The second wave of covid came like a tornado and affected most people that I know of… it touched me personally as well. Deepika was tested positive and isolated herself for two weeks. Fortunately she was asymptomatic and barring few days of lethargy and fatigue she was otherwise in good shape.
I lost my sister on April 3 due to multiple organ failure due to kidney infection but was post mortem declared to be covid infected. She was cremated as per covid protocol which prevented my older siblings to pay their last respect to her as her mortal remains were consigned to the fire god. She had many issues in life both health and emotional but her passing away has still not sunk in… even now!
Then, later in April 26, Deepika lost her Chachaji (uncle), the last patriarch of the family to old age. He had kidney infection for last few years and had been on dialysis, got covid infection while visiting the hospital for the treatment, recovered but succumbed to post covid complications. Deepika alone went to pay her as well as our last respect to the departed and somehow picked up the infection that very day.
The April-May 2021 has been the bearer of worst kind of news… practically every day we were given some bad news of departures of friends, colleagues and relatives which numbed us in more ways. There was always an element of uncertainties of the future…each day we thanked for being alive and untouched by the virus. To top it, the city was in lockdown, nowhere to go, not even to pick up grocery from our preferred store(s). We desperately wanted to get out of this morbid situation and run, run to wherever we could, we needed some positive boost…
I have made six journeys to and fro Delhi-Hyderabad which is approx 1600km each way in our trusted Toyota Corolla Altis in last three years. Then in December we went to Naukuchiatal, Uttarakhand in the same vehicle and realized that the sedan is good in the plains but one needs an SUV to enjoy the hill drive. In the beginning of March we looked around for a new vehicle and after checking on Kia, Hyundai, Tata, zeroed on Jeep Compass but then lockdown happened!!
Meanwhile, the Altis was nearing its 4th Birthday (in July) and also the end of its company lease, we paid up the residual amount and decided to lease the new vehicle from the company. However, it had to wait for the lockdown to ease and the auto showrooms to open. Finally, on June 13, we took delivery of the Jeep Compass from the Gurugram Dealer. In a way it was our 30th Anniversary gift from the company!!!
Except last year (2020), every year for last at least 20 years we have taken a short vacation around June 20 to celebrate our anniversary and this year we were simply desperate to go out of the city. But it wasn’t safe to go just anywhere, the second covid wave had instilled a fear in all of us. After lot of deliberations and search, we decided on Naukuchiatal for two reasons… (1) Availability of an independent fully furnished house for short stay, and (2) Our good friend Sanjay Dutt was stationed in the proximity in his own Villa with sprawling lawns where we can unwind.
Last time in December, we left Delhi in the afternoon and faced lot of traffic congestion on the way, so this time it was decided to leave as early as possible around 5/5:30 am. In December we had taken Rolf with us and he was visibly very uncomfortable not only during the travel but even during our stay. He is 12 human years old now with rheumatism issues, so he was left at home under the care of the housekeeper and Guddu, the driver turned man-Friday to walk him twice a day. It did pain me to leave him but I consoled myself that it was for his good only. And it turned out to be a good decision because during most days of our stay it rained and it would have been a challenge for Rolf to walk and do his job in the wet surroundings.
We started off exactly at 5:30 am from home and reached the Bharat Petroleum outlet at Moolchand in about 10 minutes considering the empty streets. I needed to tank up but as I entered the station I realized something was amiss… the outlet had no power supply and wasn’t able to dispense the gas. The next outlet (Indian Oil) on our route was at Nehru Nagar which was thankfully operational and we tanked up.
As we hit the highway, the speed limit eased up to 100kmph and I pushed the paddle, as soon as the speedometer crossed 80kmph, there was beeping noise and the dashboard screen warned that I had breached the speed limit. It was not just confusing but irritating too as the road sign clearly mentioned 100kmph as speed limit and at 80kmph I was well below that limit. We tried calling up the Jeep Helpline but they were helpless…the lady on the desk was very sympathetic and offered us towing service which we declined as politely as we can. We tried the various options to stop the beeping but it won’t stop so we decided to live with the annoying beeping and drive on. Much later, we came to know that all new vehicles (2021 onwards) have this warning beep pre-installed at 80kmph followed by 2 beeps at 100kmph and continuous beeping as one breach 120kmph…this is the new safety feature as per the GoI directive. In a way it is a welcome measure if it can reduce road accidents due to over speeding.
Although we had decided not stop for breakfast (we carried sandwiches and stuffed parantha) at the Nirula’s outlet at Gajraula but had to stop to use the restroom and had much needed coffee to revitalize. As we left, the Sun started playing hide n seek with the clouds. The rain started as we entered the Muradabad bypass road and remained with us till we reached our destination, giving some respite intermittently. To enter Uttarakhand, one needs to have RTPCR Negative Report and Registration at the govt website (Smartcity Dehradun) along with the details of one’s stay. This is checked and recorded at the entry point of the State (for us it was at Bazpur) where they give a token which again is checked at Kaladungi . Having started early, we were lucky to be the first ones at the counter and got our token in less than 5 minutes. At Kaladungi checkpoint, we simply flashed the token from our vehicle and were cleared to proceed. I guess, because of the conditional entry, the number of tourist entering Uttarakhand was relatively less compared to Himachal where there was a 6 km long traffic congestion to enter Shimla.
It took us 7 hours to reach our destination, by far the fastest that we ever made it. Sanjay along with Sridhar aka Siddu, his son was there to greet us and informed that lunch will be served at his place just behind our temporary abode.
Thankfully, the rain had stopped and we could take out our luggage and other stuff from the vehicle. Must point out here that we carried basic cooking utensils and our own crockery/cutlery sets not wanting to use any third party stuff (if available).
We freshened up and went to Sanjay’s place. On earlier visit, Sanjay had been little paranoid about the pandemic and respecting that we had mostly stayed outside the house enjoying the winter sun and breeze. But this time he was more relaxed, probably because all of us carried a negative RTPCR report!! He had ordered food for a party of at least 25 people starting with burgers, pizza, roast chicken and biriyani. We were stuffed for the day!!
Since, we had no intentions of any excursion (having seen most of the scenic sites in our numerous visits to the area), we decided to relax and played cricket with Siddu letting him hit the ball every time. The joy that he had was priceless. We had the good fortune of having Chewbacca (Shih Tzu) as a fielder but she would reach the ball but couldn’t fetch it as the ball was a bit too big for her to bite.
In the evening, we played our favourite indoor sports of Dumb Charade and the card game called TwentyNine. The former is game where one team gives a name of a cinema (Hindi or English only) to a member of the opposing team. The person has to act without uttering any word or noise or pointing to any physical being/things and that team has to guess the name within 2 minutes. It starts with easy names but ends up with tough ones as competitiveness overshadows the camaraderie. My team lost when I could not enact “Serendipity” successfully.
The Twenty Nine card game is primarily a Bong game, invented and vigorously played by every Bong that I know. It is played with 32 cards between 2 teams of 2 players each. The cards in the game are Jack (3 points) Nine (2 Points) Ace (1 point) Ten (1 point) King, Queen, Eight & Seven (no points but have face value). The person next to the dealer calls for point starting 16 (minimum) and can go up to 28 points (maximum 7*4=28). The card no. 6 (all 4) is used for marking the win (Red 6) and loss (Black 6). My team (Sangeeta & I) lost the game to the other team (Deepika & Santanu). It was not my day for sports… instead I opened the bottle of Double Black to relax.
Following morning I woke up around 4:30 am to the sound of chirping of an unknown bird which continued for an hour… I tried to look for it but couldn’t locate the source of the chirping. This would happen every morning of our stay and perhaps otherwise too.
We were informed that there’s “weekend curfew” in place throughout Uttarakhand and all shops including eateries are closed on Sundays, so we had bought bread, butter, cheese and eggs for breakfast. Lunch too had been ordered from a “Home Kitchen”. One half of our entourage was avermse to having breakfast and the other half Dinner!!
In the pre-noon, we drove down to the lakeside and parked at a convenient spot and walked around the lake…the view of the surrounding was breathtaking, the mountains have turned green after the rains and the clouds played hide n seek with the Sun making the nature sparkle.
The lunch was typically home cooked food, light and tasty and made us sleepy, moreover, it started drizzling so a quick nap was what I decided is the best thing to do!! In the evening we went to Sanjay’s house for the “Adda” with Uncle-Auntie. Both were very happy to have company after a long time, we reminiscence our earlier trips to various places in the pre-covid times.
The Double Black bottle got over between the four of us and the Glenlivet was opened too for one round along with the dry snacks that we brought from Delhi. The leftover from the lunch was consumed by those who wanted to have dinner besides the Maggi…the aroma of Maggi made me drool but I resisted the temptation.
The following day was our 30th Anniversary and Deepika planned the lunch menu in consultation with Sangeeta and Sanjay before we called it a day.
I made simple breakfast of cheese sandwich, omelet and orange juice for Ayush, Ming and myself. Sangeeta had Maggi while Deepika settled for Milk with Cornflakes. Thereafter, we drove down to Bhimtal to pick-up our lunch from Machaan (Chinese) and i-Heart Café (Pizza & Pasta). Although it was Monday and open for business, the traffic was still very sparse, moreover, the most of the restaurants were open for takeaways of pre-ordered food only. Besides, the RTPCR report being compulsory had turned away many tourists away from this sector. Anyways, our orders were ready at both places which we picked up and returned home. The lunch was spread out at Sanjay’s home as we wanted Uncle-Aunty to be part of the celebration. Post lunch, the real kid (Siddu) and the adult kids (Ayush, Ming & Jhukku) played Ludo & Snake-n-Ladder which became quite interesting with many ups and downs.
Later, in the evening, we once again played Twenty Nine and this time it was Husbands versus Wives!! We were 1-2 down when I got very good cards and decided to play Single Hand. In Single Hand game, your partner puts down his cards and you have to win all the hands, which I did with ease and we went ahead. However, the final result was tied to one set each. This was followed by “20 Questions” where everyone participated.
The following morning was pack up time for departure. I made cheese sandwich for all of us and boiled the residual eggs for the road. Once again it was decided to go non-stop to Delhi but one needs to stop to answer nature’s call too…
Ming, driving the EcoSport took the lead and I followed him as he said he knew of a shorter, less congested route, but I kept the GPS on for safety. It was a smooth drive downhill and within an hour we made it to Haldwani from where Ming took a turn in to a road which to me looked like a lane… as we proceeded, I was thanking Deepika for picking up the Jeep Compass well in time… the road was full of potholes and narrow and still had speed breakers (god knows why)… it would have been a nightmare traversing this phase in Toyota Corolla Altis… but Jeep navigated the stretch with ease and soon we reached the highway.
We stopped at the KFC outlet at Gajraula (just opposite of McDonald’s) to use the restroom and pick up food. At this point we bid goodbye’s to Basu’s as they wanted to proceed… we ate inside the car before proceeding to Delhi (I hate eating while driving), stopping at Brijghat to pick up some mangoes… and reached home around 4:30 pm, once again covering the distance in 7 hours…
This, much deserved break was indeed very relaxing and helped in rejuvenating the home-stuck tired souls… Look forward to more easing up and the next trip… I want to drive down to Goa!!