I remember the day we left Sarmoli.
I was happy to move forward on our journey but there was a tinge of sadness too. We really didn’t know when we were going to see Chandra Didi again, we weren’t sure if we’d be back in this place anytime soon. It was a sense of sadness that comes with the ending of things. Like all goodbyes, it was bittersweet.
We loaded our bags into our car, said our goodbyes to Didi and told her we’d be back for sure and soon, we were on our way and Didi and her son were just specks in our rear view mirror.
Chandra Didi comes up in our conversations now and then and my thoughts wander to her small cottage in the mountains, her relentless smile welcoming tired travelers into her home and her hard-working hands busy plucking the weeds from her farm. I do hope we meet you again, Chandra Didi.
For Naveen and me, visiting and staying at Sarmoli was by chance; it was because of the strange doings of the universe, we met Srinivas uncle and then, Mallika Verdi. We had almost given up on the idea of finding the village but it was the wonderful conspiracies of this world that we had the luck of meeting and staying with Chandra Didi.
And we wonder if magic is real.
We moved on from Sarmoli and took a break at Bhageshwar. We stayed at an average hotel; Hotel Narendra Palace in the small town. It’s a quaint little town with small winding roads and shops lining up on either sides; you can’t really expect luxury treatment but you can make do with what you get there. Narendra Palace is good for a day’s stay, it has an attached restaurant and the rooms are…manageable, but my favorite part of the hotel has to the fact that it is built on the bank of the Sarju River. Just step out of the hotel and take a walk by the river bank and enjoy Bhageshwar’s laid back life.
From Bhageshwar, we moved on to Nainital. Nainital is one of the most famous hill stations in India and Naveen, having visited the city earlier, was really keen on seeing the Nainital lake. I was excited to enter a city after weeks of having stayed away from one.
But Nainital was a huge disappointment. It was crowded everywhere. The lake was packed with tourists, the narrow roads were lined up with traffic and nothing appealed to us. Nothing. We had a better time staying in our room and ordering in food and watching some TV – what we usually prefer to do while stuck in crowded cities.
In Nainital, we booked our stay through OYO – an app we have trusted a lot during our travel. It’s cost-effective, neat and tidy, usually located at convenient spots in a city and honestly, with OYO welcoming unmarried couples, we are spared the judgemental questions about the nature of our relationship and we have really appreciated that on this trip. So shout out to OYO Rooms, thank you very much for existing in India!
We wanted to escape Nainital quickly but we also had to take our car to a garage for some basic servicing, it had seen some rough terrains. So we decided to head towards Haldwani and while our car was in the garage, we started mapping out our route. Naveen wanted to head back to the mountains – Haldwani was fiery. After having spent weeks up in the mountains, the 35 degree celsius Haldwani welcomed us with felt like fire on our skins and we wanted to get out of there quick! So we decided to head up to the Nanda Devi peaks, cutting through the Jim Corbett National Park. Fact: I get very excited if there is a prospective chance of spotting any kind of animal/reptile/bug, I am ready for it. So obviously, I was damn excited – like imagine a kid going to an amusement park excited- to drive through the National Park.
But, unfortunately for me, it’s a National Park – not a wild jungle. The road that is mapped for people to drive through is dotted with resorts and restaurants and safari lodges and stalls and shops. People were everywhere; families, honeymooning couples, kids – just a whole bunch of people being loud and clicking selfies. Not the kind of animals I was looking forward to spotting, if I am being completely honest.
We did spot some elephants though. Not the wild kind but tame ones, the kind you can pay to ride on. It was heartbreaking to see these big elephants standing on the side of the roads, flapping their ears to keep cool and looking around somberly. I felt equal amounts of rage and disappointment. But I was just one person who thought this was ridiculous, there were people who were actively participating on these rides; people of my age and older and kids, of course. But, who can blame the kids for wanting a fun ride on an elephant?
How can we claim to belong to a species of superior intellect when we exploit everything that cannot help itself. I know, I know, we are capable of great kindness, care and affection but what’s the point of it all if we aren’t really applying it? Why are we like this?
We didn’t book any safaris, we didn’t see any animals, but we did enjoy the trees and the mountains, we listened to good music and cruised through the park and started our ascend towards the peak. For all the disappointment I felt, the tall pine tree forests and the mountains made up for it. The warm hues of the setting sun against the cool blues of the evening sky is a sight that I will always cherish.
As the evening went on, dark, storm clouds started rolling into the sky and with the threat of a thunderstorm breathing down our necks and because there was a lack of options for us, we decided to stay the night at Samsara Snowpeaks of the Samsara chain of Hotels and Resorts. The thing is, we grossly overpaid for the room because we really needed a place to stay the night and the options were scarce and there was a thunderstorm rumbling outside. Our wallets cried a little but the view that we woke up to made up for it. Slightly. When we checked into the hotel, there was a downpour and we really couldn’t see anything beyond the Resort’s balcony. But when we woke up the next day, we found ourselves enveloped by peaks and thick clouds.
But personally, more than the view, why I will always remember Samsara is because of Guldu. The next morning, we were served hot tea and biscuits by the caretaker of the place, who was accompanied by a puppy; a tiny, black and white, hyper little puppy. Apparently, he was just two or three weeks old and his mother had given birth behind the resort. He was the most active off all his brothers and sisters and liked to roam around and explore. I immediately attached myself to him and I was ready to take him with us. But, of course, Naveen had to step in and call me out on my quick, stupid decision. But I did to get to play with him till the last moment.
He didn’t have a name and all the caretakers and the manager of the place were just calling him kallu (for the lack of a better name and not because he was more black than white) but when we were playing with him, we kept calling him Guldu – Kannada slang to call someone stupid/a fool, but kind of in an endearing way. And everyone at the Resort decided to name him Guldu. So somewhere, up in the mountains in Uttarakhand, there is a good boy named Guldu and his name is Guldu because of us. And I am damn proud of that story.
After saying bye to Guldu, we made our way further up the mountains. We were now on our way to Joshimath.
Another day, another adventure!