Done with Delhi, Agra and Fatehpur Sikri, we move on to the next part of our trip – Himachal. I was quite excited as this was one state I’d always looked forward to visiting. This too was part of an organized tour by Panicker’s Travels. We bid adieu to the India Gate which we’re passing by for the umpteenth time. Delhi had been good to us – the summer heat hadn’t set in yet.
We were to travel by a Force Traveller – it was the first trip for the shiny new model mini-bus. The plan was to go through Kurukshetra and then onwards to Shimla. We have breakfast at Haveli, near Panipat. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel a sense of excitement as I see the names of these places which are associated with a lot of history (in our school textbooks at least). It’s like you read something but it’s just a fictional thought in your head. But then you see the place with your own eyes and think – Wow, it really does exist! I guess it’s a kind of positive reinforcement inside the head.
I see a signboard claiming that the road we’re on is NH1. For a person who has travelled a lot across the country, it feels good to have marked different highways. So NH1 – The Grand Trunk Road – is definitely special! We pass through Karnal, the home-town of Kalpana Chawla.
We soon reach Kurukshetra, the venue of the epic war Mahabharata. Our guide is a guy who has memorized a few lines in English to cater to the majorly South Indian tourists. He just kills it every time – amusing because of the fact that there is no dearth in his confidence. Our driver keeps prompting him every time he goes wrong. We arrive at Brahmasarovar Lake.
It’s considered holy to bathe in the water of this lake. It is said that Duryodhana hid under the water of this lake during the war. It is also said that the dead from the war were disposed here. However the water still remained fresh. Many call it a myth as it may seem far-fetched. But then it is up to every individual to decide what he/she wants to believe. From here we go to Jyotisar temple which has been erected at the place where Krishna spoke the Bhagavad Gita to Arjuna. There is a huge old tree below which the main temple has been made. That’s pretty much all there is to see in Kurukshetra. We cross the Kurukshetra University and get back on to the Grand Trunk Road.
We soon get off the NH1 and enter a smaller road. Lunch is at a hotel near Ambala. We’re some place in the middle of Haryana, full of wheat and sugarcane fields as far as the eye can see. It’s a beautiful sight. There are a lot of brick kilns that we pass along the way. Looks like some kind of brick heaven. We soon reach Panchkula where we see the first signs of the mountains beyond. We bypassed Chandigarh as we’d be going there on our way back.
Our next stop is at the Pinjore gardens. It is a seven-storeyed garden built by the foster brother of Aurangzeb. There are fountains all the way from the top to the bottom. It looks like a classic weekend picnic spot for the families of Chandigarh. There are even camel rides and moonwalkers outside the gardens. We leave for Shimla soon as we want to cover the distance before the sun sets.
The mountains begin at the Himachal border and I hold my breath. Finally we were here. The majestic Himalayas again! A toy train starts at Kalka which goes all the way up to Shimla. It’s a 96km journey on the train with over a 100 tunnels along the way. We catch glimpses of the tracks and tunnels along the way. We pass by Solan which has a huge industrial area. Solan was a name I’d seen as the manufacturing location on many of the packs of products we usually pick up – Maggi, Cadbury, Lays. The city on the hillside looks very beautiful. This place is famous for mushrooms and there is even a directorate for mushroom studies here! We have a tea break and eat some insanely over-priced maggi. The landscape keeps changing as we climb up the mountains. The sun sets beautifully in the middle of the sky as is usually the case in hilly areas.
We arrive at Shimla by nightfall and see the beautiful city fully lit. There is a huge Hanuman statue at the top of one of the hills. The temperature had dropped drastically but we didn’t realize until we touched the windows of the Traveller. They were ice cold! I opened my water bottle and it fizzed open – due to the pressure difference. Hahaha! Clearly the pressure at Pinjore was much higher than here at Shimla 😛
When we enter our hotel room, we feel there is something basic missing. Something was wrong with this place. There was no fan! Apparently the weather was cold or pleasant throughout the year in these parts and fans were never required! I don’t waste any time. I get right under the rajai (quilt) and go to sleep!