This narrative odyssey to Uttaranchal is of times and stoppages, tips, tracks and rail heads. A read for maiden voyagers, check for pack-up goers, list for the go-bag weekenders and a read for the many who seek to get real information of a life time experience straight from the roads.
Delhi to Haldwani spans a distance of over 260 km on the NH-24 and 87 via Hapur, Moradabad, Rampur, Bilaspur and Rudrapur. Just over an hour’s drive, one can hand-pick cane furniture at the road-side shacks at affordable costs. The highway stretching from Bachlota to Gajraula has a couple of toll plaza barricades. Armed forces personnel must prove their identity for exemption under Toll Plaza Act of 1901. En-route, travelers may contact on helpline 1073 for any medical emergencies including saving accident victims. KFC and McDonald’s can also be spotted just short of Gajraula. Commuters can also stop by at Dhabas including Sagar Ratna, a famous south Indian restaurant. We further cross-by Rajabpur, Joya, and Moradabad bypass amongst few villages before reaching Rampur. Some travelers also prefer the Moradabad bypass to Bazpur, Kaladhungi via the State Highway 41 to Haldwani. Close to Rampur railway station, a sharp left takes you to Nainital on NH-87. Nainital is about 132 km from this congested T-junction. If you rely too much on GPS way-points, make sure that you carry authentic road maps as not all major NH are configured on standardised digital maps on GPS services. Studying road maps on Google Maps may help you in orientating and basic navigation. For the next one hour on this bypass, Rampur is on your geographical left and you circumference the outer perimeter via Thana Ganj and Purana Ganj. Of the total 260 plus on the odometer, it is a mere patch of 20 km between Rampur and Bilaspur that is a plight full of potholes, polluting tempos and heavy duty trucks that ply to industrial town of Rudrapur. Near Jagatpura, you find the roads becoming much better. NH-74, plying from Bijnor to Bareilly intersects you here. Rudrapur is also a Nagar Nigam in the Udham Singh Nagar district where the famous GB Pant University is situated. There are two routes to proceed to Haldwani from Rudrapur, one being the ITI Dhanmill road via Tanda that shortens the distance by almost 8 km than the Pantnagar and Lalkuan route. Pantnagar is the nearest airport for tourists traveling to Nainital and beyond. ITI Dhanmill road that stretches to a beautiful drive of 25 km to Haldwani is thereby preferred by most commuters. You finally get a glimpse of the mesmerising Himalayan beauty that awaits you to the home of Gods.
The true essence of this important mart is across the Gaula river or ‘Gaula Paar’. At an altitude of 435 m, Haldwani got its name from the Haldu tree. The city was founded by the Commissioner, GW Trail in 1834 as a trading place for the hill population. Even today, the city happens to be an important centre of commerce for the Kumaon district. The city stands on a piedmont grade where rivers go underground to re-emerge in the Indo Gangetic plain. Kathgodam is the last rail head here. Shatabdi Express plys from Kathgodam to Anand Vihar (New Delhi) amongst other trains. It is said that Sir Henry Ramsay connected Nainital with Kathgodam by road in 1882. Just before noon, we reached our ancestral place Gaula Paar, far away from home! Rich tomato farms enthralled the beauty of farming and the sight of irreplaceable farmers and families working tirelessly for a better crop!
Britain’s SAS original exhortation of ‘Check and Test, Check and Test’ is truly apt to driving to Uttaranchal as well. The foremost mandate is being a cautious driver. The rules of thumb for hill driving must be followed as golden principles, which are quite unlike from driving in plains. Always follow lane driving. This is the most important aspect to be borne in mind. Remember to follow it even during turns. Drive up-hill on low gears and down-hill in the same gear while going up-hill. Use the hand brake wherever necessary; it does come of use on this terrain. Blowing horn at bends and prior to turns helps a lot in pre-emptive driving and anticipating onward traffic. Murphy’s laws also do apply, for the least you expect; you will face those bumps, pot-holes and a wrong turn at the wrong time! Having a competent co-pilot helps you to be more careful on route, road railings, traffic and finally keeps you awake! Follow speed limit and look out for any mandatory and cautionary sign boards. They exist where they ought to. Follow them religiously. At last, up-hill traffic gets the right of way, always.
Our trip from Nawar Khera across Gaula river on NH-87,109 and back covering a distance of 220 km with hairpin bends and curved banks was a drive different from the other journeys to hill stations. The beauty of the place lies in the mesmerising view of the Kumaon valley, the greenery through dales and basins. We covered a distance of 35 km to Nainital. En-route we crossed Ranibagh where we got a diversion for Bhimtal with a number of fruit shops and tea huts. Hill curves are so thrilling because with every turn you leave behind a hill that unfurls into a new sight with an aura of freshness. Jeolikote, midway between Kathgodam and Nainital, is 13 km from Ranibagh.
As we touched the Mall road, we got the first glimpse of the uniquely positioned and the beautifully poised Naini and Nainital. This is seemingly picturesque especially on a maiden visit as is unlike any other hill station. At this main junction lies the bus stand from where buses ply to Delhi, Dehradun, Haldwani, Rudrapur, Ranikhet and Almora. Hundreds of ancient temples and peaks with some of the most spectacular views of the Himalayas add to the charm. It is set in a valley containing a pear-shaped Naini lake surrounded by three towering peaks, the Naina Peak, Tiffin Top and the Snow View. This quaint little resort promises to take you miles away from the hustle bustle of city life into peace and solitude. Surrounded by lofty peaks, Nainital is situated at an elevation of 1938 m with visitors thronging here from all over. At night, the reflection on the lake adds glitters like sparkling pearls. At night, the beauty of the lake meadows into an ocean of heaven. Nainital is also called the city of lakes or the lake district of India. A walk along Tibetan market drenched in sun that is beautifully captured during the day. Nainital is divided into Mallital and Tallital, the upper and lower lake. Some of the prettiest lakes being Bhimtal and Naukuchiyatal which are 30 minutes from Nainital.
A walk down the Mall road via St Francis Church, a number of family restaurants, gaming parlors, photo studios, tourist guides, souvenir shops selling woolen textiles, wood crafted handicrafts, pine bouquets, appetizers and taxi services for visiting nearby areas. Intricately carved, multi-colored candles are a speciality here. The best way to commute is by prepaid rickshaws or by conventional row boats to the boat club. The wide leveled ground that encompasses sports and open parking also known as flats adds religious fervor in the proximity of a Gurudwara, Naini Devi Temple and a Masjid. An aerial rope way takes you to an altitude of 2270m to the most astounding and alluring panoramic view of Nainital and the Himalayan peaks. Emergency Management and Research Institute offers a toll free emergency response number 108 that is accessible for all people here. The authorities have also taken up for cleaning the Naini and increasing the oxygen content using aeration methods, saving many fishes which died due to pollutants.
The next morning we trailed to the most distinguished schools in the country. With steep climb to the District Magistrate’s residence and SSP office, the narrow roads swerved up to St Mary, St Joseph and the Raj Bhawan. Adjoining is the quiet and composed St Nicolas Church. The road further moves up to All Saints School and the famous Sherwood College. The place seems so calm and educated. A mini trek course takes you to a terraced hill top, Tiffin Top on the Ayarpatta hill from where you get an eagle’s view to the countryside. Get hands on doing a valley crossing here. The elderly may even get a pony ride up to Tiffin Top, also known as Dorothy’s Seat, a stonework picnic perch in the memory of Dorothy Kellet by her husband. We took a local taxi to get a view of Khurpatal, Camel’s Back and the Snow view. The mighty glittering and snowbound Nanda Devi, Trishul and Nanda Kot are seen quite vividly, a view beyond a panoramic belief.
A full fuel tank with correct tyre pressure including the spare tyre is a must do. Amongst the vehicle accessories, one may carry a set of jumper leads, towing cable, spare fuses for lamps, and a tyre pump. Tents, sleeping bag, poncho, search lights, digital compass, binoculars, headlamps, dynamo, beacons, Swiss knife to name are a few of the non-essential items depending on weather, terrain and topography. Survival kits compensate as basic gear during off-road treks. One may even explore Decathlon India, Basecamp, Wildcraft and Quechua for some essential gear equipment. Carry spare batteries as necessary. Studying road maps before journey makes you mentally prepared for the long road to avoid the haul! Carry a fully packed first aid kit including water purifying tablets and sanitizers.
After a three night stay at the erstwhile summer capital, we proceeded toRanikhet. The drive to Ranikhet clocked 90 minutes on the 55 km stretch on NH- 87 extension. Just on the outskirt is the Bhumiadhar Sanatorium. You cross Bhowali, Kainchi, Ratighat and Garampani till the intersection to SH-37 that takes you to Almora. While the drive from Nainital till Khairna Bridge over Swal Nadi is downhill, the next 25 km to Ranikhet via Bhujan and Ganiatoli is an uphill drive with a tributary of Kosi River gushing on your left. The picturesque flower beds with Pine, Oak, and Deodar trees buffer the entire route with a feeling of freshness. Beware of nature’s stone pelting area that may include a risky patch of a couple of kilometers. This stretch of 25 km short of Ranikhet is voidof road railings, so is advised to be clear off the edges whilst driving within permissible limits.
Ranikhet, a nature lover’s paradise, offers wonderful views of the western Himalayas with stunning views of Nanda Devi. Legends state that Raja Sudhardev won the heart of his queen Rani Padmini giving their residence the name, ‘Ranikhet’, meaning ‘Queen’s Meadow’. The local Sadar and Zaroori bazaar fulfill the necessities of the localities. Ranikhet has an amazing fold of natural essence and innate beauty. The invigorating mountain breeze, the chirping of birds and the varied aura of the regional flora make the onlookers spellbound to this captivating destination. A rehabilitation project for war widows and ex servicemen involved in making tweeds, shawls, stoles and warm clothing using Knitted Shawl Machines is also being run here. The nine-hole golf course here is the second largest in India and the highest in Asia. Jhula Devi temple was our next stop. The bells are testimony to the divine healing powers of Jhula Devi goddess. A number of bells are strung and clumped up for prayers and offerings. Further ahead and amidst solace and tall trees are the Chaubatia gardens, 10 km from Ranikhet. The terraced botanical gardens, a place to unwind offers orchards of the tastiest apples, peaches, plums and apricots with bottled jam, honey and chutney for sale.
Early next day, we left for Ghorakhal on a downhill till the Khairna Bridge. Ghorakhal means ‘pond for water to horses’. An unpaved road takes you to Golu Devta temple, famous for its rich heritage and deity. The temple is said to be the incarnation of Shiva and is worshiped all over the region by devotees as the dispenser of justice. Devotees offer bells for fulfillment of their prayers. Thousands of bells are tied all over the place with a troop of monkeys that thrive in their natural habitat. The view of Bhimtal, Mehra Gaon and the cooperative societies is simply beautiful. Nikons’ did not cease in capturing the stills of the peaks, the one reason for visiting the countryside, for our family roots and the ancestral village and for the temples of our Gods!
Sainik School Ghorakhal, established in 1966 on a magnificent estate of Nawab of Rampur. The school is a feeder institute to NDA, Khadakwasla. The products of Sainik Schools are known far for their rich and strong association, deeply imbibed with discipline and camaraderie. Finally, we continued towards Haldwani via Bhimtal. Named after Bhima of Mahabharata, the place has been a transit junction for many commuters of the region. The area also offers some great resorts on the way from Bhimtal to Kathgodam.
Looking back up from where we trailed and the roads we treaded, engulfs us to a form of beauty that lives only in mountains. As we admire this form of life that enriches these mountains, we thank Gods for providing an adobe with hearts and homes to the many amidst this awe-inspiring and pristine Mother Nature.
The author is serving in the
Indian Air Force