Characters: I, my wife Mukti, my son Aru, my younger sibling couple of Ricky and Arti
Leg 1: Delhi to Chamba: Chamba in Himachal Pradesh, do not confuse with the Chamba near Mussoorie in Uttarakhand, can be reached via Pathankot. There may have been, in fact there is, an easier and direct route too but we decided to explore the beauty of Kangra Valley too so we took Himachal Express till Himachal Una. It is an overnight journey, but don’t remain cozy in the early hours of the next day on your sleeper berths otherwise you will miss the Anandpur Sahib Gurudwara and Bhakra Nangal Dam which are along the railway tracks. Point of caution: no smoking on this route.
Himachal Una is a small but beautiful station. We had our cab waiting, a Mahindra Xylo, which was going to be our rest room for next few days. The driver was Pammi Bhai whose physique was in complete contrast to the size of the MUV.Drive along NH25 till Talwara, NH27 till Jassur and then, via Nurpur on NH28 till Chamba, was picturesque especially with the weather being overcast. The route snails through Pong dam over river Beas [Sorry No photo allowed] and Chamera Dam [over river Ravi]. The reservoir, Chamera Lake supports no aquatic life and is one of the best lakes for water sports.
As we crossed Nurpur we were welcomed by clouds that hung all over the hills and the river. It was as if Ravi, the river had two layers, one of the water flowing and one of the fog that blanketed the river stretch. It was a heavenly experience.
By late evening we were at Chamba and checked in to HPTDC Hotel Irawati which was right in the heart of the city. I should also share that I was bit disappointed that after driving along the beautiful river, one has to leave the trail and climb about 100-150 mts for the city. This takes you away from the river.
The best thing about Chamba is that it never gives you a feel that it is a tourist place because there are not that many tourists. You mingle with the locals, move around in local markets and eat at not so fancy food joints. What’s more, the place goes dead [not literally] after 9 or 9:30 pm and yes, no smoking outside here too.
In the evening we climbed up to Chamunda Devi temple. It dates back to 1762 and it was built by Raja Umed Singh. It is the only wooden temple with a gabled roof in the whole of Chamba. We climbed 378 steps to reach there. I always believe in worshipping in those temples where there is hardly any crowd and this was one of them.
On our return we paid a visit to Laxmi Narayan temple which is supposed to have been built in 10th Century. Luckily we attended the evening aarti. Later we had dinner in one of the local restaurants.
Leg 2: Next morning was dark and it was raining heavily too but by the time we checked out of the hotel, it had come down to a drizzle. Our next destination was Khajjiar and the 24 Kms drive was scenic, with lots of curves and bends and took us nearly an hour and a half to reach there. The time also includes some moments spend at Jai Jagdamba Devi temple enroute. The temple is famous for its 81 ft high Shiva idol.
Suddenly the path [the road] runs into a meadow, Khajjiar, surrounded with tall deodar trees. There is a small lake in between too. There were lot many peoples and the atmosphere was that of a fair amidst dark greens on a cloudy day. Friendly advice, avoid eating here if you can.After an hours stay we were off to McLeodganj. We had our lunch at Dalhousie and by late afternoon our vehicle had lined up in a traffic jam that is expected before McLeodganj. I can assure you that the first sights of the place were very promising. As we crawled into McLeodganj we found it to be a small crowded place with narrow lanes through which all the big cars and SUVs make their way.
Still, it does not disappoint you because of its colorfulness, temples of Lord Buddha, food joints and non Indian-ness. It is one of those places in India where foreigners & Tibetans outnumber the Indians and understandably so, at least apparently. You will have to search for Indian food joints amidst a cluster of numerous international cuisine serving ones. I loved the place for its coffee and cakes.
The rains kept company even the next morning. As we prepared to go for Bhagsunag falls trek we were surprised by the fact that every hotel in McLeodganj keeps a bunch of umbrellas. Once again we lined up in the melee of traffic which took us 2 hours to accomplish 3 Kms drive to Bhagsunag. We trekked Bhagsunag Falls in the heavy downpour and by evening were back through the same traffic.
Return Leg: Next day we had a long drive back to Una, this time through the Kangra Valley. We took brief halts to offer our prayers at Chamunda Devi and Jwala Devi temples.
It was 18th of June and it was still drizzling while we waited for our train at Una station. It was only the next day when we were back in New Delhi that we got the tragic news of the Kedarnath disaster. I was now aware of the reason why the rains never deserted us throughout the journey. We were amongst the mighty hills but little away from the point of disaster. This is life!!! This is nature!!! Love it as long as you are alive!