The LONG Week End-12 Aug to 15 Aug 17
Though we are a veteran couple, our daughter Neerja (Nanu is her pet name) has a very busy schedule round the year with long working hours and travel schedules with in India & abroad. Despite official hagglings of this meeting and that conference schedule, she had planned to spend a quiet extended week end break to refresh and rejuvenate at less frequented hill destination in Uttrakhand. She completely ruled out visiting Ranikhet and Nainital where she lived and studied respectively for half a decade during her childhood. She also ruled out Shimla and Mussoorie and we narrowed on to Bull Kumar’s Shivpuri Resort located in lush green forest on road 15 km across Rishikesh to Badrinath.
Unfortunately, the resort was fully booked and we settled down for our next option and good offer of my senior Signals friend Brig Puri to revisit his cottage in Cloud Nine nestled amidst a lush green forest and landscaped apple orchards on the main Bhowali-Ramgarh- Mukteshwar road in the Dev Bhoomi Kumaon Himalayas. I have said revisit to Cloud Nine as we had enjoyed his hospitality some three years back earlier too. The other main consideration of this holiday was taking our pet Lab Happy Bhatia which was only acceptable in Shiv puri resort or Cloud Nine.
Since I have travelled nth times on this route, after hurriedly packing with our minimum essentials clothings, snacks and food stuff, on 12 Aug we left around 8 am following conventional route Noida- Gajraula- Moradabad-Rampur- Bilaspur-Rudrapur-Haldwani- Bhimtal-Ramgarh to Cloud Nine located around 350 km from Noida. The road journey was uneventful as it was full of cars, mini buses and taxis of holiday revellers speeding up to make the most of their upcoming four-day weekend.
The road from Rampur to Rudrapur is bad with big potholes and all sorts of traffic snarls-bullock and horse carts, tractors, trucks, cycles and e-rickshaws. We had lunch on roadside Punjab Di Potli Dhaba short of Bilaspur and the food was indeed good especially the dal makhani cooked in desi ghee. We passed through 5 toll barriers and though the first four exempted the toll showing my exserviceman card, the fourth near Rampur would not agree and we paid Rs 110 toll.
The highest so far for traveling four kms as the road beyond Rampur towards the hills around Bilaspur, Rudrapur and Haldwani was chaotic except for me who has got emotional bond, having lived and stayed in a farm near Bilaspur as I did my matric from Rudrapur way back in 1957. Near Kathgodam from a small shop Harish Store we had short stop to purchase bread, butter, eggs and milk and to my amazement it was located next to die hard Berari Col Chowdhury’s house. Since we wanted to avoid driving in hills in darkness, I reluctantly planned meeting him on our way back journey. However, alas, that did not materialise in the end.
The Swiss Village in the Himalayas
The hills start from Kathgodam and so does the cool breeze of the mighty Himalayas. The sal, deodar and rhododendron trees with red flowers famous for making wine and syrupy red juice to rejuvenate tired mind, body and soul, gradually start replacing the pine trees with their peculiar fragrance. Due to silvery clouds majestically gliding over the Bhimtal, we could not see the serenity of the lake and surrounding hills as the entire Bhimtal valley looked like an ocean.
After quick hot tea with pakoras at Bhowali, we took our last leg of 33 Km drive to Ramgarh divided as Malla (higher elevation) on the main road and Talla (lower elevation) on a side road. Located at the height of 7200 feet, it is the fruit bowl of the Kumaon region famous for its delicious apples, apricots, peaches and pears orchards. Ever Since Nainital has become air conditioned overcrowded Karol Bagh and Ranikhet seams bursting with tourists, Ramgarh and Mukteshwar have emerged as exquisite tourist destinations.
The erstwhile Cloud Nine located around 12 km from Ramgarh towards Mukteshwar has been renamed as the ‘The Swiss Village in the Himalayas’.
There are large numbers of small well maintained cottages on narrow winding serpentine road surrounded by thick forest frequented by the leopard(s) and tiger(s) and at the end of bend 11 at the height of 7500 feet is located the red roofed, neat well maintained O-14 cottage of Brig Puri where we reached around 5 pm and were destined to rendezvous for our short recouping holiday.
The exquisiteness, tranquility and the breathtaking unobstructed views of the snow peaks of the Nanda Devi and the Trishul ranges of the Himalayas during clear weather beat the European Swiss Alpine serenities. I would like to compliment Mr Sudhir Saxena and the entire team of the Swiss Village in Himalayas for its excellent upkeep, security and house keeping services.
Immediately on arrival at the main gate, we were greeted by ever smiling ‘Wahe Guru Wahe Guru’ chanting smart Sikh gentleman Ram Singh who discreetly claims to be an exserviceman and heads security along with Eshwar Damodaran the F&B Manager. We were given the key of O-14 and motorcycle borne guide took us to cottage as it was getting dark and silvery grey clouds had engulfed the entire complex making driving risky and slow.
There was cold breeze and we shivered & happy looked very excited and scared probably smelling prowling big cat in the forest around. We were tired; I brewed tea, ordered some food that’s very very expensive from the resort’s restaurant and went to sleep in the well laid cottage.
Bagh (Tiger/leopard), Devi Devtas (Gods & Godesses) and Bhoot (evil spirits)
Kumaonis though worshipper of Lord Shiva & Goddess Kalika, like all other hill tribes believe in various village / local gods & goddesses, presence of tigers and leopards commonly called bagh and almost everyone has been influenced with the presence of bhoot or evil spirits.
All hill tribes have one thing common, they fear and revere the gods and goddesses, tigers and the evil spirits- the later two lurking every where with their evil powers and their stealthy and illusory habits of suddenly appearing and disappearing in the deep dense forests, high hills and narrow valleys often at night elevating them to the supernatural status than other worldly beings!
No wonder the ever smiling Gorkha security guard Thapa cautioned us of the invincible presence of these supernatural beings and tiger(s) and leopard(s) called by him as bagh only upto the extent that Happy must be protected by keeping him in doors during night and poor visibility.
Having lived many years in Ranikhet, my wife Rajni was deeply concerned about Happy’s safety and security.
Next morning we got up early and Nanu and self went for a long walk with Happy on winding down hill road with cottages interspersed along one side with red and green painted tops. There was abundance of white butterflies attracted by varied varieties of flowers grown in wild and in some of the well maintained cottages. Ramgarh is good for those who, love eerie silence, birds and butterflies watching, nature walks, yoga, meditation and trekking.
I and Neerja enjoyed walking with Happy and while going down hill was tempting to cover longer distances climbing up on way back exhausted us immensely. We drove in the afternoon to local shop to purchase fresh vegetables that were much cheaper than the NCR and got freshly plucked apples from the road side orchard at one third the price of the Mother Dairy in Noida. Incidently, many know Ramgarh as apple country but the entire NCR is supplied of tomatoes grown here. While tomatoes were Rs 100 a kg at Noida when we left, these were available at Rs 30 a Kg in hills.
Yes, there was constant stream of cars laden with holiday mongers heading towards Mukteshwar and by the evening of 13 Aug there were around ten holidaying families with kids enjoying abundance of nature’s bounty in the Swiss Village. It was amazing in one moment the entire area was engulfed with clouds gliding inside our cottage, if doors and windows were open, while in the next few moments, it would be sunny with enjoyable warmth.
Sadly, due to excessive construction of the multistoried buildings, commercialisation and excessive tourism, vandalisation of forests by contractors, politicians and bureaucratic mafias, the hearts of those who love these hills has been veritably saddened. I was equally saddened when I saw one resident tossing garbage in poly bag from his cottage window. Also, many visitors holidaying, littered places with empty mineral water and whiskey bottles, empty cigarette packets and poly packs ruining the fragile eco-system of the hills.
On 14th after our long morning walk, while Neerja read her books, I supervised wild grass cutting and pruning of plants in the cottage we were staying (O-14) and the adjacent one O-15 belonging to Brig Puri’s daughter which had some guests. We both, to unwind and rejuvenate enjoyed nature’s tranqulity, peace, solitude, gentle cold breeze and floating silvery clouds, far away from the hustle bustle of our hihgly polluted Noida, enjoying nature walks with Happy and sleep.
Though we missed the amazing view of the Himalayas due to rainy season, but the lush green valley was a joy for ever. Rajni kept indoors and mercifully during the last day of our stay after much cajoling the housekeeping staff, some dish TV channels were activated so that she could watch some TV serials.
Incidentally, when we left our home for hills, there was sadly red alert on one TV channel announcing heavy rains and land slides in Uttrakhand in the next 48 hours. While my wife wanted to cancel the trip, I and Neerja pursuaded her to take a chance. Throughout our stay, the sky remained heavely overcasted with high probability of rains. Though I love rains and more than that the smell of hot pakoras and steaming mugs of tea, along with refreshing breeze and lurking fears of land slides. Luckily there were no rains till we arrived back home with renewed synergy.
15 Aug around 7.30 am after light breakfast, we left Cloud Nine for way backhome. It was heartening to see school kids carrying paper tricolour flags and buntings and singing patriotic songs and at Bhowali on the road side school national flag was unfurled followed by rhythmic singing of the national anthem. We also purchased Kumaoni speciality ‘Baal Mithai’ from Bhowali.
Surprisingly, none of the halwais new its origin and were amazed when I narrated them that poor cook Joga Massih’s invention during World War-1 while serving in a British Regiment. After the chaotic experience of traveling on poor road surface from Rampur to Rudrapur, we decided to proceed via forested Kaladhungi road. Large numbers of two wheelers, cars, tractors, auto and e-rickshaws and trucks were seen flying tricolour but this tempo gradually declined as we progressed towards the NCR.
While enroute we saw some barefooted sadhus on their padyatra, it was heartening to see mod young sadhu driving on new motorbike with trishul and national flag well fluttering. With the drive through the lush green Kaladhungi forest and Jim Corbett and my Regiment’s home ‘The cool breezy Kumaon Hills’,humming ‘Bedu Pako Barra Massa’ one of our Regimental songs, I desire visiting hills again while my mind seemed wholly taken up with reminiscences of Robert Frost’s this famous stanza:-
‘The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep’.