Shimla is one of the most popular yet conventional hill station in the state of Himachal Pradesh in India. The joy of a walk through the mall road and beholding magnificent hills during the sunrise and sunset has never left a stone unturned to attract tourists from all over the country and world.
But this isn't about the concrete houses in the lap of hills that are an appealing patchwork of green, but about a place, twelve kilometers disparate from the urban.
Just like any other traveller, my friend and I planned a budget trip that would not burn a hole in our pocket. Although the toy train from Kalka to Shimla offers a brilliant scenic beauty of hills, pine forests and gauge through numerous whooping tunnels, we preferred taking a Volvo bus ride to Shimla which took us about seven hours to reach. The highways were in a good shape which couldn’t make our journey anymore pleasant. No sooner the bus crossed the border of Haryana and then Punjab than I realised that a road trip to Shimla can be equally delightful.
Having seated comfortably on a semi-reclining seat, I gazed at the stars while our bus snaked its way up the ribbon-like roads. Every road trip becomes rejuvenating with a soft music on headphones and the narrow valleys outside shining in the city lights and a starry sky. It was six in the morning when we reached Shimla and darkness had not long surrendered, owing to the winter time of the year. We booked a cab to Dhali from where the owner of Ridabhi homestay was supposed to ride us to the destination. The streets were still lit and as we overlooked the valley, we witnessed a beautiful spear of light piercing through the clouds.
Another few kilometers off the road gave us an insightful view of rolling hills and meadows. A stream of fear flew down my veins as we drove through a steep and rutted road. At first, my friend and I were saddened by the thought of a wrecked plan as a daily twelve kilometers drive to the city of Shimla was going to cost us a lot. But who would want to spend their holiday in a hustle bustle of the city when one has a full package of tranquility and a spectacular view right on the front. It’s true that we never toured the city, rather we planned to explore a much off-beat Mashobra. The home stay sits in the middle of Mashobra hills, and where at the top stands President’s retreat.
Day 1: A relaxing time by the day and bonfire by the night
The bitter and fierce cold breeze pierced through my skin but that was a time when majestic semi-naked grandeur on the front made me look into the hidden treasure of joy in obscured hills that are lost on a map. We were warmly welcomed with a hot cup of tea and a platter of home-cooked food which was like a cherry on the top. We enjoyed feasting on delicious North Indian cuisine and later soaked ourselves under the sun only to beat the wintry wind. By the night, each and every guest along with the family of the owner gathered around the bonfire. On a few pegs of rum, everybody shared their life stories. Some talked about their past travel experiences while the elders narrated their life journey till the date. The weather was several degrees cooler but what kept us warm was the sound of laughter amidst dense forest.
View from the Ridhabhi home-stay
Day 2: A seven-kilometer trek to the unexplored hills of Mashobra
At first blush, the owner led us to steep trails through the empty orchard into the dense forest of pine trees tall as a spire. The mountain path ahead grew narrow and was surrounded by the thick coat of deep green competing for the light. There was no trace of civilisation apart from a worn out path. My lungs were filled in with fresh air and the surrounding was so serene that even a little twitch was perceivable. After snaking our way up the hill, we came to a stage when golden beams of light cascaded down through boughs. Whereas on my left, there was a wide and open view of terrace farming. The seven-kilometer trek to the uncharted was truly a beguiling experience. On our way back to the home-stay we stopped by a green pasture, where I preferred taking a rest in the gentle warmth of the sunlight while others enjoyed playing a match of cricket.
The empty orchard
The pine forest
The trails of Mashobra HillsPicture credits: Shivam Srivastava
An open view of terrace farming from the Mashobra hills
Day 3: Celebration of New Year
We drove into the city and spent our evening shopping for New Year celebration and seeing the sights. The walk from the ridge to mall road could have been much better, had the city was little less crowded. Although we captured a glistening view of the sunset from the mall road, we hardly found any charm in the bustling streets and decided to head back to Mashobra.
View of the sunset from the ridge in Shimla
We had a full-fledged celebration, from delectable chicken barbecued on a bonfire to cooking a meal from the scratch. I never have realised before that there could be nothing better than taking New Year’s resolution with unknown souls and begin the year with an unexpected and unplanned trip.
Day 4: It was time to bid goodbye
Our trip had finally come to an end. What made our trip unusual was the presence of enchanting verdure all around us and the warm hospitality of the locals.
Ridhabhi home-stayPicture credits: Shivam Srivastava
The terraced valleys and rutted roads against which are located small villages where shepherds rear animals and livestock have definitely left their imprint on me. Wandering around the orchard and forest was far enough for a glimpse of beauty lying in the easily available solitude. The idea of being away from dreary life, do nothing; just listen to the sound of silence, watch the clouds dragged away by wintry winds and the feeling of being in the lap of untouched nature turned out to be the most unexpected and a beautiful way to start off the New Year.