I have never seen an Independence Day so rainy, the clouds giving way to the deadliest bumps on the Gurgaon roads. One rain and its all over, welcome to this corporate concrete jungle that doubles up as a river bed during the monsoons.
So where do I figure in what has become a haven for all "river road rally" enthusiasts. I am all ready to leave for a camp in Pangot which is some 15 km ahead of Nanital or somewhere near Corbett. We will go figure exactly where it is once we get there (the idea is to just get lost in nothingness, u see. So where is me in "we”. Mansi who got the other 4 of the "we" ready for a trip without even confirming the place... "Ready" as in getting them to pay and book and meeting up(for the first time) to discuss the other part, that is getting there & availing the facilities we just paid for. Yeah randomness is my second name.
After the longest detour ever as the roads were jam packed with office traffic trying to carefully maneuver the many potholes that the heavy rain had left behind. We are finally together, with tales to tell about the long harrowing ride. And feeding our hungry tummies and grumpy souls with food (both expired and unexpired) from a well stacked kitchen which is extremely uncanny for a bachelor pad. This is followed by numerous attempts to get all 5 in the camera frame to capture every moment leading to the big one :)
While the others catch up with whatever sleep they can my weekend getaway has just begun. The longing to leave the city behind so strong that I am documenting every minute, for in another 45 min we will be on our way to Mountain Quail camp and my mind will be my only depository for the next 3 days. My thoughts about this village of 15 families in the Kumaon hills is suddenly disrupted with alarm bells, but rants of another "half an hour" ringing equally loud.
5:10am and here begins our road journey to Pangot. There's no looking back to this for another 2 days. Not even a strategically left wallet will make us return . Leaving behind the plains, but the clouds and the potholes don't seem to desert us. North India has become the next Cherrapunji, not the perfect season to head to the hills as we shall discover in another 6 hours(6 become 11 thanks to a half finished highway, which was initially built to ease inter-state traffic but now it is turning out to be a task to find our way around it).
In Mayawati land anything is possible! And this driver who we cant help but blame for being an adamant foolish navigator; and as fate would reveal it… tomorrow he will be our saving grace for a packet of Gold Flake, life is full of ironies ain’t it? Nothing like a ciggi on a rainy day.
Before continuing our rickety, jerky ride on NH-87, we stopped at the Giani da dhabha for paranthas and tea. It was a hollow, but filling experience. I know an oxymoron! But filling because our stomachs felt stuffed, but hollow because we had tasted better dhabha food . And while we were at it, it was a good college reunion for our lawyer friends Ajoy and Shindey. As fate would have it they bumped into their classmates from NLA, Bangalore who were headed to Camp Corbett after they were shown a "House Full" sign at Pangot. Added cookie points for my travel organization skills, I couldn’t help but self-congratulate myself.
But these accolades fell flat as we moved on. We missed the Moradabad By Pass, missed the Corbett route. With quite a few misses, and the rain and the jams on the almost non-existent highway, crankiness began to set in. The only escape being the 2 pirated Bollywood music CD's we picked up at the dhabha which were good to fill the cold silence that had started to spread.
By late afternoon after making our way through Moradabad - Rampur - Haldwani - Kathgodam the hills drew closer. For many DL/HR cars the journey would soon end at Nanital but we had other plans. Through the hustle and bustle of this Lake city we were headed to Pangot, another hour of a treacherous uphill ride with some breathtaking beauty for company. As we made our way up the cranky, grumpy feeling gave way to the holiday mood. The drizzle and the clouds made for some picturesque and eerie view of the Kumaon hills with its dense oak and rhododendron forests.
By 4 we were at our camp Mountain Quail. After parking our luggage in the nice, cosy tents we rushed for some wood smoked lunch. Spirits soon picked up and after a quick hot bath it was time to just sit and faff over tea and a couple of drinks. As night fell, the place looked almost spooky with only a few lamps on. The sound of whatever there was behind the tall grass and trees added to the feeling of being in the middle of nowhere. With a back log of 48 hours of sleep, I hit the damp bed with only Piyal and a grasshopper for company. I drowsed off to the tale of a promiscuous encounter of a certain someone in the adjoining tent, who was totally unaware of how the acoustics in a "tent" like structure work. The transformation from a brick dwelling to a cloth one sure takes time!
After that night of uninterrupted sleep, I woke up to the splitter splatter of the rain. But rain or no rain I was all geared for a hiking expedition up the mountains. To my relief the dense trees kept the rain at bay. But there was no escaping the leeches that stuck to my feet by the dozen. From time to time my uphill climb was punctuated by sprinkling salt over these slimy creatures. The feeling of being in the midst of pure wilderness made up for the slippery and rough terrain. A slight movement in the bushes would make my pulse race, my movement of glory of spotting a tiger. I watched with bated breath for the wild cat to appear and then there came running a mountain goat. Back at the camp I enthralled people with exaggerated tales about my escapades an hour back.
By now we had got used to the rain, smoking our way through the wet and the chill. Just when we were past discussing Nishant's finickiness, Shindey's drunk encounter with a female back, Holder's embarrassing secrets, Piyal's polka dots and my obsessing over the leeches, the sun came out! Like a mad bunch of paparazzi we went clicking ourselves in the sun. This kodak moment lasted us only 5 seconds and then it was hello to the clouds again.
With a quick dash to Nanital in the evening and a bonfire in the night, we were nearing the end of this rendezvous with the rainy hills. The next day we picked up speed early to get ahead of the many who were headed back to Delhi after the extended weekend. This time we had our compasses tuned to the Corbett route. But our plans for a quick descent to the plains were only shortlived. A landslide en-route to Kaladungi cost us an entire hour and a half. We picked up speed only on the Corbett stretch where the road improved dramatically. With another jam near Moradabad and a detour through the farms we hit Delhi around 7, all tired and sleepy just like we began.
Maybe this just wasn't the best time to travel. Maybe we did not take the best route. Maybe the rains failed us. Maybe someone should have carried the I-pod cord. Maybe we should have chosen the cottage over the tent. Maybe we should have carried an extra umbrella or an extra pair of pajamas.
Nevertheless I am glad I went, "when" I went, "where" I went and with "whom" I went. With things that worked and even those that did not!