(Group trip to Kanvashram-2)
The nine adventurists were to gather at Encyclopaedia Britannica’s Gole Market office on the designated Friday at 9 pm. Measuring the timescale, I reached the travel agent, surveyed the Voyager, which looked well maintained, and then moved toward the venue. On our way, while Premji serviced the fuel tank, I arranged the Coke-Limca, chips, plastic glasses et al to spice up our ride. Bang at 9, our sturdy carriage braked at Brits office. A few had arrived; some more were yet to join us. I chatted up with Sabarinath while surveying the attendance.
Groupism is unavoidable in a nine-pack jaunt from office: Kavita and Sudipta bonded at one side; Sukriti and Shikha bitched at the other; Jai held on to booze and an SLR camera while Shabarinath felt comfortable with a vibrant Geetanjali. Nisha and I ran around to maintain a façade of unity.
Nevertheless, the larger picture was perfect. The flock resembled a smart bunch of seasoned tourists, with proper travel gadgets, backpacks and other vitamins. I had a rough seating plan ready in my mind — knowing the group, their sizes and preferences. But like all advance plans, this one too bombed. Barely had Premji adjusted the luggage in the boot section, Sukriti dived inside the Voyager like a penguin. She wanted a triple-seat with Shikha & Nisha; nothing less would do. Premji looked askance at me with what-is-this expression. I held him by shoulder and told him not to worry; a few of them were NRIs who didn’t know about Hindustani etiquettes (“look the way they all speak in English with each other,” I consoled him). Sabari and I were the only one who stuck to the original seating plan — Sabari alongside the driver and I with the sack of rum, chips, Coke and water bottles.
Premji didn’t have to wait long for his second shock. The moment he turned the ignition key, Shikha, who I had pointed as the real Angrez among the lot, shouted at the top of her voice: “Jai Maata di”. I nearly died of embarrassment.
And when Premji shifted the initial gear, there was a cluck of rum bottle cap. Jaichandran got down to work without losing a minute. In no time, there was a plastic glass in everybody’s hand and the car began to buzz. A few kilometers down, after Premji had heard Sabari speaking in Hindi, he was assured he was ferrying a group of NRIs indeed.
To reach Kanvashram from Delhi, one needs to take the Delhi-Meerut road (not the bypass); flip to Meerut-Najibabad route and from Najibabad Kotdwar is about half hour. Kanvashram is yet another half hour from the town. This makes a total journey of about six hour.
As Premji continued with his haul, without bothering the occupants, the car remained abuzz. Jai pulled a few fast ones at Sudipta, who had always pulled ranks over her juniors but with a Mitsubishi full of delinquents, she had only laughters for sympathies.
A quick dinner break ahead of Meerut put an end to the hoopla. Some were took over by sleep and some, like me, went into a somber mood. I generally get charged after the darkness falls (alcoholic symptoms, probably) but that day I gave way to a melancholic flavour. As the majority dozed, I found solace in a slow number by ‘Sufi singer’ Hans Raj Hans — Sili Sili andi hai Hawa. We touched Kotdwar around 4.30 in the morning with a thud.
After organizing a sugary tea session at Tourist Hotel, we set out to a place called Nimbu-chorh. Although the tarred road can take one direct to out destination, the GMVN guest house, I wanted my pack to have a feel of nature walk. For this one needed to take an on-foot detour at Nimbu-chorh. Leaving the baggage inside the van, I asked Premji to follow the road and reach “tourist bungalow”, and the nine pins set out to walk Himalayan foothills.
Jai defied the amount of rum he had consumed and focused on his lens. Sabari, Nisha and Shikha looked the most reluctant walker. Surprisingly, Geetanjali kept pace with me. Surprising because I have always prided myself as a fast-footer. The energy source was revealed by Sabari: Geetu was a gymnast in her school days (now, now, no wonder she had an enviable… err, stamina).
This route was an amateur trekker’s delight. There were mild uphill walks; a knee-deep river crossing opportunity, and; views of greens to die for. Jaichandran put his camera rolling while others tried to negotiate the easiest of curves. Crossing the Malini River was the most exciting part. Some took off shoes; others just rode off the knee-high water, yet others rolled up jeans and shrieked at every false step as if it were full of crocodiles…
The happiness didn’t last long. Upon our arrival at the GMVN guest house, we were told that although the rooms were empty, there was little water in the washrooms thanks to a pipeline burst a day before. Now, to a Himalayan traveler, regular water supply is of no consequence. He/she knows how to survive in far, far harsher condition; sometimes with no food and little oxygen too. But to an armchair excursionist, regular water supply in his/her commode is the minimum benchmark.
To their credit, the majority of our pack was happy with a room to crash. But expect Sudipta with her tantrums (I am sure a few more were just as much keen on the water supply but why make a noise when you have a Sudipta around?). I had to firmly reason with her that the place she had “chosen” to come was not a picnic spot nor a luxury boarding; it was a mild adventure trip and she should be happy if she got her two meals in time. Fireworks fizzled as soon as they had started.
Meanwhile, Premji had restored the interiors of Voyager. There was no trace of chips on the floor; mats had been washed and hung around to dry; and plastic bottles, crushed glasses had been consigned to the large GMVN waste bin outdoors.
I ordered the food at the canteen, finished the paperwork and set out with a local to oversee the repair work of water supply. A lot of things in our country don’t move unless somebody shakes them up. And so was it. By the time I was back in time for lunch and two rums on the sly, the water connection had been restored. The storage tank had kept up the supply for commode in the meantime.
After a warm vegetarian lunch, with lots of green salads and hundreds of chapattis, our team retired to their multiple rooms for a well-deserved siesta. I asked the caretaker if he could arrange for some deadwood to fire up our evening and he told me it was possible for a small amount of greenery for the boy who would arrange the bonfire. The prices were shamelessly low considering the big logs which our boy appeared with in less than 15 minutes. What better way to enjoy an October evening in the hills with fire outside and firewater inside. Our evening was made…
(The late night drama and visit to waterfall in the next post)