The next morning, we woke up the kids at the Dehradun railway station. The previous night, after reaching Delhi we’d gone to Amit’s brother’s house for dinner, then driven to the railway station. Of course, while driving towards the Old Delhi railway station Amit just happened to check the ticket and discovered that our train actually departed from the New Delhi Railway Station. Such minor glitches we take in our stride, especially when Old Delhi is much further away, so heading to New Delhi instead only means we have a little extra time to kill. The train left at midnight, so by 5.30 a.m. we’d all got significantly less than six hours of sleep.
The first task of the day was to locate Ballu – our cook, philosopher, and guide, who has rescued both of us from fairly dire circumstances at various times and places. After a happy reunion at the railway station, we negotiated for a taxi and started on the long drive to Purola. Normally, the drive from Dehradun to Sankhri can be done in a day, but with two small kids I’d decided that wisdom lay in keeping the drives short. On the first day we drove about 5 hours to Purola and stopped for the night. The next day we drove two hours to Sankhri, then went on for another 40 minutes on a terribly bad road to cover the 10 km to Taluka. This last stretch is normally part of the trek and in fact it would be much less uncomfortable and detrimental to the anatomy to walk it, but we’d decided to keep the actual walking as short as possible. So we banged and crashed along on the trekking route, the driver happy with a mere 500 bucks extra while I wondered how many parts of the vehicle we were losing along the way. The kids had been thoroughly car sick on the drive from Dehradun to Purola the first day (doubtless the oily aloo parantha for breakfast mid-way didn’t help) but on the second day, despite the car-rattling, bone-shattering nature of the drive, they were fine.
We had booked into GMVN (Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam) guest houses all the way. These are fairly dreary lodges, dank, crumbling and far from luxurious. The season had not officially started yet, so caretakers had to be roused out of their winter homes and persuaded to unlock doors and make provision for water. At Purola there was electricity, but not at Taluka. The kitchen was not operational at either place yet, so we ate at nearby “hotels” – and what that word means in this context you really have to see, smell, and taste to comprehend.
At Purola, Ballu and I shopped for provisions while the kids and Amit slept. As always, we started our shopping expedition with the most critical element first – kerosene. We scoured the town and found at least half a dozen outlets for kerosene, but at each place, the grizzled, crotchety old men shook their head resolutely and denied us our modest request for five litres of the precious blue fuel. We had walked ourselves almost out of town altogether before one old man took pity on us and poured it into our jerkin. Relieved, we walked back towards the guest house and at the last shop before the climb up to our rooms, we shopped for more mundane things – rice, dal, atta, cooking oil, salt, candles, matches and all that sort of thing. It cost a little under 1500 and would feed all of us for four days. At Taluka, we spent close to 800 just on lunch, dinner, breakfast and a few installments of tea.
But we had two speckled brown chickens pecking for grain under our feet as we ate and I suppose there’s always a premium on live entertainment.