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 holiday...like...just 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!
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 :)