Dhanolti – A glimpse of heaven on Earth!

Last few months had been quite hectic. I had been through a lot and we (me and my wife) were looking for a perfect weekend getaway spot. Went through a lot of names for a cool, calm and hilly destination which would give peace – Lansdowne, Manali, Dharamsala, Mussourie, Mcleodganj and some others. After a lot of thought on what would suit us and our budget (which was not much to be described anyway), we decided to go to Mussourie even though that place was not new to both of us. I had already been to Mussourie around 12 years ago and wifey had been lived in Dehradun (which acts as a step to climb to Mussourie) for 3-4 years and we thought we would be able to manage our finances well at a place which we had seen before.

So, in came the D-day and we decided to board a bus from the travel agent namely Kings Travels for our journey tagging along my brother-in-law (I’ll refer to him as BIL for the rest of this article) as any other mode of travel would have cost us a fortune and a lot of time. We decided that time was money and money will bring us more time so it made perfect sense to leave on Friday night and reach Dehradun early Saturday morning. Below are us just about to leave from Delhi:
Prince, Wifey and Me!

The onward journey was to be divided into 3 phases as we had classified it and each of these little parts had its own little moments:
1. Part 1 would cover us leaving our home, reaching the boarding point and leaving Delhi to reach a Dhaba (Restaurant) midway. 
2. Part 2 would cover us leaving the Dhaba, reaching Dehradun early morning.
3. Part 3 would cover us catching hold of cab and reach Mussourie by 9 am in the morning.

We had decided to leave our home by 8 pm to reach the boarding point by 9:15 pm. The twist here came when auto-rickshaws refused to leave Chhatarpur. What the hell! Now what? It was time to push the panic button and we surely did. We decided to board a metro at Chhatarpur Metro Station and got an auto-rickshaw to drop us there. But as luck would have it, another auto-rickshaw at the station agreed to drop us to our boarding destination and we could reach the place on time all stuffed up in one auto-rickshaw huffing and puffing during the way!

So we boarded the bus and started moving towards Anand Vihar which would be the final boarding point from Delhi and then straight to Dhaba. All of this went smooth. On my way, when I saw the Firozeshah Kotla Stadium, I suddenly remembered that I am missing the IPL match between Delhi Daredevils and Mumbai Indians going on in Delhi and the stadium was easily visible all lit up perfectly and it was passing us by. Score tally summarized via GPRS on my phone – MI struggling.

We reached the Dhaba at around 1:20 am, all sleepy ofcourse with no hunger. But having not tasted an authentic dhaba food since a long long time, I was lured into trying something and had quite a normal quick food in roti, dal and one paneer veg. It was time we boarded the bus again and now was the time we started feeling the pain of small bus and the pain it provides to your knees in the way of pathetic seating positions. It was impossible to sit or lie down but we decided to keep sitting as there was no way to relax the knees. The roads from Delhi to Dehradun are not too friendly if the buses are not comfortable and we bore the entire brunt of it having gotten a seat at the back of the bus. Kept jumping throughout the journey and every pause during the journey was our only chance to catch a nap even if it only lasted for a few minutes. Waking – Sleeping was the pattern as there was nothing but darkness outside amidst all the turbulence. But at the back our of our heads was the peace of a holiday in the making. We were absolutely unperturbed by the tame discomfort or jerks. One look outside would tell us how the still the night was (even though we were not). No complaints though.

By the morning we were completely exhausted. Sunlight woke us up from our paradises in our sleeps and what we saw outside was absolute calm, orange of the sun mixed with the green from the nature and a dense forest covering our bus from both the sides – a sight we hadn’t seen in ages it seems. This was nothing new to us – but certainly awakening and beautiful. May be a knock on our luck for a nice and a comfortable holiday. We reached Dehradun at 6:30 am with sunshine making its presence felt strongly and cool breeze in the air. Not bad at all. Caught a “Tempo – Bhatsuar” and made our way to the bus stand to catch a cab. 

Then the surprise of our trip came calling from my wife who had somehow changed her mind during our bus journey – “Lets go to Dhanolti and not Mussourie. I have not seen that place and looking at Dehradun now doesn’t make me feel the same way I felt about it 10 years ago. I think same would happen to me when we reach Mussourie and I don’t want to waste my holiday”. The taxi driver pitched in – “Yes saab. Dhanolti is a better place if you looking to stay there for a day or two – not more than that. It’s beautiful and very peaceful”. This sudden change of mind jolted me but made me aware that these are the situations you can or may always face on a holiday. To decide between what to do and what not to do could mean a lot and I’m glad I made the right decision. “Ok. Lets go to Dhanolti.” – I said.

The taxi fare doubled and we would reach Dhanolti at about 10:30 am. It was a fare deal given we would get ample time to make up for our lost sleep from the bus – which in my opinion I was the most incorrect I had been throughout the journey. Stop no. 1 from Dehradun to Mussourie came when the hunger pangs started talking. Breakfast had bread – butter and omelet in order and we moved on with gust in our head and fresh air in our lungs. God, the air had not felt so fresh in ages and it obviously took our sleep away. Lots of recording from inside the car followed and we could now feel the difference between the city life and what it would be if we lived in the mountains. The twists and turns brought about obvious churns in our tummies but they would not bother us now. We were all geared up for a 3 hour hike in our “Ambassador” car. The car in itself never posed a question throughout the journey and we enjoyed the ride with our driver. Stop no. 2 would be to have photography session few of which along with ones from the car are below:





Lovely scenes them. I think what made us love the entire road trip more than anything was the excitement to see what would be in store for us at Dhanolti when all of this mediocre stuff (I mean it) was getting us so ecstatic. All of it felt so so similar like we are yet to forget our trips from earlier but more was to come. We nearly reached Mussourie when the driver took a right turn for the road to Dhanolti. The air was absolutely clear and fresh, the soil still smelt like heaven from yesterdays rains and all the flowers and trees left their essence in the air like they were about to burst with happiness. The best part I think about the road from Mussourie to Dhanolti is without doubt the clean and smooth roads with absolutely perfect curbs and slants. It goes up and down and left and right and never gives you a chance to sit straight – you are either jumping with excitement or falling over due to left and right cuts. We just couldn’t stop laughing at our plight. It was hilarious. These are the pictures from the turn we started for Dhanolti:

And then we started on. The quietness that engulfed us except the revving Ambassador engine was quite riveting. The road started stretching its legs and faster we tried to move, the slower it seemed. The mountain view and the pine trees were not doing too bad in keeping us distracted from the harsh twists and turns and the fear of mortality arising from the gaping dive to death. Quite frankly, we just weren’t having enough of the scenery. Every next view would surpass the previous one in beauty and serenity. Sometimes the wall side of the road would be on left and sometimes on right and very rightly keeping us engaged to keep a look out for anything that we might miss because of the twists on the road. And I will again mention the quietness in all of this. This is one property that enthralled us throughout our stay and the journey towards Dhanolti and back. Some more pictures from the way:

The next stop on the way was very interesting. First we saw a sign board that said we were only 260 km from Gangotri on the same route. And the next we were told that the mountain side had apples growing on them. Fresh and green. Also we saw an absolutely belligerent scene. How proximate we were to Himalayas could be linked to two facts: the air was absolutely clear from the rains last night and the Himalayas were only a few ranges away and were clearly visible. We just couldn’t believe our eyes but yes that was not clouds hanging in the air but Himalayas at the helm. Gorgeous view. The Himalayas though, could not be captured by our mere 5x optical zoom Sony cameras.

At this point we were only 6 kms from Dhanolti. Our worries grew if we would be able to find an affordable place to spend our night here. We entered Dhanolti never actually knowing that we had entered it. A small hut, then a maggi palace and then something that turned out to be a cure for our sore eyes – A Hotel. The price inquiry in the area led us to a very small affordable hotel – Pine Hotel. A room cost us a mere Rs. 800 and an extra bed cost another Rs. 100. And as we were to find out after entering the room, the water was extremely cold. So cold that the 2 men in the group decided to give bath a nice little goodbye. After freshening up we decided to hop on to any restaurant to catch a bite as hunger pangs had started dictating their terms yet again. So there we were right in front of a restaurant (a brand new restaurant which had 4 tables inside and a view table outside). We decided to skip the indoors and gave outdoor table a try. All of it – absolutely heavenly. The peace, the gusting wind and sounds from the monkeys and peacocks around completely made us forget that we were at a restaurant and not in the forests themselves. Then came the best part from the restaurant – the food itself. Absolutely similar to home cooked food, the food was prepared to not give the tourists any troubled tummy and it was flawless. Simple Rotis, Dal, a veg and fried rice. Nothing extravagant but the quantity could easily satiate even the biggest slurpers of the world. We started out and went out roaming after our lunch. A visit to the park that greeted us at the entry of Dhanolti was due and we made our way on foot roaming senselessly around and clicking pictures that wouldn’t have made any sense then but now they mean a lot.

We then reached the eco-park, paid a nominal fee of Rs. 10 per person and entered with burnt corns in our hand. The view – amazing. The feel – simple. The aura – peaceful. The park clearly states a message to conserve forests and plants and the messages were scattered all over the park. We climbed, clicked and made merry. Here are some pictures from the first park we visited:

All of this was such a clear view and our color thirsty and smoke damaged eyes were savoring every minute of the natural colors up there. It seemed that this is what earth is about and not all the development that it makes possible and the ease it provides to the mankind. Although I agree that I wouldn’t have shared this article if we wouldn’t have exploited earth’s resources but still I think we should keep a certain sanctity to how nature performs its daily tasks and keeps life running. All of what we were doing apart from clicking pictures were – thinking. Then we returned in broad day light to our room to catch a nap after deciding that the rest of the sight-seeing will be done after a doze off. During our sleep we noticed that the weather had suddenly gone dark and there were loud sounds of thrashing on our roof and the windows. But we were just too tired to take a heed of those and kept sleeping through what could have been an exhilarating spectacle for us to watch. 

We woke up after 4 hours of absolute mayhem of a sleep and then decided to take a stroll through the street that was “Dhanolti”. We opened the door of our room that faced the hill directly and were greeted by near freezing winds entering our room blowing our heads off and sending shivers down our spines. I had never witnessed such sharp fall in temperatures and this was definitely a “First” of my life. With our teeth tattering and after covering ourselves up with almost anything that we could find in our room, we straight away headed to the shop that sold scarves and woolen items only to find out that there had been a huge hail storm in the afternoon that had wrecked this havoc. After covering ourselves up properly and to satisfaction, it was time for us to head to a Maggi palace to have a shot at one of the various versions of Maggi they sold along with hot tea. This is where we realized that life could be this simple as well. Small inviting shops, simple people, small eateries, 1 clinic and 1 beer & wine shop. That was all that was there in that street along with 2-3 restaurants. Here are some pics from the evening:
We kept roaming the street all through the evening that day and felt the cold wind telling us the meaning of peace and the essence of spending time on the hill-side. It was cold and people had taken the shelter of either their homes or the small cozy shops they run day in and day out to make a living. The pic above with the street view is the densest part in Dhanolti. This is it. Yes you read it right – this is it. This is all of Dhanolti’s population base. Although we didn’t get a chance to roam around in a lot of light but we accumulated enough material and places to roam about even in the dark. All the mixture of dark blue and grey in the sky along with the occasional orange peeping through the sky were all too breath-taking to be described in words. Personally I would love to live here. Or atleast have a summer home here. 

As we were engulfed in our thoughts, we realized that it was already dark and the skies were darkening to be unforgiving again through the night and as we would later find out, we made a brilliant decision to have an early dinner at one of the restaurants even though we weren’t very hungry. But the locals had told us that it was going be a hail storm like the evening again and it was going to get extremely cold and the signs were again becoming very ominous. So we had our dinner and had normal food which in entirety cost us only Rs. 240 for rotis, dal, 1 veg and rice again. 

Now it was time to run though our mobiles and this is something I have forgotten to mention. Only two networks were working there – BSNL and Vodafone. No Airtel and since all of us three belong to the Airtel family, none of us had network and were not being allowed to switch to any other operator  as well – so we were out of touch with the entire world for sometime. So, we tried calling our families and as we would find out, the place has only one STD booth and that too had its lines turned off at night due to palpitating weather and the operator told us that the lines will be on in the morning when the skies are clear. In the end we had to ask a local to give us his mobile and he helped us gladly and told us that this was a common issue at Dhanolti. We paid him duly even on his insistence for not doing so.

Now that we were all hunky dory with our families, we decided to give ourselves sometime in the room and tried watching some local channels. But as fate would have it, we lost electricity for about 4 hours and some till we were awake. After that, it was pitch black with no motion and people had slept outside on the streets at 9 pm sharp. We were the only galactical birds flocking at Dhanolti then and we used our license to stay awake on till very late and enjoyed ourselves, joking and making merry! Life couldn’t have been better!

We woke up in the morning at about 8 am with no electricity and decided that it was time for us to hit the second park at Dhanolti as there would be nothing much to do at home. The bigger eco-park, one that Dhanolti is supposedly known for. My wifey had read somewhere on a pamphlet that we were allowed to plant trees in this park and this had turned into her wish since then and so we decided to abide by it. A wife’s wish is husbands command, remember – all you wife loving husbands will totally agree with me I know – say yes… come on come on – say yes. Ok I see you nodding your head. That’s enough for affirmation to me. So there we were at the eco-park at 11 am after we had had our breakfast which included heavy-duty aloo ka paranthas with butter and tea. And as I said, life just couldn’t have been better!

Again the nominal fees of Rs. 10 would let us have a free willed stroll through the park and we gladly paid for it. This is where the twist in our day would start. As soon as I paid for the park, it started drizzling. It rained at first but slowly the cold winds started picking up. And the rain turned into a slow hail fall. All of this was lovely, we decided to stay out and not get bound by this weather. We also paid Rs. 350 for the tree we wanted to plant and decided that it had to be Cedar Deodar tree. They are simply beautiful and the most abundantly available plant in the area. One more wouldn’t have made a slight bit difference and as it is, that plant was the only one available that day at the park to be planted. So we went ahead with the weather worsening. Started to stroll slow at first but then picked up our speed up the hill so we could reach our spot early which had been marked by the local keeper at the park. He helped us with the tools and water and stuff and by the time we made our way to spot, the slow hail fall had turned into the big hail storm with winds gusting into our faces and throwing us off the already wet track that we were following. We were careful and hence no casualty occurred. My wife apparently was on a completely different plane of resolution that day and totally ignored our calls to stay inside a shelter for sometime. So while we mortals decided to catch a shade, she went ahead with the keeper to plant the tree. So while we were watching from a distance, me being below a mid high plant and BIL below a shade, she was planting the tree. It was awesome for us to say the least because the last time I was eating salty ice from my collar was way back in my childhood and it was absolutely phenomenal to bear it for sometime. As this video would show:

Once we were through with this, we decided to do some photo shooting around the park in whatever time we were left with. Here are the pics:



It was then time for us to leave Dhanolti and we decided to have a short stay of around an hour at Mussourie just to have a feel of what commercialization had done to that place. The place is full and not very enjoyable if you have ever been there before when it was not so crowded. We wished we had more time to spend at Dhanolti though because the locals who knew the weather there told us that there might be snow if it continued to be bombarded with hail storms at this rate and how disappointed we were to hear that. We really wished we should have seen that spectacle too but not to be this time and we saved this for later. The colors, the peace, the feel, the aura, the forests, the rain, the smell of the fresh soil, the hail storms, the cold, the winds, and teas. We had an absolutely wonderful time there. It just couldn’t have been better. The place makes you feel like you belong there. And for people like me, it felt like I should own everything or atleast some part of the land there. And the best of all, it was pocket friendly. Along with the taxi which we were very very lucky about, the entire trip cost us a mere Rs. 10000 for 3 people who also included the bus fare to and fro between Delhi and Dehradun that stood at Rs. 3000 and the taxi cost us Rs. 3200 to and fro between Dehradun and Dhanolti. 

The return journey was as painful and hard and bumpy as the onward journey and there was just no letting go of the pain in our knees. The suspensions in the bus were pathetic and we suffered thoroughly. You see, fate has its own ways of making sure that not every thing remains hunky dory throughout a journey.

All in all, Dhanolti is a place worth visiting once in your life time and the best time to be there should be around the end of January as per the locals. Board a taxi and not a bus for the sake of comfort. Everything else will remain a happy dot in your otherwise boring lifetime. I feel blessed to have been a part of this experience. Hope you have yours too.

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