Memoirs of an Himalayan Expedition: Part 5 – Aftermath
After the thoroughly exhausting marathon Ankit and I collapsed on the bed and had a rather largish nap. We still had 3 days of free time before we caught a train from Kathgodam to Delhi and we were not about to spend 3 days in a small trekking village. We considered various hill stations in the region and decided that Nainital was a pretty good bet. We had been there previously on three occasions and the beauty of Naini Lake was still fresh in our minds. In the evening we headed to Dineshji’s shop in town, one of his many occupations. He guided us towards a rather rickety looking state transport bus that was scheduled to leave the next morning. We went back to the lodge and packed and looked forward to Nainital the next day. We somehow had the fatal misconception that Nainital was a mere 3 hour drive away.
The next day dawned, slightly greyish, perhaps a sign of things to come. We boarded the bus. Sitting inside with a fancy handheld ticketing machine was the conductor. We asked for 2 tickets to Nainital. “398 rupees”. I gaped at Ankit in utter shock. Surely there must be some mistake I thought. This was outrageous for a state transport bus. He pointed out that the distance was 200 kilometers. We could not have heard worse news. 200 kilometers of mountain roads were an ordeal of the highest order. However we summoned our mathematics skills to the fore and decided that this should not take more than 7 hours and considering that it was 6 am at that time we decided that it would be fair to assume we’d be there by 1 p.m. We took out our books, fortunately at that time I was reading one the best books of all time – Flight of Eagles by Jack Higgins. Each of us grabbed a window seat and we settled down. At around 10 am I could not take the suspense anymore and decided to venture forth with a question that Ankit had expressly forbidden me from asking. “Kab pachunge?” I enquired of the conductor. “4:30” was the brusque answer I received. Ankit looked like he would kill me, while frankly the thought of what lay ahead of us was enough to do that. Ankit told me to look to it as a challenge. He said that we had already
had one endurance challenge yesterday. This was another endurance challenge. “We’re now graduating to be veteran travelers”, he said. I steeled himself and dug deeper into the book. The journey was as bad as described and worse.
Finally we disembarked at the periphery of Naini Lake and it started raining. The stunning beauty of the emerald waters of the lake were however enough to instantly lift our spirits. We were looking for a moderately priced hotel room with a TV. We spotted ‘Hotel Payal’. The rooms were unimpressive and the man was a thorough tout. Next we headed across to Hotel Mansarovar. Here we struck pay dirt. The room had a clear view of the beautiful lake, wooden ceilings and wooden walls and a tiny television. It was perfect. We later discovered that the bed sheets were so dirty because their laundry man had been on a holiday for the past week and were politely informed that sorry, there was not much they could do in the matter. We were fine enough with it. That night we were too exhausted to venture out so we ordered room service and tucked in. The next day I woke at 7 a.m. while Ankit chose to take his time. The strategy, he said was to effectively use as much time in every activity as we can because we still had two full days in Nainital without much planned out. Our first plan was to have a classy hot coffee and then find a movie theatre. The first we accomplished at the ‘Cafe de Mall’ which had an interesting tagline: “Strong as death, black as hell, sweet as love”. Technically we achieved the next task too. We found the theatre. The same one as shown in Koi Mil Gaya. ‘Capitol Cinema’ it called itself. And it looked thoroughly closed. After an over priced cup of hot chocolate the hot chocolate boy (not in the Ranbir Kapoor sense) informed us that the theatre was closed down as they had not paid their taxes. Why this should be amusing for us Gujaratis coming from the land of tax evaders I do not know, except that I do remember laughing for the next 5 minutes. We were now in a soup however in terms of how we should spend our time. Hot chocolate boy suggested we see the typical tourist sights but such a suggestion was repulsive to us. We suggested we take a boat ride in the emerald lake. Ankit refused this too. Finally out of frustration he asked us to buy a ball and play with it.
We decided to buy more books. We found a bookstore on their Mall Road, the main lake side road in the town. Our budget and reading speed (fast) constrained us to buy books priced at only Rs 100 so that we could buy a larger number of them. Ankit selected one and I selected one. After we had read both of them we wanted to a) feed them to a mule b) put them under a running train or c) drown them in Naini Lake. Ankit would have none of that however and he eventually sold them at Delhi Station for Rs 40 each salvaging something atleast. I will not reveal the names of the books just in case some of the readers are tempted to go out and buy them out of sheer curiosity.website
Between eating in British era cafes, reading our books, walking alongside the lake, seeing TV and even more coffee we managed to have a good time in Nainital. The next day we decided to catch a picture in Haldwani since inquiries had revealed that every theatre in vicinity of Nainital had had an aversion to the tax man. After another mind numbing ride where we descended 6,000 feet in about 2 hours we were back to civilization proper at the town of Haldwani. Here we found Prem Theatre. Rs 25 for stall, Rs 30 for balcony. Stall would do fine said Ankit. We had to wait an hour for the next show of “Faltu”. We waited, having little else to do. The theatre was similar to Batra Hall, slightly smaller perhaps. In the interval occurred an incident that both cracked me up with laughter and warmed my heart. But first, a contrasting visual. Imagine yourself in Cinemax in an over priced red chair with the most comfortable Air Conditioning. In the interval well dressed uniformed waiters come to your seat to either take your order or offer your snacks that usually run into the triple digits. In the Prem Theatre interval in walked a cheerful young man carrying an aluminum platter offering….Cucumber! Thats right. Ankit and I had one. Rs 5. Thats the beauty of small town theatres. They say in a small town everyone knows everyone. We got a classy live example. The movie started and the lights remained on. A man sitting ahead of us yelled loudly, “AYE NILESH, LIGHT BANDH KAR”. The lights of course were promptly switched off as the aforementioned Nilesh must have rushed to his duties.
Haldwani Station was a sight to behold. It was newly constructed and very modern. While it had only one platform it housed 2 ATMs and airport-like LCD televisions stating the arrival and departure times. It also had arrival and departure lounges. The train trip to Delhi was uneventful. We arrived at 4 am however and spent 2 hours reading our books (our 10th respectively) at Comesun Restaurant. At 6am we again headed to the Gujarati Samaj. The receptionist glared at us balefully when we informed her that we wanted the simple dormitory. She clearly thought we could afford more and were foolish to take the dormitory. For us, it was just another part of the adventure. More experienced now we checked the newspapers and found Batra Hall airing ‘Thank You’ at 12 pm. The heat was now formidable. We decided to travel Delhi and get some AC at the same time. We hopped onto on the many red AC buses that ply Delhi roads and asked to go to the farthest stop. That put us back by Rs 50 but the AC was worth it. After getting down from there we did the same thing with another bus. And then caught a metro back to our cinema hall. After the movie which turned out to be better than Game and Faltu we headed back to the G.S. Later we made our way to the New Delhi railway station. We reached platform 16. This was the side near to the fancy parts of Delhi. Ankit insisted that he wanted to have Pani-Puri. We decided to cross over to the other side, to platform 1. This was the side adjoining the notorious Pahadgunj. There were scores of touts crowding the area and they thought we had just disembarked from a train. We were instantly offered rooms in the Pahadgunj area, some for as less as Rs 50 while the touts assured us that their commission was only Rs 20. We decided that the next time we were offered a room we would inform the tout that we had a suite waiting for us at the Ashoka Palace. Funnily enough almost as if sensing our intentions we not approached again. The trip back to Ahmedabad in the Rajdhani was comfortable and uneventful and thus ended one the best journeys of my life.
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