Sunday, 10 June 2012

Back from the mountains

I'm back! In Gurgaon and 45 degree blistering sun, after almost 3 weeks away - first in Chennai and then out in the Himalayas for our very first couples vacation in almost 7 years.
This particular getaway was very hastily planned by our standards. Consider this. By May I have my vacations and long weekenders planned all the way until November - my hotel bookings are done, itineraries are planned and alas, Indian railways only allows train tickets to be booked 120 days in advance :) For an organized freak like me, leaving town on holiday at the spur of the moment is almost never done. In fact, it has never been done! So when the possibility of a work trip to Jammu came up and the husband casually suggested that he take a few days off and we go to Srinagar to celebrate our 12th wedding anniversary, I said - Are you crazy? How am I supposed to plan for a a month in advance??? :)
As it turned out, I learnt after making a few calls that Kashmir was out of the question since hotel rooms were not to be had for love or money, not to mention that airfares even from Delhi were prohibitive. My work trip also fell through, so I dumped the whole project back on S (Grrrr....if you had given me even an inkling that you were willing to take a holiday in June, we could have planned this so much better!). 
Help came in the form of our travel advisor, who suggested a retreat near Shimla. At first, I resisted. I have a horror of our popular Indian hill-stations - Ooty, Kodai, Yercaud, Mussoorie, Darjeeling, and yes, Shimla - without exception they are all dirty, polluted, smoggy and hopelessly crowded. However, some googling assured me that although we would be staying 10 km out of Shimla, there would be no reason for us to go anywhere near the city. There seemed to be enough for us to do both inside and outside the hotel (which is a swank Oberoi property located in a tiny hamlet called Charabra in Himachal). So we took the plunge, booked our Shatabdi tickets to Chandigarh and left for HP just a day after I landed back in Gurgaon.
First things first. I'm sorry (and a little ashamed) to admit that I had no, absolutely NO, idea that Himachal was so stunningly beautiful. Shimla as expected was horrible (we had to pass through it a couple of times and got caught in traffic jams!) but that aside, the eastern bit of the state (which is all we could cover) is just mind-bogglingly pretty. I remarked to S that if the touristy bit is so lovely, how much better would the less-frequented parts be?
We travelled to Kufri, Fagu and Chail. The Maharaja of Patiala's Palace at Chail (now a heritage hotel owned and operated by HP Tourism) has the most beautiful lawns I have ever seen, surrounded by hundreds of trees - deodar, fir, pine, oak and maple. We went to Chaba for our first time white-water rafting on the Sutlej (which flows down straight from the Mansarovar lake and is freaking cold!). I realized that our guide was making me paddle furiously when we hit even a slightly choppy patch - a fairly effective distraction strategy. Maybe my constant mutters of Oh Damn Oh Damn Oh Damn were making him nervous! I was very edgy - the raft looked pretty unstable and the water was not just cold, it was menacingly frisky!
We were caught in a freak hailstorm one afternoon which was pretty exciting :) We also managed to pack in a 7-km hike which was charmingly called the "Oaks and Orchards Trail". We went deep into the forest using a map provided to us, caught some great views of the valley below, managed to get covered extensively by spider webs, and saw the President of India's summer haven (a colonial bungalow aptly called "The Retreat"). 
For the most part though, we enjoyed each other's company. We realized that we could indeed talk for hours and not just about the kids. We enjoyed uninterruped meals and conversations, long walks, birdsong and silence. It was bliss. I missed the kids, but I did not feel guilty. They were well-cared for and happy with their grandparents and S and I really needed this time together to bond, free from caretaking duties. I don't suppose we could have given each other a better anniversary present.
So, it's back to regular programming from now on :) I can't wait to go back to Himachal again and explore more of that lovely lovely state. Leaving you with a few photographs - enjoy!
Our hotel...

The view from our room.

The driveway upto the hotel, fringed by deodars.

View from the outdoor dining area..

And that's me plugging away at breakfast...

The river Sutlej in the background, and our "picnic" lunch all laid out...if only all picnics were like this :)


  1. gawd! you plan that much in advance??? My husband should hear this ;-)
    We had stopped by very briefly at this beautiful place during our shimla-kullu-manali trip way back in the 90s. This place stuck out particularly because of its amazing, serene beauty.
    Amazing pics as usual..i so want a break now!
    oh,and btw, happy anniversary! the break without kids seems quite worth it :-))

    1. Thanks Uma. I definitely recommend a vacation without kids for anyone who has willing parents and in-laws. I often feel we all let our marriage slide once kids come into the picture -- where is the time????

  2. Quaint and serene pics...reminds me of ruskin bond s books

  3. Happy anniversary! What a way to celebrate! And man, these photos of your vacations in India are always so good...
    How do you plan so much in advance?! We are leaving on a trip a month from now for five days or so and I still have not booked a hotel or car. Just flight tickets. I just cannot plan so ahead of time because things keep changing here...I never know when my fil will be here, when my mom will come...somehow just never can plan more than a month in advance. Am glad you had such a nice celebration!

    1. Thanks noon. I guess since my inlaws both work, they can never come visit us just like that. And my parents have too many other commitments as well. I generally know many months in advance when they are visiting us. So it's not hard to plan.

    2. You are so lucky! I wish it were like that for me! But I still thank my stars that it is not any worse. I just pray that he should be able to take care of things for himself on his own. Since my mil passed away he lives part year here and part year in India. And is a heart patient. So even when he is in India I worry that he should be OK. I am so used to this uncertainty that when I read about your life, that's when it strikes me that life can even be different.
      Yes ,you should do a post on your planning skills. I just love to read about such people/skills because I don't have that...I do plan to some extent but only for some things. I can't even plan a week's menu. I want to do that for just one week just to challenge myself. You think I can?! :) Feels like I just can't do it.

  4. Lovely pics! Stayed in HP as a child........totally love it's natural beauty! Hats off to your planning skills, you must do a post on it, seriously!!

    1. Really - you stayed in HP? Lucky you!!

  5. Just managing to read up your last few, blogger doesn't load whenever i try grrr ! Saw some of your pics already but this sounds a lovely lovely time, you give me hope ;).

    1. Blogger is driving me nuts. It doesn't load on chrome at all nowadays (doesn't log in with my username). I installed firefox but even there it gives me trouble.

  6. Ahem ahem **love is in the air**

    Loved this post, Aparna. Beautiful pics! Glad you enjoyed your couples' vacation so much. :)

    The OH had been to Himachal, but I never have. We would love to explore it someday!

    BTW we recently found that airfares from Bangalore to Kashmir were quite high. Didn't know they were so high from Delhi too!

    1. Let me know when u'r going and I'll give you my itinerary. Hopefully I would have seen more of himachal by then :)
      I just assumed srinagar would be cheaper from delhi - i was thinking maybe abt 5k one way - but it was around 12 k one way for 1 person - too high!!


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