While I was in Nainital on 29-30/06/09, I spotted an attractive looking little hotel near the rope-way base – Hotel Ankur Plaza. It is at a height of about three floors above mall road. I was attracted by a terrace restaurant at the top and went to the hotel and met the owner/manager – Mr. Rohit Alagh. I had already decided to make another visit during the second weekend of July. During discussion, my intuition was confirmed that this hotel was once a holiday home for my company (which now has Arif Castles on its panel).
Hotel at an elevation
Earlier, during the previous visit in June end, after seeing how green the place was and its weather, I had made up my mind to make another trip during the second weekend of July with my entire family-with a head count of 10 including some kids. Mr Alagh told me that after first week of July the season will be over and the rates which started from Rs 2500 then would come down to about one third. For our number of persons, he told me that he has rooms with a third bed for Rs950. I told him to keep three rooms for us for 11th and 12th July ’09.
I had booked our tickets by Ranikhet express, which leaves from Sarai Rohilla at 9:55pm and takes a lot of time before it reaches Ghaziabad-our base station at 11:25pm to finally leave NCR at 23:27pm. We decided that, for a change, we should board the train in a stately manner from a main station like Delhi or New Delhi. So we thought that since the train does not go to New Delhi, there was no point in boarding it from there and decided in favor of our second choice, the proletariat station of Delhi. Otherwise, since shifting to Indirapuram from NOIDA five years back, our visits to Delhi stations have been rare. The last one being on a Holi eve, when we lost our camera and a mobile when it was lifted, while in a handbag, from platform 11 of New Delhi. We had indeed relocated to Indirapuram because it is nearer to Lucknow. By using Ghaziabad for Lucknow bound trips of self and family, we save a lot of time and money. Usually by the time an incoming train reaches Yamuna bridge, we are home and ready to move for daily bread and butter. For eastbound trains, usually we leave from our home only after the train has left the starting station – Delhi or New Delhi. Why take chances! Even then we have to wait good 15-30 minutes in case it is not a Monday. Monday is the weekly Haat day for Vijaynagar in Ghaziabad, when, in the evening (7 to10) the road transforms into a market and the passage is sufficient only for rickshaws. But miraculously, whenever I happened to drive through this throttle device while going for dropping someone, I have been able to get to the other side too. Though, Sometimes I felt like leaving the car at the station and coming back on foot. Similar to what we felt when we were struck in a gridlock on the way to Delhi station for boarding the Ranikhet express.
I, for us 6 from Indirapuram, including my two kids and an anorexic sister-in-law (saali), hired a big taxi, which turned out to be a Lancer which the owner-driver, as he told me on the long way to station, had purchased just two days back and he was still to install CNG on that and he was honoring a commitment by bringing this car which was still guzzling petrol. Professionalism lives on! He also told me that this car would indeed be going to Nainital in few days and that instead of taking the middle class option of train, we could have hired the taxi for the complete trip in almost the same cost. Obviously, he was assuming that we were traveling in ac class in train. The car was in very good condition and AC was functioning well. Otherwise we would have suffocated in the traffic jams which our driver choose to avoid a traffic jam at ITO of which his aide had informed over phone.
That son of some man, had informed him that there was a huge Jam at ITO. So this gentleman took the dreaded Vaishali – Kaushambi – Anandvihar – Dilshaad Garden – ISBT route to Delhi station. I did not protest initially even though we were shaken to our bones in the knee-deep potholes of Vaishali. I told him ‘it is your suspension-transmission’ and we are sufficiently isolated from the jerks thanks to the Japanese. But jeopardy was just setting in.
I knew about the perils in the way of reaching Delhi station on a weekend evening and had commandeered my party to start well in advance. So even while we were stuck for about 20 minutes at the GT road T point, while coming from Anand Vihar, we were all relaxed and I chatted with my driver about his car and about our Cielo. he told that Cielo still sells and can fetch enough for me for replacing battery, tyres and suspension of my other car.
we could take the left turn on GT road towards Shahdara, and conveniently missed the Shahdara flyover. My SIL who has been enamoured with Delhi-6 after watching the eponymous movie, benefited immensely from this audacious move. By now, my other brother, who had left from Mayur Vihar half an hour after us, was at Lal Qila and he indeed had taken the ITO route. After crossing about 20 signals, we finally reached ISBT flyover over ring road, where I was as lost as my driver about which way to Delhi station. Thankfully, we did not have to take any u-turns and all over moves in the right direction, despite every benevolent helping folk pointing to left while telling us to go right. We reached the IP university and that is where a huge gridlock was created by vehicles descending from the ring road. Traffic Police was inconspicuous by it absence from the spot. Some good Samaritans later, we could reach the station well in time, pitying the poor driver and blessing his traffic agent.
The station was full of Kanwarias and their effervescently coloured Kanwars. They were waiting for the train to Haridwar.Our train arrived 30 minutes after its schedules time of 22:15. It was a crowded evening. Though, the train was not so crowded and we comfortable boarded it. It was a well maintained clean coach. After finishing our home made traveling dinner, we called it a day. I woke up once at Moradabad and then my eyes opened to the sight of heavenly hills visible from Haldwani station.
I got of the train, inhaled some breeze and sipped tea in kulhad. The train travels along the Gola river from Haldwani onwards. What a change it was from the heavy weather of Delhi. The sky was overcast and it had rained heavily in this region overnight. By the way, first train to Haldwani arrived from Lucknow in 1884. In Thirty minutes from Haldwani, our train had enter the neat and clean, but dripping at some places due to heavy rains (now this reminds me of some eventful thing), Kathgodam station at 6:00hrs.
My parents had left from Lucknow by the Bagh express, and would arrive at about 9:30hrs only. I thought that we all will go to Nainital and then I will come back to receive them After all it was the occasion of their marriage anniversary this time. From Kathgodam station, taxis in the form of Altos, Omnis and Sumos are readily available. One could have hired an Alto to Nainital for Rs.300-400. My eyes settled on a serious looking elderly driver in an Sumo. He asked Rs 600 and I felt it was OK. We, 5full, 1 three quarter, 2half and a toddler, in all 9, did not have much luggage and got comfortably accommodated in that car with almost bald tyres. There were a number of Gods sitting on top of the dashboard and we prayed and set off for Nainital. Highway, which was well kept, was occasionally dotted with boulders of good sizes which had fallen during the overnight rain. The scenic beauty got more and more breathtaking as we moved up. The visibility was very good. The sight of washed up terrain, with clouds hovering around was mesmerizing. The taxi was halted midway between Kathgodam and Nainital, for tea break. The taxiwala necessarily take one halt between Kathgodam and Nainital. Our driver was a well known person as everyone seemed to greet him.We hoped into the restaurant, and discovered that it had a terrace restaurant hidden at the back. We had tea and clicked and recorded the scenery around.
It took us one and a half hour to reach Mallital. On reaching the hotel the Owner told us that though our rooms would be available at 10:00am, the check out time, thay have arranged one room in which we can keep out luggage and relax. The room was ok with a bed and a sofa-cum-bed. we took that room and began with our daily ablutions one by one. As it took longer than expected to reach NTL from KGM, I decided against going back to receive maa bapu. We got ready and waited fro their arrival, which was not before 10:30am. They had hired an Alto. Alto is very successful in hills, probably due to its small size, maneuverability, decent torque in first gear(low rpm), and good fuel efficiency.
By 10:45, we had got the two remaining rooms also, for which we had been asking for all this while with the apologetic hotel manager. But now, as parents had arrived, all of us 11 were huddled in one room!
We had Parantha breakfast in room, from the modest restaurant of the Hotel. Mother ate with certainty as the manager had informed that non-veg food is not cooked but brought from outside as the cook is also pure vegetarian. The hotel has the residence of the owners in the ground floor, or the basement, the way you look at it. Incidentally, the achar tastes entirely different when you eat outside, or may be it was really good. We ate to our satiation. I had already purchased the tickets of the rope way for a 12:00noon slot. It was about time, but it had started drizzling. We did not care much about that and hopped down to the base of rope-way, which was at stones throw. The rope-way, first of its kind in India, now run by Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam, takes tourists to the snow-view point, located at a height of 2240m and the charges are Rs100 for adults and 60 for children, for a return trip.
The benefits of slightly off-season-it was still partially on, tapering- were all too evident. In season, one has to essentially book in advance form the counters located by the side of the base and even then one may have to wait quite a while before turn comes. We had not to wait more than 5 minutes. About 15 other tourists were seated in the waiting hall. Our ride started, but unfortunately, entire valley was engulfed in clouds and there was no view. we reached the top and our return time was informed to us which was at about 2:00pm. After coming out of the station, we did not now what to do or where to go and there were no guides also, who will take you for a ride. So we just wandered towards left where a bumping car and a little go carting track is run along with other amusement rides. Ride is a ride after all. Amusement while viewing the snow would have been really amusing. But the clouds were not giving way. We further strolled towards a small but clean temple.After offering obeisance, we went on to the terrace attached to the temple, which gave a very good view of the distant hills, unhindered by clouds. It became sunny in that while and we could get a good view.
Then we hiked up to a little hillock which is the highest point in that location, where a couple of brass telescopes were placed. Snow was apparently visible from this point, if clouds were not. Clouds were obscuring most of the scenes. We did not try our hands on those and moved further ahead to a slightly adventurous trek. Nearby the “Free Fall” was installed, in which no one seem to be interested. We “trekked” down from the hillock to the little market around a circular park. A few eating points and photographers and fancy dress shops are there around the circle.
Getting photographed in a dress was something which always derived dismissive laughter from wife. “Come one, me too old for all that? I have done that when I first visited Nainital 20 years back”. But everyone wanted to have some fun (at others’ cost) and “you do it” “you do it” eventually turned into “what the heck, if you so insist!”. So my wife, brother’s wife and sister in law (the wife’s sister kind of sister-in-law) wore the pink red black outfits over their cloths. The younger kids were also turned into belles and Peshwas and the cameraman whose first check was of Rs 150 got a business worth Rs 500 in the end. Footloose fun was never better and cheaper.
The valley was still engulfed in thick cloud, though it was better on the other side. We were nearing our return trip time, though, the foodstallwalas told us that ti is not so hard and fast during lean season and we can overstay for a while. So we had some tea and snacks-pakora etc. before reporting to the counter for our return trip. I also noticed a bar cum restaurant in the ground floor of the ropeway terminus building.
Thankfully, while coming down, the clouds had floated past and we got a beautiful view of the lake and the surroundings. The greenery on slopes seems to be protected and maintained with some effort as entire slope is full of trees. The boats in the lake looked like tiny crickets. The whole sight was really very pleasing. What else one can ask for from a place at such a short distance and so accessible from Delhi?
Near the landing of the rope-way there is a very small amusement park, run by an acquaintance. We brought three, then two more, then one more tickets (kharbooja (water melon) effect) for the swing. It started and though this swing is not as huge as teh Appughar one used to be, it gave sufficiently big butterflies to stomachs. I was worried for my kids, lest they fall down and some people who did not take the ride thought that I was scared! It ran for some time and was paisa wassool jhoola in the month of Sawan-the jhoole wala Mahina.
After this it was the time for a boat ride in the lake. We had planned the rest of the day to be spent around the lake.
We strolled down towards the mallital boat boarding point. The tiny boats of yellow colour bearing bleeding red Vodafone logo at the back of the backrest in the backdrop of lush and reflective green, present a delectable riot of colours. There is a ticket counter run by the association. Usually, boatmen keep fishing for the customers outside the waters, on the street. They will purchase tickets for you if you agree to take their boats. Number of guests allowed per boat is four, though the boatmen accept a fifth passenger also if she is a kid or lightweight. We were eleven including my 2 year old nephew. Incidentally, the boatmen those found us, were the same those took us a for a ride during the previous visit. I hope they remembered that we had tipped them (which is not the practice probably, as they were visibly delighted for the meagre sum). But they dug their heels saying that number of passengers cannot be more than five per boat. The upright man was obviously counting my nephew as one. So we collectively decided to give the boatride a go by and the one boat that we had occupied was vacated. Then another duo of boatmen approached us and told that it is ok and they will take us on their boats, for a ride. So we went for a ride on their boats.
These boatmen were not very communicative. They were on a country high as evident from the smell. So I am recalling what our estranged boatman told us in the previous trip. We had asked him about the bubbles coming up at many spots in the lake. They pointed us towards a tiny room, and told that air compressors are kept there and air is injected at the bottom of the lake. He told that fishes die due to lack of oxygen in the deeper parts of the lake. He also told us that lot of care is take to keep the fragile ecosystem of the lake in good health. No drain is allowed to fall into it. We enjoyed this ride and it very thinly drizzled all this while.
After this we went to the Naina Devi Temple, which is a very small but neat and clean complex, and gives a beautiful view of the lake and the mall road. After Darshan pooja, the girls went to the Tibbeti/Bhootani market fro some tidbit shopping and we boys sat in the temple. I recounted that I had read somewhere the entire area from flats to the temple became a plane after the massive landslide that took place after a heavy rain in 1880, in which the original temple, alongwith some other buildings was destroyed. The ‘flat’ came into existence after this catastrophe.
We whiled around in the market looking for casual bargains. The customary Bhuttas were munched, tea was sipped and weather was getting more and more pleasant as the evening started to descend. The ladies were still in ‘their market’. After they returned some phone calls later, we sipped one of the tastiest glass of tea. The vendor (thela) is located between the mall road and the Cinema by the side of the coffee vendors. I though one can spend hours together just sitting on the wall, watching people and activities. But my Nainital friends tell that it gets boring after a while.
we retreated to the hotel by about 9:00pm and ordered our dinner to be served in one of the rooms. It tasted alright. after viewing the recording from the day, we called it a day. The next day was for going to general touristy spots in Nainital and Sattal, Bhimtal, Naukuchiatal before being dropped at the Kathgodam station in time for the return train journey to Delhi. In the evening I had tied up with the morning cab driver and we had a deal for 1600Rs in which he would take us to Ghodakhal and HanumanGadhi too.
This night also it rained heavily, safely outside the hotel:). We were ready by 9:30 and checked out from the hotel. The luggage was decked up on the vehicle top and covered with a tarpaulin. We passed by the Sukh(a)taal area where the KMVN set up is located, apart from the two costly hotels – Manu Maharani and Arif Castles. The distance of Arif Castles from the main area has lead to not-so-good feedback from my colleagues who have stayed here. This is the reason, employer is inviting offers from other hotels, including Ankur Plaza, which is already on the panels of many State Banks and sort of has its hands full, as told to me by Mr. Rohit.
We passed by the Caves, which did not interest us and in any case, which were closed for the day as those were flooded with rainwater. Next spot on our way, which is also the highway to Moradabad, was the Suicide point (lovers point) which we skipped. This point gives a picturesque view of the hills and valley below, but as it it was clouded, we could not have seen much. After stopping at a rather risky-but-with-a-great-view spot, we headed to the Sariya (now Sarita) Fall, which is surrounded by a couple of great Dhabas, with rooftop restaurants. We were yet to take our breakfast.
We climbed up the rooftop of the one the Nanital side, as service of the other one was lacking the last time I visited it. This one had a lightening fast and efficient service and in a jiffy our order of poori sabji and paranthas and a plate of samosa chutney was served. The tea tasted great too. This samosa chutney tasted like the best ever. The view of the little fall in which groups of young men and women and children were frolicking added to the experience. We were too going to be there after finishing breakfast.
we splashed some water in the fall after which we retreated back as we were to go to the Tea Garden, located at Ghodakhal., the place where renowned Sainik School is located as is the revered Golu Devta temple. It is situated near Bhowali. It took about an hour for us to reach the place- the Tea garden maintained by the Sainik School. Tea garden in Nainital! Though it was not very big, it had decent growth of tree plants. The view of teh place, with clouds drooping at a distance and flanked by conifers on other side was mesmerizing. We ended up spending more than an hour here.
After this, memorable experience we were onto another one as we reached the Golu Devta temple. As seen from the road below, the temple, lined and dotted with bells of all sizes and red Chunaris, located at a small height from the road looked mystical. We climbed up the stairs whose hand rails are lined with bells of all pitches and tones. People had also engraved their names and addresses on the bells. Above in the temple area also, the whole place was full of bells and red Chunaris. There was this huge bunch of prayers too that devotees had posted by threading up their slips/pages in a wire. Some names were sounding as known like one of Harish Kandpal on a huge bell. The main temples of Golu Devata itself is a small one like those of the village deities.
It was all clouded all around us, so we could not have the view of surroundings from the top, but presence of mist was adding to the ambiance. This day it was not at all crowded, but during the tourist season, it must be really packed. we stayed back in the premises for about an hour, before moving on to our next destination, which I thought was Sat Tal.
The drive to Saat tal from Ghrakhal is through some of the most serene places. Though many slopes and planes have been concretised by Delhi based citizens, who would rather own a house for stay than rent a hotel room during their annual escapes. There are really huge townships, with tiny houses and flats.
We reached Sat Tal, winding down the narrow but serene lane, but the place wore a deserted look and the drive had sapped us of any enthusuiasm to get down for some boating or munching. So we went to the parking, reversed and retreated back towards what was supposed to be Hanumangarhi. We passed by Bhimtal on the way and by the time we reached a temple on the way to Naukuchiatal, with a huge statue of Hanuman ji, which was supposed to be the Hanumangarhi, my mother was feeling very sick and tired.
We stopped there and in the temple compound, which give a good view of the fields, my mother made a good use of a bench. After a rest of about 45minutes, it was time to move. It was about 7:00pm and our train was at 8:30. So we thought it to be safe to just drive by the huge Bhim tal and head straight to Kathgodam. Probably we packed too many things for a day for our age mix.
By 8:00pm we were at Kathgoadam station. We had a sumptuous thali lunch at the station refreshment room before boarding our Ranikhet Express. We probably brought rains along with us as it was impending to rain at Ghaziabad at about 4:00am when we arrived here. Out of our two taxis only one had cared to turn up, the other driver did not pick. Less than half of us had to take an auto(yes, against my understanding, autos are available so early too) and reached home enjoying our fellow traveler from the hills of Kumaon!
Thats all for now. Bye