The best way to explore a place is to do on your foot. That’s what I have discovered lately. You wouldn’t overlook the hidden gems of the town anymore. You might end up doing something incredible that was never part of your plans. Talking to strangers while you share a seat at a roadside food shack, asking for directions because you lost somewhere only to find out that the new-found route is a better way.
Your muscles are sore, yet you enjoy wandering and suddenly, you spot that golden dusk as the sun retires for the day. Maybe you would want to stand still and bask in that moment, feeling connected with yourself. When the morning rays filter through that forest, you simply marvel at it. Now, the dawning of the sun seems more like a feat to you. I wonder what’s so new about this day?After all, the sun dawns and flows through its course each day. Well, I think I have just lived in this moment. It’s a kind of realization, isn’t it?
So, it happened on the last day of the year 2015, I reached the quintessential hill town of Nainital. A town legendary for being one of the picturesque hill stations in India. Here I am with the uneasiness from the overnight cramped bus ride, but the cold gust of air was absolutely refreshing the moment I got down. I went to my lodge, unloaded the stuff and a splash of cold water on my face removed all the exhaustion I had. I am ready for my first leg of this trip. As I trudged down the road, I got a glimpse of this pristine lake whose aqua color reflected the bright azure sky. That was a beautiful sight. The lake was beautiful and surprisingly clean. I was also surprised by the cleanliness of the town. Polybags are absolutely banned here. Comparing with the city I live in where pollution is a major issue, this town was a respite for me.
While soaking up the sun, we could spot few boats gliding through the Naini Lake. At 150 INR, we did take the boat ride, followed by photography with each of us taking a turn to pose. We didn’t want to miss this moment. The backdrop of Kumaon hills and the lake surrounding us made a pretty bright picture. Quite content with the boat trip, we simply decided to walk and explore the town. I don’t know the exact reason why every hill station in India has a place called Mall road. But, there exists a mall road in every hill station of northern India. Go anywhere, be it Manali, Shimla, or Mussourie. Mall road is like the heart of town where shops, restaurants, budget & expensive hotels are lined up along the street. Usually, the city center is congested but, Nainital’s mall road seemed quiet and serene. With the good weather, walking felt easy and pleasant.
As I walk further, I could see some children in fancy dresses and women in their traditional wear. It seemed like the entire town has come alive, beaming with happiness. We took a breather, sat on a bench and talked about life, one of the things that I would remember. It was a brief philosophical moment. As if time was in my control and I could cherish the little moments of my life.
Passed by a Tibetan market which is typical to any hill station in northern India. Woolens, shawls and hawkers selling dim-sums, few things that you can expect to find in a Tibetan market. Anyway, we headed towards a point which seemed like a deserted road. Decided to walk further. And, explore! Walked, walked and walked until we reached the point where we had started. Cool! By this time, we must have walked more than 7 kilometers! We were completely exhausted and definitely needed some leg rest. I have lost count of the times I must have trudged from Mallital to Tallital. The funny thing was at times when we desperately needed a taxi because we were all weary and done with walking, there would be no sight of it. At other times, you will find the taxi touts in plenty.
From my little experience, I feel that a town like Nainital can be best experienced when you take your own time meandering through its streets and lanes. You will be little worn out, but you wouldn’t regret doing that. At times, it feels like you are very much part of the town. Those myriad faces passing by, that coffee shop owner and the little shops which looked strange to us at one point of time were becoming familiar now.
After some time, the Café De Mall became our favorite spot. Or, maybe we couldn’t find better places, it became our only option. But, I would still recommend it for the burger, fries and coffee. Three days uninterrupted, we were the regular faces. Truth be told, I loved their “special” coffee. Go for it.
Maybe this is some kind of pursuit without understanding what I am truly seeking. I don’t know what I shall find at the end of the road. But, does destination really matter? Maybe it does or maybe it’s just an illusion to make you feel complete. As for me, I just want to be on the road, on the move.
Don’t arrange a taxi or an auto rickshaw. Go for an early morning walk, watch the sun rising over the mountains, get little uncomfortable and open yourself to all kinds of experiences. And hang in there. Trust me, you will find some little, enchanting discoveries. Perhaps, that’s the beauty of traveling. You connect with yourself. You experience. You become a wanderer in a true sense.
As I keep saying to myself “This journey is just a beginning to know myself better”