Today is our last day at Ranikhet.
We planned to visit my grand uncle, who lives in Nainital. That means a journey of almost 2 hours; 56km by road.
We packed our bags, had our breakfast and were all set for the trip to Nainital. Our taxi was due to arrive any minute. We waited for about fifteen minutes and called up the driver. He informed that his car had broken down on the way to the resort. He was trying to fix it as early as possible. Clearly, his ‘as quickly as possible’ did not coincide with our interpretation of the phrase, as he took almost two hours to show up. During this time we just lounged around, and took in the beauty of the wonderful place that we would soon be leaving.
A few people who I knew by name were busy with their daily chores. Someone was cleaning the rooms, someone was trimming the plants and a few people were just bustling around. As I went around the hotel, I went and peeked into the kitchens. I saw a chart which showed the main rules of Hotel management and I was once again reminded that this was an institute for hotel management, not an actual hotel. I was sure that these students would do a great job of handling a hotel; they were already very efficient.
The driver finally arrived. We all piled into the taxi, ready to say hello to Nainital. Our journey was again a very tumultuous one, with many twists and turns. But I was accustomed to it by now, so I ignored the nauseous feeling in my stomach. Instead I paid attention to the delightful scenery outside. There were many pine and other deciduous trees alongside the road. Every few meters you could see a ‘dhaba’. We even saw a few rivers and streams along the way. A man was carrying a load of wood on his back. I always wondered how people managed to carry such heavy loads on their backs all through the whole day without tiring. I suppose they get used to things that they can’t avoid. People spend thousands on gym memberships to get muscular bodies by lifting weights, while these manual workers earn meagre amounts of money for carrying hefty weights for the whole day.
At long last we arrived at Nainital.
We had a bit of trouble finding my grand uncle’s house but when we arrived, a feeling of nostalgia overtook me. I had traveled to Nainital once before, but that was a long time ago. I could recall only a few memories from my earlier visit – the room in which we stayed, rickety steps which led down to the kitchen, cats who frequently visited the kitchen in hope of getting something to eat, my great aunt’s kerosene stoves, etc. My grand uncle and aunt owned a hotel which was closed for the time being. Grand aunt is a retired school teacher and as far as I can recollect, grand uncle had always been the owner of this hotel. Their lives are very simple. Their days are spent praying, reading the newspaper or watching the news, talking to their neighbours, and occasionally travelling to nearby towns to visit their relatives. Unlike the fast-paced life of Mumbai, their days are more relaxed.
The youth is restless and want to get out of the small town for better opportunities, but the middle-aged and elderly people are quite content to spend their lives in the town of Nainital, satisfied by what all it offers.
My great aunt and grand uncle gave us a very warm welcome. A scrumptious meal was prepared for us. Since we were all very tired after a long trip, we quickly dug in. Chicken biryani, chicken qorma, freshly-cooked rotis and steamed rice were served for lunch. After almost a week of eating potatoes and dal, this meal tasted heavenly. My father joked that his mouth had got covered in a mould after not eating meat for such a long time. Papa loves his meat preparations a lot. By the time we finished eating, I was so full, it felt like I would never eat anything again. We all rested for a little while.
In the evening we went out to explore the town. We went for a boat ride in the Naini Lake. My mother observed that the water level of the lake had noticeably reduced. It was half the depth, it used to be before. Nevertheless the boat ride was very pleasant, even if the owner of the boat was not. Ever since I stepped foot on the boat, the man who was rowing was constantly telling me to sit properly, to not look here and there, to not dip my hand in the water. The most annoying part was, I was the only person he was instructing around, even though my parents and Sadaf Aapi were all turning around to take selfies and leaning down to look for fish. Their search though was, unfortunately, unfruitful. Just because I am a kid, people think that I can’t handle myself. It gets very irritating.
Next, we went to the Mall Road in Nainital. For a little while we just looked around, didn’t buy anything. We went to a bookstore and bought a few books. I wanted to buy as many books as I could fit in my hands, but my mother warned that we didn’t have enough space in our bags to keep all the books that I wanted to buy. As for the bookshop, it was very picturesque; exactly how I imagine a booktore to be. All the walls were lined up with books. There were different sections for children’s books, comic books, poetry, fiction and non-fiction. There were even a few interesting stationery items that I wanted to buy, but again, I was reminded of the space problem. It was a heaven for people like me, who love to read.
We went back home. Once again we met a delightful spread on the table, prepared by my grand aunt. The night ended with me slowly falling into a deep slumber while reading one of the books I had bought, the scent of a new book comforting my senses.