Published: 29 May, 2019 Vishwajit Sharma
Having been quite a while since we escaped the madness of city life, a trip to Uttarakhand sounded exciting. There were many factors which went into selecting it for our family vacation, one of them being its relatively less touristy compared to other famous holiday destinations. Plans were made, bags packed and off we went into the place that is fondly called devbhumi (the residence of gods). Given below is a travel experience of my family vacation in Uttarakhand.
Leaving the madness of Delhi behind!
The drive itself was an indication of the excitement that awaited us in our journey. The change in the landscape reflected the change in our moods. We had been planning a family vacation for quite some time, and now it was underway. It was a thought that brought about a contented smile on my face. Soon, the maddening chaos of Delhi gave way to the wide fields and villages of its neighbour, Uttar Pradesh.
As we progressed in our journey, we were suddenly reminded of the fact that there were roads where cars were not engaged in battles, where stars could still be seen in the sky, and where people still had the time to sit around in the evenings and cozy up for a chat. Rows upon rows of fields passed us by, the lush countryside appealing to us more than ever before. After a brief stopover for dinner, we resumed our journey. It wasn’t long before the sound of the car and my full stomach lulled me to sleep.
Welcome to Uttarakhand: Have a safe journey!
When I awoke, I found my eyes meeting the silhouettes of mountains in the distance, with miles and miles of cliffs between us and them. Enthusiastically, I lowered the window, and there it was, the fresh air all over again, reminding me so strongly of my childhood days in Darjeeling. Only someone who has stayed in the mountains long enough knows what the mountain air smells like, a delightful mixture of mud, leaves and wood.
The sides of my lips stretched themselves to their furthest point when I saw the board – “Welcome to Uttarakhand. Have a safe journey!” We were finally here! Something told me that this was going to be one of the best family trips I have had in a long time. However, even that excitement wasn’t enough to keep me awake for long, as I dozed off, and when I did awake, we had reached Uttarkashi. The hills reminded us rather strongly of having arrived there by sending sudden gusts of cold wind in our direction. Our bodies told us we needed to make a halt, and so we did.
The eagerness to reach Raithal!
We resumed the next morning, around 9 am. The scenery acted as an energiser, melting away all the fatigue and tiredness of the previous day. Rays of sunlight dressed the tops of the mountains lovingly, while the clouds above merged themselves into playful shapes, always maintaining a distance from each other. Beside the winding roads stood little shops selling delicious snacks, from maggi and momos to tea. Looking at them, you wondered how complicated we made out life to be, and here were these people, living life as it should be. All assumptions of course, brought about by the beauty of the place we found ourselves in. Taking these thoughts with me, we resumed our journey. After about an hour, we reached the village of Raithal, situated at an altitude of 1800m approx. Certainly, the air seemed to be a good indicator of that.
A slight drizzle greets us!
It was drizzling when we arrived, but if the weather was out to dampen our spirits, it failed quite miserably. We were told that the car would go no further, and we had to take a short walk of almost 400 meters. The people at The Goat Village Dayara Bugyal (situated in Raithal) were kind enough to send us some help in the form of 3 young sturdy boys. Together, we reached our homestay along with our luggage.
The Goat Village is a rural women empowerment initiative which seeks to deliver authentic Garhwali experience to the visitors, from food to accommodations. What makes their entire endeavour impressive is the focus on sustainable tourism.
Staying at The Goat Village Raithal
After being greeted in the most loving and affectionate way by the friendly staff of the homestay, we settled in. It was only after a while that the stillness of the place began to make its presence felt. Far away, behind the mountains that stuck out like giant green triangles stood the Bandarpunch mountain. Fresh as ever, exhaling a breath of happiness, these rows of pointy snow dressed peaks made their presence felt rather royally, as if we were mere mortals who deserved just a glimpse of them or two.
So there we were, far away from noise, buses, and everything else that we sought escape from. We had no electricity, with only solar lamps to guide us in the dark, which fell pretty quickly here. Anyway, this was something we were ready for, and rejoiced in. No electricity, no cell phones and no Netflix- this was what being in the company of nature was all about. We spent the rest of the time relaxing, admiring the views from our balcony, and helping ourselves to generous amounts of pakodas (fried snacks) and tea.
Some philosophy, relaxation & a lot of bliss!
These are the kind of places where you suddenly discover your philosophical side, the side which lies dormant in the plains and manifests itself in the luxurious and tranquil surroundings such as this. I too, tried composing some lines appropriate to the surroundings, but quickly gave up, as inhaling copious amounts of fresh air seemed more important.
Voices of people from afar reached our ears, while the jingling of bells tied on the necks of mules and cows sounded like the best music we ever heard. It kept drizzling, the sounds of rain drops varying with where they landed. In between, the loamy smell which emanates from the earth after rain pervaded the air. If bliss were a human being, this is what he would call home! Dinner was served, with local delicacies like mandua (chapati made from ragi) and saag (dish made from leaves) being consumed in large quantities by us. When asked, the staff told us that all the food was prepared from fresh vegetables grown on the farms of the village. This then, was as organic as it could get.
Everything that we came across here, it seems, was designed to reinvigorate the body and mind, the sights, sounds and food. Having enjoyed our dinner thoroughly, we returned to our cottages. The night was cold, damp and quiet, just perfect for a good night’s sleep. The body thanked us for pampering it in such a way, and we thanked those responsible for creating such an incredible set up high in the hills.
The trek to Dayara Bugyal: With a twist!
The next morning, after a hearty breakfast comprising of porridge and chilla (Indian styled pancake), we set off for the famous Dayara Bugyal Trek. The Dayara Bugyal trek in Uttarakhand follows a predetermined trail that goes all the way to a place called Gui, and then extends all the way up. Dayara Bugyal is an enormous alpine meadow covered with flowers with little streams cutting through them. People come here to appreciate the stupendous beauty and panoramic views. It is also famous for hosting a “Butter Festival” sometime in the month of August.
Dayara Bugyal: Here we come!
We began our trek, enthusiastic as ever to reach the top. What we didn’t know then, was that the distance between the Goat Village and Dayara Bugyal could not be covered in a day. In retrospective, I think our enthusiasm got the better of us, with facts and figures appearing like unnecessary and boring obstacles to be shoved aside.
If you do take the trek, stay overnight once you reach the top and then make your way down the next day. It takes an advanced, or rather, exceptional trekker to cover both ways in a single day. What struck us though, was the steepness of the trail, which seemed to increase with every step. After every 20 minutes or so, I felt my thighs and lungs begging for some compassion. Clearly, the polluted city air had played havoc with them over the years, a fact which I was being reminded of rather rudely now.
In the company of nature!
Physical challenges aside, we were pleased to hear the sound of dry leaves crackling under our feet. We didn’t even remember the last time we heard such sounds, or that of an old stick breaking in half. On both sides of the trail, we were surrounded by thick forest stretches, with the dominant trees in them being oak and rhododendron. Once in a while, we would stop to catch some air and sip some water, and the chirping of crickets would remind us of the remoteness of such places.
Certain portions of the stretch were disturbed by a gigantic uprooted tree, making us think of the infinite power of nature. And we thanked nature profusely when we came upon a clearing which to us, looked like a kind of mini-meadow. We rested for a while, filled our water bottles and resumed our trek. Another two hours of huffing, puffing and panting brought us to Gui, which is regarded as a campsite and offers fabulous views of the Gangotri and Srikanth range.
That’s it, no more!
But we were done! This was about as far as we could go, our bodies refused to accompany our minds. Tired and exhausted, we rested for a full three hours before making our way down, which was as trying as our way up. At Gui, we had our packed lunch, took in the beautiful views and captured the sights in our cameras. We met some local kids too, as energetic and playful as ever. As they invited us to join them in their fun and games, we let out a silly and confused smile, unable to explain to them why we were unable to do so! When you visit Gui on your way to Dayara Bugyal, it is a good idea to indulge in some photography, for the views of the mountains, which seem to stretch over to meet the valley, with the snowy mountains stealing a glance from behind, is simply one of a kind.
Dayara Bugyal, we will come again!
We did not get to Dayara Bugyal, and therefore, could not complete the trek. Were we disappointed? Sure, but not in a way that sinks your heart. This was a place which deserved repeated visits, and we turned back with the promise of coming back during our next family vacation. We would keep recalling the memories spent in this place on days marked by prolonged monotony, restlessness and nostalgia. That night, we took in as much of the place as we could, revelling in the scenery which was bathed by the moonlight. In the distance, the faint outline of the Bandarpunch Mountains still looked formidable.
Towards Landour: The British side of things!
The next day, we left The Goat Village. Departing such places is always difficult, and this was no exception. If only we had one more day to ourselves, we thought, how much more would we make of it. Just one more day! Determined to come back again, we left after expressing our appreciation to the staff of the homestay.
Then began a 5 hour drive towards Landour, located in Mussoorie. It is a quaint cantonment town with British imprints all over it. Indeed, that is only natural, as it was built by the British Army to house their garrisons. For those on a family vacation to Uttarakhand, this place promises to gift you with special memories. Today, this town attracts people with its colonial era heritage. We decided to stay at a homestay called La Villa Bethany, an English cottage which gives an old world feel. Managed by a couple named Mr and Mrs. Kundle, it has been the recipient of several awards. The cottage itself is located on Chukkar Road, between Char Dukaan and Sisters’ Bazaar. It is located at a close proximity to Kellogg’s Church, another heritage building which impresses you with its size and aesthetics.
La Villa Bethany: History on the walls!
Inside, every wall seemed to be covered with history, some in the form of speeches, others describing the history of the cottage. This place afforded great views of the countryside. Most of all, it was the kind of place which gave you the feeling of somebody very important having stayed here in the past. From the fireplace to the shelves on which sat curious looking items, including some rare antiques, everything demanded your attention.
On the walls of the common balcony hung several photographs, some of them tracing the history of the region. A huge library on the lower floor meant that this was also the favourite hangout of people who wanted to immerse themselves in reading and writing while enjoying the silence and peace that prevailed. Browsing the books in the library, I came across various kinds of works, from those of Bond to Voltaire, Tolstoy to Dahl. Our stay there was as beautiful as we had expected, with the delicious meals enhancing the overall experience. We had a hearty dinner and then retired to our beds.
If you enjoy walking, you will love Landour!
We went exploring the places located in close proximity to La Villa Bethany the next day. There was Sisters Bazaar, which was closed when we arrived. However, we explored one or two shops which were open. The beautiful thing about Landour is that you can enjoy a leisurely walk wherever you are. All along the roads, you are accompanied by dense forests of pines, deodar and rhododendrons. Something as simple as taking a walk becomes special. We visited the Kellogg’s Church. Even though it was closed when we arrived, the architecture reflected its heritage and historical importance. Just beside it stands the Landour Language School, where students are taught Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi.
From there, we made our way to Char Dukaan to enjoy a plate of hot piping momos along with some tea and coffee. What a perfect way to live life, if only it could go on this way forever, we thought. At Char Dukaan, you would do well to sit at one of the cafes lined up in a row. You can sit there, simply while your time away and treat yourself to a snack or two.
Last night in Landour: Just some thoughts!
We hung around till the afternoon and then made our way back to the cottage for spending another night, which was the last one of the trip. Even as we did so, the feeling of the trip coming to an end sunk our hearts every now and then. We enjoyed the evening relaxing, admiring the heritage of the place and helping ourselves to generous amounts of food! In between, we also struck a conversation with the owners.
Learning about the history of the cottage from them was quite educating. We left early next morning, profusely thanking the owners for making our stay such a comfortable and wonderful one. At this point, we would have been thoroughly dejected had it not been for the assurance we gave ourselves of returning to it soon.
How would I describe the trip?
Of course, the trip was exciting and wonderful, with a bit of adventure thrown in between. Did I have any great travel revelation from it? No, and neither did I expect to. What the trip did do was reinvigorate me from within, like the way the earth is by the first showers after a long dreary summer. The dreadful pace of city life is characterized by impatience and monotony, both of which combine to cut the essential bond which binds man to nature. Trips such as these lead to the dissipation of months of accumulated stress, while letting you feel the warm embrace of nature. It is then, in the little things, that you rediscover the joys you thought you had completely forgotten. Things like touching the grass wet with the morning dew, tripping over a stone, rubbing the raw mud in your hands, listening to the whistles and chirps of birds & insects while letting the surroundings bring about a perfect calmness to your tired, crowded mind. This is what this amazing family vacation in Uttarakhand did for me. It is something to be cherished for a long time to come.