As you step out of the train, you quickly notice the crisper, cooler air of the Indian town of Kathgodam compared to that of populated cities like Delhi. The Himalayan Mountains stand tall in the backdrop, making you wonder what could possibly lurk in its vast greenery.
In many spots on the roadside, vendors sold the famous corn-on-the-cobs, salted with butter and lemon. They were delicious! On the right side of the windy road were large trees with slender branches on which birds perched and cawed and monkeys swung. One has to be cautious to not hit any monkeys that could jump onto the road.
When we arrived to my grandmother’s place, she greeted us with a celebratory prayer. To my surprise, my maternal aunts, uncles, and cousins were all there. My grandmother prepared for us the hand-prepared regional dishes: rice, lentils soup, fried vegetables, and round wheat bread. Afterwards, our family decided to do something so thrilling yet so dangerous. Eleven of us all squeezed into my uncle’s five-seater compact car! From there, we headed towards the city of Nainital.
The first thing on the to-do list was to go boating in the Nainital Lake, a clear greenish-blue body of water that expanded towards the Himalayas. Our family rented four boats, three in shape of swans and one in shape of a dragon. The view of the surrounding city was just awe-inspiring. In front of us, snow-capped mountains cornered the city, waiting to be trekked and in a far distance, green plains of the Jim Corbett National Park blanketed the landscape, waiting to be visited.
Following an hour long boat ride, what seemed like only a few minutes, we reached the Himalayan Trekking Center in search of a tour guide. There, we met a young man named Sanjay Kumar. He took us to the Naina Peak, which was highest point in all of Nainital, roughly 8,579 feet. The trip was exhausting going up the mountain. Along the way, we encountered many different animals such as barking deer and flying squirrels and vegetation such as the Kikar, Sal, and Khair trees and unique tall grass. Finally reaching the Peak, I was able to completely capture a panoramic sight of the tall mountain ranges and the speckle-sized dwellings. The beauty of this region was just profound.
The next day, we headed to Jim Corbett National Park! It is the oldest one in India. Named after a British hunter, this park contains 488 species of plants and over 600 species of animals. It also offers a Jeep Safari ride for a rare experience in the wild. As we drove by, herds of elephants and sambar deer roamed the long grass. There were also some Himalayan gorals resting upon on elevated rocky surfaces. Our guide mentioned that we might even possibly come across the Royal Bengal Tiger, which the Park protected because it was endangered. I really wanted to snap a photo of that tiger. As excited as we were to see nature first hand, we were sweating and worn out from walking miles to designated areas and being under the beating sun. All of a sudden, a whiskered orange face with black stripes peered out through the bushes. Click!
After our excursion, we headed back to my grandmother’s house. All this region holds a captivating appeal unlike any other. Having lived here for much of my early childhood, I can still find new, enjoyable memories from eating local foods to scaling mountains to tracking tigers, evident just within the boundaries of India’s hill stations.
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