6th April 2007 – A three-day weekend was coming – perfect opportunity to give fresh air to our lungs. We thought of visiting Jim Corbett National Park and felt that with kid it would be best if we could get a booking in Dhikala. I faxed and, almost daily, called and tracked my request at forest office in RamNagar. My fax was treated with the General algorithm (and not the VIP one) – Fax received -> throw it in the dustbin. This information came very late. We could not get reservation to Kathgodam that is nearest railhead for Naukuchiyatal and were forced to travel to RamNagar.
From RamNagar we wanted to travel to Nainital in State Roadways bus. But in the morning the only option was a private local bus. The state bus transport services of Uttaranchal are in very poor condition. I am not writing that it was non-existent because I believe in GOD. I have not seen GOD still I believe in it – Ditto for Uttaranchal bus transport services.
We reached Nainital in around 3-4 hours. Last time when we visited “Nainital” we did a Lake tour from Nainital & felt that the Lakes of “Sattal” and “Naukuchiyatal” were better than the Lake “Naini”. The plan was not to waste time in Nainital and so we immediately hired a cab and in around 45 mins we were at KMVN guesthouse in Naukuchiyatal.
The KMVN/TDC hotels have best locations, but rooms with taps leaking, plaster coming off the walls and in general give a damp and decrepit look. Inside room it was clear that they were still searching for the spider-man to get all mess done by him cleaned :) The cost of the room was very reasonable Rs 350 on ground floor and Rs 550 on first floor. In front of the room there was a beautiful small garden and after that there was Naukuchiyatal. As soon as we opened the door, the Lake was visible, as if it was our private Lake. Even with the shortcomings mentioned above, its location and price made it a value for money. We relaxed for a while in the small garden. A few kids were swimming in the Lake, jumping from a small platform and throwing & chasing a tire tube in the water. This fascinated Rachit.
In evening we strolled around the periphery of the Lake. The leafy 3.5 Km nature walk took us to paths scented with blossoms and bird songs. The azure blue color of clean and tranquil Naukuchiyatal was alluring us. The whole area around it was very peaceful. It was only occasionally that we saw tourists around us.
Naukuchiyatal is a holy Lake, it is believed that Pandavas stayed around this Lake during their “Agyatwas” and bathed into it. Many places are associated with Pandavas and their Agyatwas. These places are sometimes very far from each other. It made me wonder that could this association be real? When I look at Rachit I feel its possible. The water bodies where he had thrown pebbles are numerous and far too scattered :) One-day people would discuss about holy water bodies where he had thrown pebbles. Some of them would wonder that “how” and in his case also “why” he threw pebbles in so many and so far away water bodies. I think one need grit, determination and religious fervor to follow his passion to achieve such feasts.
“कौन कहता है की आसमान में छेद हो नही सकता,
एक पत्थर तो तबीयत से उछालो यारों.”
A hole can be made in the sky, if a stone is thrown with full conviction. In Rachit’s case I think its not sky but the water.
On left side of the Lake from KMVN guesthouse there was a building hidden in the green vegetation. That building belonged to a high ranked retired officer – indeed a green and serene retirement.
At another side of the Lake, straight in front of the guest house there was thick vegetation. It was like a mini jungle. We thought that it would be good idea if we could trek in it. Walking along we came across a “Dhaba” and inquired about the possibility of getting a local person to trek with us and guide us. A man who looked after water pumps agreed to join us.
When we were returning back a tourist bus came and all on board were allotted 30 mins to enjoy the Lake and surroundings. We saw a young couple trying hard to get those perfect honeymoon shots with Lake and the boats around. Once they got those shots they thought of hiring the boat. It was too much for the tour operator – They wanted to have the perfect memories in the photo album as well as in their minds too – “बहुत नाइंसाफी है”. They were immediately told that the allotted time is about to be over and its time to return back. The expressions on their face and the whole situation looked very funny, though it had happened with all of us at some point of time. That is the problem with one-day sight seeing trips; one has to rush to another point even before he could have an eyeful of a place.
Next day we were ready to trek after breakfast. Our guide Prakash was a man in his late 40s. He was soft spoken and a mild man. We immediately struck a chord. Wherever we go, we taste local vegetarian dishes. In Naukuchiyatal all the menu cards were splashed with food with potato, onion and Paneer. There were no local food and it seemed more like touristy Delhi food. Jaishree asked Prakash about indigenous local food. Prakash told us about “sabzi” of “Bichhu Ghaas”. Bichhu is a plant which if touches skin causes continuous itching. He told that for the sabzi, tender and small leaves of Sisuna (Bichhu Ghaas) are picked. They are boiled in water and cooked till the leaves are free from their acidic content and become pulpy. The excess water is drained. Then the oil is heated in a thick-bottomed pan. First cumin is added and then the boiled Bichhu leaves are fried. Salt is added and it’s ready to be served hot. When I sniffed, it smelt nice, but the outcome was not a smile on my face, but a deep sigh. It was difficult to find it in restaurants; as such dishes require elaborate preparation.
First we trekked to a not so difficult part, it was on the right side of our hotel. There were pine-trees everywhere.
On the way we met clown shaped flowers bursting in laughter, blue nail-sized flowers welcoming us on the blue carpet. Kumanois say a single view of all nine corners of “Nau-Kuchiya-Taal” bestows Nirvana. From that side of the trek there was no such possibility. After that we started to move towards the mountains with thick vegetation. We crossed a few farms and houses. These houses were almost at the top of the mountain. What a beautiful place to live! What about the daily up down even for small requirements? People from hills are used to it and they don’t mind it – I think it’s a small price for a beautiful living. That might be the way these people keep themselves fit :). The potable water and electricity was supplied even at those heights. The area around these houses was very clean and decorated with flowers.
Naukuchiyatal is a paradise for bird watchers. We were not serious bird watchers. Still birds attracted both Jaishree and me. On our trek we were able to catch this “Verditer Flycatcher”.
To capture this beautiful bird on my camera was a moment of triumph. Common or uncommon beautiful birds make one happy.
From that village we continued to trek towards the dense jungle. It turned out to be a Bhool-Bhulaiyaa. The vegetation in that part was very dense. Prakash too had not trekked on these mountains for quite sometime and was not able to find a small “Pagdandi” (Walkway) used by wood pickers and shepherds to go to the top. Steep slopes, thick vegetation and thorny plants were continuously obstructing us. Prakash was encouraging us that once we would reach the top, it would be flat there and we could enjoy the beautiful views of Lake and valley from there. I started to slip. It was happening when we were ascending. We decided not to proceed further as descending would have been more difficult. In the beginning when I fell it hurt, after 3-4 times it stopped hurting. I wonder that does people with slippery feet develop “Fauladi (Steel) Bums”? :)
We started moving towards the side where there were less jungle, but more step farms and some houses. All four of us were walking along the step farms. We were pushing the dancing and swaying wheat pods and were making way for us.
In between Jaishree plucked the wheat pods and explained to Rachit that how wheat pods grow and how he gets his favourite “Chapattis”. We were walking mesmerized by the beauty of the step farms, the crop ready for harvest and the glimpses of Naukuchiyatal.
There are very less man made things that can be as delightful as the nature. Beautiful monuments, work of art, sculptors, we can enjoy any or all of these for some time but not forever. On the contrary, nature is always new like a newborn baby.
We reached a place where a few young boys were taking bath from a water pump. There we met a middle-aged woman who was rushing to bring something from ration shop that was in the valley. After seeing us she started to talk and enquire about us. While talking with us, she forgot that she had to rush otherwise the ration shop would close. Suddenly she heard call from her mother-in-law and it was funny to see her running & rushing down. How important are mother in laws to make things work :)
In the end, we crossed the mountains where a grand construction was taking place at one side of the Lake. A school building was being made. We were surprised to see a school building as grand as that. Then Prakash explained that because of new rules construction of new hotels around the Lake is not allowed. The builder mafia has found the work around. They have started to construct grand schools, which could be later on converted to big hotels. In India, one needs a will and he can find numerous ways to break the rules.
We traveled 360 degree around the Lake. It was nice trekking; and passing through the step farms was the highlight. The trekking increased our memories of beautiful Naukuchiyatal manifolds. With a Piscean kid, and Beautiful Naukuchiyatal in such vicinity, it was time to do boating. We hired a pedal-boat and started pedaling. Rachit was steering the boat taking us closer to the trees submerged in the water, touching its stems. We had to take care as water could be shallow near the shore and we wanted to avoid the chances of getting stuck. We were kept engaged by a diving water bird – guessing from where it would re-emerge. It was already evening. The birds were returning back in flocks. The setting sun’s redness was leaving mark on water and also on our faces. The biggest impact was on our mind where those memories would remain etched for long.
Though we could not find a single point from where we could see all the nine corners & achieve Nirvana, still the weekend was very well spent. It was time to return back. This time we returned back from Naukuchiyatal – Bhimtal – Kathgodam. The road was very good and covered around by thick green vegetation.
In the train we met a couple that were going every summer for last 17 years to Nainital. They always go to the same place – Nainital. They asked us is Naukuchiyatal a beautiful place? I leave the reply to the readers …
After writing it I started to wonder that among fellow ghumakkars could I find such kind of place loyalty!