When the Shivalik Express train left Kalka station and started chugging up the hills slowly, it was still early in the morning.
The destination was Shimla.
We were on our way to Narkanda, a small hamlet on the Hindustan Tibet road which offers spectacular views of the Srikhand and Kinner Kailash peaks of the Himalayas.
Narkanda which is about 65 km from Shimla, is one of the lesser known hill stations of Himachal Pradesh unlike its popular cousins, Kullu and Manali, Dalhousie, Chamba or Sarahan.
Chugging up the hills
Travelling by the century-old railway (which has recently been included in the World Heritage list by UNESCO)
, weaving along the hilly terrain is an experience in itself.
I sipped my hot cup of tea and looked at the scenery as it unfolded in front of me. Hills dotted with pine trees, interspersed with red, yellow, pink, purple and white flowers. Every now and then, the train would be plunged into darkness and we would know we were passing through one of the 103 tunnels which fell en route.
Despite being tired after the long journey from Howrah, the first thing we did after reaching Shimla was look out for transport to take us to Narkanda. Buses plying from Shimla to Rampur pass Narkanda, but we chose to travel by car the next day.
It was a bright morning when we left Shimla after a quick breakfast. On the outskirts of the town we crossed Chota Shimla, where the Himachal Pradesh Secretariat, a heritage building, is located.
As we moved ahead nature began to unfold its beauty. Undulating green mountains and clusters of pine trees looked as if they were touching the sky on the horizon. Kufri, the winter spot that tourists flock to for skiing, was absolutely beautiful with its pine and deodar trees.
Then there is Fagu where you are treated to a picture postcard view of tiny hamlets, orchards and neatly terraced fields below. Pine and cedar trees offer a breathtaking view with the blue sky above and greenery all around.
Apple orchards by the road
Despite being impatient to get to Narkanda we could not resist the temptation to stop for a cup of tea and to click snaps of the beautiful landscape.
One by one we passed through tiny villages like Theog, Koti, Matiana and Silaru.
There were apple orchards on the way and one could easily pluck apples from the trees by the road. There were trolleys down below, fitted with wire rope to cart the apples away. At some places we saw apple boxes being loaded into trucks. We wanted to sample the fruit but there was no retail sale. We would have had to buy the entire carton for Rs 600. We decided to pass it up this time.
We reached Narkanda around noon. The weather was absolutely clear and the small town busy with activity. Our vehicle stopped at a petrol station and right in front of us were the snow capped peaks of the
Tourists travelling from Shimla to Rampur or Sarahan hardly visit Narkanda, some of them may have just touched it though the small town makes a perfect destination for a quiet little holiday in the heart of nature.
Though the snow clad ranges of the Himalayas are visible from the town itself, the view from the top of Hatu peak, just 7 km away, was simply breathtaking.
Silence of the mountains
The peak which is at a height of 11,100 feet is accessible by a motorable road that climbs through woods of cedar and spruce. One can also trek up to the peak. There was an absolute silence amidst the mountains surrounded by the thick woods and right behind them were the snow peaks of Shrikhand and the famous Kinner Kailash.
We sat on the benches atop the peak to enjoy the beauty of the view. One should be very careful while driving up the road to Hatu peak as the road is very narrow with a deep gorge on one side and has sharp bends at some points. We had a narrow escape at one point when our car almost collided with a vehicle coming down from the opposite direction.
A temple atop Hatu peak
We also visited the temple of Hatu Mata on top of the peak. There were hardly any tourists save for a few foreigners. The pujari opened the temple door and offered us prasad and a stick of small yellow flowers.
While in Narkanda, one should also make a stopover at Thanedar and Kotgarh, just about 18 km away. It is the apple growing heartland of Himachal Pradesh.
How to get there
Narkanda is 65 km away from Shimla. Shimla airport is 88 km away and Chandigarh airport is 185 km away from Narkanda. Taxis are available from the taxi stand in Shimla. One can also board buses going to Rampur and Sarahan, but journey by car is always preferable as it allows you to stop at any point and take pictures.
Where to stay
Narkanda has limited accommodation. Hotel Hatu run by HPTDC is the best option. Phones: (01782) 242430, 242509.
Other options are Hotel Mahamaya, Circuit House and PWD guest house. One can also stay in Shimla and make a day visit to Narkanda.
Narkanda is a destination for all seasons except for a short period in winter when the highway is sometimes closed due to heavy snowfall.
Text and photographs: Sunil Mukhopadhyay
(Originally Submitted on rediff.com)