shortage of cattle feed due to less greenery which impacts their produce.
Done with our Sangam visit, we have our lunch at GMVN (Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam), an Uttarakhand government undertaking for reasonably priced rest houses. They have best of locations but are low on maintenance and facilities. Good for budget travelers. The cab drops us are back to the hotel. No pictures though as Mr. Picture is away on his trek and I hope the roads are better than the Kartik Swami drive.
Tomorrow is a big day. We leave behind this grandeur, say our good byes to Mandakini, Bhagirathi and Alaknanda and proceed back to Meerut. Of course, Ganga, mother of all, will accompany us for a little while more, but she starts getting poisoned Hardwar onwards. The untouched beauty, the untamed sway of these beautiful rivers and their dominating fathers, the mountains, will slowly start fading away till we reach the plains where I hear temperatures are soaring to 42 degrees C.
Chopta and Tungnath
April 17th 2016
Folks, firmly mark Chopta, Tungnath and Chandrashila on your list of must do and do it off season if you can. It’s truly bewitching, almost to the tune of being seductive and so pleasing on the eyes.
But before that the drive to Chopta.
I started a little after 8 AM, and soon realized was low on cash as I forgot to reload the wallet at the hotel room. Being in Bangalore one gets so used to not carrying much cash that it doesn’t strike you when you are out in such places. Lost a little time in ATM hunting as most were not working or were out of cash. Grrrrrr! Anyways, found a working SBI ATM at Agastmuni and was content.
Came across this signboard just after you cross the fuel station at Agastmuni and wondered if car is the right place to belt anyone?
The NH 109 aka Kedarnath road is a 2 laned nicely paved road and after a lot of days the Cheetah was driving in 6th gear, yeah mountains and 6th gear, not a usual affair, but it was. Enjoy the smooth ride till Agastmuni as after that you are back to single lane two way traffic. Preparations for the Yatra season were evident with roadwork going at many places which slows the proceedings including the small towns that thrive on these highways.
Whole of the NH 109 (Kedarnath Road) is built along the Mandakini river and offers some beautiful views of the river flowing through the valley.
At Kund, you leave the NH and get onto the Kund-Ukimath-Gopershwar Mandal Road. After this point, the one thing that you do, or the car does, is CLIMB and climb and climb all the way till Chopta. After a little bit you get used to seeing the world in an inclined position. No crazy uphill climbs just gradual 10-15 degree of inclination at most places, and somewhere more. Thankfully it was nothing like the Kartik Swami drive. The roads are well laid and very less roadwork on this side.
Around 10 AM, past the Sirsauli village, there was a road block and I was told there is some road cutting work in progress at the top, hence the road block and should be cleared in 20 minutes. Thought of having a tea, so took a U turn (was lucky to find a U turn spot) and stopped at one of the roadside shops for tea. It was a beautiful location and the Mr Jagbir Singh Panwar (owner of this shop and a guest house nearby) served really good masala chai.
20 minutes on, the roadblock opened and I started off. Just as I passed the site of the road block I learnt that a Bolero pickup had fallen down the valley trying to avoid a collision with a two wheeler which was coming from the opposite side. The driver and the cleaner both jumped out of the vehicle and had minor injuries. The pickup truck lay mangled, deep down and was faintly visible hidden inside the vegetation.
I continued my uphill drive and with every passing kilometer there was a gradual change in the vegetation and its very evident. By the time you approach Chopta the whole flora has changed, it’s like a completely different ecosystem exists up here. Chopta itself is grasslands, huge expanses of green pastures, seductively green. When driving on the hills one gets used to having a mountain sidewall and you drive along the bends of this sidewall. But once you are in Chopta, this sidewall magically disappears and you can see on both sides of the road and what you see is a visual treat.
See the attached video and these green transitions.
Didn’t waste any time at Chopta and started the trek towards Tungnath.
|As for the temple itself, Tungnath is one of the ‘Panch Kedars’ and is the highest manmade Shiva shrine in the world. The Chopta to Tungnath trek is a little over 3000 ft and I learnt that only later.|
Was a bright, sunny and mildly warm day, partially clouded though. The whole path till Tungnath is paved with stone and clearly marked with benches along the route and has intermittent railings.
Seeing the paved path I started fast, too fast for the climb infact and soon I was panting. After a couple of 2 minute “catch your breath back”breaks I paced down the ascent and I was fine for the rest of the trek. The initial climb is steep even for a regular trekker and runs through this lush thick Rhododendron plantation. Spring was just over but the remains of spring were still evident on these trees. Most of the trees had these gorgeous red, pink and purple flowers and the faint trickle of sunlight though these dense trees made it all look so mystical.
Once past this rhododendron plantation, the climb eases for a little bit and you come to this vast expanse of meadows or ‘Bugyal’ that Chopta is famous for. These meadows continue till Tungnath.
I could see the winding paved path leading up and decided to take shortcuts instead of following the regular paved path, looking for the next paved trail, and it worked well. I reached the temple much ahead of many folks who I met on the way, including a group of three 24 year olds, weekend trippers who had driven down from Gurgaon for the trek.
Finishing ahead of the 24 year olds, now that’s an amazing feeling, 40s is the new 20s 🙂
On the way you catch glimpses of the majesty the Himalayan ranges are. The forest fires played spoil sport again as the far out snowcapped peaks, even though visible, were very hazy. By the time I reached Tungnath, the temperature had dropped significantly and my nose had started watering. It was cold, and I was pulling up through the nose, just to keep the contents – contained. Spent some time at the temple taking pictures and did a time check. There was still time to get to Chandrashila and back if I could make it fast. While I was in this yes/no zone, I met one guy who had just come down from Chandrashila with his camera gear and he too confirmed the same, it’s all very hazy for the pictures up there. So instantly it was decided, I will skip Chandrashila. Stopped at a chai shop just outside of the temple and had a Frooti to get some extra sugars and keep me going. It was cold out here and the drink was chilled even in the open.
|It’s surprising that even at this altitude, the phone was working and so was the data. Maybe the Airtel girl is right. India shining!|
Just as I started my downward journey I passed through this amazing Rhododendron valley which was full of Reds and Purples and Pinks. I am sure 3 weeks ago the valley would have had just these 3 colors and no green. It was still a captivating view. Something I will cherish for long. To add to the grandeur was the lines and lines of mountains converging into the valley and the cloud cover which had lowered by now gave it a completely dreamsy feel, like out of some Disney fairytale movie. I can post pictures on pictures on pictures but nothing can capture the true essence of this vast rhododendron valley and the aroma that was around.
I am not surprised that the whole area from Chopta to Tungnath is known as the Green Valley, it really is!
|Bottom line is “A trek to remember” and if I get a chance, will do it again.|
|All along the drive and the trek, I knew it was climb and climb. Saw the overall altitude gain on the raah.co app and thought this definitely makes a very interesting graph. Here’s how it looked in ft.
Rudraprayag – Pauri – Kotdwar – Meerut
April 18th, 2016 – Back to the plains (Meerut)
|Time flies when you are enjoying it.|
Its been 7 days already and time to go back to the plains, the vacation isn’t over yet, but our last day in the hills. As always, Pawan doesn’t like the regular route that the google lady suggests, via Rishikesh and Haridwar and chooses the Pauri – Kotdwar – Meerut route. He had already discussed the same with my dad, who has spent a sizable part of his working life in these hills, and he agreed. Maybe it was the mention of Pauri and Kotdwar that excited him, but he too was game for it.
|When the driver and the navigator both are in agreement the passengers have to follow suit and maybe right, why not cover a new route while at it!|
Packed and ready to leave. Suddenly, a large mass of cloud hovers and thunders above. What we missed in all these days will happen now, the rains. It just rains very little though and sun is back again. We start off after an early breakfast with mandatory departure pictures, well, early enough for a 9:15 AM departure. We hit NH 58 and reach Srinagar along the Alaknanda. Normal drive so far except that Srinagar is choc-a-block and it takes us almost 20 minutes to cross the city. Fed up of seeing the same truck for 20 minutes in front of us, moving at snail.
From Srinagar, we divert on to NH 119 towards Pauri all the way till Meerut and I am hoping it doesn’t end up to be like the Rudraprayag route. The road though turns out to be very well maintained, ‘butter smooth’ as Pawan says. Route was similar, scenic and the roads were wider, smoother and busier than the ones from Uttarkashi to Rudraprayag. We reach Pauri and it was hard to find a chai shop, at least we couldn’t spot one along the route. Finally we stop at Parsundakhal for tea. I noticed that everything, including snacks, is available in Re 1 sachet for one time bite with tea.
Just as we are about to reach Satpuli, it starts to rain again. We break for lunch at Chauhan Restaurant in Satpuli, a small town on the banks ofriver Nayar or Nyaar Nadi as its known here. Food as usual is good. By the time we are done with lunch, its already pouring hard.
|Rains in the mountains is a different experience. Clouds descend and cover the landscape. Everything appears as if wrapped in wool. Weather turns cooler and dust around gets settled, bringing everything in sharper focus. We all turn poetic and start rambling.
We drove though a small patch (couple of minutes) under the hail as well. It was probably the first time my 6 year old son had witnessed hail. Inside the car it makes hell lot of sound and he exclaimed “Whats Happening?” amazed to see “ice cubes” can fall from the sky.
The rain continues all the way till Lansdowne and the views that the sun, clouds, mountains and the rain creates is enthralling.
We go past the famous Lansdowne – Kotdwar fork and head towards Kotdwar, a town where I did my high school. It is at the foothills and is famous for “Sidhbali”, Lord Hanuman temple located on the side of river Khoh which does not have much water, but people still are bathing to take off summer heat. The temple looks much more beautiful than I remembered . Although construction is going on, it is still clean, perched on a small hill top. Almost all deities find a place here.
On the Bridge to Sidhbali
After our prayers, we leave for Kotdwar and I am visiting this town after almost 26 years. Roads appear narrower and city looks crowded. My dad was always fond of the Tourist Sweet Shop near the Railway Station road and on his recommendation, we head straight for it. We have the famous paneer pakoras and lassi at the joint , a well-known restaurant in these parts. We have known it for as long as we have known Kotdwar. The pakoras were to die for. Do not miss if you are around. We also buy a couple of kgs of Bal Mithai which I am yet to find in the plains.
The rest of the drive on NH 119 is a smooth sail all the way till Meerut. Even though its an undivided highway with two way traffic, the traffic movement is moderate and Pawan could maintain good speed all along, except for when passing through small towns. Overall, I believe it was far better route than going through the beaten Rishikesh – Haridrwar route.
We were back to Meerut around dinner time. Our trip to The Devbhoomi, Uttarakhand was over and now we had to brace for heat, dust and the mundane. Something inside hurts, though we know vacations do always come to an end.
Else, will they not be life?
Trip Route – Rudraprayag – Pauri – Kotdwar – Meerut
Back To Bangalore (Meerut – Agra – Sagar – Hyderabad – Bangalore)
Back to Bangalore
Now, we have bigger and less enjoyable road trip to plan, from Meerut to Bangalore. Temperatures are soaring to 40 C. Will be hotter in the Maharashtra – Andhra belt. We had planned to visit the Kanha National Park on our way back to Bangalore, but looking at the temperatures we decide to drop the plan. Anyways one evening safari won’t be enough to explore the wild and maybe we’ll plan for a few days at the Kanha instead of just one.
We take the same route which Pawan took on his way here, (Meerut – Agra – Sagar – Hyderabad – Bangalore) and the odometer read 23905 == 5868 kms.
For me, I would summarize my experience in the below:
- Plan for such trips during not so hot months, if there is an option :-). With unusually high temperatures across the country, the whole landscape is dry and barren. Nothing to see except road. Nights are a tad better but heavy traffic also moves through the night, so driving with family at night is not advisable due to safety reasons.
- If I could find a way to keep my kidney and bladder in cold storage for the duration of the trip, I would definitely do so. Clean toilets, especially for women, are an impossibility in these regions. Well that is true for most of the country and I dread having fluids due to this reason. Due to weather, we had to drink water to avoid dehydration, however were scared to due to absence of decent toilets. A good grip on kidney function is a must. Only sip through so that it keeps getting evaporated.
- Food at the dhabas is alright if you can bring yourself to eat in the heat. Most of the dhabas and restaurants are not very efficient in the afternoons for obvious reasons. AC restaurants are very few and far between.
|An interesting view that I had all along Jhansi and MP belt was of motorbikes, with women draped in beautiful, colorful sarees, clinging on to men on the bikes (we assumed husbands) going somewhere. It was fascinating how despite the heat, dust and remoteness, people were still out and about their daily chores and social functions. Wish I could talk to them, but they all seemed to be in a tearing hurry to reach the next destination and so were we.
Imagine seeing the best and worst in one single vacation. This is the diversity we the Indians feel so proud of. We passed through 7 states in this trip. Covered mountains, plains and plateaus. A milestone ticked and many more planned.
What I am left with are these questions which I am still looking answers for:
- We got to see so much only because of development that was evident in Uttarakhand. We know people like us are welcome to the local economy which thrives on tourism as its mainstay, but were we good for the local ecology too?
The deforestation for building roads , the unplanned development on sensitive river banks, increased use of concrete, more ground water depletion and the waste being generated due to easy access to hitherto unapproachable areas makes me think of where we are going with all this.
- A Country like India needs its own citizens to travel within, but how are we ensuring that all this travel is not resulting in making our environment more fragile than it already is?
- For the cross country roads, acres and acres of forest has been cut down to facilitate movement from one corner to another. No doubt, roads are a sign of development for an emerging economy. But where is the shade? Trees like Neem can be planted throughout the sides of roads and local villagers incentivized for taking care of them, but no one even seems to be trying.
- How long will our rivers whose beauty we are so fascinated with be with us?
* This post has also been published on team-bhp.com (XUV500: 6000 kms to Garhwal!)