Done with Delhi, Agra and Fatehpur Sikri, we moved 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 passed 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 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 were to have breakfast at Haveli, near Panipat. Maybe it was just me, but I felt a sense of excitement as I saw the names of these places which were 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 reached Kurukshetra, the venue of the epic war Mahabharata. Our guide is a guy who had memorized a few lines in English to cater to the majorly South Indian tourists. He just killed it every time – amusing because of the fact that there was no dearth in his confidence. Our driver kept prompting him every time he went wrong. We arrived at Brahmasarovar Lake.
It’s considered holy to bath in the water of this lake. It is said that Duryodhana hid under the water 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 went to Jyotisar temple which had been erected at the place where Krishna spoke the Bhagavad Gita to Arjuna. There was a huge old tree below which the main temple had been made. That’s pretty much all there is to see in Kurukshetra. We crossed the Kurukshetra Unviersity and got back on to the Grand Trunk Road.
We soon got off the NH1 and entered a smaller road. Lunch was at a hotel near Ambala. We were some place in the middle of Haryana, full of wheat and sugarcane fields as far as the eye could see. It was a beautiful sight. There were a lot of brick kilns that we passed along the way. Looked like some kind of brick heaven. We soon reached Panchkula where we saw the first signs of the mountains beyond. We bypassed Chandigarh as we would be going there on our way back.
Our next stop was at the Pinjore gardens. It was a seven-storeyed garden built by the foster brother of Aurangzeb. There are fountains all the way from the top to the bottom. It looked like a classic weekend picnic spot for the families of Chandigarh. There were even camel rides and moonwalkers outside the gardens. We left for Shimla soon as we wanted to cover the distance before the sun set.
The mountains began at the Himachal border and I held my breath. Finally I was there. 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 caught glimpses of the tracks and tunnels along the way. We passed 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. Wow. That’s pretty cool! The city on the hillside looked very beautiful. This place is famous for mushrooms and there is even a directorate for mushroom studies here! We had a tea break and ate some insanely over-priced maggi. The landscape kept changing as we climbed up the mountains. The sun set beautifully in the middle of the sky as is usually the case in hilly areas.
We arrived at Shimla by nightfall and saw 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. Clearly the pressure at Pinjore was much higher than here at Shimla!
When we entered our hotel room, we felt there was something basic missing. Something was wrong with the place. There was no fan! Apparently the weather was cold or pleasant throughout the year in these parts and fans were never required! I didn’t waste any time. I got right under the rajai and went to sleep!