TRAVEL: METRO PLUS/DHANAULTI, UTTARAKHAND


Online edition of India's National Newspaper
Monday, Oct 09, 2006




Metro Plus Chennai



Silence of the wildflowers
Dhanaulti in the Tehri Garwhal hills is a walker's paradise





STUNNING VIEW Dhanaulti has a rustic appeal with its flower carpeted hillsides

This is what my cousin Mallika had to say about Dhanaulti. "I went for a walk. Kept walking towards the horizon. And then, all of sudden, I was at the edge of what seemed an abyss. A deep valley opened before me and I nearly screamed out aloud. Because, there on the steep slope below me, lay hundreds upon hundreds of purple irises... literally patterning the hillside. I have never ever seen anything so beautiful in my whole life."

As pitches went, that was a strong one. Uttaranchal is a State studded with such stunning beauty that the casual visitor is really spoiled for choice. Mussoorie, for all its (fast fading) charms, is really a `been there done that' spot. The Valley of Flowers means some serious trekking. So when the gauntlet of Dhanaulti was thrown down, I followed through, though with some amount of scepticism. Within minutes of reaching the place, though, that scepticism vanished, never to return.

At 2,250 metres above sea level, perched some 24 km to the east of Mussoorie and 50 km above Dehradun, Dhanaulti is a perfect hideaway. The forests hereabouts comprise sturdy trees; deodar, rhododendron and oak; it snows here in winter and you get some splendid views of snow capped ranges up close, if not personal. The serious trekking paths in these parts all lie further ahead at Surkhanda Devi but Dhanaulti is a walker's dream come true.

There is a basic, rustic prettiness to the place, with the sun dappling through tall conifers, carpets of pink and purple wildflowers here and there, well- trodden mossy paths winding their way past cabbage and potato fields... and of course, blue blue skies, pristine puffs of clouds winding themselves around the mountains and variegated shades of green foliage.

What appeals most is the silence. Once you move past the small clutch of shops, STD booths, a resort or two, and modest eating places in the main bazaar, all you will come across is the occasional herd of goats and mules, almost all of them belled at the neck, Garhwali farmers next to their shale-roofed dwellings, and herders... and yes, other trekkers, too. Basically what you have at Dhanaulti are modest gradients and thin tracks, enough to make an amateur trekker's mouth water and a non-trekker's heart lurch; deep green valleys, grassy knolls galore, craggy ranges heavily dotted with pine ridges, and pine cones crunching underfoot. The roadside shrines, ubiquitous to the hills everywhere, are a benign presence, as is the mist, a constant presence the day I was there.

Since I was on a recce of Dhanaulti, I chose a modest track just behind the Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam guesthouse that led me up a hill, past tree stumps that looked conveniently placed for rest stops, (placed there, perhaps, by the God of Trekkers), past sweet smelling flowers and bramble, past a brace of tree branches that lay sprawled across the path, along a stone wall that looked positively and very interestingly ancient. Patches of flowers ran riot everywhere, interspersed with giant fern, violet ipomeas, lavender, yellow, pink blooms, sprays of white baby's breath, all blooming in a seemingly perfect silence.

All was not bliss, however; the smell of mule dung was overpowering at times, the showers of a day prior had left the path extremely slippery in spots, and at times, the undergrowth was so matted and thick, I couldn't help wonder about snakes that lurked in the grass!

I'd been advised to stay this side of the stone wall and fence but at one stage, the imminent promise of a stunning view beckoned and I confess, I jumped both wall and fence. And walked up a rather steep gradient towards the shining horizon. And walked and walked. Eventually, though, I came to the edge of the path, and a modest valley opened up below me. But no, there were no purple irises carpeting that valley. Some people chance upon miracles. Others, like me, are more than happy with chancing upon such lovely places like Dhanaulti.

SHEILA KUMAR

http://www.hindu.com/mp/2006/10/09/stories/2006100900080200.htm

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