December was almost gone & I had not done any serious trips in the whole of 2009. The guilt was really high & I was asking some friends if they were keen on a road trip – anywhere from the hills to the deserts. After a lot of SMS, I realised by the evening of 26th that this was again going to be a solo trip- probably the best way to see a new place.
I spoke to my bro , who is a self-proclaimed authority on Himachal & Uttaranchal- and asked him for some recommendations & his top one was Mukhteswar.
I had heard about this place very often, coz almost all of my cousins had visited this small hill station in the last 3-4 years. I was also told that this time of the year, the winters would be severe- which added to the thrill. So Mukhteswar it was.
Within the next 3 hours, I got my bags packed, got a reservation done at IVRI campus & was aboard the State transport bus to Haldwani- the bus junction for most places in Uttaranchal.
The trip to Haldwani takes about 7 hrs from Delhi’s Anand Vihar ISBT.Reached Haldwani at 5.00 am only to realise that the connecting bus to Mukhteswar(a 4 hr ride) is only at 7.00 am and so I spent the wee hours of the morning strolling up & down the closed market place.
The journey to Mukhteswar winds thru some of the most picturesque landscapes you would find in this part of the country.The fields were all covered with a sheet of white dew and we were mostly shivering through the uphill journey.
Mukhteswar is a small town with the whole local economy revolving around the IVRI campus that was built during the British rule. The sprawling campus is spread across many hills and houses some of the top labs & Indian scientists.
I stayed at the Lingard House- a 140 year old bungalow, now used as a Guest house within the campus. The bungalow had all the charms of the colonial era, and one could imagine the lifestyle the senior profs would have had at this place.
My room was on the first floor, reached thru a rickety wooden staircase which creaked with each step. I dumped my bags, took a quick shower, had a bite and went off to explore the campus. I went from the admin office at the top thru the animal labs on the slopes to the cattle breeding station down below. And did i mention how lucky I was that the sky was clear & sun was shining ever so brightly- this meant that when I was walking in the sun, it was almost burning thru my clothes, but every time I walked under the shade of a tree, I realised how close I was to the Himalayas 🙂
The sun sets early and it starts getting cold around 4ish. I was sitting at the top of the water tank watching the Himalayas change colors under the setting sun, when I saw these wood cutters chopping up timber for fire.We started talking & they told me that this is what they do during winters, when there is mot much work in the fields. Also realised that the campus alone gives contracts to chop off 1300 Qunitals of wood every year in the 3 winter months.After another 40 minutes of chat with them and sharing a glass of really sweet tea, I went back to the Lingard house to kill the rest of the evening ahead of me. And boy was that a challenge !
I had unfortunately not brought any interesting books along with me, the TV didnt work and I wasnt too tired to sleep early. So I asked the care taker to light up the fire place & did what I enjoy the most at new places- listening to the local stories.
The caretaker it seems has been with the campus for almost 20 years and has been at the Lingard house for almost 4 years.Though he has a separate quarter in the compound, his family doesnt stay with him. His wife is at the village (probably to look after the land etc) and his son is studying engg at Haldwani.Imagine spending weeks after weeks at a place like this without your family just so that you ca support them. I then checked with him about the places which have the best view of the mountains, so that tomm could be spent doing just that.
Got up early to catch the sunrise & the snaps were all out-of-focus- coz of the numb fingers. I walked up from the IVRI gates, towards the PWD guest house, which has probably the best view in town. They have this small garden out in front, which doubles up as a view point. The garden entrance is barricaded but with no one around, I climbed over & started clicking the Nanda Devi & Trisul peaks to my heart’s content.
Well if you think I had the perfect break at the hills, you are mistaken. My unplanned trips are almost always accompanied by some mis-adventures. With this trip, it happened on the journey back home. The ride back to Haldwani was pretty comfortable but at the bus stand, realised that there is no AC bus back to Delhi for the next 4 hours, so my only option was to take a state transport bus. I told myself, its ok, coz I would be saving around 2-3 hours …. but that was not to be.
The bus I took had some engine trouble, we had barely reached Udhamsingh Nagar when there was smoke coming out of the gear stick 🙂
I was not so much afraid of this thing catching a fire, as of being stuck in the middle of no where when it broke down. So I got down at the next stop, somehow got myself a refund (that in itself was a test of my negotiation skills …. he he)and boarded the next decent looking bus. Here, the bus was in top condition, with the conductor flashing a handheld ticket dispenser & all- but it seems that the driver used to drive a road-roller in some past life… He just wouldnt go beyond 40-45 Kmph !