It was to shrug off some of this monotony and to escape the hustle bustle of Delhi that I convinced my parents to plan a weekend getaway. After lengthy deliberations, we zeroed in upon Kasauli in Himachal. Kasauli is a hill station situated on the Lower Shivalik Range, about an hour's drive from Shimla. We preferred Kasauli over Shimla as it has lost much of its old soothing charm due to unplanned construction all over the town. In the wee hours of the following Sunday, we finally boarded the Delhi-Kalka Shatabdi Express. The glistening exteriors of the new LHB German-design coaches matched with comfortable interiors and the wide blinds-fitted glass panes on the sides gave the train a very modern look. Even the generally languishing Railway Police Force personnel on board surprised us by checking the entire luggage.
The All-New Shatabdi Express
The journey was quite comfortable and smooth and since we were in a group of about 10 people, time flew past. Winding through historically significant places such as Panipat and Kurukshetra, our train finally chugged into the Kalka station by noon. After alighting at the station, we took cabs for Subathu right away. Subathu, the place where we had put up, is a small cantonment town, home to the 14 Gorkha Training Command of the Indian Army.
Within a few minutes into the journey, we were already into the hills. The view of the pristine hills dotted with pine trees was totally breathtaking. Every few minutes, meandering through the hills, as if it were playing hide and seek, we would see narrow gauge tracks of the world renowned Kalka Shimla Rail ( it might be soon be accorded with a World Heritage Status). After a while, we stopped at Sanawar, a town on the Kalka-Shimla highway and had a sumptuous meal at a Punjabi Dhaba on the hills. Thereafter we took a detour from the main highway at Dharmpur towards Subathu. As we were approaching Subathu, we could see the army establishment looked quite like a resort from a distance. The place was far more gorgeous than what we had expected. The town on the one hand boasted of buildings dating back to the 1800s and on the other some buildings gave a modern look. The best part of this sleepy town was that it offered complete serenity and tranquility. The view of the surrounding hills from the cantonment is too beautiful to be penned down.
This quaint little town situated at an altitude 4500 ft also has quite a glorious history behind it. The main building of the erstwhile cantonment named Kennedy House, established in the early eighteen century (1822) is a national heritage building. Sharing the same honor is another building of equal significance known as the Vice Regal, an erstwhile summer retreat for the Governor Generals of British India. The 14 G.T.C. at Subathu, as I learnt later, is the training center for the 1st and the 4th Gorkha Regiments of the Indian Army. It is the only training command which is located at the place of birth of the Regiment. The Gorkha regiment, raised by the British Indian Army, way back in 1815 is one of the oldest in the country. It was quite surprising to find out that 40% of the posts in the Gorkha Regiment are reserved for citizens of Nepal ( Gorkhas have a considerable presence in Nepal).
The view of the surrounding hills from Subathu
In the evening, we took a stroll around the cantonment area. There are two popular trails in the town. One of them, called the Cheel Chakkar offered breathtaking views of the Kasauli and Shimla Hills. We watched the sun go down at the Sunset Point, another spot on the trail.
The next day we were off to Kasauli. The journey uphill from Subathu to Kasauli was quite exhausting. By the time, we reached Kasauli; we did not have the spirit for more adventure. So we just managed to touch Manki Point, the highest point at Kasauli, from where one can see the plains of Chandigarh as well as the Sutlej River. This hilltop is also the base for an Air Force Radar Station. On the way down, we took a stroll through the Upper and the Lower Mall Roads where the local market is located.
After having lunch on way back, we decided explore the toy train on the Kalka-Shimla route. For this, we then drove down to the nearest station, Dharampur. The station looked more like a small British bungalow than a railway station. As this part of the journey wasn’t on our initial itinerary, we asked the locals at the station about the next train. We just wanted to hop on even for a few minutes to experience the thrill of riding through the charming hills, tunnels and bridges and valleys which one encounters on the way. After enquiring, we found out that the reserved coaches are generally booked months in advance but we could try for the unreserved coaches. Not willing to miss a chance, we got tickets for Sanwara, the nearest station. The ticket cost us three rupees, the amount we pay for platform ticket these days! After waiting about two hours, we finally heard a faint whistle. We rushed to the platform, eager to grab the few vacant seats that we had expected but as luck would have it, we could not get in as there wasn’t even enough space to hop on. That was something that we really missed out upon.
A goods train @ the Dharampur Station
The remaining part of the evening was spent unwinding on the hills at Subathu. Every night at 14 GTC, we would hear the sound of a bagpiper being played at night. We later found out that playing of the bagpiper was an age old tradition that marked the end of day for the jawans and by that time the lights were put off in their barracks.
The next day, we had to catch our train back from Kalka so we didn’t have much time on our hands. We still managed to explore a small stream that day just a few minutes downhill from Subathu. The best part was that it was totally untouched and we had the whole stream to ourselves. The stream was just about knee deep and the flow was ideal. Despite being surrounded by hills on sides and an azure blue stream flowing right next to me, sorrow was slowly beginning to creep in when I realized that it was already time to bid adieu. What cheered me up eventually was the fact that the memories of the wonderful sojourn would be etched in my mind for a long time.