Several alarms have been set – all of them spaced about 20 minutes apart – but it’s the first alarm that shouldn’t be ignored! It has been set for 4 AM and is a reminder to switch on the all-too-important geyser or water heater! Once that duty has been fulfilled, I return to the comfort of my quilt and snooze for some twenty minutes more, safe in the knowledge that things will, somehow, slowly fall into place.
We haven’t even cleared Delhi’s outskirts yet, but almost everyone in our group, barring a handful, has dozed off! Understandable, for this is the peak of north India’s winter, and for 22 Derawals to rouse at an unearthly hour, get ready, pack, and make it on time to board a train, is nothing short of a miracle 🙂
This, the 6th Derawal family reunion, is also the furthest we’ve ever ventured out of Delhi together, and certainly the first time we’ve done so by train!
It is a little after 10 AM as we pull into Saharanpur, and the fog has finally lifted. Regardless of the long halt, not many Derawals stir from their slumber, except those few who suffer from motion sickness, and have been forewarned by yours truly that the train changes direction here 🙂
Haridwar arrival is about 40-minutes late and we are met by brilliant blue skies and many curious stares!
We are also met by ‘Trimurti‘, a 27-seater bus which will ferry our group to our final destination, The Glasshouse on the Ganges!
Nestled about 3000 ft above sea level in the Himalayan foothills, and some 23 km north of Rishikesh on the road to Badrinath, The Glasshouse is a sprawling, undulating estate dotted with whitewashed cottages. The 5 cottages on the property house the various rooms, and ‘Saryu‘ is the one assigned to us – aesthetic, adequately appointed, and comfortable. Others in our group haven’t been so lucky with their assignments, and yet others – including myself – have lamented over the lack of creativity in the design of the cottages themselves! Not to mention, we’re still to discover the ‘glass’ in the ‘glasshouse’!
Cottages aside, the estate is made up of a dense tropical orchard, which boasts trees bearing Mangoes, Lichees and citrus fruits, amongst others. The orchard or ‘bagaan‘ was built for the Maharajas of Tehri Garhwal, and if hadn’t been for the neat little pathways that now bisect it, you could be forgiven for believing you were in a thick forest!
With a late check-in, even later lunch – where our quorum of 24 Derawals is finally met – and some purposeful gossip out of the way, a few of us thrill seekers set out for a ‘nature walk’.
Despite having walked over 2 km along the highway, the promised trail head is nowhere in sight, and all we’ve gotten so far are buses with deafening air horns and trucks with screeching brakes, all of them belching thick fumes! This is certainly not the Himalayan adventure we had in mind!
After a lot of whining, I steal the initiative and lead the first breakaway group back to The Glasshouse. About halfway back, as a turn in the road reveals a sweeping vista, we stop dead in our tracks! The Himalayas offer plenty to salivate over, but there are two sights in particular worth savouring here. Dusk is the first of these and we have stopped precisely for that..
The second one occurs a few hours later but requires a lot of will power, especially when it’s winter in the hills and you’re ensconced in your warm quilt! For those who do assert mind over matter, it is the more rewarding of the two, for unlike dusk, it is yours alone to relish 🙂
The morning of day 2 wears on but our collective commitment towards punctuality is not a shade of what it was the day prior. Between finding appropriately sized wetsuits, to deciding what not to take with us, to locating the crew of Trimurti, another hour lapses before we finally make it to ‘Marine Drive‘, the launching point of all river rafting trips down the Ganges..
The 13 brave Derawals who signed up for this are split into two boats, in groups of 6 and 7 respectively. Chander Lall a.k.a. Rambo is the captain of our raft and takes as much pleasure ordering us overboard as he does splashing the other group with icy-cold water! Our ill-fitting wetsuits are obviously not up to scratch and over time we all become somewhat immune to the bone-chilling water of the Ganges, which Rambo proclaims is at a balmy 4 Celsius this morning!
Several clumsy moments, many screams, countless hysterics, and a handful of rapids later, we arrive at at an inviting strip of sandy beach in Shivpuri. Hot cups of soup, a warm shower and a not-to-graceful game of beach volleyball follows and helps us recuperate somewhat.
About 3 hours after having left The Glasshouse, our elated group of 13 is reunited with the rest of the clan over another late lunch. In this instance, of course, the delay works in our favour – plenty of late afternoon sun and the lawn to ourselves 🙂
Nature walks (not for the faint-hearted!), river rafting and Ayurvedic massages – we’ve pretty much done everything there is to do at and around the property. Everything but enjoy the property for what it is!
Day 3 is all we have left on our reunion, and while the initial plan calls for a stopover in Rishikesh to do ‘darshan‘ and such, it is put to vote over drinks, and to everyone’s relief, unanimously quashed! Yet again we Derawals have proven that alcohol, when imbibed in the right quantity and with the right company, provides for extremely rational thinking 🙂
And so our last day at The Glasshouse is spent just as we would have envisioned it – sitting by the river, basking in the sun and chatting away aimlessly..
Like every one of our family get-togethers, the excitement of planning a holiday, and the sheer anticipation of it, far outlives the duration of our stay. It is no different at The Glasshouse – in somewhat distant Haridwar, the Shatabdi beckons yet again, and it is time for us to bid farewell to possibly the most memorable reunion location of all!
Someday, I think to myself, this timeless view will draw us right back 🙂
A full set of pictures can be viewed here.