Monday, August 30, 2010

Tales from the other Taals

Finally, we were on the last day of our trip. We had o catch the Ranikhet Express from Kathgodam in the evening and we checked out of Mukteshwar in the morning after breakfast. So, there were a few more hours at our disposal and as planned earlier, we decided to hop by some of the places we did not visit during our stay at Nainital, in the beginning of the trip.

The first place on the list was Bhimtal. This lake was larger than that of Nainital and the water seemed to be more clean and green. In fact, people who tend to have a quiet vacation may opt to stay one or two nights at this place instead of or in addition to Nainital.

There’s an interesting piece of history or rather mythology bound to the place. The story goes that during the “Agyatvas” of the Pandavas, Bhima went to fetch water on Draupadi’s behest and on not finding any water nearby, struck the ground with his “gada” and that was the source of the lake. It is also believed that Bhima built a temple near the lake. Though we noticed a temple a few metres away from the lake, we were not that inclined to go down and visit and instead roamed around the lake for a while. A small island in the middle of the lake added to the charm of the lake.

Due to the scorching sun, we could not wander for much longer at the place and decided to take our lunch in a restaurant near by. After lunch we headed for another lake.

But on the way, we made a brief stop at the Hanuman Garhi temple. It is a famous temple, according to our driver Puran, dedicated to Lord Hanuman. We could see a large statuette of Hanuman from the outside and did not bother to enter the interiors of the temple. Now this place is supposedly very near to Nainital and it offers a good sunset view. Alas, sunset was not even close. And Puran did not mention the place or that it is a sunset point, during our stay at Nainital. But then again it had been his characteristic for the entire trip. So there was no point in getting irritated all over again on the last day.

Naukuchiatal was the last place we stopped by before we finally headed for the railway station at Kathgodam. The lake has nine vertices, though it was difficult to clearly identify the nine corners from the banks. We noticed quite a few large ducks near the lake – the ones we call “Rajhans”.

Since we were seeing too many places in too less time, we were not able to absorb the beauty of each place separately as we should have. Rather, it was like being at each of the places just for the sake of it. So finally we said it quits and decided to set off for Kathgodam and actually reached the station with much time to spare.

I would like to close the trip report of Kumaon mentioning one little observation. Many a times during our journeys, I noticed fine looking ambulances plying on the road. They are state run with some number (probably 108) displayed in large font all over. Puran explained that if anyone calls that number for medical help, the ambulance reaches his/her home, within acceptable time, to take the ailing to the nearby hospital. And mind you that the hospitals are also located at the large towns only, so they have attending doctors with the ambulances for urgent requirement. And this medical service is free provided by the government. It was hard to believe in our country and I could not even imagine such a service in my state. And according to Puran this service actually works and works well. In fact this is one of the facilities he mentioned that the state of Uttarakhand introduced for its people after the split from Uttar Pradesh. But then I thought, is this kind of service feasible in the part of the world where I come from. Puran actually confirmed my reservation putting forward the observation that people seldom fall seriously ill or ill at all in these parts and when they do (with age I presume) they do for good, with little possibility of recovery. That’s why the free ambulance service works so well because it’s not used that much as it could have been in any urban establishment. That’s the beauty of the mountains. I hope that the mountains can keep alive their healing beauty and do not get crippled with the muck of the urban encroachments. Then, we, the children of the claustrophobic city life would have no where to run to, for refuge.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Meandering in Mukteshwar

Mukteshwar was the last leg of our Kumaon tour. We reached the place in the afternoon. Situated at a height of 2286 metres above sea level, Mukteshwar is a quiet little hill station. The tourism brochure mentioned that one can do this and that, visit this place or that in Mukteshwar or simply sit back and relax. I think there is no better way to put it right across. More than sightseeing, the town is more suitable for escaping from the fast urban life and let oneself unwind.

Our KMVN hotel was located at the very end of the town. In fact no sooner we entered the town of Mukteshwar, we reached the hotel and the road did not proceed any further. So the town was a small one. Again we got only vegetarian food at the hotel restaurant. And we got to know that the ration actually comes from a town which is located before Mukteshwar. If I remember correctly, the name of the other town is Matelia.

Lunch was late and after an hour’s rest, I thought of taking a walk and look around the place. Abhishek was not feeling well, so the others decided to stay back. An aimless walk with no one by side has its own charm in a way. The first thing I noticed was the variation in plantation. Till then, pine was predominant in the places we visited in our Kumaon trip. But here in Mukteshwar, I noticed more cedar trees. There was a good view point just in front of the hotel but due to cloud cover the mountain ranges were not much visible. After spending some time there, I was wondering which way to pursue.

The striking thing about the topography of Mukteshwar is the sharp jagged protuberance of the rocks and there is a place where this characteristic is predominant providing the place an impression of overhanging cliffs. The place is locally known as Chauli-ki-Jali. There was an arrow indicating Chauli-ki-Jali towards the left of the hotel and I started walking that way. But after a few steps only, I was at my wit’s end as there was no road to pursue. Then I realized that there was a narrow uneven road that went up by the side of a hotel. There was a notice mentioning that the road is for public and not for hotel use only. Confirmed, I went up the road, if one can actually call it a road. It was rather a lopsided narrow stretch cut from the mountains and soon I was lost to myself with no trace of humanity in vicinity. After some time I was thinking seriously whether I should pursue the road any further since it was becoming more uneven. Suddenly at a turn, there was a group of people. They were probably sitting there waiting for the sunset. But there was still some time left for the sunset. I decided not to proceed any further. Neither did I stay there and wait, but returned back.

Soon, I again reached our hotel and since there was still sunlight, I continued my walk; this time in the opposite direction. After a few minutes, I reached the footsteps of the Mukteshwar Dham, the Lord Shiva temple from which the town gets its name. A couple of hundred steps’ climb took me to the temple. It was calm and tranquil with only a lone saint doing his own silent “yagna”, quietly. He did not pay any attention to me. So I moved over to the rear side of the temple from where one can have a top view of the Chauli-ki-Jali.

I came down to the road beneath the temple in a different route and found that there was another way to the Chauli-ki-Jali from that place. That road seemed much more even and safe but I did not pursue continuing walking to the Chauli-ki-Jali then as it was approaching sunset. Instead, I thought of walking down the main road for some more time. Soon, I reached the small market with only a handful of shops and that too most of them were already closed. No wonder that the hotel brings its ration from the next town. There was a branch of SBI in a bungalow shaped small building and two men, probably employees of the bank, were playing carom outside the bank. Then there was a small post office as well. That too was closed. And there was an IVRI campus just at the staring point of the town. Within the next few minutes, I reached the starting point of the town. My guess is that if one walks along the main road from there, one will reach the KMVN rest house in less than fifteen minutes and that is probably the farthest one can go. So, one can well imagine how small a place the town of Mukteshwar is. Of course there are small hilly roads branching out off the main road that perhaps take one to the other parts where the locals live or some other places where hotels and offices are located or may be even rest houses built by outsiders to take refuge at some particular time of the year, far from the madding crowd. I took one such path that went downwards from the starting point of the town and walked for some time. There was a small church which seemed nearby, but one can never be sure with the winding hilly roads. So even after ten minutes or so, it still remained at the same distance. I gave up and returned and walked up the main road back to the hotel.

The next morning, after breakfast, I went to the temple again. This time, with Runa and Rishi. Abhishek was still not feeling well and stayed back at the hotel. After the temple visit, we went straight to the Chauli-ki-Jali. I have already mentioned before, how the odd protuberance of the overhanging rocks characterizes the place. But reading about it in the tourist pamphlet and beholding it in person are two different thing altogether. The other amazing thing was that one could view the entire valley beneath, from that place. The braves can do rock climbing at the spot with the professional gear of course. The fools can use their own hands and crawl up the slanted rocks. We were neither of the two, so we went as far as out guts permitted, posed for a few snaps to cherish afterwards and enjoyed the beauty of the place to our hearts’ content. We could have stayed there a little longer, but Rishi got thirsty and insisted to return to the hotel.

Back in the hotel we packed our luggage and checked out. We had a train to catch in the evening from Kathgodam. Our vacation in Kumaon was coming towards the end. We were hoping to sneak in a few more places on our way to Kathgodam. But the though that we have already spent our last night in Kumaon was making me gloomy. The images of miseries and worries of work life were coming back to me.