In June we planned a small getaway and we zeroed on Shimla. It was not too far off from Delhi, I had never visited it before and there was an emotional quotient too. My father had spent few years of his youth in the city and he was revisiting it after 50 long years.
We reached Kalka after a day long car ride from Delhi. For details to Kalka you can refer to my blog: Bike Ride to Reckong Peo & Sangla. One of us had to drive the car all the way to Shimla while others boarded the narrow gauge train, Shimla Express which has been declared a world heritage now.
Running on only 2 feet wide tracks it took 5-6 hours to cover 97 Kms it has been declared a world heritage. Those who make their reservations for these trains need not to worry as generally these trains wait for the arrival of connecting trains at Kalka if they do get delayed.
The train journey was exotic as it passed through nearly 100 tunnels, green mountains slopes and small but beautiful stations enroute. Initially though I must confess, the first few kilometers do test your patience as the weather is hot, the scenic charm is missing and slow pace of the train is erratic but as the tracks climb and so does the train, the weather changes, the surroundings become green and you start to feel the essence of this 120 years old treasure. By the time you reach Shimla you really long for the journey never to end.
The first sight of Shimla honestly was depressing. Densely populated and understandably so because it is a capitol of an Indian state, Himachal Pradesh it has its own set of problems. It is expensive and with no river near the city, it has acute water scarcity.
The hotels were expensive, even the food joints are relatively few and the street food is nearly non existent, but to my father, our overtones of dissatisfaction were totally unsynchronized and uncalled for. He was as happy as a child as he showed us where he lived, his school, his playground [Annandale Ground] and other places he used to frequent.
Shimla, originally named Simla is located at 7100 ft and was the summer capital off British India from 1864. After Independence it had become the capital of Punjab and later it became the capital of Himachal Pradesh. With a population of around 2 lakhs it still is one of the least populated capitals of a state in India.
Making our way through the Mall Road and climbing up to the ridge, we would sit on the pavement and enjoy the colourful and buzzing crowd. It is good that they have a lift that can transport peoples, who are unwilling to walk, up to the ridge although you have to wait for long in the queue.
Visiting the local Lower Bazar was a walk down the memory lane, literally. Moving from one place to another place of my father’s choice, we were happy traversing along his tales from distant memories.
Next day we drove to Jakhu temple to offer our players to Lord Hanuman. I was surprised to see a towering 108 feet tall idol of the Lord along side the temple. I later learnt that it was erected recently in 2010. The temple is also known for the mischievous monkeys who can take away your prasad or food items, your spectacles or even your footwear.
Legend says that Lord Hanuman stopped here to take rest while searching for Sanjeevani Booti [a magical herb to cure Lord Lakshmana]. Driving up to the temple was tedious but manageable but coming down the steep gradient was unbelievably difficult.
Two days later and itching to move out of the city we were off to Tattapani. Just few kilometers and all the traffic vanished in thin air. The greenery was in abundance and the route exhilarating. After a brief stay at Naldhera [famous for its high altitude Golf Course] we followed the river Sutlej all the way to Tattapani which was 55 Kms from Shimla.
We took a hotel, one of the two there, which was right on the banks of Sutlej. With no tourists there we got two rooms for just Rs. 400 [$6] per night. With the exception of couple of tourists from abroad and occasional visitors who came for having a bath in the hot springs, the place was eternal.
Science can never understand the mystique of the nature. One is astounded by the raging cold waters of the river Sutlej but more so by the fact that if you dig a foot of sand on the banks of the river you get the hot underground water. The food was excellent and we spent the day having leisurely walks and exploring the solitude of the place.
[Piece of personal advice: I have learnt that a dam has come up at that place recently. Avoid going there as the natural serenity is all gone. If you do want to. keep the stay short]
Next day we were off to a place called Kufri which is 50 Kms from Tattapani. Nothing worthwhile there except for some places of interest for kids like zoo and a park. The only thing infamous at Kufri is the man made slush on the road to Kufri so that you are forced to ride a pony. I was in dilemma whether to go with the fact that poor pony masters get some money for their livelihood or be annoyed that they are making fool out of tourists and extracting money from them.
After a brief halt here we were off to Chail. The 20 Kms route was picturesque and through dense forests with occasional sighting of monkeys playing alongside the road.
Chail is a small place away from hustle and bustle. Nestled amidst dense forest at the height of 2250 mts it is much cooler too. In the Evening we visited the Chail palace. It is said that the Maharaja of Patiala was restricted from entering Shimla by Lord Kitchener in 1891 and this incensed the Maharaja so much that he vowed to build the summer retreat for himself and so he built the place [Chail].
We visited the famous highest cricket ground of the world. Enroute we offered our prayers at more than 100 years old Gurudwara Sahib. We also visited Kali ka Tibba [Temple dedicated to Goddess Kali]. The temple newly constructed in white marble was basking in bright sunlight in beautifully lit backdrop of clear blue sky. The temple offers a 3D panoramic view of the surrounding hills.
Drive to the stadium and to the Kali Ka Tibba was steep and not for unskilled drivers [I give a pat to myself]. The return journey was uneventful.