"The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough." ~ Rabindranath Tagore


Mumbai to Mussorie by Road

Romola Butalia, Editor, India Travelogue, writes about her travel experiences as she takes off on a family holiday by road from Mumbai to Mussorie.

Setting off from Mumbai in the summer heat, we were headed towards Uttaranchal, 2000 kms away, without maps, plans or a schedule. At 7 a.m. we were on the Eastern Express, our only instruction, "keep driving till you turn left to Indore, 600 kms away." That was literally what we did. We stopped for breakfast and lunch, hardly aware of what we ate, desperate to get back to the comfort of the a/c car, and run from the scorching sun and the heat wave that had temperatures soaring 6 degrees above normal.

Reaching Indore at 7 pm, we stayed at the first half decent hotel, Silver Oaks: recently opened, excellent service, hot spicy food, our only agenda, an air-conditioned room. As it happened, the a/c conked off at 1 a.m., and we tossed and turned pretending that the a/c was working, till the phone rang at 2.30 am. Someone at the reception was asking if we wanted our car washed. Yes, was the reply, while peering at the watch. Good god, this is worse than a hospital, I thought, where they invariably wake you at 4 am, with a macabre cheerfulness, saying 'sponging time', just at the very moment you finally groan off to a dazed sleep. The amazing thing was that at 7 am while we groggily loaded the car, the culprit who woke us arrived to finally wash the car. So it was not even enthusiasm and diligence that was the cause of the call. Guess travel is all about new experiences.

More on Uttaranchal

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At 10.30 am we stopped for brunch at an MP Tourism outfit at Beoria, sure that we wouldn't feel like stepping out of the car when it got much hotter. Chatting with the receptionist, I tried to figure if there were any places worth visiting in the vicinity. He handed me pamphlets of Kanha and Khajuraho, which I knew were miles off. Seeing a large map behind him, I thought I'd figure out what was within reasonable distance and on the way to Delhi. We hadn't been by this route before, our earlier drive from Mumbai to Himachal Pradesh, having been through Ahmedabad, Udaipur, Jaipur and Delhi. This time, keen to take another route and wanting to avoid the carnage in Gujarat, we had opted for NH3. I asked the receptionist where we were on the map and he pointed vaguely to the white spaces of neighbouring Gujarat, just outside the confines of what the map was depicting. I sighed, not much help there.
After a week at Mussorie, I was ready to wander the Garhwal hills alone, beginning my solo journey, rightfully, at the entrance to the sacred spaces of Garhwal - Haridwar.

We passed Ratlam, which I had visited a few months earlier, when a massive yagna had been organised there, and a friend of mine, Yogmata Chetna, a disciple of Mahayogi Pilot Baba, took Sthal Samadhi there, staying underground for 72 hours, before emerging to a world of lights, noise and people.

chhatriAs we approached Shivpuri, we decided we would stay the night at the MP Tourist Village, tastefully designed, with excellent service. We were visiting Shivpuri after almost 2 decades. It had not changed much - a typical district headquarter small town. Notable is the well-maintained chattri of the erstwhile Maharaja Madhavrao of Scindia, made in 1910, with obvious architectural inspiration from the Taj Mahal. The chattri of his mother is simpler. Both are tasteful and there is an air of gracious solemnity and sanctity there.

We visited the Madhav National Park, and the drive through it provided enough glimpses of wildlife. Wild boar, neelgai, deer, chinkara, sambar, langur, crocodile in the lake, and a wide spectrum of birds, including partridge, quail, various species of herons, storks, cranes, terns and vultures.


Impressions of Shivpuri by Rajiv Butalia

As we drove towards Shivpuri, one of the tyres developed a crack. Early next morning, driving towards Gwalior 100 kms away, we thought we would buy a new tyre when shops opened. Hardly 20 kms out, coincidentally, another tyre cracked, so we headed back towards Shivpuri, waited for the shops to open at 10 a.m. and bought the only available matching tyre, before heading for Gwalior, where we stopped for lunch and the purchase of another tyre. Through the sweltering heat of the afternoon, we drove towards Agra, reaching there at almost 5 p.m., checking in at Mayur Tourist Complex on Fatehabad Road. Spacious rooms, sprawling well-maintained gardens, swimming pool and a bunch of avaricious thugs for staff, expecting to be tipped at every sneeze.

TajI had been to Agra several times in the past, and had many memories of other visits. Early the next morning visiting the Taj, I stood, as always, in awe. An architectural masterpiece, unparalleled in history - its stands a mute witness to changing times and destinies, a grandiloquent silent spectator to political, social, environmental, cultural changes, demanding wonderstruck awe from friend and foe alike.

The area around the Taj has been cleaned and greened with security beefed up. Compared to earlier visits when the sheer apathy and lack of will of the government to preserve its national heritage and treasures was mind-boggling, the powers that be have woken up, now. But Agra town remains dirty and under-developed. There is an amazing lack of amenities in a city that draws such enormous tourist traffic. The fallout of being a tourist destination is that the city lacks soul, and everyone, but everyone, has his palm extended for a quick buck, with no intention of adding value to the services provided. We ate dinner at a restaurant, La Meditaranio, which claimed to offer authentic Italian specialities - with 5-star pricing, we expected culinary delights. The food was simply deplorable.


The early afternoon found us back on the road heading towards old familiar Delhi. It was a comfortable drive on excellent roads. Near Mathura, we stopped at the spacious wayside McDonald's for the usual fare, typical, no surprises - one could have been in Mumbai or Delhi. We spent two nights at Delhi, in deference to family and friends and a quick touching base with as many people as possible. Delhi is too full of personal memories and people one wants to catch up with, too easy to slip into the mode and manner of having lived there for 5 years. It is too familiar a city to look at through a visitor's eye. I can't remember when I last considered checking out the monuments. I did pay a visit to the Red Fort several years ago while taking friends from abroad, sight-seeing. Someone stole my wrist-watch, and I realised immediately that you cannot afford to visit Delhi with the unwary eyes of a tourist looking at monuments or with the blank mind of a traveller seeking novel experiences.

The road from Delhi to Mussoorie is familiar, indeed. I have figured that no matter what you do, it always takes 7 hours to reach there, give or take 10 minutes. The summer crowds were thronging Mussoorie, but we slinked into Camel's Back Road before 4 p.m. (between 4 p.m. and 10 p.m., vehicles are not allowed entry). Like all good residents in hill-stations, we made sure we frequented the back-roads, steered clear of the tourist fervour and fashion parade at Mall Road in the evenings, and enjoyed the salubrious climate, quiet serenity of long walks, being with friends, evenings spent playing indoor games of Monopoly and the raucous card games of childhood.

Week in Mussorie by Rajiv Butalia

After a week at Mussorie, I was ready to wander the Garhwal hills alone, beginning my solo journey, rightfully, at the entrance to the sacred spaces of Garhwal - Haridwar. Bidding my concerned family fond adieus, I watched the familiar aquamarine Zen disappear around the corner, on it's way back to Mumbai, as I undertook the next leg of my journey, rucksack on back, to find my feet in the Uttaranchal Himalayas, that I have long believed are 'home'.

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Editor: Romola Butalia       (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.