Traveling to Binsar Ecocamp
Getting to Binsar Ecocamp
Happy New Year readers! We’re well into the New Year though and in case you’re wondering where I’ve been (just in case) I was travelling for the New Year. I’ll tell you all about it and share some of the photographs I took.
After that I’ve been busy with New Year things. Thinking about life and what I want from this year. Taking decisions about my time and proceeding to ‘make things happen’. Oh and of course, lying in bed a lot and reading in the week before school began.
Once it began there were resolutions to be made for my teaching life, a new head with great new ideas, a new door and a squeaky new attitude radiating hope and positivity.
As Christmas wound itself down (just a little) and the New Year approached – the mountains began to call me. They just wouldn’t listen when I talked about the seaside spots I’ve planned to visit when the weather is cooler – because I’m daunted by the warm mugginess of tropical beaches in the summer. But no, the mountains just kept calling.
“No”, I said.
“I’ve just been to Everest Base Camp,” and “it’s winter, it will be unpleasantly cold.”
The thought of waking up on the first day of the New Year to the sight of peach cream mountain tops was irresistible. I booked with a group of young people, none of whom I knew going to an Eco camp in Binsar, Uttarakhand – by bus.
You don’t need a group to go with. All you need to do, is head to the Anand Vihar ISBT, Delhi at 8 pm and get on a Volvo bus to Haldwani. Try and book a seat on it beforehand. It will drive through the night, disgorging you at the bus station at Haldwani at 4 am.
The first fog of the season met us with welcoming and rather clingy arms so we couldn’t speed through the night, for which I was quite thankful. Despite this, we reached Haldwani on time and I wasn’t cold on the bus. The lights were off and thankfully there was no video screen but for that the group contained a disturbing element who had mixed rum in his coke bottle, stood in the corridor the length of the journey, poking at members of the group with sporadic yodels of “Nobody is going to sleep.” There was nothing to see outside other than ghostly swirls of fog illuminated by the headlights of passing trucks. The lights were turned off inside. Everyone had shared out their booty of alu and poori, except me who had just packed an apple but was warmly included in the rolls of Indian travel food, carb heavy, dripping with oil and too tempting to say no to. So there was no reason to stay awake but Mr Rum thought we should.
The toilets at Haldwani weren’t too bad, as highway toilets go. It all depends on what you compare it with. If you think of highway toilets in Europe, you’ll recoil in disgust. If you think of highway toilets in India twenty years ago, when you’d rather stop between villages and water a tree in the fields, you won’t complain.
A second bus at Haldwani turned out to be far less comfortable than the Volvo and also far from air tight. This factoid was something most people were aware of as I saw from the purple plush blankets and huge shawls they had whisked out of their luggage and mummified themselves in. I just had a wind cheater, which had kept me warm enough at Gorakshep – the camp for Everest Base Camp. It didn’t cut the ice (ha ha) on the way up to Dhaulachchina though.
Sadly, we slept through the dawn and the climb through the pine forest, tired out by the rum drinker’s yodeling. I couldn’t help thinking that now would have been the time to wake the people up who would ideally have slept on the dark, warm, slow bus ride through the plains.
At ten o’clock my eyelids shot open as if I was a clockwork toy, jolted to life by the cessation of bus jolting. We had arrived in a land of blue skies, pine trees, snowy peaks and long walks. We hauled our legs, by now quite unused to movement, up the winding hill to the Binsar Ecocamp carrying only our day packs while the bigger bags were driven up in a nice red jeep type vehicle.
Wait for the post with events at the camp – this blog post about how to get there and back.
The return to Delhi began at 1 pm on the 1st and the same whistling wind bus took us down, round and round the hills to Haldwani. The organisers were a little the worse for wear from welcoming in the New Year and set out later than planned. They hadn’t planned a lunch stop either presuming chips and coke would be sufficient. Since they were also quite flexible we did stop for lunch at 4 pm when a few of us insisted we were hungry. A dhaba lunch of fresh rotis and dal did the trick for me. The merriment of the group led to the drinking of two rounds of tea and much maggi noodles. Add to this one member of the party who stopped the bus every hour to retch and gag as her road induced nausea got out of hand. At breakfast I had urged her to take an anti nausea pill since she hadn’t exactly enjoyed the journey up either. I’d gathered that from the bottom of my deep green pool of slumber.
“I don’t have a problem.” She insisted.
“That day I just needed a toilet.”
“Well that means you don’t handle hill travel well so take a…” I had said
“No no – you don’t understand. I just needed to take a dump but since there was nowhere to go…”
Not wanting to be the recipient of more over-sharing at breakfast on the first day of the year, I smiled, looked away and let it be.
She then proceeded to stop the bus every hour to be sick outside.
There were a few traffic jams on the way to – it was Sunday evening and clearly a lot of people were rushing back to reach in time for the first working day of the new year.
At 7:30 pm some frantic telephoning began. The organizer, a young woman, was clearly negotiating with someone, whom, from snippets of overheard conversation, I identified as the operator of the bus to Delhi. Quick calculations with the aid of Google maps revealed that we weren’t going to reach Haldwani in time to catch our night Volvo bus.
Two men on the bus decided that the traffic jam was an ideal opportunity to answer a call of nature and hopped off in search of a secluded spot – hard to come by on a hillside choc-a-block with cars going in both directions.
The rum drinker, true to form as the noisiest and drunkest person in the group had been blasting music of his choice (no need to check with anyone else on the bus) out of his phone onto a speaker that dangled above my ear. He also jumped off the bus in a display of juvenile male defiance that many men somehow confused with manliness. Instead of making it their business that we reach on time seeing as it was definitely everyone’s problem, they chose not to be supportive but disruptive, laughing at the young woman organizer for taking charge. Haven’t been subjected to such a display of sexism (disguised to themselves as cute high jinks) for a long time. The full-bladders-now-empty returned when summoned but the rum drinker didn’t for a long time. When he felt he’d established his manliness and hopped onto the bus he hung out of the door smoking and flooding the bus with chill mountain air.
We missed the bus to Delhi and were thrown summarily off onto a dark pavement near the Haldwani ISBT.
Some stroke of wisdom had caused the organisers to book me and my room mate onto a later bus at 10 that we could still catch. All that was left was find a ride back to Delhi for the other 19.
As we, relieved, loaded our bags onto the Volvo bus that arrived at 10.15 the bus conductor said,
“No not you all – this is the 10.30 bus.”
We asked the obvious. “Where is the 10:00 o’clock bus?”
That was it! Arbitrarily cancelled.
So we trooped back to the group. Arrangements were being made for taxis.
Six of us were stuffed into a car and set out. We made it clear we didn’t want to travel with rum man despite the persuasions of the organisers. There were five women and one man, because by now it was past 11 pm and the highway on this stretch is alright in the safety-in-numbers bus journey, but not so great in a car.
Along the way making contact with other members of the group, in different vehicles, became commonplace – perhaps because all the taxis were from the same company. They even waited for each other at the toll because only one of them had the authority to use the company’s credit card to pay the toll for all three.
We stopped for our second Dhaba meal of the day and were soon joined by our friends travelling with rum man. They looked decisive and ruffled.
Rum man had shared his rum and coke with the conductor. Then the driver. He then proceeded to smoke joints with them while the passengers did what we had done too – tried their hardest to ignore him. Except that he began to boast about what he had done.
Whereupon outrage rent the air.
His co-passengers and co group members told him off. His defiance was unabated and they threatened to leave him behind. Finally, he was asked to leave the bus. Being a nice lot of people they were dismayed at having left someone on the highway to make his own way home, red faced at what the other passengers thought and of course as tired, hungry, cramped, thirsty, cold with bladders full to bursting as all of us.
We reached Anand Vihar ISBT at 6 am. I tried not to sleep on the way because every time I half closed my eyes the truck on the road in front of us merged into our car and I’d wake up thinking we were about to hit it.
Another 45 minutes from the ISBT to my home by Ola cab and there I was, snug in my own bed, resting my aching limbs, trying to find the high points of the trip. They were of course the mountains that had whispered their silvery song of beauty, calling me, but they seemed too far away in Binsar. Compared to the EBC trek, where they were larger than life, constant companions, hidden only by clouds but only a seeming arm’s reach away.