After our previous trips to Sikkim, Ladakh and Kashmir…my husband Gaurav and I had decided to make a short trip to much - hyped about Himachal Pradesh…
Gaurav was already on his work trip to Delhi. I decided to join him there and then proceed for our trip.
Our trip preparations included visiting our family travel agent (just like family doctor :-). From our previous travel experiences we knew that travel agents cheat us…Period. This trip we decided not to get cheated by these travel agents. We wanted some degree of excitement too….hence we asked him to do our basic bookings….our itinerary (as chalked from Mumbai) went as follows:
March 7, 5 pm: Mumbai – Delhi Flight (ticket booked by the agent)
March 7, 11 pm: Delhi - Pathankot by train Dauldhar express (tickets booked by the agent)
March 8: 11 am Pathankot – Dalhousie (not booked)
March 8 & 9: Stay at Dalhousie (hotel booked by the agent)
March 9: Dalhousie – Dharamshala (journey not booked only hotel booking done by the agent)
Mach 10: Dharamshala (night not booked and free to decide)
March 11: Dharamashala – Manali (spend night in the bus, no tickets booked)
March 12: Reach Manali at 6 am. Stay there for next three days (one night booked by the agent)
March 15: Manali Delhi Bus Journey (booked by the agent)
March 16: Reach Delhi and catch a flight to Mumbai in the evening (booked by the agent)
My constant demand for the break up of each cost irritated the agent. He showed his disgust every time I visited him, but I was determined to not get fooled by anyone this time….. Gaurav was very busy with his work in office so I assumed the arrangers role. I asked the agent to book only one night at each hotel per destination for us. He initially said it was not possible and they had to book all nights…I negotiated with him and finally managed to slip of his clutches for all (except one)days in manali and a couple of nights enroute. I paid him for all the bookings that he did and he reluctantly gave me all the travel documents. All this drama just 3 days before our trip!!!
March 7 2008: On the working Friday, I managed to catch a delayed spice jet flight which further delayed once we boarded the plane… As usual due to my late check-in I was in the middle seat…Our flight was Mumbai- Delhi- jaipur (I do not understand this logic, as Jaipur comes before delhi) My travel companions were a middle aged Maharashtrian lady who was on going toJaipur for her political rally and a south Indian NRI on his way to Nepal for a Himalayan trek. I whiled away my time talking to each one of them in turns as the two absolutely could not mingle with each other! When the time for food (on sale) came I had carried some fruits with me which I proudly ate while others paid exorbitant amounts to eat boring packaged sandwiches and juice. Well finally I landed in Delhi and bid a good bye to the political aunty who would hv to wait for half an hour more and travel backwards to Jaipur!
Met my husband at the airport, sat in the prepaid taxi to Delhi Railway Station and rushed to catch the train to pathankot…..My sweet husband had thoughtfully packed dinner for us to be had in the train….after initial chaos, settled in our seats in the train and had our dinner….while eating the soggy sandwiches, couldn’t help noticing the fragrance of Punjabi aaloo parathans that our fellow passenger group (a large sikh family) were feasting on….We retired to our berths soon after that
March 8, 2008: Woke up at 6 am….Gaurav was already awake …I could see beautiful greenery all around…seems like we were in punjab… vast farmlands, cow sheds and typical fragrance of village mornings…..I heard fellow passengers chatting while Gaurav had his headphones on for some music…. reached Pathankot at 9.45 am.
We carrried our luggage and set out to find the bus stand for our onward journey to Dalhousie. Pathankot was like any other north Indian town, lot of hustle bustle, traffic and loads of eat outs enroute. We walked for 15 minutes to reach our bus stand and poor Gaurav carried almost all the luggage!! We awaited the Himachal Tourism bus for Dalhousie, however, was made to understand that there are private buses and the cost are almost the same. Paid Rs120 per person for the bus ticket and waited for the bus to start which was scheduled at 11 am. We had a fruit breakfast during the wait time. Young girls and women carrying a miniature temple in their hands came to the bus and asked for money…I tried to avoid them, but Gaurav gave in 5 Rs to the eldest of the women for her God…She blessed us saying we would have lots of sons…lol!!!
The overcrowded bus started and we began to roll n rock at every turn the driver took mercilessly…After about two hours or so we stopped for lunch at roadside dhaba. The food was simple and steamingly hot. We were delighted to find spinach sabji and ate a wholesome meal. The bill was hardly around Rs 70!!! Woweie!
I noticed the women were all very fair, had sharp noses and wore bright colours with red lipstick and red bindi. To top it all they had pink cheeks which made them look really stunning…The children had chubby cheeks and brown eyes…they looked ultra cute….
Reached Dalhousie bus stand at about 4.30 pm. Learnt that our hotel (booked by the agent) is a few minutes away on a steep climb. We set out with our luggage to walk towards the hotel. Dalihousie, like any other hill station is on a mountain slope with all the roads whirling like a ghat! I panted at the end of every staircase and Gaurav motivated me to move forward. I was completely exhausted till we came halfway and forced Gaurav to sit on a bench. Gaurav was enthu about clicking snaps of our new destination, whereas I was looking forward to reach the hotel as I had started to feel mild headache by then… En route could see piles of dried snow on the roadsides….was a beautiful site to a Mumbaikar’s eyes, though the snow was mixed with lot of dust making it almost black! It was getting cold too…We reached our hotel Shangrila and were escorted to our room which was the last in line facing a deep valley just below our common balcony…Its then that we realized that we had reached a very high altitude. First task at hand was to have a clean bath (after more than 30 hours). I started experiencing severe headache and rushed to the bed. I began to get convinced that this was an attack of the Acute mountain Sickness (AMS) and believed our whole trip would be ruined…Gaurav woke me at dinner time and forced me to have tomato soup because I didn’t want to eat anything….It was very ,very cold in the room though we had a heater. Gaurav had his full course dinner while I dozed off in the bed as soon as possible. End of eventful day 2 for me
March 9, 2008: Woke up at 7.30 am and ordered tea. I was feeling aright and my horrible headache had miraculously disappeared!!! Yuppiee!!!!! We got ready and decided to take a tour to nearby places. We reached the local taxi union office and were told that the tour would show some 5 points and would cost Rs800! We enquired for a share cab/bus. The taxi union person denied with an irritated look on his face. We decided to search the place on our own for any shared transport. To our dismay there was no public transport available. We went back to him and finally booked an alto for the day. We started on our way to Khajjiar which was about 23 kms from Dalhousie. We had learned that it is like Switzerland of India! We were excited as we had already seen Indian Switzerland in Gulmarg in Kashmir!!!
The narrow road was full of curves. We passed many high profile boarding schools as we left Dalhousie which I had otherwise seen only in bollywood films.
Enroute we saw lovely landscapes of snow filled hills and deep valleys with all the coniferous trees rising tall from these valleys.. It was a breath taking view and I was reminded of the song ‘Yeh hasin vaadinyaan’ from the Mani Ratnam’s film ‘Roja’ … We stopped in between to click a few snaps in the snow. Gaurav was posing for the snaps while I directed him to move backwards…back and thump dhamp!!! He slipped over the dried ice and fell in a small pit! My poor hubby had his entire denim spoilt and had to take off his jacket and tie around his waist for the rest of the journey…I did some skidding on snow slopes along with a group of college students who had come from Madhya Pradesh of an excursion.
Finally we reached Khajjiar. This place was a miniature of Gulmarg (or Switzerland to my dismay) Nevertheless, the landscaping was beautifully done by mother nature to form low broad hills almost like plateaus that were filled with greenery, white snow and surrounded by large coniferous trees. There were tiny manmade bridges over what formed like small lakes. The entire place was a perfect picnic spot carefully drawn by the Natures Artists! There were lovely snow white horses and flock of sheep to make the scene as lively as possible. There were many tourist who had come like to us to visit khajjiar.Some of them were newly wedded couples which I could make out from the new brides’ hand decorated with mehendi and their heavy make-up. I wondered that these couples would be heaven like world where life is nothing but a bed of roses! That’s wat is honeymoon all about…sweet nothings and mesmerizing views.
We started feeling hungry and just then we met a hawker who asked us if we wanted to try his fruit bhel! Fruit Bhel?// how weird is that???? We ordered for one we saw him mixing the freshly cut fruits together with the bhel masala and served us within seconds in paper cones …WOW it was the most delicious bhel of our lives!
Going ahead I had an intense desire to eat sizzling Maggie Noodles in the cool weather and I scanned chaiwalas to know who can offer the cheapest Maggie…Gaurav started ridiculing me that thousands of kilometers away I bargain for 5 rupees!! But that how I am!! Well I ate a sumptuous Maggie meal on the chai tapir and had the most satisfying lunch of the day.Gaurav had his usual dal roti sabji khana in a near by dhaba.
After lunch, we lay sleepily on the plains when a himchali singer from Chamba district came with his weird musical instrument. He sang chamba valley folk songs for us and told us the meaning of the song…he said a himachali wife asks her husband to bring her a nose ring which she has been longing for! He told us that this song had been passed by for generations and generally sung in himachali social gatherings like weddings etc. We were delighted to have a feel of himachali folk culture!
We left Khajjiar with wonderful memories and proceeded on our day trip. Though it was not as fascinating as Switzerland, it had made a special place in my heart that I will cherish forever..
After khajjiar, the other spots seems boring…we went to something called panchpoola where 5 streams meet, one memorial of some famous himachali soldier etc. Only thing worth remembering here was a small tea house that we went for our evening tea.By this time it was getting cold and it started raining…We were freezing…just then we saw a group of people enjoying by the fire place planted in a small metal vessel kept in middle of the restaurant. I sat there as soon as the place was emptied by the previous group and warmed my hands and feet. It was truly blissful to sit by the fire and enjoy the company of some women and children who were locals of Pathankot and come for a weekend trip to Khajjiar! How lucky I thought! Gaurav teased me that I started my Mahila Mandal with strangers there too!
Once we reached Dalhousie we left the car and took a long stroll in the lanes and by lanes of the sleepy hill station. We saw houses that were built in chawl like buildings and locals getting back from work and school in a relaxed manner, unlike our rush to catch local trains and buses in the evenings! What a life!
We retired to our room and ordered for an elaborate dinner with salads and soup. We watched the film ‘Jab We Met’ on the TV and ended our day with high expectations of our tour ahead; especially Manali, as beautifully portrayed in the film!
March 10: We started our day leisurely and set out for Dharamshala.. On reaching the bus stand we learnt that the bus to Dharamshala was only at 12pm….more than two hours to go….we kept the luggage in our bus and went for a long walk to the sleepy lanes of Dalhousie. I saw locals busy in daily chorus like mending their houses, drying their hair in the morning sun, all at a leisure pace! Our bus started at 12.30 pm on it slow ride to dharamshala. We passed by market places ,farms and valleys….again same sites of beautiful and simple women folk and healthy children….The bus took a late lunch break near a dhabba and we again ate Punjabi food of dal, roti, sabsi …Passed many lush green valleys and colourful flowers enroute that reminded me of my journey to my native place in Konkan in Maharashtra!
We reached the busy town of Dharamshala at about 5 pm. I was disappointed to see the crowded roads and herds of people walking down the roads…I thought my holiday was reducing to another version of crowded place like Mumbai! I attempted to blame my travel agent for giving me this itinerary! Gaurav asked me to be patient and see wats in luck! We got down at the bus stand and started the search for our hotel – The Dhauldhar. People gave us directions leading to small lanes leading to more crowded roads…I felt more n more dejected! Just off the main road we entered a small lane that led us to the Hotel The Dhauldhar. It was a Himachal Pradesh Tourism Hotel and seemed to be made up of sturdy stone walls. Seemed good to look at but I was very skeptical! It turned out to be a well maintained property with spacious rooms and all required facilities. We parked our luggage and went to the restaurant for a cup of tea. The restaurant was a valley facing open air verandah. It was a breath taking view from that place with mountains surrounding us and birds flying high up in the air…We were overlooking the entire town of Dharamshala…I instantly came to like that place and started praising my travel agent for booking this hotel! My husband made me realize how impatient and judgmental I can be at times.
We went for a stroll along the road and saw the simple but wonderful town of Dharamshala. We visited small temples which had beautiful idols of almost all deities. We saw a small garden with a toy train for children. Maeclodgunj another town adjoining Dharamshala was 9 kms away. This town was renowned for tibetian monasteries, markets and hang outs. We decided to check out the town the next day. On route we saw many young tibetian boys and girls moving around in groups on the way to maeclodgunj. I guessed that these people must be living in Maeclodgunj and attending schools and colleges in Dharamshala. They stood out conspicuously like foreigners from the local himachali people.We also saw many monks and lady monks on their way to maclodgunj
(Pics will be uploaded soon)