Sunday, January 15, 2006Share
Nainital : a brief introduction
This renowned hill station is one of the most important tourist spot of the Kumaon region of Uttaranchal. Its altitude is 6343 feet (1934 mtr), roughly the same as that of Mussorie (2003 mtr). It has got its name from the Naini lake. Tal in hindi means lake. This emerald green lake is said to resemble the eye of sati, the wife of Shiva. Nainital was once known as Chakta, meaning a city of 60 lakes. But most of the lakes in the area have vanished and only few bigger one remains. The city as of today is the head quarter of the Nainital district. The high court of Uttaranchal is located here. It was an important military station during the Brtitish reign. It was the summer capital of the Government of United Provinces of Agra and Oudh and also the head quarter of the Eastern Military Command. Lord Barron discovered it around 1840. The best time to be here is either in summer or during November.
How to reach there:
There are several ways to reach Nainital. If you are traveling by road from Delhi, then state roadways buses starts from ISBT at Anand Vihar. Always remember to travel by state roadways bus, not by private bus. There are two daily trains to Kathgodam, the nearest railhead. Nainital is just 34 kms from Kathgodam by road. For traveling by train opt for the overnight journey by the 5013 Kathgodam-Ranikhet Express. Similarly, from Dehradun one can travel by the 4320 Kathgodam Express (Wed & Sun) or travel by roadways bus. Traveling by train is always comfortable. But the problem from Dehradun was that the train runs only twice a week and so you would be required to cover one way by road. We had planned a trip to Nainital earlier, but had to discard it for this problem. But this time, we took the tougher option of driving down to Nainital. I was little apprehensive at the beginning about driving 350 km. Well, 350 Km was the estimate I got from people who had drove to Nainital. But it turned out to be much less at 290 km.
The road guide from Dehradun:
The point to point road distances from Dehradun is as under --
Dehradun 00.0 Km….Start by NH74 for Haridwar. Take the bypass at Haridwar.
Haridwar 56.0 Km….At the gol chakkar turn right over the bridge on Ganga towards
Nazibabad 52.0 Km….Turn left at city center. Then turn right to cross a railway crossing.
Nagina 27.0 Km….Before Nagina you will get another rail crossing. Turn left at Nagina.
Dhampur 18.0 Km….Turn left at city center. A few km ahead a road bifurcates towards
Sherkot 07.0 Km….You may feel like getting out of highway. But keep moving straight.
Afzalgarh 20.0 Km….Turn right where you see a gate. One road goes to Kalagarh
Jaspur 23.0 Km
Kashipur 18.0 Km….Turn right at the point where you see a statue. The straight road
Bazpur 17.0 Km….Turn left at Bazpur doraha. Here one road goes to Rudrapur
Kaladhungi 20.0 Km….Turn left at the point where Corbett Museum is located. Straight road
Nainital 32.0 Km….This is the only stretch on the hill. On the way you get to see Khurpa
Total distance covered was 290 km. Mail for a detail sketch of road map if you want. (Following few requests I have decided to upload the driving maps here: 1) Map 1 - Dehradun to Nainital and 2) Map 2 - Nainital to Kausani to Ranikhet)
The drive from Dehradun to Nainital :
The drive panned out nicely. Maximum traffic was encountered on the initial stretch between Dehrdaun – Haridwar. Beyond Haridwar, there was hardly any traffic. We had traveled by the Maruti Zen of my cousin brother. Both of us drove in rotation to lessen the load of driving.
We set out at around 9:30 in the morning. Once we had left the crowded stretch of Haridwar, we get into a fairly dense forest area, which probably is an extension of the Rajaji National Park. We stopped at Chiriyapur located within the forest area for a cup of tea. Soon after we got out of the forest area we reached a long bridge under construction. Not knowing what to do, we followed a bus and took the broken road under the bridge. It was a sinking area, with about half feet water at some places. The bus crossed it easily. But we had hard time crossing this stretch as water was deep enough for a small car and the zen got stuck twice on the rocky river bed. Here we could have actually used the bridge. Though it was yet to open to traffic, vehicles were allowed on it. There was a second bridge few kilometers ahead. Here we had no option but to take the road under the bridge as the bridge is yet to be completed. But maneuvering the second sinking area was not that tough as there was not much water. We were told about these bridges and were also told if it rains the night earlier we would not be able to cross this stretches. Fortunately for us, it did not rain the earlier night. We then reached Nazibabad. On the way we got out of Uttaranchal and get into UP. We stopped at a dhaba between Nazibabad and Nagina for lunch. The journey continued through villages, sugarcane fields and small settlements. We traveled through Dhampur, Afzalgarh ans Jaspur to reach Kashipur. (If you are traveling from Delhi via Moradabad, then you can catch this route at Kashipur). Here the road bifurcates. The straight road goes to Ramnagar and Corbett National Park. We took the right turn for Bazpur. On the way we had to pay our second toll of the trip for reason not clearly known. I had written more than once about this abominable practice of toll collection on National Highways in UP and Uttaranchal. We had reached Kaladhungi at around 4 pm. It is located on the foothills of Nainital. The Corbett Museum is located here. Read about it on my article Kausani. In fact, one should not miss it. Tour operators put this on their Corbett itinerary. But I feel it is located too far away from the actual park and should be visited only if one is traveling by this route to Nainital. After the museum visit and a cup of refreshing hot coffee at the nearby stalls, we started the 32 km journey upwards. On the way we got a nice view of the Khurpa tal, but did not bother to go down as it was getting dark. By the time we had finally reached Nainital, it was almost dark. We had to pay toll of 25 bucks one more time for entering Nainital. After asking for guidance here and there, we drove down to the mall road. That concludes the drive from Dehradun to Nainital.
Where to stay:
After reaching the mall road, we were surprised not to find any hotel agent approach us. But once we had stopped before a hotel, several of them appeared from nowhere. We soon found that hotels on the mall quotes very high room tariff. They are in the range of 1500 and above. Even with off-season discounts they were all above thousand. But if you are ready to leave the mall and go a little up, the rates come down to 600 and you will still have lake-facing rooms. We took this wiser option and got nice lake facing rooms at 550 a piece at Hotel Maharaja. The hotel is located on the road to the zoo. It provides free jeep service from the mall to the hotel. Parking space for the car was our worry. Hotel Maharaja boost of a small parking space dug out of the adjoining hill. But one need good skill to park and gets the vehicle out of that spot. So once we had parked, we did not even thought of taking it out until we left Nainital. One thing to remember is that check out time is 10 am. These are the hotel nos I have –
Hotel Maharaja : 05942 – 235281 Mobile: 09897235206 (Room rate –Standard Double : Rs.600/-)
Hotel Lakeside Inn (located on the mall road) : 05942 – 235777 (Room rate –Standard Double: Rs.1450/-)
Local sightseeing at Nainital:
The Naini Lake:
The main attraction of Nainital is the lake and the mall road. A boat ride in the lake is almost unavoidable when in Nainital. Boats in every size and shape are available for an enjoyable ride. You can catch a boat from any of the many boarding points. To make the ride more enjoyable without any effort, we hired a shikara type boat with rowman. So, we did not have to row or pedal for the half an hour ride. Here again you can bargain for rates because there is fierce competition. Boats trips are available for half trip (for covering only half of the lake) or full trip. We enjoyed full trip for Rs.80/- per boat. Most of official website on Nainital will give you a picture of the lake with yacht. However these yacht are available only from boat club and my guess was that they are not available for common public. On the northern end of the lake a temple dedicated to Naina devi is located where it is believed that the eye of sati felled.
The mall road in Nainital is unique. One call strolls on the mall road or can take a man pulled ricksaw. There is an organized system of ricksaws. You need to buy tickets of 5 bucks each for hiring a ricksaw. So, you do not become a victim of fighting of ricksaw pullers. There are few shops on the mall for souvenir shopping. But the main attraction is a bhutia market located on the field next to the lake. This place is called Mallital. What one should look to buy here is designer candles. These candles serve as a good souvenir.
We had hired a cab for 400 bucks for local sightseeing. The hotels arranged it. This would spare us the headache of driving in an unknown hilly place. The cab took us first to the Cave Garden. To our surprise this spot is located on the road we had traveled from Kaladhungi.
This is a cluster of 5 underground caves. We started with the Tiger Cave. It was the easiest to get in and out. Then we got into the Panther Cave. Getting in and out got harder. I was the only one of our group to get into the third cave named Porcupine Cave. It was the hardest to get in and out. I had to crawl on all four at places inside this cave. I have read that there are 5 caves. But I could found only these three. Here is something to ponder -- just a day before the killer earthquake rocked Kashmir and north India. While going into these underground caves we all forgot about it. I thought about it only after several days.
Himalaya Darshan Point:
The cab then took us to the Himalaya Darshan Point. There is nothing to boast about this spot. But on way to this point you get another point from where the Naini lake looks like a mango. This is the point from where you get a complete view of the lake.
The cab then took us to Lovers Point. The view was magnificent from this point. This is the point from where you get horses for going to Tiffin Top. These horses earlier operate from Mallital near the lake. But the horse dung was polluting the lake and beauty of the mall. So the high court had to step in and pushed them this higher. My friend Amit Tripathi who hails from Nainital told me, that there were huge protests, even violent protests, from horse owner when this order was implemented. Here we were given two options by the cab driver --- either come back to this point (which is not possible) or the horses would drop at a point from where the lake is just 5 minutes walk. We had no option but to take the second one. The rate for a horse was 175 bucks for the trip to Tiffin Top and few other spots. It is easy to get fooled by the talk of the horse owner and get to believe that you will be taken to many points. But the truth is that, they will actually take you to two points --- one from where you get a view of the Khurpa Tal and the second is Tiffin Top. All other points are worthless spots that lie on these routes. They would just stop en-route and tell you the name of that spot. We saw people deciding to travel there on foot. Honestly speaking, it would be quite a task to walk to Tiffin Top. But riding a horse on a rocky road was no fun either. All of us were worried and prayed that the horses do not slip. Anyway, I got a nice lesson in horse riding.
After traveling for about half an hour on horse, we reached Tifin Top. With an altitude of 2352 meter (about 7710 feet), it is the second highest point of Nainital. It provides a majestic view of the Nainital town and the lake. What impressed me is the view you get of the thick lush green cover of pine trees down below. There are few tea / snack stalls here. The descend to Mallital started here. The horses dropped us at a point from where the lake was not 5 minutes, but at least 15 minutes walk. One can even think of going to Tiffin Top on foot by this road instead of starting from Lovers Point.
Well, that concludes the local sightseeing. Considering the distances we were actually driven, I felt that the 400 bucks we paid for the cab was a bit high. He hardly drove 15 km. One should try to bargain for 300 bucks. We also enquired about the rate for going to Bhimtal and Naukochiyatal. For this roundtrip of about 70 km, the cab quoted 800 bucks. If you are traveling to Kausani then, try visiting these two lakes en-route. Before concluding, I must make an honest confession that there is not much to see in Nainital. Only point worth seeing is the Cave Garden. Nainital, Khurpatal, Bhimtal, Naukochiyatal and Sattal – all of them are similar looking big lakes with facilities of boating. But after visiting 2 or 3 of them, I bet you will not bother to go to the rest. I am told that the best time to be Nainital is in November when the chinar leaves turn yellow giving a different look to the area. Or, go there during summer, which is the peak season. But to make the trip more interesting one should look forward to go beyond Nainital – to places like Kausani or Binsar.
(Note: The trip was undertaken between 8th to 10th October, 2005)
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Sunday, January 08, 2006Share
Kalsi is the gateway to Chakrata and is located around 50 km from Dehradun. Besides the gate, the place has a famous historical monument. Located just 200 meters from the gate, it is the 14th rock edict of Ashoka. If you are interested in history, then is one monument you should visit while in Dehradun, specially if you live in Dehradun. Outside travelers may get disappointed to see this monument standing in isolation near a field. There are many such historical monuments spread around gallis and mohallas of Delhi, most of them belonging to the mogul era. But this one belonged to a different era – medieval India. Samrat Ashoka ruled India from 273 BC to 223 BC. It is standing here for several centuries. One can visit this on the way to Chakarata. Arrive around 30 minutes ahead of gate opening time you are planning to catch to be able to visit this monument.
After embracing Buddhism, Samarat Ashoka, the Mauryan king got erected 14 rock edicts spread around his vast empire. These were orders of the king that were expected to be followed by his subjects. This 14th edict was brought into light by britisher John Forest in 1860. The then government of United Province got a dome shaped house erected over it for its protection in mar, 1912. This monument is now protected and looked after by archaeological deptt. of Govt. of India. The piece of rock is about 10 feet tall and 5 feet wide. The front side of the rock is almost completely covered in writings with letters of about 2-inch size. The writings on the rock are in Prakrit language and brahmi script. It generally speaks of the leading principles of Buddhism. But there is no specific mention of Budha or his teachings as such. The edict also has the picture of an elephant on the right hand side.
Brief summery of the edicts of Ashoka :
This is what was collected about edicts of Ashoka from the site. The first prohibits slaughtering and sacrifices of animals. The second provides for medical aid for both man and animal, records sowing of herbs, digging of wells and planting trees. The third enjoins upon his official to form a quinquennial circuit (i.e., travel to a different place every five year) for the promulgation of the teachings of Buddhism, viz. honoring of parents and religious teachers, liberality, tolerance and kindness to animals. The fourth pictures the regeneration of the country under Ashoka’s ordinances. The fifth records appointment of censors of the sacred law. The sixth regulates the manner in which all matters relating to the welfare of his people are to be brought to the king for prompt dispatch of business. The seventh depicts the earnest desire of the king that in every place man of every denomination may abide. The eight compares the carnal amusements formerly patronized by the king (before he adopted dharma) with the more harmless and pious occupation since adopted by him. The ninth deals with auspicious rites. In the tenth, the king deprecates the glory of the material pleasure and gives importance to the joy achieved through promulgation of dharma. The eleventh says that spreading the principles of dharma is a way of alms giving. The twelfth enjoins tolerance in the matter of religion. The thirteen bears special interest as it speaks of five Greek kings. The fourteenth edict is a summary or epilogue of the foregoing.
The road guidance:
At Herbertpur crossing, take the right turn towards Vikasnagar. Kalsi is 14 km from Herbertpur. Dehradun to Herbertpur is 37 km. This road is called the Chakrata Road.
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Sunday, January 01, 2006Share
Assam and North East
Kaziranga National Park in Assam,
Tawang in Arunachal
Bihu : A celebration of Spring
South India :
Backwater and Houseboat ride
Periyar National Park, Thekkady
Cochin : Sunset through Chinese Fishing Nets
Lakshadweep : Epilogue
Agatti : Day 4
Agatti : Day 3
Agatti : Day 2
Agatti : Day 1
Agatti to Cochin by MV Bharat Seema
Cochin to Agatti : The ship journey
Srirangapatna- capital of Tipu
Others - South
Wonder La : Bangalore
North India :
Delhi and around
ISBTs in Delhi
Bharatpur : Keoladeo Ghana National Park
Bhartpur : A road guide from Delhi
Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary
Corbett National Park : Dhikala FRH
Corbett National Park : Gairal FRH
Ranthambhore by road
Badrinath and Joshimath
Badrinath - second visit
Valley of Flowers-II
Valley of Flowers -I
Robbers Cave, Dehradun
Santhala Devi Temple, Dehradun
GMVNL Phone nos.
Amritsar and Golden Temple
Jallianwala Bagh Memorial
Renukaji Lake in Himachal
Jammu and Kashmir
Jammu to Srinager by road
Mata Vaishno Devi Yatra
Colva Beach, Goa
Gir or Sasan Gir
Little Rann of Kutch
Trekking in India
Goech La trek
My Unforgettable Journeys
The Day I Got Lost
When Rocket Failed to Zoom - I
When Rocket Failed to Zoom - II
GeneralClub Mahindra : Free Holiday Baits
Welcome to Middle Age
Nails : Mirror into your health
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Chakrata is a tiny hill town located around 95 km from Dehradun via Kalsi. Its altitude is about 7000 feet, i.e., around 500 feet more than that of Mussorie. Chakrata is a restricted area and foreign nationals are not allowed. We did not get any affirmative answer as to why Chakrata is declared a restricted area but found two plausible answers. One is that army has a training centre for its intelligence units. The other one we got from an army officer is that Indian Army trains here forces from Tibbet. I did not know that Tibbet has its own army (commanded by Dalai Lama!!).
How to reach there : the driving guide
There are two routes from Dehradun – via Kalsi and via Mussorie. We took the route via Kalsi as it is shorter. The road is on plains upto Kalsi and beyond that it is all hills. The road between Kalsi and Chakrata is one way with gate system. Gates at both ends opens at the same time with 2 ½ hrs. intervals between each opening. So you may have to wait if you arrive at Kalsi between gate openings. Be sure to put your vehicle as much ahead as possible in the queue and make entries at the gate. There is one more gate at a place named Sahiya which is the mid point of this stretch where vehicles from both side crosses. No entry is required at the gate at Sahiya. The gates are manned by army personnel. The road distances from Dehradun are as under:
Herbertpur 34 km…Turn right here for Vikasnagar
Vikasnagar 06 km
Kalsi 08 km….There is a diversion here. Keep moving straight will take you to
the gate at Kalsi
Sahiya 21 km….Take right turn over a small bridge at Sahiya
Chakrata 25 km….Keep moving straight by the road to Tiuni for hotel
Jhadi 13 km….This is on the road to Tiuni. Motorable but two way road.
Lokhand 20 km
Kanasar 06 km….One of the point on sightseeing list.
Koti 29 km
Tiuni 80 km
You would be traveling at the most to Kanasar. You should have enough petrol in the tank to drive about 150 km in the hill. There is no petrol pump beyond Vikasnagar. No petrol pumps at Kalsi, Sahiya or Chakrata. You may get petrol paying a premium at Chakrata but that will most likely be adulterated.
Accommodation at Chakrata :
There are only two hotels for tourists. One is Hotel Snow View and the other one is Hotel Himalaya Darshan. Both these are located on the Chakrata – Tiuni motor road. Keep moving straight through the gate for going to any of these hotels. The road that goes to the right near the gate goes to the local market (1.5 km) and also to Mussorie (via Kempty Fall). We were told that the market has two guesthouses for local travelers only, not meant for tourists. We stayed at the Hotel Snow View which is located about 1 km from the gate. The other hotel is located further downhill and is about 6 km from the gate. The Hotel Snow View is housed in an old building with nice backdrop of a section of snow clad Himalayan peaks. Each of the rooms is actually suites and has two rooms. Though it lacks many things you may want, but it still is a good hotel at such an isolated place. Rooms have tiled flooring and also have fire place. We bargained for Rs.400/- per room which I felt was a good price. Honestly speaking, you will have no option but to pay whatever they ask. Hotel phone nos. are ---
What to see at Chakrata :
Chakrata provides a 5-6 km range of Himalaya on its backdrop. We were told that if there is no snow, then there is nothing to enjoy there. Well, this of course was opinion of travelers who do not fit into off-beat category. The place provides you a break from the hustle bustle of a hectic life. If you can not go to far away places like Kausani, then you can come here. Chakrata town itself has nothing to see. What you can see is as under:
Tiger Fall : This is a magnificent 360 feet fall located 20 kms away. Start by the Tiuni road and then you will have to take a diversion about 2 km or so to go down. After driving for 20 kms, you will have to track for about 20 minutes to go the foot of the fall. Going down would be easy, but stay aware of the fact that you will have to climb up that track afterwards.
Deoban : 16 km from Chakrata at an altitude of 9500 feet. From the name it seems to be a forest of Deodar or Pine. You need to take a diversion from the Tiuni road , may be after traveling for 5 / 6 km. But from that point onwards you will have to track. If you are interested then you may check out tracking programmers conducted by Forest Deptt.
Kanasar : Located 26 km away on the Tiuni road. Altitude not available. But my guess is that for going there you will have to drive at least 1000 feet up from Chakrata. It is said to have a thick forest of Deodar. The Deodar trees here said to have the largest trunk in Asia.
My Trip : 24 hours in Chakrata
As Indians we could travel to Chakrata without any hindrance. We started from Dehradun at around 10 am to be able to catch the 12:30 pm gate comfortably. We killed the spare time by visiting the rock edict of Ashoka located near the gate at Kalsi. By arriving early at the gates we were almost in front of the queue of vehicles. There was a long line of vehicles consisting mostly of pickup jeeps which seemed to be the common mode of travel in this area. The road between Kalsi and Sahiya was mostly dusty with stretches damaged in landslides. It is difficult to maintain roads in the hills in this area because of landslides. My driving in hills has improved a lot because of the several forays I have made in the hills in the last one-year or so. In fact, I have started enjoying driving in the hills. My Wagon-R’s power steering has been of great help. In my last trip, I tried driving a car of my colleague without power steering in the hills. It was terrible. We reached Sahiya well ahead of time. At Sahiya, take the right turn over the bridge to be on the queue at the gate. In face we missed this diversion and went straight for a kilometer or so. Once we realized the mistake, we had to come back to the gate. But by that time, we had fallen behind in the queue. However, once started, I could easily get ahead of the motorcade. The road between Sahiya and Chakrata was much better. We finally reached Chakrata at around 2:15 pm.
After a brief enquiry, we found a hotel to stay and checked into Hotel Snow View which is located about 1km away from the gate. Though there is a sign to guide you to the approach of the hotel, the approach is not built completely and doubt may pop up in your mind whether you are on the right track. The sun went behind the hills as early as 3:30pm. This made the place very cold. We felt that the cold in Dehradun was biting. But this was icy cold that would make you shriek. There was a strong cold breeze which was worsening the matter. We had no option but to stay indoors. I got out in the afternoon expecting the snow clad peaks to turn pink. But it was not as spectacular as I had expected. Meanwhile, all my fellow travelers remained stuck to the comfort of their rooms. There were TVs in rooms, but the cable network was out of order. Voltage was so low that hotel had to use generator. Because of the abnormal low voltage, the geyser could barely warm the water. The tap water was icy cold and just a mug of water would maim your palms for few minutes. Fortunately, the rooms had fire place and we could arranged for fire in our room at an extra charge of fifty bucks. For dinner, you need to tell them early so that they can buy items from market if required The menu has non-veg but both chicken and mutton were available not on a plate basis but on ½ kilo or 1 kilo basis. We had a relatively early dinner and went to bed as there were no means to kill time.
Next morning we got up early to experience the sunrise. It turned out to be another damp squib. There was nothing spectacular as the peaks hardly turned orange. But what was soothing was the sight of a light layer of snow on roof of my car. This meant that there had been snowfall previous night in nearby areas. After breakfast, we checked out of the hotel at around 10am. Rather than tracking to the Tiger Fall, we decided to enjoy the snow and so headed for Kanasar. Anyway snow is always alluring for most of us from plains.
Kanasar is on the Chakrata – Tiuni road. We had hardly traveled 1 km when we get to see the first patch of snow on the road. The patches become more frequent and bigger as we moved up. Though this road is two way, there was hardly any traffic. The scenery unfurling on both sides of the road was really magnificent. These hills in Uttaranchal are really fascinating. They provide breathtaking views while you drive. We had crossed at least three very high hills en-route and so my guess was that we traveled to at least 1000 feet more from Chakrata. However, there were no road signs to confirm. With 4 adults, my Wagon-R refused to move even at 2nd gear in some places. It was kind of 3rd gear for 65%, 2nd for 25% and 1st gear for 5%. The only residential area we had crossed was Jhadi, located 13 km away from Chakrata. The small population there looked like a Tibetan settlement. Caracas of a monkey hanged on a pole greets you to this area. We went ahead further and reached Lokhand, located 20kms from Chakrata. On taking the turn at the top of a hill there, a thick cover of snow on the road of ahead greeted us. After a brief pause and inspection of the road, I drove ahead carefully, but found the road slippery. It was my first experience of driving in snow. Just a little pressure on brakes made the vehicle to skid. I drove for about ½ km to get into a clear area. We all got down and walked for more than a kilometer of road covered in about 4 inch fresh snow. At many places snow had become ice and we were skidding even while walking down the road. I could not gather courage to drive further. The hotel owner told that there would be at least a feet deep snow at Kanasar. But there was no way we can travel to Kanasar though it was just 5 kilometer away from this point. We had enough snow to lift our spirits. It was perfect Christmas for all of us. We called off the trip at Lokhand and came back to Chakrata.
We managed lunch at the only eatery near the gate. In hills, you can not afford to be choosy. Eat wherever you get. We took the 3:30 pm gate and reached Kalsi by 5:15pm or so. It was dark by the time we reach Dehradun. One more trip has come to an end. What was special is that this time I probably had driven to about 8000 feet or more, the maximum I had ever driven. After coming back, I felt confident enough to drive to Badrinath. Also this may be my last trip from Dehradun as I will be moving to Delhi on transfer soon.
(Note: This trip was taken on 24th and 25th December, 2005)