“It took us 10 hours” said a friend.
“9 hours minimum” said another.
Our family “Holi week” holiday was already booked – Non-refundable. This was going to be the first time my littlest one – aged 2 years – would be officially going on a vacation. The benefit of a road trip is that it’s easy to stop-over and take a break, but 9 or 10 hours on the road was starting to sound problematic.
We decided to leave as early as 5 AM, but with everyone excited about the trip and thus quick in the morning, we managed to leave our house by 4:45 instead. Every minute matters in such situations because even after stopping and taking a small detour to get the challan for the taxi we had hired – moderately expensive, but significantly comfortable – and a couple of bathroom breaks for the kids, we made it to Cheetal Grand in Khatauli – roughly the half-way mark – in 3 hours.
Cheetal is one of those places that your parents know about and most probably your grandparents have fond memories of having food there during their road-trips. It has changed though, no longer situated inside the city, they have two outlets on the main NH-58 highway. Read about it on the web, and you’re likely to get confused about which one is the “original”, but it really doesn’t matter. Eat your food on one-side when you are going and the other on your way back, it is as simple as that.
This Cheetal Grand on the way to Rishikesh is huge with hall seating – think Bikanerwala or Haldiram’s – serving all the delicacies one would expect to cheat on their diets with while on vacation. The Mixed Pakodas – Gobhi, Paneer, Alloo, Palak, and Mirchi – were surprisingly light and thus the two plates ordered (plus one of only Paneer Pakodas) proved to be insufficient. As a result Masala Omelette was called for and arrived with a lot of promise but hardly any masala. The plain – without cheese – omelette on the other hand proved to be a much better option with its pillow like airy fluffiness making it delicious to eat especially in the morning hours – although if you go by my standards, Omelettes should be eaten all through the day. The coffee was good and the sweet-chilli tomato ketchup that was in a blood red bottle with a “dexter” sticker on it provided the light entertainment one needs to rejuvenate oneself after being cramped in a car for a few hours.
NH-58 till Roorkee is very smooth with separate lanes and leaving early meant we were able to make the most of all the various city bypasses – take them if you are on this route to save a lot of time. Roorkee onward there is only a single road which means that we got to play the age old “game” of scary overtakes – overtaking a car as another one approaches head on towards you in the distance – which many of us have played growing up. Nevertheless, with only a few truly scary moments during the entire journey, we made it to Rishikesh in exactly 7 hours including all the stopovers.
With our abode for the holiday still a 40 odd minute drive in the hills, we decided to cross the Ganga near Ram Jhula (hanging bridge) and explore a little bit of Rishikesh along with having our lunch at the famous Chotiwala Restaurant – which now has a branch on the opposite river-bank as well. I must admit, I had expected Rishikesh to be bigger and crowded. Instead, it was busy yet calm, clean and friendly, as much about tourists as it was about being a holy city. An hour long walk – that’s the best we could do with kids in tow – visiting some of the temples and taking in the smells from the various roadside food stalls, our hunger had reached the point where with the sun on our heads, irritation was beginning to seep in. So, we headed to Chotiwala and were greeted by whom else but “Chotiwala” – you can see the photograph below and make of him what you will.
Chotiwala was one of the first restaurants in the region and since then many more have opened. Do a search on Google and you’ll find that most of the high-rated ones are around Laxman Jhula. Still, for a first timer like me and most of my family, we preferred the old-world charm that Chotiwala oozed in abundance. Mind you, they were modern in their own right offering free Wi-Fi – please take a note all you really expensive hotels and resorts around the world.
The food at Chotiwala is slightly above average at best. The likelihood that it will wow you is questionable; however it is good wholesome food that has the right flavours and I wouldn’t mind eating there again. Take their Poori Alloo or the Masala Dosa both of which are comforting to eat, but in all probability you have had better someone else. The Punjabi Thali – or the typical North Indian thali you get at Bikanerwala/Haldiram’s – with small helpings of Paneer, Rice, Mixed Vegetables, Raita, Daal etc. I especially enjoyed because it lacked any chilli. It wasn’t bland, but even the Papads were devoid of any Mirchi and that for me was a big plus.
With tummies full, energy boosted, as the rest of the family took the boat back to the car, I crossed the river via the hanging and slightly swaying Ram Jhula only to be told off half way by the police – who made an announcement on the loud speaker – that this was a passageway and not a place to stop and take photographs. Oops!
If you’re planning a holiday in the region, it is advisable to spend a night in main Rishikesh so as to enjoy the city properly. Since some of the bigger and famous resorts are a good 30 minutes to an hour on the Badrinath highway, it becomes a task returning to Rishikesh for a day trip.
Another 45 minutes, meandering through the Shivaliks, with the Ganga flowing down below in the valley in all its glory and azure like colour, as we approached the last few bends before our destination – The Glasshouse on the Ganges – our littlest one decided to throw up – 5 more minutes and we would have reached our destination. But, this is what road-trips are all about and sometimes you get excitement in the most unusual of ways, minutes before your journey is about to end. The look on the faces of the hotel staff as my wife got down drench is baby vomit was a little funny, but I was smart enough to simply keep a sly smirk on my face as I went about looking busy taking out the luggage. How smart I am writing about it now, you’ll find out if you ever get to read about Part II of the trip.