Work was taking a toll and whenever that happens, my mind reaches out to the hills for some solace. It wasn’t a different story in the month of January 2012 and I was eagerly awaiting a week-long break. When I initially started to plan for this, all I knew was I had to get away for a few days and I booked the railway tickets for Kathgodam quite arbitrarily. Now that the days were fixed, search started for the destinations. For a moment, it appeared to me that I have exhausted all options in the Kumaon hills. I gave a call to one of my distant cousins in Kolkata, Sanju da (Sanjib Ganguly). He’s a person to whom I owe my love for the mountains. It was his family tours which drew me towards the Himalayas. As always, he didn’t disappoint me this time either. After a few chats, we narrowed down to three places – Naukuchia taal, Chiliyanaula and Sitla (not Sitlakhet).
On a Friday night, after we came back from our office, had our dinners, picked up our bags and off we went to Delhi railway station to board the Ranikhet express for the umpteenth time. Next morning, we were at the Haldwani railway station at 5.30 AM. After completing our morning duties and applying some water to our faces at the railway retiring room, we walked out of the station, fresh as ever, to board a cab. The cab started it’s journey meandering through the congested roads and lanes till it reached the Nainital road. It was all familiar since I’ve traveled so many times through this route. “There’s the bend for the road that goes to Almora”, “Here comes Bhimtaal” – chants kept coming from my wife and daughter. After traveling down the road that surrounds Bhimtaal, the cab took a diversion that moved up the slopes. After a short hike, it came to a halt at the banks of the picturesque, big and the quiet lake of Naukuchia taal. We were right at the reception of KMVN tourist rest house. It beamed (as if to welcome us) in the bright sunlight. The chill in the winter morning wind was equally enjoyable.
After the formalities, keys were handed to us. We had the entire day at our disposal. Warm geyser water aided us with some wonderful bathing and after a short breakfast with bread toast and coffee, we were ready for a boat ride in this quiet and pristine lake.
Naukuchia Taal is the biggest of the entire lake system that exists in the lower regions of Nainital district and more important, its more secluded than the others. Boats were available right at the doorsteps of the rest house and three of us boarded one with trembling steps and set afloat. The water glistened like startling diamonds in the bright sunlight.
The surrounding hills were filled with plush green forests (unlike Nainital, which is shrouded with hotels). The boat splashed along with quiet strokes in the water, splitting the large sparkling diamonds into smaller ones. The warmth in the sunlight was soothing and the gentle wind with moist traces of water from the lake had a healing touch. Life was all good with nothing else to do other than soaking in the beauty served up by nature.
The next day, we woke up to a cloudy weather but it wasn’t raining. A local vehicle was to take us into a ride to some nearby places of tourist attraction. Our first destination was Saat Taal, a system of seven small lakes, about 30 minutes drive from the hotel. As the vehicle moved upwards from the hotel premises along the serpentine roads, Naukuchia Taal offered breath taking bird’s eye views from different angles.
The lakes of Saat Taal were nestled amongst the surrounding hills that were densely covered with forests. It’s so serene to just look around with dense vegetation to soothe our eyes. Nearby forests buzzed with chirping birds. Saat Taal is also a heaven for bird watchers but I was devoid of a lens suitable for it.
We spent the entire morning roaming around besides the lakes and boating. Saat Taal also forms an important source of water for the lower plains of Kathgodam and Haldwani. Each one of the seven lakes (one of them was dry at that point) had a mythological tale behind it. With such surroundings, one doesn’t care about scientific reasoning but likes to believe in such tales.
As the day progressed, we headed to our next destination, Ghorakhal. It’s a place nearby that has a tea garden. As we headed towards it, clouds dispersed and a bright evening unfolded. The golden tinge in the evening sun rays added to the beauty of the sprawling tea garden which appeard as a stretched out bed of tea plants interspersed with tall trees dotting the landscape that have been planted to provide shade to the underlying tea plants.
Shadows started to get large as the sun prepared to bid adieu. We headed back to the rest house at KMVN. It’s been years since that day, but its etched in memory as a simple, peaceful day with rare tranquility. After dinner, we sunk into our blankets. Who knows what ChiliyaNaula has in store for us, which is where we were headed tomorrow?