<Trip Report May 2014> Shimla, Kinnaur and Spiti - A Busventure

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#16 Mar 25th, 2015, 16:21
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#16
Nice to go through your photos and the write up... waiting for your next part...
#17 Jun 12th, 2015, 03:54
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#17
I'm bumping this thread in hope of some updates, it seems like a fascinating story
#18 Jun 12th, 2015, 13:45
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#18

Remains of the Raj- Part 2

The overnight bus journey the night before and the traipsing around town all through Monday resulted in a very sound sleep. I slept nearly eleven hours and was at Cakes and Bakes, a bakery cum café at the Town hall square only at ten AM. Well, clearly I wasn’t leaving town that day. The weather in Simla on the morning of the 29th of April can be best described as crisp and thankfully the boys at C&B know how to make a good cappuccino. They’d compete with a Costa any day.



I used the time over coffee to pore over the map book and make some rough calculations as to how far places such as Narkanda were and the time I need to distribute to Kinnaur and possibly Spiti. The previous day I had enquired about buses leaving for Recong Peo and that it would be an eight to ten hour ride subject to road closures. That seemed long and I contemplated breaking the journey in Sarahan.

After the croissant and coffee, I got onto a shared taxi (where were they yesterday??) for ten rupees all the way to the Ambedakar statue (near the Cecil Oberoi) – a cool two kilometre ride. My first stop was the Archaeological museum. Photography is not permitted unless one buys a ticket and as it turned out, my fifty rupees were well saved as I didn’t plumb for a ticket up front. I was out the door in less than twenty minutes and on my way to the IIAS (Indian Institute of Advanced Studies).

The IIAS has to be, hands down, the single most impressive Raj era building in Simla and appears to be something air lifted from the UK and dropped here.



I was so impressed by the building that I pranced around the garden taking shot after shot – from the front and the corners such as the one below.



Above the entrance is the Royal British seal carved in grey stone – I recognized it immediately as English cricket team players wear it on their uniform (and I’ve always wondered why the lion didn’t eat the horse already). (Because it's a unicorn, silly, it's not real!)



Built by Lord Duffrein (with later additions by Lord Irwin) as the Viceregal lodge in the 1880s, it was used as the residence when the heat of the plains got too much for the British to bear. The second president of India, Dr Radhakrishnan thought the building would be used better as an institution for higher learning and in the 1960s established the IIAS here.

Today, most of the building is out of bounds as the government runs residential scholar programs for the chosen few in areas as diverse as religion and science and technology. Entry to the building is by way a tour where groups are escorted inside along with a guide leading the front and a guard at the rear bringing back the wayward to the path of the righteous (and also from indulging in photography as it is not permitted).

Our tour began a bit past noon and lasted a short half hour. Our guide was very well informed and did a good job keeping the group interested and answered almost all questions. The first stop was the impressive hall. It is three storeys high from the inside and wood panelled from ground to ceiling and then the ceiling itself is panelled with genuine teak. The library has small chandeliers as it was formerly used as the ballroom. The bulbs here were lit with electricity back in the 1880s. The most memorable room was where a round table is housed upon which the decision to partition India was taken in 1947. We were left towards the end of the half hour tour to view some photographs of the British residents of this building and of notable conferences held here.

At quarter to one, I was wandering around in the expansive and immaculately maintained gardens of the Viceregal lodge / IIAS. I walked around the gardens for another half hour, admiring the pebble strewn pathways lined with tall trees on either side.



The flower beds were in full bloom with antirrhinums, zinnias, calendulas, anthuriums, poppies, asters and gerberas.



The gardens provided a soothing ambience and I just sat down on a bench for a while and did absolutely nothing. It felt very good and I was beginning to feel better about the visit to Simla. As I walked back towards the wing that now houses the cafeteria and bookshop (formerly the fire station), the same chowkidaar from yesterday pointed me to an annexe building behind the wing. It housed old photographs – Wah!



The sun can be quite harsh in the hills and I relaxed a while longer than I should have inside the cafeteria. This building was formerly where they housed the fire engines and it still contains some firefighting equipment. The place was chock a block with visitors, children running all over and a couple arguing over something inconsequential the way only a couple can do.



On the way back, I could not find a ride and had to walk the two and a half kilometres back to the strawberry red façade of railway board building. I was surprised to find gorgeous red strawberries being sold close to the building and bought a box. They were delicious!



Back at the YMCA I slept another couple of hours, waking up at six and went out for a completely forgettable dinner. I have almost no memory of where I ate that night. I must have photographed Simla from the ridge though, as I have that photo with me. It looked sublime under the cover of a blue-black sky with only little lights spread all over the hills. I slept again early, a little past nine after making the payment to Anil for the two nights as I would not see him the next morning.

#19 Jun 12th, 2015, 19:34
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Originally Posted by treis711 View Post I'm bumping this thread in hope of some updates, it seems like a fascinating story
Thank you. I have re-started.
#20 Jun 15th, 2015, 14:14
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#20

Third day - To Sarahan

On the third day of my unplanned himachal adventure, my idea for the day was to ride a bus towards Kinnaur. Minor details such as where to stay the night and where to actually get the bus from were still unclear. Waking up at 4 in the morning and setting out of the YMCA at 5 added to the problem –as few people were around to guide me where to board a bus from.

I had to wait a bit on the ridge to catch hold of a few early morning walkers to find out where I could find a Narkanda / Rampur bound bus. A kind old soul asked me to follow him. This innocuous exercise soon showed its true colors as dragging my heavy wheeled bag down the steep slope of the foot-path towards the Lakkar bazar bus stand proved quite cumbersome. This bus stand is situated on the slope opposite of the one where the new bus stand is located and hence this stranger’s guidance was much appreciated through the one and a quarter kilometer’s walk.

At half past five the bus stand had a few share jeeps that were willing to drop me to Narkanda and at-least one was available till Rampur. Based on the stranger’s guidance, I politely declined the offers from the share-jeepwallahs and waited for the long distance bus that was due to arrive any minute from Haridwar. In the photograph below he is seen, standing rather proud, smartly dressed in jacket and trousers.



The bus arrived around six in the morning and I got a seat (lucky me). This ordinary bus was already quite crowded (see below) and my hopes of capturing the glorious sunrise vistas of the Shimla slopes were dashed by the bumpiness of the ride coupled with my seat being on aisle side of the bus (the valley was to the left).



I managed to get just this one shot as we were approaching narkanda. It was wooded, green and looked like a great place to while away time if you have children, are geriatric or otherwise discombobulated.



Somewhere after Narkanda the bus stopped and at the dhaba where half of the passengers ordered breakfast (dhaba seen below), I managed to get chatting with the conductor.



He had been a bus conductor with Himachal Road Transport for over a dozen years and while he wasn’t happy with the workload he faced, was sticking to the job. He said ‘I have two kids to feed’ and hence ‘do this overnight journey from Haridwar to Simla and then all the way to Recong Peo at-least twice a week’. It’s a 14 hour non-stop shift for him. When the bus picked me up, the driver and the conductor had already been on duty for over 6 hours – through the night hours. No wonder our driver (seen with his head in his hands) looked so exhausted.



Breakfast was excellent alu parathas served with channa in gravy; all washed down with milky sweet tea. The fare was well suited to the weather and money parted hands most willingly.



The ride thereafter got progressively hotter and I took off my jacket. The slopes here were also in marked contrast to the wooded hills of Narkanda. (see below)



Overall the journey was quite uneventful to the point of being boring (I rode five hours between Shimla and Rampur in an ordinary bus). I spent most of that time reading William Dalrymple’s ‘From the Holy Mountain’ – an account of the remains of early Christianity in the Levant – a region that had started witnessing the flames of war since the start of the year under the scourge of the Islamic state. It is his second book, but also his best researched book and was written before he discovered India and his niche (Raj era India).

Shortly before 10:30 we were at the Rampur bus stand. Rampur’s altitude is 1100 meters and the stand is right by the Sutlej River. The stand itself is new, but the town gives the impression of being dusty and unappealing.



It is however an important bus junction especially for making connections to the side valleys. I photographed the entire time-table of buses plying this section for those of you who might be intrepid (sometimes spelt foolhardy) enough to ride the buses here.







A view from the bus stand is seen below and I’m sure you’d notice how close to the Sutlej river we were. A few kilometers after this, the mountains became progressively drier (as compared to the Simla region) and due to the lower altitude of the road, they appeared really large. Had it not been so dry, it would have been even more picturesque.



At a quarter to noon, as the bus approached Jeori, I made the impromptu decision of hopping off it. The bus would have gone to Recong Peo and per the conductor we were all set to reach by 4 in the afternoon or sometime thereabouts. However, my behind could take no more pounding. Jeori is where the road bifurcates with a section turning double back and rising steeply into the hills for Sarahan, the site known for the temple of Bhimkali, the patron goddess of Bushahar state. I was eager to visit Sarahan thanks to all the photos I had seen (online) of the temple.

After crossing the road, another bus was waiting already to take me to Sarhan. There were three other passengers. I trusted one of them to watch over my heavy bag while I went away for a quick lunch of pakoras and tea.
I was very lucky to get a connection so quickly as there’re, from what I recall just two buses per day as the route is used predominantly used by the village residents and also by the ITBP personnel stationed at Sarahan. The distance from Jeori to Sarahan is just 13 kilometers but within that the road rises up nearly 1200 meters. This steep ascent causes a dramatic change in temperature and the foliage around turns green – seen below is a small waterfall by the side of the road.




Off the bus at Sarahan, the most prominent landmark of the town, the temple was easily spotted. At the Bhimakali temple, the guest house manager was a Mr Amarnath and he allotted a spacious, double bed room to me (I had called him the previous day from Shimla, with the number taken from a leaflet at YMCA). At a price of Rs 550/- per night, the room overlooked the main entrance of the temple, had hot water and a western style toilet. Super.



From the balcony, I could see the immaculately maintained temple premises.



Best of all, as I was on the first floor, I was able to escape the haranguing from the numerous beggars that seem to enter and leave the main courtyard as they please. Seen below, is a beggar woman entering the gold plated doors of the temple courtyard.



Satisfied with the progress thus far, I went up to my room for a while and just lay down.
#21 Jun 15th, 2015, 14:32
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#21
Good going. Keep the photos & description coming.

Ronak.
#22 Jun 15th, 2015, 15:25
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#22
Méticuleux.
MEDIOCRITY IS WITHIN MY REACH
#23 Jun 15th, 2015, 16:21
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#23
Nice progress with the meaningful images VA..
Only rules that matters are:What a man can do and what a man can not !!!!

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#24 Jun 15th, 2015, 23:10
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#24
Thank you The comments and likes keep me going. Will update soon.
#25 Jun 16th, 2015, 03:15
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#25
Neat ! Vaibhav !! The same route is in my mind too. All the way to Kaza, cross over the Kunzum La to Manali. Please update soon. It will help me chalk out an itinerary.
They do not know very good Latin, these botanists.!!!
#26 Jun 16th, 2015, 12:36
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#26

The temple of Bhimkali

After a half hour, as the clock struck three, it was time to explore the place. I went towards the main door of the temple. It is flanked on either side by a dwarpala (gate-keeper deity) statue of smooth black stone.



The main doors themselves are made of brass and decorated by heavy silver plates that were prepared by the ‘repousse technique’ – it involves hammering the metal so as to push it out into the desired shape. The doors are ornate and depict scenes from the life of Krishna – on the left is an image of Radha Krishna and on the right we see Krishna dancing on the mythical serpent – Kaliya. In the doors at Sarahan, both silver and gold were used.



Based on the inscription on them were built by the king of Bushahr state – Padam Singh – who reigned from 1927 to 1984.



Some of the artistry is excellent – such as this representation of Shiva on this door – note the bolts at top and bottom in the brass base. The piece here uses both silver and gold in parts that needed to be emphasized – such as Shiva’s third eye (on his forehead).



Once past this doorway, I came to another paved yard that ends where there is a palace like structure through which goes a gate. This double storeyed structure is used as a storage area and living quarters at this time. The gate has doors plated with silver and flanked on either side by lions with tails rising up sharply.



Once past this door, there is yet another courtyard upon which sat the second enclosed plinth that contains the actual temple. In fact, there are two temples – the one on the right is the one still in use while the one on the left is the older temple and no-longer in use. The doorway to these temples is flanked by statues of tiger on each side.



I walked around in this yard, towards the right hand side, there was a well, and behind that the temple of Lanka Vir, the one that lonely planet describes as the site of human sacrifices in the nineteenth century and possibly later as well. Next to the temple of lanka vir, is a small newish building with a glass front that contains implements, utensils and objects d’art of the local area. This building has ornate pillars, a sloping slate roof, and while the door for entering this building was locked but it is helpfully labelled ‘museum’ so it must be that . Out front were a large karahi (vat used to make rice dishes) and a deg (for either cooking a gravy based dish or storing grain or pulses).



I looked up and observed the Bhimkali temple. For a place like sarahan, it is an imposing size – five storeys high and not any evidence of usage of mortar – just beams joined carefully together and stones placed betwixt them. Even the platform shows no evidence of any cements or lime usage.



The wood work in the panels and windows is profusely carved. The photo below shows panels of the older, disused temple.



A ventilation panel depicts mythical animals – I suspect some are late additions with folk art influence as seen below – apparently mermaids.



On the front side of the temple, I saw hanging on the wall a pair of crossed swords topped by a shield – a symbol that the temple was used as a fort at some point of time. It was then that the layout, concentric walls with each level rising higher than the previous one started making perfect sense. This place wasn’t just a temple, it was safe haven during unsettled times for the royals.

Photography is prohibited in the innermost enclosure and lockers are available inside the second enclosure – I deposited my camera bag in one such and went inside the second doorway and then up the stairs inside the temple. I recall it was quite dark despite being day time and once I was upstairs, a family was offering prayers to the goddess. I bent down momentarily and received ‘prasad’ from the priest and then came downstairs.

Having retrieved my camera, I lingered on just long enough to catch hold of another priest, who was coming down the stairs of the second gate. After some pleasantries, I hesitatingly asked him about the human sacrifice stories and whether there was any truth in them.

He said, “Yes it used to happen in old days, not any longer.”

“I pestered on – how did they do it. “

“Why do you want to know? “

“Generally, I’m curios. “

“Theek hai ji (Ok, fine). I will tell you the details. First, the man who was chosen (typically a villager from within the kingdom) was kept in captivity for six months or more. He was fed the choicest of dishes – sweets, meat dishes, all laden with ghee – with the intent that the healthier the sacrifice, the more pleased the god would be. During his time of captivity, he was asked to prepare a rope with his own hands. When the appointed day dawned, after a good bath, this man would be taken to a tree on the slope behind the temple. You see those trees? (He pointed to a few seen in the photograph below where the bright green lends way to a duller color). The rope had been tied between that tree on one end and the well, you see in front of the temple, here. The man would be sat one leg on either side of the rope while the rope would be taut. His legs were weighed down and hands were tied loosely to each leg so he could not escape. He would then be slid down the rope and usually, be halved before the time he reached the temple. “






“Are there still any kind of sacrifices?”

“Well, chicken and buffalo still happen. It all depends on faith – if your work is done by the blessings of the goddess, you’d bring a sacrifice. Bigger the work, bigger the sacrifice. “

He smiled and left me to my devices, which were quite numb by then. It was eerily quiet in the premises and I felt like leaving - and I did.
#27 Jun 16th, 2015, 13:54
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#27
Quote:
It was wooded, green and looked like a great place to while away time if you have children, are geriatric or otherwise discombobulated.




Extra points earned for those who are old, parents, and otherly mobile. (Or immobile.)
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He smiled and left me to my devices, which were quite numb by then.

Discombobulated ?
"Everything is hard before it is easy." - Goethe
#28 Jun 16th, 2015, 15:42
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#28
Brilliant writing Vaibhav.

"The place was chock a block with visitors, children running all over and a couple arguing over something inconsequential the way only a couple can do. "
"Several loud knocks on the glass pane made him wake up but he asked that I come back after nine in the morning when the person in-charge was available. This is your vacation (I said to myself) and stayed as calm as I could."
#29 Jun 16th, 2015, 16:43
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#29
Fascinating write-up with illustrative pictures. I had to cancel my HP trip...not feeling sad anymore.
If a problem can be solved there is no use worrying about it. If it cant be solved, worrying will do no good ~ H.H
#30 Jun 16th, 2015, 17:24
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#30
Sorry to hear about the cancelled trip Legless soul. Through this trip I was rather actively thinking of Indiamike and Indiamikers and clicked more than a few photos to post - such as the bus time table shots above.
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