Here I was on a train with no phone or communication of any kind. I had booked a home stay at Haldwani and I had already given the phone and address to Bhim before I left for the trip. I had found this home stay through backpackers and trekker forums and they did say it was comfortable and nice.
It was early morning and I was chatting with a couple opposite my berth, they were from Nainital and the moment they knew I had no phone, they kindly called up one of their relatives from Haldwani to check the whereabouts of this homestay. I had taken a snapshot of the address and that’s all I had. Unfortunately, no one knew the address.
I got down at Haldwani and got out of the station and was searching for ‘the right kind of auto guy’ and by right I mean someone who was friendly, had a phone and would allow me to use it.
So my first question was Aap ke pass phone hai (Do you have a phone? )Then next Yeh Road pata hai? (Do you know this road?) I got quite strange looks for that! For the first time, I saw Auto drivers wary of someone 🙂
Finally I found my guy! There is an instinct that instantly tells us if it feels right or wrong and boy was I right!
Friendly and co-operative, he didn’t bat an eyelid when I asked him the above questions. He only said,Ha, Ha Madamji! (Yes) and Koi Problem nahin, mein call karta hoon, pata kar lete hai address.(No problem, I will call him and get the proper address)
Promptly I called the home stay owner to say I was at Haldwani and could he give the directions to the driver? The owner was so concerned I was alone with no phone, he kept checking on me throughout the ride.
The auto guy was was a nice young man. He was from Bareilly and he had moved to Haldwani two years ago, single and happy and he said Madamji aap to south se aaye ho pahadon ko dekhne, ab tak humne nahin dekha! (You came from the south to see Mountains, I haven’t seen it yet) I asked him what was good about Haldwani, he said nothing much really except it’s people 🙂
Finally I reached the homestay which was quite a posh building and I saw a Paltan(group) outside. It was the whole family. They were all gaping at me when I came out of the auto and I said HELLO! I mean just silence and frozen looks from them.
I had to cut short the the awkwardness so I said again, Hi I am Swapna! Immediately an old woman said Nahin, Nahin, the name of the homestay is Kia Ora! I rolled my eyes and said again Ha, lekin mera naam Swapna hai! (Yes, but my NAME is Swapna) It was hilarious I tell you, I felt like I was in some tv serial!
I bade goodbye to the auto guy and went to my room. It was a beautiful well maintained room with a balcony. A lady welcomed me and said we were so worried when you said you were alone and had no phone, please call your friend Bhim! Please! Her husband was a professor and he was away, so she was managing the place.
Bhim would be coming in around 11.30 am – 12 noon so I relaxed, had my breakfast and Chai. It was kind of liberating not to have a phone. Until I go back home which was another 9+ days, my phone would be good only to click pics. To not be connected to anything or anyone is also a blessing.
Finally my friend Bhim came, All 6’5 of him! I was jumping with joy seeing him. We were planning and discussing about this trip for quite some time, but for it to actually happen was amazing.
Our plan was to go towards Panchachauli Base camp. Trekking was the first option, then road trip/ hitchhiking and backpacking were the other options. The good part was that both of us were not particular about getting somewhere at that day and at that point only. The journey mattered not the destination.
Getting towards Panchachauli was easier said than done. The number of days were just not enough to what we planned. This we came to know from the lady.
Our first goal was to get to Dharchula. What we initially thought was to have lunch, get to Haldwani Bus Stand and take a bus to Dharchula. But the ride was 12-13 hours and no way would we get rides post afternoon. We had to take an early morning ride, the next day to Dharchula. A whole day gone!
Then Bhim suggested something brilliant, why waste our time at Haldwani dude? Let’s go to Hawalbagh and spend a night there! It was a great idea! I have so many memories of that place.
Last year after Deorital-Chandrashila trek I paid a visit to my friends Deepta and Arjun and they introduced me to Julia and Lyat who run a homestay in Hawalbagh called Innisfree.
Deepta had also opened a fantastic cafe called ‘Bong Book Cafe’ at Kosi Bridge just 4 kms from Hawalbagh. Bhim had also met them at the cafe after we did the September Roopkund trek and thoroughly enjoyed our time together. So Hawalbagh it was!
I called Deepta and told her and as usual she said, Aa jao! (come over) She would tell Julia to keep a room aside for us. Initially we were supposed to be at Hawalbagh only on our return back from Panchachauli, but hey plans change don’t they? 🙂
So we took a taxi near the bus stand and off we went! It was a beautiful journey as the driver Ajay regaled us with stories of his village,his family’s political leanings so on and so forth.
He lived in the North East for 10 years and ended up falling in love with a North East girl and married her. His family didn’t talk to him for a couple of years until they gave in. What made me very happy was that he used to live in Hyderabad, in Cantonment area as a kid! His father was still in the army posted in Hyderabad, training new recruits. Such a small world it is.
He even spoke about the rivalry and dislike for Garhwalis. Bhim told me that Kumaonis and Garhwalis couldn’t stand each other. Kumaonis saw Garhwalis as manipulators and cunning people while Garhwalis saw Kumaonis as good for nothing lazy folks 🙂
The whole journey passed by, cracking jokes, singing songs and did you know that the Kumaon region is stuck in 90’s Hindi songs?? You didn’t know, did you? The number of 90’s corny Hindi songs we heard during that entire journey converted us into liking them too for some reason. The hills do that to you!
Kumaon region is still vastly unexplored unlike Garhwal region and the folklores are incredible if one were to read them. For us,one memory stuck from our childhood reading, ‘The Man Eater of Kumaon by Jim Corbett’. Leopards were rampant here, the region was wild and raw. It had a magical feeling about it.
Finally we reached my friend’s cafe and there she was with a big smile! It was awesome always to meet Deepta and to be honest when we first met 3 years ago I didn’t know I will get to meet them again and in Uttarakhand of all places and connect so well time and again.
We chatted on and played with Fuchka and Cola, her adorable dogs till late evening over Chai. Arjun was away in Delhi and would be back on 7th April.
Deepta had introduced a wonderful concept to her cafe. It was Pay-As-You-Like. She told us she didn’t want it to be commercial pandering to all kinds of people. She wanted to have people with similar views and interests,friends and there would be no menus.
She would discuss what they would like to eat and she would make it, no portion control nothing, just make it and they could pay if they liked it. It was plain and simple for her. And yup she is a wonderful cook!
Arjun and Deepta left the mainstream life long back and they were pretty content with what they had. If you ever get a chance, do check out Bong Book Cafe at Kosi bridge about 12 kms away from Almora.
Julia came to pick us up,she was enroute to Hawalbagh from Nainital and it was always a pleasure to see her. We finally reached Innisfree- her homestay. Lyat, her husband was down with viral fever and we would meet him the next morning.
I could feel the beautiful energy of the place. I had such wonderful memories last year right here with Deepta, Arjun, Julia and Lyat, it felt really good to be back.
Sitting at their beautiful verandah and watching the skies, chatting with Julia and with an awesome friend Bhim, what could one want? There was peace and great company.
Julia as usual made sure she gave us plenty of chai and a great dinner and company. She was dead tired being in Nainital the whole day yet she had the energy to chat with us till late night. Finally it was time to retire for the night.
As we retired to bed, Bhim and I chatted for some time, discussing how the whole day went by and it was so good to go ahead without any set plan.
The best part was that we had similar views of what the trip should be about. It was not goal oriented, to do this and that and in the process lose those little moments. There was no rush, we both agreed we will take each day as it comes.
Tomorrow would be another new beginning..