After waking up early next morning, me and wifey  got our stuff ready for the journey. Taking a bath in Himachal demands that you use hot water. Wishing for a hot shower in May is not what I am used to. A normal shower in Delhi is almost always a hot shower these months and in Himachal, we had to use geysers.  After getting ready, we said good bye to the family and started our journey to Rajgarh. Our plan was to drive through Chail, stop at Kali Ka Tibba and reach Rajgarh for night stay. The road took us through some interesting places with just trees around with no human settlement for a long distance. It was a relief from the hot and crowded concrete jungles of Solan, Shimla and nearby areas.

On road

Our first stop was at Kali ka Tibba, an important temple for the people in the region. I am not religious and places of worship aren’t generally high on my list. To top that, Himachal and most of India is full of useless places of worship all over. Places like this Kali Ka Tibba (and the temple we visited next and countless others ) used to be quiet,scenic spots where religious folk could meditate or worship in peace away from the crowds. Idiotic religiosity of people however means that these places need to be changed to something gaudy, flashy and more like a commercial enterprise rather than a place where spiritual people can find a less distracting sanctuary. So they will cut all the trees, level the place, cover it with concrete, erect huge buildings and call it a peaceful place of worship. If this is not one of the biggest example of idiocy, I don’t know what is.   Even now, one could have guessed what a majestic place this used to be before it was all covered with marble and turned in to a temple.
To be fair, the temple was clean and unlike the greedy priests that one sees in places like Vrindavan, Haridwar, we were not forced to “donate” money, though wifey did give away more than what I thought was fair.  Unlike non-Hindu places of worship, money donated to Hindu temples goes to government which then uses it to finance “secular” measures like Haj subsidy. So, I am always in two minds here.

Friendly temple guard

Friendly temple guard

Views of the nearby hills was good though and quiet except for an occasional ill maintained motorcycle coughing down the road somewhere nearby. The only source of any sound were large number of birds, bees,a few other insects and strong wind. The butterflies in this region are mostly the type shown here. Saw them all over the region. Mcleodganj had a different one with yellow wings. Seems like each region has one special one in large numbers.
We had breakfast of some sandwiches in the parking area then started driving to our next destination Rajgarh. The drive was uneventful and we reached our guest house Tourist Inn run by HPTDC by noon. Rajgarh is just another small hilly town with 100 or so houses, a nondescript market  and too much construction going on. The guest house itself was nothing special but had huge rooms and bathrooms. Some places I know have crammed 4 rooms in to same floor area. The staff was courteous, friendly and efficient.  Call me a skeptic, but I was pleasantly surprised. We had some tea and pakodas as it was too early for lunch and rested for a while. Our plan was to visit a jam factory in Bhuira to see if it could be included in our offered tour plans.  It is a small plant staffed by local villagers and they make very good products. More on this in a later post.
 
But at that time, I didn’t feel like taxing my brain too much and just went on a walk. Our guesthouse was near the edge of the town and we took the road up ahead. There was not much to see there and it mostly felt like a waste of time. Wifey made it clear very soon, but we kept on walking for a while. Finally after walking on the road covered with potholes for about 50 minutes, I called driver to bring the car to take us back. Just then, we reached a small comparatively flat ridge area which had two mobile phone towers near road and pine trees just behind. Someone was harvesting resin from the trees and all of them were marked. Curious, we walked in to the wooded areas and found that almost all the trees were like that. There were some birds high up in the branches, but I was unable to see them properly or take their pictures. 
We were hungry by this time and asked the driver to take us to Rajgarh market for a late lunch. There were 4-5 eating joints, each one marked “vaishno” vegetarian or non-vegetarian marked as meat dhaba or something like that. We went in to a small place run by a woman and asked for a plate of rice, daal, chane and momos (dumplings). The food was OK to eat and very cheap. I walked in to a sweet shop to buy something to eat as dessert and spotted something like a brownish laddoo. But the shopkeeper refused to sell it saying that the batch was stale and not good enough to eat.
We still got some ghujia and laddoos from another sweet shop and went back to our room.
There wasn’t much to see or do after this and we just watched some TV and went to sleep soon after. Next day was not as boring.

Early on, our plan was to visit the orchard early morning as the trees were supposed to be sprayed with insecticide. But due to nearly continuous drizzle, that was postponed and we decided to visit after 10 am. Needed the sleep anyway.

Road leading to orchard

Road leading to orchard

The orchard is about 25 minutes drive from their house, just beyond Kufri  in a very picturesque setting. There are a number of apple and pear trees in addition to some walnuts, plum and a few others. Most of the fruits including apple were very small and still about 3 months from getting ripe. Apple trees were covered with nets to protect them from hail. Additionally, they have a very interesting way of rearing bees. A small hole is made in to the wall of a spare room which is connected to a box. It also keeps the bees safe from weather and most predators. The owners need the bees for pollination and also benefit from harvesting honey.

Little Apples

Little Apples

As mentioned earlier, they were thinking of building a few log huts in the orchard. A small resort of log huts or tents when built here in between the trees will be a great attraction. The views of the valley are awesome, it’s sufficiently far away from the road so that there is no noise and the weather is cool. Their plan is to keep it as natural as possible with minimum construction, so it should be good. It should be a nice place to spend a few days in mountains or a rest stop whenever someone is visiting Shimla and places on the route.  We did a bit of brainstorming over this.

As we started to go back, it started raining heavily again. We drove for about 45-50 minutes through some very narrow streets with very high inclines to reach Shimla. The rain had stopped by the time we reached the city and the weather was cool enough to make us wear sweaters. We walked around the typical touristy places like the Mall Road and nearby market.

Inside the orchard

Inside the orchard

For the first time in my life, I visited a state tourism office (run by Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation) on Mall Road and asked for advice. The staff there was pretty helpful and advised us to visit Rajgarh, Haripur Dhar, Habban valley and a couple of other places on the way. It turned out later that some of the places like Habban valley are marked wrongly on the map and most people don’t even know about such a place. So please don’t trust the maps 100% and confirm with multiple sources. Wifey had first wanted to visit Kasaul, but as it is very near Kullu Manali area and we plan on visiting the place 2-3 months later, we agreed upon the plan suggested by tourism officials. We booked a room in a guest house run by HPTDC in Rajgarh for about Rs. 1000 from there.

Wild flower

Wild flower

Later, we walked around a bit in the market taking in the sights. As almost everyone has been to Shimla, there is not much to write about. I just don’t like the uncontrolled construction which has led to the hills being stripped of their green cover to be replaced by ugly buildings all over. Our walk was nice as it had rained only about a hour before and was still cloudy. Doing the same thing the day before in normal mid May weather would have been out of question.

While walking, I noticed a small shop selling old books and felt curious. The place was just covered in books of all genres, but with a majority from British times. Few of them were in good condition while the others had pages falling out or crumbling. I found one book written by an explorer in Tibet and asked it’s price. The shopkeeper answered with Rs 9000. Haha. Even with the antique value, he is charging just whatever comes to his mind as the books weren’t even restored at all. Just picked from trash and put on display on shelves and sometimes bins.

Rainbow on way to Shimla

Rainbow on way to Shimla

There was another similar shop but with lesser number of books a few meters ahead. Didn’t feel like buying stuff but still ended up buying an out of print edition on Indian Ordnance Corps for Rs 300. An excellent bargain considering the mint condition of book and contents.

If someone remembers this artwork installed there, the young man in front posed as model

After getting back, it was time for dinner and packing for next 3 days. The car we arranged for was scheduled to arrive at 6 am. So we packed everything hurriedly and went to sleep soon after.

Memeorial to Lt Gen Daulat Singh on Mall Road

Memeorial to Lt Gen Daulat Singh on Mall Road

 

Taking Shelter

Taking Shelter

Same boy in different attire 15 years later

Same boy in different attire 15 years later

This is the story of another trip to mountains with wifey. This one was not planned at all and I had no idea about the places we visited. Infact, I had not even heard of them before we reached there. Even after all this it was an enjoyable trip with interesting sights, people and places. On 12th morning, wifey told me that her parents were going to Shimla to visit family next morning and she wanted us to go too. We were supposed to go there for a long time

Jaabli rest stop

Jaabli rest stop

but had been unable to do so. As I had 4-5 days free without much work, I said yes. I haven’t been to Shimla since 2007 new year’s eve and wanted to see how the place has fared. While she packed, I worked to finish up some pending work. The process took much longer than expected and I got free only at 4:00 am in the morning. We had to leave at 6 am next morning, so I just lay in bed trying to get a hour of sleep but was unable to get any. Combined with a wedding I had enjoyed a bit too much last night, it was really nice to be very tired yet not being able to sleep. At 5 am, we started getting ready and tying up some loose ends which seemed aplenty.

We got in to the car at just before 7 am when the road was covered with school kids and their buses. Day was a bit hot and humid even then. I don’t like mornings and when you combine it with humidity, heat, noisy kids, traffic and general city ambiance, it’s almost a torture. The drive to our destination through Delhi gets worse when one reaches Majnoo ka Tila area and further. The area looks like a post-apocalyptic wasteland with ugly construction, dust, filth, chaotic traffic and general ugliness all around. The huge mountain of garbage near GT Karnal road with random fires all over the place just completes the life altering experience.  Rest of the journey was not as bad, but nothing to talk about till one reaches the mountains. There are some green fields on the way, but the way houses and factories are swallowing up land is depressing.

First rain drops

First rain drops

It remained hot and sunny till we reached Jaabli. By the time we reached there, weather started getting cool and cloudy and we took our first rest stop. Bought some barfi boxes for Shimla family and had something to eat there.
The journey was pleasant from that point as it started raining and weather was much cooler. Passed a few towns on the way with too much construction which is haphazard, looks dangerous and is destroying the soul of mountains.   Nothing remarkable happened during rest of the journey till the time we reached the house of our hosts, a 20-25 minutes drive from Shimla.
After exchanging greetings we had a late lunch. Their house has a great view of the hills all around, specially those of Kufri from the terrace. One of the floors of their house is empty and they were thinking of converting that in to a guest house.  The views of surrounding hills are great and the place is sufficiently distant from Shimla and major roads which are blocked with traffic very often. Almost everyone is driving a car these days and the roads are just not build for this kind of traffic.

Rainy Day

Rainy Day

They also own an orchard in Fagu and wanted to have some opinion on how to go about it. We visited that place next day, but that will be covered in next post.
There aren’t many pictures in this post as I took only 10-11 pictures that day.

 

Before going to sleep last night, we had decided to visit two forts, Fort Aguada and and Fort Chapora. I don’t know what’s the logic, but English spellings of these and many other places like Mapusa is nothing like how locals pronounce or write on signboards in Devnagri script. Maybe it’s the same thing which tunred Mumbai to Bombay, Dilli to Delhi.

Fort Aguada and lighthouse

Fort Aguada and lighthouse

We woke up late and decided to visit Fort Agauda in morning and Chapora in evening. Our breakfast was in Vivenda Kafe, a small food joint on the way designed with a European ambiance. We had some sandwiches, avocado milkshake, coffee (or tea) and a delicious Goan dessert.  When we were hiring the car, the owner had suggested that we go on a 4-5 hours boat trip which included dolphin sighting, fishing, visit to some Bat island and a couple for other things for just INR 1600 per person. Almost every other shop had posters like this offering almost the same service at nearly same prices.On the way, we drove through the boatyard where tourists were lining up for the trip. The boats were just a marine version of the rickety public transport buses. Under powered, uncomfortable seating, too big, exposed and full of tightly packed people. One look and we both decided to skip the boat tour. Maybe there were some better services too, but we didn’t feel like searching for them.

A rare photo of me and wifey together

A rare photo of me and wifey together

Fort Aguada was about half an hour drive away with only 2 turns. According to historical sources and signboards, there was a fresh water spring inside, water from which was used to replenish stocks of various ships which docked there.  There is also a old disused lighthouse which is closed for visitors.  The water storage tanks are also not accessible and the visitors can only climb up the walls for the view. Personally for me, it was a bit of let down as the view was nothing special. It wasn’t really bad but was nothing more than a little bit of altitude near the sea. Most places of interest , atleast to me were closed off. But the Indian tourists didn’t seem to mind it and were clicking pictures aplenty.

We had a short nap after coming back to hotel and went on to visit Fort Chapora which was made famous by some movie shoot. The place is nothing more than ruins of boundary wall which is surprisingly intact while there is no trace of any man made structure inside them. I tried searching but couldn’t find anything. It didn’t look like the place was excavated or given any attention by archaeologists. Considering the history behind the place, it was a bit of let down, but the views were fantastic. There is no path left from road to the fort which sits atop a small hill. So people just climb up which way they like to the entrance. Like many other tourist places, local Indian tourists were hell bent on making this place another dumpyard by dumping copious amounts of bottles, cans and plastic. So called Youngistan crowd which formed the bulk of visitors is as idiotic as their pot bellied parents.

View of beach from fort Chapora

View of beach from fort Chapora

I climbed up the wall and went a bit down the hill to get a better view and was rewarded by the scenery in picture. The beach was just below and was probably accessible by foot. I asked wifey to come, but she preferred to stay on the wall. A very strong breeze was blowing by this time. After taking some pictures, I walked too the adjacent ridge and stayed there for a while taking in the view.  Visibility wasn’t that great though, probably due to haze. Walking back, I heard bird calls of 2-3 birds but was unable to spot them. Only sign of any animal life were a few burrows here and there, most probably rats.

While we were driving back, we realised that our train tickets to Mumbai were not getting confirmed and we had to take a bus. I tried Redbus.in which had a number of options, but the actual timings differed from what was provided on website. So we went to a bus operator’s office to confirm bus tickets. We had a flight to catch at 9 am and only one bus had suitable timings. Even that bus had only a few seats left due to the long weekend effect. That part done, we went to Fisherman’s Cove for dinner. A live band was playing Hindi and English songs and there was only one corner table left. We managed to change that later. For dinner, we ordered pasta, some local fish curry and some other stuff which I don’t remember. The service was fast and efficient and the food was OK.

 

Fort Chapora from the end of ridge

Fort Chapora from the end of ridge

As we had still quite a bit of fuel left in the car and this being our last night in Goa, we decided to visit Baga beach. Reaching there was not an easy task with confusing roads, closed off routes and crowds. The place is just a typical party thing with a night club just behind the beach. Almost every single restaurant on the beach had a dance floor and people dancing on the same Hindi, Punjabi, English songs. Very loud, distracting and nothing like the other places we visited earlier.  To make things interesting, a large number of people were lying here and there passed out after drinking too much or snorting something potent. Probably a nice place for certain kind of party people, but not for me. We walked along the waves for a while which pushed us off our feet 4-5 times and then drove back to hotel.

Reaching back to our hotel, we packed up our stuff and went off to sleep. Next morning, we walked to Candolim beach and to have a late breakfast on the beach. Our bus left at 4 pm, so we had a lot of time. On the way, we stopped for a few minutes in a small shop run by a young girl from Karnatka and ended up buying some more clothes,  hippy jewelery kind of stuff.

Sea on our first day in Goa

Sea on our first day in Goa

Upon reaching the beach, we found a restaurant and grabbed a table. I got a squid dish and wifey ordered some kind of biryani. Latter was completely inedible and we returned it. Squid was only marginally better.   Walking back, we stopped a restaurant on main street, Bob’s Inn to eat something. Later on, went back to our hotel for rest and freshening up. We had checked out in the morning, but they kept the room for us . Few minutes after 3 pm, we caught the taxi to Mapusa where we were supposed to catch the bus. The bus was Mercedes but not very comfortable. There were 3 rest stops including one for dinner and we reached Mumbai at about 5:30 am. Spent a couple of hours with family there after which they dropped us at the airport. The flight back landed right on time, a few minutes in advance I think, but the drive back home took longer.

Over all a great vacation in a great place. I will definitely try to visit Goa again and explore some other places , specially southern parts which we skipped this time. Bucket list includes boat trip, para sailing and couple of other activities and places.

 

 

Before going to sleep, I was vaguely thinking about waking up early to see the sunrise as we were going to sleep early and it had been years since I had seen sun rise. That vague thought remained vague after all and I woke  somewhere around 8:30 am. Jamaica and his staff were already up going about their daily routines in addition to their wrapping up the place.

Caught this crab one as it was hiding

Caught this crab as it was hiding in sand

After a quick shower, me and wifey walked along the beach to search for a place to relax and have breakfast. Along the way, I was thinking about jumping in to water again, but didn’t want to take risk with the only one working camera left. Nevertheless while walking along the waves, found a second type of crab which was larger and quite a bit more interesting than the white ones I found last evening. It was trying to hide in the sand while I picked it up. Wifey screamed louder than last time and threatened to  drown me in the sea if I brought it close to her. But to be fair, she did take some pictures when I requested. After I put it back, the crab dug itself in to the sand within 2-3 seconds.

Dessert

Dessert

We kept on walking among the waves and found a beach shack kind of restaurant with ground seating facing the sea. Waiter Pappu told us that the day would be the last working day of the season and they had only about half of the items on menu available for order. We ordered some food and drinks and waited. These places in touristy areas are really nice to have long leisurely meals without staff waiting for you to pay and begone as soon as possible. We sat there watching sea, people while the cook prepared our breakfast or brunch. I ordered some fish tikka while wifey had some kind of vegetable biryani with raita. I had sea food for almost every meal afterwards during our stay in Goa.

After the meal, we spent some more time relaxing and then walked further up the beach to see the sweet water lake Jamaica had talked about. Along the way, we saw a large number of a different kind of crab which digs a hole in the sand to hide or maybe catch prey. There was an area on the beach where they were scurrying about by dozens if not hundreds. At the end of beach, we climbed a few stairs to walk through a typical touristy market with shops selling gaudy clothes, over priced knick knacks and “cheap” food joints. The aforementioned lake was at the other end of the market with just about 30-35 meters of beach separating it from the sea.

Beach near fresh water lake

Beach near fresh water lake

The lake by itself is very beautiful with green hills covering it on 3 sides, clear shallow water, small rocky island and overall great view. But dumbass Indian tourists which are a bane of beautiful places everywhere were here too spoiling everything. We had a bunch of ugly pot-bellied uncles with beer bottles, college kids probably on their first outing away from parental control, families with entitled screaming children and the usual annoying riff raff. Every single type loud as a rabid monkey, taking “selfies”, posing with alcohol like it’s some hard earned award and spreading trash. Even though trash cans were within reach, almost every all the idiots were throwing beer bottles in to the very lake they were swimming in. One of the hills was dug up for some crappy tourist lodge and a corner had some eating joints spoiling the whole beauty of the place further.

Feeling annoyed we stood there for a couple of minutes  before walking on further along the beach where the way was blocked by big rocks. The waves here were strong and were crashing on the rocks loudly. Almost every single rock was covered with sea shells and crabs.  I climbed one rock to take a better look but there was nothing specially interesting. A few tourists were enjoying  parajumping (if that’s what it’s called) by jumping from the small hills nearby. I thought to climb up one of the nearby hills, but it didn’t really looked worth the effort. After the really heavy meal, I didn’t feel like doing that para jumping thing either, so planned to do it later.

A crab digging a hole for itself

A crab digging a hole for itself

Walking back, we stopped at a sea side restaurant for drinks and then walked back to our shack for a shower and nap. In the evening, it was time for another bathing session in the sea. Near about sunset, we started walking in the opposite direction of what we had taken in morning and stopped at another sea facing restaurant for lunch. A Russian man was giving some kind of talk/lecture with some soothing background music and the place was full of people listening to him intently. We couldn’t understand anything but the background music was nice and food (fish curry with rice for me and some chinese noodle thing for wife) was good enough. After we walked out, a nearly full moon was high up in the sky and we walked back to the shack for sleep.