The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page. ~St. Augustine,City of God

Yes! I would term it as the Wow experience: a trip of a lifetime!

Su has his annual shutdown leave every year for 10 days in December and what better way to spend it than go miles away from your routine life in the city u live. Thanks to Snow God, I could somehow convince my manager to get 6 days leave and all in all, we set off on 21st December 2007. Appraisals were going on then and somehow it had skipped off my manager’s mind that I would be on leave from 21st; Well, I had to remind him on 20th and when we got ready to do it that day night before I could get home to recheck all the packed stuff, the stupid printer came up; well it was like a blessing in disguise to my manager who was already heading home and he said “Y dont u drop in tomorrow morning just for the appraisal meeting?” Ha ha! What can be the worse start for a holiday season? But fortunately, turned out to be a really gud appraisal; that too for one who was just 6 months old in the company [Dont ask me the percentage hike😛 Confidential between me and the HR ;)]. Anyways, headed straight to the airport and off we flew to Delhi. Thank God the airport was in Begumpet then, close to my office
and not way distant from the city in Shamshabad as it is now.

We dint have any plans of Delhi site-seeing this time as we thought mixing everything would leave us with little time to see each. So, Delhi was just our transit point to head to Kalka and board the KalkaShimla toy train. Out of the airport, loaded some petrol into our wailing stomachs and off we went to the railway station and boarded the well-kept Kalka Shatabdhi. Nothing much eventful about the journey(that too being dark outside), but the train was well lit and neatly kept and the snacks provided were really good. Reached Kalka at night and here began the real holiday excitement. Though all our tickets were booked, one thing we had missed out on was the booking for toy train. Happened to read a lot on the net before the trip and each person had a diff view and finally we ended up booking no tickets for the same. Went around in the Kalka Station enquiring about the same and again each person said something different. We were hungry and sleepy but what overrode all was the urge to get the tickets for the train first. The trains leave early morning and one important input we got was that we had to go earlier than the Kolkata mail which arrives in the morning and catch the unreserved seats as they get occupied in a jiffy after the arrival of the same. We had to be there at the station somehow by 4:30 a.m atleast in the morning. Fortunately, we met three boys serving in the railway canteen who got along with us so well that they promised to catch the seats for us in the morning; So sweet of u guys. They also took us to a pretty decent lodge nearby (I donno how to use this word after the lodge with the same name in JWM :P). Anyways, one of they guys also called a nearby dhaba and asked them to prepare some Rotis and Aloo Mutter for us before closing (It was almost the next day; I mean nearing 12:00 p.m). God bless them! We had hardly 4 hrs to go before we could get going and the cold wave had already started pricking the spine. And yes, all the woollen clothing had to come out now: the woolen inners, the leggings, caps, gloves,mufflers,stockings.

Morning and we were off to the railway station. Got into one of the unreserved compartments and settled down; ticket counters were supposed to open at 5 and we thought one of us could cling on to the seats while the other gets the tickets. All in place and the journey began at 5:45 a.m. Simply Amazing: Nature’s question; Engineering’s answer.

Toy train from Kalka to Shimla

The path through the lovely hills with the Shiwaliks trying their best to hide the glorious Himalayas was breathtaking.

We just could not shut down the camera even for once. Getting down from the slow moving train to get Puri-Bhaji for breakfast, sipping a cup of hot tea, everything was an experience. At last, after covering a lot of distance, the Shiwaliks finally gave some room to the mighty Himalayas and we just could not control our excitement. Sounds of snow snow were heard everywhere.
Reached Shimla at around 11 a.m. The railway station was so clean. The only problem we had here was in getting accomodation; foolish enuf that we were that we dint book them online.
Dont ever get deceived by the porters as they carry ur luggage upto the mall road only for a meagre Rs.20 but take u too lodges where they simply charge more and just dont leave u alone even if u give them their money; they abuse u so badly if u dont take rooms in the ones shown by them. Finally, got into one ok-ok type lodge (it cost 1200 but); the same was told to be a room for 1500 when we had gone with the porter. Dropped in our luggage there, relaxed for some time and set out to explore the town. Shimla has some really beautiful buildings . Added to it that Su is a great photographer. He does it so well😉.

The way people carry the luggage in Shimla is amazing; there are no autos here. People carry everything including gas cylinders, bureaus on their back.

Su labelled this snap as “The Common Man’s Christ”


Theres an option of a lift which gets you to the mall road from below and vice versa. Well, we first went to a HPTDC office on the mall road and booked a package for the next day. There wer 2-3 options available and based on our knowledge of the places to visit, thanks to google, we booked one which was to Naldehra(a golf course), Fagu(a beautiful place where the film Black had been shot;Infact, the HPTDC hotel at Fagu was Rani Mukherjee’s house in Black) and Kufri. Then just strolled through the mall road. Its so wonderful that we felt like never leaving Shimla; so clean and the buildings, the town hall, the ancient church were all too beautiful. It was on the next day that we first touched snow on the way to Fagu and believe me, all of us were running around madly. That was to mark the end of our stay in Shimla. Food in Shimla was never a problem with many Vaishnav Bhojanalayas serving good vegetarian food; nice chats available(I just love them; they can be my food for days together) and also a small shop on mall road selling exclusive eggless pastries; they were yummy. The HPTDC hotels also serve pretty good food as we could figure out from what we had for lunch at Fagu HPTDC resort. Pakoras and nice hot steaming tea in the cold, snowy conditions: Sounds like heaven. Reminded me of one song in Kannada “Ille Swarga, ille Naraka; mele enu illa” (Heaven and hell is all here; nothing elsewhere).

The next morning, we boarded the bus to Manali. With each passing day, the trip was just getting better and even to this day, I cannot decide which part of it was the best. The drive from Shimla to Manali with River Beas (read as Byas) on one side and the lofty peaks on the other, with a glimpse of the snow-clad mountains now and then, simply superb.

On the way to Manali

An architectural marvel, there is a 3 km long tunnel on the way. One gud thing we had done was to book our accomodation at Manali in Shimla itself in one of the HPTDC hotels, Hotel Beas. Our room was so beautiful and clean and we the river Beas flowed right adjacent to it.
Open the windows and we could see the snow and the Beas; a treat to one’s eyes. We also had to attend the Christmas eve party that day and it was organised by HPTDC at a club nearby; had a gala time. We were presented the Himachali Topi here on arrival.

And then there was the traditional Himachali dance, a few competitions for couple like statue dance, lemon dance (with a lemon b/w our foreheads) and a lot more.

Kullu folk dance


After the party, we came back to the hotel and having been tired of one bus journey through the twists and turns, we decided to hire a cab for all the remaining days in H.P. The staff at Beas were so homely; they got a nice driver for us, gave us tips on what to see and also booked rooms for us in Dharmshala, Jwalaji and Dalhousie which we were to visit next. May be it was their duty; but the way they presented themselves and given the fact that we had to leave early for site-seeing the next day, they told us koi baat nahi, aap log bephikar hoke nikliye; hum aapka sab reservation karke rakenge jo bhi best rate hai dekhkar, aap baad main paisa de deejiyega. Rest assured, we set out on the next day to Gulaba, which falls on the way to Rohtang Pass; going upto Rohtang pass was not feasible as they roads were blocked. From here onwards, there was no looking back in terms of snow. There was snow everywhere. On the way, there are lot of outlets where u can hire skiing equipment and the attire (1400 is what we paid for the two of us). They also send a guide along who teaches skiing. Yeah, we can also take the Himachali dress on rent here (some 100-200 for couple). I leave the snaps to speak by themselves.


On the way back, we headed to the Solang Valley; just felt there cant be a more beautiful place on earth. Theres also a Sivalinga of ice formed here.


Thanking God that he had given us the goodwill to decide upon HP this time as our Christmas destination, we returned to the hotel suite.

The next day, our plan was to visit Vaishnodevi Mandir in Kullu valley on the way to Manikaran.

Birds eye view of Kullu valley


We bought raw rice and cooked it ourselves in the hot water springs ; everyone in Manikaran has piped connections to their homes form these springs and this is the source of hot water for them; had prasad at the Gurudwara and that marked the end of our sojourn for the day.



With each day being better than the previous, we could not think of anything better. On the way back to Manali, we did some shopping in one of the looms: shawls, sweaters etc … and returned back. Manali is also a nice place for shopping; we found a shop Gulati traders; a kind Punjabi uncle owned the place and he had materials for stitching coats, patiala suits and what not; he sold ready mades too but name a design and select a material, he would get it ready within 24 hrs.
Anyone going to Manali should not miss this shop I feel. Its right on the mall road and easy to locate.

The next day in Manali, we did some local sight-seeing(Hadimba temple, Ghatotkach temple, a local museum etc..) and left to Dharmashala.

Hadimba temple

Ghatotkach temple
 
Bye Manali!

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p style=”text-align:justify;”>Well! Its getting too long but worth it. Let me leave Dharmashala and Dalhousie to be covered in the next post. Do come back😛.