I am a proud Delhiite and I say from the core of my heart, Delhi Meri Jaan!
I came to the capital city when I was just four years old. That makes me a resident of this city for 77 years. I have lived here since then.
I am in love with my city and proudly endorse this Urdu couplet:
Kaun Jaye Ghalib Dilli ki Galian Chor Kar.
I spent my childhood in Lodhi Colony. We were staying at block 21 which was quite near to the Lodhi Gardens . We were a group of eight children who spent mornings and evenings at this historic place which is the green lung of south Delhi.
Lodhi gardens are lush green with tombs of Lodhi dynasty spread around. I still remember, in summers, we used to sleep in the open under the deep blue sky and you could count bright shining stars.
Air was fresh and pure and you could feel it caressing your lungs as you took deep breath. You felt good and energetic. There were plenty of open spaces around you. Roads were less crowded. You hired a taxi for going to railway station or hospital. Very few people travelled by air.
DTC buses was the only mode of transport for common people. You had not heard about something called air pollution. Now compare it with scenario today. Pollution is one of the biggest problems faced by today’s generation. Air quality is worsening every day. Delhi and Beijing are considered worst polluted cities in the world.
For a long time, people living in two densely populated Asian capitals have suffered the toxic smog that blankets their cities . Delhi with a teeming population of over 20 million people is going from bad to worse. Wheezing, sneezing and watery eyes are common symptoms.
It badly affects your lungs and heart. Old people with multiple diseases are worst suffers. Come October and air quality starts creeping towards very poor and severe. Besides common factors contributing to pollution, it is time for sowing fresh crops in northern India in states like Punjab and Haryana.
Farmers start stubble burning to clear fields for fresh sowing. Burning stubbles is age old practice as it is cheaper and affordable for farmers. Dense smoke rises in the air and winds carry it towards Delhi. Hope and pray some alternative will be made available to farmers to save people in general from air pollution. Stubble burning continues till November end.
As the pollution touches alarming levels, every year usual practice of tackling pollution starts on political and official levels. Authorities briefly close schools, order diesel vehicles off the roads, halt construction work, ask people to work from home, ban firecrackers. Much of this is difficult to enforce in India's chaotic democracy.
The situation moves from bad to worst around Deepawali , the festival of lights. People in general turned a deaf ear to Supreme Court orders banning fire crackers. Deafening noise of fire crackers could be heard late into night. Thick smoke engulfed the skyline. Air pollution level moved to severe category crossing 500 mark in various localities of Delhi. Several other states were equally affected.
Look at the irony of fate. I love Delhi and it is my hometown. I am left with no option but to leave Delhi on the eve of Deepawali and take refuge in the hills . For the second year in succession, I moved to Naukuchiatal, a quiet little hill station near Nainital. You see I am a heart patient with all my four arteries by-passed. I also suffer from asthma and have several allergies. I also suffered a severe Covid attack which has weekend my immune system considerably.
My family took the decision that it will be a better idea to move to hills during Deepawali season. The question arises why despite Supreme Court order, why authorities failed to crack the whip to stop this menace. Why is political will in our country so weak and why policy of vote bank takes precedence over crucial decisions concerning public health.
In any case, decision to move to Naukuchiatal proved to be right one. Whenever we go to Naukuchiatal, we always choose to stay next to the lake. Our favourite places are Lake Resort hotel, Déjà Vu, a small cottage, and Tourist Rest House, of Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam. We have visited Naukuchiatal six times, and it continues to remain our favourite.
We could not book Tourist Rest House this time as rates had gone up exorbitantly. Super deluxe room which we booked for 3500 last year on Deepawali time, was now available for 4800 rupees per night. Never expected such a hike in KMVN’s property.
We started searching for other properties but most of them were away from lake. And then I remembered , one of our friends , Vinni Sharma had stayed at Aadrika retreat last year along with her parents and highly recommended this property. I spoke to owner of this property , Piyush Jain on mobile and found him to be gentle, reasonable and with human touch.
The room offered by him met all our requirements like TV Wi-Fi with electric cattle. But the room was on first floor which meant climbing about 16 stairs. I told him that my wife Uma, a senior citizen who suffers from arthritis, may find it difficult to climb the stairs. No problem sir, he said my boys will carry mom to first floor in plastic chair. I was touched by his human angle.
I booked the place straightaway. Next, I spoke to Irshad, our trusted and faithful driver we hire whenever we go anywhere, whether in Delhi or outside Delhi.
On 9th November, we were in Naukuchiatal late in the afternoon. Irshad left the car with us and travelled back to Delhi in a bus. He promised to come back and pick us up as and when we want to be back in Delhi. The entire Aadrika staff was there to greet us. They offered to carry Uma my wife in a plastic chair to first floor but she decided to climb stairs of her own using her walking stick.
As we reached terrace leading to our room, view was breath-taking. Just across the road was nine cornered lake with mountains, dense forests , lush green flora and fauna forming its backdrop. Birds and butterflies of different hues and colours greeted us . As the night descended, fireflies called Jugnu in Hindi , could be seen playing hide and seek in the trees.
Wow, what a heavenly place. Sitting under deep blue sky, you could count bright stars with cool breeze kissing your face. Your lungs could feel the caress of fresh air. It was literally like an island of peace and tranquillity on this earth.
Only thing we missed were monkeys who were in plenty here till last Deepawali. Where had they gone, was a mystery. We had booked this guest house for a week. We loved the place and extended our stay to 12 days.
Our favourite eating place in Naukuchiatal is a small kitchen setup in a cart next to boat stand. It is run by a local Kumaon family with lady of the house it’s in charge. They are basically a shepherd family who now provide tourists and locals home-made simple food. Menu is normally fixed . You get mouth-watering rajma chawal, Kadhi chawal, fresh pakoras fried before you, the all-time favourite in the hills, Maggie, muska bun and a hot cup of adrak chai.
We prefer our chai in an earthen kulhad. She knows us by face and greets us with a warm smile. My wife loves leafy greens and she requested the lady if she could cook pahadi leafy greens for her. She obliged and served us delicious pahadi saag. For those who prefer high end junk food like pizza and burger, there is Colonel’s cafe as well as Solitude 29 run by Lake resort.
There is also Cumin’s cafe run by an old couple. Food is par excellence here. Once we were having lunch at Cumin's cafe. During our conversation, it emerged that they are Aroras from Delhi and that too from Sarita Vihar, same place where our daughter Shafina lives. Their children are currently in London. They love hills and started this small cafe. Aroras took accommodation in a home stay on yearly basis on lease.
We met another person, a retired professor from Hindu college Delhi by chance. He was also in Naukuchiatal to escape pollution in Delhi. He was staying in his own cottage there. Several people , we know, are now making their second home in the hills. Dr Rajiv Singla, who is like our son is one of them. He and his wife Dr. Shweta plan to setup a charity clinic, a sort of NGO for the poor. A noble cause indeed.
On our last two visits to Naukuchiatal, our daughter Shafina was with us. This time, she was busy with her start up in Publishing, Vikramshila and could not come with us despite her best efforts. She was worried about our safety and security. Then she remembered, her friend Neeti Verma , was in Naukuchiatal those days. Neeti has a cottage of her own here. Shafu sent her a message that mama and papa were in Naukuchiatal. Neeti contacted us immediately and invited us over lunch.
She along with her friend Sarika came and picked us up from our guest house. Her cottage is just fifty yards from famous Hanuman temple. There are three cottages in the premises with a beautifully manicured lawn in the middle. Three cottages belong to three friends, Neeti, Sarika and Deepti. Neeti’s mother, a retired school principal was with her. Neeti has a small Bhutia puppy which is really energetic. The puppy reminded me of our two dogs, Caesar and Naughty.
It was fun playing with the little one. Unfortunately I twisted my left foot . Neeti, her mother and her friend Sarika looked greatly concerned. There was swelling and pain. Hot water with salt was brought and my foot was put into it. Sarika dried my feet with a towel and applied Volini on my feet. Neeti’s mother tied crepe bandage over it. We had a sumptuous lunch complete with beer and Kumaon delicacy Pahadi chicken. We had heavy tea in the lawn with masala tea. Neeti and Sarika dropped us back at Aadrika retreat. Next day, they were again there to check if I was OK and needed anything.
The Naukuchiatal lake is 175 feet deep and is situated at 1,220 metres (4,000 ft) above sea level. It is surrounded by hills, deep forest consisting of flora and fauna of various hues. Naukuchiatal lake is the deepest of all the lakes in the Nainital region. There are many opportunities for angling and bird watching. Other activities include parasailing, paragliding, fishing, rowing, paddling, and yachting. The lake is fed by an underground perennial spring.
Most people visit this lake for boating and to capture its beauty in their mobiles and cameras. Boats of different kinds are available for exploring beauty of the lake. There are Shikaras, which you find only in Kashmir . Young people come to the lake for pre-wedding shoots. This place is also known as bird watchers’ paradise. This is one of those rare places where you get to watch 135 species of birds. Goes without saying that me and my wife are madly in love with Naukuchiatal, which is totally peaceful, calm serene and enchanting.
Naukuchiatal is close to my heart . It has lots of plain area for walks, a lake to relax and pure air to breathe. The only drawback is that there is hardly any transport and there are no medical facilities nearby. Still, a great place to chill and relax. We have now decided to spend a month at a time in Naukuchiatal . I spoke to owner of Aadrika , Piyush and he offered us a real good deal. We accepted it
. Now we are looking forward to spending more quality time at this peace of heaven on earth.