Miscalculation

If you are reading this post it is because of a miscalculation. I thought I would reach home in the morning, after a two-week-long trip to Turkey, but I haven’t. And I still haven’t finished talking about my trip to the Garhwal Sivalik’s, or The Family’s solo trip to the Garhwal Himalayas. So there will be a lot to talk about when I get back to a normal schedule tomorrow. In the mean time, I hope you enjoy my parting shot of the lower Himalayas taken a while back.

Mossy Falls, Mussoorie

I was absolutely charmed by the name of this waterfall and marked it down on the map as a detour to take on our way from the airport to our hotel in Mussoorie. The route was not terribly well marked, and we could find our way only by following directions of a school’s coach who was leading a platoon of teenagers on a strenuous jog through mountain roads. He stopped his motorbike, let the sweaty youngsters pass, and then gave us detailed directions. The road was one which could only have been imagined by a gym instructor. At some turns the car was close to vertical, and I was held to the seat only by the seat belt.

The road abruptly ended at a point where a stream made a right turn, and there, just around the corner, was the waterfall. In better light the place must be gorgeous. Even in the flat light of a heavily overcast day, the greenery surrounding the place was stunning. I could almost forgive the large amount of raw concrete which was being poured into directing the stream around the bend. We walked down the concrete steps to the narrow steel bridge over the water. We’d had a long day’s travel, from the early morning flight, a change at Delhi, and the drive up from Dehra Dun. It was nice to stand in this utterly still place, where the only sound was of water and look down into the shallow but swiftly flowing stream.

On the far side of the construction was a grotto, where a Shivaling was placed strategically under a fall of water. One interesting thing about this place is that it isn’t a single waterfall. The main stream comes down the water fall which you can see in the featured photo, but there are smaller waterfalls around which all add to the stream flowing down from here.The Garhwal Shivaliks are full of these little streams which eventually wend their way into the main rivers which wash through the north of India. Of course, the place was mossy, but I’d just finished reading a story about the naming of this place by Ruskin Bond. That story is so funny that it definitely deserves to be true. So I leave you with it.

The naming of places is never as simple as it may seem. Mossy Falls is a small waterfall on the outskirts of the town. You might think it was named after the moss that is so plentiful around it, but you’d be wrong. It was really named after Mr. Moss, the owner of the Alliance Bank who was affectionately known as Mossy to his friends When, at the turn of the century, Alliance Bank collapses, Mr. Moss also fell from grace. ‘Poor old Mossy’, said his friends, and promptly named the falls after him.
Landour Days by Ruskin Bond

A short walk in the afternoon

When we reached our hotel with the wonderful view of the mountains from the balcony, it was a little past noon. We sat on the lawns and had a crisp thin-crust pizza and beer so well chilled that even at this height moisture was dewing the bottle as it sat on the table. The air was crisp and cool, as it should be at an altitude of over 2.5 kilometers above sea level. After lunch we could sit in the balcony, look out at the mountains and aestivate. Or we could go for a walk. We chose to walk.

The afternoon’s light was mellow. One side of the road sloped down to fields and a village spread very sparsely over the hillside. It was nearly spring time. The snow had almost completely melted, and only shaded fields and slopes gleamed white in the afternoon. The sloping metal roofs of huts were weighed down by stones. Ruskin Bond in one of his books mentions a corrugated iron roof which was blown away in a storm and decapitated an “early-morning fitness freak”. At the sight of the stones I was reminded of that. But we were safe; this was not early morning.

The road was deserted, but suddenly there was an apparition in front of us. Was it a ghost? No. From the way it swayed and sang it could only be the village drunk. We passed an agricultural research lab where rows of apple trees had grafts on them and were beginning to bloom. A large oak on the side of the road was full of sparrows. When we stopped to watch, we saw a pair of Streaked Laughingthrush (Trochalopteron lineatum) in the undergrowth. They are shy birds, preferring to hop about under cover, and are difficult to photograph. I was not satisfied with the photos which I got.

Moss grew on walls here, poking out through the mortar between the stones. I keep thinking that I’ll try to get a field guide to the mosses of India, expect that there is no such book. As a result, I have no idea which moss I’m photographing. One of these was beginning to flower. Although the solstice was a few days away, spring had come to Garhwal’s Sivaliks already.

The shops at the turn of the road were all closed for the afternoon’s siesta. I loved their collection of preserves and juices. juice of rhododendron, mint, apple and the new citrus hybrid called the Malta were advertised, along with jams, chutneys and pickles. The British were convinced that rhododendron is poisonous, although locals have been drinking its juice for ages. We reminded ourselves that we would have to come back here later; we’ve always enjoyed drinking this juice when we are in the mountains.

We walked on for a while more, but then clouds started to drift in. The weather prediction was of light rains in the afternoon. We turned back; it would be a twenty minute walk back to the hotel. It would be time for tea when we got back.

Three postcards from March

March is the cruellest month in the mountains. We often go for a short holiday to the Himalayas in March. The roads are usually open, but the weather is unpredictable. We found a hotel in the Garhwal Sivaliks where we were the only guests, and our room had a spectacular view. Our last day there had been clear (photo below) but clouds began to come in over the high peaks just before sunset. Sunset and sunrise paint the snow in glorious colours. The clouds muddied the colours.

Dawn had been even more cloudy, but it had cleared up soon after sunrise. During breakfast we kept our eyes on the clear view of the mountains. The day was great and the view was wonderful. We decided to travel along a route which would keep the high Himalayas in our view most of the time. This was a day when our luck held, until sunset.

March is cruel. The weather keeps changing, and predictions are not accurate more than a day in advance. When we arrived at the hotel the view we had was spectacular for a photographer (above) but disappointing for a traveler. Every year we keep telling ourselves “Next year we’ll come to the Himalayas in April.” Maybe next year we will.

Sculpted mountainsides

People have lived on the Garhwal Himalayas for a long time. The mountainsides are terraced into fields up to a height of nearly three kilometers above sea level; perhaps even higher, although we did not travel so far. There are big farmhouses dotted about the hills. Villages are scattered collections of households. Perhaps the ease of being close to one’s fields overcomes the natural tendency to cluster into groups larger than families.

We stopped at various points along the road from Mussoorie (2 kilometers above sea level) to Kanatal (2.6 kilometers above sea level) to look out at the lower Himalayas, some slopes forested, others sculpted into agricultural land. The population density in this part of the country is similar to that in Sikkim. However, driving along roads in Sikkim gives you the feeling of being in forests, whereas Garhwal has the feel of a farming countryside.

Later, as we took a long afternoon walk through villages we saw an unexpected use of the terraces. A small game of cricket was in progress. The batsman did not have to pull back his shots. I managed to photograph a lusty shot, which would have carried the ball to a boundary even in an ordinary playing field. Here a fielder on a lower terrace gave chase. This region has a shortage of water. I wonder how hard farming must be at this height.

So bad it’s fun (XXXVII: Mussoorie Lake)

Our efforts to find the most artificial and unattractive, the most kitschy places, in India continues. I search high and low (mainly low) to bring you a list of places you might want to avoid. Unless, of course, you love tackiness and kitsch. Wouldn’t you love to spend Valentine’s Day taking a selfie with a ferocious dinosaur and your Valentine? If you do, then this series is for you.

Mussoorie Lake (number 33 out of 33 attractions on Tripadvisor) was on our must-miss list until we had an hour with nothing to do. Nitin stopped the car at the lake and said, in his garrulous way, “Lake.” The Family and I got out into a maze of little shops selling cheap things that nobody ever buys and found a ticket office with friendly signs saying things like “Entry 12 Rupees (including GST)” or “Persons found without ticket will be charged 10 times the entry price.” We bought a ticket and climbed down many stairs to find a glorified bathtub.

The periphery was full of exciting shops full of things nobody ever buys. There was a haunted house with a short loop of ghostly screams blaring from it. Next to it a food shop served “authentic South Indian dosa”. After that was a shop which rented out “traditional Garhwal wedding dresses” for you to take selfies in. Or you could go boating in the bathtub lake.

The Family and I walked around the shallow artificial pond slowly, taking notes. After three minutes we reached the high point: something under construction which said “Selfie Point”. Apart from the ferocious dinosaur in the featured photo it featured a tree full of multi-coloured flowers. “Plastic!”, The Family described in the tone of voice that Archimedes must have used when he jumped out of the lake bathtub shouting “Eureka.”

On the way back up the stairs, in one half-hidden corner I found a stand of Calla lilies. I don’t see them very often; Mumbai’s climate is not good for growing them. So every time I see these flowers I stop by and take photos. I like the delicate tones of the spathe, the modified leaf which surrounds the central yellow stem with the inflorescences. Twelve rupees is not much of a price to pay for such a wonderful discovery. Please remember Mussorie Lake the next time you feel you’ve been ripped off. It’s bound to make you feel better.