After our last year's (2004) visit to Kumaon Region of the Himalayas, we were looking for an opportunity to take the next chance to go out again to the hills and this time in the Garwal Region. We had to let go an opportunity during my daughter's summer vacation as a cousin of mine came and stayed with us to complete his energy project under IREDA. The next opportunity we got was her autumn break. As the number of days available were few, we thought of going to a nearby place for 6-7 days. We decided to visit Chamba and if possible, Dhanolti. We zeroed in on Chamba, a relatively unknown place to the tourists, situated in Tehri District of Garwal, keeping in view my memory of a short visit in the year 2003. That time I had gone alone. I liked Chamba because of its quiet location and of course, the view of the snow capped Himalayan range.
On Saturday, the 1st October, 2005 we reached New Delhi station to board the Jan Satabdi Express bound for Dehra Doon via Haridwar. We reached Haridwar around 8.30 p.m. We intended to stay at the Loknath Baba Ashram at Bhupatwala but the auto drivers said it was a far off place and they would charge Rs. 120/-to take us there. As we had to catch a bus next day early morning for Chamba, we decided to stay in a nearby Guest House/Dharmasala. We took a ricksaw and told the ricksaw puller to take us to a good guest house. He took us to a Dharmashala which turned out to be a place for which the ricksaw puller would get 10% commission on the amount charged to the guest. After spending a troubled night in the guest house we boarded a bus next morning bound for New Tehri via Chamba. We made certain enquiry as to when the bus would start and at what time it would reach Chamba. I found the conductor and the bus driver were not very cooperative. They just said to get in and it would start at 7 a.m. we had little tea at the bus stop itself and occupied the front seat. The journey to Rishikesh took about 1 hour and it halted at Rishikesh for another hour. Our patience was wearing out but we did not want to get into argument with the driver. We kept our cool. However, after this the driver drove the bus with good speed and we reached Chamba at 12.30 p.m. Each one carried his/her rucksack and started walking towards the Garwal Mandal Vikas Nigam Guest house (GMVNGH) where we had our room booked over internet. The walk made us perspire in an otherwise cold weather. My wife was complaining that our bringing of warm closes have been in vain. I told her just to wait till we reach the top of the hill. By the time we reached the guest house we started feeling the sweet coolness enveloping us completely.
We looked around and all our exhaustion started vanishing like the due drops before the rising sun. The location of the guest house is at an altitude of 1950 meter while the Chamba town is at 1550 meter. This extra height gave us a wonderful view of the surrounding Tehri and Bhagirathi valley. There was no manager available at the guest house. This has been the case in a number of govt. run guest houses where we stayed in our earlier tours. The Chowkidar/Cook allotted us the most beautiful room having opening to the east, south and west. It was a very big room for a family of three with necessary fixtures and fittings. My wife appreciated the accommodation and settled happily for the next four days -our temporary home. We refreshed ourselves with a cup of tea and went round seeing the valleys and numerous birds that hovered around the guest house.
After a nice bath in hot water, we were ready for lunch. The lunch was prepared by the cook as per our chosen menu. The long corridor of the guest house on the first floor gave us enough space to take walk while watching the surrounding hills. We were the only guest at that time. The serenity, seclusion and the quiet environment gave us added privilege to live in communion with nature.
Having finished our lunch, we sat in the sun for a while and enjoyed the warmth that the sunlight was transmitting. After about 3 O'clock the wind started gaining in speed and turned cold. It was time to have some rest after the long bus journey.
In the evening we visited a Shiva temple standing isolated at an edge of a hill. We wanted to have a long walk and went down to the market while enjoying the view of the distant hills. By the time we came back to the guest house it was already evening. The sky displayed its jewels full of stars and planets. The quiet became quieter. The chilly wind blew with a whistling sound making our stay outside difficult.
We finished our dinner at 8.30 p.m. and my wife and daughter slipped into the room but I was outside listening to nature's music being played by the silent musician. The lighting of the distant villages looked like distant stars twinkling. I always carry a small radio to listen to the news. News over, I also got into the room and watched TV for some time and went to bed. Our next day programme was to go to Surkunda Devi Temple some 20 Km. away from Chamba.
Next day after heavy breakfast we went down to Chamba town to catch a bus going to Moosouri via Khaddukhal where we were supposed to alight and climb up the hill top where the temple is situated at a height of 3030 meters. The bus travel through the dense forest with now and then the icy caps of the Himalayas being visible was a wonderful experience. We reached at the base of the Surkunda Devi Temple around 11.30 a.m. and we saw the board of the temple inviting us to take the path about 2 Km.leading to the temple perched on the top. The trekking was quite steep passing through open area and as well through jungle. Fortunately there were a number of stalls providing cold drinks, tea and snacks of course in exchange of some fortune. As we were going up and up the view of the surrounding hills displayed the silent beauty while the clouds kept our company throughout. The trekking was very exhaustive. but surprisingly, our daughter could also do it with joy. Of course for this we had offer her cold drinks on the way to encourage her continue trekking. It took about two hours to reach the top. Interestingly, the sight of the tall BSNL tower located by the side of the temple attracted more attention than the Surkunda Devi Temple. This, I suppose, an indication how science is going to be an essential part of life. Perhaps we could do without God but not without science. While the faithful visit this temple at such a height more because of their faith in the Divine Power of the Goddess, the scientific minded people visit this location for its height having a unique advantage of a wonderful view of the Himalayan panorama. However, a brief history of Surkunda Devi Temple will not be out of place here.
Surkhanda Devi Temple, goes the legend, was built on the site where the head of Shiva's consort fell after it was chopped off to stop Shiva?s terrifying dance of death that was shaking the universe to its very core. (I think it is allegorical and nor in physical form). However, our religious books are full of such legends inspiring wonder with awe.
The decend was very fast and took about one fourth of the time we took for ascending. Reaching at the base we found there were a number of jeeps bound for Chamba. We got into one of them and alighted at a point before the jeep reached the market place. We took the winding way to the guest house and reached there around 3 P.M. To our surprise we found the food was not ready in spite of our telling them in advance. It seems they thought we might have had lunch somewhere else. Any way, food was ready within half and hour. After lunch we sat in the sun enjoying the cool breeze and watching the birds and the far off Himalayan panorama. The ticking of time does not seem to have any power in the seclusion of nature. It looks like time has frozen for ever, eternity is here to stay. We enjoy this illusion as long as the sun is in the sky radiating its warmth. But as soon the sun set, the weather became so cold that remaining outside was difficult. The breeze turns into a storm. The quietness converted into a turbulent weather. Very soon the fog covered the whole area and nothing beyond a few yards remained visible.
The TV kept in the room is now switched on. Our daughter always love to enjoy TV programmes at home and thus at the first opportunity when there was nothing else to do, to switch on the TV is the most common entertainment these days. Myself outside on the long corridor took a walk and listened to the radio. By 8.30 p.m. it is time for dinner. Finishing the dinner fast, we huddle together to chalk out the programme for the next day - our visit to Tehri dam, Old Tehri town and the new one. We planned to take our lunch at the GMVN Guest house in New Tehri. Then it was time to go to bed and soon we were asleep.
New morning, the 4th October, 2005 after a cup of tea, we finished our morning bath and we were ready by 9 a.m. to have breakfast. Our destination was Old Tehri and later on to New Tehri. Alu ki parantha was the only thing the cook could provide us as breakfast. Never mind, we are not here to have food of our liking but to employ our precious time to feel the breath of nature, to see its grandeur and gigantic form. The Tehri Dam built on Bhagirathi river, one of the tributaries of the Ganges at a height of 670 meter and at a cost of Rs. 10,000/- crore to harness the power of the surging river and produce electricity while keeping the ecological balance of the region in tact ( a controversial claim) is a human marvel indeed.
For the last time we saw the old Tehri town which was scheduled to be submerged by the Ganges water very soon. We felt very sad to know that town with her 150 years of existence will no longer be visible to the eyes but would lie beneath the water perhaps for ever. With a heavy heart amidst flying dust we boarded a bus bound for New Tehri. The bus started climbing the adjacent hill leaving behind the old Tehri. After about half an hour journey upward we entered the new Tehri township built in a planned way. It looked like a modern city having all the amenities that one may ask for. We were advised to get down at Borai stop where the newly built GMVN guest house is situated. It was arranged to have lunch at the guest house. we were scheduled to reach there around 2 O'clock but by the time we reached there it was 4 O'clock. But the most wonderful thing was that the staff members were eagerly awaiting our arrival. As soon as we arrived we were welcomed as if we were VIPs. Our table was laid immediately and fresh and warm food was served with love and respect. After lunch we were shown the type of accommodation available there by the Manager. After formal greetings we left the guest house for Chamba. Of course, Chamba is unique because of its location. By the time we reached our guest house at Chamba, the sun had already set closing down the curtain on another day from our life.
With a cup of tea we got ourselves refreshed. Our next day's programme was to relax and just to visit near by places on foot and get our clothes in order. Here one wonderful thing that happens that after the sun set, the breeze becomes colder and picks up speed. We had to rush to our room to avoid the chill wind. After an early dinner around 8.00 O?clock we went to bed and watched TV programme for a while.
I forgot to note here that for complete two days there was no electricity and the consequent water problem on the first floor did create some ripples in the placid lake of quiet living. However, we could manage with whatever water was made available to us. Never mind, that was a minor irritant which failed to dampen our spirits.
In the morning after our breakfast we went to visit the Shiva Temple and the Pujari was there to invoke blessings of God for us. We also watched a number of wild flowers blooming all around without any human care. It is really a wonder to see how the nature gives its best to human beings without asking for any return. Of course, there are times when the nature turns into a destroyer without any sympathy for the human beings. We also met a few primary students playing on their school ground. They were very shy when we told them to pose for a photograph. Finally only a few of them came and stood with us for a photo session.
On our way back we saw another guest house by name Akash Lok. The manager was standing at the entrance of the guest house. He invited us to see his facility and we accepted his invitation. With great warmth he showed us the whole guest house and also offered us a cup of coffee which we politely declined. This is the same manager who told us earlier when we just arrived at Chamba and heading towards the GMVN Guest house that all rooms of that guest house were sold. In actual sense it was fully lying vacant. We were the only guests to have occupied the guest house on that day. Thank God we did not listen to this man's entreaty. I was also wondering at the human behaviour how easily one can tell a lie as if it were the Truth.
After reaching our guest house we looked at it once again. We were convinced that this guest house could be the best bet in Chamba given it's excellent location, facilities and the view around. Of course, there is another Hotel situated on another hill top but away from Chamba plus its cost is much higher than the one we are presently occupying. In all respect this one is the best in Chamba. Thus we felt happy.
We sat on chairs and tried to absorb the nature's silence while our daughter went around the place with a little puppy. Here just to be in the sun and looking at the Himalayan range is itself a meditation. The God of man transcends its narrow image into the vast range of mountains and sky. One is reminded of man's littleness before the awe inspiring nature. For millions of years even before human beings came on earth through complex evolutionary process, the nature existed with all its grandeur. We are transitional species but what has made us a unique one is the human endeavor to reach out to the unreachable, to know the unknowable. After a nice hot water bath we had our lunch and sat outside enjoying the warmth of the sun. To day being the last day in Chamba we wanted to tune ourselves with the silent music that was being played by the nature around us. Here our small camera gave us an opportunity to freeze these moments into photographs.
We went back to our room to have a little rest. Before the sun set we came out and stood on the western corner of the guest house looking at the sun. By this time the sun's power mellowed down substantially and it looked like a big orange. The cool breeze turned into cold wind chilling even our bones and standing there became difficult. We went down to the market to know about the bus timings for Dhanolty next day. We also bought fruits and took a long walk to come back to our guest house. Once again the fog started covering the sky and everything beyond a few yards became invisible. But we enjoyed our walk and seeing the fog flying by, our daughter wanted to catch a handful of it. It was a fun when she found that handful of fog vanished.
Coming back to our room we organized our clothes and other articles to pack these into our three rucksack for the next day's trip to Dhanolti. After finishing the packing work, it was time to switch on the TV to catch up with news and a few serials. When it was 8.30 p.m. it was time for our dinner. We went down to the dinning hall to have a quick dinner as the temperature was plummeting considerably. After finishing our dinner we took a walk in the corridor and to our surprise the whole area covered by fog looked like an ocean and as if our our tiny guest house will be swept away by the fury of the water.
By 9.30 p.m. we were on our bed and very soon fell asleep. The next morning we prepared ourselves for the journey to Dhanolti. After finishing our breakfast, I cleared the bill for our stay and food and bade them goodbye. It was a very enjoyable stay at the guest house for the last four days. The time passed so quickly that it looked like only a day or two. May be we may again visit this beautiful quiet place some time later. But in any case this place would remain in our memory for long.
Next day morning after tea we walked down to the bus stand in Chamba market place and lo the bus was already there. We occupied three convenient seats and waited for the bus to start. After about 45 minutes the bus started and our impatience melted into cheerful disposition as we could catch few glimpses of the perennial icy Himalayan beauty. The drive through the dense forest was a refreshing one and the range of mountains kept our eyes delighted with changing panorama. Very soon we reached Dhanolti. It was surprising to see the GMVN guest house was located just on our left where we alighted. It was so close we never imagined. But the wonder of wonders was it is a very quiet place only a few vehicles use this road from Chamba to Mussouri. Without any difficulty we got one of the best rooms of the guest house. The treatment was better here in comparison to Chamba. One of the reasons for this was, I suppose, a large of number of tourists do visit this place being in proximity to Mussouri. Dhanolti is colder than Chamba. There are few standard guest houses and we found most of them had no occupancy during the month of October when we visited.
After keeping our rucksacks in the room that was allotted to us, we had a cup of tea and snacks. We placed order for our dinner around 2 p.m. and we went out to the "view point" up the hill. The walk through the Deodar forest and now and then the glimpses of the icy mountains kept our enthusiasm alive till we reached the top. The view was good but not very impressive. A small portion of the range was visible because another range of mountains blocked the view of the Gangotri glacier. I was adamant to see the full view and hence went alone in search of a path which could lead me to the highest point from where I could see the whole range. But it was not to be. After some distance I could not find any trodden path and I came back to the view point where my wife and daughter were waiting. On the way we saw some houses and a school building were lying vacant. Naturally the question came up in our minds was, how is that people are not staying in these houses! We met one person on our way back who told us that the whole area was given to an industry for horticulture cultivation.
After coming back to the guest house we had hot water bath and we were ready for the lunch. The dinning hall was quite neatly laid but there were big size honey bees and flies were buzzing and flying near the windows. Fortunately, these insects did not trouble us much. After finishing our lunch we went to the nearby Forest guest house. The location of this Forest Guest House is excellent. We thoroughly looked at the guest house and liked its royal touch. But suddenly around 3.30 p.m. the whole area was covered by fog. Nothing could be visible even a few meters away. This kind of fog we experienced in Chamba but that too at night time. And here it is happening during day time! This fog continued till 6.30 in the evening. By that time it was already dark.
However, after finishing our dinner we took a walk along the road and saw some of the guest houses lying vacant. It was so chill but the sky was very clear. We could see the milky way and some of the big starts twinkling which we never see in Delhi sky.
There was another family from IIT, Kharagpur. We spent some time with them listening to their experience of the Himalayan expeditions. The real life experiences were so interesting that we forgot about time and place. When it was about 10.30 p.m. we had to reluctantly wind up our "adda" and go to bed.
Next morning after a quick breakfast of sandwich, we picked up our rucksacks and were on the street waiting for the bus to Chamba. The bus turned up quite soon and we raced towards Chamba on the way to Rishikesh. Before entering the Chamba bus stand we could see our old guest house where we stayed for four days and felt like going back to that place once again. But no chance. We had to catch another bus for Rishikesh and very soon by lunch time we were at Rishikesh.
The moment we could see the Ganges flowing, it gave us a wonderful feeling of relief from the tiredness we just experienced during the bus journey. To cross the Ganges we took the exhilarating boat journey across the river instead of the hanging bridge. We sat for some time in the boat and looked at the Ganges and the hanging bridge. The breeze and the gurgling sound of the flowing river made us feel as if we were traveling to an unknown destination till we reach God's land. How I wish our life could have been like a river never stopping on the way till it reaches its destination - the sea.