Dhanaulti – by Manav Singh

It has not been a even a month that I have touched base in Delhi and I couldn’t resist riding to the Himalayas. As soon as an extended weekend presented itself, the opportunity was grabbed without much ado. Mayuresh was riding pillion with me.

The plan was to leave early in the morning so that we could reach the hills before noon. However, this was not to be. Mayuresh was expected to land at my place by 11 PM, which got extended to 1 AM. We kept chatting for a while and it must have been 2 O clock by the time we went to sleep. Obviously, we got up late and it was around 10 that we could get moving.

The first stop was a nearby filling station. The tank was filled upto the brim and the ride was on. As expected, traffic was pretty heavy and till we crossed Ghaziabad, we couldn’t gather much pace. Traffic on Ghaziabad to Modinagar route was a bit light and we were able to ride pretty fast on this track. After crossing Modinagar, we felt that it would be better if we satisfy our hunger pangs first and then move on. So, we stopped at a dhaba for a supposedly quick breakfast which turned into a brunch. It was well beyond 40 minutes that we were back on the roads.

The traffic was again back to its worst, the real trouble being with sugarcane carrying vehicles (all kinds of them – trucks, tractors & bullock carts). Still, we managed to keep good pace till Muzzafarnagar where we got stuck in a jam right in middle of the city. It was well beyond half an hour before we could get out of the city. We took a small break at Muzzafarnagar-Saharanpur-Roorke trisection, and thank God that we took the Roorke route. Saharanpur route is a real killer as we realized on our return trip. From now onwards, the traffic was not that heavy, and the ride was pretty comforting. It was around 4’ O Clock that we reached the outskirts of Dehradun and were stopped at a police outpost. All the documents were in order and in no time we were on again, but not before we got few comments on riding such a long distance from the policemen.

Once in Dehradun, city traffic caught up with us. We got stuck in a Dussera procession (folks, seems Ravan is still there to bother us mortals) it was only by 5: 30 that we could get onto the road to Mussorie. The clutch wire had gone a bit loose which was tightened and we were on again. However, our plan to do Sahastradhara today itself went for a toss and we decided to go to Mussorie straight. Riding on the ghats with the sun setting down was ultimate and the ride progressed like a dream. There were couple of stops en-route, and I remember our stopping next to a rustic, charming house. This place looked very serene and we wondered whether we could stay here itself. But then, better sense prevailed and we went on towards Mussorie, and ran into a huge jam at the outskirts. It really felt bad to be in such a situation after such a wonderful ride up the hills. It took around half an hour to get out of the jam. We checked into a hotel at a good distance from the Mall road. Good thing was that our room provided a fascinating view of the valley below, there was 9 storey temple next to the hotel and we got to park the bike right next to the room.

It was 8 O’ clock now and was getting pretty chilly. We were in the mood to have something hot and we got to have a piping hot and real thick hot chocolate drink. Having the drink sitting alone in the dining lounge of the hotel, we decided our future course. As we didn’t want to spend much time in crowded Mussorie, it was decided that we would take a early morning trip to Kempty Falls and later continue our ride to Dhanaulti. This way, we would also be able to avoid the rush at the falls.

After finishing our drink, we went for a walk around the town. It was pretty surprising to see that the place was not as crowded as it seemed to be. Around half an hour of leisurely stroll around the town, we were feeling cold again and in we went into “Gulab Vasihnav Dhaba”. Tandoori parathas, a thali and daal fry was ordered. Tandoori parathas were amazing and so was having “garam-garam daal” in this weather. Mayuresh took fancy to the parathas and daal and made me commit that we would be coming to this place again in the morning. I was too willing to do the same as the food tasted good. After dinner, I was in the mood to have a “paan” and the dhaba owner directed us to a nearby “Paan Corner”. Mayuresh asked him whether he could make “Jalta hua paan” and the man shook his head vigorously. But then, I was a bit curious about this “Jalta hua paan” and asked Mayuresh to describe it in detail. It turned out that just placing a lighted “clove (long)” in the paan made it “jalta hua paan”. The paanwala also seemed to get this, and obliged us by making jalta hua paan. Folks, those who haven’t had this, do try it out – burnt “clove” gives a different flavour to the pan.

We made a couple of calls and it tuned out that we will have to come again to some STD booth as Mayuresh had to again call up his girl friend back in Mumbai after 10 O Clock. So we walked back to the hotel with me hoping that probably the chill will force Mayuresh to let go of his plans to call his girlfriend.

We got back into the room, and while chatting, we also switched on the tele. Star Movies was showing “Miss Congeniality”. We were dead tired by this time and getting under a blanket was the only thing we could think of. Much sooner than later, Mayuresh asked for the time (this man had left his watch and cellphone at home- seemed he was in real mood to escape), and I knew that we were going out for a walk. Mayuresh pulled me out of the warm bed and we were again loitering on the deserted roads at 10:15 PM looking out for some STD booth. Though there were few of them on out way to the Mall, all were closed and we had to go upto Gandhi Chowk to catch the one open. While Mayuresh made the call, I entered into conversation with some local people there. The topic of conversation was Dhanaulti and other areas nearby which were worth visiting. Soon Mayuresh finished his call and joined us. By this time, one chap got a bit philosophical and described Dhanaulti as “Wasie to wahaan kuch nahin hai, par agar dekho to sab kuch hai”. By now, it was getting pretty chilly, and we wanted to get back to the cozy warmth of the hotel. Once inside the room, Miss Congeniality caught up with us again, and it was well beyond 12 that we dozed off.

I woke up at around 7 in the morning. The sun was shining bright, and everything looked so fresh. Mayuresh was woken up from his deep slumber, and by 7:45, we were off towards Kempty Falls. The road leading to the falls was deserted and the ride was also a bit tough with both the slopes and the climb being pretty steep and narrow at times. The early morning wind chill factor, especially on the sides where there was no sun for good enough stretches, further compounded this. But then the pleasure of riding all alone amidst the enchanting mountains with the only sound being the thump of the bike made the ride a delightful.

The falls were only at a distance of 16 Kms from Mussorie, but the ride took us nearly an hour. It was good to see that there was absolutely no crowd at the falls (only a group of 5 people was present). Before climbing down to the falls, we stooped for a break at a tea stall that was in the process of opening up. After consuming 3 cups of elaichi tea (1 by me and 2 by Mayuresh), we got the directions to the falls and reached there in no time. Again, no crowds there, but then the stalls all around were a big spoilsport. A couple of snaps were taken and we started our climb up, back to what we liked best – the bike and the roads. However, the climb up was not as easy and we stopped to have lemon Soda midway, which was really refreshing. Mayuresh also bought a pair of goggles from here, and we were off again towards Mussorie. On our way back, we couldn’t help feeling elated when we saw sundry vehicles rushing towards the falls. Soon the place will be crowded like hell.

On our way back, we got a very good view of sun shining on snow-capped peaks. The bike was stopped to capture the same in the lens, but then, I am sure it will be nowhere near the splendid view we got.

We were back at the hotel by 10:15 and while Mayuresh took bath, I spent a few moments alone basking in the Sun. By 11, we both were ready to hit the roads again, but then, after our pre-decided stop at “Gulab Vaishno Dhaba”. Mayuresh was a bit dejected to find out that tandoori parathas won’t be available and we’ll be getting only normal tawa parathas. No “garam” daal also now and we had to do with curd and raita. So after a filling brunch, we got back to the ride again. Also, while on our way up to Mussorie, the clutch wire had to be loosened a bit as it was extra tight. Same was also taken care off, and we set off on the road towards Dhanaulti. We passed right through the town and were lucky enough not to get stuck in some jam. Riding on these roads is tough as the roads are pretty narrow with shops on both the sides, the curves are pretty steep and at times it could get pretty scary to see some heavy vehicle hurtling down towards you the next moment you have negotiated the turn. Then again, that’s what gives the excitement of the ride, isn’t it?

The road to Dhanaulti is not in a very good shape. Some curves were pretty narrow and were also in bad condition, maybe due to the rains. The skyline had also turned cloudy and we were afraid that it might rain. Thankfully, it didn’t otherwise it would have been a real difficult ride as we were not carrying any raincoats etc.

Once at Dhanaulti, few enquiries were made to check out the hotels, and after narrowing down on one, we continued our ride. The idea was to visit a temple at around 5 Kms from Dhanaulti (goes by the name of “Surkanda Devi Temple”) and then get back to Dhanaulti. On our way towards the temple, around a Km from Dhanaulti, we spotted a board announcing the presence of some Apple Orchard resort with a kutcha path leading to it. The resort offered cottage and tent accommodation. Unanimously, we decided to explore it. The bike was now doing some off-roading. The path was very narrow, and the slope very steep. It was very careful and slightly slippery riding here. However, even after riding for a Km or so, we couldn’t locate the resort. The stretch was becoming even trickier and we decided to get back to the mettled roads.

Once at the temple, the bike was parked and we began our 2 Km trek to the temple. We were at 6000 feet above sea level, and the temple was at 10000 ft. As expected, the climb was very steep and at one time, Mayuresh said -“Doordarshan kar lete hain aur wapas chalte hain”. But then, that was just a thought and we continued our climb. As we kept going up, the view around kept bettering itself. We took numerous stops en-route to catch our breath, and made it to the top within 40 minutes, and yes, the view from the top was a sight to behold. After paying our obeisance to the deity, we sat outside the mandir on the stairs to spend few quite moments taking in the magnificent view around. As Mayuresh put it – it was a humbling experience. After taking few snaps here, we started our descent down, which we did in just 20 minutes. It was 4 by the clock, Chamba was only 25 Kms from here, and I felt like doing it. However, as I didn’t want to ride in the freezing cold night (it was already getting a bit misty now), the idea was dropped and we went back to Dhanaulti. On our way back, we also checked out GMVN resthouse, but the hotel that we had identified was much better and came at just Rs 50 more than the GMVN resthouse. So, it was back to the hotel and it was by 4:30 PM that we were settled in the comfortable and spacious room.

15 minutes in the room, and we were again ready to venture out, this time on foot for a leisurely walk around the place. Dhanaulti is a picture perfect place with its numerous pine and deodar trees. Thanks to Shekhar and Lalit who advise me to go to Dhanaulti as I was not at all aware of this charming place. Dhanaulti as such is a very small establishment. There are 3 or maybe 4 hotels, and around 10 odd shops alongside the road. In effect, we can call it a quaint little town with its own out of world charm. Hot coffee for me and lemon tea for Mayuresh on the terrace of a restaurant overlooking a sort of park with dense outgrowth of pine trees got back some warmth into us and we again continued our walk around the place. I had to call up Aviral as he had called me up on my cell while we were trekking up to the temple. This place has only one place where you can make STD/ISD calls. The owner is very talkative and a good salesman too, especially for “BDM” Litchi drinks. He was canvassing the drink to each and every person coming down to his place and looking at the empty bottles amassed beside his shop, one could easily guess the quantum of his sales. Few calls were made and we were back to loitering. It was only 5:30 and a heavy mist was closing in which gave the place a peculiar rustic look. Those who are fond of reading classics by Thomas Hardy can actually feel that this place comes quite near to lot of places that he has described in his novels. Magical is the only word I can think of to describe the ambience that we were in right now.

We got back to the hotel for some time, but as expected, couldn’t stay in for long, more so that Mayuresh had to make one more call and we had decided to have food at the place where we had coffee and that too on the terrace (madness…). So off we went, and while Mayuresh got back to his long phone call, I sat all alone in the magical ambience for good 20 minutes when Mayuresh finished his call and we had hot tea again to get back the warmth. Once finished, we went to the restaurant to have food. The plans to have food at the terrace were dropped (I insisted on this as both of us were shivering even within the four walls) and we sat all alone in the cozy little restaurant. Other than our favorite “garam dal fry”, we had a paneer dish too this time. By the time we finished, it was 8:30 and we went back to the hotel to retire for the night. We kept the curtains open to let the moonlight seep into our room while we talked over a lot of things. It must have been more than an hour before we dozed off.

We woke up early in the morning and after having a glass of hot chocolate each, we were on the road back to Dehradun (Sahastradhara actually). The wind chill factor made us ride very slowly, especially on the sides where the mountains were acting as sun-shade. Am sure temperature must have been below 50C. We reached Sahastradahara by 10 AM, and had a light breakfast of tea and bread pakoras besides the waterfall. The place was a big disappointment, more so that I had seen the fall in its pristine glory some 10 years back. Now, the place was also very much crowded due to numerous stalls out there and lots of people were also pouring in by the minute. We got bored of the place soon and decided to start our journey back to Delhi.

The bike was also given some “food” and we were on our ride back। The ride progressed uneventfully till Saharanpur when we realized that we had taken a wrong route and should have gone via Roorkee। The road conditions (if we can call them roads) were pathetic and we had to go through this hell for about 50 Kms and good 2 hours. We saw at least 10 vehicles stranded enroute due to some or the other problem. I was sure that I would have to give my bike a thorough check-up once I was back in Delhi. With all the bones acing, we reached Muzzafarnagar and took a real long break. As we wanted to get back to Delhi before dark, we decided to skip lunch and keep on to the roads. Heavy traffic jams in Muzzafarnagar and Modinagar further delayed our progress and it was not before 7 O Clock that we touched base in Delhi. This was Mayuresh’s first long ride on the bike, and the chap was sporting enough to book the pillion seat for the next one I would go on.

Delhi Dhanaulti: October 22, 2004 – October 24, 2004

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