I’ve always been intrigued by Delhi people who tell me, “Oh, we’re going to the Hills this weekend”, and until recently, have displayed my ignorance on several occasions by interjecting with an “Oh, you mean Kullu Manali?”
“The Hills” are just about any destination involving raised altitudes, and are not to be confused with their uncool cousins, the “hill stations”—where we’re headed for our little college reunion.
Our driver attempts to stop for breakfast at this obviously-just-waking-up hotel at Gajraula, in Uttar Pradesh, at 6.30am. We politely shake our heads as the yawning watchman says “Sirf toast milega (only toast is available) ”, and eventually stop at Moradabad’s Chandrakanta dhaba. Our orders are taken efficiently and our table is covered with curd, pickle and butter (all dairy products sold by weight), followed by delicious parathas stuffed with onion, paneer, potato and cauliflower, hot off the griddle.
Chandrakanta ends up being a fantastic experience, with seven hungry souls satiated by parathas, tea and colas for just over Rs 300. It’s a stone’s throw from the bright and shiny Apni Haveli that we’ll get to in a bit.
At leisure: The hills in the Kumaon region are dark and deep, and absolutely conducive to sloth. Photo by Pradeep Gaur/Mint.
It takes another 5 hours to cross various roadblocks and enter the hills of Kumaon, passing by large advertisements for special chicken pickle—“Sardarji ka Special Murge ka Achaar ”. The helpful people at our resort have told us to keep our eyes peeled for the Pilot Baba Ashram, which isn’t hard to miss, with its larger-than-life, gaudy Ganesh and Shiva statues.
Pilot Baba’s godliness met an untimely end, with allegations of money laundering, but the awesomeness remains, evidently.
We’re staying at Two Chimneys, Gethia, and after the long drive, we’re thankful to be spared the usual check-in formalities. After a quick tour of the place with the manager, Manju, we pick our rooms and hit the pool. The efficient Chandru sees us threatening to swig from a wine bottle (we were advised to bring our own alcohol, but the kitchen was well stocked with mixers and beer, apparently a trend through the hills) and quickly brings us wine glasses, followed by a warm and comfortable lunch spread.
We are soon joined by the resort’s illustrious owner, Tarun Tejpal. Two Chimneys is pretty much the setting of his first book, and the resort’s library is replete with copies of The Alchemy of Desire (in Spanish!) and back editions of the English magazine Tehelka of which Tejpal is the editor, and which have thoughtfully also been placed in the bathrooms). We spend the evening recovering from the drive and exploring the pathways around Gethia, before retiring to rounds of Taboo and an elaborate khao suey.
The Hills are lovely, dark and deep, and absolutely conducive to sloth, and the next morning everyone goes out of their way to convince us that our plan of going up to Nainital should be, well, delayed. “ Bahut bheed hogi , sir, aaj Sunday hai (it will be very crowded, it’s a Sunday)”. Talao mein paani kam hai, sir, aapko mazaa nahin aayegaa (there isn’t enough water in the lake, you will not enjoy it).” We don’t take much convincing, and hit the pool again.
The next morning, we are determined to conquer our inactivity and go to Nainital—just a 40-minute drive away—and we head straight for the lake after battling surprising traffic jams. We ditch the dragon and swan pedal boats and enter the Boat House Club where, despite our obvious violation of the dress code, sails are unfurled and at a pricey Rs 250 per boat, we are treated to a luxury lap of the lake in the “yacht”. It’s a lot of fun, as long as the wind doesn’t stop. We ignore the snickers of the dragon-boat pedallers when we are stranded in the lake, and strike up a conversation with the boatman about whether the zoo is worth a visit.
“Ek bhaloo hai, ek sher hai (there’s one bear, one tiger) ,” he yawns.
We ask him about the ropeway.
“Accha hai (it’s nice)”, he says.
Despite his non-committal stance, we trek to the ropeway, where I excitedly jump to the empty “ladies” counter and ask for tickets on the next ropeway ride. There are groans from the men’s line.
The next available ropeway ride is at 3.45pm. It’s 11am, and we have a long drive to Delhi ahead of us. We decide to drown our sorrows in pastries at a wonderful bakery right opposite the boat club. Nainital is pretty but crowded for a Monday, and we head back to Gethia after a quick drive around for our last lunch—and dip in the pool—at Two Chimneys.
We’re sad to go, but are cheering ourselves up at the thought of stopping by to pick up some of the chicken achaar.
“Woh main road pe ek Sardarji Murge ka Achaar bechta hai?” we ask Chandru
“Haanji (yes),” he replies, smilingly.
“Toh woh achcha rehta hai kya (is it good) ?”
“Bilkul mat lena, ji (never have it),” he answers, without missing a beat or dropping the earnest smile.
Turns out, the origin of the cockerels which Sardarji pickles are highly suspect, so we visit a store close to the Udupi Restaurant at Haldwani to pick up some Kumaoni Plum Jam and Orange Marmalade, wonderfully thick and fruity, manufactured by the cooperative Umang. It can also be bought off their website.
There’s no staying away from things shiny and pretty, so we’re back at Apni Haveli which, surprisingly, has a “Hair Cutting Saloon” as well. Turns out, if you must stop there, stick to the haircut—we were jolted out of holiday bliss by their terrible service, nuclear jal jeera and possibly the worst tea in the world. We drove silently on to Delhi, where we reached just in time for the last Domino’s delivery.
There is poetry in these hills, so avoid the crowds and get to as self-enclosed a location as possible and let the hills work their magic on you.
And take your own booze.
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