Thursday, July 29, 2010

Beatific Binsar

On our way to Binsar, for the first time in my life I experienced forest fire. Many of the trees were charred and some were still burning. There was smoke everywhere and as we drove through sometimes it was even suffocating. Puran however told us that it is quite a common thing in those parts.

By the time we reached Binsar, it was evening and after paying entry fee at the forest check post we entered the sanctuary. We had booked the KMVN rest house which is located well inside the Binsar sanctuary. Actually I heard somewhere that Binsar refers to the sanctuary only and there is no town as such by the name. The road up to the hotel was winding to a large degree and to drive the few kilometres from the check post to the hotel almost took us an hour or so. The road was narrow as well and thankfully there was no car coming from the other side.

I had heard many good things about Binsar and the place lived up to my expectations if not exceeded them. But the weird part is our driver Puran was talking negative about the place from the very start. Even Joshi, another driver whom we befriended in Kausani spoke in a discouraging tone about Binsar. I am not sure about the reason of their apathy for this stunningly grand place. May be it is due to the fact that the drive to Binsar is very hard or perhaps the remoteness of the place makes them go nuts, but if one is a nature lover, this very remoteness and unruffled tranquility would attract one to the hilt.

I lost my mobile network just after I entered the hotel lobby and it remained illusive for the rest of our stay. Only Runa’s mobile network (like its mascot, the faithful dog) worked but that too from a particular spot inside the room.

The hotel had a terrace with a terrific view of the mountain ranges. And right after checking into the hotel we came over to the terrace to have a glimpse of the Himalayas. It was the time of twilight and there was a half moon up in the sky while it was still not dark and the sun did not set yet. That was a peculiar sight. Though it was cloudy, some of the peaks were visible and soon the sun set.

For the first time in Kumaon, I felt the chill at Binsar which stands at 2400 metres above the sea level and probably is the highest altitude tourist place in Kumaon. Since I was not carrying any heavy woolens, I took refuge in one of my cousin’s shawls. As night crept in, we returned to our room and after some more time lighted the candles. Yes, there is no electricity at Binsar, or so we knew. But the hotel staff informed us that there would be electric light available for a couple of hours. The source was solar power; we saw quite a number of photovoltaic mirrors or absorbers in the vicinity of the hotel. We went for dinner early. Non-vegetarian food is not allowed inside the sanctuary, except eggs. The food was literally bland but then again one should not expect anything better at such a remote place. Soon after we returned to our room after dinner, the electric light went off and we had to rely on the candle light again. And it started raining also. The atmosphere was perfect for horror story telling.

Sunrise was at five twenty the next day and we went to the terrace again for taking a view. I was virtually shivering in my light jacket and again borrowed Runa’s shawl. Within a few minutes, the sun came up gloriously and we engaged ourselves in taking quick snaps. After it rained in the previous night, the sky was quite clear. The peaks clearly visible were Trishul, Mrigathuni, Nanda Ghunti and Nanda Devi. One of the inmates of the hotel was sharing his experiences of Himalayas with the others. He was a regular trekker and had just returned from a trek near Munsiyari. He showed us some photographs as well and they were breathtakingly beautiful.

After breakfast, we started taking a walk to Zero Point, the highest altitude place within the sanctuary. It was a 2 km walk amidst the forest and at first we thought of returning from the mid way. But soon we were fascinated by the walk itself and the surroundings and decided to continue. We feared to lose the way in between but somehow managed to reach the observatory at the end. On our way, we came across many rhododendron trees, trees with thick layers of moss and heard the chirpings of many unknown birds, but could not quite locate them. Binsar, as a matter of fact is home to many species of birds. The feeling to be alone in the midst of the forest with no one by our sides was quite unique and we were totally enjoying the experience.

Once at the observatory at the Zero Point, we were totally exhausted and ruing the fact that we did not carry any water with us. But the close look at the mountain ranges made us forget all our bodily discomforts and rejuvenated us with new energy.

The walk back to the hotel was much easier due the downward slope of the road and soon we were in front of our hotel. Our car was waiting for us to take us to Mukteshwar, our next destination. We bid good bye to Binsar with the promise to return in near future and spend at least a couple of days to totally absorb the leisurely grandeur of the unperturbed nature.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Bumper Bonuses – Baijnath and Bageshwar

On the day of leaving Kausani, Puran did not report in time in the morning. The previous evening, he went to his native home which was nearby. We finished our breakfast, packed our bags and were walking up and down restlessly in front of the reception area of the hotel as it was getting late. There was an accident in an adjacent eatery where a gas cylinder caught fire and people were moving away in fear that it would burst anytime. We spent some time watching the incident from the hotel backyard and then again returned back to the hotel lobby and started looking at the pictures of Uttarakhand Tourism put up in the lobby. But still there was no sign of Puran. In the mean time the receptionist asked us about our next destination. When we told him that we were headed for Binsar, he suggested us to stop by Baijnath. There were some fascinating pictures of the Baijnath Temples that were hanging in the hotel lobby. We checked the map also and Baijnath was only 18 kilometres from Kausani and on the route to Binsar. But Puran did not mention anything about visiting Baijnath. When he finally turned up, we inquired about Baijnath and he said that we would not travel via Bageshwar (Baijnath is in on that route) and would take a different route. But we had already decided to visit Baijnath and also Bageshwar. We did not know till then what was in store for us. After some initial hanky-panky Puran finally revealed that Bageshwar was not in his itinerary. Now that was a rude shock for us. We had booked a car for the entire journey via KMVN and since the accommodations were also in the KMVN rest houses, the personnel at the KMVN Kolkata office had drawn up a ballpark itinerary. But that doesn’t mean that we may not deviate from that itinerary. Then what’s the use of booking a private car. My brother in law gave a good verbal spanking to both Puran and his travel agent boss at Nainital and then we started for Baijnath. I was thinking whether we had missed many more places earlier by relying on Puran. From this experience, I would suggest others not to book cars via KMVN. They charge more, have some weird conditions and you may end up traveling in an itinerary set by others.

On our way to Baijnath (18 kilometres away from Kausani and 1126 metres above sea level), sensing our displeasure, Puran tried to woo us back by suggesting that the travel agent was the one to blame for the confusion and he was but only a poor driver following the word of his superior. We did not pay much heed to his monologue and rather waited in anticipation for the Baijnath Temples.

On the banks of the Gomti river in the Garur valley, stands the temple complex of Baijnath. The temples are constructed in stone and though they do not display any great craftsmanship in terms of sculptures, their architecture is glorious and with so many of them lying side by side, the attraction of the complex magnifies manifold. The temples looked quite old and later on we found out that they date back to 12th century or even earlier. It might be the case that the carvings and figurines on the outer walls of the temples had eroded with the passage of time.

There were idols of Shiva, Ganesha, Parvati, Chandika, Kuber, Surya and Brahma in the various temples. Some of the temples seemed to be non-operational. But the main temple still houses a gorgeous idol of Parvati chiseled in black stone. The place is of immense mythological importance since it is believed that Lord Shiva and Parvati were married here at the confluence of Gomti and Garur Ganga. From the historical point of view, the temples were constructed by the Katyuri rules of ancient Kartikeyapura.

It took us more than an hour more to reach Bageshwar which is located at 25 metres away from Baijnath. The name of the place is probably derived from the famous Bagnath Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva and located at the confluence of Gomti and Saryu rivers. The legend is that Lord Shiva roamed around the place in the form of tiger and hence the people worshipped Lord Shiva as tiger in the ancient times. Now, however, there is no such idol. The temple in its current state was built by the Chand rulers more than 400 years back. In fact the interiors of the temple were so dim lit that we could hardly see the idol behind the garlands of flowers.

The town of Bageshwar is a popular pilgrimage but then the temple was almost deserted and there was only another family who visited when we were present there and they engaged themselves in performing some rituals.

At the rear of the temple there was a nice place where one could sit idly and look upon the confluence of the Gomti and Saryu rivers. We relaxed for a bit there but could not afford to spend much longer as it was well past noon and Binsar was still far away and also we did not have anything for lunch.

We bought some fruits and gorged on some sweets from a nearby shop. The unique sweet that we came across is called “bal-mithai” with a chocolate base and we came to know that this sweet is a specialty of Kumaon. Since we were running really late, we dropped the idea of a full course lunch and sped off towards Binsar.

Kudos to Kausani

We had spent three nights in Kumaon but did not have the opportunity to behold the snow capped mountain ranges till we reached Kausani (at 1890 metres above sea level). The distance from Ranikhet was about 70 kilometres and when we checked in to the hotel in Kausani it was past noon. The KMVN rest house in Kausani was situated at an exquisite location. After we moved up the winding road, the KMVN rest house was where the road ended.

Good news was awaiting us at Kausani. The sky was more on the clearer side and the snow clad mountain ranges were visible, at last. From the hotel, a wide range of peaks are visible in general but back then we were able to see only two peaks out of them. They were Trishul and Nanda Ghunti respectively. The others were partially covered by cloud.

After we checked in and had our lunch, we made ourselves comfortable on the deck chairs that were put up in front of every room. We had no plan to go out for the rest of the day and spent the entire afternoon and evening just relaxing and observing the many moods of the mountains. Sometimes the cloud covers were moving away and parts of some other peak were peeping through the clouds and then again the peaks which were very much visible till then were engulfed by new cloud cover.

As the sun was setting in the evening the reflection of the sun light brought about a golden orange tinge to the mountain peaks and they looked majestic.

As it became dark after sunset, there was nothing to do. We grouped together and did some planning for where we could go for the next trip. But then again this trip itself was only half way through. There was a television box in my room which came to life after much trying but then it went off again after some time. A chill wind was blowing outside, so I was confined within my room alone and the light was not bright enough to read any book either. So I just went to bed after dinner and hoped to be asleep soon.

In the evening earlier, a wasp (bolta in Bengali) entered my sister’s room and it was not getting out even after our meek attempts to throw it out. We were not going too near though for the fear that its bite may sting badly. A hotel bearer was passing by our rooms and I tried to call him to help us out but could not make him understand the problem properly due to my poor Hindi speaking skills. It reminded me of the joke “Hum bangla mein bolta ko bolta bolta, tum hindi mein bolta ko kya bolta?” Finally Runa could catch the insect with a glass just like Feluda captured a scorpion in the Ray flick “Sonar Kella”. Salute to her for her bravery!

Although I am a late riser by habit, I woke up real early the next day before sunrise. It was such two days in a row now. But unlike Ranikhet, Kausani did not disappoint us. In fact the sky was clearer than the previous day and some more peaks were visible as well. Apart from Trishul and Nanda Ghunti, Maiktoli and the Mrigathuni ranges were very clear. Parts of Nanda Devi and Nanda Kot were also visible. Someone pointed at another peak and said it was Chaukhamba, but I doubted it very much.

The hotel was divided into several different buildings. For example, one of them housed the reception and the dining room. Adjacent to it were the deluxe rooms which we stayed at. The road continued still further up a bit and after a bend, the cottages were located. After morning tea, I took my camera and started going up the road till it ended abruptly. The vision of the mountain ranges was grander from that place. I took some quick snaps and more importantly captured the beauty of the royal Himalayas with my inner eye. It was a different sensation altogether, to just stand alone and absorb the splendor of nature into oneself. Some stray monkeys were roaming around freely and looking inquiringly at my camera. I did not consider it safe to spend any more time there alone, pocketed the camera and returned to the hotel.

After breakfast, there was some drama that I would mention in my next post. After that we checked out of the hotel and took a tour of the few tourist spots that are there in Kausani apart from the stunning view of the Himalayas. First we stopped by Anasakti Ashram which is popularly known as Gandhi Ashram. Mahatma Gandhi stayed at the ashram for some days. There was a prayer hall with many photographs of Gandhi from different phases of his life. We were told that Bhajans are performed in the prayer hall every evening. One can also stay at the ashram with the condition that one must attend the Bhajan session everyday. The ashram has a good view of the mountain ranges but then they were not much visible.

After some time, we moved on from the ashram. Puran took us to a tea garden next, the only tea garden in entire Uttarakhand. It was named Girias Uttaranchal Tea. There was a factory as well adjacent to it where we were shown how tea is processed. We also took some sip of their tea. The tea was without milk and sugar. The factory staff advised us that that way we would get the actual flavour of the tea. But that is not how I like my tea and all I felt was some mild hot water with some flavour going down my throat and it cost us fifty bucks per cup. We came to know that most of the tea produced there is exported to countries like Germany and Japan. I prayed for their prosperity and hoped to be content with the kind of tea I like and drink.

Without wasting any more time there we continued our journey to Binsar. But before that we had a nice little surprise. To know that, read my next post.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Restful Ranikhet

Ranikhet was the second destination on our Kumaon itinerary. After spending a couple of days in Nainital, we commenced our journey towards Ranikhet.

On the way along Nainital–Almora Road we crossed the town of Bhowali and then stopped for a while at the Kainchi Dham Temple. Kainchi is a term used for two sharp hairpin bends in local dialect hence the name. The temple and the adjacent ashram were founded by Param Pujya Maharaj Neem Karoli Baba. The place was quite well maintained and the amusing part was that there were some instructions written in Bengali. Later on I found similar Bengali instructions in some other temples as well. Outside the temple, local grocers were selling fruits like Aloo Bukhara (Plum), Aaru (Peach), Khubani (Apricot) etc. that are not so common in the part of the world that I come from. We purchased a handful of those fruits and helped ourselves on the journey.

Meanwhile Puran, our driver, was expressing his grudge over how the so called saints cheat ordinary people and was narrating how he paid a hefty donation in one of the ashrams for a blessed gold ring which later turned out to be made of a much less precious metal.

After we crossed Ramgarh, the Kosi River kept us company flowing along the road. Though the river looked like a narrow white stream with more pebbles than water at some places, Puran assured us that during the monsoon, the river takes an altogether different shape.

Our next stop was by the side of a natural toad rock which very much resembled a toad just about to hop. There was a hanging bridge as well across the water body (though it was more pebbles to say the truth). Not sure if it was the same Kosi River or not.

It was here that we took a break and at a small restaurant chanced upon some fruit shakes. Though common flavours like butter scotch were also available, we became more adventurous and experimental and ordered Khubani shake and Buransh (Rhododendron) squash. And the experiment turned out extremely fascinating and we even bought a couple of bottles of Buransh squash for folks back home.

Continuing our journey forward we passed through towns like Garam Pani and Khairna and after some time turned left and took a bridge to Ranikhet. The straight road would have led us to Almora.

We stopped for a second time at yet another restaurant where Puran took his lunch. We were feeling not so hungry and helped ourselves with some light snacks. The place is known as Sunset Point but it was right after noon so there was no view of sunset to be had. However, the place provided us with some pleasant views of the valley with steps carved out for farming. There were some bananas available within the hand’s reach but they were not ripe.

Soon we entered the Ranikhet cantonment area and came up to the Jhula Devi Temple. The temple is dedicated to Goddess Durga and the specialty is that the deity is on a “jhula” or a swing. The other thing of interest was the innumerable bells that decorate the temple complex. Perhaps they were put up by devotees for blessings of the Goddess. But I could not confirm as the temple was almost deserted barring an aloof elderly saint who did not appear to be in a mood for conversation.

The temple was only about 7 kilometres away from Ranikhet but Puran told us that we would be visiting a couple of more places before checking into the hotel. Just after Jhula Devi, there was an army check post of the Cargo Brigade where we had to enter our details. They also informed us that photography is prohibited on the road ahead as it is within army area. After driving a few more kilometres, we reached the Chaubattia Gardens. Chaubatia is the junction of four ('chau') paths ('batia'), namely Ranikhet, Bhargaon, Pilkholi and Dehrti, hence the name.

It is located at around 10 kilometres’ distance from Ranikhet. Spread over 265 acres, the garden is maintained by the Government Fruit Research Centre and is home to a large variety of vegetation and orchards. Guides were available at the garden itself to take us for a nature trail. I would recommend anyone visiting this place to take a guide along; otherwise the nature walk would not be that exciting. The vegetation included trees like oak, pine, cedar, wild chestnut, walnut, rhododendron and many more. Only because of our guide Bobby, I could distinguish so many. And only there I came to know that the turpentine oil is extracted from the pine trees. There was a whole range of apple orchards.

I had never heard so many names of different apple types. The ones I could remember are Green Delicious apple, Green Sweet apple, Fuji Red apple and so one. There were pear orchards as well and also plum and peach. And most of the trees were covered with a net. Bobby enlightened us that the nets are to protect the fruits from the birds as well as from the dew.

Then there were a couple of willow trees which Bobby mentioned as Weeping Willows referred to by locals as “Laila-Majnu”.

As we were wandering in the garden, Bobby made us acquainted with many other herbs and trees. He picked up some leaves and rubbed them in his palm and when we sniffed it smelt like hair oil. It was called Bhringraj which is used in hair oils to stop hair loss. Then he made us chew some other leaves which felt like peppermint. He said that they are used in mouth fresheners. The most interesting of them were the shock leaves which actually gave us a sensation of electric shock and our hands were soon covered with goose pimples and the irritation remained for almost an hour.

We also came across cocoons of butterflies in one of the trees. This was the first time I witnessed such a thing.

On our way we came across the corpse of a cow which was the killed by a leopard on the previous day. The leopard had eaten away its hind leg and flies were flying around its fresh wound.

We did not pursue our nature walk into the denser forest and also gave the Bhalu Dam a miss as it was getting late and continued on our drive to Ranikhet.

The last place to visit before we reached the hotel was the Manakameshwar Temple. It was a nice quiet place built by the Kumaon army regiment. Both the laying of foundation stone and inauguration of the temple were done by army generals and the temple was completed within a year in the mid nineties.

We did not pursue our nature walk into the denser forest and also gave the Bhalu Dam a miss as it was getting late and continued on our drive to Ranikhet.

The last place to visit before reached the hotel was the Manakameshwar Temple. It was a nice quiet place built by the Kumaon army regiment. Both the laying of foundation stone and inauguration of the temple was done by army generals and the temple was completed within a year in the mid nineties.

When we checked into the KMVN Chiliyanaula rest house, it was almost evening. The road to the hotel was a winding one through pine forests and the scenery was beautiful. There were pine flowers scattered here and there on the road. We even collected a couple of them as memento. The pine flowers actually look like some crafted wooden object and do not remind one of flowers in any way.

Ranikhet (at 1830 metres above sea level) was like a small little hamlet or at least the Chiliyanaula part that we stayed at was that way. There was nothing much to do but behold nature and enjoy its splendor. There was a lovely lawn attached to our hotel and we sat there for enjoying the sunset which was just about to happen.

Meanwhile we gathered some historical facts about Ranikhet. The name Ranikhet means queen’s meadow and has its origin in the local legend that Rani Padmini of the Chand dynasty chose the area for her residence. King Sudhardev built a palace for her but no trace of the palace was discovered by the later historians and archeologists. In 1869 the place was discovered by Lord Mayo and the British set up an army cantonment here. Still today it is the head quarters of the Kumaon Regiment.

The sunset was pleasant but we could not see any mountain peak from the lawn which also served as a view point for the snow capped peaks. The hotel staff told us that we would be able to see the peaks the following morning if it rained in the night so that the cloud covers would be removed.

And to our great pleasure it rained quite heavily for a few hours in the night and there was a power cut as well. In the morning we woke up with great anticipation for the sunrise which was due around five o’clock. But we were saddened to see that it was still foggy and cloudy and there was no trace of any snow capped peaks.

After breakfast we roamed around the hotel a bit mainly along the narrow road through the pine forest. There was also a temple adjacent to the hotel namely Baba Haidakhan Temple. There were more photographs, may be of Baba Haidakhan himself, than deities in the temple. There were some residential houses clubbed together with the temple which served as an ashram probably. There were many people of foreign origin as well living in those houses and working in the garden.

Our stay at Ranikhet was scheduled only for one night and soon we bid good bye to Ranikhet and headed for Kausani. On the way Puran took us for a tour of the Ranikhet town. There was the small picturesque Nar Singh Stadium and then there was the Somnath Ground where army recruitment is carried out. Puran informed us that just a few months back around five thousand local youths auditioned for a recruitment of only may be a hundred jawans. We drove past Vijay Chowk, the war memorial and stopped at the Upat Golf course which is one of the best nine-hole golf courses in the country. Set amidst pine forests, I am sure it provides a majestic experience to the players.

The Kalika Temple was the last stop on our way to Kausani. There were shrines of Kali, Durga and Shiva in the temple complex which was located a flight of steps up the road. The interesting part was that most of the doors were closed and seeing us hesitate to enter, one of the saints told us to open them and go inside and requested us to close them again on our way out. Later we realized that the doors were closed to keep out the monkeys. The saints and caretakers of the temple were all very elderly people and some of them were on wheelchairs. The temple itself looked very old may be even a few hundred years. But the amusing part was that one of the saints told us that it was more than five thousand years old.

We did not take any more breaks and continued straight to Kausani. We could not see the mountain peaks in Ranikhet and were sincerely hoping to have a nice view of snow clad mountains from Kausani. Did nature grant us our wish or were we disappointed again – that will be revealed in the next post on Kausani. Ciao; till then.

Novelty of Nainital

This year the summer was agonizingly hot and our vacation to the hills of Kumaon planned in May was a pleasant respite from the scorching heat of Kolkata.

We boarded the Bagh Express on Friday night for Kathgodam with great anticipation. The ride to the Howrah station was not less exciting too. Though we started from our home with plenty of time in hand, our cab just stood still in an immobile traffic situation created by a political party’s meeting, for what it seemed like eternity back then and at one point of time we even feared of missing the train. But thanks to our elderly Sardar cab driver’s wisdom and acumen, we could finally reach the station with more than thirty minutes to spare.

Due to late booking, our berths at the train were quite all over the place but that was not the only problem at our hand. I had heard before not many good words about the train but the experience turned out worse. There was no pantry in the train and the food that was available was pathetic. To add to our woes, the train was running late by a few hours from the beginning. So after 2 nights’ and nearly forty hours’ journey when we finally reached Kathgodam, we felt relieved.

Our car, which we had booked from Kolkata via KMVN, was waiting for us at the station to take us to Nainital, our first stop in Kumaon. Later we found out that KMVN charged much more than the usual market rate and it would have been wiser if we could book a cab directly.

The lake city of Nainital (at1938 metres above sea level) was waiting for us at an hour’s drive from the station. We started our journey from the small picturesque station of Kathgodam and soon covered the 34 kms to reach our KMVN hotel at Sukhatal. The roads were admirably well maintained and according to our driver Puran, the road conditions and other facilities had improved considerably in Uttarakhand after it split from the large state of Uttar Pradesh. When we first entered the city of Nainital, a gentle soothing breeze welcomed us and we soon noticed the lake. Puran informed us that it is known as the Tallital part of the lake and after a brief ride through the Mall Road we reached Mallital, the other part. Our hotel was further up beside a dried up lake (hence the name Sukhatal) which fills up with water during the monsoon. On our way to the hotel, we went passed by the high court and the university. We decided to take a tour of the city after freshening up and taking our lunch at the hotel.

After lunch as we commenced our sightseeing. Puran drove us further up instead of down where the lake was. When inquired he told that he was taking us to a lake view point wherefrom we can have a panoramic view of the lake.

Indeed it was magnificent to look at the lake in entirety and Puran pointed out that the lake had the shape of a mango. I also realized how big the lake was. There were some telescopes available on rent at the place for those who cared to have a closer look. Rishi, my nephew, peeped through one of them for a few minutes. Afterwards we took some quick snaps of ourselves with the lake as the backdrop and were set for the next point which Puran mentioned as “himalay darshan” or a place wherefrom we could see the ranges of the Himalayas and its snow capped mountains. Unfortunately the day was cloudy and we could hardly see any peak from there. We felt a little cold, for the first time since we stepped in Nainital. Rishi meanwhile was enjoying himself posing as a cowboy on top of a horse. For the rest of the day he was drooling about how he enjoyed being on top of the horse and even compared himself to “Indiana Jones” his latest favourite movie character. We conferred the name “Pangla (thin) Jones” to him and instead of being annoyed he took it in good spirit and kept calling himself by the newly earned title.

The next place to visit was a view point of the Khurpatal. Though the view was a bit hazy perhaps due to smog, but again the panoramic view was breathtaking. The calm green water of the lake and the serene surroundings was alluring but Puran told us that the car would not be able to go that far and we have to walk on foot for the last few kilometres. That discouraged us from pursuing our desire to take a closer look of the lake. And Puran’s hint that the lake actually does not look so appealing from near made us more dispirited.

Now I am not so sure if that indeed was the case. Because later on we realized he was happy to follow a tour itinerary of his own with very little scope of change and whenever we mentioned any new place he discouraged us with the pretext that either the place was not accessible by car or it would require a very lengthy detour that would adversely impact our basic itinerary. For example, he did not mention anything about Kilbury which I read about in the pamphlets later on and the place seemed quite appealing. The view point of Khurpatal looked like Lands End but he did not confirm. And when inquired about Cheena Peak, again his defense was that it could only be visited on foot or on horse back and the way he described the place would not interest any person to take the pain.

On our way back we stopped for a short while to have a look at the Sukhatal from the top and then drove straight towards the Naini Lake.

And yes, Puran took us to another point on the way called Lover’s Point or Suicide Point where one can only experience a mediocre view of the mountains and the nauseating smell of horse shit. Suicide point it definitely could be but calling it lover’s point is obscure enough unless the lovers are so much engrossed in each other’s love that they become oblivious of the surroundings.

We decided against taking a boat ride that day since evening was already setting in and after hanging around some time beside the lake we started walking along the Mall Road. We had heard before that Nainital is famous for designer candles and after inspecting a couple of gift shops we finally settled on one of them and indeed we were amazed by the variety of show pieces crafted out of wax. There were candles in the shape of different fruits and animals as well as figurines of deities and even dancing statues. Both me and my cousin sister Runa purchased quite a number of wax items and returned to our hotel.

The next day we had our breakfast and were waiting for Puran to report to duty. Since we had around half an hour’s time at our disposal, we decided to take a look into the Cave Garden which was within walking distance from our hotel. This is a new addition to the list of tourist spots of Nainital. It comprised some natural caves with some interesting names such as Tiger Cave, Panther Cave etc and a garden surrounding them. Though there were no animals within the caves, a tour amongst them was quite adventurous and again Rishi was the one who enjoyed most.

By the time, we finished our tour of the Cave Garden, our car had come to our hotel and we started for the Naini Lake. First we visited the Naina Devi Temple which is located just beside the lake. The temple is one of the Hindu Sati-Piths; the eyes of Sati fell here hence the name.

There was a Gurudwara next to the temple which was absolutely deserted. But the musical instruments present within the prayer hall suggested that probably grand gatherings for worshipping takes place there in the evening. There was a mosque as well in the vicinity across a large ground. The ground is used as a playing ground but the coarse pitch made us wonder how come young kids could play there. Later on we noticed even a small church on the Mall Road very near to the temple complex with a signboard indicating that it is the first Methodist church of India established in 1858. So the place can well be described as multi dimensional in terms of religions or an epitome of different beliefs with so many diverse places of worship within a radius of one km.

Since it was almost noon by then, we decided to take our boat ride along the lake in the late afternoon when the sun would not be direct over head. And as it was Monday, the local zoo (Govind Ballabh Pant High Altitude Zoo) was closed. Nobody was game for the ropeway ride either. So we had nothing else to do as such with plenty of time to kill. We decided to roam around the Tibetan Market that has grown up around the temple. There was a small building bearing the name Capitol Cinema. Perhaps it served as a movie theatre at one point of time but presently it houses a handful of shops. After some time as we were getting bored roaming around the shops, we had our lunch at a nearby restaurant and went for a gentle stroll along the side of the lake but on the opposite side of the Mall Road. This was a quieter road or more of a pathway devoid of the hustle bustle of the shops. Only a few candy-men were there on that road and a small temple at the end of the road after which there was no way forward. Probably the road is still under construction. Soon we left the Mallital (upper part of the lake) and reached the Tallital (lower part of the lake) and when the sun was not so strong we decided to go for boating at last.

Though there were some paddle boats available, we chose a canoe shaped boat which came with a boatman who steered the boat with a couple of oars. We had to wear life jackets before commencing the ride. Slowly the boat went around the lake for about an hour or so. The lake is a natural freshwater one with a maximum depth of about 90 feet and is the source of drinking water for the whole of the town. The boat ride was very much enjoyable with the mountains on one side of the lake and a whole range of hotels on the other which seemed smaller and smaller in size as we drifted away from the shore towards the middle of the lake.

After we completed our boat ride we wandered back towards the Mallital along the Mall Road. We stopped for a couple of times in between to have a taste of the road side eateries. The “Golgappa” was quite different in taste from our very own “Phuchka” that we are accustomed to in Kolkata. On our way we came across a Municipal Library which had a bungalow pattern structure typical to the hills and the building seemed very old. Just opposite that was the Methodist church, which I mentioned earlier. However, it was closed then. Since traffic was closed in the Mall Road, it was engulfed with tourists and people at large.

By the time we reached the Naina Devi temple complex, evening had almost set in and it was the twilight stage. We relaxed on one of the many benches built along the side of the lake and looked on to the lake. The last of the boats were returning to the shore. The boatmen were busy piling up the life jackets that were still scattered haphazardly on the flight of steps. Some people were playing with their kids in the ground in front of the lake and some even were engaged in race with their dogs. A vagabond was sitting idly with an aimless gaze with perhaps all his belongings in a tiny bag beside him. A few local children were enjoying themselves running after the pigeons who took shelter in a dome shaped structure beside the lake. The lake which was a busy business hub just sometime back was slowly being deserted. And the small eateries and food joints across the road were coming up to life with their agents calling out to the tourists and passers by and reading out their menu. We were feeling a little hungry as well. We had a small meal in one of those food joints and headed back to our hotel.

After spending a couple of days in Nainital, our stay had come to an end and we were looking forward to the rest of the places to visit starting with Ranikhet. Next day we planned to start off for Ranikhet right after breakfast. But then it is a different story which I will share in my next post.