This year when we were planning our summer holidays, I stumbled upon a beautiful place called Ranikhet. One of my friends had suggested it to me, describing it as a very beautiful hill station. So we quickly planned and the tickets were booked. Soon it was time for our trip.
First we spent a week in Delhi, visiting my relatives. After an eventful week in Delhi which we enjoyed thoroughly, we proceeded for Ranikhet. Let’s just say, when I first set out for the journey, I did not know what fun was in store for all of us.
Fourteenth of May, the day we left for Ranikhet, was quite a busy day for us. We were supposed to wake up at 4 a.m. to catch a 6 a.m. train from New Delhi Station. But we were up much earlier than expected! The electricity went off at around three in the morning. I would probably have slept through it, as I am a very deep sleeper, but my parents wouldn’t leave me alone with my bliss. I was lead to another room where everyone had gathered. The little kids were making a din by crying on top of their voices; the dogs joined them by barking and howling in unison. The chaos dissolved in it, the peaceful hours of early morning. Guess this is a destined prelude to every beautiful phase and all you can do at such hours is to wait for things to get normal again.
At the scheduled hour we got ready and headed for the station. It had been a long time since I had travelled by a train; so I was very excited about the journey. But my excitement was dampened too soon because the train ride turned out to be very boring. There was only so much countryside one can see, but what after that? For how long can one keep staring from inside a glass window? Our fellow-passengers in the train included a group of very noisy and boisterous school students who constantly kept up a buzz of conversation, sometimes interjected by a yell or two. Other travellers in the coup, including us, were getting very irritated by the constant noise. Restless with lack of engagement, I opened my backpack to investigate if there’s something to occupy my time with. I realized that it was much fuller than it had been when I had packed it. I opened it and found, my grandmother had put in a whole bunch of goodies for me. There was certainly something to stay busy with now. I smiled and shook my head. Trust my grandmother to constantly spoil me, always.
We were all sleep-deprived and slept through a large part of the train ride, infrequently opening our eyes to the calls of hawkers or the yelling of the school kids, their enthusiasm still going strong.
We arrived at Kathgodam, at around mid-noon where a car was waiting to take us to Ranikhet. When we got into the car, the driver held out for me a bottle of Sprite as a welcome gift. The car ride was a long one with many twists and turns. Needless to say, all of us were feeling slightly queasy. I was very grateful for the bottle of Sprite as it distracted me from the nausea. When we reached the cottage though, energy levels shot up. The view of the cottage was all worth it at the end of an agonizing car ride. It looked like something straight out of a fairy tale. A small, quaint looking cottage surrounded by innumerable flower beds of all kinds. Wild daisies, wild roses, hydrangeas and many others, names of which I did not know.
Inside of the cottage was as fascinating as the outside. There were three rooms and a connecting bathroom. Design of the furniture, shelves on the walls, and architecture of the building – all looked like the setting of an Enid Blyton novel. It was quite an old-fashioned building, with no modern gadgets, unlike most hotels. The doors and windows were made of heavy wood with antique latches and knobs that I had never seen anywhere in Mumbai. There were two mantelpieces on the walls just like Enid Blyton described in almost all her stories. You could even see the Himalayas if you squinted hard enough from the window. The porch of the cottage was surrounded by the most ethereal flowers with rose bushes reaching almost the roof.
The most exciting part were the two fireplaces in the cottage. I requested my mother to light fire in one of them but we never got around to doing that.
Distanced from the town by a few miles, the place around our cottage was very quiet. The only sound one could hear was the call of birds, chattering of monkeys, occasional mooing of a cow and the crunching of gravel when a car came in the driveway. The reception was a small hut with a thatched roof. They sold few organic products at the counter.
The hotel that we stayed in was actually a hotel management institute, being run as a hotel so that the students could get some hands-on experience. The students were very pleasant, available at every beck and call. They tried their best to make everyone feel comfortable and settle down well. The weird thing was the absence of females in the hotel. There were no female students training in the institute. Maybe hotel management was supposed to be a ‘masculine’ occupation here or perhaps people didn’t want their daughters to live in a hotel in the middle of nowhere, as the institute was a bit away from the town. Whatever the reason, the absence of female students really irked me.
We rested for some time. In the evening we went to the mall road to shop. The mall road in Ranikhet was smaller than I expected it to be. A small shopping plaza sold many things like clothes, jewelry and makeup products. Just near the shopping plaza there was a small pizza cafe which looked very cosy. Many other small shops had cropped up on either side of the road. One shop in particular, which interested me immensely, sold gardening materials.
I have always dreamt of having a nice little garden of my own, but living in a big city has its drawbacks. There is no space at our house in Mumbai, where I can plan a garden. The only thing close to a garden that you can own are a few potted plants. Despite all of this I looked around the shop, trying to find something I could walk out with, and I did stop at many of the displayed merchandize. Sadly though, buying them wouldn’t add any more than the pleasure of futile acquiring.
It was just about dusk. Everyone had started closing their shops. We stopped for tea at a small tea stall. A sudden gush of wind startled us at the very moment. I was about to take my first sip of the tea when the dust went in my eyes. After rubbing my eyes clean I realized that my tea had now become dus-tea (pun intended). As we were walking back to our hotel, I wondered, how different this place was from Mumbai! Mumbai never sleeps. Even at night the streets are dotted with lights and there is constant traffic. In Ranikhet everything shuts by sundown. You won’t sight one single person after 7:30 P.M in the streets.
Back to the hotel, we headed for dinner as we hadn’t had anything since lunch. As I scanned the menu I noticed something. There were no non-veg dishes on the menu. I thought that the restaurant at the hotel was vegetarian but we soon found out that most of the people in Ranikhet were vegetarian and hence meat was very uncommon over there.
After dinner, we just stayed out on the terrace and enjoyed the chilly weather. We could see mountains in front of us, stretched from left to right, lights from small towns twinkling at us. We looked above, expecting to see an empty night-sky as usual. But to our surprise we saw the clear sky dotted with stars. We tried to identify some constellations but we were only able to find Ursa Major. We stayed out there forgetting the count of time, admiring the stars.
The day ended with us snuggling into our thick blankets by 10:30 pm which was quite early, according to Sadaf Aapi. She is my mom’s cousin sister who was also travelling with us.
Photo Credit : Insha Faridoon