On the Kufri-Mashobra Trail

Another of those long weekends peeked around the corner and there was no way we’d let it go waste. We decided on Kufri, and maybe Shimla, although the latter wasn’t an exciting prospect as it has been done to death.
Of course it went without saying that we’d drive up in our Spark. So before break of day (at about 4.30 a.m.) on Aug 14, we were off on NH 24 while Delhi was just waking. As soon as we reached Kundli near the border, it started to rain and that set the tone for our entire trip. Not that we were complaining. It just added to the mood. The sound of the music inside the car matched that of the torrent outside. We hardly encountered much traffic that day – all the way to Chandigarh. We made a brief stopover for breakfast just outside Karnal, at Oasis.

Though not very great, at least one can grab a bite there and the washrooms are pretty decent.
NH 24 is a pleasure to drive on. Yes, there’s still work going on at places, especially just outside Delhi, which seems to be taking a pretty long time.

We didn’t notice much change since the last time we drove on that highway, which was in March, during the Holi weekend.

But why the flyover at Chandigarh’s taking so long is a mystery.

They don’t seem to have made much progress on that stretch, and inching ahead to take a U-turn towards Kalka via Panchkula is a painful affair. We’d reached the outskirts of Chandigarh by 8 a.m., but we lost a lot of time in the jam there. Once we crossed Panchkula, it got better.

Timber Trail (TT) at Parwanoo (just beyond Kalka) is like an old friend by now. We decided to stop there for some mid-morning snack at Mezza9. TT is a popular hang-out and weekend getaway for people from Chandigarh and travelers like us.

Back on the road with the rain for company. It was uphill all the way now, and the view was breathtaking with the clouds hanging low and the vegetation sparkling like jewels in the rain. For most part of the way, the tracks of the toy train run alongside the highway, crossing it at one or two places. We stopped on the way for bhuttas which always taste better in the hills.

A sadhu walking along with a young elephant lost no time in asking for some donation. And all because we stopped to photograph the animal!

The Kalka-Shimla highway is very interesting because it’s dotted with shops and govt outlets selling pickles, juices, wines (peach, rhododendron, pear, etc,), and a host of other interesting stuff. Between Kalka and Parwanoo, on a certain bend there are shops on either side selling pickles – non-veg – which are simply mouth-watering! We found similar shops (though not so many) just outside Dehradun as you begin the ascent to Mussoorie.

We’d been on the highway on earlier occasions but had always turned left towards the small military town of Kasauli after about an hour’s drive from Parwanoo. Kasauli again is a delightfully serene place. Perfect for a quiet weekend. There’s nothing much to see or do there really except to relax and enjoy the quietude.

But that day we continued straight towards Kandaghat and Solan. Both these towns are pretty big, but luckily we didn’t encounter much traffic and the highway is good despite the many landslides we came across en route which were cleared up promptly. While waiting at the railway crossing at Solan, we got a glimpse of the Toy train chugging past. At the outskirts of Shimla we had to ask for directions to Kufri. We were told to take the road to Dhalli through the Victory Tunnel. The problem with hill roads is that they’re narrow resulting in jams especially while going through the town. The good part is that generally people do not jump the queue thinking that the oncoming traffic is magically going to vanish! One has to wait patiently for the vehicle ahead to start moving. Once we took the road to Kufri, things were better. The road was fine except for places where there’d been fresh landslides, but at least there was no hold-up.

The winding road through deodar-covered slopes with the clouds wafting through lent a fairytale atmosphere to the surroundings.

I remember stopping at this particular spot where the road widened enough for us to be able to park our car without causing problems for traffic. I switched off the car stereo. It seemed a sacrilege to pollute that paradise with any sound that wasn’t natural.

Out of this world… is the only way to describe that moment and place. Thick forest slopes of deodar and pine and the whole place alive with the chorus of insects celebrating the rains! We caught it on video.

Before we knew it, we were in Kufri – a small town of a handful of shops. In the winters apparently, the snow-covered slopes in the area come alive with skiers – both novice and pros. Our resort, which we’d booked through ‘yatra’, was a few kilometers ahead, on the main road itself. We were there by 4 p.m. It had taken us almost eleven and a half hours with brief halts of course.

The resort –Ras Resort – is set in beautiful environs and offers a great view.

But to be honest, the place didn’t impress us much and we weren’t happy with the room they gave us although it had a lovely view. Seeing my disappointment, Mintu had a better room arranged for us although that room didn’t have that great a view. For Mintu, of course, as long as there’s cable TV available, everything’s fine!

Since all this had taken up quite a bit of our time, there was no scope for much exploration that evening.

We decided on dining in the restaurant over room service. Good decision, as it turned out. The restaurant was at a lower level and I stopped as soon as I set foot inside. It’s a huge room with wooden floors reminiscent of the days of the Raj. And we were the only diners there.

So the Lord and Lady of the manor sat down for a private dinner. As if on cue, the lights went out. Candles were hastily lit and the setting was complete. But not for long…unfortunately. Other guests started trickling in and from their conversation we learnt that they were being accommodated in this resort as the one they were originally booked in was full – thanks to weekenders like us who’d taken advantage of the long weekend and promptly rushed off to the hills.

The food was fresh and good. We’ve realized that although the menu cards at most places boast of all kinds of cuisine on offer, it’s safer to opt for local fare.

Feeling positively better than we’d been on arrival, we decided to call it a day. But not before making bookings at another resort at Mashobra for the next day. Since we were here only for a day or two, why not pack in as many places into our itinerary as possible? Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz

A panoramic breakfast at Ras Resort and the Mashobra magic in the next post…

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