You might have read from my previous post that starting from Saharanpur (U.P.) at 6.00 a.m. by own car, we i.e. my wife, son, nephew and myself reached Kalka at 10.30 a.m. and after leaving the car at the railway station parking, got into Kalka Shimla train in general compartment which looked like Kumbh Mela site within 5 minutes of arrival of Delhi-Kalka Queen at another platform. You have also learnt how historic this narrow guage rail route is. This hillward journey from Kalka to Shimla started at 1.00 p.m. instead of 12.10 p.m. and after crossing 102 tunnels and 988 iron-less bridges, we reached at Shimla at around 8.00 p.m. at an altitude of 2076 meters. No sooner we stepped out of railway platform, a fevikwik type of hotel agent securely stuck to us and could only be gotten rid of after we rejected three hotels and finally checked in at Hotel Victory which is above Victory Tunnel . Please continue…
All the members of my family fell in love with the room at first sight and felt happy that the stay would be a pleasant one. In the meantime, I have been at the window of the room which gave excellent view of several hill ranges across the valley. After settling ourselves in the room, we decided to have a walk and find some good place to eat. At the Reception, the hotel Manager asked us if we would need a taxi in the morning for local sight seeing? We looked at each other and then I said, “May be. What places should we include in our itinerary?” He produced a pamphlet from his drawer and told us that these are the sites he would take you to and these are the rates. Since you are staying with us, we will offer you 10% discount. You would get Indica taxi in excellent condition. As far as I remember, he had told us Rs. 800/- for the full day sight seeing, which appeared quite reasonable to us in view of the itinerary given in the pamphlet. As we learnt later, there is a tendency to include as many places in the list as possible – how-so-ever insignificant or trivial they may actually be. For example, if we go from Shimla to Kufri, they would include five or six locations – all of which are enroute just to make the list substantial. However, we accepted the offer and went out to have a stroll on Mall Road feeling quite elated. Shimla didn’t seem to us costly at all.
It was perhaps 9 p.m. when we reached Mall Road. At that point of time, very few shops were open. Looking at Sagar Ratna Restaurant on our right, all of us agreed without even uttering a word that we will dine there only. For vegetarians who relish South Indian food, Sagar Ratna is like an ISI marked food joint. The dining area was aesthetically pleasing and the food (my favourite Rava Masala Dosa) was yummyeeee! Everything was fine except the air which was over-burdened with very strong incense burning there in front of Lord Ganpati’s idol.
At around 10 p.m. when we came out of Sagar Ratna, it was practically midnight and we marched back to our hotel since there were no street lights also. However, nothing untoward happened and we reached our hotel safely. The taxi was to arrive at 8.00 in the morning. I spent some time reviewing my pics and put the camera battery and mobile on charging and soon we drifted into sleep.
Early morning at around 6 o’ clock, when rest of the family members were still asleep, I attended to daily routine and then decided (as usual) to wander and acquaint myself a bit with the geography of Shimla. The first important thing I discovered was that one didn’t need to go through the Victory tunnel to reach other side of the hill. The tunnel was meant for automobiles only (but you won’t be fined if you do venture into it). There were some lanes to my left which connected to other side of the hill. I walked roughly 1 km. in opposite direction of the railway station and found the Bus Stand there. Wow! I was as happy at my discovery of Bus Stand as Vasco-de-gama must have been after discovering Bharat Varsh aka India! It was enough achievement for the morning and I decided to come back to the hotel room. Early morning Sun peeped into the room and blessed us with its exhilarating and invigorating rays. Technically, these were not first rays of the Sun because when the Sun ascended high enough in the sky to defeat the hills and was able to throw its rays directly into our room, our watch was already showing 8 a.m.
Everyone was found awake when I returned. My wife knows me too well to ask where I have been so early. I went to the window and found a denuded tree across the road and many more which were fully clothed with thick green leaves which I hope were Deodar trees. However, please confirm anyone.
By 8.30 everyone was ready to leave the room for our much awaited sight-seeing of today. We came down at the reception and then found our way to the dining hall. Dahi, parantha followed by tea seemed obvious choice for a quick breakfast. We registered our ‘great disappointment’ at the Reception that the taxi was still nowhere which should have arrived an hour before as promised to us. They told us to enjoy sunshine on the road side and the taxi would arrive within 300 seconds.
When the taxi did arrive, it was an Alto and not Indica but since the condition of the car was excellent and the driver also seemed quite amiable type, we didn’t make much fuss and got into it. Indica offers much more room space but none of us occupies more space than is due, so no issues. After all, we were here to enjoy and not to get irritated every now and then and spoil our mood.
The first thing the driver did was to reach other side of the hill through the Victory tunnel. It seemed to me that unless you pass through a tunnel in Shimla, your journey would be as incomplete as a Hindu marriage would be without Sapt-padi ! A mandatory item on all taxi cars was a rear view mirror fitted at an angle of 45 degree at the back of the vehicle so that driver may see the road immediately below the vehicle through the rear view mirror fitted in front of him. This helps the driver in parking his car in such a dangerous manner that a driver of Indo-Gangetic planes would immediately have a heart attack merely by having a look at it. Not more than 10 mm. space is left between the edge of the road and the rear wheel of the car and delay of just one second would see the car doing somersaults into the valley. Even if you have parking sensors fitted at the back of your modern-generation high-end car, it is useful to detect a wall, another vehicle or some other obstruction only. It can’t tell that there is no road beyond this point. Well!
The driver told us that we were going to Kufri and to start the journey with a good omen, he demanded 500/- to make his Alto satiated with petrol and happily agreed to defer the balance of Rs.300/- till the end of our tour. Kufri, as every human being knows from countless bollywood movies, is a winter sports point where people do skiing during and after snowfall. However, we were going there in the last week of March so no snowfall and no skiing either. Actually, we wanted to know how glamour-less skiing slopes could look when there was no snow to cover their nudity! Kufri is 16 km. ride from Shimla city at 8,600 ft. altitude.
It was perhaps half way up towards Kufri when our driver-cum-guide stopped the taxi and asked us to enjoy that place. When we came out of the vehicle, it was certainly a very strategic location full of countless pine / deodar trees reaching dizzying heights from the valley. He had perhaps named this place as “Silent Valley” or something similar. If one has an eye to appreciate the heavenly charm of panoramic natural landscape, this certainly appears to me a great location to spend a few hours doing nothing except staring at the vast expanse of trees and the endless depth of valley.
Well, we ate some tikki, chhole, fruit chaat besides taking some photographs before settling down in our respective seats in the Alto to continue the tour. The next stop was the base camp of Mahasu where taxi cars are to be parked and the tourist continue either on foot or on the back of mules to reach the Mahasu peak. It may be 2 or 3 km. from the base camp to the peak and the route is muddy and full of loose stones. There are perhaps 500 or more mules serving the tourists by taking them from the base camp to the peak and bringing them back after a few hours. Through some inexplicable magic, they can identify you correctly among thousands of tourists when you decide to come back to the base camp. It is therefore needless to worry as to how you would identify your mule for your return journey. Even if you can’t recognize your mule, your mule will certainly recognize you! And why not? Who would forget his tormentor? The only thing a poor mule is allowed to offer you in return of your loading yourself on his back is some crap which doesn’t smell like fresh roses!
Please don’t ask me what we saw in Kufri because I have been wondering about that myself ever since I returned from there. There was perhaps nothing important to see there in that part of the year. But when I look at the pictures that I took there, well, everyone of us appears to have enjoyed there. It seems we don’t have very tough demands to feel happiness. Almost anything can make us happy! When you are with your favourite people, your happiness doesn’t depend on some external factors. It comes from within. With such mindset you can even laugh away the foul smell of mule’s crap which was in such abundance that through proper use of it, our government can ensure sufficient production of CNG to cater to entire Shimla!
If there is no other reason for you to scale towering heights of Himalayas, visiting a temple at the peak of a hill can be a perfectly valid reason to undertake an arduous journey. We found not only a Fun World up there in Kufri but also a temple with a curiously shaped dome. We also stumbled upon a young couple with whom my wife and nephew had played cards for several hours in the toy train. Since they didn’t have any child yet, we looked at them as honeymoon couple! It proved to be a happy re-union and to celebrate this meeting I clicked some photographs of both families which I emailed to them later.
Among the most noticable things in Kufri were yak and three mobile towers. My wife even fulfilled her desire of aiming gun at me on the pretext of making a pose on yak! Well, on coming back to the base camp, we were told by our Driver Ji to see the nearby zoo also and we honoured his wishes quite dutifully. It was a tiny zoo with tiny beer playing with each other and some more animals like deer and … and …. I don’t know. Whenever I hear the word deer, a sentence springs up in my mind, “My dear, my deer is a dear dear, so it is dear to me.”
After spending several hours at Kufri, we got into the taxi and asked the Driver Ji, “What next?” He took us to the Jakhu temple and in between some more insignificant places also. Jakhu Temple is situated on the tallest peak of Shimla at 8,000 ft. and is the seat of Bajrangbali Hanuman Ji. The Alto had to climb perhaps 700 ft. or more on a dangerously steep road within a short distance of 1.6 mile and when I found with astonishment that it did that successfully, I had to revise my earlier views and felt myself respecting this vehicle much more. God forbid, but it must be very tempting for any vehicle to roll down backward on that road!
Well, after removing our footwear at the shoe locker before starting at 100+ stairs, we were given long sticks along with prasad to safeguard us and our prasad as well. We were asked to be on alert against hundreds of monkeys present there. Well, we employed two-pronged strategy of always staying in group and keeping our sticks (dried branches of some tree) passively visible to the monkeys. Also, we didn’t acquire even for once, any aggressive posture so as to instigate the army of monkeys. Avoiding a direct confrontation with them was the best strategy. I also found a dust bin kept there which I liked very much. I recommended the same to our DM in Saharanpur also for Nagar Nigam. Don’t know if we will have its replicas here or not.
This peak affords a grand panoramic view of Shimla city but not as grand as I had seen from Shankaracharya Parvat in Srinagar which was breathtaking to say the least. After darshan, we consumed prasad almost immediately for fear of monkeys. Why allure them with polythene bags in our hand?
I haven’t been able to figure out till date as to how it happens but my wife seems fitted with GPS system to track down a tea shop within 100 meters. It was no wonder then that the shop at Jakhu temple which was sort of a basement shop with zero ground visibility for the rest of us, was clearly visible to her. She led us to the shop where we happily consumed tea/cold drink and aloo ke pakode.
When we left from Jakhu Temple, it was around 4 p.m. or a little more. The taxi took us to the Lakkad Bazar! What a shame! In our Saharanpur, we don’t use such a deprecating name for our handicraft market as the people of Shimla use for theirs. Through any stretch of imagination, those handcrafted artwares being sold there are not lakkad !!! Lakkad, as everyone knows is fuel wood which is good for nothing except burning to produce heat. A lot of love, pain and artistry go into those pieces of art and calling them lakkad is so demeaning !
Well, the taxi dropped us at Ridge and the Driver Ji said good bye to us after collecting his balance payment. We were advised to spend our evening on Mall Road walking leisurely from this end to the other end near Victory tunnel. Don’t know the cause but somehow I started coughing a lot while taking a stroll on the Mall Road and by the time we reached our hotel, I had high fever and bronchitis. It was really a pitiable night for me although I took medicines, gargles and had applied Vicks on my chest also.
When I ‘woke up’ the next morning, I was not able to utter a sentence because speaking meant coughing. My suggestion to my family to leave me at the hotel and enjoy some more in Shimla was summarily turned down and everyone decided to pack up and leave. The show was over. We packed our belongings, cleared our bills, got into a bus for Kalka and said good bye to Shimla at around 8 or 9 in the morning. My previous day’s discovery of Bus Stand proved handy and we simply walked towards the bus stand instead of waiting for some local conveyance.
By the time we reached Solan, I felt somewhat better and when we got into our car at Kalka, I was nearly normal barring some cough. We found a big dhaba (okay, restaurant!) and stopped for lunch there. With batteries fully charged after meals, I pointed out towards Yadavindra gardens and suggested that it deserved a visit. Pinjor Garden 22 km. before Chandigarh on the Kalka – Panchkula – Chandigarh Highway No. 22 is officially known as Yadavindra Garden. This 7-terraced garden is said to have been built by architect Fidai Khan, foster brother of highly atrocious ruler Aurangzeb in 17th century. Due to neglect of several centuries, when it turned into a jungle, King Yadavindra Singh (Patiala) took up the job of bringing back its old glory and enhanced it further.
The Pinjor Gardens are reminiscent of world-famous gardens of Srinagar, Kashmir. The first terrace is the entrance point and is known as Shish Mahal. There is Hawa – Mahal also on this terrace. The second terrace is known as Rang Mahal (Does Rang Mahal mean theatre or colourful terrace? I didn’t find any colours there.) The next terrace is Jal Mahal and has got the square fountain. It feels great to have spray of cold water occasionally hitting your face – specially in summers! The rose beds below it provide breathtaking view. Although we didn’t go any further down this terrace, we heard that there is an open-sky theatre at the last terrace and the water beds in between.
I read a very disturbing account about this garden quoted in wikipedia from a book by C.M. Villiers-Stuart. She says,
“A quaint story still survives, how, when at length the work was finished, and Fadai came in state to spend his first summer there, his enjoyment of the garden and its beauties was short-lived; for the Rajas quickly frightened him away. In the districts round Pinjor, and in fact all along the foot of the Himalayas, occasional cases of goitre are to be seen; so from far and wide these poor people were collected by the wily Brahmins, and produced as the ordinary inhabitants of the place. The gardeners all suffered from goitre; every coolie had this dreadful complaint; even the countrywomen carrying up the big flat baskets of fruits and flowers to the zenana terraces were equally disfigured.
The ladies of the harem naturally were horrified; it was bad enough to be brought into these wild outlandish jungles, without this new and added terror. For the poor coolie women, well instructed beforehand, had told how the air and water of Pinjor caused this disease, which no one who lived there long ever escaped. A panic reigned in the zenana; its inmates implored to be removed at once from such a danger; and finally, Fadai Khan had to give way, and take his ladies to some other place less threatening to their beauty.
Had it been the terrible Emperor himself instead of his foster-brother, the cunning Rajas would have met their match. But Fadai Khan, thoroughly deceived, rarely came back to visit his lovely gardens, and the Rajas and their fields were left in peace for a time.”
May be our historian friends at ghumakkar have something to say about this.
When we resumed our journey back home, I called it quits and handed over the driver’s seat to Micky and Aditya for driving us back to home safely which they did taking their turns. We touched our home turf at 6 p.m. in the evening. Although our tour had ended almost abruptly, looking back at it, I have only happy memories left with us. The health problem faced by me there was just my bad luck and there was perhaps nothing in food or climate there to cause it. Whatever!
Although I didn’t want it to be such a long post, it has become one. Please excuse me for that.