It’s been a long time since my last blog. That doesn’t necessarily mean that there were no trips and outings done this year. There were many weekend trips to Pune, Pondicherry, Masinagudi, Sakleshpur, Mangalore as well as a bachelor party celebrated in Goa. Since all these places have been visited before and have been written about elsewhere on this site, I choose not to write about the same locations again.
Coming to this year’s annual vacation, the destination decided was the beautiful state of Uttarakhand in India.
Prelude to the Vacation – Friend’s Wedding in Lucknow and visit to Ayodhya
The trip was planned in a way to accommodate for a wedding of a very close friend and colleague from my previous company. We set out for the wedding by boarding a late night flight from Bangalore to Delhi and then an early morning flight from there to Lucknow. It was my second visit to Lucknow, having previously visited the place in 2009. We reached Lucknow by 7.30 AM and headed straight to the Charan’s Club and Resort where our friend had booked for our accommodations. The weddings in this part of the country are held late during the night. So we decided to have some sleep first (having missed our sleep in the night) before getting set for attending the wedding. The wedding location was about 210 kms further from Lucknow in a place called Basti.
En-route, we passed through the holy city of Ayodhya. Since it was already night, we decided to come back here the next day after the wedding. With the wedding ceremony done by early morning next day, we freshened up and came back to visit the city of Ayodhya. This city is well known from being the birth place of Lord Rama and also for the riots that broke out in 1992 over the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Prior to visiting the main temple, we had a quick visit to the ghat along the river Sarayu.
As we neared the temple, the place soon turned into a fortress as can be expected following the riots and being contested as a disputed land. The security at the temple is top-notch. One is not allowed to carry anything inside the premises with even the wallets thoroughly searched. The temple is about a km walk from the first security gate and on the way, every person is searched again about 7-8 times. The walk to the temple is in caged enclosures. On either side of the enclosure, the Indian Army and local police are well positioned and armed with weapons to ensure there are no disruptions. The security significantly outnumbered the temple visitors in a probably 1:3 ratio. The visit to the shrine was quick since this being an off-season, the crowd was minimal. Following the temple visit, we had our lunch at a roadside dhaba and were back at the resort to catch a quick nap before exploring the other nearby places and Gomti river front in the evening.
On the third day, we visited some of the famous spots in the city starting with Bara Imambara complex. The complex houses the large Asfi mosque, the Bhul Bhulaiya (the labyrinth), and Bowli, a step well with running water. This place is an architectural marvel as can be seen from some of the pictures below. The Bhul Bhulaiya has a central atrium surrounded by a complex maze of multiple entry and exit doors.
After spending close to 2 hours and capturing hundreds of photographs, we had walk down the road to visit the Art Gallery. Through we didn’t enter the gallery for we were running short of time, we had another photo session here before taking a cab to visit the famous Ambedkar Memorial Park. In my honest personal opinion, the Ambedkar Memorial Park is a big waste of taxpayer’s money. The park is spread over 106 acres and there is nothing much to see here in reality. One can just see hundreds of elephant statues, a gallery and vast open spaces. The entire memorial is built using red sandstone and was completed at cost of 7 billion rupees! A big waste of precious money which could have been better invested for improving the city infrastructure and lives of poor people.
After spending some time walk around the huge park, we headed back to our resort to pack our luggage and check out from the resort. We had planned to head to the railway station directly from the reception and did so after some fun and frolic at the reception.
First day of the Uttarakhand vacation lost!
From Lucknow we had planned to board the late night train to Kathgodham which would have given us a full day to explore Nainital. One friend among the trio of us was to head to his native while the remaining two of us were to continue our vacation in Uttarakhand. However, the train which was scheduled to arrive at 12 midnight arrived only at 5 AM which meant that we would be reaching Nainital only by evening instead of 9 AM! We were not only disappointed at having our first day being thrown off, but also had to be content with having no breakfast nor lunch as the train had no pantry services and only 3-4 cups of tea kept us going. We reached Kathgodham by around 3 PM and booked a share taxi to take us to Nainital. The share taxi is the most convenient, affordable and fastest way to reach Nainital. We reached Nainital by 4 PM and before anything else grabbed an egg roll to calm down our hunger pangs. We had booked our stay at Snow View Resort in advance through Oyo. While we waited for the complimentary pick up to the hotel, we captured some pics of the beautiful Naini Lake nestled amidst mountains and also walked down a bit alongside the lake road.
The hotel was further up the hill and about 4 kms from the Naini Lake. The resort helped us get past the disappointment of late arrival by presenting beautiful views of the valley and Naini Lake. We reached just in time for the sunset (this being winter season, the sun sets by 5.30 PM and the entire place is dark by 6!). Having nothing much to do about in the night, we had a good meal and slept off watching a movie.
The next morning, we woke up very early to catch the sun rise upon the majestic Himalayas and indeed the view presented was amazing. From the Snow View point we were able to see Mt.Nandadevi which is the highest peak located completely within Indian Territory. Of course, there is Mt.Kanchenjunga which is a taller peak but the peak shares its border with Nepal. Another professional photographer who was at the place, offered to let us use one of his bigger camera lenses which enabled us to capture much closer pictures of the snow-clad peaks.
After capturing loads of photos and post a sumptuous breakfast we were set to travel to Ramnagar through a one way taxi which we had asked the hotel guys to arrange.
Stay at Jim Corbett National Park
I have been quite fascinated about wildlife and stays in forest ever since reading books written by Jim Corbett. The stories written by him about his experience while hunting down the man-eating tigers and leopards in the Kumaon and Garhwal region (combined form the modern day Uttarakhand State) are very enthralling to read. Since first reading the books probably 10-12 years ago, I have always awaited for an opportunity to visit the Jim Corbett National Park which was named so in recognition to the great British-Indian hunter and conservationist. To this day, the Jim Corbett National Park remains the only wildlife park in India to be named after a person of non-Indian origin.
The Jim Corbett National Park along with the Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan and Tadoba National Park in Maharashtra are three of the most sought after wildlife parks in India primarily for the prospect of spotting a wild tiger which is found in abundance here.
The Corbett National Park is divided into six main zones – Dhikala, Bijrani, Jhirna, Sonanadi, Durgadevi and Dhela. While most of these zones are open throughout the year, Dhikala zone is open only from November to May and it is in this zone that one is more likely to spot the tigers due to its vast and varied landscape. The Dhikala zone has five forest rest house complexes – Dhikala FRH, Khinanauli FRH, Sultan FRH, Gairal FRH and Sarapduli FRH. It is a must to book your stay in Dhikala zone in advance. Once opened, the bookings close within a day or two most of the time. The Dhikala zone entry is through the Dhangari gate. Sultan is the nearest rest house to gate, followed by Gairal, Sarapduli and Khinanauli with Dhikala complex being the farthest. Dhikala complex is the biggest and best equipped group of rest houses which has all the amenities and this very reason makes it difficult to get a booking in time.
Coming back to our visit, we reached Ramnagar city which is also called the Gateway to Corbett by 10:30 AM. Having done our package booking in advance, we boarded our dedicated gypsy to reach Sarapduli Forest Rest house where our accommodation was booked. Reaching the rest house itself is like a mini safari as it takes about an hour to reach from the forest entry gate. The journey from Ramnagar starts with crossing a bridge across the Kosi river. The river banks are flocked by various wild goose and other migratory birds from across the globe. The forest beyond the Dhangari gate is lush green with the Kosi River showing its glimpse all along the way.
This being an off monsoon season though, the river was quite dry. On the way we spotted few herds of chital, a sambhar and some monkeys. We reached the rest house by early noon. It is important to note that Sarapduli rest house is devoid of any luxury amenities. There is no canteen here and one needs to get all the raw materials for cooking from Ramnagar itself. The place is named so due to large factions of snakes which are found here. Devoid of luxury amenities for me is a good thing for it gives you the real feel of staying in forest in the middle of nowhere, devoid of connection with regular life for there is no network or electricity here. The rest house is protected from wild animals with solar fencing. A couple of solar powered lamps are available in the rest house for the night. We freshened up and headed out to our actual safari by 2 PM. As our 3 hour long safari began, we spotted few herds of chital and sambhar again just outside the rest house property which gave us big hopes of also spotting a large feline like the tiger or leopard. Further ahead on the safari trail, we spotted the pug marks which our driver cum guide identified to be of a tiger. We followed the pug marks for some distance but were unable to spot the elusive feline. As our safari vehicle passed through various types of landscapes ranging from dense forest to open meadows, river beds, shrub forest, we spotted more chitals and also a wild boar scampering across the road as we neared the Dhikala complex. Near the Dhikala complex, the forest is primarily grasslands with abundant tall grasses forming a natural camouflage for various animals. Though we couldn’t spot a tiger, I am quite sure there would have been a few camouflaged in the grasslands waiting to ambush a passing chital or some other animal.
Throughout our safari, we heard cries of various types of birds who in their own way were warning other animals about the existence of some carnivore. We also stopped near the Kosi river to spot some Mahseer fish which is found in abundance in this region. Earlier fishing was quite a popular activity in the Kosi river, however is now not permitted. Returning from the safari, we were served a delicious homemade styled dinner by 8 PM and we went to sleep watching a movie on the mobile and to the silence of the forest night.
The next morning, we woke up by 6 and very shortly were greeting with a sound of a leopard growling nearby. Though we couldn’t spot it, the leopard must have been not more than 100 meters away from us. Sipping a quick cup of hot tea to keep us warm, we started our morning safari. A few forest officials joined us for a short distance en-route. The officials were off to set camera traps to capture photos and videos of tigers and other animals. A few furlongs away, we spotted fresh pug marks of a tiger crossing the path into the forest. The tiger might have just passed a few minutes before we arrived there. The forest officials got down here to follow the pug marks and to set the camera. Soon enough, we heard the growling of the tiger nearby. We closely followed the growling and occasional pug marks for close to 30-45 minutes. While following the growling and tracks we also spotted barking deer at a couple of places. As we awaited at an opening expecting the tiger to cross the path, a couple of unwelcome jeeps reached the place. Maybe the tiger heard the noise of jeeps, changed its path or settled down somewhere we would never know, but we never heard its growl again. Disappointed at missing out a good opportunity, we headed to the grasslands. On the way to the grasslands, we spotted the foot marks of an elephant herd as well and soon enough spotted an elephant well concealed among the trees. Having spotted the foot marks of a herd, we didn’t stop our jeep immediately but instead went further ahead. One can never be sure if the elephant was alone or was with a herd and in such cases it is best to keep watch on the surroundings. Sensing that there is no group nearby, we reversed back. The elephant soon burst out on the road, watched us for couple of mins, enabling us to capture some pics before disappearing into the forest again.
The grasslands were abundant with chital and we could spot big herds every few meters. Again, though we were sure of a tiger possibly watching us in the grasslands, we couldn’t spot one. Further on reaching the Dhikala Complex, we had a cup of tea and headed back to our guesthouse. On the way back, we again spotted many sambhar deer and also few jungle fowls. We had our breakfast at the guesthouse and after freshening up, we proceeded to conclude our stay by returning to Ramnagar, reaching there by around 1 PM. From here for our onward journey to Haridwar, we had arranged for a one way drop through our Corbett package contact person itself. The contact person, Mr. Sunil to our surprise happens to be the only Maharashtrian operator in this region.
From Ramnagar, Haridwar is about 220 kms and we covered this distance in about 5 hours with a couple of stops in-between for tea. We reached Haridwar by around 6 PM and booked a hotel on arriving. Oyo was again of good help in finding a very good hotel at a very affordable price. Reaching the hotel, we freshened up and set out to do some shopping. We bought few sweaters and jackets at surprisingly very low prices along with some baby wear for my niece. We had an awesome dinner at one of the many restaurants dotted along the road. Having stayed in a metro city, I must say the food is very cheap with no compromise on quality or quantity. Following a much needed good night’s sleep, we woke up in the morning to visit the Har Ki Pauri Ghat which is considered as one of the most holy places in India.
The ghat on the banks of Ganges river is thronged by thousands throughout the year. We also visited the Mansadevi Temple though cable car which also provided us a full view of the city with the river dwindling through it and also Rishikesh at a distance. The visit was quick for there was not much crowd at the temple. Checking out from our hotel after a light breakfast, we boarded an auto to Rishikesh which is about 45 mins drive from Haridwar.
Rishikesh Rafting and Camping
At Rishikesh, we had booked a rafting and river side camping package in advance with the Himalayan Gypsy Adventures. We reached the rafting office which was near to the Ram Jhula by noon and had to wait for couple of hours. As we were just 2 members and this being a weekday, it was difficult to find more members for completing the required members on the raft. Our rafting was for 16 kms and was to start from Shivpuri. We were finally joined by 4 other members by 2 PM and we set out on the rafting adventure. The 16 km rafting from Shivpuri is categorized as Grade 1 and Grade 2. Further ahead the 36 km Kaudiyala rafting is categorized as Grade 4 and Grade 5 and is considered as one of the best and also the most dangerous rapid stretch in India. Only professionals or certified members are allowed to be a part of the rafting from Kaudiyala. Even further, the rafting origin is from Devprayag where the confluence of Alaknanda & Bhagirathi rivers form the Ganga river. This stretch of about 80 kms is done only as part of a rafting expedition and is covered usually in 2-3 days.
All set for our rafting, my friend and I occupied the front seats knowing well that this was the best place to hit the rapid waters headfirst. We crossed through some of the well known rapids such as Return to Sender, Roller Coaster, Golf Course, Club house, Initiation, Double Trouble and Hilton and others. At one of the rapids, we even disembarked into the mighty river. Though I have done rafting many times before at Dandeli, Kulu, Bheemeshwari and Coorg, I had never entered a river in the midst of a rapid. This very experience made the entire rafting ride very memorable for me. The cold water of the holy river thrashing us around was indeed something never to forget. A little ahead of the famous Lakshman Jhula we again jumped into the river and enjoyed a swim here for about 10-15 mins. While swimming, we also drank quite a mouthful of water. The water of Ganga river is considered among the Hindus to be holy and a dip in the river itself is believed to wash away all sins.
Reaching the shores, we had a hot cup of tea and awaited for our drop to our camp which was located on the Neelkanth temple road. We reached the camp by around 6:30 PM and were surprised to know that we two were the only visitors at the camp. We then realized we had been at the camp on a Wednesday and absence of tourists could thus be understood. The same place on a weekend would probably have been crowded with people from other cities including Delhi coming in. There was quite a bit of chillness in the air here as the camp was very near to the river and was surrounded by massive hills on all sides. We had a quite heavy dinner before having a good sleep in our tents.
In the morning, we had our breakfast and hitched a drop from a passing vehicle up to Triveni Ghat in Rishikesh. Triveni Ghat, a confluence of three holy rivers, is one of the most revered sacred bathing spot in Rishikesh. It is of belief that those who take a dip in the waters here will have cleansed all their sins and purify the soul. In the early morning at sunrise devotees often offer milk to the river and feed the fish. An impressive view of lamps floated in the river as part of aarti ceremony is pleasing to eyes after the sunset. Triveni Ghat also holds a significant place in the Hindu mythology and Puranas and finds a mention in the Hindu epics Ramayana and Mahabharata.
The Queen on hill stations – Mussoorie
Catching another auto from Triveni Ghat, we reached Haridwar railway station at 11:15 AM thanks to couple of traffic jams en-route. We had booked train tickets for travelling from Haridwar to Dehradun. The scheduled departure from Haridwar was at 11:00 AM and we thought we had missed the train but got to know that the train was running 13 hours late! Just as we booked a general ticket to board the next passing train, the Delhi – Dehradun Shatabdi express steamed in at the station. We boarded the train by bribing the ticket collector as the general tickets are not applicable to the shatabdi and other super-fast trains. Though we had to shell out the extra money, the upside of it was that we would reach Dehradun earlier. We reached Dehradun in an hour from Haridwar and boarded a share taxi to reach Mussoorie. The drive from Dehradun to Mussoorie provided glittering views of the Doon Valley. We had pre-booked our stay in Mussoorie at Hotel Pioneer which is situated amidst the busy mall road. We requested at the reception for a room having a good mountain view and were provided the same too.
We had a quick lunch and then headed to explore the mall road and nearby spots. We first visited the Gun Hill which is easily accessible by the cable car on the mall road. From the Gun Hill view point, we can see the snow clad peaks of Kedarnath and Badrinath as well the Yamunotri and Gangotri glacier. The view point was completely covered in fog as we reached and we had to wait quite some time to catch a glimpse of the snow peaks. From the other side of the viewpoint, one can view the beautiful Mussoorie and Dehradun valley. At times due to fog, it appeared as if some of the houses were floating above the clouds. A cup of tea and hot onion pakodas is a must in the cold breezy weather atop Gun hill. Reaching back to mall road, we did some shopping again, this time buying some cute looking sweaters for my 8 month old niece. We had the next day completely at our disposal, so we had a sound sleep back in our hotel room.
Freshening up in the morning, we checked out from the hotel while still keeping our luggage there. We walked along the entire length of mall road to reach the Library Chowk also known as Gandhi Chowk. From here we hired a cycle rickshaw to take us to the company garden which also housed a wax museum.
After some photography done at the garden and wax museum, we headed to catch a share taxi to take us to the famous Kempty Fall. Kempty fall is one of the most visited places in Mussoorie and though the water flow was comparatively less, the waterfall was pretty beautiful to look at. We didn’t get into the waters as we didn’t want to roam around in wet clothes. In the cold weather, drying of wet clothes is a problem as well. We instead just captured many snaps at the falls and also explored the small market where we purchased some confectioneries.
Boarding a share taxi again, we returned to Gandhi Chowk by 3 and proceeded to Gun hill again. On the previous evening, due to incessant fog, the snow view was difficult so we wanted to try our luck in the afternoon. Though the fog was nil in the afternoon, the snow view was good only to the naked eye and not much to the lenses of our camera 😉
We further also visited the Jawaharlal Nehru Aquarium before heading back to the hotel to pick up our luggage. Following a cup of tea and some snacks, we boarded the 6.30 PM bus back to Dehradun from where we had booked an overnight train to Delhi.
Delhi sightseeing and return to Bangalore
We reached Delhi by 8.30 AM in the morning and checked out a few hotels in the Pharganj area for freshening up and also to keep our luggage while we explore the city. This was again my second visit to Delhi having visited before during the same 2009 trip mentioned earlier in the blog. We finally were able to find a decent hotel at a reasonable price, where we also booked a cab to visit various places in the city. Sadly though, we were able to cover only 3-4 places as the horrible Delhi traffic made sure we spent more time on the road than at the places we intended to be at. We first visited the India Gate passing by the Birla Mandir on the way. Spending some time there, we then headed to Qutb Minar. At Qutb Minar we captured tons of photos and spent close to an hour exploring the place. We then headed to the famous Lotus Temple also referred to as Baha’i House of Worship. The Lotus Temple is notable for its flower like shape and is composed of 27 free-standing marble-clad “petals” arranged in clusters of three to form nine sides. The temple has won various architectural awards and is one of the most visited places in the country. We took part in a small 5 min meditation before deciding to have rush to Red Fort. Unfortunately, the city traffic had other ideas and we were compelled to head back to our hotel without seeing the iconic red fort. While I had seen the Red fort during my previous visit, my friend who was here for the first time was quite disappointed at having to miss it.
Checking out from the hotel, we boarded a metro train from New Delhi which took us to the airport in about 20 mins flat. At the airport we were re-joined by our third friend who had gone to his native after the wedding in Lucknow. Boarding an Indigo flight, we were back at Bangalore by midnight bringing to end what had been a very memorable tour.
This tour for me will always be cherished for multiple things, but mainly because it was a mixture of everything – a North Indian wedding, city life in Lucknow and Delhi, Hill station stay at Nainital and Mussoorie, forest life at Jim Corbett National Park, adventure at Rishikesh and also temple visits at Haridwar and Ayodhya. Also, this was possibly my first ever trip where all modes of travel were involved – flight, train, bus, rafting, taxi, autos, share cabs, cycle rickshaw and not to miss hitching a drop in a passing vehicle as well 😉
With the Christmas weekend and New Year nearing, my next trip is not long away but the memories of the Uttarakhand trip shall be cherished always!