A first-hand account that delves into the unsaid, the unravelled and the unexpressed of my recent trip to Palampur that was jointly facilitated by Travel Correspondents & Bloggers Group (a bloggers’ collective) and Himachal Heritage Village (a resort near Palampur).
A Bloodcurdling Scream!
I had barely put my head down on my arm that I rested on the back of the car seat and had just about slipped into a light stupor. Just around then, two things simultaneously happened – the car that was gliding smoothly, suddenly went like a see-saw making loud thudding noises and a blood-curdling scream cut through the silence of the darkest hour of the night. Instantly, the car had screeched to a halt. I woke up with a start and looked around. I could see nothing in the darkness of the night.
Just then, all around me was bathed in milky whiteness that swept through for a split second – the headlights of a passing vehicle provided enough time for my sleepy eyes to take in the surroundings. I found a few shocked faces around me, the driver’s door open and someone who looked like our driver bent double, seemingly to assess the impact of all the thudding a few seconds before. I gathered the scream was from a fellow blogger!
A million thoughts crossed my mind. The one that stuck in my mind was – “It is a good omen; the worst is over.”
We were on our way to Palampur – a small town in Himachal’s Kangra district. The only thing I knew about the place was that an old Aamir Khan starrer Bollywood hit (Raja Hindustani) had been shot here. Our chosen mode of transport was a hired Innova.
Having started our journey in the night, we were nearing Chandigarh when our vehicle was forced off the road on to a section that was dug up for some road upgradation work, thanks to a bullying truck. The combined din created by the automobile and a fellow traveller was the rude alarm that woke me up with a start. The tyre had burst and it took over 40 minutes of struggle in the darkness to change the tyre and resume our journey.
Then on, sleep eluded me throughout the rest of our eventful journey – a journey involving some disappointing breakfast at Una, repairs of the tyre and number plate of the car, another puncture leading to a broken jack, losing our way that got us on to a rumble-strip state highway, which made our journey 40 kilometres longer, and a sleepy driver forcing me to drive the last 50 kilometres to Palampur.
When Palampur said – “Hail, Bloggers!”
We reached Palampur bus stand that was our rendezvous point with our host. While waiting for our host, we stepped out of the vehicle to stretch our tired limbs. Within minutes, we were greeted by a noisy hailstorm. We looked at each other and a smile danced on our collective lips! Even the hill gods were saying – “Hail, bloggers!”
Just then, a phone call informed us of our host’s arrival. Since it was raining, we skipped meeting him there. We glanced around and spotted his white Scorpio. We promptly jumped into our car and turned around to follow him.
Though we travelled for a few more kilometres, yet the rain-washed greenery and the god-created scenery sucked all the tiredness out of us. A few minutes and a few kilometres later, we moved off the tarred road on to a slip gravel track. The drive here needed caution as any loss of focus would have led to an automobile tumble a few hundred feet down the slope.
Soon, a sharp blind turn led us to a clearing that seemed dotted with the idyllic – a few cottages and a small pond, complete with its own duck that was subsequently christened suitably by a fellow blogger as Phoolkumari. The last remnants of our 16-hour journey’s tiredness suddenly evaporated.
Phoolkumari vehemently says ‘No!’ and then jumps in!
Hopping out of the vehicle, we shook hands with our hosts, Gagan and Vijay. They came across as warm people who told us that we were the only guests for the next two days and we could choose our abode from the 7 rooms of the four cottages.
Each cottage had been put together in a unique Himachali architectural style – Una, a 2-bedroom duplex, had a chulha (a mud-stove), Kangra, a large cottage with 3 bedrooms and a living room had a cobblestoned façade and sloping roof, Barot, a one-room wooden cottage was entirely done in wood acquired from Barot, while Khaniara, another one-room cottage, had a distinctive sloping roof, walls done in interleaved stones from Khaniara, a soothing tiny cascade in its bathroom and a set of skylights that ensured ample ambient light inside the cottage.
We freshened up and convened soon after in the restaurant for a late lunch. We had to cross the reception area to get to it. The ambience in this Kinnaur-style structure was comfortably-yet-luxuriously informal. Large windows on two facing walls that were enough to ensure a bright interior throughout the day, a chessboard and a carromboard held a promise of indoor activity if weather forced you indoors (it was inconceivable that you would remain indoors voluntarily, given the all-around beauty outdoors) and the comfortable expansive bench seating provided ample space to the diners to not bump into each other.
We took it easy for the rest of the day. Soon, it was dark and preparations were made to have a bonfire. The gods smiled at our plan like a knowing wise man would on a child’s efforts to create a house of cards, and showered us with a sudden howling rain. Bonfire plan thus scuttled, we confined ourselves to the stilt-covered seating area under the reception-cum-restaurant.
During the course of this pleasant relaxed evening, our hosts (by now, they were three of them – Gagan, Vijay and Mr. Dogra) shared with us the pains they had taken in putting together this unique property. They embarked on this task 10 year ago and the property was ready after a painstaking 5-year effort. It didn’t surprise us, as the efforts were more than evident. We called it an early night and retired to our respective chosen abodes.
A Day Out
Next morning, the call time for breakfast was 7.30 am and the call time for departure was 8.15 am. We left almost on time after instructing our battle-scarred driver to fix the Innova adequately for the return journey.
The itinerary for the day was – Baijnath Temple, Mahakal Temple, Bir-Billing for those interested in doing some paragliding, with a lunch-stop at Surya Hotel in Bir, some shopping and junk-food consumption at Palampur and eventual return to our resort in the evening. The itinerary was slightly modified on our request. Instead of Mahakal temple, we chose to visit Sherabling Monastery, a Tibetan seat of Buddhism established by Dalai Lama for teaching monkhood to aspiring monks; and we also requested for an unscheduled stop at a scenic bridge to capture some images of the famous Kangra toy train.
Barring Palampur, I had earlier visited all the places mentioned above. But the route we were forced to take to get to Sherabling Monastery was gorgeous. The normal road was closed for road repairs so we cut through Bir and backtracked to the monastery. The Chir and pine forest along the route took our breath away. Subsequent to some photo-ops and our visit to the monastery, we made our way back to Bir. Few of us wanted to experience the thrill of paragliding!
While they made their way up to Billing, we waited for them to fly down to the landing site in Bir. The weather was changing every few minutes with grave doubts arising in our minds whether our fellow bloggers would be able to fly. But soon enough, fly they did! Despite our not being able to recognise who is who, we miraculously managed to click the images of our brave hearts.
Also Read about my own brush with Paragliding here: Bir-Billing – Follow the Eagle!
While in Bir, we also managed to meet and catch up with another fellow blogger, Medhavi (who blogs at Ravenous Legs), who had bid goodbye to the corporate world and had decided to settle in Bir. We had all met her for the first time. During our conversation, we discovered that she was in Bir to start an adventure travel company with a couple of her like-minded friends.
Before our return, we also saw another couple of interesting monasteries in Bir, including the iconic Chokling Monastery.
During our return journey, we stopped by to capture some images of Kangra toy train. The location was an arching bridge over a rivulet and the time was around sunset. Our wait was rewarded as we managed some interesting images of this heritage classic!
Once in Palampur, we walked around the small town market shopping for some Kullu hand-woven woollens. Armed with our shopping bags and a victorious smile, we reached the car-park. Here, the crunchiest Jalebis were waiting for us, thanks to our all-knowing, generous host!
This evening did not throw up any weather surprises! We finally did have our bonfire! It was a full-moon night and the dinner was the mouth-watering regional fare called ‘Kangri Dham’. It had been a long day but the photographers in the group were not to be bogged down with mundane stuff like fatigue and tiredness. With dinner out of the way, next hour till midnight was spent in clicking some moonlit shots of this gorgeous property.
Of tea estates and goodbyes!
By consensus, we all spent a lazy morning in the resort since we all wanted to experience what it offered – serenity and close proximity with nature! Finally, shrugging off that laziness, we packed, brought our bags to the reception and set out for the final item on our itinerary – a visit to a sprawling tea estate
During our journey to the estate, we made an unscheduled stop. We had no choice! During this drive, while passing through a desolate, yet scenic stretch, we all gasped and exchanged glances. It was almost telepathic that we together requested for a stop there. About half hour of photo-clicking session later, we finally moved on to head off to the tea estate. I may need to add an image here subsequently, as I used a fellow photographer’s camera here and am still waiting for those images.
The tea estate was scenic, verdant and full of some surprises. The owner of the estate, Rajiv Sud, was a young man who had migrated back from Singapore to run this estate, his wife was carrying a cute infant barely a few months old and then, there was this gentle giant, Bubble, a Saint Bernard who was ambling around the group with no care in the world!
We went around capturing some of the beauty of the estate in our cameras and were treated to some exotic flavours of tea from the estate. The brand it markets under is ‘Himalayan Brew’. After buying some of these unique teas, some of us bade our goodbyes and left to make our way back from this heavenly place to the hellhole we lovingly call ‘Delhi NCR’. We all settled down for our return journey in our car with but one common thought – “We shall be back here sooner than later!”