Sleepy towns are not normally associated with state capitals. Capital cities are normally full of hustle bustle, traffic jams and people rushing from pillar to post to get things done.
My recent trip to Dehradun showed me state capitals in a different light. As a so called city, it is more of an overgrown town with the radius of the city not more than 4 – 5 kilometers. For an Indian city, it is very small. The entire city is focused around the Rajpur road which forms most of the backbone of the city activity. One end of the city from where it enters houses a massive fruit and vegetable market. It snakes around the city with a lot of commercial activities around it before it exits and goes on to join the town of Rajpur, about 70 odd kms. away in Punjab.
Dehradun was not supposed to be a capital city. It has been forced into being one. Dehradun was a sleepy town in the foothills of the mighty Gharwal mountain range. Famous for it’s Doon School and the Jim Corbett National Park, Dehradun is the gateway to the rest of the country to access the more exotic and famous locations of Mussouri and Nainital. When the state of Uttarakhand was carved out of Uttar Pradesh, they had no option but make Dehradun it’s capital city. Overnight, buildings not being used much were converted to State Government Department offices. The city saw rare signs of activity and development. Today, it is still a growing town, little undecided whether to grow or not.
I had to make this trip to Dehradun to conduct a training program for the Government of Uttarakhand. Much as I was excited to visit this sleepy town again, I was apprehensive about the timing of my visit. The area was experiencing it’s worst winter in the last 40 odd years. Just my luck! When I landed in the New Delhi IGI airport, the captain of the flight announced that it was 2 degrees Celsius outside. I had chosen a flight which would reach New Delhi at noon so that I could avoid the morning fog. I automatically assumed that the captain got his numbers wrong or I had heard something different. The minute I stepped out of the flight, I saw smoke running down my nostrils. It took me a few seconds to comprehend this. A minute later, my body almost froze with my throat starting signs of irritation you get when you are struck by the flu viruses. The captain had got his numbers right!! A further 7 hour drive awaited me to Dehradun. Was I going to survive this trip? A shiver ran down my spine, unsure if it was from the cold or from the frightful thought.
The next few days proved to be true to the climate. The sun refused to rise before 7:30 a.m. and decided to set way before 6:00 p.m. to add to the gloomy cold and dank conditions. During my stay, one of the nights actually dipped below zero degrees Celsius. How do people live in such weather? Coming from the warm tropical weather of Hyderabad, this was a total disaster for me.
Day 2 & 3 were better. I guess I was slowly getting acclimatized. While I was able to travel to take up my classes for my training sessions, I did not have the courage to venture out otherwise. The rest of the time was spent in the hotel room with the air-conditioner turned on and the temperature set to a modest 30 degrees Celsius. That was the only way I could manage to survive!!
Being a mountainous area, the main sources of occupation are agriculture and tourism. Given the climatic conditions, the area has abundant fresh vegetables and fruit. The produce found in the markets are fresh and sight for sore eyes. The area also grows plenty of paddy, sugarcane and mustard. The area from Dehradun and further up north is primarily a rice eating area, a little known fact as most people assume that the staple diet in north India is wheat. Abundant rainfall and fertile soil help the people in the area focus on agriculture as a profitable venture.
Tourism is the next big source of income to the state. This happens primarily from two streams, the religious tourists who visit Varanasi, Haridwar, Rishikesh, Gangotri, Yamunotri, Kedareshwar, Gaya etc. and the site seeing variety who like to go to Mussouri, Nainital, Jim Corbett National Park and other such places. Most Indians would know these to be exotic locations with a “must visit before I die” tag attached to them. Truly amazing places to visit (my experiences of these places will follow shortly).
Having come back to Dehradun after a very long gap, I had different visions about what the place had become. I was pleasantly surprised to see the McDonalds, Pizza Huts and KFCs which indicated the kind of changes the city was undergoing. On the other hand, traffic jams caused by buffaloes gave me an inclination of to the kind of resistance the city was putting up to the change and growth. I would like to see more of the resistance win against the growth factor just to have Dehradun maintain it’s rustic charm. Time will tell!!