Apple Valley - Kotgarh

हिमालयाच्या कुशीत एक छोटंसं गाव आहे - गाव तसं छोटं पण बऱ्यापैकी प्रसिद्ध. म्हणजे तुम्हा आम्हाला फारसं माहिती नाही पण, बर्याच लोकांना नाव सांगितला कि त्याचं गुणगान चालू होतं. 
गावाकडे जायचे मार्ग  २ - १) दिल्ली वरून शिमल्याची बस पकडायची, पहाटे शिमल्याला पोहचायचं, मस्त ISBT वर चहा प्यायचा आणि तिकडून पुढे नारकंडा / थानादार ची बस पकडून गावात पोहचायचं. 
२) दिल्लीवरून चंदीगड ला जायचं. तिथून शिमल्याला जाणारी कालका शिमला toy ट्रेन पकडायची. आणि शिम्ल्यावरून पुढचा प्रवास परत Taxi किंवा बस ने करायचा 

रस्ता पण कसा - मस्त डोंगर दर्यांमधून जाणारा, पाईन आणि देवदार वृक्षांच्या जंगलामधून जाणारा. अश्या रस्त्यावरून साधारण एक तास दोन तास प्रवास केला कि एका छोट्याश्या valley मध्ये आपण प्रवेश करतो. दोन्ही बाजूला फळ झाडांच्या बागा दिसतात - सफरचंद आणि apricots. इथली सफरचंद तर जगभरात प्रसिद्ध! किंबहुना भारतात याच ठिकाणी सफरचंदाची खेती प्रथम चालू झाली. 

अश्या सुंदर valley मध्ये वसलेली काही टुमदार घरं - आणि त्या पैकी एका घरामध्ये २ दिवस राहायच सुख. सकाळी उठून खिडकीबाहेर मस्त सफरचंदांचे बगीचे, मध्ये मध्ये कदाचित काही Oak ची झाडं, आजूबाजूला हिमालयाचे उंच बर्फाने आच्छादलेले डोंगर, त्यावर पडलेली सूर्याची सकाळची कोवळी किरणं. बाजूच्या टेकड्यांवर असलेले जंगल, जंगलातून टेकडीवर जाणारी एखादी पायवाट. तिथून समोरचा दृश्यावर नजर फिरवताना अंगावर आलेले रोमांच. 
परत येताना अचानक दिसलेले एखादे छोटेसे सुंदर तळे  - तळ्यातल्या निळ्याशार पाण्यात पाय बुडवून तास भर मारलेल्या गप्पा आणि बरोबर असलेले परोठे खाण्यात आलेली मज्जा. उन्हे उतरून अंधार पडायच्या आत घरी परत यायची घाई - आणि घरी आल्यावर मिळालेले गरमागरम जेवण.  रात्री चांदण्या रात्रीत शेकोटी समोर बसून मारलेल्या गप्पा आणि मग नंतर त्या कुडकुडणार्या थंडी पासून बचाव करण्यासाठी अखेर उबदार रजईचा घेतलेला आसरा!

कोणाला नाही आवडणार अश्या ठिकाणी निदान २ दिवस राहायला  - 
गाव कुठलं ? -  गावाचं नाव कोटगढ  - कसं आहे हे गाव? बघायचय ??

" Nestled in the valleys of Himalayas lies a small village - a village so small that it has only one street that runs through it, so small that many people like me, are unaware of it's existence, yet when the name of the village is told or in today's world  - Googled - you learn that it is quite famous. 

A journey to such a breathtaking and idyllic place has to be equally enchanting! Travelers have an option of going from Delhi to Shimla via an overnight bus which will probably drop you in the wee hours of the morning at the Shimla ISBT. Sip a cup of hot tea, while you wait for the next bus or a series of buses that will take you via Narkanda to Thanadar or if you are lucky - directly to our quaint little village. If you are more of the adventurous kind, then try hitching a ride with the newspaper guys readying up their vans early in the morning at ISBT - They will be happy to drop you till Narkanda from where you can either get another bus or hitch another ride. 

For those of you, who love train journeys - there's always the option of catching the Kalka - Shimla Train - which as it climbs up the hills will take you through 103 tunnels. From there on it is the same routine - catch a bus / taxi to our destination. 

The route from Shimla to Narkanda / Thanadar will be a feast for your sleepy eyes - Beautiful valleys being lit up with the morning rays of the Sun, painting splendid pictures on every turn you take, the morning chill in the crisp mountain air, the road winding through Pine and Deodar forests - you will never notice how a couple of hours went by. Towards the end of the journey, you enter a small valley and get off on a road that winds down to our little village - a road that is bordered on both sides by Apple and Apricot orchards. In fact the apples from this place are quite famous - and why not! It is said that it was here that Apple Farming actually commenced in India. 

As you make your way down the road to the quaint little village with cozy cottages hidden in between orchards or the forests, you can't help but relax and get that content feeling in your heart. A village where you can just relax and do nothing, in fact a village where the entire population spends the day out on the main street just soaking in the warmth of the winter Sun!  Imagine getting a chance to spend a couple of days with those happy and content people, in one of their beautiful houses! Wake up to the sight of Apple orchards outside your bedroom window and the snow clad peaks of the Himalayas being lit up by the morning Sun in the background, take a stroll along the market street and enjoy a cup of hot tea with delicious samosas and fries at the one and only tea stall, bask in the sun all day long and mingle with the locals or take one of the small trails dotting the hillside disappearing through the forests to make your way atop an adjacent hill overlooking the valley. Enjoy the Sunset or just meander in the forest to chance upon a small lake with clear blue waters. Enjoy your lunch while you dip your feet in the cold water and try to make your way back to the village before darkness sets in. If you are lucky, Anantramji (caretaker of the Govt. Rest House) will serve you with the best daal and roti that you have ever tasted! Spend some time enjoying the starry skies or the beautifully lit up villages on NH22. 

And before it gets too cold - retire into the comfort of your cozy blanket only to wake up again to one of the most breathtaking dawn ever!!

Who wouldn't want to live here? - Where?? - Here - Kotgarh! Wanna experience it?"

What started off as a search for spending 2 days in the Himalayas between the Delhi Marathon and a Friend's wedding in Chandigarh, turned out to be one of the most unplanned, spontaneous, beautiful and peaceful vacations I have ever been on. It was by chance that I stumbled across the story of Kotgarh and was immediately smitten by it.  Although the plan didn't materialize till the last minute - once it was set in motion there was no going back. 

So on a lazy Sunday evening, still recovering from the Delhi Marathon run in the morning, I booked my tickets to Shimla, borrowed a backpack from the friend I was staying with, packed for the 2 days, picked up my camera and got onboard. To be honest this was the least researched journey I had ever done. I just knew the name of the place I wanted to go to. I had no clue how to get there, I had no reservations and I had no alternative plan as well. 

At 5.30 am on the Shimla ISBT, sipping on a cup of hot tea in the freezing morning, there I was contemplating on whether to wait for a bus to the next stop - Narkanda or hitch a ride with one of the many newspaper vendors going on the same route. Suddenly, out of nowhere a  bus to Narkanda arrived.(Was this the sign of good things to come?) What ensued later was 2 hour epic battle between my eyes and sleep. The eyes wanted to stay open and get mesmerized by the sheer beauty of the mountains waking up to the morning, where as sleep was trying to lure them shut. I guess the bus driver was a bit biased towards the eyes. The moment sleep managed to overpower them he would ensure that my head would bang on the window rail, ensuring I was always wide awake. Lady luck followed and the bus to Thanadar ( a village close to Kotgarh) was waiting at Narkanda. This was going to be the last leg of my journey. 

An hour later, chit chatting with the locals who seemed surprised that a lone traveler had come in search of Kotgarh, that too in the off season, I got down at Bherdidar. A small walk downhill from here and  I was going to reach my  have destination. 

Finding a place to stay turned out to be more fun than I imagined.  Right from eager grannies and aunties who unfortunately could not offer me a room due to the off season,  to a bragging and self proclaimed owner of a few dozen houses in the village and also in Shimla. 5.min into the coversation and i knew that this was a  wrong place to stay. So downhill again it was. It was finally the Govt. Rest House that provided me shelter for the night. The officer seemed surprised that I wanted to stay just for one night and was kind enough to grant me permission to stay. So now I had the entire rest house to myself at a price of Rs. 500 :) Awesome! 

The village consists of one market street, the small church, a single samosa stall, a Dhaba wala whose owner was missing, a few Kirana shops and a theka.

The sun set over the hills at around 5 pm and what follwed was a riot of colors in the sky. As soon as the light faded, a different drama unfolded on the hills in front. The villages lit up one by one, and the scene felt  as if Diwali was  still being celebrated in this part of the country. Anantramji, the caretaker,  fixed a sumptuous meal of tasty daal and roti for me and we kept each other company through dinner :) 

The thought of getting a chance to click star trails early at dawn got me out of bed at 5.30 am.  The cold did not make things easier but a few breathtaking shots later the cold didnt matter. A couple of hours later,  I was on my way back to Narkanda.

The friendly bus driver told me about 2 places which I should visit next time I come down in these parts - Tani Jubbar - a lake in the woods and the Hatu Peak.

As I had some time on my hand, I decided to hike till Hatu. After all it seemed a mere 6km walk in the park :P Little did I know that without water and food, it was going to be a tough climb!. Once at the top, you are surrounded by majestic views of the snow clad peaks of the Himalayas in all directions, as if they are guarding the Hatu temple,  making every bit of the climb worth the effort.  Lady luck still seemed to be in my favor and I was just in time for the Bhandar ( Langar) served at the temple. ( that's the only food you  will get atop Hatu)

A quick tour of the temple, and a walk in the forest with one of the member of the temple trust,  gave me access to some more magnificent views. 

 Just as I  was about to exit the forest and take the trail going downhill,  I  was privy to seeing a Himalayan eagle at eye level. Although I could not click a picture of it, seeing the  big bird up so close was enough to give me goosebumps. 

The return journey to Chandigarh was pretty uneventful, but the memories of Kotgarh and the sights and sounds of it are enough to ensure one more trip to the valley of apples.  This time may be in the apple season.

And if the blog hasn't tempted you enough to plan your own trip to Kotgarh,  here are some of the memories that I tried to capture and bring them back with me!

Happy viewing and  see you soon in Kotgarh!