As I was passing by Bilaspur while on my way to Kullu, I couldn’t help but make a detour to the banks of the Govind Sagar lake. And I am glad that I did.
During the monsoons, the water level rises in the lake, which makes it look even more spectacular. People cross the lake by means of small ferries that can be seen moving about the lake. In earlier times, people from the nearby villages even used to swim across this lake to Bilaspur for attending school or for any other market related work. The lake itself extends to a very large area and during the months of October and November, various water sporting events are also organised here including water skiing, kayaking, sailing etc. Though I have never been to Kerala, the lake resembles the backwaters of Kerala, except for the difference in flora and fauna, and the indigenous boats found there.
The hot and the humid conditions make me feel like jumping in and swimming across to the other side. Alas – if only I knew how to swim!
We had lunch comprising rajma, brinjal, rice and roti prepared on a “chulha”. And I have got to say that nothing could have tasted better.
Abhishek and the rest of the team are resting as of now to rejuvenate themselves, for they have been working right since we landed at Geeli Mitti Farms. The participants of the workshop here are from different countries such as Scotland, Germany and USA, to name a few. Some are from our homeland and are also getting involved in activities such at these, which is good to see.
As today is the weekly off day for the participants, many had gone to a nearby waterfall and are now coming back from their excursion. We had absent-mindedly forgotten one of our cameras in the cab and it was handed over to a participant who has brought it back to us. People are friendly here and are helpful too, lending a hand to each other wherever required.
We met our host Shagun and were warmly welcomed by her. After sipping on a hot cup of tea, we left our baggage in the bamboo loft structure built by Shagun and her accomplices with their own hands and with the help of the local artisans. Well, it doesn’t just go by simply saying that they have done a commendable job in making it.
The structure is quite big with bamboo used for the walls. Though they have used metal sheets for the roof, one can really feel the natural smell of bamboo and earth once you step inside. From inside, the entire structure is a big dormitory with plenty of beds neatly placed on elevated floors made of bamboo aligned together in a series of steps and terraces.
This is where we will be sleeping during our stay at Geeli Mitti. Awesome!; Photo: Abhinav Kaushal
A glimpse of the interiors of The Bamboo Loft at Geeli Mitti, Mahrora; Photo: Abhinav Kaushal
The entrance to the bamboo loft; Photo: Abhinav Kaushal
After walking for about 10-15 minutes on a narrow path, we crossed a small stream along the way and reached our destination. It was located on a hill side, and as we entered the Geeli Mitti Farms premises, we could see a few tents pitched on a flat piece of land.
The location is just beautiful, with not many houses around. Birds can be heard chirping in the bushes. No sound of a car’s engine throbbing or horns blowing every now and then, as is the case in towns and cities. Not even the slightest hint. It’s in places like these where people can really relish peace for a change and know what it actually means to be away from all the noise.
Tents pitched by participants in Geeli Mitti Farms; Photo: Abhinav Kaushal
The team walking past the stream on our way to Geeli Mitti; Photo: Abhinav Kaushal
We reached Mahrora after a 5 km drive downhill on a narrow dirt road from Pangoot. Pangoot is around 2200 m approximately and is a famous tourist destination. People from all around the world come here during March and October to see birds and animals which migrate to these areas to escape the summer heat of the plains. It’s hot in the sun, but the cool breeze flowing through the thick forest around us is giving a pleasant feel.
Upon reaching Mahrora, which is somewhere around 1600-1800 m in height, we were dropped off to a point till where our car was able to manage to drive up to. This spot lay a few hundred meters away from the Geeli Miṭṭi Farms as told to us by the cab driver.
We have plenty of baggage and now the big question that arises is how to carry all of it up to the farm. Its heavy and we are just a few people at hand. So we decided to get some help and take the luggage to our destination in two shifts. While the four of us go ahead, carrying as much as possible, Ameen has volunteered to stay back with the rest of our luggage left for the second round. Walking to Geeli Mitti Farms now and it feels great!
The team excited about reaching Mahrora village, Uttarakhand; Photo: Abhinav Kaushal
Getting down from the vehicle upon reaching Mahrora village; Photo: Abhinav Kaushal
A beautiful walk with fields along the way to Geeli Mitti; Photo: Abhinav Kaushal
A potato field mid way to Geeli Mitti; Photo: Abhinav Kaushal
We have stopped at a small road side dhaba run by Mohan Pandey and Manoj Paṭhak. They have been serving Maggi, tea and omelette for the past 10 years, and that too throughout the year. It’s a make-shift shop on the road side, but the location is just amazing. While one can have Maggi at numerous shops in the area, the Maggi served here has a special mix of spices made by the duo themselves. And trust me, it’s something that just makes Maggi even more delicious.
What gets even better is that one can see the Naini lake while you enjoy sipping the hot tea surrounded by the forest around the location. The place has also been visited by Bollywood stars such as Preity Zinta, as told us by Manoj.
The smell of morning tea. Just Awesome!; Photo: Abhinav Kaushal
Your favourite two minute Maggi; Photo: Abhinav Kaushal
Jump starting the day with some bread and omelette; Photo: Abhinav Kaushal
Maggi ready to be served; Photo: Abhinav Kaushal
Mohan Panday and Manoj Pathak getting the shop started in the morning; Photo: Abhinav Kaushal
As we gained altitude to Nainital moving on the serpentine road, the forest completely transformed from what was covered with Sal to long needled pine, and now juniper and oak.
Upon reaching Nainital, the setting of the lake with the mountains towering behind was an amazingly beautiful sight. We got down, and for a moment, just got lost in the wonderful spectacle. The water with the golden and reddish carps swimming in the lake also refreshed us in a very subtle way.
As we have to go further ahead from here, we get going again on a narrow stretch of road towards Pahgoot. And guess what, we stop at the perfect spot for some tea and Maggi overlooking the lake from a mountain side.
View towards Naina Mata temple at Nainital; Photo: Abhinav Kaushal
Carp fish swimming in the lake at Nainital; Photo: Abhinav Kaushal
A road side tea stall that serves more than just tea; Photo: Abhinav Kaushal
The Naini lake in the morning hours; Photo: Abhinav Kaushal
Pahadi chai; Photo: Abhinav Kaushal
Delicious maggie and the lake in the distance, simply amazing; Photo: Abhinav Kaushal
With the sunrise, we reach Kathgodam and it feels great to be back in the hills again.
We meet with Mr. Lalit Budhlakoti who drives a Mahindra Maxx which is a typical jeep generally used by the people in hill states to commute. He owns the vehicle and is from Pangoot. He has been driving this particular vehicle for the past 8 years and is in this profession for the last 22 years.
The weather is great and it feels nice to breathe in the fresh mountain air blowing down the valley as we make our way to Mahrora.
24-04-2017, 1040 hours, Delhi, India:
After traveling in a taxi, then a plane and a taxi again, we have boarded the train to Kathgodam. As of now we have roughly covered somewhere around 1430 odd kilometres. Everyone though tired, are up and chit chatting as the train chugs down the track making it’s way towards the mountains.
24-04-2017, 1930 hours, Delhi, India: After a 2 hour flight we have reached Delhi as the sun set. As we reached late in the evening, we managed to escape the notoriously famous hot weather of the northern plains. Come to think of it, the weather is more or less the same as it is in Pune during this period of the year. Heading to the railway station now to catch our train to Kathgodam. Excitement is also building as we get a step closer to our destination.
"All mountain landscapes hold stories: the ones we read, the ones we dream, and the ones we create." - George Michael Sinclair Kennedy CBE, (1926 – 2014), an English biographer, journalist and writer on classical music; extract from his Editor's Note, The Alpinist (April 1, 2010)