I did not have very sound sleep that night IN THE CAR parked on one of the secluded roads of Nainital. Got up at around at 4 am in the morning and decided to drive straight away to Kaladhungi. The plan for the day was to drive through or as close to Jim Corbett National Park and reach Dugadda or Lansdowne. I had a vague idea about the route to Dugadda close to the park until I met two biker friends from Ambala Cantt., Mr Nikhil Joshi and Mr Anshum Gupta. They had been on this route and encouraged me to drive through it.
It was still dark. Day was about to break. Lalpari was up on the road early, hoping to encounter some wild beast in the forests of Kaladhungi. My eyes were ready for a chance meeting with the wild cat. I remember last year when I was coming back from Saach Pass to Dalhousie, a leopard crossed the road just 20 meters ahead of me, near Dalhousie cantonment at midnight. I was hoping for something like that. At least I was sure to see few colorful deer near the road..
It was not to be. Kaladhungi arrived and so did Ramnagar…no sighting at all. Surrounded by lush green jungle, road was butter smooth though. Big farms in between Kaladhungi and Ramnagar with mountains forming background, was a beautiful sight. I hit 5th gear on this beautiful road.. after a long long time in the trip.
Established in 1936, 520 sq km, Jim Corbett National Park is the oldest park in India. Thick jungle, Ramganga river and plentiful prey make this reserve an ideal habitat for tigers. Besides tigers….leopards, jungle cat, barking deer, samber, cheetal, sloth bear, herds of elephants, python, crocodile and 586 species of birds are the residents of this park.
Time was around 8am in the morning. I saw a tap near a security post at the Durgadevi Gate. The setting was just perfect for bath. The security personnel were bit amused to see a man alight out of the car, take the clothes off and bathe in the open. The water was very cold though.
Being an ex-employee of PNB, the sight of its branch is always very comforting. I stopped at Marchula and stepped inside the branch. The branch manager Mr Harish Chander Joshi was a very nice man and guided me the route to Duggada over a cup of tea.
After few kilometers drive I entered Garhwal near Shankarpur. Just after Shankarpur I saw a board mentioning 20 kilometer long Shankarpur-Nainidanda road and that the road being damaged was fit for light vehicles only. The road turned out to be one of the worse I have encountered in this trip. It was rough, full of potholes and loose stones. Lalpari got hit on the belly a number of times. The road was in fact fit for two wheelers only.
Although I was finding it tough, still I continued with the drive since it was recommended by friends and hoping to see something different being very close to Corbett National Park. Since I was already on so many beautiful roads with wonderful landscape, in comparison this looked quite dull and driving became a sort of punishment. Nothing happened except for the test of my will and patience.
Things improved a little after Nainidanda and drive became a pleasure once I reached Sonanadi Wildlife Sanctuary, a part of Kalagarh Tiger Reserve, also known as north corbett. The drive from this point onwards became wonderful and passed through a dense forest of sal, sheesham and bamboo trees. From Kalagarh Tiger Reserve I drove to Dugadda instead of lansdowne which was nearer. The area was new to me and I wanted to check on Dugadda.
Duggada was bit disappointing though. I thought it would be a typical hill station but it turned out to be a bustling town on NH 119 highway. The road was absolutely wonderful though. Soon Lalpari was climbing on a beautiful winding road to the cantonment town of Lansdowne. Unlike other hill stations Lansdowne is situated right on this beautiful highway but still remote in its own way as it is a training ground for Garhwal Riffles and is maintained by cantonment board. It is situated at an altitude of 1,706 mts above sea level surrounded with thick oak and blue pine forests.
It became dark at Lansdowne and I was still not sure where i was going to stay for the night. Due to cantonment area, civilian activities were restricted at Lansdowne. There were not many hotels or market as well. So I did not feel like staying there and drove further towards Satpuli. Satpuli turned out to be a bustling town on the highway and perfect for night stay. I parked the car near a temple in the market and went roaming about the lanes of Satpuli. It was again a wonderful feeling being at yet new strange place.
Few drinks and a nice dinner at a nearby dhaba later, I slipped INSIDE THE CAR for the 22nd time in this trip. What a beautiful journey this is turning out to be. Dream come true!!!