Friday, April 23, 2010


It was a 4 years old dream come true when I along with my wife Vani embarked on a customized 10 days Himachal & Punjab tour by Tata indica Car from Delhi on 5th April’10, arranged by, a Mumbai based travel portal.
SHIMLA-The journey to Shimla started from Delhi, a distance of 370 Kms covered in 8 hours. Immediately after Kalka, when the Himachal Pradesh starts, you are on a mountainous terrain and the journey thereafter is a roller coaster ride every where in Himachal with narrow serpentine roads going up and down never giving you a chance to sit upright! The entire journey offers some stunning views of the mighty Himalayas. Shimla, former summer capital of British India and now a capital of Himachal Pradesh is situated on step like slopes. It’s a pleasure to watch Shimla by night with lights in far flung areas come alive on hills. Evening stroll at the Mall & Ridge is a must. St. Michael’s Cathedral with fine stained glass and Indian Institute of Advanced studies are some of the local places to visit.  The institute was originally called Vice Regal lodge built by Britishers in 1888 where the draft of Indo Pak partition was placed before the great Indian leaders. Kufri , a 30 minutes drive presents a panoramic view from hill top of far flung points like Kailash, Everest, Fago temple etc. Here one can enjoy horse/Yak ride.
MANALI- Manali is 260 kms from Shimla and can be reached in about 7 hours time. A picture perfect hill resort at an altitude of 1929 meters, set amidst pine clad mountains, Beas river flowing parallel to the road ,scattered village hamlets present a beautiful sight. The road passes through a very big tunnel (3 Kms long) cutting across a mountain at a place called ‘Oatt’. It’s a human engineering marvel worth mentioning here. Those with brave heart can go for river rafting at several places on way to Manali.
Manali is a small town where a Tibetan monastery, 450 years old Hadimba temple and Vashist temple hot water spring is situated. However the main attraction is ‘Rohtang Pass’ on the Himalayan range at the height of 3978 meters from sea level. Hats off to Border Roads Organization, who are looking after the roads to clear off the land slide debris and snow from the road. Normally this road opens during April for normal traffic and tourists. Entire area here is covered with snow and one can enjoy skating, skiing, parachute gliding, snow scooter etc to heart’s content. On the way, one can enjoy the thrilling view of the deep gorge through which the river Beas swiftly races. Rudyard Kipling said of this region “Surely the God live here this no place for men”. True and that’s why this region has a number of temples of God and Goddess in every place.
85 Kms away from Manali in Kullu region is Manikaran on the banks of river Parvati. This place is famous for Gurudwara, Shiv Temple and hot spring. The boiling water in the spring will be so hot that a pot containing raw rice gets cooked up in no time and the same rice is served to devotees at the Gurudwara langar.
DHARMSHALA & DALHOUSIE- Dharmshala is 240 kms & 8 hours away from Manali and can be used as transit night halt on way to Dalhousie as there is nothing much to see here except Tibetan Monastery. Dalhousie is another 130 Kms/ 4 hours from Dharmashala. A 45 minutes drive to Khajjiar is one of the most scenic saucer shaped plateau surrounded by dense pine and deodar tree forest. There is a small but dirty lake in the center. There was a 9 hole golf course which does not exists now.
From here our Himachal trip comes to an end and another 225 kms/4 hours drive brought us to Amritsar in Punjab. After visiting the Wagha Border to witness the evening flag retreat by Indian/Pakistani soldiers, Golden temple, Jalianwala Bagh and Durgiana Hindu temple (a replica of Golden temple) and Rock garden, Rose garden & Lake in Chandigarh, we finally returned to Delhi to take flight back to Bangalore.
Photos of the trip can be viewed at the following link: -

The Global warming has not spared Himachal Pradesh also. Every where the days were hot around 30 degrees and only in the evenings and nights the climate used to become some what pleasant and cold. The worm cloths taken by us were never used! So here is a piece of advice to those wanting to visit these places during summer vacations- Its better to plan a visit during fag end of winter rather than summer to enjoy  snow fall and real cool climate. Also, if you plan to go by Bus or Car in summer, better to opt for A/c vehicle for comfort during day journey. The temperature in Punjab was around 38-40 degrees while at Delhi; it was 42.3 degrees, an all time high in the second week of April in the last 50 years!
Being a capital place, Shimla has become too commercial with several hotels with 4-5 floors and resorts coming up at every available space. The traffic on road is so much that one can witness bumper to bumper traffic especially in the mornings and evenings. The parking problem is so acute that one can find cars, trucks, buses and vans parked on hill side at each and every curve away from the town. Thankfully, the Mall road has been spared where no vehicles are allowed including two wheelers.
Himachal Pradesh government is earning huge amount of revenue from the tourism in the state but very little has been done towards the upkeep of tourist spots. At all the places of tourist importance, there were hardly any public toilets. Drinking water facilities were scare and tourist spots were littered with empty water bottles, juice cans, liquor bottles, plastic cups, cigarette boxes and discarded plastic carry bags. No sign boards could be found to keep the place clean and litter free. If no corrective steps are initiated by the Government as well as NGOs now and if traffic situation in Shimla is any indication, things would become out of control in coming years.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Morning Pickers

You have heard of morning walker and flower pickers but who are these morning pickers? If you are an early morning walker, next time watch those ladies and some senior citizens carrying a bag or carry bag with them. Amidst joggers and health freaks, you will observe these bag carrying walkers keeping a sharp eye on road side flower plants in front of houses and bungalows. For a moment they stop, glance around and start picking the flowers in a hurry and sometimes break the branches. They will try to pick as much as possible and quickly move on to the next street or road in search of more such booty. Seldom are they caught and seeking prior permission from the owner does not arise.

Older people trudging slowly with the stick in hand are not so quick like ladies but they too try their luck plucking flowers here and there. Sometimes when the bunch of flowers is inside the compound wall, first they try to climb the grilled compound and then with the help of walking stick in hand try to get hold of the bunch even if it is risky, unmindful of the open storm water drain nearby.

The house owners who are nurturing the plants as hobby and flowers for own use either get nothing or have to be contended with whatever is left out. Sometimes if by chance owner objects, they have stock replies in retaliation- “ This is a public road and trees, plants grown out side the compound wall is public property” or “Why don’t you also pluck them before any body else does” or “ We are plucking them for offering to God, who are you to stop”.  Here ‘Do not pluck flowers’ notice carry no sense.

One should observe the glow and sense of victory when these pickers are able to lay hands on handful of flowers even if it costs mere rupees five if purchased legitimately. At the end of the morning walk, these pickers feel pride in their achievement. After all ultimately, these flowers are offered to the God for prosperity and enlightenment!