The author of this blog stopped writing here long time back. The posts published here embarrass her now. And hence, there is very little chance that she is going to write here again.

This blog is hence declared to be in a state of COMA.

Chai, Chatter and Camp Dhanaulti — Part 2

continued from Part 1

About the name of this series: Nothing beats a cup of chai when you're at a hill station. Chilly winds, snow-laden mountains always in front of your eyes, incessant chattering of everybody (including the teeth, with all the cold you have stepped into), and the only beverage that is both cheap and readily available... what could be a better way to become a chai lover? Only in India. 

Kempty Falls
The downhill journey from Mussoorie to Kempty Falls took longer than expected, but not too long. Actually if you ask me, the only problem throughout the trip was with our estimations and expectations.

Tip: If short on time, do not make the mistake of randomly approximating on travel time and costs. We too had somewhere forgotten that we were on a hill-station and x kilometres there were different from x kilometres in Delhi. As a result, we were reaching every destination later than scheduled.

Once there, the twenty of us left the bus in two lots. I was in the second lot. It took us awhile to figure out what should we do. There are, what I may call, two “parts” of the Kempty falls. The main falls are the hub of tourist attraction. They lie well below the starting point, and need a good amount of time if you want to really enjoy them. The official check-in time at the camp was 12 PM and it was already well beyond that. Reaching late would mean an even more disturbed schedule, which we obviously wanted to avoid. After all, we were there for just two days. But we also didn’t want to entirely miss Kempty. Short on time and energy, we decided to climb up a few steps from the starting point and take to the smaller and less crowded 'version' of the Kempty. On reaching there, we saw the first lot already in water. That surprised us a bit. 

TIP: When in a group, co-ordinate well, whether or not you are friends. Not just because it the general group-trip ethic, but also because you can also end up wasting a lot of time otherwise. Imagine if we had gone down instead, unaware that our friends were upstairs, how chaotic would that have been.
This part of Kempty was a relatively smaller area enveloped by rocks on three sides, but just enough for everybody to have a superb time. We were apprehensive about going inside water. It was extremely cold, yes, but we also didn’t want to wet our clothes. But then again it made no sense to simply stand there and watch. So without much ado, all of us, barring Vini (who generously played the role of our photographer), took off our shoes, rolled up our pants, and stepped inside the water. 

We could beat Squirtle at splash wars
The first step chiseled the bone like anything! After that there was numbness. There were regions where the land beneath was too soft and succumbed to pressure easily. The rocks inside the water were particularly slimy and covered with algae. We had to be really careful about this as it could hurt real bad. On the whole, it ended up being a lot of fun. We avoided the splashing for a long time and just moved around taking some pictures. But then Ganga (no, not the river, but a friend of mine) spilled some water on me and in order to avenge for it, I took some water in my hands and splashed it on her. The water wet Lokesh too and as the classic cake-throwing scene in movies goes, one after another we ended up splashing water on each other. 

At one point, I felt my feet immersing deeper into the damp earth beneath the waters, with everybody still indulging in the water wars. At that moment I made a serious face and told Ranjeet, who was standing nearby, “No, seriously, get me out of here first. I am going in!” That gave everybody a chance to pull my leg later on, but then yeah, as long as it saves your life, anything is worth it.
Given the cold, it felt insane to have to travel for the remaining part of the journey in jeans half wet. But then again, that’s what we did... or had to.

TIP: When going to see a water body like this for some fun time, it is better to wear slippers or floaters, than shoes. The feet may not dry up easily and might also be too dirty to simply wear your shoes on. Thankfully, I was wearing floaters. So while my friends walked the whole distance from Kempty to the bus barefoot, I didn’t have to. And that gave me a chance to pull their leg, “Bad deeds bear bad fruit! Boo!”
The journey from Kempty to Dhanaulti was a memorable time.

Towards Dhanaulti

It is already so difficult for me to describe a lifetime of an experience in words, but this part of the narration is all the more challenging.
In order to beat the cold and our messed up state, we decided to pass time in some way hopefully more interesting.
As far as the views are concerned, this was undoubtedly the most scenic portion of the journey. Ever heard of being “on cloud nine”? It was just that. Cloud nine, ten, and eleven, whatever you may say. We were literally floating over an ocean of clouds. Breathtaking views rendered us speechless. The hilly beauty that we had barely seen in Dehradun, was well below us now. And the feeling was inexplicable. We went higher and higher up, starting from Kempty, back to Mussoorie, and higher up from there. Every time we thought we had come “high enough”, the driver proved us wrong. 

A Glimpse From Inside The Moving Bus. And Guess What, It's Only The Beginning Of The Journey

A couple of hours passed and the road didn’t seem to end, or bend! Had it not been for the games we played, it might have been difficult to bear the whole journey sitting in one position. We played the silliest games you can imagine—I, Chetna, Rishabh, Lokesh, Ranjeet, Ishaan, with some others joining in between. Starting with the mentally exhausting “memory game” (where you keep creating a chain of words, person by person, word by word), and then proceeding to intellectually less challenging games of childhood like “chiddiya ud”, “red hands”, “aloo chana garam” (a new game courtesy: Rishabh), and so on. The point in all games was to get to beat each other’s hands, simply because that alone was ultimate fun! Every time it was Chetna’s turn to get the beating, Rishabh rolled up his sleeves, and with a sly smile said, “Ab maza aayega, iske gaddedar haath hain” (this will be fun because her hands are cushiony). That was one of the funniest things said on the trip! Sigh.

It got difficult to continue playing after some time. There were more sharp and blind turns, hairpin bends, and steeper slopes. We got thrown from left to right and to and fro if we didn’t sit. Can you believe it; one or two seats even came off because of this?! That should give you a fair deal of idea about what the roads to Dhanaulti are like. As awe inspiring as the views are, the journey could be a tad difficult for somebody not comfortable with travelling in hill stations. Our ears felt blocked as the atmospheric pressure rose and some people began to feel uneasy; although, the uphill journey was way less difficult for them as compared to the downhill return journey. To add to the woes, the roads in Mussoorie, and more after it, are too narrow to take a stop. It would block the entire way if one did.

TIP: That is still no reason to avoid Dhanaulti, just make sure you have prepared well. Enough medicines, water, food, lemons etc. would be good to carry along. I was lucky to have made it through without either.
Around three hours, a lot of elevation, plenty of games (and hand slapping), munchies aplenty, many moments of peace, much tiredness, and a mountain of patience later, we reached Dhanaulti. Or should I say, we reached heaven?

Stepping Into Dhanaulti

FACT: Dhanaulti is the highest hill-station nearest to Delhi. I guess, it was our good luck that took us there.

Although I have been to quite a few hill stations (Solan, Manali, Mt. Abu, Nainital, Ranikhet off the back of my memory), Dhanaulti is unlike any place I have ever seen, far even from my imagination. I fear writing about it, for words are just not enough to describe the tranquil we experienced there.

Dhanaulti is a hill station very close to nature in its purest form. From what I saw on the way, some restaurants, a couple of luxurious resorts and the camp where we were to stay, are more or less the only things “commercial” about it. For campers, there comes a point on the main road beyond which any vehicle larger than a car cannot go. The downhill road that takes you to the main camp from there is kutcha and really narrow.

We stopped at a fork that split into two paths—one, the kutcha road that led to the camp, and second, the pucca main road of the hill station. By the way, I love coming across forks on the roads. They almost immediately ignite my writer instinct and philosophical gumption. I swear, had it not been for Robert Frost, I would have certainly written something on the lines of "The Road Not Taken". Or maybe it is Frost’s own masterpiece that makes me, and many others, assume so. It is so relatable.

We got off the bus and unloaded our luggage. I have little idea where the bus was parked after that. Actually, in all the excitement, it hardly mattered. As promised, in a matter of some seconds, the Camp O Royale people were there in the "kidnapper's car"—an old Maruti Omni—to escort us to the camp. They said they would be ferrying us in lots as they had only one car. Six of us, including myself, packed ourselves in the wrecky van. The others said they would like to trek down to the camp and asked us to take along all their luggage. In barely some seconds, we were out of the van and everybody’s luggage was inside it. All 20 of us began walking down the path with beaming faces, aching limbs, draggy footsteps, but above them all, revived senses. 

Dhanaulti seemed, sounded, smelled and felt like something else, like a parallel universe. As the Camp O Royale website puts it, "It offers perfect tranquility amidst long wooded slopes of deodar, Pine, Oak and Rhododendron trees". Those trees were always beside us as we walked the path to the camp. 

It was here that we realized what it means to breathe fresh, unpolluted air. The time was 4 PM but the weather was as fresh as an early winter morning—cold, but not cold enough to let the vivid fragrance of the flowers, the gushing of waters somewhere in the vicinity, and the coolness of the gentle breeze go unnoticed. The moment I stepped out of the bus, I had heaved a long sigh—not of relief, but of belonging—of belonging to the dazzle of nature we city-folk are so untouched by. It was at that moment that I believed in the concept of “love at first sight”. Except that this was love at first sight/smell/sound... everything.

to be continued...

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