More the Haunt, better the experience
Travel gives us experience and travelling with friends gives us stories. Stories that live with us forever and never fail to bring up a smile on our faces even years and years after those incidents. One such story that has remained with me took place in the beautiful Nainital. Six friends high on adrenaline on a roadtrip are unmatchable in energy levels and so were we. We wanted to take a look at Nainital from a different perspective hence we all decided to do things unlike the normal tourists of Nainital. Firstly we did not take the normally travelled route via Haldwani – Kathgodam and chose the other side of the mountain instead. The route that goes through Bazpur as we had learnt was more beautiful, adventerous and dangerous considering that we were travelling during the rainy season and all this information proved absolutely correct as we waded through the mesmerizingly green but landslide prone hills. The view was magnificent but fresh landslides at some places kept us alert.
Apart from the different route, we also decided not to stay at hotels at or around the mall road. In fact we actually decided against staying at conventional hotels at all. We moved up on the dangerously steep Zoo Road, away from the touristy accommodations and towards the comparatively secluded area just before the Nainital Zoo. We had heard from someone known about one Col. Dangwal who rents out the rooms of his home for selected guests. After finding a parking we moved away from the drivable ground onto the awkward and slippery mountain stairs leading to some local residents of Nainital. After enquiring from a couple of people we finally managed to reach Col. Dangwal`s Homestay but the real task was to convince him to let us stay as he usually did not rent out rooms to groups of just boys obviously to keep the trouble away. After 30-35 minutes of grilling session about the backgrounds of each and every one of us he finally agreed. We took a set of two rooms that were joined by a common door. There were six of us and I remind this again because this number plays the main instrument of this story.
Before I go any further I will tell you a little about this cheeky fellow “colonel Dangwal”. He had retired from the army long back and resided in Delhi. He used to spend 4-5 months every year at his old home in Nainital and for meeting expenses he rented rooms to wanderers like us. He was old but sharp and had a special liking for alcohol like many other army men. In fact he started each and every day with alcohol and used to stay with it until he fell asleep but in very calculated measures. If there was ever a face to the term “lovely lovely” in terms of drinking alcohol; It could be no one better than Colonel Dangwal. His army background meant that he never ran out of stories mostly glorifying himself though. One of the favourites of his was the one where he saved 8-10 people from drowning in Naini lake after some boats collided a few years back (When he was supposedly young).
The best part about the home stay was its location. It was almost the highest point in Nainital and we could have a bird`s eye view of the entire lake from there and from above the tin roof of the home stay we could see the huge sign board of the Zoo. Col. Dangwal had a habit of visiting his guests every now and then which would mostly be about sharing a drink or two and some more stories. He came to our room as well that evening and as we offered him a drink he nodded in a ‘NO’ but put his hand out to accept the glass. He was that sort of a guy.
As he was about to take the first sip of our whiskey he stopped and asked: “Which one of you is missing in the room?” We all looked at each other and replied that we are all here, all six of us. He counted us and said yes you are all here but I somehow felt that one of you is missing and just as he completed his sentence a glass fell in the other room. The other room was locked and there were no windows in there hence it surprised us. There was a brief silence amongst all of us as we were trying to figure out what was happening when Col. Dangwal replied to that sound by reaffirming his statement that he felt there was one more of us who was not in this room and he thought he was in the other room. This baffled us but was soon forgotten in the chatter. It was forgotten but not lost as everyone had that instance in mind. In fact when five out of the six guys planned to go out for a walk down towards the lake (around 1 KM away) at around 11:30 in the night, the sixth guy decided he was feeling sleepy and wanted to stay back. We had just reached out of the house when he came running to join us as he felt scared of someone else being present in the room.
The night ended peacefully though and the next morning the idea of seeing Nainital differently faded away. We became the normal tourists and decided to visit the tiffin top as the tourists do; on a pony`s back. All six of us went and negotiated with a pony walker and worked out the bargain rates per pony ride. As the deal was finalized, the pony walker called his other friends for ponies for each one of us. We had SEVEN ponies standing in front of us. This struck immediately to each one of us but we calmly sent one away as we cleared it up with them that we were just six when the initial pony walker replied that he somehow felt we were seven. It freaked the hell out of us but being the big brave boys that we were, we did not let an expression come on our faces but as confirmed later all six of the hearts were beating heavily.
After a few minutes it all passed away as started making fun of it and carried on with our schedule. We did not opt for ponies on the way down and chose to trek instead. On our way down we came across a few children playing football on the slopes and we joined in to have the best half an hour of our entire trip. The mood was jovial again and after all that we wanted to do we returned back to our rooms, had dinner and passed the night away without any more hiccoughs.
The next day we were returning back and the jokes about both those incidences were being made now. We had left early without having our breakfast as we had planned to have it on the way at local highway eateries. The mood of the trip was gone as we were now heading back to our normal lives. All the excitement was gone but the chatter was there as we stopped at small shop on one of the turns on the hilly road. We gave one simple instruction to the boy there “get tea for all of us”. He came back with SEVEN tea cups.