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Getting there on NH 58
Suparna Banerjee, Oct 07, 2010
There is no fun in getting to Dehradun anymore. The regular highway – NH 58 – that leads to the much-advertised hillside valley town is a reckless, discouraging one. It is infested with trucks, buffalo carts in the sugarcane belt, and civilization inching each year a bit closer, a bit over and, finally, all around what is expected to be a national highway. And people! Too many of them, at all times and at all the wrong places. There is the occasional relief of green fields, blue skies and dark mango groves. But every couple of years they seem to become fewer and fewer. Civilization is going to have the last word, the last land and the last tree on its bloody hands, as usual.

To be fair, a break in the journey at Cheetal Grand is worth a mention. Especially in winter and spring when its collection of botanical delights burst into a thousand blooms, and passers-by get themselves clicked against this riot of colors.

The unexpected thrill at the end of this not-always-nice journey is the climb up through the Shivalik hills at Mohand. This is the last half hour or 45 minutes swing up, where the landscape suddenly changes into fairly dense jungle (especially in the monsoons), respectable hills with broken contours and a vast stretch of a seasonal river bed that glistens like a huge silver ribbon in the moonlight if you happen to cross it at night. Beyond this river bed lies the 820 sq. km. expanse of Rajaji National Park, from where elephants cross over occasionally for the odd drink from a water hole. Only once have I seen the distant outline of a herd in the fading evening light. That was 15 years ago. I guess those guys don’t do this corridor anymore. Must be the traffic.

Day 1

The real Dehradun isn’t inside the town anymore. It lingers at the periphery and you have to drive out to experience what gave the town the reputation that has real estate agents today cashing in to dismember it plot by plot, 200, 300, 500 square yards, picturesque-hill-facing-view and all.

The monumental tragedy that I mourn every time I visit the Doon valley is the loss of the lichi and aam bagaans. Ruskin Bond boldly authored ‘Our Trees still grow in Dehra’ a good 15 years ago, but by now even he has retired into silence on the subject.

We drive out to Selaqui, around 20 kms outside Dehradun, which offers a great route to sample the essence of Doon…the last of the lichi and aam bagaans. It takes us past the IMA (Indian Military Academy), and if you want to stop, take a good look at the FRI (Forest Research Institute). I love the FRI for its incredible foliage and the canal that still gushes in and around its long winding paths. The FRI has some of the oldest and rarest varieties of plants and trees in India. With practically no botanical knowledge, I can admire its campus for hours. The part which houses the main building with the museum is picture postcard perfect. It’s been years since I went inside the museum. I plan to do it sometime soon; it is a time-honoured teakwood paneled beauty which mustn’t be missed!

Day 2

If you haven’t cruised leisurely along the road between Dehradun and Mussoorie – known as Rajpur Road, you might just miss an essential pulse of the town. For the faithful, Rajpur Road isn’t just a ‘road’- it is an experience, a hangout and a passage to the unexpected. It begins in earnest somewhere before the confectionery Elloras and, after a good 15 minutes drive, keeps winding upwards towards a canopy of shady trees, the rising majestic Himalayas and the odd Tibetan Monastery.

The rustling of the leaves and the sudden crispness in the air will make you alert and peaceful in a strange way. Feel free to stop and step in the odd temple or the brightly done monasteries. Experience the Ramakrishna Mission which bursts into a flurry of activity every Durga Puja (October-November) and settles into a peaceful clam for the rest of the year. The atmosphere on its compounds is very still and very calm. If you are otherwise, stop here.

If kids are part of your troop, then I recommend the Malsi Deer Park, which falls on the left from the diversion point. For one, it has a leopard (great for thrills), a good collection of birds, and a fair bunch of spotted deer. Every kid loves a good swing, and so the park right at the entrance is a good distraction leaving you to admire the surroundings. Just be careful of the monkeys; they are a desperate bunch and will do anything for a bite. Keep an eye on the kids and don’t give them anything to eat within view of the monkeys.

As you climb back into town, you have to ‘do’ Elloras and Melting Moments. Places like these have built a delicious reputation for Dehradun’s confectionary. Whether it is the pineapple pastry or the black-forest cake, they are fresh and melt in your mouth. I try and get myself the usual fix of the plain cakes, rusks and toffees – and end up feeling like I am back in hostel fortifying myself with “tuck”!

Day 3

I had been left strict instructions to make it early before the sun does for the trip to ‘Shekhar Falls’ – a scenic picnic spot tucked away between Dehradun and Mussoorie. The August sun is kind to us even at 9 am when we finally leave. The drive up Rajpur Road is pleasant as we leave the crowd and chaos behind us and speed upwards towards the ‘diversion point’ enroute to the hills. We take a right from the diversion and swing upwards on a very steep climb.

Shekhar Falls is hidden within rocky crevices on a hillside behind the Tibetan settlement at the top of this climb. We drive till the road allows us to. From then on, we are on foot – the adventure begins with crossing a bridge which is actually a big fat pipe. Don’t try and look at the stream gushing below.

As we push deeper into the folds of the mountainside, puffing and panting, I figure this labour is what has protected Shekhar Falls from average tourism, which has practically killed traditional picnic spots such as Sahastradhara and Lacchiwalla. Shekhar Falls is a series of multiple falls, both minor and major, following a steep descent from the mountains, which come with a lovely falling sound of a good waterfall. So you can stop at numerous spots and find a way (this needs dexterity and some amount of guts) to a fall. We trudge up to a point where the falls are just right for my daughter to take a good shower and a simulated shallow pool. It is thrilling, but you have to be careful.

My brother tells me how, on many occasions, he has spent the night with his friends a little further up, next to a natural pool and a major fall, under a million stars listening to the flowing song of the waters. This is the promise of magic – something I look forward to doing in my next trip.
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