Family drive to Chail, Kotgarh, Hatu (Day 1)…..August 2015

On the evening of 11th August 2015 I received a call from Nikhil, my young friend, whom I have developed affinity for the last one year or so, mainly because he liked the way I was travelling at will and living life of freedom. Although there is a more than 20 years in our age still the common hobbies of travel and desire to be free has attracted us to each other. Considering my passion for travel he has helped in preparing my car spanking fit and also gifting me his tripod for photography.

On learning that I was back from Kashmir trip, he asked me to join them for their 3rd anniversary trip to Chail area in the coming holidays. I was not very keen as I had just returned back from a 25 days solo to Kashmir. Also it has been ages since I have travelled with someone else other than my own family. Another reason was, my daughter was coming home from abroad in about ten days and my wife was planning to go with her for about month’s time.

So there were too many constraints, still the way Nikhil and Shivani (Nikhil’s wife) insisted with love and affinity, we could not resist. It’s very hard to say no to such loving people.

Tea stop at Lucky Dhaba, Jalandhar

13th August 2015

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 small diggy of Nikhil’s Chevrolet Beat and we were off to misty woods of Chail.

This was going to be a different experience for us as we were travelling with someone else  after a gap of more than 17 years. The last time was with our friends to Hemkunt Sahib.

Clicked this picture from the premises of TTR, Parwanoo.

The drive from Amritsar to Jalandhar on NH 1 was good. Weather was charming and so was the road. The travellers were fresh and cheerful too. We 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 paratha at Hoshiarpuria Brother’s dhaba which was good but bit heavy.

From thereon we 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. There was heavy truck traffic on this road due to industrial area at Baddi.

Soon we reached Pinjore (Haryana) famous for 17th century well kept 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 Railways, we entered Himachal Pradesh at Parwanoo, an industrial town, after paying 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).

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 thought of stopping at Sadhupul and enjoy drinks sitting on the chairs 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 people for going to Chail area. There were no restaurants worth staying. The sight of chairs and tables set on the waterbed of stream was nowhere to be seen. There were one or two makeshift restaurants but there was too much dust and heat. So we abandoned our plans of staying there and moved on.

Sadhupul, once abuzz with activity, gave a barren look.
Instead of Sadhupul we stopped at a small tea shop on a sharp u turn where another road bifurcated to Junga.

The weather became very misty and romantic near Chail. Since we had no bookings, we checked up few hotels on the way. They 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 charge maximum during these days.

We, however, were bent upon finding accommodation within our budget. We tried almost all the hotels and guest houses in the vicinity of Chail including PWD and FRH. They were either 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 checking into the hotel we decided to try our luck one last time.

We came to know that there is an 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 building near the forest office 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 is an FRH near Sidh baba temple. She asked us to wait and called someone to arrange rooms for us. It was a surprise for us. We thought the girl was just a school going kid but she turned out to be a 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 a forest guard and in charge of FRH whom the young officer had called a little while ago. He rang up the Chowkidar and asked him to come quickly. Soon the Chowkidar arrived and asked us to follow him. He asked us whether we will have food as well.

‘Yes, sure’, we said as we were hungry and had only one prantha in the morning. We further asked whether he can prepare chicken for us.

He replied, ‘why not.’

Sitting inside FRH Chail room chatting with each other…picture credit, Nikhil.

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.

Soon the reality hit and found it was getting late. 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. As soon as we went to bed 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. Electricity went off. The huge thunder and lightning followed a streak of smaller but similar pattern for over half an hour. Occasionally thunderstorm and lightening became louder and the electricity went off each time thereafter.

After sometime thunderstorm and lightning subsided and we went to deep sleep once again but before that we were witness to the loudest and longest spell of thunderstorm and lightening in our life. It felt as if lightning would fall on us and engulf us in her lap forever.

Picturesque setting of FRH Chail amidst undiluted green woods near Sidh baba temple.

14.08.2015

We woke up to an amazing morning at FRH, Chail. The thunderstorm had subsided. Rain was gone. It was misty, cool and romantic morning. Something we had dreamt all through. Something which will remain fresh in our memory for the whole life. The scent of wooden walls, flooring and ceiling was very freshening and new for us. The furniture, bedding and light blue curtains were all in sync with the overall atmosphere.

We got up bit late, partly because of last days longer drive, followed by search for accommodation and more so we didn’t have many things on our plan for the day. Nikhil was already up. He had had a good time walking in the woods and clicking pictures with his cell phone and tripod. Chowkidar brought us hot cup of tea. It followed a romantic walk through misty woods. After about an hour or so, Chowkidar brought hot and delicious aloo ka paratha, curd and butter in the breakfast.

Nikhil, busy clicking pictures….the stairs leads to sidh baba temple.
We went up the stairs to sidh baba temple
Passage leading to sanctum sanctorum of sidh baba temple.
Sidh Baba Temple, Chail (8000 ft, ASL)….Built in 1891 by Maharaja Bhupinder Singh.
Very impressive babaji at sidh baba temple
Small but beautiful hanuman temple on the back side of sidh baba temple.
wifey enjoying walk in misty woods of Chail.
Time for group photo….the party ready to move for the day.

Nikhil and Shivani took some time to get ready. We used that time walking through the woods and clicking few pictures. Finally we were ready to leave around 12.30 afternoon. We drove to the famous Chail cricket ground which was closeby. It was wired from all around and all gates to enter the ground were locked. Fortunately one small gate was open as few young army officers were doing exercises. We went inside the ground and clicked few pictures. However, we were told to hurry up as the army personnel had finished their exercise and were to lock the doors.

Built in 1893, situated at a height of 2444 meters, Chail cricket ground, which is presently used by Chail Military School, is the highest cricket ground in the world.
Nikhil posing with his Beat in the parking spot of Kali Ka Tibba, Temple.

From the highest cricket ground we went driving around 4 kilometers to Kali Ka Tibba, a temple dedicated to Maa Kali, perched on a high hill in the jungle few kilometers away from chail. The drive was through thick forest and on a narrow steep road. We were happy to find a well laid, wide, tarred road around the temple just after entering the main gate of the premises. There were ample space for parking and walking.

Thick white clouds had covered the entire 360 degree view around the temple. The temple and its premises looked neat, white and beautiful. It had good lawns with wide variety of colorful flowers and plants. There was no body in the temple except a priest. Blissful prayers and hymns were being played on a musical device. There were many pigeons wearing threads on their feet flying and playing on the roof of the premises. There were a number of other beautiful birds too. Atmosphere at the temple was amazing. We paid our respect at the shrine, clicked few pictures, walked around and chatted merrily.

Group picture……Kali Maa Temple in the misty background.
Shivani posing with the pigeons at Kali Ka Tibba.
The anniversary couple and the mist….Kali Ka Tibba.
The anniversary couple having good time in Chail market.

After having nice time at the temple we drove back to Chail market, walked around a little and then drove off to Kufri.

Chail Market
Google map of the route followed for the day…Amritsar to Chail.

So far it has been wonderful. The drive from Amritsar to Chail (360 kilometers) all through was great. Weather was amazing. Misty woods were a delight. Visiting Sidh baba temple, Kali Ka Tibba was a great experience. Staying in the FRH was a delight. Driving and travelling with young anniversary couple was refreshing. The help rendered by the young forest officer, forest guard and chowkidar was a memorable experience.

We were into 25th year of our marriage and still feeling very fresh. Never in the whole trip we felt old, maybe due to the romantic environment, or the company of young couple, or may be our state of mind or a combination of all, I am not sure what it was, but surely, we felt very romantic and fresh during the trip!!!

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