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 (A Travel Memoir) — Part 1


Without new experiences, something inside of us sleeps. The sleeper must awaken” – Frank Herbert

After awakening the 'sleeper' within me for two memorable days, I am back to living the same old mundane life that is making the awakened sleeper drowsy again. Needless to say, the feeling isn't exactly comforting.

On the Facebook group of our class, when I first suggested going for an immediate trip, many people thought it was impossible. To some extent, one of them was yours truly. Firstly, because ours isn't really a class where everyone has talked to everybody, not even where everybody knows everybody. Secondly, amid the soaring pressure of projects, upcoming exams, classes, CAT etc, it was difficult to convince people to think about utilizing the week that was going to be full of holidays, for something hopefully more worthwhile and refreshing. Thirdly, since it had to be a quick trip, and spontaneous to a great extent, we had to keep it short, yet exciting. That meant considering options closest to Delhi, yet different. Budget was going to be another factor, apart from the usual convincing sessions, distrust, lack of communication, consensus regarding the destination, and so on. Ten days after I first proposed a random 'Hey let's go on a vacation!' idea, I am happy to write, we had a great time camping at 2300 metres above sea level, experiencing bone chilling cold while we were hardly prepared for it, doing fun activities, spending quality time with friends, and above all, living in the lap of nature—literally.

Trust me when I say, it is a gigantic task to get a decent number of people to agree to a plan like this SO soon (within a week, that is). More so, when the plan is too difficult to execute without enough people. 24th of October was the night when we were to leave from Delhi. And till the very last hour of this date, it was unsure as to who all would be coming, when would we be leaving, when would we be reaching, what would we be doing, and so on. Basically all the whens, whats, hows, whos, and whys were foggy.

Where?

Since most of the guys were not interested in simply visiting a place and going around sight-seeing, and instead considered adventure sports in Rishikesh a better option—which most of the girls didn't find exciting since Rishikesh isn't exactly the most scenic place around—we needed a spot that provided a good balance between both. From Lansdowne (the nearest hill-station to Delhi) to Rishikesh to Mussoorie to Kanatal to finally Dhanaulti, this 'journey' of the plan itself was most unnerving. Every time the plan changed, somebody left and somebody joined. On the 22nd of October something really annoying happened and we had to again change the plan, much to everybody's frustration. I have got to mention that here.

I had searched for options for 'Adventure in/near Mussoorie' on the web and come across Camp Kanatal that is handled by Wildex. I asked Puneet to take over as a coordinator and he gladly did. So all the talks with the camp organizers and travel agencies were now handled by him. After getting a good approximation of how many people would be coming for the trip, Puneet finalized talks with the WildEx guys. On the 23rd of October, they were supposed to come and receive the advance payment from him in cash. On the night of 22nd, we were informed that they had given those tents to a corporate group that had come at the last moment. "Well, nothing was really finalized yet," they reasoned shamelessly, while offering discounted options for Rishikesh. There was no way we were going with these unprofessional, unethical and stupid people this time, even if they took us for free.

NOTE: Wildex, a big thumbs down to you! Nothing could be more unethical and unprofessional than what you guys did with us. You suck!

But as they say, whatever happens, happens for the best. While I might have given up after all the ups and downs, and this final jerk, Puneet was already working on getting the next best alternatives. He got to know about 'Hamara Holiday' and was suggested Camp O Royale, Dhanaulti, by them. Everything about it seemed more or less similar to Camp Kanatal. There was anyway no turning back after coming so close to the plan's execution stage. Our doubt was about Dhanaulti, the place. Is it as good as Kanatal seems to be? With some research and survey, we thought it definitely was similar to Kanatal.

We were wrong. Dhanaulti turned out to be way better (and higher) than not only Kanatal, but also what our imagination could have etched.

Who?

People were pissed off about the ever-changing things. Some backed out. Some others had pretended to join in initially but left on the same day. I am not sure about this but from what I've heard, they probably had plans of their own and just enjoyed spoiling ours. This should give you a good idea about why getting a group trip actually organized is one of the hardest challenges. But try to experience it some day, to get a feel of the sheer diversity in people.


After much dwindling, finally, 20 of us boarded the 27-seater bus that we had booked for ourselves. We bid goodbye to our confused and worried parents and left Delhi with cheers full of energy and excitement. 9 guys and 11 girls—we seemed like the icon of women empowerment!



Some hidden, some showing up—happy faces nonetheless

The First Leg Of The Journey

Unlike school picnics, the excitement here did not not last for long. The fact that half the people hadn't interacted much with the rest half before, showed up pretty well in all the bus journeys. The initial struggle to sing, dance, talk, play together died a slow death as we were automatically divided into two groups. But what matters anyway is that everybody still enjoyed in their own way. Besides, wasn't spending time with each other, getting to know each other and making this trip a memoir of our final year of college, the intent behind the trip?

Tip: When traveling in a group that is a mix of friends and just acquaintances, it is best to give everybody their space. You can ask everyone to join in, but insisting does no good, other than, at the worst, infusing a tinge of negativity in the environs. Let everybody do what they want to do—sing, dance, play, sleep, rest, talk, and so on.

It was difficult to rest inside the bus. Many people felt that there was something seriously wrong with the shockers. The ride felt too bumpy, too jerky. Maybe since it was just the beginning and we weren't yet used to it. The return journey was, thankfully, more comfortable.

Tip: When going for a group trip, particularly for a long journey, try to check the vehicle well in advance. It can create more trouble than you can imagine.

Somewhere near Muzzafarnagar, we stopped at a dhaba to have some tea and take a little break. We ended up realizing that winters were really in. I enjoyed the impulsive chattering of my teeth. After all, winters in Delhi come after quite long. What could be better than having a small cup of hot chai at a local dhaba, on a deserted road, in the freezing cold of past midnight, and with so many of your friends to share jokes and biscuits? Perhaps nothing. 
We boarded the bus again to resume our journey.

Most of the people were resting by late night, the lights were out. I and my friend Vini, however, did not like the thought of simply sleeping. We thought we could do away with sleep for the two exquisite days we had actually come to enjoy. But, most of the other people did not agree. Some slept, some just closed their eyes. Some listened to music quietly. Some gossiped. Ahem.

Ganesan, who also happens to be our placement coordinator, suffered the deepest brunt of the bumpy ride. He has a migraine problem, but had not brought his medicines for the trip. From what he told later, the chemist was closed when he had gone to buy some medicines for the journey, and he made the mistake of assuming that since the problem hadn't troubled him for a long time now, it was less likely to get aroused again this time.

Tip: Never take any past/present medical problems lightly when going for a long journey. Always take along all relevant medicines, as well as some for the general problems like nausea, headache, fever, stomach ache etc.

With an hour or two past since we left the dhaba, we were now nearing Dehradun. And by then, Ganesan’s migraine problem was not only aroused, but worsening. He struggled to sleep, became utterly restless and writhed with pain. Everybody was deeply worried and looked for medical shops on the way. It was really late so there was none in sight. Much later, we had to make do with a local doctor who did not have the exact medicines for migraine but gave some pain killers. We stopped the bus at one point after that as Ganesan wanted to go out and breathe. It came as a shock to us when he emptied a bottle of water over himself in the chilling cold of the very early morning. It seemed like he had no idea what he was doing. 

As a school-child, I had heard from one of my teachers how catastrophic a Migraine attack could be. In Ganesan, during those critical hours, I actually got to see a glimpse of it, and it goes without saying, it was unnerving. From one to all, we were all tense. Less than half an hour later, he came back into the bus and we started moving again, hoping to get the exact medicines in Dehradun, which was now half an hour away, in case his problem did not reduce. The driver was very co-operative and gave the 'bed' that belonged to his helper, to Ganesan. With one of his friends beside him all the time, he was finally able to sleep. That came as some sort of a relief to us as well. Who can see a classmate/friend suffer so badly?

Mark Twain has rightly said, 'If you really want to be sure about how much you love or hate people, travel with them'. Sometimes, the worst of experiences can strengthen relationships better than anything else. I guess, that has to be the best part about traveling with friends.

Dehradun

At dawn, we were passing by the forests of Dehradun. For those of us who hadn't been to here before, it made for a beautiful sight. It was still dark so not a lot was visible, but whatever was, looked exciting. We saw a couple of harmless, wild animals on the road ahead that ran between two spreads of vegetation, one on each side. There were dried up bodies of water—big and small, small hills that hid behind the tall trees, valleys not too deep and of course, fresh breeze that kissed our souls. When the darkness faded, we were in Dehradun’s main city. We could see hills on all four sides, but they were too far away to be awed by. The dense fog of the cold morning further concealed their view. And yes, Ganesan woke up and came out of his quilt around this time. At this instant, we fixed our gaze at him with desperation, like a tenth standard student gazes at the computer screen that is about to display his board exam's result. Ganesan gave his typical thumbs-up gesture and all of us smiled wide. After a night full of struggle, he was fine after all. Phew! In Dehradun at this time, people were barely out on the streets; shops, hotels, restaurants etc. were all closed. Life seemed calm and still. All of it made for a pretty morning, but we decided to have breakfast in the “Queen of hill stations”, Mussoorie.

Mussoorie

The real ‘feel’ of going for a vacation in the hills began to seep in only after we started moving towards Mussoorie. The best parts about traveling to hill stations by road are the picturesque views, the constant sensation of elevation, and the fear of the vehicle tripping over the narrow roads—each time the driver surprising you with his panache. The route to Mussoorie is probably as scary as the roads to most other popular hill-stations are. It being October, what we saw on the way were mainly beautiful hills laden with greenery and adorned by sunlight, shade, and clouds.



Some glimpses of the route to Mussoorie from inside the bus

It is difficult to find a stop for yourself on these roads. Since we had come in a bus, and the roads were wide enough to just let every vehicle travel, for breakfast we wanted to find a place where we would get ample space to park the bus. Mussoorie’s famous mall road was the only option.
The scenic view from the Mall Road, Mussoorie

When I stepped out of the bus, I once again felt that these two days were going to be slightly tough. We had probably underestimated the cold. It was a light sunny morning and we were almost all shivering whenever we did not stand in the sun. Or it could probably be the fact that coming from Delhi, most of us weren't in warm clothes. 

Tip: Might sound like obvious but then that's what free tips are for, no? When you are pursuing a long journey from A to B, do consider any change of weather that is likely to surface, while deciding what to wear, what to pack, and what to keep on the top of the packing. Common sense, but very important.

Mussoorie’s mall road presents a beautiful picture of what a hill station should ideally be like. Walking along the road, with a stunning view of hills, mountains and the Dehradun valley on one side, and symbols of its commercialization on another—hotels, restaurants, shops and whatnot, apart of course from the remains of the walls of the mountain it might have been cut out of—one gets a good idea of what it means to experience “the best of both worlds”.

The mall road isn’t wide enough to allow even a small group of people to move with ease. 
From scooters to trucks, all sorts of vehicles pass by every few minutes. One, then, has to stand at the very edge of the road, patiently making way for them, lest their honking melts your ears. You can imagine what it would have been like for 20 of us as we walked in a train of pairs or triplets. I don’t know about the others, but as a very tired traveler, and one who longed for some quiet time to look at the beautiful view with peace, I found it very irritating. It was one of those moments when what you see is a complete contrast to where you are. But by the end of the entire journey, I was surprised to see how people who live in the hilly areas are so used to doing this—standing at the dangerously sharp edge of roads patiently, whenever the need may be.
The restaurant. In the picture: Not the four
of us mentioned on the right
We entered a decent restaurant to have our breakfast. We went on their first floor where the seating arrangements were done for four people each on one table. Chetna, Khushboo, Vini and I took one table. The weird seats stuck close to the table, and made placing ourselves on the cushioned chairs a task no less challenging than rock climbing.

I'd say, the time we spent there was as refreshing as it could be. The glass windows offered a good view of the mall road and the valley beyond. We joked a lot, took some pictures, and after a lot of thinking and discussion (as if we were at The Taj with a menu full of diverse options), ordered aloo paranthas for all of us. They were okay but tasted like the best thing on earth for us, the hungry souls.

There was only one waiter at the place, and he seemed fed up with his life. He messed up on a few orders, on the bills, and even more in his service. When Vini, who doesn’t like tea, complained to him that what he had given her was tea and not coffee, all he said was, “you said tea”. We told him that the tea hadn't even been touched, and there was no way we could all be wrong in hearing that she had asked for coffee, and again, all that he muttered was, “you said tea”. After repeating his dialogue five times very irritatingly, he said something to himself, took the cup of tea, threw it upon his tray, and left in a fit of rage. Certainly not the best service we had ever seen. The coffee that came after much ado, tasted bad and it took us awhile to calm down Vini, but then a little later, some group pictures in what seemed like a perfect “picture spot” on the mall road seemed to work well. Anyway, such small things happen everywhere and only add to the eventfulness of a journey.
Picture perfect. Almost. (Chhavi, Ganesan, Ishan missing)

With the appetite satisfied, we discussed about our next destination. Some people who were too tired and had been to Mussoorie before insisted on heading for the camp straight away. However, with mutual consensus, we decided to explore one more destination before reaching the Dhanaulti Camp—the very famous, 'Kempty Falls'.


to be continued...


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