Mystical, Magical Mukteshwar – by Hirak Dutta

“A paradise for bird watchers, Mukteshwar is a sanctuary to over 400 species of birds.”
Delhi’s sweltering heat is devil’s curse. Blame it on anyone, but believe me, the term ‘global warming’ is a passé in so far as North India (barring the hills) is concerned. I just coined this new terminology, it’s ‘Global Boiling’. Somewhere down the line, we all are to be blamed for this phenomenon. But we all have shortcuts to skip the ‘boiling’ – air-conditioned offices, cars, and homes and if not that, for bikers like us, a short weekend trip to nestle in the laps of the mighty Himalayas. This weekend ride came after a long, long while and in the best of company of Shekhar Patil, Pravin Rao, Saurav Singh and myself. After a long while I felt that zest (thank God for the time!) to break free from the chaos of the cubicle at work and the ennui of family melodramas. Thank God, for freedom. Thank God, again, for making me a biker! On 6th May 2006, Saturday, I was at the rendezvous at the appointed hour. At 3.30am, NH-24 IBP petrol bunk near Akshardham Bridge was abuzz with activities. I saw a morning walker, a Sikh gentleman, about 60 plus – walking erect in a tee and a short and a red sneaker with a short stick (looked like a baton). I saw Sahara Channel reporters sipping a cup of tea there. And I saw four guys snoring their time away on a single bedsheet on the footpath; their cycle-rickshaws parked besides them narrated to me their pain. It is just the beginning of another hard day before them, and here I was, escaping ‘Global Boiling’ syndrome. What a pity, but I guess, that’s what life is all about. Couple of phone calls to and fro and at about 4.15 am arrived Sobby aka Saurabh and Pravo aka Praveen Rao. They filled their tanks at the pump and we headed towards Gajraula’s most famous Giani selling paranthas. Shekhar joined us at Ghaziabad. And we were on our way to Mukteshwar. The ride to Mukteshwar was practically eventless; no hold on one second, it was actually. We took nearly 13 hours to complete the journey which should have been done in 6-7 hours. But slow and steady wins the race, right! You bet! Let me tell you some things about Mukteshwar before I tell you what we all did there. Mukteshwar gained prominence by the establishment of the Indian Veterinary Research Institute in 1898, which owns much of the land around the little town, including acres of dense virgin forest. We were told by the local PWD caretaker that the forests are home to tiger, leopard, Himalayan black bear, wild boar, langur, rhesus monkeys, deer, and a host of bird species. We doubted the authenticity of this guy’s statement but for the birds. The morning raga of so many mellifluous voices had put the local rooster at shame. Well maybe not, I guess we ate him up the night before! Didn’t we, guys? From the PWD guesthouse, one can get a direct glimpse of the range of peaks including Neelkantha (Blue-throated Shiva, 6596 m), Nandaghunti (the Veil of the Goddess, 6310 m), Trishul (the Trident of Shiva, 7120 m), Nandadevi (Goddess of Bliss, 7817 m), and the majestic Panchhuli peaks provided the skies are clear. We weren’t lucky. Situated at an altitude of 2286 meters on Bhowali Devidhura Road, Mukteshwar is a small hill station covered with a thick wooded forest and offers a majestic view of the Himalayas. Still a virgin hill station by many counts, tourists seldom venture here but unfortunately, those who do have literally turned some good forest parts into a garbage dump. I trekked inside the forest early in the morning and was welcomed by the singing birds nesting on treetops, soothing misty air which kissed my body and the litter of mineral water bottles, tetra packs, beer and whisky bottles, and plastic glasses which lay scattered almost everywhere. Near Mukteshwar is a stone hole of Chauli Ki Jali, dedicated to Lord Shiva. The legend has it that, if a woman who is unable to conceive passes through this tiny hole on the rocks, she will definitely gain pregnancy. But hey, hold on, don’t take it on face value, for on the other side of the hole is a freefall of more than 1200 feet! The Chauli Ki Jali, from a distance looked like a remarkable sperm head though. Some esoteric significance (or should I say coincidence) here! The other places to see at Mukteshwar are the Mukteshwar Mahadev temple, a quaint little British bungalow now converted into a post office, some very old and well maintained cottages now converted into tourist hotels, but its not what you get to see here. The abundance of freedom, indolence, respite and peace Mukteshwar offers is a non-peril. It was in Mukteshwar that Jim Corbett came to kill a man-eating ‘bagh’ but fell in love with the hill station instead. Mesmerizing, right? Rabindranath Tagore composed his Geetanjali here which also won him the Nobel Prize for Literature. This was the first Nobel Prize to be given to an Asian! Inspiring and well worth visiting now, I guess! A paradise for bird watchers, Mukteshwar is a sanctuary to over 400 species of birds. Unfortunately, we had just 16 hours to pitch the tents, cook food, have drinks while enjoying the romantic whiffs of fresh air before hitting the NH and be back in 44.5 degrees Celsius from a mere 15 degrees Celsius. I could only see some variants of the hill sparrows, the differently textured babblers, heard the ‘Koyal’ sing and spotted just one unmistakable crow! Inside the forest floor, there was a fancy dress competition amongst butterflies. There was a riot of colors as they draped the green; this mesmerizing moment couldn’t be captured by me on camera. As I left the forest floor, I knew soon there would be many more of them, for their season has just commenced. I never felt so good after a long time and wished I had more time at hand. The gilded cages of our office spaces beckoned and we slowly bade adieu to Mukteshwar. I know, like many other places that I have visited, I would be back here again. The next time will be for sloth and pure relaxation and no hurrying at all. Everyone did their bit to make these 16 hours their most memorable – no please deduct 6 hours of sleep – Sobby continued his filming saga, never saw Praveen perform antics before like he did it here at Mukteshwar and Shekhar was mesmerized by his adopted child – a doggy – which was later chased off by two other doggies as Shekhar rushed to beat their behinds. Oh emotion, where in the grey cells is thy residence? (Sorry Vijayaji, this breaking news was to happen sometimes, it just came early). En route home, two more doggies dropped by to say hello to him – one looked like the ‘adopted child’s’ mama (maternal uncle) and another a distant cousin! Only the biker community understands the ‘fun-is-a-stress-reliever’ concept on long rides. Leaving what you love is always painful and pained we all were as we sped down towards Delhi. We took a shortcut to Bhimtal, taking a village dirt track, saved about 15 kms and the ride was well worth it. We drove down the Himalayas and the weather God told us what to expect in Delhi. At 1am on Monday the 9th of May 2006, we reached home, tired and broken, but not shaken. God, when will it be a four-day office week?

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