The terrain changes around Haldwani. The endless plains of Uttar Pradesh begin to crinkle and rise. We travelled through the plains in the heat of the day. As we climbed, the afternoon lengthened into evening. We stopped at a bakery in Haldwani for tea. Two schoolgirls discussed their new young physics teacher. A couple drank tea with their heads so close that their cups were in danger of clinking against each other. Three young men carrying their biking helmets chatted over a large plate of cakes.
The Family selected cakes. It took little thought to choose tea over instant coffee. I was impatient to start: we were going to miss the golden hour, that couple of hours before sunrise when the light is so beautiful that you can make a great photo out of a garbage heap. The remainder of the drive took longer than I had estimated, because we had to leave the main Haldwani-Nainital road very soon for a smaller road to Naukuchital, where we planned to spend the night. Then, just before sunset we arrived at Bhimtal.
The lake district of Kumaon is almost 2 kilometers above sea level. Bhimtal is the biggest of the famous lakes in this region. I’d flicked through images of Bhimtal before leaving, so I recognized it immediately from the little island which houses an aquarium. We never managed to visit this, unfortunately. That’s one thing we must work into our next trip.
I grew up on stories of Kumaon’s lake district. A grand-uncle had a bungalow there for many years, and would make a yearly trip alone up to the mountains. On his return we would spend dinners mesmerized by stories of him meeting Nilgai on walks from Sattal to Bhimtal, and what to do if you ever meet a leopard (shine a torch at his eyes; not something I plan to do), and how green chilis, which he crunched with his dinner, were much better in the hills. The quiet and nearly deserted lakeside of Bhimtal brought back echoes of those memories. But times have changed, the boatman rowing nearby had reminders of modernity on his boat.