Saturday dawned bright and early. For once, the snooze button was ignored and we got to see a blue grey-to-rose pink-to-sunny orange-to-early morning sky. Resolved to wake up at 5 am this summer, completed the golf course to home walk, did a quick set of exercises, gulped tea, drove the excited doggies to spend the day at Hema’s village and zipped through the slowly awakening town to the other side of the market.
Sophia, my dear friend and partner in (knitting)crime hopped into the car with her big smile and bigger shades in place…and away we went. Driving happily through 50 kms of winding roads and repair projects, unexpected traffic and drivers prone to miscalculating distances, tiny villages with red rose creepers, terraced fields dotted with purple jacaranda and orange silver oak trees, women carrying firewood and grass in great big bundles and so much more.
Maruti Hotel at Kainchi Dhaam is a must-halt place on any trip. Fresh mung-dal pakodas with the local chutney and the mustard-cucumber-pahaadi raita; piping hot masala tea; big lime n jeera soda; stuffed bread pakodas….do not miss these delicacies if you are driving up to Ranikhet or Almora. We gave the soda and bread pakodas a miss, but not before the hotel owner insisted on giving me a hot, crispy pakoda for the road. How could I refuse such an affectionate and insistent present? I couldn’t and I didn’t!!
Another hour of driving and navigating through the narrow approach lanes of Nainital, and we were there…the blue-green lake, the trees , the promenade, the taxis and rickshaws, the tourists and the shops, the noise and the general air of activity all around!! Charming and crowded Nainital is such a lovely change from quirky and quiet Ranikhet. I have visited Nainital a million times and I know exactly what am I going to do and I know that I am going to enjoy every minute of this visit.
And so, dear reader, this is my method for soaking in the Nainital magic.
• I park the car and emerge out and exhale—the mountains are a glorious backdrop to this cricket field and pavilion, that imposing mosque, the bustling bazaar and the crowds. I then inhale the sweet air from the lake, the wafting smells of roasting corn and peanuts, coffee and chola batura, momos and chowmein.
• Watching the shoppers and shopkeepers is a favorite activity….the little bazaar beside the lake front has a variety of trinkets, masks, woolen socks, umbrellas and glass bangles. It’s a great place for people-watching, photo-shooting, bargaining and generally being part of the crowd.
• Its time to enter the Mall Road with its rickshaw queue, the new and old shops ,the line of hotels and restaurants, and the tourists. We stroll along the lake, stare at the shops ,enjoy the fresh breeze and the old sights ,and rummage around Narains book store and candle shop.
• No other place in this country has the Nainital candle range! From fruits/flowers/animals/glass/floating/scented/anything else candles to incense sticks and perfumed oils—its all here in this town. New additions appear at every visit and become old with each season. This time, I kept my distance from the candles, only to pounce on some lovely incense stick collections. Ah Mala, you are still besotted by this lake town’s offerings!
• A good lunch is guaranteed at Sakeleys… Drop in for amazing pastries, well cooked Chinese, Thai and Continental fare and for some quiet and unhurried conversation. We shared a fresh pineapple pastry at the window table, gazed at passing crowds of school kids returning home, watched the lazy and the idle, and then tucked into fiery hot prawns with delicious noodles…a meal to remember!!
• The drive back was done with stuffed tummies, tired feet, sleepy yawns and steady driving. Sophia kept talking, cautioning and generally ensuring that we reached our little hamlet with enough time to rest and recuperate.
However much I enjoy the bright bustle and cheery crowds of Nainital, it’s the quiet green roads of Ranikhet which embrace me and make me feel that I am home. It’s the dogs and their happy licks, Hema and her concern and affection, home with its hot water and comfortable bed and sunny walls, which take my tiredness away.
Evening finds me at a gathering of friends and dogs. A flaming sunset is swallowed by a velvety black, starry night and we all sit on the roof-top, sipping red wine and enjoying the laughter, the jests and jokes and the comfortable bonding which all 11 of us share. A hot and delicious dinner goes on for hours and no one wants to leave the room, even after the last plate of ice-cream and hot chocolate sauce has been demolished.
Driving home through the night, village lights shimmering in the distant hills, dogs hanging out of the windows and me smiling at the memories of this Saturday….. glad that I have found my paradise…in my hamlet around me and in my heart within me.