Around five years back, I had some free time at work, which is very unusual for me. Because I am usually buried under work with the grace of my bosses but mostly out of my own accord. That time, I was relatively free with no scary deadlines, nobody breathing down my neck and nobody to suck my blood. So, I looked for trouble. Because, habit! Unless there is something to solve for, to crib about, to blame, I don’t feel at ease. So, on a Thursday evening, I decided that I won’t spend my weekend in the city but somewhere else, higher. And overnight, I booked bus tickets because train wasn’t available on such short notice. The next day, I left for ISBT after work & boarded my bus in the evening, preparing for a long night that was supposed to end with a beautiful sunrise in the hills.
The next morning, I woke up because I heard kids crying in the bus. These were some steep bends and the bus driver was driving a bit rash. We felt we had a narrow escape every time he took a turn, and every ditch that we ditched. After a couple hours of this stomach-turning exercise, I reached the beautiful hill station of Nainital.
It was high but I had no place to stay.
It was beautiful but I looked like a mess with 12 hours of travel on me.
It looked tempting and I was hungry.
The city was jam packed. It looked like that entire Ghaziabad, Gurgaon and Noida decided to holiday in Nainital that weekend, and the place reminded me the inside of a metro – cooler but crowded. I was super hungry. So, I first started looking for a restaurant & I spotted this one place with a familiar name on the first floor of an old building – Sher-e-Punjab. The waiters were dressed in ‘wannabe White’ clothes but they didn’t take my order. A local boy barely in his 20s with a jeans that wanted to just slip all the way down and a Yellow hoodie came to take my order. He started scribbling even before I placed my order. That notepad was probably a ruse for the raps that he secretly wrote on it while we thought that he is taking our order. In 15 mins., he served Missi roti, kadhai paneer & an extremely sweet chai shot. And I left him a tip before leaving because the place served fresh saunf/ fennel seeds.
By Sunset, I had booked myself a really small room, in a beautiful resort, for 2 days at a cost that was more than 10% of my monthly salary. I was planning to visit the major tourist attractions the next day with the evening reserved for the boatride in Naini lake. That’s the only thing I recall beautifully well when I think of Nainital. Everything else – zoo, suicide point, adventure sports (yeah, you got that there), nakuchiya taal, waterfalls- everything wanes in comparison to the evening I spent riding a boat in the Naini lake.
That, and the long walks on Mall road, all days of my trip to Nainital. Growing up, I loved melas and bazaars. The lighting, stalls and street food – all had its charm. We used to have a small flea market every Thursday near our place where there would be a lot of stalls selling beauty products and accessories. A few hawkers selling balloons, cotton candy, kitchen sets and barbie doll knock-outs. But I would look for one & only- ice-cream waale uncle. My mom would give me a two rupee coin and I would spend the whole walk from my home to the flea market, contemplating whether I should spend my money buying a softy that got sold for Rs 2 those days. But almost always, I will buy Orange ice lolly that would come for Rs 1. This way, I would save for another ice lolly sometime during the week.
There’s this thing about aloo tikki; it tastes the best only when eaten outside. My mother makes really good aloo tikki, but even she can’t recreate that taste. The one that you get when you carefully cup the heavy pattal with your hands and manage to take scoops of tikki with a wooden spoon. It takes really long to eat the tikki in this way, but you love it anyway, with chutneys dripping from your fingers, and a bit of tikki on your face.
I had a plate of tikki on the mall road the next day. It was the perfect appetiser. It was good, but he served it in a plastic plate. There was no dripping, no cupping & no smearing. He also had a bench where I could keep my stuff and sit to peacefully finish my snack. It’s a good experience but not as good as from childhood. I was told that there’s another vendor that sells snacks in pattals. I am planning to visit him the next time I visit Nainital.
The night before I left, I sat in the gardens of my resort & ordered some tea & pakoras. The whole resort was built on a platform and they had built gardens in a stepped fashion. So, I grabbed a higher spot. You could see the lake clearly from that point and somewhere in the sky, a few stars twinkled too. It was a perfect end to a rushed vacation. And a trip that became a holiday that I remember till this date.
Three things I will do again if I go to Nainital:
- Take a long walk on Mall road in evenings
- Take that boat ride in Naini lake
- Eat a garlic naan at Sher-e-Punjab. It smelt too delicious to be forgotten.
Click anywhere, from any angle, girl. You are beautiful.
And you, my dear boy, help her click good pics.