Thursday, July 12, 2012

Diary of a Traveller: My Experiences : Himachal Pradesh: Day 2 Excursion to Kufri

Giving all respect to Shib Kumar’s request, we got up early in the morning. In chronological definition, it may be called as 7 am ….still its early. It was cold. I was jumping in the bathroom due to cold flooring while brushing my teeth. Anita was dead tired but I managed to wake her up and I knew what would be the immediate demand…a hot cup of tea!
I obliged it instantaneously as I was also getting the KICK for tea. The word kick has been strictly restricted for the harmless beverages.
We headed toward the Palace wing after getting ready to have our breakfast. There was a multi course breakfast but nothing specific and again generic. Curd and Paranthas, Freshly Cut Fruits, Corn Flakes and Milk, Bread, Jam and Butter. Let me again confirm this thing for you. When you are in hills and if you are normally having a good appetite, make the most of it. Your guts behave as black hole for most of the offering on the platter. No wonder I got everything on my plate (TWICE!!) and gulped down a large mug of tea to announce I am happy!
I came out and was cherishing the beauty of the landscape of Woodsville Palace and thought I should click one pic without wasting a moment. Here it is…

We drove off Raj Bhavan Road to enter in the main city. As I described earlier, Shimla looked beautiful at night and really doesn’t make you unhappy in the morning (unless you are from other cleaner hill station!). I stay in Mumbai and I actually feel like admiring every other city looking at the current plight of Mumbai. True, it earns me the bread and butter; but that doesn’t mean that it has stopped stinking. Before I invite wrath of my fellow Mumbaikars, it’s pretty cool and hap city, HAPPY??
My watch as well as Anita’s and Shib Kumar’s and the car’s electronic watch showed that it was half past ten, it felt like it was 8 in the morning. The air was cool and fog was still suspending on the huge deodar trees and sometimes on the road also. I just wanted to fill my lungs with the air so that I can take the reserve back in Mumbai and survive for some another 8-10 months.
It seems that mornings in monsoon are bit lazy in hills. It had drizzled lightly in the early morning. People were just opening their shops. Most of the dhabas had opened the shutters and were serving hot paranthas with curd. People were out for shopping buying fresh vegetables (to be used for that day only J) from vegetable markets. The roads were bustling. Since it was a Saturday, there were many co-travellers who were heading towards Kufri/ Mashobra (must be the lucky Club Mahindra members J)/ Chail or if somebody knows this then Theog! There are many places but one road. Our package was programmed to lead us to Kufri which is actually a skiing haven for winters when it snows heavily (I am just dieing to be here in winters but this year seems unlikely!).
As we moved out of Dhalli, on the outskirts of Shimla, we were greeted by thick greenery covering the hills and valleys by Deodars and Pines. We were just admiring this beautiful nature while we were speeding towards our destination when we heard somebody calling “Sirji! Photo!!”
We anyways had thought of doing a pit stop to savour the nature by our eyes and picked the right spot. No wonder that spot was already picked by a local photographer who would click the photographs of the tourists in traditional himachali attire. Actually, Shimla is one of the favourite honeymoon destinations amongst newly married couples. So he seamlessly got all the customers at the right place. We agreed to get ourselves clicked in Himachali Attire. Anita though wearing himachali attire looked like a postcard Kashmiri girl with the bouquet of flowers in her hand. I don’t want to talk about mine. Unfortunately, those pics are not in digital form!
After the brief session of photography, we proceeded towards Kufri. One important thing to note while traveling in the hills is the unexpected delay due to weather. The roads are narrow and landslides are very common especially in monsoon. So always keep a cushion of time by your side and set out early in the hills. I am telling all these things because we hit a traffic jam just before reaching Kufri. But the jam was not so unpleasant as we were in the lap of nature. August – September is the time when the famous Himachal apples are ready to be transported across the globe and heavy traffic of trucks carrying apples had resulted in traffic jam. Be happy, let the world eat the apple and be healthy!
After the traffic snarl got over, we proceeded swiftly and on our way we saw one hotel management and catering institute and Central Potato Research Institute. Two questions came to my mind…
1.      Why in the past I didn’t generate sufficient interest to study hotel management and catering, by hook or crook, I would have got myself in this institute….
2.      Why did I never consider making my career in analyzing tubers instead of stock markets?
Many questions kept on coming in my mind as I explored Himachal in the coming days. I would talk about them as and when the situation will be described in writing. J
And finally, we reached Kufri. There was a good amount of crowd at Kufri Hill Base. Thanks to the Saturday and Shimla’s proximity to Chandigarh. One has to hire a horse to go on the top of the hills in Kufri that of course comes with a guide. I would say that road towards hill in winter could have been something like a dreamwalk…but ahem….during monsoons, the road is absolutely marshy. If you decide to take a walk in the knee deep mud, you are in a big trouble (or rubble??). So pay the people who will take you safely on the top of hill safe and sound!
The road is very tricky and sometimes you just pray to god when your horse takes you on the edge of the rough road and a deep valley gapes at you. You have to rely on your guide’s instruction. Just one tip from my side…Always lean forward on the back of the horse if you are climbing towards the top and always lean backward when you are coming down.
Finally, we managed to reach the top of hill and was surprised to see the plains at such a height! It was just like a fair though I heard that there is actually no place to stand if you happen to come by summer vacation. Good..we didn’t! There were many people who were getting themselves clicked sitting on Yak. And déjà vu! People were getting themselves clicked in the traditional himachali attire.
We decided to take a stroll as the landscape was very colourful with the vivid flora. One very interesting  thing I have noticed in Himachal Pradesh is the consumption and brand equity of Maggi Instant Noodles. Though I may say that this brand equity is dwarfed by Lipton Tea’s brand equity among Kashmiri Pandits. If you happen to add sugar and milk in the concoction you have prepared, it is bound to labeled as LIPTON CHAI (you better pronounce this way as I have written) by a red blooded Kashmiri. It doesn’t matter which brand (or absolutely unbranded) of tea has been used while preparing the tea…the end product is always ….LIPTON CHAI! Just a small tip….if you happen to be a tea lover and really crave for good taste then I will suggest you to try the Lipton Yellow Label tea. This happens to be the tastiest tea I have ever tasted. And now I don’t wonder about the reason KPs call it Lipton Chai!
We decided to make way for Kufri Fun World, an entertainment complex situated atop the hill. En route, I came across a creature who has terrorized the mankind with sheer presence…Python! But it was tamed and I dared to get some pics clicked with that python. Python is heavy, the skin is not smooth and we can feel its strong muscles when we grip it with our hands. Always get yourself clicked with a tamed python, don’t try this in the wilds otherwise python will be writing a story about you telling how weak the muscles of that human being! J    

Kufri Fun World is a nice place to spend time. There are apple orchards, fun rides, nicely maintained rose garden, a beautiful temple and a breathtaking view available at all angles.We were actually blessed to be in Himachal when the apple orchards had the lovely scent of ripe apples. Me and Anita were ecstatic. I was dumbstruck at the ‘first in the lifetime’ site of apples on apple tree and Anita was nostalgic. I couldn’t take my eyes off this view. Such a beautiful site!

 A new question – Why am I supposed to own a home where I work? I never thought it was necessary and now, after I have been to Himachal, I am 200% sure.I MUST NOT! J
The roses in the garden were so impeccably maintained so that you get an answer to the FAQ…Why roses are red??  And then you have bewildering array of colors in roses along with red. I should not post every pic in the travelogue …you better go visit Himachal Pradesh! J
We were enjoying our time in Kufri Fun World though I couldn’t get the site of the beautiful hills as it was very misty. And then one moment came, before we could realize we were engulfed by clouds. Fortunately, I was not clicking the pics but was shooting the whole process of being in clouds. I really know what it means to be in clouds. We thought it was an appropriate time to have some coffee. It was 2 o’clock and we were still not feeling hungry.
On the way to the restaurant which is situated in KFW, we spotted a Kashmir Emporium and the shopkeeper spotted us. I should not dwell in to what we purchased and what was shown to us. I and Anita just hate anything which has got to do with hunting of animals. Such a rage going on in HP about selling Chingu, a blanket made of silk. The guy tried to convince us a lot but we didn’t. It took us almost an hour there.
We came out of KFW and thought of having some food..we had choice of maggi (instant noodles) and aloo tikkis. Maggi is an all time favourite of us and we normally stack up good inventory of maggi at home but aloo tikki was very tantalizing. Was an easy choice. Served with shredded cabbage and sweet and sour chutney, it is a must have on foggy day on a hill top!
Finally, we bid adieu to this lovely landscape with a promise that we should be visiting this place in winters when it will be snow clad and turns out to be a skiing destination. The descent was not as strenuous as the ascent but was little scary. Finally, we reached the bottom and got settled in our car. Shib Kumar promptly drove to next destination which was again a tourist spot. We had enough of tourists and spots so we asked Shib Kumar to take a U turn and drive towards Shimla. Meanwhile, we felt a ‘pang’ in our bellies..correct! Aloo tikkis were not sufficient. Shib Kumar took us to a restaurant in the nearby area. The restaurant’s name was Sher-E-Punjab. This name always gives you a comfort and invariably, good food! How could we miss Shimla Mirch (Green Bell Peppers) while being in Shimla. Ordered for a stuffed Shimla Mirch with another dish of paneer (cottage cheese) accompanied with pyaaj parantha. I am a fan of this bread now subject to the chef knowing how to prepare it! J
We had our bellies full and it was quarter past five in the evening. The air was getting cooler. How many times have you thought about having a cup of hot coffee after you have had a sumptuous meal? Anita felt we should have it and we thoroughly enjoyed the small cup of Nescafe.
I was actually wondering with every sip that why a Nescafe is not a rage as its sister brand Maggi. Well..doesn’t matter…you must not think about this. Your life keeps on throwing thousands of little moments of joy to you. Just enjoy them. Why dream of being a millionaire? How many people in the world had the privilege of enjoying Nescafe at Sher-E-Punjab in Kufri? That puts me on the top of the world. (Some Hrishikesh Mukherjee fans may say that I have violated copyright dialogues of Rajesh Khanna from one of his best performances in BAWARCHI. But little joys truth was very much known to mankind, isn’t it?)
We started our journey back to Shimla. The landscapes in Himachal are so beautiful that you normally prefer to keep your mouth shut consciously or unconsciously. The fog had started suspending from the deodar trees. It was getting cooler. Shib Kumar was telling us about his experiences in Himachal. He is a preferred chauffer for Cox and King’s Himachal trips. He knows how to drive in these hilly areas in all seasons.
Just when we reached Dhalli, on the outskirts of Shimla, we saw crowd gathering at the edge of road. A car had slipped in the valley breaking the barricades with four passangers. Monsoon makes the road very tricky. We had a very sensational experience on our way to Dalhousie from Dharamsala about the roads. I shall explain that later. You need to be very careful while driving in hills and preferably have an ABS equipped vehicle which ensures higher safety.
On our itinerary of Day 2, we were supposed to stroll on the famed
Mall Road
of Shimla. You would find a road named as
Mall Road
in almost every hill station of North India. I was actually least interested in this part and so was Anita. We were here to enjoy the freedom from the maddening crowd then why to join back the crowd? So after taking the lift which lands you on the way to Mall Road (this is an interesting experience. People of Shimla use to commute to different levels of city by using this lift) and on a Saturday evening, that was bound to be buzzing.
As soon as we reached the exit of the lift, we had two choices, either we cold have lead to
Mall Road
or the opposite direction was directed towards our abode for 2 days, Woodville Palace. We decided to move towards Woodville and must say it was a lovely walk. It was 6.30 in the evening and was getting darker and foggier. We were very tired but still we insisted on walking (and we had no choice) At one point, I think that only me and Anita were there on the road and a very thick blanket of fog was suspended on the road and around the trees. What a beautiful scene it was! I tried hard to capture every possible scene with the help of my camera. The fog was somehow making the task difficult. But managed to capture few good pics. Living in Mumbai, I have been actually longing for such moments. Never in the last 5 years at Mumbai, I have ever felt the need to wear a sweater. Forget the jackets.
As I mentioned, we were damn tired and was relieved to be at the entrance of Woodville Palace. We decided to rest at one of the benches in the garden there. A cup of hot tea is always welcome in such moments. Anita was actually craving for it. Hence, she took the initiative to go to the reception and order for tea.
Woodville’s garden has appeared in few bollywood flicks like BLACK (Fountain with a white statue of a lady) and 3 IDIOTS (Kareena’s marriage scene).
By the time our tea arrived, it had started drizzling. So we preferred to go inside the Palace Wing and sip the tea in a relaxing mood at the ‘Tiger Lounge’.
This area sports three Tiger Trophies which were hunted in the states of Jhalawar, Kota and Bundi (presently all in Rajasthan). I am not comfortable with that. Hence, I’ll skip the discussion. There is also an interesting collection of photographs autographed by the Hollywood celebrities who had stayed at  Woodville Palace at some point. These include Clark Gable, Michael Caine, Tom Cruise, Sean Connery, Brook Schields and Anna Nicole Smith.
We had a small chat with the receptionist who was present there. We spoke about the royal clan to whom the Palace belongs. The guy was very down to earth (which is very typical for the people who live in hills) and spoke to us at length about the royal family and Shimla in general. We were aware that the family stays in the same premises in the restricted area and looks into day to day operations of the palace. While having the chat, phone at the desk rang and receptionist answered, “Yes, Maharaaj!” and we knew who was on line. According to the guy, Shimla may be a wonderful place to stay but may not be a great place to make lives. So they have to move towards cities…I mean big cities! Sometimes I wonder over a fictitious (or may be a real) situation where an unlucky has left everything in the beautiful town to make it big in big city and returns as a TOURIST to his hometown. Our teas were finished by this time and the drizzle had subsided. We decided to move back to our suite.
In the meanwhile, we were summoned by the program director, Mr. Shib Kumar for being ready by 9 AM as we were heading to Manali. We had our bellies full with the late lunch (or early dinner??) at 5 pm helped with generous amount of tea and coffee. We decided to skip our dinner and go to sleep. The calm in the night is so relaxing that you are just out of the world.
People have many views about Shimla. Most people I heard were very critical about the buzz, the infrastructure etc etc. I am in total disagreement with these people. Its not Shimla’s fault to be in proximity of big cities like Chandigarh and Delhi and to be in the purview of the roving eyes of land sharks. This lovely city still maintains its innocence which is apparent on the faces of the people who stay here. These people are happy with what they are doing and what they are up to. They are fine with a basic breakfast of Dahi and Parantha and need nor cringe about a seven course breakfast. They don’t belong to the community of people who dare to call food “F**k All” if they don’t like it. These people need not crave to be staying in the high-rises. They are naturally placed on the top of the world. There is no high-headedness, there is no pomp, nothing grotesque. Just simple, humble and lovely people as the weather is. J I don’t think I have got the intellect to see flaws in these people, this weather and this city. Himachal always had a special place in my heart and this position was strengthened by my first visit to Shimla. I knew that I had started heavenly journey on the earth itself. The night was getting cooler and calmer and I surrendered myself to Nidra Devi.

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