The Cyan Hills – Day 3, 4 & 5

There was no sleep-in that morning as we had to wake up, be out of the home stay and on our way to be in time for the jungle jeep safaris that begins at around 6. Once again we were a big group of wildlife enthusiasts. The Wynaad wildlife reserve permits only a certain number of visitors in a day. We were lucky enough to be among them that morning.

Going into the jungle we saw some deer, a few receding elephants that trumpeted from the thickets, then later on, peacocks, jungle fowl and just about got a glimpse of a wild goat that disappeared when it heard the jeep approaching. At the entry point into the jungle, a rogue tusker stood by himself creating quite a flutter of excitement among the members of our group.

A silhouette of the rogue tusker. He was still there when we returned after the safari

A silhouette of the rogue tusker. He was still there when we returned after the safari

By now, every one was pretty hungry. We stopped by Jubilee restaurant for breakfast and gorged on Kerala parathas with egg curry, puttu and beans curry along with some good tea.

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From groceries and cattle feed to tooth-brushes…you got everything here

The quiet town that we stopped by

The quiet town that we stopped by

Someone needed a toothbrush, our hostess needed to visit the supermarket, so we all waited on the footpath of the little town watching life go by. Our next halt were old temple ruins. Left in shambles after Tipu Sultan plundered it, there is some restoration work happening at present. A helpful bystander began to describe the concept behind the architecture and reliefs that is modeled around the seven spiritual chakras in the human body as well as the nervous system. The path between sets of pillars on either side leading into the sancta sanctorum represents the spine with the pillars being symbolic of the nervous system.

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The Head Chakra represented by a serpent which neither begins nor ends

The Head Chakra represented by a serpent which neither begins nor ends

The seven chakras depicted on the pillar being explained

The seven chakras depicted on the pillar being explained

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Time has ravaged this monument in its own way

Time has ravaged this monument in its own way

Our next stop was the Edakkal caves. The Edakkal caves (Kal – with a soft ‘l’- means stone) are so called because of the positioning of one humongous rock on an open hill top to create a shelter of sorts. Ancient dynasties have apparently thrived and grown within the safe confines of this space. The highlight were the pietroglyphics of which you find both known and unknown scripts. A couple of guides are available within the caves to answer all queries and even show you around which I thought was a great idea. Mobile phones are not allowed inside and they are pretty strict about it too.

Shopping around

Shopping around

Entrance to Edakkal Cave

Entrance to Edakkal Cave

Views like this one are aplenty

Views like this one are aplenty

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The climb up is not easy at all. But it’s not impossible either. Take  ample breaks while you view the amazing sights and catch your breath. The climb down has been made easier with a proper stairway and as we all know, is harder than going up.

We broke up into many little groups on our way down, with the children and a few adults going ahead sooner than the rest. There were four of us and we decided to try out the bamboo rice delicacies which were on offer.

[Beware of monkeys : Do not carry eatables openly. A monkey attempted to snatch something from us and even snarled when we refused to part with it. And come to think of it, do not feed them either. This will only further tempt them to expect something from everyone who passes by and turn aggressive when that doesn’t happen.]

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For your shopping pleasure

For your shopping pleasure

After this we visited the Regional Agricultural Research Station, the perfect place for those with a green thumb. Apart from saplings of various trees and flowering plants and bushes, many individual  green houses with all kinds of trees and plants, there is a rabbit pen. We spent about twenty minutes there. Then we returned to our cousin’s house for lunch.

We had the rest of the afternoon to ourselves. 2014 was coming to an end. A short snooze and then we were back together partying the night away. A quiet damp blanket of mountain mist  covered us while our very own homespun DJs rocked the New Years eve away. The barbecue night continued with a bonfire and fireworks as a new year began.

We opted to stay indoors most of the next day and took a walk down to our hosts’ home in the evening. It seems many people from the software industry come to Kliff’s View Resort only to spend time in the quiet languidness of the indoors.

On our return the next day, we stopped at a shop hoping to purchase a set of wind chimes. We left with a few wooden toys, some bamboo rice and a lot of other things but not get the wind chime I’d specifically wanted. But do take some time to check out the many shops on the way to Wynaad. You are sure to find something of interest –  spices and oils, bamboo rice and many other things.

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Some pictures taken at Kliff’s View Homestay

In-house coffee beans

In-house coffee beans

Lawn with a view

Lawn with a view

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Ponds to ponder by

Pond to ponder by

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The Cyan Hills – Day 2

Our wake up call that morning were bird songs –  sun birds, jungle fowls and bulbuls were singing morning glories. From not very far away, a woodpecker could be heard tapping away. This was enough incentive for us to emerge from the warm interiors out onto the cooler verandah.

From the suite upstairs, we could hear my cousin and his wife discussing about a large bird they could see from there. Then I saw it too. They asked the caretaker what it was. And he told them it was an eagle hunting for smaller birds. It wasn’t close enough to sight easily though.

A sumptuous breakfast was waiting for us. After that we all got ready to go sight-seeing. A Mini-bus had been arranged for this purpose as we were a group of eleven people. Our first halt was the Banasura Dam. The Dam is a good 2 ½ km long and before you get there, you have to climb up a steep path for about 7-10 minutes. Apart from the beautiful view from there, you can also avail of the boating facility. We chartered a single large boat for the group. The boat ride was about an hour long and we managed to sight a few birds along the way.

It's a long but nice walk

It’s a long but nice walk

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Natural barrier

Natural barrier

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The walk had made everyone hungry. So the next mission was to find a good place to eat. After one false start and the following disappointment, we arrived at Coffee Grove Restaurant. The food was great, the spread was interesting and choices being varied, people ordered various things : fish curry, fish fry and rice, paratha, gobi (cauliflower manchurian), butter chicken and appams.

It had taken us quite some time strolling along the Dam, taking a boat ride and then getting back to the vehicle, along with the time that was spent searching for a suitable place to eat. It was suggested that as there was not enough time to go to Suji Para, we could go to Kantam Para instead [Para means Rocks]

Making a splash

Making a splash

Stones and slopes

Stones and slopes

Bamboo grove

Bamboo grove

Carved out by Nature

Carved out by Nature

Groups of people could be seen everywhere taking a dip in the cool water. There is a sheer drop and a waterfall further down. But most of us preferred to stay on the top. People visiting such places in large groups, and usually younger people, tend to get carried away and underestimate the power of the flow of these rapids and streams. Flash showers are known to result in serious and tragic accidents.  Especial care and precaution needs to be exercised and youngsters are better off under the supervision of a responsible adult or two.

We returned tired and hungry to be greeted with a feast arranged at our cousin’s house. For me there was kan pathiri, egg curry and fried rice, Kerala style.

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The Cyan Hills – Day 1

There are many people I have to thank for making this  a great trip: My cousin who himself was planning to spend the Christmas holidays there and suggested we join in as well; Our hosts for making us at home and treating us to a sumptuous fare even on days when the food was supposedly ‘simple’; the staff of the Kliff’s View Homestay where the caretakers  looked after us well; The driver who took us up nine hair pin bends and stopped at all the right places when we were hungry, and once when we wanted to pick up a few memorabilia.

On the morning of 28th we were packed and ready to quit Trichur where we had spent time with my folks for about eight days. My husband, two kids aged 16 and 12 opted to take a train to Calicut instead of driving down. It’s been ages since I’ve traveled by any train. Time was when trains were the preferred mode of travelling. But with airfares coming down a few decades ago, I think more people opt to fly instead of taking a train. When I was younger, we traveled to Kochi a lot taking a train in the morning and landing up at my aunt’s house at Wellingdon Island by lunch time during a long weekend. On Sunday, we would take another one home post lunch and an early tea, boarding at the starting point and arriving at Trichur before sundown. Vendors would ply the platforms and sometimes they’d get into the train selling tea, coffee, vadas, bhajjis and bananas.

The Satapthi we were taking from Trichur to Calicut was late by almost half an hour. Once the train began chugging along, passing by junctions, homes, smaller stations and wide paddy fields, the vendors arrived as well offering more sanitised versions of all the good old delights and so much more that included soft drinks and packaged chips. Obviously, although we had breakfast before we left, there were many hungry stomachs around. The train halts for a very long time at Shornur junction, in our case it took an hour. Once we left the station, the train gathered speed making up for lost time. We kept Googlemap on and traced our path on it as we either stopped at a few major stations or whizzed by smaller ones.

We arrived at Calicut and our hired cab was waiting for us. Our driver, asked us if we were hungry and what kind of food we preferred. Ironically, my husband opted for vegetarian in a district that’s famed for it’s mutton and chicken biriyani (I’m vegetarian…but just saying)

Pure South's sumptuous 'thali'

Pure South’s sumptuous ‘thali’

We ate at a joint called Pure South that was serving at that time only ‘thali’ meals (this means that you’ll be given a large steel plate with many steel bowls in which they serve various different curries and dry vegetables. This is to be wolfed down with chapatis or rice. You savour all of them and can ask for a refill if you like anything in particular.Usually one or two of those bowls will also contain some sweets). The food served here though was not authentic Keralite and was more like the Udipi fare. It was delicious nevertheless.

Our halt for a quick glass tumbler of chai

Our halt for a quick glass tumbler of chai

Our drive to Wynaad started from here.  Just before the climb up, we pulled over at a tea stall and had the local ‘thattukada’ tea from glass tumblers. After that very short halt, we set off on our journey once again. On the way the driver told us how he believed Coorg was over-rated as a holiday destination. Coorg is just a state border and maybe a few small towns away from thereabouts. And we’ve driven past Wynaad twice on our way from Coorg into Kerala. The roads are scenic especially the climb downhill. He told us that the weather at Wynaad had been particularly warmer that year and I learn something new. If it rains during winter, the temperatures remain higher than normal. Wynaad apparently had unseasonal rains throughout 2014.

Misty Mountains

Misty Mountains

Cloud clothed Hills

Cloud clothed Hills

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Rooted to the ground

Rooted to the spot

Silver Oak sentinels

Silver Oak sentinels

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We went straight to our cousin’s home. We chatted for a while and had tea after which we were shown to the home-stay. We had just about enough time to have another cup of coffee this time, sort our luggage, freshen up, put our feet up a teeny bit and change so that we could go to the house as another cousin had arrived there with his family. But a quick look around and we knew we were in for a comfortable stay.

A taste of things to come

A taste of things to come

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The garden is beautiful and well-kept

The garden is beautiful and well-kept

Cozy comfort

Cozy comfort

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Himachal Pradesh – Day 10 – Bidding farewell to the Hills

Narkanda was only supposed to be a journey breaker, as far as we were concerned. But the place holds a certain charm of its own and is a holiday destination by itself. It was quiet at that time of the year and the weather was pleasant. And we were told that during winter, the place is known for its skiing slopes.

Standing so tall

Standing so tall

The skyscapes never cease to amaze

The skyscapes never cease to amaze

We were glad we took that break instead of heading straight back into the city after the idyllic holiday. We woke up as always very early and took a walk into the nearby town along the highway. Keeping the important rules in mind, facing oncoming traffic and also avoiding walking on the blind side where there are sharp curves, we took in the last of what nature could offer before we bid good bye to the hills. A tiny black and white bulbul was flitting amidst the trees. It was so small that we initially thought it was a baby bird. There were plenty of kites in the sky and far away in the distance, you could see the awe-inspiring Kinnaur range. We got back and sipped cups of hot chai while we continued to watch the mountain range and realised we just could not have enough of it. As we loaded the car after breakfast, our driver showed us the parchment paper he’d managed to gather for use during a marriage ceremony he was to attend. Then he showed us the tree, he’d taken it from. And just before we left, Sid discovered that the bulbul we’d seen was actually a fully grown bird and had fledglings of its own. Soon we began our descent past apple orchards and cherry trees that were in full bloom and  a few months away from the first harvest of lush juicy fruits, the eucalyptus estates and then thousands and thousands of pine trees.

A black and white bulbul

A black and white bulbul

The Kinnaur range still very much within sight

The Kinnaur range still very much within sight

After arriving in Chandigarh, with just the evening to explore the city, we set out immediately after checking into our guest house and dumping our luggage in the room. First we visited the Rock Garden.  This gigantic piece of artwork is a series of three dimensional mazes, sculptures and edifices that have been put together by Nek Chand who was an architect and has extensively used every thinkable industrial and household waste to create this huge masterpiece. So we started out by being slightly unimpressed and as one section led to another and quite sci-fi-ishly inescapable labyrinth unless and until you’d completed each large cubicle of sculptures, we were amazed. Sid who was unfazed by all the awesomeness decided to quit when we arrived at a midway exit point. The three of us continued along the many bridges, waterfalls and narrow and low doorways that sometimes got so small that you had to almost  crawl your way out.

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'Do not write here' unfortunately means the opposite for a lot of people

‘Do not write here’ unfortunately means the opposite for a lot of people

The Lake

The Lake

The Open Hand weathercock

The Open Hand weathercock

We visited the Lake thereafter and opted not to take a boat ride. Then we went to see the giant Weathercock which is actually the open-hand that symbolises Chandigarh. Special permission is probably required to visit the place and on reaching there do make sure you take in the surrounding area where we saw and heard various species of birds. Hoping to do some shopping our next stop was the Chandigarh Mall which is a huge shopping area with plenty of branded stores to pick from. In this Legoland of the Richie Riches, if you are looking for bargains, it may make sense not to shop here.

We  returned to the guest house and were pretty much done for the day, and with the holiday as well.

It was back to Mumbai for us the next day. Back to city life and very much back to reality…

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Himachal Pradesh – Day 9 – Narkanda

The most awesome sight to be seen on these hills is the vision of the sun from behind pristine white peaks, the blue and grey shadows on white creating magic, until the sun begins to glow halo like from behind the peak.  Sitting amidst several such peaks, Sangla Valley is a fairly busy town with a reasonable number of visiting tourists. Having woken up at 4.30, we had a head start and both my better-half and I went for a walk, stopping many a times, taking pictures, posing against the snow-covered mountains and admiring the breath-taking visuals.

Haloed peaks

Haloed peaks

By the time breakfast was done, we were packed and ready to leave. If you google the distances, the time estimated to reach Narkanda is shown as 5 hours. By then, we knew how bad the roads were. Therefore  armed with Ipods and MP3 players we set out on that 8 hour journey.

The journey was quite uneventful but for a minor road block created by shooting stones that took about an hour to clear. In this time, the stones were removed and cars, jeeps and buses began to ply the path while a few soldiers and helpful civilians who kept a watchful eye for when the landslide restarted, beckoned us to drive past quickly. It took us about 3 ½ hours more to hit good roads. From there on, it was smooth sailing and suddenly we realised we were hungry.

Funnily enough, there didn’t seem to be any eating joints in that part of the state. Even as the mood within the vehicle began to change, we finally found a roadside eatery. Amar Bhojnalay it was called. The food was rustled up in a jiffy and the simply awesome vegetarian fare made everyone very happy. By 3.30 we were at our next destination – Narkanda.

Hatu Peak temple

Hatu Peak temple

We left almost immediately for Hatu Peak. The road up to the peak is so narrow, only  one vehicle can ply that way at a time. The roads are thoughtfully provided with niches within the rock so that a vehicle can make space for oncoming traffic, if need be. The Hatu Peak temple in a small shrine atop the hill. Apart from being of religious significance, the view from the peak is beautiful. We returned to the guest house afterwards and spent time on the lawn, admiring the Kinnaur range which we had left hours ago. Somewhere among those awesome peaks, were the various places we’d visited in the last three days.

Off-duty---during peak pilgrim season, horses like these are used mostly to bring people to the temples

Off-duty—during peak pilgrim season, horses like these are used mostly to bring people to the temples

The cloud covered Kinnaur range from a distance

The cloud covered Kinnaur range from a distance

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Finally as the day got over, we packed out bags in readiness for our return to Mumbai. There was a beautiful crescent moon out that evening, as were a million stars. And although we couldn’t have enough of them, we were very tired. It had been a long day. And then there was that thought – our holiday in Himachal Pradesh was coming to an end the next morning.

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Himachal Pradesh – Day 8 – A visit to Sangla Valley

The roof rattled in the wind as a thunder shower ensued. We woke up to the awe-inspiring sounds of heavy rains on the mountains. It passed soon enough and we got ready to leave for our next destination, albeit with a heavy heart.

Sangla Valley was not a part of the original travel plan. It was recommended that we also visit Sangla and cut short our three day stay at Kalpa to two and spend a day in the valley instead when we were in Shimla itself. As always it wasn’t the distances that made the travel time long, but the bad, curvy, and often dangerous, roads.

Leaving the mountains behind

Leaving the mountains behind

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Road to Heaven

The road to Heaven is never an easy one

On our second day at Kalpa, it was recommended to us that since we were going to Sangla, we should visit Chitkul from there.

Chitkul is the last inhabited town before the border outpost which can be visited by civilians. Further on, there is one more outpost which is out of bounds for the common man.

Chitkul

Chitkul

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The entrance to the walk way to the last outpost

The entrance to the walk way to the last outpost

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After a 6-7 hours journey, we arrived at Sangla and left for Chitkul immediately. It takes another two hours from there and the drive as bad on most stretches. A suitable plan had been chalked out even before we left Kalpa. Arrive Sangla, have a hearty breakfast (again stuffed parathas) and leave for Chitkul, take the three hour walk to the border outpost and back, and then have a sumptuous Punjabi meal at Thakur Dabba. Unfortunately we hadn’t carried our rain gear and even as we arrived, it began to rain dampening not only the terrain but moods as well.  Half-hearted attempts were made to convince the children to join us for a walk. Sid then walked off on his own and did some exploring even as hubby and I sipped on scalding hot tea at Thakur Dabba while the clouds pelted us with a mild but chilling drizzle, and by the time we were ready to walk down along the lovely river flowing from the mountains, he was back.  So much for the big plans. In the end, we managed a 30 minute walk down to the riverside and spent a few minutes there, taking in the amazing scenery and admiring the pretty rocks which I was tempted to pick up and carry back with me.

A patch of summer glacier

A patch of summer glacier

Since it was too early for lunch, we decided to return. On the way back, we realised that this seemed to be a favoured place for various camping sites. The area was dotted by many quaint little villages too. We noticed two tiny spots on a particular glacier on the way back and racked our brains trying to figure out what it was…for a pair of fast moving animal it was indeed and they seemed to be engaged  in play. Thereafter topping our list of future travel purchases is a pair of good binoculars. Meanwhile a wild guess we’ve unanimously made is that, those were bears, unless we can go wilder still and imagine those were cats of some sort!

Evening sun

Evening sun

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We took a short drive that evening and although the driver mentioned that we could visit the temple in the vicinity, it was vetoed by the boys. As Sid wanted to go down to the riverside, we tried to find a path towards it and finally gave up as each road seemed to take us further and further away from it. We got back in time for tea. The mood was sombre. The holidays were almost over.

Sailing low

Sailing low

Sutlej River

Sutlej River

That evening I stood outside and admired the clear night sky lit up by a million stars.

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Himachal Pradesh – Day 7 – What Kalpa gifted us

 

From the lawn of the guest house where we were staying, one could see the Shivling atop the peak known as Kinnaur Kailash.  A 1 ½ to 2 day trek can lead you to the Shivling and is visited by many. Although we did not go on the trek, if you look closely, you can just about make out its form. The colour changes from black to brown  to a burnished red as the skyline changes. The mountain peaks themselves are breathtakingly beautiful.

[The Kinnaur Kailash is not the same as the Mt.Kailash in Tibet which is also considered holy but no known attempts have ever been made to climb that mountain]

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We started our morning with a walk down the almost deserted twists and slopes. It made for a good work out what with the initial steep uphill climb itself that must have burnt up a lot of calories. We made up for it at breakfast time with the delicious…what else but stuffed parathas.

After breakfast we went to see the Rogi Suicide point. It is not so difficult to see why it is called that. The fact is that the sheer drop is almost nerve-racking and I had my heart in my throat till we left the place. At a corner of the projection into the gorge is a spot from where you can take a peek into the ravine. Hubby ventured to sit there and take pictures.

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A sheer drop from here to nowhere

A sheer drop from here to nowhere

Rogi Point

Rogi Point

We went further down the narrow road until we reached Rogi village. Homes out here are built in a unique architectural style using wood mostly. Also fascinating was the peculiar tiles used to cover the roofs. The view from here was marvellous as  it is from everywhere in this beautiful village.

A typical Rogi home

A typical Rogi home

Rogi village

Rogi village

Frozen

Frozen

We visited Reckong Peo town after that. A quick Google search revealed that the town is named after a group of people who used to own the place. This pretty little town has a lot of character and is presided over by the statue of Thakur Sen Negi and several quaint old buildings. We visited a local store to pick up some nuts that are similar to almonds but are slightly smaller as well as dried apples. Then we had lunch at a local eatery.

Reckong Peo town

Reckong Peo town

Busy and beautiful

Busy and beautiful

A quick detour on our return journey took us to the Koti Devi temple. It is a beautiful shrine and it being afternoon, was deserted but for a Bulbul that had come to eat the leftover Prasad.

An interesting old structure

An interesting old structure

A field

A field

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Koti Devi temple

Koti Devi temple

You can never have enough of the outdoors but as it began to rain that afternoon, we went to our room to put our feet up for a while. Even as it stopped raining, we decided to go for a walk. I was the last to step out but even as I got ready with my jacket and walking shoes, Abhi scampered into the room, saying, “Come down soon. There is something you have to see.”

We get excited by sights as varied as a tiny beetle, a nesting bird or a descending airplane, so it could have been anything.

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Sky show

Sky show

And yet, the sight that met my eyes was astoundingly beautiful beyond imagination. Stretching out before the magnificent snow covered mountains was the rainbow in all its polychromatic  glory. We stood and watched for as long as the rainbow lasted. We went for our second walk of the day and we took many long pauses to admire the beauty that seemed to surround us every moment in time.

On the edge

On the edge

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Silver streaked stones

Silver streaked stones

The evening ended on a pleasant note even as we packed. There had been a lot of expectations as we left Mumbai for Himachal Pradesh…especially about Kalpa. And I have to admit, we were not disappointed.

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Himachal Pradesh – Day 6 – Beautiful Kalpa

When there are multiple destinations, usually there is bound to be a highlight. There is one place in the entire trip that promises to be better than everything else. For us, it was going to be Kalpa on this trip.

We stopped by the little town of Sarahan that morning after an early breakfast, hoping to pick up some shawls. Fortunately the shops were open. We found a store run by this very soft-spoken salesman who showed us some very pretty stuff. The more popular weave we were told is typical of the Kullu regions.

Kinnouri Shawls

Kinnouri Shawls

After that we began our journey towards Kalpa. We were sufficiently warned. People we know who have visited Kalpa had mentioned that the roads towards our destination were quite dicey most of the times. Sand-slides, landslides and shooting stones(as several road signs on the route warn) are a common occurrence on this route. And frequent heavy rains ensure that the roads are bad most of the time and at points there isn’t even any road. But funnily enough what we didn’t bargain for,  what slowed us down on more than one occasion was not this aforementioned hazards but  humongous flocks of sheep and goat. Many of them were so ravenous that they tried to climb onto the rocks on the side of the road and reach out for the little tufts of grass growing from it.

Road block ahead

Road block ahead

You couldn't rush them, no matter what

You couldn’t rush them, no matter what

After several hours of being on the road, we were even starting to wonder whether we’d get anywhere. Most of the time we were travelling along the Sutlej river, passing by quite a few hydroelectric plants. Somewhere along the way, we saw a  landslide on the other side of the road even as it happened. It is both breath-taking and awesome at one and the same time. Even as we turned into the road that led up to Kalpa, the roads turned narrower and at certain points, an oncoming vehicle required us to back up and make space for it, or vice versa (For this I thank our amazing man-at-the-wheel). Along the roads, stumps of tree roots stuck out precariously and one could only wonder at the immense strength with which they held the soil to remain there. But then again, all it would take was a minor mudslide to dislodge them.

From bad roads to no roads to roads like these

From bad roads to no roads to roads like these

Cruising along the Sutlej

Cruising along the Sutlej

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And then we were there.

And we are there

And we are there

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And to know that whatever we’d seen so far, the beauty, the magnificence were just sneak-peaks of this marvelous sight. The Kinnaur Kailash mountain stood right before our eyes and you can keep staring in wonder and never have enough of it. About half an hour later I went to our room to freshen up. That’s when it began to rain. The wind rattled the roof loudly and it looked like we were going to stay put in the guest house. But it passed within half an hour. The weather though had turned quite cold after the showers.

As rustic as it can get

As rustic as it can get

All afternoon, Sid and Abhi were outside checking out the littler paths and routes around the guest house. By evening, they claimed that they had discovered a walking track, a shorter route to reach a particular point than the usual tarred road. Encouraged by the staff at the guest house, hubby and I went with the boys to walk down these tracks. It is not difficult to see how the local people manage to stay this fit despite their staple diet of stuffed parathas for breakfast. The paths were steep, to say the least, and as always it’s never the uphill climb which is strenuous but the downhill climb which is difficult to negotiate that is tougher.

Later tea on the lawn, watching the beautiful Kinnaur range and a little sparrow that had made its nest in a lamp post pole which had been damaged by strong winds, or maybe snow, made the evening that much more amazing. After that we took the short drive into a nearby town and returned past many apple orchards. We were back just in time to admire the marvelous twilight.

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Himachal Pradesh – Day 5 – Enroute to Sarahan and there

We were prepared for what lay ahead. Some very bad roads, a few treacherous paths but the end result was going to be fabulous. We left Shimla that morning with some idea as to what to expect. Just after we left we stopped by the Kufri Zoo. Enormous yaks stood by the road outside the zoo entrance and for a price one could mount these gentle monsters. We unanimously decided we’d skip it.

The Kinnaur range beckons from a great distance

The Kinnaur range beckons from a great distance

Instead we got tickets and looked around the zoo. There were barking deer, sambar deer, black bears, Himalayan brown bears, pacing leopards, the gigantous Tibetan wolf that looked straight out of a Harry Potter movie, several birds that included the Cheer Pheasant and Monal, and lastly, a whole bunch of very badly behaved and noisy visiting human beings. A very awkward conversation I started with a timid-looking monkey ended when he began to climb the fence and I realised he wasn’t exactly among the caged animals. Worried for my phone and camera as I was, I beat a quick retreat. Although we prefer animals out and open in the wild, this wasn’t very bad either. In fact, little children would love the place.

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A very bored deer

Oh Deer !!!

We started our drive to our next destination Sarahan. The first part of the drive was uneventful and the roads were mostly good. In the far distance, you could see a whole range of snowcapped mountains. The Kinnaur range…and that’s where we were headed. Somewhere along the road, we began to cruise alongside Sutlej river.

The Sutlej river keeps us company most of the way

The Sutlej river keeps us company most of the way

A Hanuman statue guards a temple on the way

A Hanuman statue guards a temple on the way

A taste of things to come

A taste of things to come

Our search for a good place to lunch ended with everyone unsatisfied but truth be told, there weren’t too many eating joints  or dabbas thereabouts. At a place called Rampur, we turned onto a road that took us up along almost narrow roads until we reached Sarahan. In two hours we were there.

For us Sarahan was the ideal stop over before starting our journey towards Kalpa. But Sarahan itself is a charming little town with much to offer. It is mostly known for the Bushahr palace and the famous Bhimkali temple. The palace is supposedly 2000 years old. Entry into the palace premises was not allowed at the time we visited. Apparently it is still in use by the erstwhile royal family of the Himachali kingdom. The temple it seems boasts of a secret tunnel that was used by priests from another village in the olden days.

The Bushahr Palace

The Bushahr Palace

A private shrine outside the palace

A private shrine outside the palace

An amazing view of the town

An amazing view of the town and its Bhimkali temple (right)

Later that evening, we took a short walk into town and looked around.  The apples of the Kinnaur range is supposedly the best in India but sadly it wasn’t apple picking time. A couple of yellow billed blue magpies flit by but it was too dark to get a clear picture. As twilight descended, we went into the inner sanctum of the temple for which one needs to climb to the second level and participated in the ceremony that followed. All in all, it was an ethereal experience. But then I’d never been this close to heaven.

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Himachal Pradesh – Day 4 – Another day in town

A front view of the grand Vice Regal Lodge

A front view of the grand Vice Regal Lodge

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Stairs leading down to a little cell.

Stairs leading down to a little cell.

Once we’d seen the Mall the previous afternoon, we’d considered leaving a day sooner than planned.  I’m glad we stayed back instead.

The next morning we first visited the magnificent Vice Regal Lodge. There is enough and more to admire within those premises and while we waited for the conducted tour to begin, we looked around the sprawling garden admiring the lovely roses and other blooms.

Built during the time of the British rule of India, the massive structure dates back to the 1880s and was occupied by the British Viceroys who ruled the country those days. Look inside and you’ll see beautiful antique furniture, portraits and photographs of much historical import and any bibliophile’s dream, a fabulous library. Photography though allowed in the lawn, is not permitted within the mansion.

Pink and pretty

A little further away from the Vice Regal Lodge, you’ll come to the bird park.Enter this small enclosure and take a walk with different kinds of pheasants and their disciplined brood trooping behind their mater…the cheer pheasant, the Monal bird with its iridescent plumage and even the reserved peacock!!!

Pheasants Caught napping on the job is a Monal bird

We stopped at the State Museum next. With exhibits which date back to as early as the 8th century to modern times, this museum makes for an interesting visit. The building itself was built during the late 19th century. After that we visited the Military Museum where one can walk down the patriotic path and view weapons, photographs, uniforms and even portraits of famous generals and other officers.

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This was followed by lunch at a popular pizza outlet at the Mall. We’d have preferred a good Punjabi meal but the boys wanted their fast food fix. Although the husband and I’d have loved to look around the Mall and visit the library and theatre, we could sense that the boys had had enough of sightseeing. After indulging ourselves with an ice cream treat, we went back to the guest house. The two of us returned to the Mall an hour and a half later, hoping to see what was left of the Mall, but sadly most of the places of interest were closed to public by then. We walked from one end of the Mall to the other and stopped at Ashiana restaurant which has a lovely view of the hills all around. Though we stopped for tea, we ended up having cold coffee and pakodas. The rest of the evening went in repacking and preparing for the next day’s long drive.

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PS : It would make sense to stay in a hotel or resort on the outskirts of the town while visiting Shimla and take a day or two to see the sights there…that way you’d have the best of both worlds.

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