I haven’t traveled in many days now due to a lot of work-related and other personal constraints and I am beginning to feel uneasy with wanderlust.Since for another 2 weeks the only likely travel is a business trip, I think I will contend myself with reminiscing some of my past journeys.
In the summer of 2005, we had taken a ad-hoc trip to a remote place called Sitlakhet in the Almora district. It is not the kind of place that is significantly noted on the tourist map (which is a bliss!), and would have gone completely unnoticed had KMVN not put one of their guest-houses there, or (as we realized after landing there) iDiscoveri had not chosen it as their campsite for outdoor games. We chose the place because we did not want to visit a popular destination, had only 3 days on hand, and wanted to stay in a KMVN guesthouse (mainly for financial reasons, apart from their good real estate!). Sitlakhet fitted all the bills, and even though we did not have any other information on the place, we set out.
We took a bus from Delhi to take us to Nainital, and like most bus journeys, it was a jerky ride, accompanied with a terrible movie and worse music. And enjoyable, specially right after we crossed Kathgodam and the hills began. That, is the best part of journeying to the hills – when you leave the plains, and suddenly take a hike up through winding roads.
We reached Nainital in the morning, and began scouting for a taxi, haggled for prices (how constraining it is to travel as a student, and yet, those travels are close to the best), finally settled on a Qualis. The driver, like most drivers I have met who are not too enthused with our choice of destinations because they are too non-commercial for their benefit, began his cribs in about 5 minutes of the commencement of the journey. Why did we chose Sitlakhet, no one goes there, there is nothing to see, the guest-house is the only hotel etc. To his surprise, all those protests doubled our enthusiasm.
Sitlakhet is about a 4 hour journey from Nainital, 30-45 minutes ahead of Ranikhet. We took longer than that to reach, owed to our long lunch stoppage at a random hotel in Ranikhet (average food, awesome view of the Himalyas) and hence reached Sitlakhet at around 1. As the driver said, it was a rather small place, only a few houses lining the road leading up to the KMVN guest-house located in a fabulous edge, offering a remarkable view of the town of Almora and the peaks beyond. (I never stop sulking about the camera that I did not posses at that time, having lost one to the beaches of Alibagh 😦 and not yet having acquired the replacement!)
The guesthouse was a nice cozy place, basic, but homely. The rooms belonged to the era of the Raj, with high roofs, fireplaces and huge! There was a small veranda just outside to the rooms, where you could put a rocking cane chair, lazily indulge in a book and look out to the view. There was a small garden too, perfect for that chit-chat in the mornings and evenings.
After enjoying a small nap and a quick evening tea, we set out to explore the place around, which seemed incredibly immersed in tall trees. It was like one of those Lothlorien forests, asleep and dreamy, people moving around in slow, drawn out, almost floating movements. We hiked a bit, reached a small hill-top and sat down there to enjoy the gentle evening breeze. As the sun began to set, the sky took on a bright radiance, the air took on a sharp chill, and our spirits took on a rare flight. (If I am sounding too dreamy, it is because the place was so untouched that it inspired dreams, and also because it is far out in time now for me to remember only those acute perceptions.)
Before it could get really dark, we left for the guest-house, as the caretaker had warned us of the many animals, specially foxes that inhabit the forest. We sat down in the garden, and soon the sky was studded with really bright and overwhelming count of stars. Merging with the city lights of Almora, the small twinkles seemed to envelope the entire place. After a while, our conversation soon turned from career choices to life choices and then settled in a comfortable silence, a silence that could only be attained amidst that peace.
Next day, after breakfast we set out for a trek to the famous Syahi devi temple which was about 7-8 km from the guest-house. The trek was a very easy one, with gentle slopes if you took the laid path, but steeper climbs if you decided to pick up one of the natives as your guides. We met an old man on our way up, and he led us through a shorter, steeper, route to the temple. On our way, we knocked on a couple of doors to get some drinking water, got chased by fierce dogs, and rested several times in the fields.
At the temple we met an iDiscoveri group, schoolchildren led by two friendly leaders, who told us about their group, the activities, and about Sitlakhe. On their recommendation, we set out towards the Khoot village, lost our way and eventually gave up the trail to the village because the landscape on the way was too attractive. We sat there for what seemed like a long time, and set out for return, using a different route.
On the way back, we found the iDiscoveri camp, treated ourselves to a little refreshment graciously offered to us by the camp managers, sat down for while and started again. The whole place is replete with fruits orchards, and on that single day, I don’t know how many strange fruits I may have tasted – each of them more delicious than the first. The place is famous primarily for plums, and you find them everywhere in the forest – unguarded, unclaimed.
We continued the evening and the next morning in such aimless excursions, and it was with a slight tug that we set out to leave that small, unclaimed town, to the great relief of our driver.