My Balcony in the Mountains

This is how I want my life to be- being able to hit the road every alternate weekend. Soon after we return from Kishangarh (you can read about it here), we start preparing to head to Nathuakhan, a small borough near Nainital in Uttarakhand, India. Barely two weeks have passed and we have not even unpacked. (We bring ‘living out of a suitcase’ to life.) But it is sheer luck that we are getting long weekends in such quick succession; and we want to make the best of it.

Going through yet another backdated issue of Outlook Traveler, the name of Bob’s Place has sprung up. We Google it and it falls completely in line with our idea of a holiday. A cottage in a small village, views of the Himalayas, away from crowds, home-cooked food, and no compulsion to do anything-N needs the last of it badly. So we get going.

We have been to Kumaon quite a few times in the last one year. By now, we know which turn to take, which road to avoid, where to stop for bio breaks etc. We managed to leave on time but try as you may, you cannot ditch the Ghaziabad-Hapur traffic. The difference between Delhi & Uttar Pradesh (UP) becomes apparent the moment you cross the border. The lawlessness & recklessness is abundantly clear. We curse our way to the highway which is a mix of gliding & bumping over potholes. Oh the things we do for travel!

The worst is the Rampur to Rudrapur stretch. There is simply no road. During our last trip, we found out about a road via Camry that traverses villages but is at least pothole-free. We gave it a shot and it was definitely better. It is still relatively unknown, so, there is less traffic and the roads have managed to stay in good condition. To take this route, first-timers will most definitely have to ask around.

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The Shivalik Range from Our Balcony

 

If you think comparing UP to Delhi is unfair, given that Delhi is the national capital etc., will you object to my comparing UP to Uttarakhand? A new state, a tiny state, Uttarakhand, has far superior roads, civic sense than the behemoth called UP. People follow the law and there is something called ‘humanity’ present, which, of course, cannot be found in the dictionaries in UP. It is all about political willingness. Political parties in UP have not bothered with law, development and order whatsoever; for them, it is all about religion, caste etc.

But I digress. This is not meant to be a political rant. Once you enter Uttarakhand, Rudrapur onwards, the roads are in good condition. Soon, you have a narrow road, flanked by trees on both sides, giving a natural shade. It is on these roads that N and I can finally put our guard down. We converse on a wide range of topics- God, India, family, self, us, the future…

We notice pink guavas on the way and buy a few. I have never eaten a pink guava. I am thrilled. And then I am disappointed; because the pink guavas are tasteless. They will taste fine with salt I guess. At every rail crossing, I scare N that a train is coming towards us. I alternate between the radio, CD and N’s phone. I cannot sit in a car without listening to music. We read the slogans and couplets written behind trucks and admire the profound wisdom our countrymen can share with us.

We find WelcomHeritage Bob’s Place on GPS and follow it till the point where we feel compelled to ask. We are told we have come to an alternate route. We can go back about 20 kms and then take the correct route or we can continue on the alternate route. The alternate route is ‘full of stones’ for 4 kms, and can scrape the bottom of the car, but we are assured we can manage. So we carry on.

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Sloped Roofs, Bricked Masonry, Well-Architected Cottages

 

And it turns out to be an adventure of a trip. The first few kms are fine and we start thinking if we have been scared unnecessarily. Then, it hits us. For a good 4 kms, there is no road. ‘Full of stones’ is a generous description. There is no road. It is a dust path covered by rocks and pebbles. It is maneuverable as we are going downhill. The rocks do not scrape the bottom but they do cut our tires. For the 4 kms, N and I are silent, taking long breaths, and praying for this to end quickly. Mercifully, it is 4 kms, neither more nor less. After this stretch, the road returns. Though the entire stretch comes under the ‘Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana’ but apart from putting up the board, not much can be seen.

What we advise- once you reach Bhowali, ask around for the route to be taken for Nathuakhan. Do not follow the GPS blindly. On hilly terrains, GPS has proved to be inaccurate for the second time for us. The good old GPS-the rickshaw guy, the vegetable vendor, the traffic police personnel- still works, irrespective of the surroundings! Remember you will need to cross Ramgarh to get to Nathuakhan. If you have not crossed Ramgarh, you are on the wrong road buddy!

After our mini adventure, we reach Nathuakhan and Bob’s Place is just a little ahead of the village ‘chowk’. It is on the road that leads to Almora, Ranikhet, Kausani and Binsar, and has large red iron gates to welcome you. A courteous staff welcomes us and offers us a selection of rooms. Visiting places off-season gives us the benefit of being the only guests, and the luxury of choosing any room we desire.

Bob’s Place has standalone cottages erected in a multi-level manner. The highest ones command a view of snow-clad peaks of the Himalayas. The lower ones have sit-out areas but the view gets diminished by the foliage. We choose one of the higher altitude rooms. It has a balcony which gives us breathtaking views and is especially delightful during sunrises and sunsets. The wooden cottage has a fireplace, a blanket and a heater-we know we are in good hands.

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Don’t nip it in the bud! Let it announce the arrival of spring…

 

Oh! I do not mention the cold that greets us. We do not expect it to be cold at the end of March but there is a definite need for light woolens. I am glad we carried the same. By March-end, most of north India starts burning. Cold weather adds a tremendous amount of beauty to any place. When you are not sweating and protecting your eyes from the sun, you can enjoy your surroundings much more. When you are not looking for water every five minutes, you can soak in the calm and quiet better. Ah! Winters, come back soon!

This holiday is more for N to relax. So all we do in these two days is eat, sleep, read, write, listen to music and watch the mountains change colors. The food is prepared at the cottage and does not taste any different from what we eat at home. The ‘poha’ we have for breakfast is quite different though, and wonderfully so. It is made with ‘khada garam masala’. People who have eaten the Indian-style meat can identify how good this tastes. The ‘masala chai’ is free-flowing too. Special mention of the chicken fry we get as our finale dinner. Do ask for it when you head to Bob’s Place.

For those who like their poison on-the-go, Nathuakhan has a country liquor store with few English brands available. So, if you have superior tastes or are fussy, I suggest you carry your alcohol.

On our first night here, we are shivering and the fireplace in the room looks inviting. Soon after it is lit, we are sweating. We have covered ourselves with a quilt and the fire is proving too hot to handle! On top of that, N scares me that we are breathing carbon monoxide and that we may not survive to see the morning. And if that does not happen, then something in the room will catch fire and it being made of wood, we will get roasted alive. After these two assurances, he sleeps off peacefully and is soon snoring. Well, thanks N, for spoiling my sleep! I lay awake for long staring at the fire, then throw open the door to let the CO get out. The fire dies soon after and I finally sleep…

Just before dawn, I creep to the door hoping to find a leopard/ panther sprawled on the balcony. And I do find something; something from the feline family itself. A fat golden cat! It is lounging on the sofa to ward off the cold. I wish I get to see a leopard/ panther up close and personal soon.

I strive to complete the book I have been reading and fail. The Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man may be a classic but it is also certainly a difficult and slow book. I read a page and then pick up one of the many travel magazines lying around. For a change, even N reads. But his reading is more like browsing. He reminds me of Vici’s way of reading from Small Wonder. Ah the good old 90s! Or rather good old childhood…

The mountains get my creative juices flowing. I sit down in the balcony, take a long look at the Himalayas, sigh at the sky that turns from orange to pink to purple to black, and get started on my post about Kishangarh. And I write and write and write. N marvels at it and says that if I promise to write like this, he will bring me here every weekend. Thanks N but we have to cater to something called ‘life’ too! This will, however, remain a dream we intend to fulfil sometime in life-have a nest in the hills, host guests for a few months in the year, and write for the remaining part. Sigh!

I gifted a Bose SoundLink Mini to N on his birthday. Since then, we are both hooked onto it. That tiny thing is as good as a home theater system. It is perfect for travel. It fits into the palm of a hand. Once fully charged, it can play for almost two days. And the sound quality is fantastic- clarity & volume both. It gets connected via both Bluetooth and USB. It has surely been a worthy purchase! And our hot favorites now are songs from Queen and Highway. So we sit curled on the couch and listen to Sooha SA and Kinaare. The stuff dreams are made of…

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The Tiny Dining Room Lit Up In Yellow- Very, Very Inviting

 

There are a number of walking trails nearby. The staff offers to guide us but we are not in a mood to move our limbs this holiday. There is a dart board where I try throwing darts for the first time. It looks like a simple thing but after three throws, none of which even hit the board, my arm hurts. I now have respect for this seemingly simple sport. N gets a score of 6/ 10 which makes him legendary in my eyes! There is also a carom board in the lounge but we do not play this time; I can defeat N again. Towards the lower cottages is a hammock on which N tumbles; I am still laughing…

The staff is plentiful, courteous and ready to help with pretty much anything. We have a dedicated guy who we find out is from Madhubani. He has worked at Bob’s Place for almost eight years now. He likes it here. The weather is good. Heh heh! All of us who live on plains will never think twice about saying yes to the hills. He is soft-spoken and tells us quite a bit about the surrounding regions.

Holidays always end sooner than anticipated. And it is time for us to head back. But so we do with our mind, body and soul rejuvenated. This being our third trip to Kumaon, I think I can recommend an itinerary for six days, five nights:

Delhi-Dhanachuli-Nathuakhan-Delhi

Day 1: Depart from Delhi early and arrive at Dhanachuli by tea time. Spend the night at Te Aroha exploring the premises, specially the library, playing the piano and sipping ‘something’ on the balcony

Day 2: Have a day excursion/ trek to Mukteshwar. On a clear day, a lot of peaks are visible. If you are the religious kinds, say a quick prayer at the Shiva temple; it is one of the ‘Shakti peeths’.

Day 3: Checkout late and head to Nathuakhan. Check in at Bob’s Place. Get the fireplace going in the lounge and browse the innumerable books kept there

Day 4: After breakfast, head to Almora and/ or Ranikhet and spend the day soaking in the beauty of the British-established hill stations. Or go for one of the hill walks. Back to Bob’s for a chicken fry dinner

Day 5: Checkout and head back to Delhi

Recommended time to visit: Pretty much all through the year. It snows during winter, so be prepared to get trapped and enjoy more days of vacation!

Recommended eats: Poha & Chicken Fry at Bob’s Place

Recommended buys: Shawls, stoles, herbs and pine needle decorations from Kilmora; Fruit spreads from Himjoli; Rhododendron juice

Soon back with a Garhwali taste. Till then, sip the rhododendron you folks!

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