Day 1: 19 December 2013: Reaching Mukteshwar
As year end was approaching, many friends at DevilOnWheels were planning for an escapade in search of solitude and finally what we zeroed in on were Mukteshwar, Sattal (and other tals around Nainital) and Pangot. It was desided that we will spend one night each and the dates were finalised as 19th to 22nd December. Nainital was kept deliberately out of the itinerary as it would be crowded – as always and we were in search of tranquility. Pangot, because it happens to be bird-watcher’s paradise! Initially, we formed a large group of around 20, but gradually the numbers dwilled down and finally we settled down to just two families – Dheeraj with his wife, son, plus brother-in-law – Gaurav, and me with wifey and li’l daughter who was 15 month old – in all 7 persons in two cars.
We had decided to meet near the CISF camp on NH24 as that is the route to take. Dheeraj was coming from Dwarka and we had decided to synchronize drive times so as to avoid any long waiting time and hence we decided to meet at sharp 0600 hrs. Now getting ready early in the morning, when you’ve a lady with you and a kid too, and to top that, when you’re used to get up at 0700 hrs and that too on alarm – was the first challenge. However, since we had planned in advance and packed our bags, I managed to leave our residence by 0550 hrs. Ringed Dheeraj and he said that he was approaching the meeting point, however, said that he was crossing a bridge. That should be the Hindon bridge! And it means that he missed the CISF camp. I asked him to stop immediately after crossing the bridge and I’ll be there in next 5-10 minutes.
Reached there shortly and then I met Dheeraj for the first time, though we’ve known each other for longer – online! 🙂
Pleasantries exchanged, we started the drive. It was still dark and a thick fog was settling very quickly reducing our speeds as the visibility reduced to just couple of meters.
None of us had our breakfast and we decided to stop somewhere for some quick bite. I knew from my previous experiences about Skylark Tourist Dhaba, just 8 kilometers ahead of crossing the Ganga river at Garhmukteshwar which serves fresh and tasty food. Communicated the same to Dheeraj as he was following me and by 0745 hrs, we reached the Dhaba. The average speed was less than 45kmph!
We had some parathas and sandwiches plus tea for breakfast, settled the bill and then decided to run non-stop to Mukteshwar. The time read 0830 hrs. However, with a small kid, you are bound to take some breaks – nappy changing, feeding, … And I tried not to loose time by driving ahead full speed, taking breaks while Dheeraj was driving non-stop and then catching up with them. At Moradabad bypass toll, we two were again back to back. We purchased some guavas there and munching on them, we drove ahead to reach Rampur.
The fog was still there, but it dispersed after we were about to reach Moradabad.
We had deliberated earlier on the route and instead of taking Moradabad-Tanda-Bazpur-Kaladhungi-Nainital-Bhowali-Mukteshwar which was reported to be too much troublesome and full of huge craters that could swallow a truck (literally!) around Tanda, we had decided to go via Moradabad-Rampur-Suar-Bazpur-Kaladhungi-Nainital-Bhowali-Mukteshwar as the same route was taken by our friend – Ashish and was reported to be better. Since I wasn’t aware of the route and my GPS was not getting the route either, I let Dheeraj drive ahead and guide us for the route. As we entered Rampur, we took the correct left turn towards Suar. Finding many intersections that were confusing, Dheeraj decided to ask for the directions, however, he missed to ask for the directions to Suar and instead asked for directions towards Nainital and the people there directed us to a narrow lane which eventually led us to the Nainital road going via Rudrapur-Haldwani (Check the maps to see what we went through!).
The traffic of all sorts – trucks, tractors, tempo, bikes, cycles and bullock karts ensured that our progress remains dead slow. And to top that, the road condition became worse with big potholes and broken roads. The moment you’d think of overtaking a slow moving vehicle, you’d encounter a big crater and then you fall back in line. Driving slowly ahead, I stopped at the Punjabi Potli, 22 kms ahead of Rampur (just 8 kms short of Bilaspur) to have some tea and feed something to the kiddo. Dheeraj was following me and so I tried waving down so that they could stop, however, he couldn’t see me and drove ahead. I called up Dheeraj to let him know that I had stopped and will catch up in sometime. The time read 1125 hrs.
Starting from the Punjabi Potli, we pass by Bilaspur and soon approach the UP-Uttarakhand Border at Rudrapur, after which the road conditions improved. Dheeraj was nowhere to be seen and so I pressed the pedal. However, navigating through the city traffic at Rudrapur makes you a bit slow and I was guessing that once Dheeraj reaches the Tanda range, he would also pick up speed. Keeping up with the speed, soon we passed the Tanda range and as we were about to reach the traffic junction at Haldwani, I noticed Dheeraj two cars ahead. Haldwani is generally congested, however, traffic keeps on moving at slow pace. Soon we both were driving back to back and passed by Kathgodam Railway station.
From this point onwards, I wasn’t very sure of the route to take, although I had GPS maps working, so I let Dheeraj lead the way. The mountains had started…
Driving ahead, we missed the right fork to Bhimtal, which would have shortened the distance by couple of kilometers and instead drove towards Jeolikote on the left fork. A bit ahead, Dheeraj stopped his car and so did I. Dheeraj’s son wasn’t feeling well and the motion sickness coupled with start of hilly drive made him throw again. Since he had by now thrown a couple of times, so he was crying and so we took time to pacify him, share some quick snacks (fried flattend rice with groundnut and salts and chips) as the time read 1330 hrs and it was almost time. Since we had plans of having lunch at Mukteshwar, which was still about three hours ahead (70kms odd), we shared some with Dheeraj so that they can munch while driving too.
Starting from there, we passed Jeolikote and just ahead, we kept on the right/straight fork of the road so as to bypass Nainital town and passed by Ghodakhal (landmark Ghodakhal Sainik School), where the road from Tallital meets this road. We kept on straight and then took right near the Bhowali bus stand and moving ahead, took the left fork going towards Mukteshwar (around 40kms). The right fork here is the one that goes towards Bhimtal. Driving ahead, the road conditions detoriated a bit and we passed by Ramgarh. Apparently, commercialization has taken a big toll on the hills and we could see that majority of the peaks being devoid of trees and cement and concrete structures coming up just about everywhere – from small guest houses to big retreats! 🙁
Pretty soon, we left all those commercialized structures and it was soothing to eyes to see greenery again. We were about to reach the Oak Chalet resort and so Dheeraj called him. Surely enough, there were two persons waving us down to a property after couple of hundred of meters. We parked our cars to what appeared to be a beautiful property. The people introduced themselves.. a lean figure with dishelved and curly hairs – Hemu and the other one is Bahadur. Hemu is the one who mainly takes care of the affairs here. And then he tells us that the property that we are looking at just now is Somerset lodge. Oak Chalet, where our booking is, is a 10 minutes walk down. They say it is a nice walk and we would enjoy. Ok! What about the lugguage? No problem, they’ll carry. Fine! We’ll take the walk, but please guide us. No need sir, there is just a single trail, just follow that! The time reads 1610 hrs.
A word of caution – when in hills and you ask for distance to any place, whatever the answer is, whether in terms of distance or time, just double the amount! And so a 10 minute walk for them becomes a 20 minute downhill (and sometimes uphill too) walk for us. As we walk down the trail, we wonder whether this one property has owned up an entire mountain! The moment we approach first structure that could be inhabited, we ask a lady whether we have reached the Oak Chalet, but no! This is accommodation for people working on the farms, Oak Chalet is still a while ago. In the meantime, Hemu and Bahadur catch up with us, even when carrying all those lugguages. He says it is just ahead of the bushes and so we keep on walking and many bushes ahead, we finally reach the Oak Chalet! The time read 1630 hrs.
Soon after our lugguage arrived, we checked in the rooms and boy! What big room with huge glass windows was this! Nice ambience!! Since we two families were the only guests, we had all the place to ourselves! 🙂
Soon, we were called for the lunch. The dining hall is in a separate building situated adjacent to Oak Chalet. This also doubles up as the library and has got a nice collection of travel books. A corner also had badminton rackets and corks to play with. We however, decided first to have lunch as the time was already 1720. Chapatis, Rice, Rajma, Raita, Salad and potato-cauliflower vegetable tasted marvellous, may be because we were really hungry?
Done with stuffing the stomach, the kids pickup the badminton rackets and started playing with just about anything – from cork, to small pebbles to big lemons that were on the premise. It was feeling really nice to be away from any sort of noise of traffic/vehicles, mountains all around that are green. It was getting dark and cold and hence we decided to rest a bit and then come back again at 2000 hrs when the bonfire will be lit followed by dinner. Dheeraj and Gaurav decided to go back to the car to get some items and while on return, Gaurav sprained his ankle and it swelled like hell! Fortunately, I always carry some pain killers pain cream and so we handed it over and advised him to get some sleep.
At about 2030 hrs, I came out and inquired with Hemu if they were to start the bonfire. He said that he was in fact waiting for us only and so I asked it to be lit. Initially, I was all alone enjoying the bonfire and later joined by Dheeraj, his wife and the kid. My daughter was sleeping and hence Shikha also came down a while later.
Half an hour later, we had our dinner and then we retired for the day.
Next: Exploring Mukteshwar & Sattal
Total Distance covered: Approx 330 kms
Driving Directions from Noida to Mukteshwar: Take Ashok Marg to pass by Shopprix Mall. At the next traffic intersection, turn left to go towards sector 62 – NH 24 traffic tri-junction. Turn right at NH 24 and keep on driving following the highway to pass by Crossing Republic and ABES Colleges on your right. Take the flyover to be on NH24, left diversion goes to Ghaziabad town. Keep on following NH24 to pass by Dasna, Masuri and Pilakhwa (Handloom hub) towards Hapur. Take right fork after Nizampur to be on the Hapur bypass road and pass by Babugarh and Simbhaoli to arrive at Skylark Tourist Dhaba on your left. Drive ahead and cross the Ganga river (Ganges) at Garhmukteshwar and pass by Gajraula. Further ahead, just after Pakwara (marked by Tirthanker Mahaveer University), take the right fork to go on to Moradabad bypass. After the bypass ends, turn right to remain on NH24 and drive towards Rampur. Enter Rampur (marked by a left turn and immediate bridge, NH24 is being worked upon and later a straight road from here will continue as NH24) and pass by DM Residence followed by Railway station. At the T-point just ahead, turn left to take NH87 (also called Nainital Road). Keep on driving and pass by Bhot, following which you arrive at Punjabi Potli to your left. Drive ahead straight and pass by Bilaspur and reach the UP-Uttrakhand border, marked by a gate. Drive ahead to reach Rudrapur and keep on driving through the city on the same road without taking any turn. At Chhatarpur junction, majority of traffic appears to be following right fork, however, take the left fork off NH87 to go via the Tanda range forest towards Haldwani, the right fork (NH87) goes to Pantnagar again to reach Haldwani through a longer route. Keep on straight on the road without taking any left or right cut and you’ll be passing through the Haldwani market. At next triffic T-point in the market, turn left to go towards Nainital, the right one is the NH87 coming via Pantnagar. Pass by Kathgodam railway station and keep on driving whereby soon the hills will start. Just ahead of Ranibagh, take the left fork towards Jeolikote. Driving ahead of Jeolikote, take the right fork (known as Bhowali-Haldwani road), the left one goes towards Nainital. Pass by Bhowali Sanitorium (TB Hospital) and Bus stand and then just ahead, take the right fork, the left one goes towards Almora/Ranikhet. Just as you pass by the market area, take the left fork (Bhowali-Ramgarh-Mukteshwar road) at next junction ahead of KMVN Tourist Rest House. Follow the road and at next tri-junction, take the left fork. Keep on following the prominent road and pass by Ramgarh and just ahead, take the right fork to reach Mukteshwar
Google Map directions for Noida to Mukteshwar travel that we took: http://goo.gl/maps/cojoH
Google Map directions for Noida to Mukteshwar travel via Bhimtal (317kms): http://goo.gl/maps/yu1yk