Shimla was fantastic – but after two days, I had had enough of it. It was everything that I expected it to be -a reminder of the times of British in India, an escape from the dust of the plains, and also a crowded easy getaway for the hordes that descend upon it from Delhi and Chandigarh.
So I figured I should get a bus and gradually move towards the Kinnaur region. 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 [p.s. The state roadways – HRTC – later used this photograph on their official facebook page!].
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.