BY Jagmohan Kathait
It is a pleasant drive from Dehradun to Rishikesh via Jolly grant. Barring few chaotic clusters it is an amiable route. We took the bypass before Rishikesh to reach the edge of Laxman Jhula, This bypass further connects to Tehri through well known Ananda Spas. Once I drove some of my friends from Tehri Dam to Rishikesh from this route. The road is splendid and well maintained. I feel the u s p of Ananda also includes its smooth drive from Jolly grant to the spa. Well coming back to point.
Poor man’s luxury the Omni was proving well beyond her expectations not just because it drove us from Delhi to my village near Pauri but she proved her mettle when she drove us to Badrinath in 2004. Lata and Ravi had come through this way for the first time and were enjoying the scenic beauty spread all over upto the horizon of sight. Though the mountains are barren till Dev prayag but the openness and unending sight captivates the travelers. The Ganga flowing downstreams gives an amazing soothness to the eyes. Air was cleaner and breaths were refreshing, this is the first amorous change a person finds after stepping on to mountains. We were driving leisurely stopping at regular intervals to appreciate the bounties of nature. Patches of small villages far away reflecting beautiful sunshine, innumerous terraced fields, pleasant sounds of bells hung on cattles come floating with gentle breeze, the song of leaves and yet a courteous silence. These things make each visit to garhwal memorable and ever welcoming. I feel I have developed a kind of infatuation towards this place. I am attached to this place just by virtue of my parents being born here but the lure I have developed for this place is unexplainable for me.
We passed through Shivpuri (first point from where river rafting starts towards Rishikesh), Kudiyala and had a quick halt at Byasi. The lime drink at Teendhara is so refreshing that I never forget to have one whenever I pass through this place. The guy makes it with fresh water, which comes from a perennial source unknown from mountains. The taste and coolness of this water is so natural that it takes off the tiredness out of your body. Moving ahead we reached a point from where we could see the confluence of river Bhagirathi and Alaknanda at Dev Prayag. From this point onwards the river is baptized as Ganga ‘the life giving river’ till Bangladesh where it is known as Padma. Folklore goes that the Bhagirathi is mother-in-law of Alaknanda that is why the Bhagirathi comes clamoring through mountain ravines of Tehri where as the Alaknanda is a calm and composed river and merges without any complaint. It is an amazing sight. One could easily differentiate the colour of two rivers even after point of confluence for few hundred meters.
After maneuvering single bend diverting from main highway towards right there is a bridge just before Dev prayag to get across the Ganga to enter in Pauri Garhwal. So we don’t have to drive up to Dev prayag but the best sight of the prayag you get is from this bridge only. As we were almost on the river bed the heat was felt on our head. Moreover the location of Dev prayag is such that it is an enclosed pocket from three sides by mountains and gives a claustrophobic feeling. The road from dev prayag is narrow and has hairpin bends but I was enjoying driving. If nothing works out I could prove to be a good hill driver and can drive passengers on Dehradun – Mussoorie Road comfortably. Anju and Lata were having brief naps, I was watching them through the mirror, whenever Ravi acclaimed of seeing a terrific sight both of them jump of their naps with inquisition ‘Kanha hai kanha hai’. Sometimes I feel that females have very good knack of appreciating beauty even better than a male but the former has to be prompted to express it. The dryness of barren mountains was manifesting itself in heat but it was bearable. After winding our path on serpentine roads for around 2 hours we reached Safdarkhal. we halted at place, couple of kms before Safdarkhal, for a while. This place had a beautiful view of river Ganga. We were at the height that the sight of mighty Ganga was reduced to a nubile stream. There we saw a plain pasture a beautiful place overlooking the river with grass bed. Ravi was keen on buying the piece of land for making a small house on it. We reached Safdarkhal a small hamlet with narrow road further narrowed to wind itself through this place. Small shops with ubiquitous paraphernalia, I mean all things under one shop, bunch of bananas hanging through canopy, rusty cabbages beside stale samosas. People with inquisitive gaze, languishing under sun without any hint of urbanization. Though pahari people develop wrinkles at very raw age but the emotions and expressions on their face speaks their heart. They don’t know how to forge the emotions.
Ravi’s cousin lives in Safdarkhal her husband is employed in SBI branch of Safdarkhal. We didn’t have to work hard to locate them. A person took us to the house as the bank was closed. We came across few ladies while on our way to that house, each time I saw one coming through a scantily narrow trail I thought she might be her but the way Ravi was ignoring them, I felt he was sure to recognize his cousin. And here was she standing baffled in front of Ravi, inspite of wrinkles on her face there was a glow and millions of question marks in her tightly held eyes. Ravi standing infront of her, after a wee hitch asked if she recognised him but she couldn’t. Holding her chin and mouth with the pallu of her saree she tried to unfold her memories dumped under the heap of daily worries. But before she could respond Ravi identified himself ‘I am Ravinder Rohini. And her wrinkles on the edges of her lips deepened her cheek bones flashed, She recognised him but still was at loss as if dreaming. Her outlook gave us an impression of her age being 10 years more than her actual age. Astonished she took her inside to baithak a closed courtyard sort. She served water to us in steel glasses, and I am telling you the water was so refreshing that I took another serving just to taste it again. There was TV a VCD player kept on a Takht ( a raw wooden bed sort of thing). A ‘tasla’ a ‘kutli’ and rope all kept under this takht. Rurbanization. So the tentacle of development have reached villages through these roads. We were served tea and biscuits. In the mean time her daughter, around 7 years, had come from school, an innocent girl smiling all the time but couldn’t muster courage to come close. We clicked some photographs there and proceeded further towards Ghurduri, a beautiful place on a hilltop, 95 kms from Rishikesh. After few turns we could see the beautiful view of Engineering college in Ghurduri. A white structure basking in sun over a mountain overruling the green colour. It was showing clear supremacy of human advancement over nature. On our way we halted at few places with beautiful views of snow capped mountains so close yet so far. I have been watching these mountains since my childhood, always there, as if, meditating since time immortal for well being our human kind. At these places we get to know how far our eyes can see, in a sense our visual capabilities get tested. We passed through Engineering college without stopping, nobody of us bothered even to talk about stopping near Engineering college in Ghurduri. May be the aesthetics of Jungle and mountain were disapproving the existence of man-made structure and the same was having some sort of synergies with the basic instinct of humans. It was like encroachment of nature, a sore for nature loving eyes. After maneuvering a bend we were on our way to Jamla Khal (Banagarsiun Patti) a small bus stop which caters around 15 villages with few shops a big and age old pipal tree. Jamla Khal is only 2 Kms from Ghurduri only Engineering college in Garhwal region of Uttarakhand. It is an engrossing and enchanting drive with innumerous villages catching up the sight. One could not resist the beautiful view of smoke erupting from villages; the sumptuous dinner was getting ready for tired farmer. The water here has some magical taste. The food prepared in it tastes like anything with bare minimum ingredients, it is 5 star treat to palate. We reached Jamlakhal by around 3.00 pm. I parked the van near a tap which was tirelessly flowing to make a narrow stream across the road to a farm. I had a wash and was morning fresh. The breeze was cajoling our cheeks with icy pecks. The air was so refreshing that a deep breath was conditioning whole body from inside. As we came off from our nature feast I saw some school kids staring us with an inquisitive gaze. I had a packet of wafers, offered it to them, hesitatingly they moved a step back and saw each other with a smile. But somehow they were not willing to leave this opportunity and took it with pleasure after a bit of insistence. Jaamlakhal is a like a small plateau on a hill top, from here one can get a mesmerizing view of Snowcapped ranges of Himalayas behind Tehri region. Chaukhamba, chandrabadni, kedarnath ranges are some to name. One of my uncles runs a shop in Jamlakhaal. He is doing good business at this place and also owns quite a good area of land around Jamlakhaal. We get a charming view of river Alaknanda passing through Bagwaan, Maletha and Kirti nagar. The road of Badrinath route looks like a thread strewn on the one side of river and a vehicle looks like an ant on this thread. From this place we can have a panoramic view of around 100 villages scattered on mountains. If I were not exaggerating, I would like to name this place as cockpit of Pauri Garhwal. The nearest village to this place is Jamla. And my village Bamraari is just below Jamla. A small stop over of plateau on reclining hill, which further reclines to pave way for Alaknanda. From Jamlakhaal my village looks as if children made some play houses and have left the place as they are now grown up and too busy to come back. One of my widow daadi ji who is now the oldest member in our family keeps on shunting between Bamraari and Charakot (her maternal village) is on the other side of hill from Jamlakhaal. I came to know that she was in Charakot at that time, so I thought to meet her there only. In a way it was easy for me as this village is connected with motorable road. My village is still waiting for being connected to the road and thus we have to walk down all the way through stern track. Walking descend is not a pain but when we have to come back to Jamlakhaal the steep climb takes off all the energy from body and charismatic charm of natural beauty from head.
Charakot is 8 kms drive from Jamlakhaal. To our hard luck the road was under repair. Whole of the road was dug and there were heaps of stones all over. It was very risky on my part to drive everybody through it. Many a times Ravi and me got down and cleared the road to pass through the patch. Fear was discernible on the face of Lata and Ravi. Anju was not so fearful but was on cautious note. I feel she was confident about my driving skills and a complacent expression of her gave me strength to drive through this dangerous stretch. It is rightly said that there is always a woman behind the success of man. And Anju was sitting just behind me. On couple of occasions the bumpy ride close to kerb on road exploded the fear of ladies as screams. Many a times while maneuvering through uneven gradient I asked both of the sister to hold to one corner of van against the inclination to make balance. I saw both of them hugging tightly on the left side of the seat and had an impromptu laughter, telling them that this was probably the first time they were hugging each other. Somehow we crossed this dangerous stretch of 4 kms in 20 minutes. We found a young girl dressed in school uniform walking down the road. Just to inquire the distance left for Charakot I stopped by her side. Ravi asked her as to how far was charakot in his confident and un-comprehendible half-ripened garhwali lingo. As she was to go further, she got into van unhesitatingly to told us the way to Charakot. This was quite a surprise for me. A young lady, sharing seat in a car with unknown person is not imaginable in this part of world except for unsavory reasons. I feel our place still lives by those moral codes where fear is still related to nature and animals. Humans don’t scare humans. As the drive further was ok sort I started conversing with her in garhwali. I took a glimpse of her through mirror and I am telling you she was natural beauty. Skin without a blemish, lips with that pahari plum red glow, eyes wide enough to hold anybody’s sight. This girl got down near village to take another way. I parked the car at a suitable place and started looking for somebody to tell me the location of house. I saw some kids playing nearby. Filthy clothing, mud all over, barefooted, nose drips had made permanent stream mark on both side of nose bridge between nose and upper lip but more happy than our kids. Cracked lips and tongue being used frequently to clear the running nose. I called a kid but he was reluctant to respond. Then I saw an old lady with frail structure; I asked her the whereabouts of my Daadi ji. She not only told me the location but also deputed an eldest of kid among that brigade to take me to the location. And now everybody was ready to accompany us. All of them moving ahead of us and quite often turning their heads back to see us, if we are not lost in the winding paths of village. In the mean time I saw my daadi standing beside the path looking inquisitively at me. I smiled and as I got close she laughed with surprise. She was very happy to see me and ofcourse Anju also. We have been their favourite grandson and granddaughter in law. My grandfather were three brothers (now all have left for heavenly abode). My grandfather was the eldest one. The second brother did not have any children. The daadi in talking is his wife. As they did not have kids they pampered us a lot. After the demise of daadji this was the first time I met daadi. The pleasant surprise was short-lived when I told her that I will be leaving in few moments. After a glass of water we left the house. Daadiji accompanied us till the place where I had parked the car. Ravi said he was feeling pressure on his tummy. I had few bottles of water. He took one and went to a hiding just below the road. After few moments came out as a conqueror. He said he was feeling good after releasing. Daadi was insisting on our staying at her place for a night but I told her that we already have a booking in a guesthouse, which was not really true. We were planning to spend night at Circuit house situated on the way to Pauri.
Sun was not at all hostile now perhaps pleasurable warmth was felt as temperature was dipping down. We were in hurry to cross the dangerous stretch on our way back to Jamlakhaal in sunlight. Now chill was being felt on nose. Sun was lost behind the mountains. The sky was orange red. The seam of sky on the mountains was glowing and snows capped mountains were glistening golden in colour. We reached Jaamlakhaal at 6.30. We again stopped at the shop of my uncle; we had tea and moved further towards Ghurduri. We thought we would get place to stay in circuit house. It was dark now and temperature was continuously sliding down. It is a difficult job to drive in hills during dark. The beam of headlight of vehicle remains straight while road keeps on turning which makes visibility dangerously poor. The best way is to drive extremely slow during such conditions. While driving toward Ghurduri an idea struck me that we can get some guest house accommodation in Engineering college. We entered the college, it is a huge complex, still in making. We talked to person who said he was in-charge of hostels and also a lecturer in the engineering college. He told us that Guesthouse was full due to ensuing Legislative assembly elections and is being occupied by the observers. He also told us that even circuit house was full and hence we should look for Hotel in Pauri. The distance from Engineering College in Ghurduri to Pauri is 16 Kms, which by any circumstances was too much for us. However, I started driving toward Pauri. The tiredness was apparent on the faces of Anju and Lata. After driving couple of kilometers Ravi saw a hotel sought of thing just below the road. As we drove close, to our surprise it was a midsize resort named ‘Mumukshu’. A well maintained resort in the middle of jungle. I pulled up and halted beside the road. Ravi and me went down to the resort. It is located near a place called Khandyu sain. Khandyu sain is a beautiful place on way to Dev prayag from Pauri. We were greeted by a well-dressed young man who told me that a room for night will cost Rs.3200/- and I was dumfounds. I was astonished to hear such high tariff in Garhwal. I thought he might have some confusion regarding whole package and room rent. So he took us to the manager. Mr. Bhatt a cordial person reiterated the same thing. I told him that 4 years back I got a room in Pauri for Rs.100/- only. He said you would well get room with such tariff in Pauri even now but we are maintaining certain standards and accordingly the costing have been done. He asked us to give a look to the rooms and resort. We saw the rooms they were excellently furnished and the costing was right. But I insisted on settling for the rooms for peanuts. I used all my experience of bargain technology, I held Mr Bhatt tightly beside my shoulder conveyed my warmth to get the discount, I spoke in garhwali, futilely tried to find relations with him through his village. Somehow after long coaxing exercise I won the battle. We got two rooms for Rs.500/- each. Dirt-cheap, isn’t it? We went back to the ladies with our chest doubled and conveyed them the good news. I parked the van in front of the gate of the hotel through a very narrow path, which declined with a good slope. Ladies were also happy to find such a good place. This resort has 16 rooms beautifully done decor. This is built in 9 nalies (2250 sq yards). I was surprised to see that the upholstery was all imported. Washrooms, toilets were very neat and sparkling clean. When I am saying very neat it were cleaner than many starred hotels. As the place reels under very cold temperatures rooms have adequate paraphernalia to cope up with chill. Blankets and quilts are of very fine quality. Conference room, a medium sized restaurant, a bonfire place, a small fountain, large variety of plants, facility of mountain biking, a well-equipped kitchen are some attraction. A good parking place is an urgent requirement. It was shivering cold; we got hot tea as a welcome drink, which obviously was very welcoming. While sipping tea in long and open lobby I was engrossed in the visual delights of night in the mountains. The beauty of mountains at night has its own charm. The lights of village hundred of miles away illuminate as if constellation of stars at your eye level. In between jugnus catching your sight. I saw beautiful view of small portion of new Tehri overlooking a mountain, which is four-hour drive from Pauri. One could see more villages at night than during day just because of their illumination. We ordered dinner but Bhatt ji told us that dinner would be of his choice as it was already 8.30 and by this time most of Garhwal goes asleep. After a tiring day the dinner was delicious and wholesome. Baigan ka bharta with chopped tomatoes and green chillies, Arhar Dal with perfect tadka of cumin, green chillies and garlic, well dressed salad, Rice and chapaatis on demand and all these things steaming hot. After wholesome dinner we just walked around to have glance of the resort and surroundings. Before going to bed I took hot water bath, it was very refreshing. It was very cold, I never experienced such low temperature in my life. To sleep we had to take 2 quilts and a double blanket, which I took with me from Dehradun.
Next day morning we started and drove towards Khirsu a place 20 Kms from Pauri. We took bypass before Pauri towards Kanduliya. The road rises to the moderate height of 2000 mtrs above the sea level. Here the temperature remains down as compared to Pauri and near by places due to paltry sunlight. It is a beautiful place just above Pauri with tall oak and deodar trees guarding road on both sides. Drive through Oak and pine forest is very rejuvenating. Sunrays have to jostle through these trees to reach the ground. The place has all requisite things to be developed as a beautiful hill station but for the ignorance and the inert behavior of policy makers. The road winds itself as snake through tall tress. A red flower called buraans with medicinal values was all over. It was a gorgeous sight, red flowers dispersed all around the road, which was the sign of minimal traffic movement on this road. Tranquility of jungle was soul rendering. One gets hypnotic view of innumerous peaks like Nanda Devi, Chaukhamba, Swargrohini, Trishul Gangotri, Kedarnath, Sumeru, Satopanth, Nilkanth, Gauriparbat, Haatiparbat, Drongiri from Pauri and nearby places. We reached Bubakhal where this bypass meets the Pauri Kotdwar Road. We stopped for a moment to smell the morning freshness of nature. Just to enquire about the way to Khirsu I talked to kids going to school. All of them having typical pahari features with rosy cheeks scantly opened eyes. Nature blesses those who care for it. All these kids were having an inviting aura. I talked to them and captured the innocent meeting in camera. Just ahead of Bubakhal a road branches off left towards Mandakhal. The road is narrow but well maintained. I enjoyed driving through it, car was sailing on the road. This road goes up to Paabon Bazar, some famous Garhwali songs have mention of this place. Light fresh breeze through trees was very soothing. Though sun was catching up but coolness in the air was very cozy. We had left Pauri behind but the view of Pauri from this road was very cheering. Town scattered on the shallow slope of mountain basking in the sun as if some body has put a printed sheet on the grass. On the other side of Mandakhal one could get a distinct view of large terraced fields and narrow stream running through these fields. Now we were in hiding from sun and chilliness was biting. After a 40 minutes drive from Mumukshu, we reached Khirsu. It is short walking distance from parking to the GMVN’s guesthouse. The guesthouse was under renovation and is nominally priced, for Rs.700/- you can get a room. In winter this place remains snow bounded. From here one can have a mesmerizing view of hundreds of snow capped mountain peaks. This place is surrounded by thick oak and deodar forest. It is not a developed spot but has potential of a hideout tourist spot. This place is also famous for its apple orchards but we could not see one. As it was already 12.30 in noon getting back to dehradun by evening was the first thing in my mind. I knew that there was a way from Khirsu which connectes to yatra route somewhere near Rudrapryag. I thought that it will be the better option to reach Srinagar but a local told me that the road is under extensive repair and it very dangerous to drive through it. So we decided to drive back to Pauri.
Pauri town is a district headquarters and now a congested place. Though the outskirts of the town have most beautiful places but the area around Bus stand is very shabby and needs a complete revamp. One cannot find a parking place near Bus stand. Shops selling filthy eatables look sore on otherwise the beautiful and serene town. We took some pakoras and bread, as there was nothing else more suitable to eat at that particular place. We left the place towards Srinagar. Srinagar is 35 kms downwards from Pauri. We came out of the town and halted to have a quick grub of bread pakoras with sauce. After finishing our late breakfast we were on our way to Srinagar. The descending serpentine road pulls you of enchanting festival of nature to the broad flat valley of Srinagar through warmer green ravines. The road is of excellent quality and descends through beautiful setting of villages and fields. As we were leaving Pauri behind the climate was becoming warmer. And there it was a beautiful sight of Alaknanda flowing like a damsel beside Kiritnagar. We were in Srinagar by 1.00 o clock. Situated on the banks of Alaknanda river is a bubbly town with youth flaunting latest of fashion in vague. It is a home to H N Bahuguna Garhwal University. This university caters the whole region of Garhwal and has some very good departments of Geography and Tourism. This is the reason Srinagar is cultural and educational hub of Garhwal region. There are few ancient temples in and around Srinagar, which attract local tourists, Dhari Devi is famous of all. As we were in hurry we just went upto the GMVN guesthouse and took u-turn. Though sun was there clouds started gathering I was worried if we get shower in between our sujourn in Hills, it would be difficult to drive. It is tough driving through rain in hills that too a humble van. We were driving along the Alaknanda, gyrating through the spine of hills. After having eye contacts with some of the immeasurable peaks few hours ago we were at the roots of it. The pristine beauty of green hills was now barren monologue of hot silence. We reached kodiyala at 4.00 pm and had our late lunch which was prepared fresh by the dhaba wala. Hunger and maroon melancholy mood of mountain foots had taken the toll. The food was a revitalizer for body and mood. By 5.30 we were on bypass to Dehradun. A thrilling experience was what we were taking with us. The traffic jams in Dehradun diluted all our staunch demand for having a settlement in Hills.