2020 – It is lockdown. No movement. No travel.
Never have I seen such a mess in life.
The air is pure now, but wearing mask is mandatory.
Roads are empty, but can’t go for long drive.
People have cleaner hands, but can’t hold them.
Friends are at home, but can’t meet them.
Alcohol was bad earlier, but its a savior now, both for man and economy.
Earlier, we used to say ‘be positive’ but now its good to stay ‘negative’.
The culprit is all around us, but invisible… #chinavirus.
It is a world full of irony.
Amidst this organized worldly chaos, on one fine weekend, I decided to revisit my old pics of travel. One of the folders hiding among gamut of other folders was ‘Chakrata’. As I clicked on it, old memories flashed across my mind in a second. What a place it was. Quiet. Calm. Clean. Cozy.
I remember, during our Mussoorie trip, while returning to Gurgaon, we took a longer route via Kempty falls – Yamuna Bridge – Kalsi – Paonta Sahib – Yamunanagar – Panipat – Delhi. At Yamuna Bank, I had seen a signage on a narrow road signaling towards Chakrata. The thrill of driving XUV on a narrow road is unmatched. It was then when I noted Chakrata in my ‘to-do’ list. Since then, I saw videos, read blogs, seen pics on the internet about this place. Even before going to Chakrata, I knew most of the places of attraction there, I had the knowledge of limited number of hotels, about the long walk down the cliff for Tiger Falls and the narrow but well tarred roads. Undoubtedly, Internet is an amazing invention.
I wish someday, it is possible to upload and download ourselves wirelessly. It would save time. But this would end hotel business altogether. People would travel full day, then come back home at night and then again travel next day. Boundaries of weekend and weekday would blur. Roads would have lesser traffic. Instead people would travel on digital highways. More bandwidth would mean more speed of travel (upload & download). May be I am blabbering the impossible, but who knew that in 2020 entire world would take a vacation together, that too, at home.
If my memory serves me well, on a Friday a few years back, we left home very early in the morning, at around 04.00 hrs. The roads were empty and in the excitement of a road trip to hills, I pressed the gas pedal of XUV just a bit harder. In a jiffy, it jumped to triple digits and soon we crossed Sonipat and Karnal. The roads were empty so early in the morning and in this melee of driving fast, we forgot to savor the ubiquitous paratha – chai of Murthal. Ruefully, I took the turn towards Yamunanagar on SH-7 from Karnal via Ladwa. Time read 07.00 hrs. This road had potholes though I could still manage to drive around 80 kmph. By 08.30 we had crossed Yamunanagar and were on the way towards Paonta Sahib. The road to Paonta Sahib crosses through dense forest of Kalesar National Park, which is famous for its Leopards and Panthers. Weather too, was salubrious. By 09.30 hrs we reached Paonta Sahib Gurudwara.
After a quick darshan and hogging on kadhava prasad, we hopped onto XUV for an onward drive to Chakrata. Time read 10.30 hrs. The route we took was Herbertpur – Vikasnagar – Kalsi- Chakrata, a distance of 75 km which we planned to cover in two hours. As we crossed Kalsi, the tar road gave way to broken roads which soon turned into loose gravel and later into a plume of dust. But our XUV was unperturbed. Despite bad road, its grip on the road was exceptional. The AWD was working perfectly fine. Rock steady. As we neared Chakrata, road quality got better.
We checked into our abode for next two days, Hotel Burans, which is on the main highway, about 10 km before Chakrata. It was a huge property with big rooms and attached balcony opening to magnificent view of the valley. The hotel was built in motel style with car parking available just outside my room.
The plan for the remaining day was to visit Chilmiri neck, a plateau on the hill top. It is just 3 km from main Chakrata market. The road is bumpy but it is worth it. The huge flat top is an excellent place to click pics, walk or do some off roading. We spent some time there, clicked a few pics and then head to Chakrata main market for some tea. By the sunset we were back to hotel. Dinner was served on time as it was a part of our package. Quality of food was okay but the service was good. Time read 22.00 when we called it a day.
I had switched off alarm before I slept. That early morning on Saturday, birds chirped louder than usual. The Sun too, came out early and its rays penetrated through the thin fabric, they called curtains. With sun rays straight on my face and chirping sound in my ears, it was difficult to sleep anymore. It was 06.00 hrs. I am not a morning person but I had no choice but to wake up. With nothing much to do in the room, I decided to go for a walk. As I stepped out of my room, I saw hotel staff trying to start the boiler for hot water and one of them preparing tea. I immediately dropped the idea of walk and requested the guy for a cup of hot tea. The tea was strong and a bit sugary… just the way I like it. With both caffeine and carbohydrates dosage in my veins, I was ready for the long day ahead. The plan was to visit Deoban, a dense forest with great view of the peaks. Vyas Shikhar inside Deoban forest is a place where it is believed that Sage Vyas wrote the Epic Mahabharata. Truly amazing. I love these unknown paces with some historical significance. After Deoban, we had planned to see Kanasar, a green meadow with Deodar tree trunk having 6.35 m as circumference. The last stop we planned was Tiger Falls, the star attraction of Chakrata.
Time read 07.00 hrs
After breakfast, we left hotel for Deoban. Time read 08.30 hrs. After driving for around 18 km from the hotel, we saw a signage for Deoban. The narrow uphill gravel road just took off abruptly from the main highway. Infact, it was not a road but just a plume of dust with rocks and pebbles. It was narrow and had a steep incline. There was no traffic but still driving was difficult, which got worse with every turn. With all automatic features like AWD and Hill assist On, we somehow managed to cling onto the dirt track. As we climbed up, the scenery changed, it had a peak view earlier but as we entered forest, it got denser. Finally, we reached a point from where we could go no further. That’s it. We were in the jungle. Tall trees. The sound of silence. The chirping of birds occasionally breaking that stillness in the air. Felt creepy. I had heard about Vyas Shikhar, the exact point where Sage Vyas wrote Mahabharata, but could not find any directions for trekking. Since there was no one around and honestly the place felt eerie, we too, thought of heading to our next point – Kanasar. Driving back was even more difficult. Despite AWD and Hill assist, XUV lost some grip on rocks and pebbles and skidded at times. It was scary. The road was narrow and one mistake would have made us reach the highway way too quickly taking shortcut through the cliff and bushes. After much strained driving, we touched the highway back. Time read 11.30 hrs
Another 30 mins drive took us to Kanasar which looked more closer to the civilization. There were abandoned huts all around the green meadow which were owned by Tourist department. The trunks of trees were huge, one of them measuring 6.35 m in circumference. We clicked a few pics, enjoyed the scenery and were all set to return. Time read 13.30 hrs. We were hungry but there was nothing around. No dhabas, no restaurants. Nothing. While returning to Chakrata, we saw a signage for Budher caves. It is said that these caves were built by Pandavas to help them escape from Lakshagrah (Lakhamandal area). Mortal emotions like hunger are stronger than quest of exploring places. We decided to skip the caves despite being interested.
It took us almost an hour to reach Chakrata main market, which was smaller than our usual sector market in Gurgaon. We parked the car and decided to have something at one of the better restaurants of Chakrata. These quaint lanes of tiny hill stations are quite a charm, isn’t it? We took the table on first floor overlooking the street. We could see some clouds floating, touching one peak to the other at some distance. Few monkeys jumping from one roof to other. Some kids returning back home from school on a Saturday, few old women selling vegetables on the street. Cabs and Mahindra pick up trucks haphazardly parked on the main road… a ubiquitous scene on any hill station. Time read 15.00 hrs.
Soon after the lunch, we drove towards Tiger Falls, our last attraction for the day. It is about 18 km from Chakrata main market, on the way to Lakhamandal. Took us around one hour to reach the Tiger falls parking. Time read 16.00 hrs. From parking, it was around 1 km downhill walk with some stairs. The trail was well marked, paved and had hand rail. While going down the hill, it seemed easy.
Unlike hyped Kempty falls of Mussoorie, Tiger Falls had lesser number of people in the vicinity. Water falls nonchalantly from a height of about 120 ft in a small pond. While falling, it makes a deafening sound of a tiger roar, hence the name… Tiger Falls. There was a tiny maggi tea stall next to the changing rooms. Nothing can beat the charm of soul soothing maggie and hot cardamom tea overlooking a waterfall and occasional misty droplets of water on your face. Absolutely soul satisfying. Bliss. Walking just after eating, that too uphill, was a punishment. More so, for someone as lazy as me. It took us twice the time and efforts and double bisleri water quota to climb back to the car parking. Time read 18.00 hrs. We bid adieu to Tiger Falls and drove back silently to Hotel Burans. The dinner served was simple yet delicious. We crashed onto the bed for a long drive back home the next day.
Sunday – This was a day dedicated to driving. After a sumptuous breakfast we started our downhill drive from Chakrata. Time read 10.00 hrs. The weather was getting warmer. as we crossed Kalsi, we felt the need to switch on AC. Traffic was getting worse too. By the time we reached Herbertpur, it became nightmarish with a bumper to bumper jam. It was almost 12.30 when we reached Paonta Sahib gurudwara. As we were already getting late, we thought of having lunch at langar itself. After warm darshan and hot food, we started for Gurgaon. It was almost 14.00 hrs. Outside temperature was almost 40 degC. AC was running on full blast. I was feeling sleepy. It is tough to focus on road after lunch with almost 21 degC being maintained inside car and your favorite Jagjit Singh crooning in his golden voice. Slowly and gradually, we reached Karnal by 16.30 hrs. It being Sunday, traffic was heavy on the National highway. Everyone seemed to be driving back to Delhi/ NCR to join office by Monday. It was almost 20.00 hrs when we reached home.
It was a refreshing quick break to break the monotony of work. I was back home and was mentally preparing myself for yet another Neela Somwaar (Monday Blues) at office.
I hope these lockdown days get over soon and once again we make another quick trip to Chakrata. After all, Budher caves and Lakhamandal visit is still pending.