13th August 2015, Thursday………Day(1) Amritsar-Chail 330 km
My friends Shivani and Nikhil insisted that we must accompany them for their 3rd anniversary trip. I had just returned back from a 25 days solo to Kashmir and was not very keen. My wife was planning for a month long trip abroad, so we decided why not have a short trip with the young anniversary couple.
Nikhil and Shivani arrived at around 6.30am morning to pick us up from our home. They looked very cheerful and happy. I offered Nikhil to travel separately in our respective cars but he insisted that we should travel together in his car. So loaded our luggage in the small diggy of Nikhil’s Beat and we’re off to misty woods of Chail.
Since I have developed a habit of travelling solo or max with the family, so I knew it’s going to be a different experience, the last time we travelled with our friends was 17 years ago to Hemkunt Sahib.
The drive from Amritsar to Jalandhar on NH 1 was good. Weather was nice and so was the road. The travellers were fresh and cheerful. Paid toll of Rs.25- each at two places and took a break at Lucky Dhaba, Jalandhar for pee and tea. From Jalandhar we turned left to Phagwara, Banga, Nawanshahr and had breakfast of tandoori parathas at Hoshiarpuria Brother’s dhaba. The pranths were tasty but heavy.
We then drove to Ropar (NH 344A) and paid another toll of Rs.43-. At Kurali we turned left on beautiful Kurali-Baddi road through Siswan dam after paying another toll of Rs.60-. The road was good and has been tolled recently. After a while we joined Nalagarh Pinjore road (NH 21A) near Shahpur which had heavy truck traffic due to industrial area at Baddi.
Soon we reached Pinjore (Haryana) famous for 17th century Mughal Gardens and Hindustan Machine Tools (HMT) factory and joined old Chandigarh Shimla highway which runs parallel to Himalayan Expressway (NH 22) .
After crossing Kalka, named after deity Kali and famous for narrow gauge heritage Kalka-Shimla Rail, we entered Himachal Pradesh at Parwanoo, an industrial town and paid entry fee of Rs.30-.
From Parwanoo the hills started and drive became even better. We crossed exit point of Himalyan expressway near TTR and took a little break at TTR (Timber Trail Resort, Parwanoo).
After crossing important towns of Jabli, Dharampur, Kumarhatti, Barog and Solan we turned right from Kandaghat towards Chail. Chail being a forest area, the road became single and narrow but more beautiful.
We had planned to spend sometime at Sadhupul famous for tables and chair set amid the waterbed of softly meandering Ashwini stream. We forgot that 1904 bailey bridge having carrying capacity of 9 tons collapsed a year ago when a trailer truck carrying a load of over 23 tons attempted to cross this unguarded bridge.
Now a makeshift road and bridge was constructed to facilitate the people for going to Chail area. There were no restaurants worth staying. There were one or two makeshift restaurants but were all dust and heat. So we abandoned our plans of staying there and moved on.
As we neared Chail, the weather became misty and romantic. Since we had no bookings, we checked few hotels on the way. Most were far beyond our budget. So we parked the car in the main market and went looking for suitable accommodation within our budget.
Due to holidays on 15th and 16th August and also being Saturday and Sunday, every hotel wala was hoping to extract maximum during these days. We, however, were bent upon finding accommodation within our budget, tried almost all the hotels and guest houses in the vicinity of Chail including PWD and FRH.
Either they were booked or way too overpriced. The one or two which were around our budget were not good at all. We continued searching and after two hours of search at around 7.30pm we decided to check into a hotel which was bit overpriced but least costly of all the available hotels.
But before that we decided to try our luck one last time.
We came to know that there is another FRH near Sidh Baba temple 4km away from Chail market and that it’s booking can be done from forest office located near the main market. We walked up to the forest office but no one was there. We saw lights coming out from a neighboring building and knocked at the door.
After awhile a good looking young girl came out and asked what the matter was. We told her that we were two couples and looking for a place to stay for the night and that we have heard there was an FRH near Sidh baba temple.
She asked us to wait and called someone to arrange rooms for us. It was a surprise. We thought the girl was just a school going kid but she turned out to be the young forest officer. Fortunately we had bumped into this newly appointed forest officer’s home.
She told us to wait as the Chowkidar was on its way. She asked us to come in. But we politely refused and instead decided to wait outside her home. A little later a young man arrived and asked us what the matter was. He was the forest guard, in charge of FRH whom the young officer had called a little while ago.
He rang someone up and asked him to come quickly. Soon the man arrived, he was the Chowkidar of FRH. He asked us to follow him and asked whether we would have food.
‘Yes, sure’, we said as we were hungry and had only one prantha in the morning. We further asked whether he could prepare chicken for us.
He replied, ‘oh yes, why not.’
Nikhil went with chowkidar to buy raw chicken and other provisions for dinner and breakfast. Soon we were on our way to the FRH. On the first look at the rooms and dining area we became ecstatic. We knew we have hit a jackpot. For about an hour or so we were so excited that we did not know what to do. We just kept looking at the romantic place and the entire setting.
We went to our respective rooms, unpacked our stuff, freshened up, changed into night wear and were ready for chit chat and drinks. Chowkidar served salad and dry chicken before the main course.
Dinner comprising Chicken curry, dal, rice, chapatti, pickle and salad was well served and delicious. We had nice time enjoying dinner in a beautifully lit wooden dining room of the FRH amidst aroma of wood.
After a while we decided to part for the day. Bade good night and went inside our respective rooms. It was such a lovely room. It started raining. Gradually the intensity of rain increased. We went to sleep anyhow.
Suddenly there was a huge thunder followed by lightening. My wife erupted and clung to me with loud shriek and shudder. Light went off. A streak of smaller but similar pattern followed for several minutes and the process kept on repeating throughout the night.
It was almost morning when the thunderstorm and lightning subsided. It was perhaps the loudest and longest spell of thunderstorm and lightening we had ever experienced in life. It felt as if lightning would fall on us and engulf us in her lap forever………………..!!!