Travelogue – Rishikesh, Nainital, Jim Corbett, Haridwar & Mussorrie

We covered all that in the header in 6 days. It was a fun trip. We did not stay in Rishikesh and Haridwar. This is going to be a long post. So, take a deep breath and dive in!
Day 1 – Arrival at Dehra Dun airport and travel to Rishikesh en route to Nainital
Day 2 & 3 – Stay at Nainital
Day 3 – Travel to the Jim Corbett Tiger Reserve
Day 4 – Wild life safari and trekking, travel to Haridwar  en route to Mussoorie
Day 5 – Stay at Mussoorie
Day 6 – Mussoorie to Dehra Dun airport – over and out.
Day 1

We took a flight into Dehra Dun airport (Jolly Grant) and drove from Dehra Dun to Nainital, a distance of 400 Km . On our way to Nainital, I saw something I wish I had never seen in my whole life. This made me sad and angry. India registers the highest number of road accidents every year. But, India takes pride in the fact that they are only second to China in terms of deaths, caused by these accidents. There have been 1,46,000 reported deaths last year, on Indian roads. Wonder how many will be reported this year. I reported one on my vacation.
On our way to Nainital, we first stopped at Rishikesh. We visited Lakshman Jhoola, Ram Jhoola and saw one of the more dirty Ganga tributaries. There were cows and bikes on the Jhoola. People pushing each other with animosity and then staring at you for not giving way on the three feet wide Jhoola!  Bikers  were honking all the time, demanding way. We visited a poorly maintained temple, on the banks of the Ganges. We also went rafting though all rafting equipment looked totally creepy and rusty. The river wasn’t wild so, it was the basic level of rafting. We enjoyed it, nevertheless.

What appalled me, on our way out of Rishikesh, was a dude dressed as Lord Shiva with mud smeared all over him. He stood on one leg and fell on our car, asking for money. I looked around and noticed that spirituality and religiousness was portrayed everywhere – walls, buses,  rafting equipment, hills and the road! It was very different from the India I have seen in cosmopolitan cities.

So, after a short pit stop at Rishikesh, we decided to drive on to Nainital. We drove for a couple of hours. It was night and we had another two and a half  hour’s journey, up the hills, to reach Nainital. Driving up the hills is never easy. With traffic on the opposite side, no barricades between the two sides of traffic and no guard rails on the sides – beneath which there is nothing but deep ravines!  A one inch slip of any wheel would basically mean that the car goes down the whole ravine. It is quite a scary thought. For a moment, it felt like – “Have we come on a leisure vacation? Or have we come on a terrifying adventure?” Driving, in India, is like playing a video game though the drivers  make you feel extremely comfortable by telling you nice stories! These stories, from our super tour guide, took  our tension away. We ‘assumed’ there were guard rails and barricades. The drive up the hill was smooth and I only hope all drivers are like the one who drove us up there!

The driver managed to drive us up the hills in two hours, after which we started looking for our hotel. We stayed at the “Naini Retreat.” It is one of the best hotels in Nainital. I must accept that it lived up to my expectations. It belongs to the chain of : “Leisure Hotels”. The room-boy helped  with the check-in and  showed us our rooms. We had a beautiful view of the majestic hills, from our windows. It was 11pm. And the hotel restaurant had closed by then. But, I was hoping we get dinner, somehow. The chef was quite awesome. He made us parathas and a few sabjhis. We had a super meal!
We then hit the sack. We were a bunch of really tired people. Our Day 1 was awesome but tiresome because of the 400 Km drive!
Day 2

After a restful night’s sleep we were ready to rise and shine! We got ready and had some fantastic breakfast. We walked out, took a few snaps and enjoyed the view of the Naini lake and the hills, from outside our rooms. It was a pretty sight! All excited to sightsee, we walked out of the hotel building towards our parking slot.
Our guide, for the day, was awesome. He was dressed in the 80′s retro style bell bottom pants, yellow shirt, dark big sun shades and a curvy hair style with long side burns. Loved his antique looks! He looked like a 20th century man. He took us around Nainital. We had a wonderful time looking and snapping the hill ranges, the lakes, snow capped peaks of the Himalayas, boating and a little bit of rafting. We also took the cable-car to the top of the hills. It was a steep climb. It was great fun! We saw:  Snow- View, Naina Peak / Cheena Peak, Tiffin Top / Dorothy’s seat, High Court of Uttarakhand / The Old Secretariat, Bhimtal, Sattal, Khurupa Tal, Naukuchia Tal, Naina Devi temple and Naini Lake.
We got back to our hotel, changed and then went to a musical concert in the Hotel’s garden. A musical troupe was performing old Hindi songs. It was actually quite boring. So, we just had dinner and hit the sack. We had another long day tomorrow! Dinner was quite awesome, once again.
Day 3

We  woke up after a great sleep and decided to walk down to the Nayana Devi Mandir, on Mall Road and stroll by the Naini lake, before breakfast. While we were at the Nayana Devi temple – we learnt the whole fascinating story of why this place was called Nainital and who  Nayana Devi was? Well, all this information is on the wiki  so, Google it!
We got back to our resort, had another fantastic breakfast and were on our way to the Jim Corbett Tiger Reserve! Whoa! This place was freaky but awesome. It gave me the chills! We wanted to do the 3 p.m. safari but, by the time we got to the forest area it was quite late so we decided to just walk around. We were in the middle of a dense forest area and, therefore, had to make sure that we didn’t go too far away from our resort – ‘River View Treat’. Well, technically it’s called a Resort, but it felt more like some adventurous stay. There was a lake by the resort but it did not have much water. We could actually pick up pebbles from the river bed! We played games and jumped into the pool, that evening, which  was fun as well as relaxing.

We had to sleep early as we had decided to go on a safari at 5 A.M. There are only two safaris every day –5 A.M. and 3 P.M.  to spot a tiger and other animals, in the jungle. So, we hit the sack, after a decent meal, that night.
Day 4

We woke up at 4 A.M.- got ready and an open Jeep picked us up. We had to drive 10 kms into the forest  to reach the Dhingara Tiger Reserve. From here we could either trek or take a Canter. The safari/trek started at 6 A.M. and it was a four hour long trek. We were ready with sufficient  water bottles and food supplies. Three guides joined us. The dude, who headed these guides, gave us a lecture on how we were  to remain quiet, not take photographs or use the flash at the animals – when we spot one. We were also asked to follow the guide and obey his instructions. It was a speech meant to scare you so that you don’t do anything stupid and don’t think you are a hero of sorts!
We started on the trek but at the end of the four hour long trek I was more tired than happy. That meant I hadn’t seen much. All we saw was – many elephants, deer, tiger poop, a few crocodiles and lots of green thick forest trees. We went on a trek looking for a tiger but did not find one! Well, we ‘almost’ found one and ‘almost’ caught a glimpse, according to our guide!
I realized the statistical probability of finding one – out of 168 tigers within 201 sq miles in four hours – is very small! Corbett has a larger variety of interesting species than any other wildlife park in India but a slightly lower probability of getting to see a tiger. At Ranthambore and Kanha, probability of spotting a tiger is much higher, although, Corbett has (or at least they say so) the most tigers in a national park in India (168!)

After this realization, I did not feel too bad about the trek. I told myself that I enjoyed it and that I wasn’t lucky enough to spot one of those 168 tigers!

But, obviously, I was beat when we got back. I just wanted to eat and drink something super chill. I did precisely that. Around two-ish we decided it was time to say good bye to Jim Corbett and head to Mussoorie – on the way stop for a bit at Haridwar – to take a dip in the Holy Ganges!

Jim Corbett to Haridwar was a five hour long drive and the driver dude was awesome. He drove well and safe. I took a nap, on the back seat; listened to my iPod; played on my PSP; played Sudoku and read a few pages of Bourne Sanction. We arrived at Haridwar at six-ish. We walked to the Ganges and took a dip. That apparently, wiped off all my sins! Although, I do not buy that, I took a dip – just for the heck of it. The Ganges looked beautiful with a lot of water – deep, heavy and swift. The river flowed at quite a pace even in the plateau  region. There were lots and lots of people there, apparently  gathered to watch Hari-ki-pauri (HKP) at 6:30p.m. At HKP it is a tradition that people light up diyas (earthen lamps) and set the diyas  afloat – on the Ganges. It is a beautiful sight.

Some people, after taking a deep breath,  remained inside the water – too long for my liking. There was this dude who dipped his four year (possibly) old son into the water. There was another dude dressed like Shiva who just put his hands together and free-fell into the Ganges and swam back to the river-side. Another guy was taking a bath in the flowing water – with his soap and body wash. It wasn’t a pretty sight – all his soapy water was drenching people downstream. Luckily, I was upstream – from where this dude was taking a soapy-bath. The cheer and mood, around the crowd by the Ganges, was quite refreshing to see. Although people do it for spiritual reasons, the basic qualities of Indians were quite apparent – Celebration, Joy and Togetherness.

Anyway, after enjoying the beautiful sight of the Ganges’s origination and Hari-ki-pauri, we got into our cars – to continue our journey to Mussoorie. We drove uphill and reached  Mussoorie, at the top, in another three hours. It was 10-ish when we got to the hill top. Before anything else let me first explain how Mussoorie works –
Every aspect of tourism here is governed by a Union. Once you reach the hill top you have to talk to the representative of the Union and use a Union taxi or a manual-rickshaw, to get to any place on the hill station. All the major spots, on this hillstation, are on the Mall road. At one end of this road is the Gandhi Statue  and at the other end is the foot of “Lal Tibba.”  Between 8 A.M. and 10 P.M. both these ends are blocked and only the Union transportation system can be used. This makes it extremely inconvenient for the visitors, though a great means of livelihood for the Union guys.

We had booked a stay at Avalon Resorts – a resort with the best view of Mussoorie – as it is located on the top of a hill. They offer a free pick up and drop service, from the middle of the Mall road, to the concierge desk -at the top of the hill. When we arrived at 9 p.m., we needed to figure out a way to get from the Gandhi Statue end of the Mall road to the middle of the Mall road – so that the Avalon Resort guys could pick us up. There were no taxis at the Union stand so we decided to ride the manual rickshaw. This was quite a unique experience.

Eventually, we used the Avalon service to get to our resorts. The guys were nice to give us the top most room on the hill! “Lovely,” we thought at that point. Then we did not know that being on the top would make it extremely difficult to come back down and go back up – after each meal. It was a trade-off between lovely view and convenient access! We chose the former and repented later. We should have chosen something in-between. Middle ground always helps!!
We got to our rooms, changed, walked back down for dinner and got back to our rooms with difficulty. We hit the sack that night. It had been a ‘looong’ day – five  hours of trekking in the jungle, followed by seven hours of driving to Mussoorie, and we had woken up at 4AM in the morning! Tired, beat, drained, we went to bed.
Day 5
On Day 5 – after waking up, got ready had  breakfast and then decided to go on a day tour around Mussoorie. We spoke to the Union fellows and got a good deal.
We went to Lal Tibba – a scenic 5Km uphill walk from Picture Palace to the highest point in Mussoorie. We could see the Himalayan range from here. It was wonderful! We visited the Kempty Falls – which is about 15 kms from Mussoorie. This was Ok – nothing fabulous, a  normal water fall. It is an over-hyped and an over-built spot – but a popular tourist destination. After we visited the Kempty falls, it began to rain heavily so we decided to get back to our hotel. On our way, it started to ‘ice-rain’. I have seen sleets of rain in N.Y. but this was spherical shaped ice, that fell from the sky and it actually pricked quite badly. Later that evening, we went out to see the other tourist attractions – Happy Valley, Dhanaulti, Misty Eco Valleys and the Himalayan Weavers. All these places are in a 20 km radius, around the Avalon Resorts (Mall Road).
Day 6
Mussoorie to Dehra Dun is a two and a half hour drive (down the hills + city traffic). We arrived at the airport around 11-ish, for a noon flight out of Jolly Grant. It was a safe drive down and a safe ride back home!
Concluding remarks

Overall – it was a fun filled, tiring, exciting, draining 5-6 day trip. We covered a lot of places and tourist spots. We drove quite a bit – over 2200 Kms, I  guess. I loved it nevertheless!
Hope the above read will help future-goers to these spots. I highly recommend Naini Retreat and River View treat in Nainital and Corbett respectively.
Prasanna Rengarajan

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