A kumaoni by birth, I have been very proud of my “native” land – the hills of Uttarakhand (formerly, Uttaranchal, and before that a part of the state of Uttar Pradesh). Most of our vacations during my growing up years were spent visiting breathtaking valleys and mountainous ranges of Nainital, Bhimtal, Almora, Pithoragarh and Lohaghat – the lesser known but much more beautiful cousins of the more popular – Mussorie and Dehradun.
This time around I visited the hills after a gap of 5 years. The journey was as always arduous and my affinity to mountain sickness does not help matters. But forget that. Dad took a less-traveled route to Almora – our chosen destination - and it was undoubtedly one of the most scenic drives I have ever taken. The long winding roads wrapped around the mountains with royal pines spread out till as far as the eye can see, and the mist rising softly as if from below the mountains – heaven is here.
But before I could completely lose myself in the picturesque view that enveloped us, the driver screeched rudely at our first halt.
Rickety shops lined along the road serving food that has never known the word hygiene. Sanitation is at its worst. No, you don’t want a description of the restrooms.
We tried to drown the ugly reality in the beauty of nature and reached Almora - a town that has not changed with the passage of time. I do not know if I mean this as an appreciation. Almora still does not have a drainage and sewage system. The vehicles have increased but the roads have deteriorated.
Move to Nainital – all that is good about the place is what the colonial rule bequeathed on us. We have barely been able to maintain the infrastructure developed by the British more than 200 years ago. The number of people visiting these places has multiplied manifold, and the “mall” road has become a mess of smoke and noise.
What makes me so bitter at the state of affairs is that nothing is being done, nobody is bothered. What should not change – the weather, the majesty of nature, the peace and solitude of the place – is changing thanks to global warming, unchecked pollution and total disregard for our natural heritages; And what should change – the infrastructure, roads, education of the local population, sanitation – is not changing.
It is a frustrating experience seeing these places that offer hope for retreat and sanity in a world that’s maddeningly complicated, simply fade away their charm and glory.
However, I must mention that Bhimtal is a few notches better than the other two places. There is a serenity in the place that is intoxicating. So maybe next summer, you could plan a trip to Bhimtal to beat the heat. Leaving you with a picture of the calm and placid waters.