There is a train named Ranikhet Express.
There are no train tracks to Ranikhet. Travellers alight at Kathgodam, a quaint , well manicured, pretty station with one platform, two tea-stalls, a magazine stall and an Amul outlet. When the Ranikhet Express slides in at 4.30 am, there is an eerie breeze checking out the passengers, and a crowd of noisy drivers waiting to whisk people away to distant and different towns in the mountains. Kathgodam passengers are the tourists and travellers, the first-timers and the folks who are not morning folks. The local folks ( residents of Haldwani, Kathgodam and beyond) and the regular visitors alight at Haldwani, the penultimate stop for the Ranikhet Express.
Haldwani station sits in the middle of a large clearing. At 4 am, the city is asleep. Tightly shut windows of ageing mansions glitter in the light of the approaching engine…people stir and emerge from the shanty huts on the other side….the six coolies wait for old passengers…the regulars just jump off their coach and walk out into the sleeping city with its wide awake rickshaws, autos and cars. The bus stand is bustling with revving buses and the sweet shop at the corner ladles out hot tea and snacks for half asleep passengers.
There is a reason for the word “sleep” popping up in each sentence. If travelling by the Ranikhet Express, “sleep” takes top priority, in the train and in the road trip which follows. If one climbs into the train at 10 pm at the hugely crowded Old Delhi station, for a 6 hour train journey punctuated by 8 stations en-route, in a coach full of excellent snorers and tiny bladders, its hard to get some good sleep with co-passengers checking each passing station nervously and finally leaving you in peace at Lal-Kuan or Rudrapur.
After alighting at Haldwani or Kathgodam, after finding a cab which quotes a payable amount to Ranikhet, after settling in the cab and feeling that amazingly fresh mountain air which lifts the soul and dispels the sleepy cloud, after watching the cab driver racing and overtaking fellow drivers on the winding road till Bhimtal, after savouring the sight of million lights flecking the lake waters at Bhimtal, one sleeps fitfully till the cab reaches Ranikhet at 7.30 am.
The sunrise has happened, the mighty mountains are waiting to be admired, your host family is all ready to welcome you, and you are waiting to catch up on your sleep!
Breakfast, small talk, presents, leopard stories….all that happens, while the bed calls out incessantly and invitingly.
If only one could have a good nap!
The first day in Ranikhet, for visitors arriving by the Ranikhet Express, is spent in a dazed, sleep-craving way. One day in paradise…wasted, gone, finished. One day of a well-planned city break spent in bed and in dreams.
Any solutions for this unfortunate scenario? Here are some tried and tested ones..
- Book your tickets on the Shatabdi train. It starts from Platform 10 of New Delhi Railway Station at 6 am, and dumps you at Kathgodam by 11.30 am. On the way , you get the newspaper to read, a huge breakfast to eat and some green verdant scenery to stare at. Have your lunch at Udipi ( if you were sleeping at breakfast time) or at Maruti Restaurant at Kainchi. Join your hosts for tea and enjoy the sunset and the evening.
- Request your hosts to arrange for a cab to pick you up at Kathgodam. If you can push your luck, ask them to send a couple of blankets in that cab, so that you can sleep soundly till you reach our hamle
- Catch the Ranikhet Express train at Gurgaon station ( 7.35 pm) or Delhi Cantt Station(8 pm), climb onto your berth and sleep soundly till the morning. The coach will remain quiet till 10 pm ( when it reaches Old Delhi Station), and you will be in dreamland by that time.
- Drive up!