North India : Weekend Escapes

 Shoghi: Quiet Hill Retreat

 

 

Shoghi, a few kilometers from Shimla, offers views of the beautiful Dhauladhar range and moments of solitude. Despite being close to Shimla, Shoghi is a far cry from the bustle of hill towns.

 

 

If you are picking a weekend hillstation break and the choice is between Shimla and Shoghi, don’t think twice. Just go to Shoghi. Quiet, untouched, resting in a green valley with the awesome view of the snow-covered Dhauladhar ranges right from your resort balcony, Shoghi is the stuff quiet hill retreats are made of.

 

For added excitement there is the delightful Kalka-Shimla train that routinely chugs along the mountain slope every morning and evening. Carry a few books, your favourite music, a pair of comfortable jeans and walking shoes and your packing is done.

 

To soak in the true peace that is Shoghi, forget your cell phone at home.The town is in sharp contrast to Shimla’s traffic jams, unruly traffic and hordes of tourists piling onto the mall road licking ice creams and devouring Domino’s pizza.

 

800px-Soghi_town

Shoghi (Photo by Bikingdiaries)

Take a soul-stirring walk along the sloped hills or go right up to the hilltop temple of Tara Devi if you have the energy and stamina to walk up a steep climb. If that’s not for you then drive to the temple. It has little trinket shops and a population of active monkeys who cause excitement in kids and adults alike.

 

You can go on some interesting and unexplored nature walks in Shoghi. Pack sandwiches and drinks and walk along the train track on the hillside, waving to bemused passengers as the train slowly chugs past. The more enthusiastic, who can be tempted away from lolling on the balcony soaking up the sun and the fresh mountain breeze, can ask their resort to organise a round of golf at the Naldehra Golf Club, one of the oldest and most scenic golf courses in the country, or a game or two at Shimla’s squash court.

 

In the evening, walk down to the market to pick up some hot, spicy, pakoras and jalebis, mingle with the hill folk, pickup an evening tipple from the local wine shops or even get some chicken packed for a yummy meal. Once you return to the hotel, sit with some music and a drink, watch the moon rise and feel the hill air make your skin tingle deliciously with goose pimples.If you’d like more action, spend a day at Shimla loitering on the mall and doing all the touristy things that kids love.

 

Delhi to Shoghi
345 km

 

Getting There
Take a flight to the Jubbarhatti airport at Shimla (12 kms from Shoghi). Take a train to Kalka and then the Kalka-Shimla toy train that halts at Shoghi on request. Kalka is 84 km from Veer Garh and it takes five hours by train. Start early morning taking the NH 1 to Ambala via Karnal and the NH 22 to Shimla via Zirakpur (by passing Chandigarh). Shoghi falls 13 km before Shimla.

 

Where to Stay
Shoghi has quite a few stay options but try Veergarh, a quiet, comfortable  place run by a retired Army officer. (Delhi +91-99104-47483), (Shimla +91-98165-68820)

 

 

Kothi: A Pastoral Escape

 

Go far from the maddening crowd of Manali and soak up the best of all that mother nature has to offer at Kothi.

 

Manali has been visited by most who love a holiday in the hills. But the town has got little left of its earlier charm and scenic beauty, thanks largely to the increasing number of tourists.

 

 

Kothi view (Photo by ankyuk)

Kothi is the perfect place to soak in the charm of the region, and at the same time enjoy scenic views from a place which is far from the crowds. Kothi is a sleepy hamlet located in the upper reaches of Manali. It is the nearest settlement to Rohtang Pass and the last known village before one goes towards Kulling.

 

By now, one must have easily guessed the virtually solitary existence of the place. The village comprises of only a few households (mostly huts made out of the local wood and stone). Attached to every household is a farm and at least one in two households owns an apple orchard. One can almost get the feeling of ‘this is how heaven feels like’ while walking in the orchard — imagine a garden full of apple trees with the most breathtaking views of the mountains all around.

 

Well, it’s just the trailer of all that’s in store. Standing at any point of the village, one can enjoy the 360-degree views of the breathtaking mountains and majestic snow-capped peaks which constantly seem to pull you towards them. If one takes a walk through the village and its hilly roads, one comes upon a number of small waterfalls, followed by a bridge over a stream which goes down to meet the Beas River at Manali. Walk a little further, you will find yourself walking alone in the middle of a dense forest — be ready to meet a flock of sheep and women carrying loads of twigs on their backs which they need to cook their daily meals and bring warmth when needed.

 

Kothi is a perfect hill retreat and is on the way to some popular destinations. Nearest is Rohtang Pass. But if you want to escape the crowds there, there’s Marhi, which in some ways offers better views than Rohtang. Solang Valley, which falls downhill from Kothi, is known for adventure activities like skiing during winters and paragliding round the year.

Getting There

 

Kothi is 25 km from Manali. A bus plies every hour or two. Best option is to hire a cab from Manali. It costs around Rs 1,000. Manali can be reached by bus from Delhi, nearest railway station is Joginder Nagar which is 50 km away.

 

Where to Stay

 

Kothi has only one hotel –Hotel Sagu Valley Inn
Rohtang Road, Village Kothi,
P.O. Palchan, Manali, Distrtict – Kullu
Tel: +91 1902 256319

Delhi to Kothi
560 km

 

                                                                       Mussoorie: Amidst Misty Hills

 

Located on the Charleville Road on way to the famous Company Gardens and the Kempty Falls, Mussoorie can be your destination this summer. The beautiful nature walk on Camel’s Back Road takes top spot on the must-do experiences here. And a close second is the cable car ride up to Gun Hill that offers fabulous views of the Garhwal Himalayas. Kempty falls has been an agelong picnic haunt of Dehradun dwellers. Though the other falls including Bhatta falls and Jharipani falls are popular attractions too, but the tumble of the Kempty falls from 4,500 feet above sea level, is a sight to cherish. Lake Mist, about five kilometres before the Kempty falls, is one of the popular attractions in Mussoorie.

 

Mussoorie (Photo by paulhami)

 

 

 

After ambling along the Mall Road and picking up multi-coloured woollen socks, mufflers and wooden knick-knacks, I found myself inside a favoured haunt of author Ruskin Bond — Cambridge BookStore, the oldest bookshop in Mussoorie. After picking up some titles at the bookstore, I headed back to the hotel, Madhuban Highlands, for lunch at the multi-cuisine restaurant. Sipping tea in the balcony overlooking the bustling Mall Road with its frantic tourist activity. The hotel offers facilities for business conferences and meets, complete with a business centre and WiFi Internet connectivity. The Ayurvedic health spa helps you unwind with its body treatments and massages, and evenings are made pleasant with a couple of drinks at the bar or at the al fresco setting adjoining the restaurant. The entertainment area offers a choice of games for children. The staff, just like any hill station, is friendly and attentive.

 

Getting there:

 

A good network of state and national highways connects Mussoorie to all the major cities and towns of India. It is called the ‘gateway’ to Yamunotri and Gangotri shrines in Uttarakhand. The nearest railway station is at Dehradun (35 km). Jolly Grant is the nearest airport, located 60 km away.

 

 

Where to stay:

 

 

Hotel Madhuban Highlands, Brightland Estate, Charleville Road, Mussoorie.

Tel: +91-135-2635550/53/2740077

 

 

Hansi: Bastion of the brave

 

The weather is getting pleasant as spring has started knocking. And what better way to start the season than with a road trip to explore something new. I had heard about a place called Hansi, a small city near Hisar in Haryana, which is famous for its architectural and archaeological value across civilisations. It has forts, tombs, mosques and shrines. So, I decided to visit this place over a weekend. Early in the morning, I drove from Delhi to Hansi, a three-hour drive.

 

Hansi (Photo by kittell)

 

Gates of the city

 

Hansi allured us from its first sight. The city has five fascinating gates facing five different directions. The majestic gates were Delhi Gate, Hisar Gate, Gosain Gate, Bansi Gate and Umra Gate; the most charming among them was the architecturally-beautiful Bansi gate facing south. The most peculiar feature about the city whose western border is guarded by the desert, is that its altitude increases after entry from any of the gates.

 

Tales about Hansi

 

Talking to the locals of the city, I heard lots of tales about the city. The most famous one is about Hansi once being the home of a sword-manufacturing company set up by the famous Rajput king Prithviraj Chauhan. The swords that were made here were exported to the Middle East and were known for their high quality.

 

Asigarh Fort

 

I also visited the Asigarh fort. The square-shaped fort was built by Prithviraj Chauhan to defend the city from invaders but, sadly, the fort was later captured by the Mughals. One can feel the royal dominance in the air while visiting this place. As a history lover, I got a chance to have a conversation with an archaeologist who told us that 80 forts across the area were controlled from the Asigarh fort.

 

Sufi influence on Hansi


Hansi not only entertains history buffs but also those who reach the town seeking spiritual enlightenment. The shrines of four sufi saints are situated on the west of Hansi at Dargah Char Qutub. I found myself in a totally different world listening to the soulful sufi music at the dargah. I also dug into pedas, a sweet made from milk and flour, and is definitely another reason for Hansi’s popularity. This way, my journey to Hansi started on a high note and had a sweet ending as I headed back to Delhi.

 

Getting There

 

By air: The nearest airport is at New Delhi and there are frequent buses and cars plying to Hansi.

 

By Rail: One can get down at the Hansi Railway Station that is directly connected to the New Delhi Railway Station, 3.5 hours away.

 

By Road: Delhi to Hansi is 145 km, three hours by road. Haryana State Road Transport buses connect Hansi with Delhi, Rohtak, Bahadurgarh and other towns.

 

Where to Stay

The best option to stay in Hansi is at the WelcomHeritage Sheikhpura Kothi, Tel: 01663 250855

Kurukshetra: The City with Layers

 

Being a travel enthusiast and history lover, I decided to spend the weekend in Kurukshetra – a place of historical, religious and spiritual significance. The city was founded by King Kuru in the olden times and has lots to offer to its visitors. I didn’t want to miss out any of the city’s charms, so, after a three-hour drive from Delhi, I reached Kurukshetra even before dawnbreak.

 

Upon entering the city, I was amazed to see lots of people up at that early hour. This city wakes up really early! I had done enough research on Kurukshetra, so, I knew what I had to do when I got here.

 

First, I took a holy dip in the ancient Brahma Sarovar, the largest manmade bathing tank in Asia. It is believed that a bath in this kund frees one from all sins and helps attain salvation. I don’t know about salvation but it was certainly refreshing. Kurukshetra has other holy kunds as well – the Sannihit Sarovar and Bhishma Kund.

 

Kurukshetra: Photo of Brahma Sarovar

 

This city witnessed the most legendary event to have taken place in Hindu mythology. This is where the battle of Mahabharat was fought and where Lord Krishna enlightened Arjun about the life’s secrets that are now contained in the sacred Hindu text, the Bhagwad Gita. That place is now known as Jyotisar that means the ‘core meaning.’

 

My next stop was the Lakshmi Narayan Temple. Built in the 18th century, this temple is made in a double-storied style and with lots of miniature spires adding to its beauty.

 

Some seven kilometres from Jyotisar, the Sheikh Chehli ka Makbara, built during the Mughal era in remembrance of Sufi Saint Sheikh Chehli, is famous for its resemblance to the Taj Mahal. Chehli is believed to be the spiritual teacher of Dara Shikoh, the eldest son of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal.

 

Emperor Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal. Visiting Saraswati Forest Reserve (also called Seonsar Forest) was an engaging experience. Rich in flora and fauna, the reserve is the third largest forest in Haryana, after Kalesar and Morni Hills.

 

If time permits, you can also visit the Kalpana Chawla Planetorium and the OP Jindal Park and Musical Fountain.

 

Getting There:

 

The nearest airports are at Delhi and Chandigarh and are well-connected to Kurukshetra by road and rail. The Kurukshetra Railway Station is directly connected to all important railway stations in the country. The Haryana State Transport buses connect Kurukshetra to Delhi, Rohtak, and Hisar among other towns.

 

Where to Stay:

 

Two good options are Hotel Saffron (Opposite PNB Regional Office, Pipli Road, Kurukshetra – Tel: +91-1744-229262) and Hotel Pearl Marc (Railway Road, Kurukshetra – Tel: +91-1744-226614)