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Surprise, Surprise, Surprise

Life is full of surprises. Some are pleasant, some sour and some scary. Some, on the other hand, are priceless.

Surprises have a thrill of their own. If you notice carefully, the best memories are made from unexpected plans. Most of the events in life happen when you least expect them.

Today I am going to share one such experience with you.

My birthday falls on 14th of September. My wife Uma and I decided to spend part of September at some small hill station. All big hill stations in north India are mostly overcrowded. We just wanted peace and quiet.

We finally decided on a small, quaint hill station known by the name of its nine cornered lake, Naukuchiatal. Most people prefer to stay at Nainital and visit this place just for a few hours.

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.

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. The place is inhabited by monkeys in large numbers.

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, or yachting. The lake is fed by an underground perennial spring.

Naukuchiatal is also known for the 'escape festival' which happens once every year in the month of May. 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, pedal boats, and rowing boats. 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.

In September this year, we booked Lake Resort for a week but decided to be back in Delhi before 14th September to celebrate my 79th birthday with my dear daughter and wife.

I informed my daughter Shafina about our decision. Papa, she said, how could you ever imagine spending a week in hills without me, that too, in your birthday month.

What a pleasant surprise dear. You are most welcome to join us princess, was my reply. I will come but on one condition. You will not book a separate room for me. All three of us will stay in the same room. I gladly agreed. My daughter is extremely busy person. Her decision to spend a week with us in hills really surprised us. But I know the real reason. Firstly, it is my birthday month and secondly, she knows mama and papa are growing old and she wants to spend quality time with us.

I know, my daughter has grown up and doing well in life. She has big ambitions but to me, she will always remain my little girl in pigtails.

Lost within 70 acres of Oak Forest, hidden amongst the picturesque surroundings, The Lake Resort nestles quietly next to the Naukuchiatal lake. Nature has bestowed it with large variety of trees, flowers, and shrubs.

One can experience nature in full bloom as one wanders along various trails around the lake exploring the nine corners of the Naukuchiatal. Folklore has it that if anyone can view all nine corners of lake together, they will attain nirvana.

Lake resort is surrounded by trees, shrubs, and multi-coloured flowers. Staying there, you get a feeling as if you are in a forest. Approach road to Lake resort is lined with thick trees. Once while walking on this road, I saw a deer crossing the road. It was heading for the lake just next to this road to drink water.

We had taken a deluxe room at the Lake resort. An extra bed was put in the room to accommodate our daughter. Renovation work was going on in the resort at that time. Next day, Shafina came to me and said papa, I have good news.

Hotel management has agreed to upgrade our room, at no extra cause. How did you do it, I asked. Well papa, I handle marketing and selling stories is my job. You know, I excel in public relations. We now had a two-room set and Shafina had a separate room.

How she did it is still a surprise to me. Lake resort has best location in Naukuchiatal. Hotel architecture is appealing. Service is excellent. Staff is courteous. Open area in front of resort is a little piece of paradise. It is on the side of lake.

Chairs and tables have been set up here where you can enjoy a cup of tea or coffee. You can even order snacks and food. You get full view of lake from here. Sun rays dancing on the waves, ripples in the water, Shikaras and other boats rowing in the lake present a mesmerising view.

There are also many ducks in the lake, floating from one side to the other. We enjoyed every moment at Lake resort. One fine morning, we were sitting in the balcony in front of our room. My wife came up with a query.

Shafu, you know I have a new mobile number. It needs to be linked to my Aadhar card for income tax purposes as well as my bank account operations. Since we have plenty of time, why not try here and get my mobile number linked with Aadhar card. Uma, I said, this is a small place and may not have such a facility. It should be easy to get such a job done back home in Delhi.

But papa, said Shafu, what is harm in trying. Let me check up with hotel staff. And indeed such a facility existed in neighbouring Bhimtal. Hotel manager went to the extent of deputing a waiter to take my wife and daughter to the shop in Bhimtal, where this work could be done.

My daughter took charge of the mission. She drove her mother and waiter to Bhimtal. Well, she was driving in hills for the first time. They were back within two hours with mission accomplished. Frankly speaking, it was big surprise for me. But then Shafu loves challenges, and it was another feather in her cap.

One evening, my daughter reminded me that Diwali is next month on 24 October. The Festival of Lights presents big problem for me every year. I am a co-morbid patient. My heart is functioning at 35% and I also suffer from asthma. Smoke on Diwali from cracker bursting presents breathing problems for me. It was decided that I and my wife Uma will spend Diwali week at Lake resort only. But this was not to be. Lake resort was fully booked for Diwali week for marriages. Our next option was Tourist Rest House. We easily got booking for a super deluxe room. We could understand that our daughter cannot come with us due to pre-occupations.

As Deepawali was on 24 October, we left Delhi on 22nd Oct for Naukuchiatal. As we were entering gate of TRH, it looked like Shafina was sitting on a bench in the compound of the rest house. How could it be, I thought. Must be some sort of illusion.

I rubbed my eyes, pinched myself and looked again. Yes, it was a reality. Shafu, with her friend Seema was sitting on the bench. Both got up from bench and started waving. Believe me, it was first a shock and then a pleasant surprise. I got down from car and hugged Shafina.

How do you like my surprise papa, said Shafina laughing like a child. It was so strange but so real. My daughter was before me in flesh and blood. Shafina revealed that this surprise was pre-planned. She and her friend had reached rest house just half an hour before us.

Tell me, who else could do it except your own daughter, your princess. Whenever someone asks Shafina, how she is a princess. Her simple answer is, I am a princess not because I have a prince, but because my father is a king. How sweet, a daughter may outgrow your lap, but she will never outgrow your heart.

Tourist Rest House, TRH is also on the lake side but there is lot of hustle and bustle around it. Most of the boats are parked on this side of lake. Visitors usually get into boat from this side.

You can also get yourself photographed here in dresses of Uttarakhand. Maggie with vegetables is favourite of locals and tourists. Our favourite was a small shop on the roadside here selling real tasty pakodas, rajma chawal, Kadi chawal and good cardamom tea in kullads, mud pots. This shop is run by a local lady. Her husband used to rear sheep. Both lady and her husband never went to school. Both do not know how to count money. Both feel most of customers are fair and give them right amount of money.

We were staying in room number 204. Shafina and her friend were in room number 205, just next to us.

We were in for another surprise on Diwali day. Shafina went to market, purchased Pooja material for Diwali. She set up a small, cute temple in our room so that we do not miss Pooja on this auspicious occasion. Are not we blessed to have a daughter like her. Even in Delhi, she takes care of most of our needs. We call her our lifeline.

Besides the lake, there is a Hanuman temple at the beginning of Naukuchiatal. The entrance of the temple is like a cave which takes you to an open space towards the sanctum sanctorum of the temple. The 52 feet statue of Lord Hanuman with the backdrop of green mountains and a clear blue sky is a sight to witness.

The temple premise is very clean, which helps you connect with the spiritual world immediately. The temple also houses Vaishno Devi temple, Shani Mandir, and Ram Darbar temple. Naukuchiatal is a tiny little town with a population of around 5000. Entire town is located within a radius of 4 kilometres.

It was now time for Shafina and her friend to say goodbye. Shafu gave us another surprise. This time, she chose to drive her eco sport from Naukuchiatal to Delhi herself. So far, she had been hiring a driver to go to hills. Another first to her credit.

I have no hesitation in saying My life is a fairy tale because it revolves around a princess, my beautiful daughter.

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