Mukteshwar – What makes driving here in cold winters, an interesting escape?
The 350-year-old Mukteshwar temple in Uttarakhand is dedicated to Mahadev is situated on top of a hill. It is believed that Lord Shiva killed a demon here and granted him salvation (Mukti), hence the name Mukteshwar. The mythological flavor adds an extra charm to the otherwise relatively lesser-known sibling of Nainital.
Mukteshwar trip- Ramblings of my mind
Dichotomy – yes, that’s how I felt. Thoughts in my mind were sliced in two halves. On one side, I was reluctant to travel, wanted to stay at home, and avoid winter travel to mountains amid covid. On the other hand, I felt like we have had enough already. Can’t let covid fear rule my mind anymore. With 26th January falling on Tuesday this year in 2021, all we needed was one day’s leave from office. This would have given us 4 consecutive days of vacation.
Under this turmoil of thoughts, we decided to go ahead with the trip, based on our strategy of “jo hoga dekha jayega”. This is such a simple yet effective blueprint for taking decisions.
Well, we had already visited most of the Uttarakhand hill stations in a driving range of 8-9 hrs from Delhi Gurgaon. Since we did not want to drive to upper regions like Manali, Narkanda, Munsiyari, etc., we decided to cover this last nearby attraction in our ‘to-go list.
This time ‘nothing’ was on the agenda and all we longed for was to bask in the winter’s sun and play cards. Mukteshwar was one such perfect destination, which suited all our requirements. There weren’t many good hotel options at Mukteshwar. We deliberated if a homestay would suit our requirement, or if we could go ahead with Zostel at Mukteshwar, but we finally zeroed upon Krishna Orchard resort based upon recommendations from our family friends.
Mukteshwar trip planning
Vehicle: My car XUV500 was ready to roar after almost 1 year of visits only to grocery stores in Gurgaon during the covid lockdown period.
The Gang: Myself, my wife, my kid, my mom, and a close family friend Pramanshu
Distance: About 370 km one way from Gurgaon, total driving of about 800 km
Route: Gurgaon – Delhi – Ghaziabad – Hapur – Brijghat – Moradabad – Tanda – Bazpur – Kaladhungi – Khurpatal – Nainital – Bhowali – Mukteshwar
Hotel: Krishna Orchard Resort, Mukteshwar
Check out – 26-Jan-2021
Tariff: Rs 4000 per night for room only.
Things we carried: GoPro, DSLR, Trekking stick, room heater, electrically heated bedding, pillows, bed sheets, blankets, some cash, a laptop, goggles, specs and its cover, toiletries, a crate of water, dry fruits, vegetable knife, playing cards etc.
A split-wise group was created to keep a tab on expenditure.
Mukteshwar : Road trip
Time read 06.00 hrs on 23-Jan-21.
The first thing I did was to prepare a hot cup of tea. My day brightens up after a hot soothing cup of tea. It just embraces me tightly and helps me deal with my day happily.
We hurriedly got ready and hopped onto the car. The luggage was already stacked a night before. The excitement was palpable. After more than a year, we were going on a highway road trip. It was dark when we started from home. I could not wear sunglasses then. With hymns crooning in the background, we stealthily drove towards Delhi.
The traffic was thin as it was quite early on a wintery morning. I confess Delhi roads are charming and a pleasure to drive on. We took the Barapullah flyover from INA in Delhi. It started to get foggy but I was loving the drive. Slowly, we crossed Delhi and then Ghaziabad. We saw some farmers who had blocked the highway. We took a detour which delayed us by around 15 mins.
By the time we reached Moradabad it was 10.00 am. Most of the members had slept in the car as they woke up early. I wish I could also have taken a quick power nap. Since they were sleeping, we skipped highway breakfast and hot tea.
There was a diversion left towards Tanda which we took. It was still foggy and the sun had not peeped out of clouds. I felt the hunger pangs inside my tummy. We stopped at a highway joint and had hot parathas and tea. It looked like the old days before coronavirus were back. There was a traffic jam at Bazpur as a lot of farmers were going towards Delhi with their tractors to protest against farm laws.
By the time we reached Kaladhungi it was noon. Before embarking on the next hilly phase of our drive, we thought of filling fuel. Just before the turn towards Nainital, there is an Indian Oil petrol pump on the right side. We filled the fuel, installed GoPro on the car windshield. All set!
The Hilly drive: Kaladhungi Nainital Mukteshwar
Time read 12.15 pm when we started for Nainital. With mountains in backdrop, serpentine road and power of XUV, I was enjoying my uphill drive. Though we weren’t hungry, yet the winding roads of hills churned the parathas inside our stomach. Our first wicket fell when my wife felt uneasy and we had to stop the car mid-way near Khurpatal. We drove slowly thereafter. As we entered Nainital, there was a huge traffic jam near Eco Caves. The stop-and-go traffic went on till Tallital. After about 40 mins and numerous stop-and-go traffic halts later, we left Nainital behind us. Once we crossed Bhowali, traffic was thin, and road quality drastically improved. It took us around two hours to reach our abode for the next 3 days, Krishna Orchard Resort at Mukteshwar.
The Stay: Krishna Orchard Resort
Perhaps Krishna Orchard Resort was the only decent place in the vicinity. Check-in was a breeze. Ours was a duplex room. It was spacious. Two huge duplex rooms with attached washroom and a balcony, with a perfect view. The service was good though the tea was horrible. The hotel had manicured lawns where one could enjoy the weather and bask in the winter’s sun. Also, the resort had a TT table which my kid relished. The parking space was humongous too. Overall, a good value-for-money place.
When nothing is on the agenda
There was no snow around, despite Mukteshwar being at a higher elevation than Nainital. The reception guy showed me a video of last year’s snowfall. It was amazing to see a white blanket of snow at the same location where I was standing. Couldn’t recognize the place at all. I wished it would snow tonight. It didn’t.
The next day we decided to do ‘nothing’ but just relax and enjoy the weather. Since there weren’t many guests, the entire lawn was owned by us. My mother got busy knitting sweaters while we played cards. We ordered some fritters and coke (tea wasn’t good, remember) and enjoyed junk food and weather. The sunset views from the hotel were mesmerizing too.
We clicked numerous photos of sunset till the photographer within us got satiated. Few clicks were good, luckily, while most of them were trash. I wonder how come despite so many high-tech gadgets, drones, and GoPros, the quality of pics clicked by me is always below average. At least, now I know I have this uncanny talent of showing a mirror to iPhone. It is the people like me who push them to work hard on their R&D and improve their product quality.
Nights at Mukteshwar were extremely cold. The temperature dipped to -2°C. Amidst this extreme cold, we decided to play TT after dinner. The walk to the play area was itself an ordeal. It was windy and chilly. However, after playing a game or two, we felt better.
The night view of the valley was a delight. We could see the stars above and lights below. My mind got drifted towards the simple life of mountains. As the sun sets, life in these sleepy towns ceases to exist. There is no one on the road. All shops are closed. Nothing moves. Occasionally, there comes a sound of the rustling of leaves or chatter of monkeys. I wish I could retire early and settle at one of these places. Easier said than done, but that is the plan.
We plan, God laughs
We had planned to stay at Mukteshwar for three days and return on 26th January. However, on the morning of 25th January, while watching news on TV, there were apprehensions that farmers would block the highway and protest inside Delhi. The situation could spiral out of control and get violent. We deliberated and decided to check out a day early to reach home by the 25th night.
Hurriedly, we packed our scattered items. By morning 10.30 am, we were ready to leave. I was getting irritated. Other than basking in the Sun and leisurely walks around the resort, We did ‘nothing’. We did not see any attractions and I wasn’t ready to leave without exploring Mukteshwar. We decided to trek to Bhalugaad waterfalls within two hours and leave by 13.00 hrs.
Bhaalu Gaad waterfalls trek
Google showed falls to be hardly 8 km from our resort. We quickly hopped onto XUV and started following maps blindly. After driving for about 20 mins, the map lady screamed: “Destination Reached”. We were perplexed. We were standing on the main highway to Nainital. On one side there were mountains, while the other side showed valley view. Where is Bhalugaad falls?
Upon asking one of the locals, he directed us back to the same route we had come from, and then take a turn after driving back for 5 km. Damn! Had google been a person, I would have killed him today. Already we were tight on schedule, and now this mess. Anyway, we drove back around 5 km and then took an uphill broken road. It was broken initially, which soon turned into loosely packed gravel and later into a plume of dust-laden with muddy water. A distance of hardly 10 km which took around 45 mins.
By the time we reached the entry gate of Bhaalu Gaad falls, it was around 11.15 am. The trek was about 1.5 km one way. We sprinted. The trail was in shambles with huge rocks on the way. Nothing stopped us, other than clicking pics. Despite this paucity of time, we reached Bhaalugaad falls by 11.40 am. It was a nice beautiful waterfall falling magically into a small pond. We clicked non-stop for the next 15 mins, posing differently but it seemed nothing worked. Most of the pics were average, both in quality and backdrop. Grudgingly, we left by noon.
The trail back to parking was a bit uphill but we were on schedule. In record time, we were panting for breath by the time we reached parking, after gulping two extra bottles of water. My age showed its true color. Hurriedly, we started back for the resort. At exactly 12.50 pm, we parked our car right outside our room. The luggage was loaded and off we started for Gurgaon by 13.00 hrs after clearing our dues.
Back to Home – Mukteshwar to Delhi Gurgaon
We had decided to have lunch after reaching Kaladhungi. Just before entering Bazpur, around 16.30 hrs, we saw a decent Dhaba and parked our car. I was skeptical that it being evening time, perhaps lunch might not be available. I was wrong. Not only lunch was available, but the service was also lightning quick and we were free by 17.00 hrs. I refueled our car too. With both tummy and tank full, there was no reason to stop. I pressed the gas pedal and XUV sprinted in triple digits. Quickly we passed all small towns and joined the highway at Moradabad. It was getting dark and cold.
Just before reaching Garh Mukteshwar, my mom informed me that she wanted to buy some bamboo moodas. The car was already full and I was wondering if there was space to accommodate another two passengers. Reluctantly, I stopped the car at a roadside shop. The price shopkeeper quoted was INR 900 for two pieces. Unperturbed, my mom said she’d pay INR 300 for both. I was stunned. I hesitated to utter even a single word. Can we leave now was all I could think about? One-third of the price? Surprisingly, the shop owner agreed to both for Rs 350. Within two minutes, the bargain was over. I was surprised at the bargaining skills of my mother. We emerged victorious. After adjusting both moodas in the boot, we continued our drive towards Delhi.
Foggy Drive on Highway
It was getting foggy. And chilly. Visibility was poor and it changed from almost zero to absolute zero. Time read 20.00 hrs when we reached Ghaziabad. The main highway was blocked by farmers and we had to take a detour via Noida. By the time we reached home, it was around 22.00 hrs. A long journey and short weekend trip came to an end abruptly. Still, Mukteshwar was a charming destination and since we could not explore much, I reckon, we can plan another trip there soon.
Epilogue – Mukteshwar
It was a great decision to come back home a day early as on 26th January there was a lot of ruckus on the streets of Delhi. Without getting much into the debate of right or wrong, all I want to say is that for normal commuters, it was a nightmare with lots of detours and blockades. Sometimes, it turns out to be a wise decision to cut this short trip and head back home.