I would never have thought of climbing a Himalayan peak, however small, in the coldest month of the Indian winter. And yet, here I was. I would never have thought it possible that I would be hiking around with some of my closest friends, all of together in a nice and small group. And yet, here I was. I would never have thought that I would stay away from these mountains for more than a year, and yet here I was, trying to climb Chandrashila peak(13,000 ft) with 4 other friends, in the middle of January, after a gap of about two and a half years!
It was as if we had ascended above the clouds and had entered the holy territory. Below us, we could see the white carpet engulf the entire valley to our left. I was not sure, if I jump onto the carpet, whether I will land on the cloudy wisps or fall to my death to the bottom of the valley.
This was the Sun god’s territory. Our car had taken an offshoot of the road between Kathgodam and Kausani so as to be able to visit the Sun temple in Almora district of Uttarakhand ( altitude 2116m). After boarding the taxi car at Kathgodam at 5 a.m., we had travelled on the beautiful stretch of the road that would take us to Kausani. After a bit of effort spent in convincing the driver to take us to this 800 years old temple and wasting a little more time in finding the correct bifurcation, we found ourselves on the kacchha road that was climbing up the mountain towards Katarmal Sun Temple.
I have a list of “Off Beat Tourist Destinations” I want to visit while I am in Delhi. Luckily,my mother also has a similar list and we happened to agree that we just have to visit Kasauli on a long weekend.
So the family holiday was meticulously planned and the trio was off on the national highway taking us from Delhi to Shimla.
Kasauli is a 2 hours’ drive ahead of Chandigarh.The mountain line starts appearing after Parwanoo. Byt the time you reach Dharampur you would already have started to encounter winding roads,temperate boradleaf trees on the slopes,a chill in the air and curves of mountains going back further around you- you can then be sure that you are ushered inside the ranges of the Lesser Himalayas.
From a distance, one can spot the neat bunglows of Kasuali dotting the wooded slopes. This cantonment town welcomes you with a clean, crisp air and an oldish charm.
We entered the town, passed the famous Cathedral and after about 500 meters on the road, reached the HPTDC( Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation) guest house, which also goes by the name of Ros Common. It is an old British bunglow converted into a tourist guest house. Everything about it was peaceful. The people, the dogs in the courtyard, the high ceiling rooms with fireplaces in them, the view of the valley and the mountain ranges on one side of the yard..oh boy, this was exactly as I had imagined this to be – Soothing.
Next two days were mostly spent in idly walking along the paths of this town, carved across the slopes of the mountains amidst which the place is nestled. The thing that I noticed most was the bare trees everywhere. They looked beautiful without any leaves adorning their stems.
Kasauli was about soaking in the calmness and the beauty of the place, relieving oneself from the daily urban mad rush. The cathedral and sunrise/sunset points offer beautiful matter for photographs but Kasauli is not about sight seeing or going from one tourist spot to another. Its simply about catching up with yourself or your family or your love interest in a perfect romantic setting. Its about spending hours in a coffee shop, shivering the cold away while mildly swinging to Bob Marley’s lyrics playing out over the steam wafting out of your cup. You can just sit, think, look around and relax that busy mind of yourself.
Its one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited in the Himalayas. Just near Kasauli, also lies a town called Chail (2250 m above msl). Famous for a palace & an air force station, this place is as beautiful but more isolated and hence more peaceful than even Kasauli. The palace of Maharaja Bhupinder Singh, is a lovely architecture to be viewed from inside and it is in the middle of soaring deodars and chir pines. It retains the old grandeur and richness and is a place to be visited and be impressed by. Chail is similar to Kasauli, in that it also is about spending time in nature’s fold. There is a really amazing Kali Maa temple in Chail. I call it amazing because this whitewashed structure is located atop a hill and the marbled floor of the yard was reflecting the sunlight so brilliantly that it gave an aura to the whole place. Whiteness of it all, against the clear azure of the sky and green tops of the mountains surrounding it combined to impress one in a very enigmatic way.
This is the thing about these isolated hill towns. They have a charm and enigma that I find very attractive. They transport me back in time and make me imagine how the same places would have been when the Mall roads used to be peopled by the Brit officers and their wives during their summer retreats. In a way, I am grateful to those Brits cuz one has to admit that invaders or not, they certainly gifted India with some very beautiful hill towns.
I will now let pictures do the rest of the talking.