Jun 8, 2015

How it All began (Part 1 of the Chail trip)

When I was in school, summer holidays meant Chandigarh. The whole family would gather at my Grandparents with nothing in mind but to spend the long summer days in a sort of lazy stupor, eating mangoes and litchi, watching movies and going to the lake in the evening.

Chandigarh also meant trips to the Hills. The hills that seemed so remote when we were in Delhi formed a constant backdrop for our lives in Chandigarh. We could see them from the balcony, their dark blue jagged outline rising sharply against the summer sky that was bleached almost white by the summer sun, or peeping through the mango and guava trees as we played in the Garden.

The trips were usually unplanned. Someone would complain about the heat and how boring everything was and then gaze morosely towards the hills. And just like that we would be off.

Sometimes we made a picnic out of it, leaving early in the morning, driving all day through the winding hill roads, stopping whenever we were hungry or felt like a dip in the streams that periodically ran along the road. Sometimes we were gone for days, staying in Dak Bunglows, ancient with creaking wooden floors, each with its own personal ghost story.

Invariably it was my mother who drove during these trips. She was passionate about driving. Even now it is very difficult for anyone else to get behind the wheel while she is in the car.

Chail was one of our favorite Hill destinations. Quiet and peaceful, it was not too far from Shimla but with none of the hullabullo and touristy crowds one associates with popular hill stations. The small town is surrounded by woods, deep and dark not unlike Robert Frost’s poem. It is one of the last stops in the ‘Hills’, for the climb after Chail gets very steep and you reach the mountains, snow clad and much less gentle that the rolling hills left behind.

Chail’s claim to fame is the Palace of Maharaja of Patiala that has been converted into a hotel by the government. This pretty little Palace is perched on top of the hill, the area surrounding it levelled to create a huge lawn the size of a football field. The forest comes up to almost the edge of the lawn so that you step off the manicured lawn and straight into the woods.

We used to hike up and down the numerous trails shaded by giant deodar and pine trees. The sky peeped through the thick leaves at intervals, but mostly you got the feeling that you were walking inside a green, airy and cool cave. The trees here were ancient, their barks dark and wrinkled, their branches thick as a man’s thigh.

At places, there would be a wide gap between the trees, a sheer fall that gave us a direct view of the valley below. We could see a patchwork of fields; the green and brown livened by the bright clothes of the women who worked in them.

Our hikes always ended at one of the numerous Chai-Pakora stalls that spring up everywhere in the hills. These small stalls dished out absolutely tasty, crunchy pakoras that we washed down with sweet milky tea.

Chail also meant fruit. Peach, Apple, Plums, Cherries and Apricots. Trees laden with them and the locals sitting right below those trees on small jute durries selling the fruit they had plucked just hours ago. It gave a whole new meaning to eating fresh.

Years passed. Trips to the hills became infrequent as more important things like college and then jobs replaced the simple pleasures of walking through woods or splashing in mountain streams.

Last month, as I battled the traffic on yet another dry, dusty and hot day that so typifies the Delhi Summer, I was seized with an overwhelming desire for silence, to hear nothing but the song of the birds and the whisper of the wind.

What we all needed I decided, was a visit to Chail. That would provide a perfect interlude in our busy lives.

Or so I thought.

To be continued …....

32 comments:

  1. lovely. waiting for more....you weave such a wonderful picture with words of that era gone by where one had all the time to 'stop and stare'....

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    1. Thank you so much for reading J. Your words means a lot to me !

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  2. Ah, the sweet memories of childhood. Mine were spent in the baking hot plains of UP till we relocated to Mumbai. All vacations for us meant going to my maternal grandpa's house. Such fun! The only trip to the hills was to Nainital which was such a fond memory. Another memorable one was to Kashmir. I am actually a bit frightened of the mountainous roads but the natural beauty is spectacular. But these days, there is no peace in the hills. They are bustling and almost feel like cities. Even the temps. of at least the ones in the South are so high. Sigh! You brought back so many memories -- fond ones.

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    1. Kashmir would have been awesome. I think trips to grandparents, where they might be n plains or hills are always fun. Hill stations tend to be noisy and crowded that is why we always chose the unknown ones. But now we find even those inundated with people - As you will see in my next few posts !

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  3. Chandigarh is just the right place to venture into the hills above. But we've messed up our erstwhile pristine hill stations. They are not the same anymore.

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    1. Messed up indeed. It is more and more difficult to find a pristine Hill Station now !

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  4. When we were young, we couldn't wait to grow up and now that we have, all we can do is think back on those days and sigh.

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    1. Well said Purba ! And sometimes when we try to re live those childhood days the results can be disastrous !

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  5. I haven't traveled much as a kid, Travel happened much later and that is always unplanned. I have been to Chandigarh a long time back, and Manali. Haven't been to Chail though, so many places still to see.

    PS: My summer vacations were spent in my nani house in another suburb of Mumbai, I really plan to travel a lot hence forth :)

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    1. Good Luck with your traveling. And unplanned travel is always of the best kind ! Welcome here Jaibala !

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  6. Your description reminds me of my hometown, the hills and trees and fruits ... nostalgic!! Indeed sometimes we long for such quietude.

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    1. Indeed we do ! And it is so rare to find quietude now. Your hometown must be a very pretty place !

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  7. Lovely prose. But the topic? Hill stations. Boo. Filthy, smelly, stunted places. Plus, the effort required to get to them is wholly incongruous to the 'pleasure' one derives when one is there.

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    1. The trick lies in finding a lesser known quiet hill station. I would never go to the touristy ones. The trick also lies in learning how to enjoy your travels :-)

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  8. Well, this brought back memories of summer vacations when mangoes were the only things that were important. Longing to go to the hills already and happy that I have a get-away planned!

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    1. Have a fabulous trip ! And what is summer vacation without Mangoes !

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  9. Such a delightful description! Waiting for the next part.

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    1. Thank you so much Aarthy ! Next one coming up soon !

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  10. Such a delightful description! Waiting for the next part.

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  11. Brings back memories of lazy summers. Lovely description. :-)

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  12. Given the amount of travel we indulge ourselves in, Chandigarh and Chail are 2 places which have eluded us :( Should make amends soon :P

    Waiting for the next part :)

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    1. So good to see you here Swaram. Both are such delightful places. I am sure you would love them !

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  13. Waiting to read more....I have been to Shimla but never to Chail....Unfortunately, I don't remember much from my travels within India when I was younger. Summer vacations were lovely though - spent eating mangoes, watching movies, and playing with cousins all day long!

    I love the rolling hills that start at our house....an hour drive takes us to the Sierras. Even a short walk to the hilltop outside our community always helps clear my head.

    I was reading Ruskin's "love among the bookshelves" last weekend in the backyard. The kids were napping so no human voices were around. The daffodils were basking in the sunlight, the ripening peaches were weighing down the tree to reach the lawn, the hummingbird kept circling around - drinking nectar from its feeder, the light breeze caressed me as I gently glided on my bench. It was pure bliss - I soaked it all in!

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    1. I have always maintained that you live in paradise Shachi ! And there is no better place to read Ruskin Bond that in quiet natural surroundings !

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  14. Beautiful narration ! You really are blessed to have spent your childhood at such an amazing place !

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  15. When is the next episode coming... ? Waiting to read about the mountains.... thanks...

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  16. Summer vacations for me meant grandparents, us and my mausi's family all heading for the hills too! Except, our hills were either Darjeeling, or Shillong!
    Waiting for you to give us the next edition!!

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  17. I have to tell you.. once again... how much i love reading your travelouges!!

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