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You’re laughed at, mocked at. That’s how every story begins. And that’s how mine began as well. Thoughts and proposals were put in and remastered many a thousand times. Finally, the day descended. By that time, by virtue of Indian planning, three of us still remained in the idea. I clasped the flag and marched forward and my fellow soldiers came right along. And that, my friends, is how began my journey to Mussoorie. But really, a journey to find myself.

Alone and inexperienced, we timidly took an auto rickshaw to ISBT at 8.30 AM. A few trips up and down the elevator confirmed our tickets. So, we went on to see our bus. Believe me when I say, I have seen tongas in better shape. Old and rusty, it looked more like an exhibit than a vehicle. I stared down at the ticket price and it was then that it seemed reasonable. We hoarded snacks and soon took off. The bus’s appearance lived up to its expectations. As we were on the outskirts of the city, I looked back, shook myself and said, “Yes, I am doing this”. Rumi flashed across my mind, “On this path let the heart be your guide, for the body is hesitant and full of fear”. I thought no more. Sometime through the trembling drive, I fell asleep. I was woken up soon enough. “It’s a pit stop” said my friend. I stepped out. Darkness held us. On one side there was a faint glow of a shop and travellers buzzing about while on the other, the road was engulfed in absolute murk. This is how the middle of nowhere must look like, I thought. I shivered while drinking the coffee my friends had brought. A couple of minutes later, our driver, humming to the rhythms of the old Bollywood song ringing in the background with a bidi (Indian cigarette) between his cracked lips, came and our caravan took flight. It took me some time, again, to get used to the growling of the bus. I dreamed away slowly. I woke up to inertial stress. I was being tossed from side to side recklessly. I reached for my phone and checked the time. 2.49 AM. Then I sat up to inquire the reason of the reptile like movement. I almost shrieked. On a road, not more than 20 feet wide, with the steepest cliff on one side and humongous rocks ready to rain upon us on the other, our bus driver casually drove giving no heed to the oncoming traffic. In the dead of the night, the winding road seemed to be endless. I clutched my friend’s arm and gave it tight wrenches befitting the intensity of my fright. He slept on and on though. As this was ongoing I happened to look at a sign board which said, “Dehradun ~ 11 Kms”. I beamed at that. But my excitement rot away as my friends snored peacefully even after shoves from me. I guessed they might have gotten used to the bus after all. My eyes longed for light. And soon, in the distance I saw a fairly lit board conveying, “Welcome to Dehradun”. I pulled my jacket on, gathered my stuff and put on my headphones while waiting for the bus stop.

“Hey, look we are in Dehradun”. It was one of my drowsy friends rubbing his eyes red.

“Are we?” I grumbled.

“Oh, yes. Look at the hoardings outside” he said, still too sleepy for sarcasm.

I elbowed the other one to wake up.

It was 5 minutes of intercity driving and we arrived at what was a bus stop. We were surrounded by drivers upon our alighting. I knew then, how mom must be feeling when she returns after shopping. But, to be honest, it felt nice. Being recognized as respected tourists and no one having a clue of our back stories of extorting money by means of begging from our families for this trip. We took one auto rickshaw and felt no shame in openly asking him to be taken to the cheapest room available at an hour like this. It was 4.05 AM and chilly too.

After about 30 minutes of decisions, which could easily qualify as an argument, we took a very small, cheap room as we had to push off at 10 that morning itself (trying to justify our poverty).

After a nap, we got up and planned everything out properly, for the first time! No wonder, we Delhites are known for our dimwittedness.

We took a crowded, which was spacious by our consideration, bus and took a pretty long ride to Guchhupani which was to be a water cave of some sort. From where the bus left us, we had to trek a steep path downwards for around 5 minutes before we had a glimpse of the hidden beauty, tucked away in a corner. It was a cave with little cracks and crevices above so that the sun would creep in and fondle your face while your feet would relish the feel of cold, clean water gushing through the waterfall at the end of the cave. It was a true marvel. With our feet submerged in the water we made our way to the end of the cave. Several photos and an engraving later, we made our way out. We then sat on a rock and simply sat. It was a moment of realisation that how fun even that can be. Soon, we made our uphill trek. Once there, we had to wait for a bus which would take us to the station.

20 odd minutes later, a bus came by and we boarded it. The plan was to get to Mussoorie, where the sense of a proper holiday would arise. As of now, the temperatures of Delhi and Dehradun couldn’t be said apart. And a non AC small bus full of school children didn’t help the fact either. Sometime later, we were told by the conductor that we could get a bus to Mussoorie from there. We got off and walked a bit to what best seemed like a bus stop. Hence began one of my longest wait for a vehicle. It easily was more than an hour of sweating in the unforgiving heat of the city. Then, along came a bus which was headed to Mussoorie. It was about a 35 km battle of me and my stomach acids. I prevailed. A short nap later, we were there.

Oh my! It was gorgeous. At about 10 °C, we had to wear our jackets. We stood there, on the hill of Mussoorie, overlooking mountains and clouds. Yes, we were on a vacation. We had booked our room in advanced. A ten minute walk up the Mall Road, we found our hotel. It was a thing of beauty. Dangling on the side of a hill, it’s huge windows gave a breathtaking view of everything beneath us. After jumping around on the bed and making ourselves at home, we felt hungry. So we walked back to Mall Road and tried to find a Halal restaurant as chicken is inevitable for a Delhite. We did, after quite some time too because it is so in Mussoorie that no restaurant serves anything in the evening. But luckily we did and so we had our full, off butter chicken and daal. With our aching stomach, we wondered what we could do next. The sun was melting away and the evening winds were kicking in. We asked the waiter for directions to camel’s back road and left but not before stuffing our mouths with as much saunf mouth freshener as we possibly could while the cashier wasn’t looking. As an Indian, it’s a must.

A little while of trudging up and down the mall road brought us to a still, meandering road. We stood there, not talking, with a smile on our faces. The cold wind was beating our faces red but we couldn’t care less. The lamps lit beautifully along the road were being veiled by the mist that came in from amongst the mountains. We walked back, our jackets held tighter against us, towards our hotel as the evening lights came flickering on. Dehra buzzed down below but Mussoorie was still.

As we passed the Mall Road, a book shop, Cambridge Book Depot was thronged with people. I pushed my way through the crowd and low and behold! It was the man himself. RUSKIN BOND! In flesh. Words couldn’t come to my mouth. I picked up a book from the stands and somehow stuttered to him to sign it. He did, and with a smile too. I had not much time as then I myself was pulled and tugged behind the crowd. My hero, my inspiration, my exemplar had signed a book for me. I decided then and there to never quit writing.

Back at the hotel we weren’t quite feeling well. This sudden change of environment took its toll on us. Planning a long walk to Nag Tibba early next morning, we decided to call it a day. We bought some snacks and lay down to rest in our hotel room. The television kept on in the background as I soon dozed off, now dreaming to live as I was already living the dream.

Harsh sunlight directed upon my eyes made me get up, what seemed only hours later. I checked the time. 8:27. “Early walk, indeed” I said as I looked at the two lifeless bodies beside me tucked beneath their sheets. I got up and went to relish the delicious mountain morning. It certainly was delicious. Looking out the window, I simply wondered, “Who might be those people who don’t like to travel, to experience, to live. Surely none.”

I freshened up after pulling the blankets off my mates. They got up, one of them muttering, “What’s the time?”

“9:00”

“Whuu…uut?”

“Yeah. Now quickly freshen up while I order breakfast.”

The breakfast was complimentary, in case you are wondering. It came soon, hot and inviting. I quickly devoured the best of it, the Aaloo Parantha with ghee all over it and mango pickles to make any mouth water. Then I poured myself some tea, sat in the armchair, read the news. It did feel good to be a prince.

Soon, we were on our way to Gun Hill. Our friend here, who is gifted with a bit more fat than needed, took the cable car while me and the other guy trekked up 400 ft. The view from there was majestic, to say the least. The Himalayan range was visible clearly. We played some games, or to put it otherwise, we wasted some money. Having seen everything possible, we made our way downhill. Shortly, we were at the Mall Road, wondering what we should do next. There was this “aquarium” by the name, Sagar Ratna. I haven’t ever wasted my money that badly. There were 20, at most, fishes over there and an overly enthusiastic guide. But still, being there, messing around was fun.

Nearly half an hour of debate later we decided we should go to Kempty Falls. So we walked to the main Bazaar where we could get wheels to reach there. While waiting, I saw this large board on a beautiful building, “MUSSOORIE LIBRARY”. I needed no second invitation (not that I got a first but why even put up a board of magical places). I went into the building but the first thing that welcomed me were the harsh words on a board, “FOR MEMBERS ONLY”. Making sure no one saw me I slipped in but the main entrance was locked. It was a delightful place made solely out of wood, with an air of age and authority about it. I was merrily roaming about like a little child when my friend came to inform that he had found a jeep.

It was an old frail Tavera. But as long as it would take us to the falls, we weren’t complaining. After an hour or so of the same roads and the similar reckless driving, we reached. We had our first sight of the falls from afar. You couldn’t tell if it was water. It seemed like a large container of milk had just overturned. As we neared our excitement peeked. We had to go another 100 ft below to access the fall pools. We put our belongings in a shop, content at the consent of the shopkeeper. Then, down we went. We stripped down to our shorts and went near the water. The freezing water must easily be below 5°. The chilling temperature and the constant cold wind didn’t help either. But we were there and at that moment, nothing could stop us. After slowly getting used to the water, which means getting your body numb, we paddled around in glee. We were in there for not less than 2 hours. I am glad we didn’t lose anyone to hypothermia. We dried ourselves up and wore clothes we had brought.

Making our way up, back to the bus stop, we realised we were hungry. Another, more important, realisation that came to light was that we had nearly run out of money. I had a gift card which could be used but only through a swipe system. Now, trying to find a restaurant that had an able swipe system high up in the mountains is highly unlikely. Take it from me, never rely upon something like a “CARD”. After hours of frantic search with our hungry stomachs all the way from Kempty Falls to the Mall Road, we found a restaurant. However, he had nothing more than stale noodles and cold drinks at that moment. It still was heaven to us. We devoured it all in and sipped down our colas to our brim. We came out and gave everything one last look as we made our final descent towards the bus stop.

When you know it might possibly be the last time you’re going to look at something, it seems all the more beautiful. And that gorgeous scene appealed all the more. But having the exact amount for a ticket to Delhi, we dared not stay anymore. At the bus stop, after inquiry, we came to know that there were no busses to Delhi or Dehra at the time. This came as a shock to us as we had no money, at all. Our plans of spending the night at a mosque came to a thankful end when we heard that somehow one last bus would be going to Dehra. We sent our tallest, stoutest man on the job. And he did deliver. 30 minutes later, we were sitting at the end of a bus similar to the one that brought us in.

It started off well. We said our goodbyes to Rusty’s hills. The same twisting and turning roads, with which we were accustomed to by now, sent us fleeting downhill. It was all calm and still when suddenly my stomach growled, my head took a spin and sounds became blurred. I was nauseated. But I had enough strength to hold it back just when a girl up front stuck her head out and cleansed her insides. I gave in. Out came it all in an unusual fashion. Mussoorie’s spaghetti. My friend looked at me and it being contagious somehow, began vomiting too. He was seated in front of me. I have never felt so helpless in all my life as my head was lolling out of the window, weary. Just when I thought things couldn’t get worse, I felt something splash across my face. The bus was racing ahead and physics played its part as the girl up front’s and my friend’s internal rejects were aimed nowhere else but on my face. I was so exhausted that I didn’t even bother to clean it. After about an hour of travel, we reached. By now the liquid on my face had turned to solid. I cleaned it with all the might I could but the feeling to peel off my face and fling it off persisted.

We walked to the railway station nearby. Getting to know that the next train, Ujjain Express, wasn’t going to depart till 5 in the morning was a blow to us. We had nowhere to stay. Pondering over it, we came to the only conclusion that we had to stay at the station itself. We, in our Levi’s jeans and our Zara shirts, looked a wee bit out of place among the class of people that were lying about at the station.

We spent our night, half asleep and chatting. It soon was time. Our train began from this station itself so we found ourselves in the clean but empty dim lit general bogie. It was a new experience of switching on the train’s lights. The train being empty, scared us a bit but having no other option and nice separate compartments for each of us overshadowed the fear. And thus, sleeping half way through the journey and sitting away the rest, we reached the boiling capital of Delhi.

Back home again, I wish my life was such all the time. But then it wouldn’t be as thrilling.

Until next time.
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