Thursday, November 19, 2009

And one trip led to another..

I spent an unexpected four days in Shimla this September. I ventured into the northern parts of the country for the first time. I saw the capital city for the first time. I saw the Himalayas and snow-capped peaks for the first time. Here's how it happened.
Club Mahindra announced a travelogue contest called 'My Trip of a Lifetime'. The link was passed around quite a bit on Twitter and Facebook and managed to grab my attention on the last day of the contest. I sent in my write up of the Valparai trip along with the pictures I took there. Going by the track record of how my luck has fared in contests like these, I conveniently forgot about it until the results came out. I was pleasantly surprised and deliriously happy of course! This meant more travel, more photography and meeting more people. It also meant that I had to convince my manager to let me go for a full work week. 

Luck still played along as I worked out my leaves and headed out on this journey. Also traveling from Bangalore were contest judges Lakshmi Sharath, a travel writer and Arun Bhat, a photographer and travel writer. The other two winners, Kanchuki and Kongkona joined us in the Delhi airport. Three other judges, Cdr. Satyabrata Dam, a renowned mountaineer, Arun Nair, the editor of Clay and Kiruba Shankar, a blogger and columnist joined us in the Delhi bus station where we boarded an overnight bus to Shimla.

The Club Mahindra Whispering Pines Gables resort is located on top of a vantage point with a lush view of the valley in Mashobra, 15 kms from Shimla. The sunrise that greeted us on the first morning there made sure that I woke up at 5.30 every chilly cold morning just to catch a glimpse of it. And shoot tons of pictures. And look for incredibly tiny, beautiful birds making merry in the golden light. And drool over the mesmerizing view. 

This trip also turned out to be one where I ate. A lot. Starting from the delicious and mouth watering breakfast spread, proceeding to lunch and a scrumptious dinner, I only ate, ate and ate. The sous chef Vikas personally ensured that we were being over-fed and his able group of stewards never let a plate go empty or a cup run dry. I particularly recall Balwinder, who was omnipresent. You just had to look up from your plate and he would appear out of nowhere, offering you more food. The resort manager Monish pulled all strings to ensure that our stay went well. Overnight camping trips, hosted dinners, barbeque in the lawn, packed breakfast boxes for an early morning outing, he took care of everything.

When I took breaks from eating, I did travel around Shimla. The group went to Kasauli the second day. A quiet little town, other than the customary mandir and market, there's nothing else to do or see. The third day took us to Chail, which more than made up for the first day. Chail is a quaint little town with a very old-world charm, partly because there is a ban on new constructions. Long walks in the amazing weather, lunch at the Chail palace, some lovely bird sightings (Eurasian Jay in particular) and walking around the highest cricket ground in the world .. we did it all. We camped out one night. When sweaters, rugs and sleeping bags didn't give any respite from the biting cold winds, we turned to raucous singing well into the wee morning hours. Tributes to Hemant Kumar, Rafi, Kishore and Lata ended with a grand finale of Govinda's 'Tujhe mirchi lagi to main kya karoo.' We trekked back to the resort through the hills in the morning and met an old shepherd who sat with his sheep and a dog in a beautiful meadow. In the evenings we walked up and down the Mall road, eating corn and kulfi and also made a couple of trips to India Coffee House. The visit to the Viceregal Lodge, which I blogged about earlier was memorable. 

The return day journey from Shimla to Delhi gave me a first hand experience of road-travel up north. The lush landscapes of Punjab, massive highways, the lovely city of Chandigarh and New Delhi of course. I am yet to see a city as massive and well-planned as Delhi. The infrastructure took me by surprise and I invariably kept comparing it to Bangalore. 

So, this is how one trip led to another. The best memories of this trip will no doubt be the breathtaking landscapes of the Himalayas. However, I will mostly remember this trip for the people I met and spent time with.
The journey continues. Till we meet again... 

P.S. The pictures I took at Shimla are on my Flickr account. You can view them here.