I have never been one to play perfect aunt to fractious toddlers or hard-to-please teens. So when a weekend plan to travel with friends and their children, aged 3-10, came up, I hesitated. Then, weighing the options of spending a predictable holiday in the city or heading to the hills with old friends, I decided the latter would be far better. What’s more, it was just a matter of three days.
Our destination was the children-friendly Himalayan Eco Lodge in Viraatkhai, a village located at a height of 6,100ft and wedged between the craggy mountains of the lower Himalayan region of Uttarakhand.
I was pleasantly surprised at the uneventful journey. There was no sparring for window seats. Noses squashed to the glass, the five children with us were in complete awe of the landscape as we climbed up from the ghats of Yamuna Nagar. The drive offers excellent views of the Tons and Yamuna rivers’ sinuous blue capillaries on the plains below. And the sweeping view of hamlets and terraced fields beyond the plunging valleys stays all the way till Chakrata.
An erstwhile cantonment area of Doon Valley, this is the ideal springboard, 27km before Viraatkhai. It is the only major stop that offers quintessential Maggi points and streets lined with shanties drooping under the weight of chips and biscuits. Since we had a carload of children, it was imperative we stop.
Having left Delhi with the rising sun, we reached Viraatkhai in time for a late lunch. The lodge sat at the edge of a cliff, overlooking a deep valley and stacks of mountains beyond. We were propped right on top of a low hill, surrounded by the protective embrace of the upper reaches.
It was January, and the sunlight was playing spoilsport as early as 5pm. With the average energy levels of the group still high, we put the youngsters on the job of finding wood for a bonfire in the lodge campus. Never before had I witnessed such planning by a 10-year-old and his troupe. He quickly paired up an older child with a younger one and off they went in three directions to find pint-sized sticks. The evening bonfire was a resounding success, till we all succumbed to the travel fatigue under thick lumpy quilts in our cosy rooms.
The next morning, we woke to a magical view of the valley, filled to the brim with clouds. As the sunlight made its way over the mountains, the clouds disappeared. It was a perfect day, in fact, for a short trek to the Tiger waterfalls close by. In the hope of starting the new year on a healthy, uplifting and active note, we drove till Chakrata and then started the 5km walk to the base of the falls. I realized that it wasn’t stamina we needed. Just willpower. Trailing a local guide, our platoon of young and old trekkers made easy progress initially. And then came the huffs and the puffs. But not one from the children.
They marched on, across grassy patches, nimbly negotiating gravelly dirt paths. It took us 2 hours to reach the base of Tiger Falls, a white frothy sheet of water that looked like it was slung over a tall 50m-high rock. We parked ourselves on the boulders around, some of us massaging our feet, others ready to dive into the picnic basket we had carried along. Without taking a moment to rest, the children waded through the shallow water, trapping tadpoles in plastic bottles.
We spent a good 3 hours by the waterfall before starting the climb back. The goats and mules feeding on the fresh green grass of the hills provided a fascinating sight for our Old MacDonald trekkers. And, of course, the rhyme became the anthem for the rest of the holiday. With an outdoor playground like Viraatkhai, I felt I could survive an entire classroom full of children.
Weekend Vacations offers suggestions on getaways that allow for short breaks from metros. The author tweets from @supsonthemove.