Monday, 18 November 2013

First Lap of Maiden Himachal Tour – Shimla, Fagu & Sarahan


My maiden visit to Himachal Pradesh in June 2013 went awry midway through the trip and the unforgettable second half of the story has been told in earlier blogs. The first part of the trip being smooth sailing, it is worthwhile recounting it now. Arriving Chandigarh airport from Mumbai in morning of 12th June, expecting a hot and dry weather and not finding it, was a pleasant surprise.  Our hired car driver dutifully came to receive us at airport, hauling a part of our luggage, informed us that the rainfall the day before made the climate pleasant for the trip ahead.  Settling down in front seat of Tavera, with my two travel mates occupying back seat, we were cruising through National Highway NH 22.  We had our first break near a road side eatery after passing through Kalka. We had a bite to eat and picked up some mineral water bottles. Some tourists prefer traveling Kalka – Shimla sector  by rail route to enjoy the toy train ride. 

By 2.15 pm, after a smooth four hours drive, we reached outskirts of Shimla town, with driver announcing that we have reached our first sightseeing place at Shimla – Sri Sankatmochan Hanuman Mandir.  We eagerly disembarked for half an hour break to visit a few temples in a large compound. The view of Shimla town situated in slopes of the hill looked gorgeous.  However, we had decided to pass through Shimla town, taking breaks at a few sightseeing places on way to Fagu for the night halt.

Sri Sankatmochan Hanuman Mandir


Shimla - the summer capital of British India and now capital of Himachal Pradesh, has no dearth of civil construction going on over the years resulting in schools, colleges, reputed educational institutions, hotels and private houses. The busy roads, bazaars and the pine trees lining the roads and colorful houses in hill slope keeps one glued to the scene. Our driver parked the car somewhere near Lakra Bazar and we were asked to foot it out to the Mall supposed to be happening place at Shimla. Window shopping during our walk, we let ourselves in a small restaurant and had Veg. Momos and tea to wash it down.  My two travel-mates made purchase of Himachali cap from shops stocking clothing items. A short walk and we were climbing a narrow gradient towards the Mall. The sheer variety of fresh and juicy fruits by the roadside made us purchase some for our day’s consumption.  The fruit season in summer having started in lower altitudes, the assorted fruits - cherry, peach, plum and apricots from hills and a mix of other fruits like Papaya, Bananas and water melons  from plains; the vendor made a brisk business.

Assorted Fruits


Arriving at Mall we were in a huge open area bereft of any vehicular traffic, humming with various human activities.  The statue of Dr. Y.S. Parmar founder of State of Himachal in a small park is an input to our knowledge base. In the same garden, local photographers were doing brisk business by attiring  tourists in traditional Himachali dresses and taking memorable photo shoot. The tourists, on their part, did not feel shy of giving happy, cheerful poses. 

Dr. Y. S. Parmar statue

 
Memory Photo Shoot












A few good restaurants like Punjabi Rasoi, Goofa and Ashiana  ( Himachal Tourism ) and Ashiana Restaurant were inviting but we resisted our temptation.  However, I could not deprive myself of apple juice drink from HPMC apple juice outlet.


HPMC Apple juice outlet

Shimla Mall View
Walking along aimlessly, like other few hundred tourists, we came across a huge auditorium which was staging shows by magician Samrat Shankar.  The Punjabi Rasoi located in large area was holding a food festival with the list of delicacies luring the patrons which we casually glanced and moved on.  The view of the Shimla town on hill slopes looked charming. The downhill roadside had vendors selling various memorabilia.  We returned back to our car retracing our path through crowded Lakra Bazar, for our onward journey to Fagu for our first night halt in Himachal tour.
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I take the liberty of breaking continuity of my journey recount by including my return journey via Shimla ( so that there is continuity in Shimla story)  taking a night halt at Hotel Meridian. Early morning of 25th June I hired a car to take me to the Upper Bus Terminal for boarding a bus to Chandigarh. A negotiation with the driver for including a sightseeing trip to Jakhu Hill, saw me at the highest location in Shimla town. Before entering through the arched gate to the temple complex, I was warned by the driver to take care of my spectacles, which were prone to be picked by the innumerable monkeys present near temple area. It was drizzling while I took the steps through the tunnel like path. On arriving at the top, one cannot miss the gigantic 108’ Hanuman statue, which was erected in 2010.

 The Jakhu Hanuman Mandir is located by the side of a park in calm and serene environs. A dozen of devotees in early morning climbed the steps of the temple to pay their obeisance to Lord Hanuman. The temple looks to be an ancient one with some smaller structures around it.

Hanuman Statue at Jakhu Hill
  


Jakhu Hanuman Mandir
Finishing my sightseeing, I was in the process to retreating when I happened to see a guy feeding the monkeys in a lawn adjoining the temple. It is a ritual which is followed every morning.  Hanuman being the presiding deity of Shimla, his ‘Vanar Sena’ get some special treatment as well!

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We are on the way to Fagu, about 22 km drive from Shimla. Arriving, we check in our ground floor room in Hotel Apple Blossom managed by HPTDC. This could be only hotel worth staying at Fagu - a sparsely populated hill station. Some avoid staying at Shimla because of it being a crowded bustling capital city of Himachal – akin to staying in a big town in plains.  A few days halt at Fagu enables one  to see all of Shimla driving to and fro yet not taking too much of his time. The large open space in the hotel compound as we come out through side gate is conducive for pleasure walk and see the Himalayas on a clear day. Some take their cup of tea and morning breakfast seated on steel chairs soaking into nature. Down below in lower altitudes, the scenery is enchanting with villages having terraced agri-plots and apple plantations. Some apple plants are covered with nettings to protect the fruits from damage by vagaries of freak weather. The not so distant Jai Ma Durga temple looks imposing which we plan to visit the next day. 

The Apple Blossom
Jai Ma Durga Mandir

                                                                     
Snow View from Fagu

Landscape at Fagu


 The next morning a short walk on the back portion of hotel takes us to a few shops located in a small market place for some purchases. Some distance away we visit the Durga Mandir by going through the arched gate and climbing some steps. We had the darshan of Ma Durga deity through the grilled door which was locked.  The climate looked a little cloudy but rainless; it was a good sign for our onward trip to Sarahan.

By 11 am we were on way to Sarahan a distance of 107 km.  After about  40 km drive on the NH 22 ( also called Hindustan – Tibet  road), we pass through the township of Narkanda. This is yet another place where tourist can stay in peaceful environs in order to escape the crowded Shimla. We included a stay at this place in our return journey  and do some sightseeing as well.  Some distance later, a number fruit bearing trees leaning  by the side of road with ripe fruits tempted us to take a break. The forbidden fruits namely peaches, tasted more sweet and juicier than normal! 

Apple tree
    
Yellow peach

Red Peach
Sutlej valley













By 12 pm we were passing by Sutlej valley, with river Sutlej, flowing down below the terraced fields at various elevations made the view enchanting. 

By 3.30 pm we entered the fringes of Sarahan town. We passed by Bhimakali temple bang in the middle of town and checked in at our allotted room in Green Valley Resort.  The hotel is located in slopes of the hill and we were allotted room in floor minus one. The good portion of Himalayan snow view can be seen by just lying down on bed and glancing through open window. The small balcony gives a view of astounding landscape with abundance of greenery and a few colorful houses.  The cloudy weather notwithstanding, we had fairly good view of almost all the mountain peaks including Srikhand.

Green Valley Resort
Snow View from Sarahan


Bhimakali temple in early morning

Bhimakali temple in evening
We sauntered to the Bhimakali temple compound by evening.  The temples in Himachal have a architecture of their own – a Buddhist influence, shall I say. The temple compound has lodging facilities for tourists. There is a small canteen stocking mineral water, beverages, biscuits and snacks. As customary, we ordered for our dinner in advance. The simple vegetarian meal  turned out to be simple, good and economical.   

Next morning was a good time to take our sightseeing trip to Bhimakali temple, a five minute walk from hotel. The armed security guards, at first floor of temple structure,  ensure that tourists keep all their belongings including bags, wallet, purse, camera and mobile in a free locker provided by temple authorities. Tourists are also required to don a saffron cap provided at same spot, before proceeding to upper floors to visit the temple. 

The Srikhand
Shanti Kunj

Common Hoopoe
 
Yellow Billed Blue Magpie

Still some more time to spend in the morning, I visit The Srikahnd, the single storied hotel run by HPTDC. The hotel looked good with a grand mountain view from back side.  A small walk and we were at Maharaja’s palace, named as ‘Shanti Kunj’. The palace looks imposing but out of bound for the tourists. As we enter the arched gate, the compound has good lawn on one side and apple orchard at the other.  This is where the huge surprise was waiting. Never  thought, I will have extended view of colorful birds like Yellow Billed Blue Magpie and Common Hoopoe right in front of me. It was a great pleasure to capture the activities of the birds in lawns and among the trees for images and videos.
By midmorning we bid good bye to Sarahan for our next destination Rakcham………….

Readers can have visuals of the places visited as per the above blog by taking the following captioned links.

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