It was a beautiful morning and we got determined to leave by 8.30 am. Julia packed cheese sandwiches for the trip. Lyat had spoken to a driver to take us till Dharanaula. After that we could make our own way out.
Lyat mentioned that it was pouring cats and dogs at Dharchula a few days ago which means snow up there in the mountains, he told us to be careful.
We dropped off our excess baggage at Arjun’s office and in an hour’s time we were at Dharanaula. We got off and made our way to the taxi stand. We haggled until we got a cab till Pitthorgarh.
The man Lalit Joshi was really nice as he spoke about his village, his kids. His brother was a Sarpanch in the village below Pitthorgarh. He tried to play some English Electronic music but we made him change it to local songs, we were like, play something that is native here.
He was not as condescending towards Garhwalis like Ajay, our previous driver. He also took us to an awesome breakfast place where we had the best Onion Aloo Parathas, and Paneer Parathas. Yup! Huge delicious Parathas and we washed it down with Strong Chai.
We were passing villages, civilization and sometimes just forests and hills. Kumaon had something about it. Rolling green fields to brown landscapes, the barrenness added a mysticism to it.
Sometimes I felt I was in a different time zone, a bygone era.I wondered how this must have been with the Gora Sahibs during British rule. So wild and untamed..
We started seeing a lot of army wagons and officers, Lalit told us that lot of outposts were here. Indo-Nepal border, Indo-China border. So much of concrete and construction existed because the Army jawans built homes for their families. There was a huge population of Nepalis in Pitthorgarh and Dharchula. We were really surprised that Pitthorgarh was not some small town as we imagined.
After 4+ hours, we got down at Pitthorgarh and started asking around for Shared taxis to Dharachaula. It was 200 Rs per head and at that time we thought we will actually reach Dharachaula by 4 pm, how wrong we were!
Finally a taxi jeep was on its way and we got in. Bhim made me sit in the front with the driver for better leg space and he got a seat in the middle. And here is the thing, until that day I didn’t realise 16 people could fit in one vehicle! Yup 16! We were squashed with people.
There were 5 people in the driver’s seat including me and Bhim was getting squashed with at least 5 people in the middle! And the back seat had 6-7 people!
How we managed, we don’t know, but yeah we were laughing looking at our condition. It was an adventure. The driver Raju would stop every 5 minutes and I truly mean every 5 minutes! To greet someone, to chat with someone in the middle of the road mind you! We would keep looking at the watch but No Sir, an hour gone by and we were still meandering around Dharchula.
What do you do at that time? We did what travelers do, we sat back(whatever little space we had) and went with the flow. The Mountains were teaching us, Patience my dear Patience, you got to have patience, no point in fretting and fussing, let it be. You have to earn it.
You will reach when you have to reach. The Pahadis were teaching us that nothing goes according to our mechanical set clock time, it’s their time and they will go at their own pace. So we enjoyed the journey.
The only woman next to me in the front seat was Ira Devi, having one of the most beautiful smiles and a pretty red Bindi. Her eyes twinkled! I started chatting with her and she was very friendly.
She was Nepali in origin but brought up here. She was visiting her sister in Dharchula. Her husband worked in Gujarat, while her older son was a CA and married, he was currently in Chennai. Her younger son was studying in Delhi.
When I asked her doesn’t she feel alone with no family living with her? It might be very tough. She said kya kare, kaam ke liye to jaana padta hai na? Humen koi takleef nahin hai, yaha apne gai bakri ko dekthi hoon, bas yahi kaafi hai. (What to do, you got to work. I don’t have any problem, I am happy taking care of the livestock) She was so content I tell you. She had a radiance about her.
Our driver Raju was continuing his socializing along with driving us. He would stop if any of the passengers wanted to eat or any small thing. He actually stopped at a sweet shop and told Ira Devi Aapko mithai kareedni hai na? He didn’t bat an eyelid when she took a full 20-25 minutes. And the number of people that would get in and get off was hilarious. It was already past 4 pm and we were nowhere near Dharchula.
He would play Hindi/Kumaoni songs and Bhim and I would be tapping to it, we were able to squeeze in a tiny nap too among the squashy tight passengers 🙂
We were getting used to this. At one point there was a lady with a cute tiny girl of maybe 5 years with an even tinier cute puppy in her hand as they got in next to Bhim. My heart just melted seeing this.
The mother sensing it told me to hold the cuddly squishy puppy and the girl started saying Mera Kutta! The mother told her I was just holding the puppy and I will give it back. I reassured her and held the pupper until we reached Dharchula. The whole scene was surreal and Bhim and myself were thoroughly enjoying ourselves. It had been a whole day of travel and it was almost 7 pm but our spirits were high!
Finally at 7 pm we reached the guest house at Dharchula. Our driver Raju extended a 4+ hour ride to another 3 hours. We looked around and realized we were the only freaking tourists in town. No one, absolutely no outsiders/ tourists, only locals.
There was a room available in the guest house and when we told our plans to the Manager that we wanted to go as far as the last road towards Panchachauli, he said the road stops at a certain point near a river and he will check out which one.
That done, we relaxed and had some dinner. We still had no idea which village to go to, and where to exactly and that was the fun part. All we wanted was to explore and go further up towards the mountains, however it may be.
The Manager came back with some info. He said most of the villagers hadn’t yet returned to their villages! It was empty! We were like what?? Yup folks, all the village folks come down to Dharchula with their families and livestock for the winter and move back sometime in mid April!
So when Bhim and I had planned a trip here, we read an article that said Season opens from April, we literally took it as 1st of April! We were two silly South Indians I tell you!
We burst out laughing! So we would literally be the first ones to go to those villages even before the villagers?? Surely there might be someone up there! The Manager again found out and optimistically said 2 families went up to the mountains 3-4 days ago, maybe we will find someone up there?
It goes without saying what we decided to do, villagers or no villagers. We had our sleeping bags, we had certain food stuff and basic ration and there was always water sources for water, what else did we need? Usually in those villages, there would be an open dhaba shelter with no doors, we could sleep there so what’s stopping us?
It was pretty easy with Bhim, he was as open and adventurous. We didn’t come all the way up here just to go back!
So tomorrow morning we would set off, the only question was how? The rides hadn’t yet started, no vehicles going that side, no people on that route, how were we gonna manage this tomorrow?