Pooja BhulaThe roads are now open and tourism is just picking up in Uttarakhand. Pooja Bhula narrates her travel experience in this flood-hit state that has a magnetic effect on those who set foot in it.We booked flight tickets to Uttarakhand for a family trip about six months ago, long before nature ravaged the state. Once news of the floods broke out, chances of it materialising seemed dim. But I prayed that it would. Why? I really wanted to see the situation on-ground for myself. Unsure till 15 days before the trip, we had no plan. We just packed our bags and took off for Dehradun on September 26.We first explored the Kumaon region with Naukuchiatal as our base—trekking through a jungle, pulling leeches off our legs; ferrying to the nearby island aquarium in the middle of Bhimtal, and visiting Sattal (seven lakes) for river crossing and delicious rajma, rice and kheer. We spent an entire day at Nainital, twisting and turning through the caverns of Cave Garden, horse riding on the hills, shopping at the Tibetan market, boating on Lake Naini and gorging delicious street chaat. Jim Corbett National Park wasn`t too far either, so we stayed there overnight and after dreaming of roars and howls, we did the safari next morning.
The route had just opened, so the only others plying were people whose cars were stranded there since June. At the temple town, one could barely see a soul and the hotel had been opened only for us. Expecting a meal would mean asking for too much. After checking in, we immediately headed to Mana (small village 3 kms away) on the manager`s recommendation. Its villagers consist of the Bhutia tribe, who live in Mana for six months and migrate to Gopeshwar once winter sets in. It shares its border with Tibet, and the local language is similar to Chinese. As we walked around the village, locals spontaneously helped with directions, but also lamented about the dearth of supplies and tourism since June. If Auli had splashes of flourescent green and snowy Himalayan peaks, at Mana the mountains seemed just a touch away. History buffs should check out the 5321-year-old, Vyas Gufa (cave), where Rishi Ved Vyas composed the Mahabharat, and Bhim Pul (bridge), built as Bhim lifted a huge rock to help the Pandavas cross river Sarawati. Glassy blue falls gushed near Bhim Pul and mountains smoked fog beyond the stone houses.
Badrinath temple was surprisingly full during the evening aarti; worshippers and pundits alike told us how lucky we were, “Aap aur kabhi aate, to do minute ke darshan bhi nahin kar pate” Dinner was at a thali place near the temple.The countdown to Mumbai began, as we left for Rishikesh, our last destination. If going uphill was tough, backtracking from Badrinath was tougher. Influx of vehicles worsened the road in one day. Our collective weight further lowered the car’s body, so we got off at bad patches and hopped back in, on reaching less treacherous parts. At one spot stones started falling off the hill, and ahead a truck got stuck under a rock, holding up the traffic for 30 minutes.Sighting a leopard as it jumped from the hill and crossed the road, near Rishikesh, made up for the bumpy ride. The famous Shiv idol there is known to drown often, and couldn`t escape Ganga`s wrath even this year. Our guide recalled rescuing people on his raft; water filled upto eight feet in his house. Rafting, as usual, was amazing. I even dived from a cliff 25-feet-high, my next target is to dive from 45 feet. Phew! This is where the trip ends. We returned home after an adventurous and unforgettable trip, loving every breathtaking and heartbreaking bit of it.Images by Pooja BhulaImage of Bhimtal island aquarium by www.nainitaltourism.com
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