Thursday, January 31, 2013

Foodtrip to Goa - Best Places to Eat in Goa

I doubt if any coastal line on the Arabian Sea is as famous as Goa in the globe (could have said ‘the universe’ but I am not too sure about aliens as they are yet to come up with their own travelogues J) In the peak season, Goa’s aboriginals are reduced to minority and what we could see is herds of foreign tourists whizzing past the narrow roads of Goa. And since they are not always on the bike, they can be always found in different restaurants, cafeterias, shacks or their residential places. Tourists and travelers from such diverse territories congregate here. It is obvious that people generally find comfort in home food. The best example could be a houseboat in Dal Lake, Sri Nagar serving Poha to a Maharashtrian entourage or Idli Wada overpowering the chole puri at Vaishno Devi Shrine at Katara.
Goa’s popularity brings in tourists and travelers from diverse cultures and countries. No wonder it has emerged as one of the best food hubs in India due to the quality and variety of food served here. Some have actually evolved into institutions like Tito’s, Curlies, Martin’s. Myself and my colleague, Ashish (@ashish0712 on twitter)were keen to make the weekend trip to Goa as a memorable food trip, making the most of the available 2 days in Goa. Me being a vegetarian had done enough research and also took an expert opinion for the places to visit.
Following is the guide especially for veggies to enjoy Goa’s food to the fullest if you happen to be in North Goa (North and South of Chapora River)
1.       Breakfast  at Lila Café – This was a no brainer. Just before the trip, I had seen the ‘Highway on My Plate’ episode anchored by the legendary Rocky and Mayur (@rockyandmayur on twitter) eating their way in Goa. Although Rocky had a wonderful spread of his beloved meat stuff on the table, Mayur was not at all disappointed by the vegetarian options available. This place was marked for the breakfast on Sunday.
Fruit Bowl
Due to a tiring drive from Mumbai to Goa via NH17 on Saturday, it took us a while to understand that we are little late for breakfast on Sunday. Who cares? Make merry, have brunch! We reached Lila Café on the banks of River Bagha in minimal time using Google’s navigation system.
Located at the quaint spot, with white muslin drapes and white furnishings inside, cheerfulness vibrates in the space.
Veg Baguette, Croissant and Cheese Omlette
We settled at our table and like genuine foodies ordered a fruit bowl to start our breakfast. I was keen to try their muesli with curd but since we had already ordered for fruit bowl, I dropped the idea and turned towards more genuineness. Soon a vegetable baguette with cheese slices and a mighty croissant with plum jam appeared in front of me. In the meanwhile, Ashish had got his cheese tomato omlette which he loved and appreciated while eating. The veg baguette was good and filling though I must mention that the croissant we had was the best till date. With the plum jam and salted butter along with a cup of piping hot milk tea, we could have easily gobbled more. But we controlled ourselves. I dearly missed the pumpernickel bread which is also a signature dish of any German eatery.
So the day started well and we were happy for our belly as well as our soul. This is indeed a must visit and highly recommended place for all day breakfast in Goa.

Breakfast for 2 – INR 500-600 (veg)

RATINGS  :  Taste – 9/10  Ambience – 9/10  Service – 8/10  VFM – 8/10  

2.       Late Lunch at Baba Au Rhum, Arpora – Set in the residential area of Arpora in North Goa, this lovely pizzeria cum bakery is slightly difficult to spot at first place. Me and Ashish went about doing several rounds of Arpora before our navigation system failed and landed us in an unlikely residential area in Gaura Vaddo. You just have to be vigilant about a small boulevard on the left hand side while going towards Club Cabana in Arpora. You will never regret the efforts taken to reach this place.
Baba Au Rhum is popular for baking fabulous pizzas in Goa and is a reliable supplier of bakery stuff to most of the Goan food establishments. An afternoon visit to insipid Fort Aguada gave us some reason to do mandatory exercise and hence, even after good brunch at Lila Café, we landed at Baba Au Rhum. It didn’t take much time to finalize the order as we settled for a Mediterranean Pizza and a Caprise Salad.
The Caprise Salad which consists of discs of tomatoes topped with fresh buffalo mozzarella cheese and sprinkled with generous amount of basil leaves is served with warm breads. It tastes delicious. The showstopper however was the amazing pizza we had. Extremely soft base which forced us to use both the hands to hold the pie, was topped with melted cheese, sundried tomatoes, olives made it a heavenly affair. We further used the Caprise Salad stuff to enrich the topping of our pizza. Okay…this is the best pizza I ever had till date! We just felt that these guys are importing the pizza straightway from Napoli in Italy itself.
The homemade ice-cream at BAR is also very famous. But ironically, as with Lila Café we missed the pumpernickel bread, the most sought after chocolate ice cream was not available. The BAR guy recommended strawberry over lemon and it turned out to be very good ice-cream. Not too sweet, retaining the original taste of strawberries was a fantastic closure to our late lunch at BAR.
Never to miss the pizzas. You will be cursed if you miss these pizzas being in Goa.

A salad, a pizza and an ice-cream – INR 600

RATINGS :  Taste – 9/10 (Pizza 10/10) Ambience – 7/10 Service – 7/10 VFM – 8/10

3.       Dinner at Thalassa, Vagator – Thalassa is the place which is dubbed as arguably the best dinner venue in Goa and was the planned highlight of our Goa Food Trip. Thalassa specializes in Greek food (Thalassa itself means ‘the sea’ in Greek) Perched on the beautiful Vagator beach, Thalassa offers breathtaking view of the sunset as well as the sea. However, after having a late lunch at 4 pm, I was not keen to go to Vagator to enjoy the sunset. We came back to our beach shack at Anjuna and spent the evening drinking black tea and walking on the beach to prepare ourselves for the dinner.
The only mistake we made that we ignored the words ‘best dinner place’ and drove to Thalassa considering that a table would be waiting for us. As we entered the place, we were surprised to see the jam packed restaurant. We ignored one more thing…OMG…its Sunday! The attendant politely told us that it was unlikely that we would get a table as many are still in waiting and we had no prior reservations. Our hearts sank. I frantically pleaded with the attendant to make some arrangement but all in vain.
However Ashish came up with a brilliant idea of waiting at the bar where they serve starters also and pray to God to give us a table by the time we have spent enough money on starters. Fortunately, we found empty chairs at the bar and immediately ordered two caipiroskas (one of course a virgin for me!). How interesting that a drink without alcohol has the prefix of Virgin! Browsing through the starter’s menu, I first contemplated on Kalamata Olive Paste but dropped the idea of experimenting and went for Farmer’s Bruschetta. By the time we had couple of sips of our caipiroskas, the attendant came and directed us towards our table. We couldn’t stop thanking our luck.
Ratatouille/ Briami
The joy doubled as we settled at our table, I fired another salvo of another starter – Mini Pies (small super crispy samosas with separate stuffing of spinach and cheese). Then the farmer’s bruschettas arrived. These were the mightiest bruschettas I have ever seen in my life and we certainly had difficulty in eating them because of very tasty and heavy toppings. While going through the veg menu, the word which caught my attention was “Briami or Ratatouille” and with the consultation from our courteous waitress, we finalized veg. moussaka (Vegetable Lasagne) as well as Mushroom Lasagne. Lasagne is a type of pasta which is generally a rectangular shaped ribbon with generous fillings of vegetable and cheese topped with béchamel cheese baked in oven.
The lasagna busted my earlier notion of it being sweet and tasted amazing. I enjoyed my mushroom lasagna while Ashish hooked on to his Veg Moussaka. And then came the Briami (ratatouille), the Greek version of the famous vegetable stew topped with generous amount of cheese blocks with warm breads. Me and Ashish found it slightly tangier to our palette though happily finished it.
I had already decided to order a ‘Baklava’ as our desert. Baklava is a sweet pastry finding its origin in Turkey and part of the cuisines of Ottoman Empire of Turkey and Central and Southwest Asia. Baklava has a characteristic taste and I actually liked it but Ashish was not too excited. After polishing off the Baklava, all we could have a big smile on our face. Thalassa turned out be the best place as it was expected.

Dinner for 2 – INR 3000

RATINGS :  Taste – 9/10 Ambience – 10/10 Service – 9/10 VFM – 8/10

4.       Lunch at La Plage, Ashwem – Drive to La Plage took us almost 1.5 hours from Old Goa. The suave French eatery located on the quaint Ashwem beach dishes out one of the best French fusion stuff in Goa. Supposed to be thronged by who’s who clientele, we didn’t spot any on a quiet Monday afternoon. But who cares when all we care is about food!
La Plage is probably the best place to have a lunch as the food is amazing and the view from the restaurant is superb. La Plage’s menu is pretty compact and offers very less veg options (considering its international clientele). It didn’t take us much time to finalize our order.
To start with, we ordered two virgin mojitos (firangi nimbu paani). Could be the best thing you can enjoy while looking at the lovely Ashwem beach. However, the “Bloody Mary Fusion” is also one of the highly recommended stuff in cocktails.
We started with a humble ‘Laotian Salad’ and after tasting it, understood that why La Plage is so popular. Such a simple dish of vegetables with zest of vinegar and crushed peanuts tasted tantalizing. This was served with three fluffy warm breads which can be compared to Kashmir’s own tsochworu bread. Ashish though was slightly unhappy since breads were not stuffed with something spicy J.
For the main course, we selected Veg Tajine with Couscous and Pumpkin & Saffron Risotto. And since I have tasted both these dishes, I can swear by them. J Couscous as some of you might know, is a staple diet in Morocco and neighboring countries like  Tunisia, Algeria and Libya. The Veg Tajine (Vegetable Stew) served with couscous was out of the world. The taste of every vegetable was distinct yet so subtle that I simply closed my eyes to enjoy it. The accompanying sauce was like a cherry on top adding zestiness of chili to the dish. Risotto somehow suffers from the syndrome of being non-spicy and hence, not liked by Indians. However, risotto can be enjoyed again with its subtle flavors which emanate from its original ingradients. And the flavours are never ‘in your face’ kind as with Indian dishes. The risotto with roasted pumpkin and saffron was divine.
Roasted Pumpkin and Saffron Risotto
How I wished that I should have tasted Panna Cotta, the Italian delicacy. However, we were running late and hence didn’t have the luxury of enjoying Panna Cotta. May be some other day!
Conclusion is very simple here too. The best place to have lunch in Goa! So although La Plage is low on spread, it scores heavily on taste. Don’t miss this place!

Lunch for 2 – INR 1400
RATINGS  : Taste – 10/10  Ambience – 10/10  Service – 9/10  VFM – 8/10

Vote of Thanks - This blog or trip wouldn't have been possible without the guidance of Mr. Maulik Sharedalal, our guide on all aspects of life as well as THE BEST RESTAURANTS TO DINE ACROSS THE GLOBE! :)

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Day 2 - Kumaon and I - Trek to Dunagiri Hills

Day 2 – 24th June 2012 – Trek to Dunagiri (Dronagiri) to Maha Avatar Babaji’s Cave
The morning had an unexpected surprise for us. We were supposed to get ready by 7 am so that we can start our trek early and come back to the Ashram by lunch time. Apparently, I adjusted the alarm for 6 am in the morning though I had doubts about the functionality as my cell was running on low battery and the power supply in Dwarahat is even unpredictable than the stock markets.
In the morning, suddenly, I opened my eyes. I jumped in the bed and looked out of the windows. It seemed like our alarm had betrayed us and we’ve overshot the timeline. In a hurry, I lunged towards my cellphone to see if had drained and to my surprise, my cellphone was showing time…. 5.30 AM. I couldn’t believe my eyes. The atmosphere outside was similar to 8 AM. Birds chirping, clear light…but it was 5.30 am. I woke up Anita just to experience that phenomenon. She said it was surprising and went back to sleep. I somehow was at awe of the sight since I had never experienced this in my life. Such a stark daylight at 5.30 am! I wonder what must be happening to the people who keep on experiencing ‘White Nights’ in Russia and part of Europe!    
So as per the schedule, we were ready by 7.20 am (we had overshot the timeline by 20 minutes though!) Our guide, the 9th standard student, Mukesh Arya was ready and waiting for us to take to the Dunagiri Hills and subsequently to the caves of Maha Avatar Babaji. As we came out of the ashram, our car was very much ready and was wondering about Shib Kumar if he managed to get a place to sleep last night. No! He didn’t! He was grumbling that he had to sleep in the car itself. Buddy, even I would’ve had to find my place if the Ashram administration had not allowed me to stay there. It was just their generosity that allowed me to stay inside the ashram.
The Dunagiri Hills were 30 km away from the Ashram at Dwarahat. So by the time, you must have calculated the stipulated time if you had been reading my travelogues…that’s right…1 hour! So the small town was just coming to the terms of the new day and we zoomed past the main market of Dwarahat on our way to Dunagiri Hills. Having chosen places which were very much unknown to a regular traveler, we had all the luxury of seeing no other vehicle on the road. Since Dwarahat is located in the plains and Dunagiri is in the hills, the drop in the temperature was obvious for us. Very much similar to the rise in the temperature last evening when we travelled from Ranikhet to Dwarahat!
The pines or the chirpines as they are called locally have actually invaded almost every landscape in Uttarakhand. Probably, at the first sight, you may love this tree for its unique appearance but the frequent sighting leads to boredom. Further, the tree does no good to the ecology and rather it damages it. It sucks the maximum amount of water from the soil thus rendering other plants and trees almost panting for water. It’s straw like leaves form a thick coat on the fertile surface which actually restricts growth of any of the other vegetation. The dry coat is also quick to catch fire and hence, responsible for most of the forest fires across Uttarakhand. I heard that Oak trees are the best for the ecology maintenance. Hope that I’ll see more Oaks than Pines in my next visit to Kumaon
On our way to Dunagiri Hills, we also chalked out a diversion that would have taken us to Kausani the next day. What a beautiful landscape it turned out to be! But more description will be available on that day’s account
Ok, one good thing about our bad pines is the pine cones. The wonderfully complex yet symmetrical structure makes it a must carry memento if you are visiting Kumaon. We saw so many pine cones lying by the roadside while going to Dunagiri and decided that we’ll carry them on our way back. So after a pleasant one hour journey since we started from the Yogoda ashram in Dwarahat, we made a pit stop at the one and only and the famous ‘Joshi Restaurant’ aka ‘Josh Tea Stall’
Joshi Restaurant, Dunagiri
A blog or a write up on Maha Avatar Babaji’s caves is not complete without mentioning Joshi  Tea Stall. It is actually interesting to see how material and spiritual things get entangled in a subtle manner for probably even for the staunchest of the spiritual person.  Search any blog about the trek to Dunagiri Hills and you will find the reference of Joshi Tea Stall.
Having breakfast in the lap of nature! :)
So Mr. Joshi is a typical Kumaoni thin frame, face glistening with a Dabur Oil face massage and a perpetual smile which is a Kumaoni trademark. As soon as our vehicle stopped in front of his restaurant, he came out greeting with his hands folded. We were also very happy that we got a reliable food joint since we haven’t had anything as we had started in the morning. A slightly off beat but yet very delicious combination of chick peas in red gravy and sweet buns gave a much needed start. This was accompanied by a cup of piping hot tea. And we were literally sitting on the roadside with a temporary arrangement of chairs and benches overlooking the wonderful valley and the green hills beyond it!
Mr. Joshi is the second generation entrepreneur (as people love to read in this way) since the tea stall was started by Joshiji’s father in the sixties. That legacy has been maintained well by his son and rather continue to flourish. The Tea Stall has now been changed into a restaurant and mind you, you will also notice Joshi Guest House which gives you the feeling of being in the lap of the nature without any luxurious amenity.
It was just 15 past 8 in the morning and the air was cool. We finished our breakfast and decided to drive towards the base of trek in the hills. However, looking at the condition of the road and our car, it was decided that we’ll have a walk to the base of the trek. It turned out to be a good decision. We found so many trees bearing fruits like peaches, pears and walnuts which we normally would have ignored on a ride in the car. Anita was again nostalgic seeing these fruits which are also very much common in her motherland, Kashmir. And without mention, you must also guess that pines were also there.
After walking for half an hour, we finally reached the base from where trek begins to Maha Avatar Babaji’s caves and can further be extended to Pandu (Pandav) Kholi. Anita did an unusual thing here. She was anyways not wearing  shoes which should have helped her to do the trek. But to my surprise, she removed her footwear and decided to a barefoot trek. That belief is commendable. So to be on the safer side, we decided to keep Anita between me and our guide, Mukesh so that anything coming in her way should had been dealt properly. So good of us!
Ubiquitous Pines of Uttarakhand
By 9.45, we managed to reach Smriti Bhavan situated amongst the oak forest. We decided to take a short break before we could proceed for Maha Avatar Babaji’s caves. Surprisingly, the caves were not far away and we managed to reach there within 15 minutes. That was a big relief because we were tired. Anita was probably the happiest amongst the lot. The satisfaction and spark could be observed at the same time in her eyes. I was also happy that she was happy. Somehow, the Kumaon trip was arranged with a very purpose of visiting Babaji’s caves in Dunagiri. I must tell you that Kashmir actually lost to Kumaon in this race when we were planning it initially. Alas, whatever happens, happens for good!
Oh yes, I forgot to mention that we had added the youngest person to our group before proceeding for Babaji’s caves from Smriti Bhavan, Karan Bhandari. Barely started attending the primary, this wily kid knew every nuke and corner of the hills and surprisingly he was on his own. His parents were busy doing the daily chores but were least bothered about him getting lost in the woods. It was obvious that being the youngest, he got a hefty chunk of the sweets we had brought with us and he later told this to his mother in a Kumaoni dialect
Trek to the Cave of Maha Avatar Babaji
We were very much on schedule to reach the Yogoda Ashram in Dwarahat by lunch (late afternoon lunch).  By the time we reached the base of the hill, it was almost getting noon. The Kumaon Hills this time were slightly warmer than they normally are. And we were experiencing that and that too without any protection (hat, umbrella etc). The walk from the base till Joshi Restaurant made us sweat all over and Joshiji again came to help us with the chilled bottles of coke and sprite. Joshiji told us (and we were aware that) the South movie star, Rajnikanth is regular visitor to Babaji’s caves and last year, the bubbly Juhi Chawala had also visited this place. However, most startling was a muslim family coming all the way from Bahrain to visit Babaji’s caves. Joshiji had a truckload of stories to tell but we had very little time left with us. We bid adieu to Joshiji promising him about returning to Dunagiri and staying at his guest house.
On the way back, though we were late, we again stopped for 15-20 minutes to collect the pine cones on the road. After partially filling the boot space of our car with pine cones, we headed for Yogoda Ashram where lunch was waiting for us. Sticking to the simplicity of principles (or principles of simplicity) we had the food which tasted good without excessive use of oil and spices. We had an eventful first half which started with getting up early. A nap was must!
In the evening, after having the tea, I took the liberty to walk out of the ashram  to explore the area. The prayers inside the ashram were daily routine and Anita felt a strong desire to attend those prayers as well as the energization exercise. I sat for more than an hour on the ridge in front of the ashram overlooking the dense pine forests. Even a group of curious boys approached me asking me what I was up to! I told them I’m just chilling. They simply didn’t get the depth. To sit for an hour specifically between 5 to 6 pm overlooking the forests and the mountain range beyond with the cool air flowing means a lot for a person who is trapped in a corporate maze. I smiled at them.
In the meanwhile, Anita had finished her engagements and came out of the ashram. It was starting to get cooler and waft of wet soil was coming from a distance. Actually, everybody across Uttarakhand was praying for the rains. It had been an unusually hot summer for this year. There was a tea stall where Shib Kumar got an arrangement to sleep for a night. We were happy that he would not be grumbling the next day over inadequate facilities. The tea stall was being run by a couple in their late thirties. We were not aware that it was just a tea stall and not a restaurant. The lady was cooking bhindi (okra) for her evening meals and offered us some.  I had started feeling hungry and the lovely odour of okra made it an irresistible offer.
Me and Anita gobbled up all the vegetable with hot rotis that poor lady had prepared for her family. We realized this after she started cooking another vegetable for her family. We felt terribly guilty over this act and on the other hand, she was happy that we were satisfied. And she plainly refused to take money for this. Living a certain vicinity, we tend to form opinion about mankind. I mean the dialogue which I have heard again and again in many movies is “Bahar ki duniya bahut kharab hain” (The world outside is lethal). It was being proven wrong every time I visited a new territory, be it Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan or now…Uttarakhand!
In the meanwhile, the rain started and it felt like a blitzkrieg rain. Came out of nowhere with full force. Dwarahat got another reason to fall in dark. But this time it was for good reason. Finally the soil was soaked in water. The people were happy and so were we!   
Love peaches? Have patience! :)

Monday, January 21, 2013

Day 1 - Kumaon and I - On the way to Dwarahat

Day 1 – 23rd June 2012 – On the way to Dwarahat, Uttarakhand
My Day 1 accounts may give you a déjà vu feeling always if you have already read my travelogue of Himachal Pradesh. The same story of going to bed late (this time it was 11.45 pm) and getting up early (oh yes, it was very early, we got up at 3.15 am to catch the flight at 5.50 am). The same story of slight anxiousness about the arrival of cab (this time it was duly taken care by the service provider by sending the sms well in advance). However, the unusual traffic at Priyadarshini Circle and also at the airport was making me bit nervous. We reached the airport well in time and whoa, there was no queue for the Spicejet flight for check-in. it was a 2 minute affair and we were through. J
Interestingly, we didn’t wait in the lounge for more than 10 minutes. The moment Anita went looking for her (as well as mine) early morning dose of caffeine, the boarding process started. The cute, little rabbit rushed hurriedly with two cups of coffee to join me for boarding in the plane. With an immaculate balance, we managed to save clothes of our co-passengers holding the paper cups in the bus which took us to the airplane. As  soon as we settled, we realized the coffee was worth the effort we took. Good one! No multi grain veg sandwiches this time though. We didn’t have time. Had to manage with slightly cold paneer sandwich on board with a complimentary hot tea. J
We had set an ambitious plan of covering 400 km and reaching our destination by 7 pm. Paulo Coelho was obvious this time, the universe was actually conspiring to make us achieve our target (did I forget to mention that the ambition was privy to a pure soul! J) We actually grounded 20 mins prior to our scheduled arrival to IGI Airport. There is no reason why I had to be happy wearing casuals and getting out of the IGI airport….i was sure, I was off to the hills, amigos!
Delhi was burning those days. I mean literally, it was burning! It was 8 in the morning and I just couldn’t bear my walk from the exit of the airport to the car parking where our loyal chauffer for years, Shib Kumar was waiting for us. Due to Saturday, we didn’t find much traffic on the road and zoomed past Kalkaji, Okhla, Noida and Ghaziabad in very less time.
With us hitting the NH 24 in Ghaziabad, I started getting the flavor of UP itself. The packed six seater rickshaws ferrying 10-12 people at a time, a passenger disembarking from these rickshaws or the UP state transport bus right in the middle of the road, the cars moving at a max speed of 50-60 km though the road in front of the car is open and clear, the road signs displaying the distance to the very very famous destinations I have read and heard about since my childhood e.g. Lucknow,  Bareilly, Nainital, Deharadun etc etc.
Our journey on NH-24 was very smooth and as per my calculation, we were sure to reach Dwarahat (a small hamlet in Kumaon, near Nainital) by 7 pm in the evening, before its dark! We took a short tea break after crossing Hapur and cruised our way to Gajraula to have a hearty meal at Bhajan Tadka. Oh yes, we crossed the holy Ganga river also in the process at Gadh Mukteshwar. Run by the Bedi brothers, Bhajan Tadka makes an ideal stop for lunch when you are heading towards the hills from Delhi. You tend to reach exactly at the time of lunch and are not disappointed with the offering!  For me, the food at Gulshan Vaishno Dhaba in Murthal, Haryana remains the gold standard for the food served in dhabas in North India and Bhajan Tadka couldn’t beat it. It also remains a place recommended by the food gods, Rocky and Mayur. So as per their suggestion, I pounced on garlic lachcha naan, panner kadhai but avoided chhole (chick peas). We concluded our meal with a hearty glass of….no, no, not lassi but a soda shikanji- a nice concoction of bottle soda, lime juice, sugar and shikanji masala! Works well with your belly.
In the meanwhile (or before confirming the order), I managed to strike a conversation with Mr. Prem Singh Bedi , the elder Bedi sibling running the Bhajan Tadka! I gave him the reference of the show HOMP and Rocky /Mayur and his face beamed with smile. I also told him that we came all the way from Mumbai and were looking forward to eat at his restaurant. He asked us what we’ve ordered for and made sure that garlic lachcha naans are prepared immediately. That was so nice of him.
After finishing our lunch at 12.30 pm, we still had plenty of time leverage on our side. However, it was sure a no non-sense journey. Well, the distance till Ramnagar (aka Jim Corbett National Park) is not exceptional. The same boring plain road! Shib Kumar had already taken an audacious decision to drive through Jim Corbett National Park instead of sticking to the normal Kathgodam – Haldwani-Nainital route.
In the quest to make it fast, Shib Kumar took an off beat road (the same blunder he had done when we went to Bikaner this February) and wasted almost an hour to cross only 20 km. But in no time, we were in the cool atmosphere of Jim Corbett National Park. The open top jeeps were overpowering other vehicles in numbers. And as we were in the mid of the park, rain started abruptly. And I was aghast to see that wipers of the car were not working. Shib Kumar was in the eye of the storm. I reprimanded him for being so careless in approach. We were already running behind the schedule.
Remember Paulo Coelho? The rain stopped as abruptly as it had started and we heaved a sigh of relief. Fortunately, the road from Ramnagar to Ranikhet was not having heavy traffic (and later we realized why!). It’s a 93 km stretch and is a pure mountainous road. It was 4 pm and I was sure that we’ll reach Ranikhet by 7 pm. Dwarahat is another 30 km away from Ranikhet means the time we would have reached is  8 pm. It was not advisable to travel ahead of Ranikhet after it gets dark. So my instruction was clear and loud to Shib Kumar that we’ve to reach Dwarhat at any cost by 8 pm.
And kudos to Shib Kumar, he drove with amazing skill on one of the trickiest roads I’ve ever seen in my life, may be I could relate it to the journey we had from McleodGanj to Dalhousie in Himachal Pradesh. It was very narrow road and we were driving at a very high altitude. But it is also one of the most picturesque road I’ve ever seen in my life. So admiring the beauty and Shib Kumar’s driving skill, we reached Ranikhet exactly at 7 pm. We had to pass through the main market of Ranikhet and it was bustling at that time. The air was cool and I wished I had few more days so that we could stay at Ranikhet too. But we pushed the accelerator and headed towards Dwarahat.
After driving for another hour, we reached the town of Dwarahat. It was 8 pm and people had already closed the doors, probably had their meals and were ready to go to bed. How lucky you people are! At the same time, we are either breaking our heads in our offices or facing gigantic traffic snarls or jostling for some space in local trains! Why, why….God is so unfair! J After asking for directions to our destination, we finally managed to reach Yogoda Ashram in Dwarahat.
Normally, Yogoda Society doesn’t allow non-members to stay in their Ashrams but since I’m the worse half of one of their sincere members, they accommodated me. So nice of them! I almost looked like a devil amongst good souls with my black lycra t-shirt, rugged jeans since everyone else was wearing simple cotton kurta-pajama. But actually, you don’t become spiritual by wearing simple clothes but you may say that it is one of the baby steps towards attaining spirituality.
We met a very interesting person in the ashram, Mr. Dogra. He has been associated with the Yogoda society since 1985 and was like a deputy head of the Dwarahat Ashram. Though he may look  very simple at first glance, his stature and oration commands respect. It didn’t take much time for us to strike a conversation with him which started with stock markets and moved toward spirituality.
A simple food was served in the dining room and the people in the dining room were supposed to maintain silence. Every person after finishing their dinner, was supposed to wash their utensils on their own. I admit here that Anita washed my utensils for all the time we stayed in the Ashram. I was slightly nervous and conscious of my own presence in the odd vicinity for me. Only Anita and Dogra Ji were the people whom I could approach in that premises.
We had an eventful planning for the next day and it was necessary to go to bed early. But Anita also had an appointment with the Head Swamiji (who is of Japanese origin) of the Ashram. He was kind enough to invite me to have a chat with him though I was non-member. Anita had got a lot of gifts for the children who are students at the Yogoda School and she needed to hand it over to Swamiji.  So finally, finishing the task and the conversation, we came up in our room and went to sleep…