Monday, June 25, 2007

A Slice of Nature, A Sip of Wine!

The best part about India is that there are so many breathtaking nooks and crannies in this country that are still unexplored and unexploited. My idea of a hill station is not exactly a commercial hub like Shimla or Mussourie. I rather travel to smaller towns hidden in the heart of the hills, known for nothing but the warmth of the people and the clean fresh air.

One such place, I discovered, is Palampur. Most of us wouldn’t even have heard of it, and those who have would attribute it to the military cantt area there. For others like me, Palampur is an unexplored jewel.

A six hour drive from Chandigarh and a long 12 hour drive from Delhi with stops, Palampur is a little out of reach for the quick getaway seekers. Yet, I would recommend one taking out the time and making this trip. We did the wise thing and stopped over at Chandigarh for the night. We set off for Palampur the next morning at 6am and were on our way. The drive is beautiful- Long winding roads with the typical lush green fields of Punjab on both sides and barely any traffic. On our way, we stopped at a dhabba near Anadpur Sahib (A famous gurudwara where Khalsa was started) and had mouth watering Aalu paranthas. The best part of dhabbas in the north is that you spend a total of around Rs.100 for delicious food for 4 people and leave feeling completely satisfied. Finally we moved on and crossing Nangal (Of the Bhakra Nangal dam fame), we entered the ghats. The gradual climb suited even a person like me, being one of those who always gets vertigo in hills. Finally, right in time for lunch, we reached the beautiful town of Palampur.

We had the good fortune of knowing people in CSIR, a renowned research institute there and got ourselves booked in the guest house. Lovely big suites with windows opening towards the mountains, it was an experience. The only way of getting a room here is if you know anybody in CSIR. At Rs.150 per night, the rooms are not open to the general public. There is also a Hotel Yamini that is supposed to be the best here for others. The tariffs average around Rs.3000 per night for a double. The first day, we just decided to relax and take long walks. The one thing about Palampur that people don’t know is that there are large expanses of tea estates here. Acres of land growing leaf tea not only perfume the environment, they really are a feast for the eyes too. My 3 days in Palampur left me addicted to this tea!

During our walk, we discovered a Naturotherapy centre called “Kaya Kalp”. Excited at our new find, we returned there the next day to be pampered and rejuvenated. I went in for their full body massage and steam bath (At a total of Rs 100 per person). I must confess, those 50 minutes were nothing less than pure bliss. When we stepped out of there, I truly felt lighter and more beautiful!! The centre is relatively new and does not have internet presence yet. The best way to contact them is to walk in, you don’t really need prior appointments. The evening was spent by visiting the museum of Sobha Singh, a famous artist who is best known for his paintings of Guru Nanak. In a room within his own house, now run by his niece, it was a lovely collection. The sunset in Palampur was worth dying for. Snowcapped peaks, pine forests and the sky ablaze – it was a moment of pure silence and beauty.

Another thing to take back from here is the fruit wines they make in this region. You can get beautifully presented and lovely to taste Kiwi wines, Peach wines, Apple wines etc. They range from Rs.150 a bottle to Rs.400 for a 750ml bottle, quite a steal even in comparison to Indian wines like Sula. A perfect evening in Palampur is about putting up your feet, sipping wine and watching the sunset between snow capped mountains. It makes one realize that this is what life is about!

Finally, on our last day, we packed our bags and looked back at this quaint little town one last time. It was with a heavy heart but rejuvenated mind that we started on our journey back to the hustle bustle of city life. What we carried with us though, besides the famous tea and wines, was almost a sort of humble gratitude towards nature that she allowed us to witness her in all her glory.

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