Places of interest near Hartola (Part 1) – Jageshwar Dham near Almora
I have been to several temples across India, but Jageshwar Dham near Almora is a different experience altogether. A UNESCO protected site,…Read More
The wait for long weekends never seems to end. But then it did…after a couple of months of waiting we were restless again to hit the road. This time our itinerary was Barog – a little-known place in Himachal’s tourist circuit. But then what’s the big deal about going to a place where everyone rushes to? That’s, of course, what we thought till we reached Barog. As usual it was an impromptu decision and so we had to work rather late into the night before the trip to pack our things and make bookings. As I hastily filled the bag with clothes, Deepa was busy making sandwiches for the road. At 6.30 in the morning we were already on NH1 near Murthal when we remembered that we had forgotten the sandwich box in the fridge. So we stopped at one of the many dhabas there and had aloo and gobi parantha with huge dollops of sinful white butter sitting pretty atop them accompanied by tea. Deepa always complains that I never let her drive on the highway so when I went to the washroom, she seized the opportunity and the wheel. After filling the flask we had brought along with masala tea, we were back on the highway again after half an hour’s break.
Although we had decided to have lunch in the hotel we would be staying at, with no fixed agenda in hand we stopped a couple of times on the road either to have tea, biscuits and chips or to click photographs. However, as we passed Parwanoo, our old friend, Timber Trail, was too good to resist. Although we had crossed it by a couple of kilometers, we made a u-turn and stopped there for lunch.
Since Deepa was driving, I treated myself to a couple of beers, while Deepa settled for a soup. After treating ourselves to a good Punjabi lunch of mutton saag, naans, daal tadka, jeera rice and pineapple raita, we were ready for the road again. At about 3.30 we checked-in at Barog Heights, the only decent hotel we could find on the net. Well, the hotel was bigger than we had thought and although the staff was good, the rooms could have been better maintained…but we were not complaining, wanting to hit the sack for a late afternoon siesta.
Our friends find it odd that I carry enough linen wherever I go. But that’s a habit I find difficult to change, not wanting any unpleasant surprises (considering our usually last-minute plans) and so after changing all the covers, we were fast asleep only to be woken up by the ringing phone. It was 6 and the restaurant wanted to know if we would like to have some snacks. We debated on asking for room service as it was pretty warm and cozy after the chill in the afternoon. But then we decided to go for a walk. As we entered the reception area, there was a flurry of activity with people checking in, talking loudly amongst themselves and children playing hide-and-seek all over the place. We went out to breathe in the cool fresh air and were surprised to see the car park full – mostly with cars from nearby Chandigarh and Delhi.
The invigorating air left us hungry for a cup of hot tea and some spicy and crispy pakodas. We placed our order at the restaurant and must admit, the tea was really refreshing. Wrapping ourselves with something warm, we set off on our evening walk. The hotel was atop a hill, so we decided to descend and check what the town (which was just a cluster of shops from what we could see) had to offer. Finding nothing much to interest us, we decided to head back to our room. But the climb was killing…leading sedentary lives in Delhi was taking its toll on us as we huffed and puffed up the winding road. Deepa had to call her mom to give the day’s updates and I wanted a drink. The bar was a small cozy room and absolutely empty. I settled for a beer while Deepa sipped a fresh lime soda and made her calls. By 8.30 we returned to our room and ordered a vegetarian dinner which was just about passable.
With another two days in hand we could either head towards Sarahan/ Kinnaur or back home. Although I was in two minds, Deepa was all for going to Sarahan. After much deliberation, we decided on leaving for Sarahan early next morning. We left Barog early after a hasty breakfast. Many of our friends had warned us that the road to Sarahan was not good for driving on after the monsoons…but the manager at a resort in Sarahan told us that it was in quite a motorable state, except in bits and parts where the road was damaged due to landslides and was being repaired. Although the resort was closed for renovation, the owner was kind enough to give us the phone numbers of a homestay. Deepa called and our booking was confirmed. This was to be our first experience of a homestay and I was pretty apprehensive.
As we passed Fagu, Ras Resorts beckoned us, reminding us of the wonderful trip the year before to Fagu-Mashobra-Naldhera. Although the resort is nothing much to write home about as it is still being renovated, the restaurant however, has an amazing view and one can enjoy the sight of the clouds kissing the mountains and the tall trees. We were hungry and the food did taste good.
As I drove, occasionally stopping to click photos and play in the cold water of the waterfalls near the road, Deepa called our host to take directions. As we neared Sarahan, our hostess, who’s a lecturer in a college in Rampur, asked us to drive up to the Bhimakali Temple, where they would be waiting for us. We reached Sarahan at about 4 in the afternoon, and were met warmly by our hostess and her genial father who happens to be a retired police person. They took us on a tour of this beautiful ancient temple and filled us in on its historical background. The temple is built in the traditional Himachali architecture. Being locals and well-known, our hosts made our visit to the sanctum sanctorum rather easy. At that time of the day, there was no crowd. They would start building up an hour or so later, we were told. There was a bhandara going on at the time, but our hosts told us that we would receive the prasad at home. The advantages of being guests in a homestay were beginning to dawn on us.
After paying our respects to the Gods, we were escorted by our articulate and most pleasant hostess to Anshuman Resorts (CONTACT — email: email@example.com, Telephone: +91-4459086233), the homestay where we would be staying for the night. She gave out a friendly warning that in order to get to the house we’d be staying at, we would have to climb up approximately 100-odd roughly hewn steps through an orchard! We parked our car near the gate and began the ascent dreading the climb. There were small cottages at different levels – one where our hostess and her parents stay, and another that houses her brother’s family. Right on top was the homestay – a quaint and attractive house done in typical Himachali style. The house was pretty big and the hostess, whose smile lit up her face constantly, made us feel at home within no time at all. After showing us around the house and seeing to it that we were settled, she took her leave and we were left amidst the unspoilt beauty of nature with just the sounds of birds and a stray bleat of a goat or moo of a cow. Seemed a little weird after the noisy city existence we’re used to. Without wasting any time we went out into the little garden adjacent to the cottage. We could see apple and apricot trees and patches of corn. On the opposite side, we could see tall mountains covered with clouds and hiding behind them were the snow-covered peak of the Kinner Kailash which is sacred to both Hindus and Buddhists.
Soon we were joined by Dr Kavi Raj, our hostess’s husband. He turned out to be a simple, down to earth, jovial person and before long we were laughing at his witty asides and discussing various things; about Kinnaur, and Delhi among other things. Our smiling hostess was back with steaming cups of tea. It felt as if we had known them for years. Aah, what a wonderful evening that was! Imagine our delight as our hostess’s mother too joined us bringing fruits fresh from the garden and corn roasted on charcoal also plucked from the garden just minutes back.
What made the experience of Sarahan most memorable were our hosts. They complemented the peaceful natural beauty that surrounded the place perfectly. After a couple of hours of a relaxed conversation, they left us to enjoy every bit that nature had to offer till the last lingering rays of the sun.
Blissfully replete with the invigorating experience, we proceeded for dinner in a separate building adjacent to the cottage where we were staying. It was a meal to remember. Our hostess and her sister-in-law had cooked awesome local fare for us. We ate under the vigilant supervision of Dr Kavi Raj who never allowed our plates to go empty, asking our hostess and her sister-in-law to serve us immediately. I still remember a certain dry vegetable dish our hostess had prepared – of chickpea, potatoes, and cauliflower. I can’t recall what it was called, but it was out of this world…I usually exaggerate, but not this time! Deepa even tried it out back home in Delhi, but it wasn’t the same.
After such a heavy dinner there was nothing to do but to hit the shack. I had decided to drive back all the way to Delhi, so we would have to leave early next morning. Our ever-obliging hosts were prepared to wake early and prepare breakfast but not wanting to bother them, we requested them to arrange for a flask of tea in the morning to carry along with us.
It wasn’t surprising to see our hosts up before the crack of dawn waiting with our flask all filled and our morning tea ready to be served. The entire family was up to see us off. We felt terrible about having woken them so early, but they were courteous till the last. They all came down to our car and waited and waved till we disappeared along the winding curves of the sleepy mountains.
Since the road was clear, we covered quite a distance till we found a spot to have our second cup (or rather glass) of tea. That hot cuppa acquires an altogether different taste and flavour in the cool, crisp mountain air. The road between Kufri or Theog and Sarahan runs through apple country, so it was inevitable that we buy crates of apples from one of the many makeshift sheds that line the route.
On the way down, near Parwanoo, as has become a norm with us, I picked up some chicken and mutton pickles.
With each vanishing bend of the mountain we once again bid a silent adieu to the Himalayas as our hearts started sinking with thought of the days to come…Deepa has already started talking about buying vegetables for the week ahead. And once again the countdown has begun…the countdown to the next long weekend!