What do you do when you have time but no plan?
It was September and we had very less time to escape Delhi’s chaos.
We tried planning the whole day.
The places frequently visited in the mountains was not our choice of destination this time, so we decided on taking the best bus available in ISBT (Inter State Bus Terminus). That bus was en-route Chandigarh and we hopped onto it.
Reaching Chandigarh, we did the same exercise of taking the best bus available to wherever.
It was Shimla.
Our lack of planning and its repercussions did not stop there.
Shimla was crowded and full of tourists.
Our idea of escaping the chaos was not falling into place.
We asked around and a cab driver told us about Chail, which had 75 acres of heritage property called The Chail Palce, the highest cricket ground in the world, a sanctuary, a Military school and a Gurudwara.
We took a ride till the Chail Palace Hotel and on that Wednesday we were the only customers.
We had a delicious English Breakfast in the lawn basking the mountain sun and the chilly wind before we were shown our respective rooms.
Till the weekend, there was no one else and the whole 75 acres was for ourselves. We would walk the whole day, climb trees, climb down steps and communicated with echoes.
The Chail town was basic. The normal bus station, chemist, post office, police station, local eating joints and of course the kirana ka dukaaan (grocery store); where you would find everything.
On Saturday morning, the hotel was full of people coming to tour the property. The peace and serenity was disturbed and we packed our bags and moved on to Kasauli.
The cab ride was two hours and on the way, we stopped to eat “mountain chinese” food. Oily and full of MSG we enjoyed every bit.
77 kms away, Kasauli was a cantonment town established as a Colonial hill station by the British.
We were there only for the weekend. A cosy homestay run by an old couple was our base and we relaxed some more before chaos took over again.
The Christ Church is the most distinct feature there. Unfortunately it was under renovation and entry was prohibited.
We took a walk again and as all hill stations are full of day trippers, we went on looking for a spot. We kept walking and walking until we reached a cemetery. Locked and abandoned, it looked worth visiting. We spent the evening there reading everyone’s epitaph. They were mostly British soldiers, with a few Indians, their wives and one child aged 4 months.
We found Fluffy there and he was with us the next two days. He even slept in front of the gate of the homestay we stayed at.
On Sunday afternoon, we took the toy train from Shimla to Kalka in Chandigarh.
Crossing 108 tunnels, this toy train had 15 coaches fitting almost 20 per coach. On a ticket of INR 280 for first class, it had snacks and dinner included. With beautiful sights and delicious train food, the train had one stop where it stocked up for dinner. We reached Kalka at the break of dawn and Chandigarh had never been more calm.
The uncertainty in which the trip started, I was quite startled at all the things I saw there. From being the only residents in a heritage hotel to walking miles, stumbling upon a cemetery and eating lots of food from their ‘patisseries’,this trip reminded me of the value of tranquility and the beauty of following your instincts as we have forgotten our primal nature. The concrete jungles Delhi didn’t scare me anymore.
I travelled in September 2009.
How to reach- Well connected by road from Delhi, you can also the toy train from Kalka in Chandigarh to Dharampur in Shimla.
Where to stay- Lots of cosy homestays and hotels all around in Kasauli. In Chail, The Chail Palace Hotel is the only accommodation apart from the home-stays.
What to do- Photography is a must do and so is walking to explore. The British influenced cafes and pattisseries are a must-visit.