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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Travelling once more...

It seems only the other day that I sat down to write about my holiday trip Himachal way, and already another whole year and another grand vacation has come and gone. How fast time flies. All that is sweet in life lies in looking forward to happy things and relishing their memories afterwards in the soft, warm glow of recollection. Thus passes the glory of this world!

This year wasn’t a good one for me – to put it very mildly. Not much about that here: those who know (my wife knows much more than anybody else) don’t need to be told; others don’t need to know. Suffice it to say that unlike most years this time round I wasn’t too sure until only a few days before whether I would be making that long-overdue holiday trip or not. My two old boys Arani and Aakash, both currently working and sharing a flat in Delhi, kept up a barrage of incessant requests, telling me again and again that I was coming over to stay and travel with them in end-December, and it is largely owing to their steady, eager urging that I finally decided to go because it would be churlish to say no.

Subhadip Biswas, my ever-faithful pointman in the capital (what wouldn’t a cabinet minister give to have a secretary as loyal and dependable as he! God grant him a great career; whoever employs him, in whatever capacity, would be lucky indeed), was there to receive me at the railway station for the fourth year in a row; this time so were Arani and Aakash to give me a right royal welcome and ride home. What with Arani’s doting and enormously hospitable parents hovering over us, it was really like being home away from home (only the third time that way in Delhi for me). We lazed around the city a bit, taking in the lights, then pushed off the same evening by an ‘A/c-special’ train to Dehradun. Arriving at about 7 in the morning, we hired a car that made a three-hour trip (part of the road in a hair-raising state of disrepair, thanks to frequent landslides) to drop us off at a lovely and cosy little hotel in a quiet, out of the way hamlet called Chakrata nestling in the Garhwal hills at a height of about 6500 feet, offering a magnificent panorama of a huge range of snowclad Himalayan peaks, including the Yamunotri range. Mercifully, those two days we stayed at Chakrata (and only those two!) were blessed with bright, crisp sunshine, and we had the best suite, so the views we had took our breath away. Being a military cantonment where tourism is definitely not encouraged, Chakrata remains one of those (vanishingly few) hill stations which are still unsullied by the curse of overpopulation and ‘development’ – despite the fact that the local literacy rate is close to 90 per cent! It is located on a thickly wooded hill, in sharp contrast to the moonscape-like terrain of rugged and bare hills all around, so it offered very lovely walks too. The delightful chill in the air gave us the excuse to indulge in a real log fire at night (a first for my daughter), and the service was excellent and the meals were mouth-watering and the conversation as rich as I could ask for, and all of us were in good health, so that’s as close to heaven as one gets, I suppose!

On the third day we drove off to Hardwar via Mussoorie, a long and expensive trip, and the driver was surly and unhelpful, but the scenic views greatly compensated for all that, and the drive down from Mussoorie to Dehradun, followed by the one that takes you through Rajaji (Chilla-) National Park on the way to Hardwar from Hrishikesh, charmed as much as ever, though I was doing it for the fourth time. As in Delhi, it was (surprisingly) hardly cold in Hardwar, and there was disappointingly little water in the Ganga (it was even worse at Lachhmanjhula!), and far too many people, but we got the best possible hotel right on Subhas Ghat, a stone’s throw from the famed Har-ki-pauri – twice before, looking up at the lights while walking along the riverside, my wife and I had sighed to think it would be too costly for the likes of us to afford, so this time, having dared to find out, we were most pleasantly surprised. We moved around quite a bit, of course, but we could have happily lazed around on that balcony, watching the day’s routine scenario unfolding before and below our eyes, from dawn to dusk without a whiff of boredom. Arani had to leave for Delhi a day early, but Aakash kept us company, and vowed that this first visit of his would be a very satisfying memory. I think every one of us thoroughly enjoyed the Ganga aarti ceremony at evenfall, chokingly overcrowded as the ghats were. There was a long midnight wait at Hardwar station for the train that took us to Delhi, and when we arrived at dawn, the drive home in racing autorickshaws through fog so dense you could hardly see the tail lights of the cars ahead of you was enough to satiate my middle-aged appetite for adventure. That day, too, we had an MUV at our disposal, and Subhadip took us around to see some more sights. We took in the National Gandhi Museum, the Red Fort and the Jama Masjid, lunched at Eatopia in the India Habitat Centre, strolled around the lovely Lodhi Gardens (though Arani swore they had been far more lush only a couple of months back), snacked at Chocko-la in Khan Market, and then made a beeline for home; we were falling asleep on our feet! Dinner at Arani’s place was a treat that we could hardly do justice to.

Then it was back to Kolkata. A day’s rest, and my daughter’s birthday quietly celebrated. A very dear old girl, who had come over from the US to get married, very kindly took the trouble to see us off at Howrah station, and embarrassed us by literally shoving a load of lovely gifts into our arms (my best wishes to her and her husband for a long and happy married life). A swift, untroubled trip back home, and again we were received by two favourite old boys – one of whom, Stotra, had been generous enough to keep a watchful eye on my house and garden all the time I was away. And as usual, we were united in feeling that while the trip was much needed and much enjoyed, it was good to be back home!

Those who are interested in photographs might look up the following link (best seen in slideshow mode, with the timer set to 10-15 seconds). I haven’t bothered to upload videos.

Now here are a few observations by way of summing up:

1. The Rajdhani Express is a pale shadow of its former self. I wish we had better trains in the luxury segment, even if they cost more. Faster, more comfortable, quieter, and less filled with newly-rich riffraff. I have always loved trains, but now I’m having trouble coping.
2. There are simply too many people – and crooks, con men and beggars – everywhere these days, metros and holy places included.
3. The sons and daughters of the idle, uncouth, ostentatious super-rich are the same disgusting types everywhere. I wish there were a law against them, like they have laws against stray dogs in some countries.
4. Among the curious sights I saw this time round, sadhus fighting tooth and nail over alms was one of the most remarkable.
5. There used to be an old and long-standing complaint among Bengalis living in Delhi that you can’t get good fish anywhere, unless you shop in Chittaranjan Park. No longer. Arani treated me to some of the most delicious fish I have ever eaten, and I am no great fish-lover, either!
6. A large number of ex-students got together to make this trip particularly heartwarming for me. I often feel blue to think of how little people remember me and what I have done for them in years gone by, but some people might quite possibly envy me: few teachers these days can boast of so many old boys who care, and care so much. My most grateful thanks to them, and blessings. This year’s good experience has gone a long way to help me live down the distressing events that followed my last trip. Those who have dropped out of my life I regret no longer: there are still apparently plenty of others who are only too glad to warm the cockles of my old heart. More power to their elbows. I hope they enjoyed doing everything they did. They can take satisfaction from the knowledge that these year-end trips fill me with new vigour and enthusiasm to cope with the almost-thankless drudgery through the year ahead.

There's just about an hour and a half of 2008 left as I publish this post. I wish every reader a very Happy New Year!


Tanmoy said...

Dear Suvroda,

It is lovely to hear about your trip. My belated birthday wishes to Pupu and I wish her the best smiles.


Partha Chatterjee said...

The pictures were excellent.I would like to see the videos when I come to your house.

Subhanjan said...

That was a wondeful read. Short and crisp. I liked that. It is note worthy that one really does not need to write volumes to give an idea of his trip. I am too worthless to express my joy in words. That's why I try to take good photographs to document my experiences. I wish to write good travelogues some day; and also give brilliant pictures along with it.

After reading you, I really can not wait having my soul satisfied with the delicious dishes of Eatopia and Chocko-la. Oh...what dishes might be waiting there for me. Too much of maya! Right? You are going to kill me now.

And sorry to say one thing. I am starting to get the idea that I have to accept that you are getting old. I do not want to accept this truth. But I think I have to. You have never made careless mistakes like "trouble copng". However, that is one mistake of yours, where as each one of us make hundreds.

Subhanjan said...

Travelling is a very necessary recreation, entertainment and adventure that is very necessary to make one's life a rich one. Not only does it educate oneself, it also boosts up ones energy, hopes and optimistic approaches. But of course, it also depends a lot on the way you travel. The super rich, I believe, misses out on all the fun and joy as they restrict themselves to luxury and security. Now where will one get luxury and security if one wishes to visit the Kailash, or Ladakh, or Mongolia for that matter? Even the middle class restricts itself to certain comforts that prohibits it from making the most of a trip. I have observed that in my own family. The ones who enjoy the most are those from the lower sections of the society, and the foreigners. Both have the energy to go about and visit different places.

But from what you have described of your experience, it is pretty apparant that you are an exception to the middle class. You have shown exceptional qualitites in the field of education. Now it seems that you are exceptional in almost every thing. The presence of two ex-students, who are close to your heart, had played a big role in keeping up your spirits. But I am surprised to see that you had visited some places that, as you mention, were crowded. You are basically a very peace-loving person. You have always said: I wish to have a fine trip to some place where I will be enjoying the beauty and peace around with noone within a hundred miles to disturb me. So I was surprised that you had chosen to go to Hardwar.
I wish oneday I can rise high enough to have a nice farm near a vineyard at France and serve you and your family fine wine.

Chanchal said...

The previously written travelogue was better, though I am not supposed to bring up comparisons.

But Sir, somehow I felt that behind all the wonderful things who have written there lies the sorrow of a learned man.

Anyways, a very happy new year to you too.

Manoshij Banerjee

Santanu Sinha Chaudhuri said...

An absolutely lovable fast-paced travelogue. It took me back to the Himalayas, which undoubtedly is one of the most beautiful parts of the world.

It was also nice to read about your wonderful former students.

And I agree with you, there should be a law against the sons and daughters of the idle, uncouth, ostentatious super-rich, and their parents too.

aranibanerjee said...

Many thanks for the kind words, Sir. I would like to add that ever since you have left, things have been rather empty. Delhi had a few cold days--the minimum consistently hovered around five degrees and the sun hardly shone. Today, there was some rain. Many thanks for the Parashuram volume. I'll soon write a post on my blog on some of its stories.


Aakash said...

Dear Sir,

It was wonderful meeting you after eight years and reliving those school memories.

We hope to see you in Delhi again, and soon!

With regards,


Suvro Chatterjee said...

I had thought a lot of people enjoyed reading this sort of writing from me - but the paucity of comments seems to tell me I was wrong. Well, no more travelogues, then!

Dipanwita Shome said...

I too had written about Haridwar once. You had commented on it too. But, as you might have noticed, you were the only one to comment on it. Very few people know about my blog, but the few who do profess great interest in it. Yet apart from yours not a single comment was forthcoming. Anyway, I continue to write still, about the trips I make. I have written about Mussorie (and have got some comments for it and some annoyingly silent admirers apparently) and I intend o write about Satoli and Nainital (I recently visited these places) very soon. You write very well and your travelogue is refreshing in the sense that it is informative, happy and appealing without being dense. Please continue writing more of the kind. It is a pleasure to read them.