The roads curl and wind through the mountains, but every time I look out of the window, the deodars are there. And so are the conifers and the pines, standing as sentinels, watching every new visitor on the Himalayan roads. While driving around The Himalayas, I hardly feel like I am moving from one town to another. The landscape remains almost the same but I never tire of it
The sun is not always a constant companion but when he peeps out of the clouds, the little streams that are fresh out of the woods and are learning to chart their own courses sparkle in his rays. We stop by one of the tea shops on the way and look down at a meandering stream, brimming with life, seemingly excited about the new path it will take and the discoveries it will make in its journey. Our eyes follow its course, until it disappears below a grove of trees and empties into a valley that will now be its new home for a while.
I am in Himachal Pradesh, leaving behind a very crowded Shimla and heading towards the quieter Mashobra, to the Club Mahindra resort, where it is pure bliss to seek the company of nature in solitude. The mist refuses to part with the mountains and its thin white veil spreads everywhere. Very often, I am asked what does one do in a quiet town and I am always at a loss of words. I do nothing. I sleep, I go for long walks, immerse myself in a book, head to the local market and chat up with the locals or visit the temple in the town. Sometimes, I walk past a little mountain stream, rushing to tell its story to the world, spot birds camouflaging themselves in the trees, see pretty flowers at my feet smiling at me and watch the clouds push the mist away as the sun shines through the ridges. And that is exactly what I did in Mashobra.
It is early morning and my companion, a photography buff is all excited about the golden dawn . She has every reason to be as I wake up gingerly to see the grand spectacle enfold in my front of my sleepy eyes. The dark sheets of the night sky peel off layer by layer, revealing the distant ridges of the mountains . The sky slowly changes colours from black to grey to blue to crimson to orange to a gorgeous gold as the sun announces its arrival . Dawn break is a surreal moment. The canvas in front of me comes alive as the colours change every moment. The mountains seem to smile, welcoming the new day and the birds sing, announcing the dawn to their flocks.
We get on to the roads again, this time, wandering aimlessly around Mashobra, known to house one of the Presidential Retreats in India, a wooden structure built in the 19th century. Located at an altitude of 7000 feet, the pristine beauty of the town lies in its silence. It is a long journey to Kasauli and we enter the town to see a huge cantonment sprawled around us with big bungalows everywhere. We just walk around with the mountains and the forests for company. There is a market, a couple of ancient churches, a temple, an old colonial club and a sunset point, but we are already on the road long before the sun decides to call it a day.
The following day, the mist walks past us. We tread on a simple path where flowers bloom and the red billed blue magpie stares at us from its branch, a little curious and a little angry to have interrupted its solitude. On the way to Chail, we stop by at a small grove of cedar forests. A pair of Himalayan bulbuls calls as we enter the quaint town with an interesting story around it.
The story goes that the Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala made Chail his summer capital when the British barred him from entering Shimla. Although the conflict was not on military grounds, the story goes that the Maharaja was romancing a daughter of Lord Kitchener, who was then the Commander in Chief of the British army.
The Maharaja decided to give the British a fitting reply and went on to create his own summer capital in Chail. He first built a palace near Khandaghatcalled Chail View Palace and thenbuilt a road to Chail and finally his own summer retreat in this little town surrounded by deodar forests. With the Himalayas in the background and the valley beneath, the river flowing down and three dense hillocks covered with deodar forests, Chail looked every bit a royal capital. Ironically Chail itself had been gifted to the Maharaja by the Britishers earlier .
The Maharaja was an avid cricketer and had captained many an Indian team besides playing several first class matches himself . He left Chail a trophy- a cricket ground which has the highest ever pitch located at 2140 metres and it doubled up as a polo ground as well. We are at the grounds, watching a group of school boys play cricket, carrying on the legacy of the Maharaja.
Bowled over by the beauty of the cedar forests along the luxurious landscape , we spend the next few hours walking aimlessly, enjoying the warmth of the sun, looking at the colourful flowers nodding their heads at us, listening to a medley of bird calls, before heading back to the crowded vistas of Shimla.
Although I am more into road trips, if you like trekking in the Himalayas then you may want to trek at Naldhera near Shimla.