Its been a while since my last post. So here goes....
Since arriving in India last year, we have taken weekend breaks to cooler climes like Shimla and Rishikesh as well as the tourist trail to Jaipur, and even fled to Kerela for a quick overnight without the kids! Our latest trip was to the Neemrana Fort Palace which is halfway between Delhi and Jaipur.
In general the distances involved with getting somewhere cool and relaxing are daunting because of the time it takes to get from A to B. A 300km road trip can take anything from 8 hours driving upwards. Having travelled 1000 km in 12 hours in Australia, its a bit trying. Still we were positively luxuriating in our Innova compared to the pilgrims heading to Haridwar and Rishikesh in the State-run buses and they definitely had the higher purpose. Having your own vehicle does add to your convenience factor also as you can then choose to carry on or make leg-stretching stops.
Both Rishikesh and Shimla enjoy a section of really good highway travel from Delhi, but once you pass Ambala you are crawling at 10kmph for 30-40 mins at a stretch.
Rishikesh: Having said that I would whole heartedly recommend Rishikesh as a fantastic break especially if you have children. The Ganga which travels through Rishikesh is at its most user -friendly. Not yet filthy, it is just wild enough to give you a few very enjoyable thrills in an inflated rubber dinghy! We went in November 2007 and it was chilly body surfing but so very pleasant that we didn't care that we were slowly turning a truly strange shade of blue.Our boys loved everything about the stay. We stayed at the Himalayan Hideaway https://www.nivalink.com/himalayanhideaway/index.html which also has a camp on the riverside called Himalayan River Runners www.hrrindia.com. The meals at the Hideaway were basic and hearty, the service was really good and the room was rustic and lovely. All in all perfect for a short break. We took a local guide for a 2 hour walk in the area and he was full of fairytales and mythological stories about the Ganga and all the Hindu gods. I had to play translator for my husband and kids which resulted in some unintentional hilarity, but it was all good fun. The white water rafting was really enjoyable and not too hairy and the best part was seeing our boys faces light up at the sight of frothing whitewater. We were quite sad to leave as it had been really peaceful and the weather had been perfect.
Shimla: We went to Shimla in January 2008 and I have to admit I was a little disappointed at the lack of civic awareness. There is rubbish tumbling down every slope in the town and an air of faded glory about the whole place. There were renovations being carried out at the Gaiety Theatre and a few other colonial landmarks and you could easily imagine how it must have glittered 100 years ago. The hotel we stayed at, Clarks Oberoi, still retained a touch of that glorious time, and has a cigar/smoking lounge complete with (non-functioning) fire-place. Fireplaces are not lit anymore as a measure to reduce pollution which I applaud. The staff seemed to be from a bygone era as well and made me feel very nostalgic. Shimla was great for walking around, especially along the Mall and across towards the historic Viceroy's residence.
Khufri and the lying guides: A word of warning for anyone seeking snow, don't be fooled by reports of snow in Khufri/Khoofree. It has not snowed in Khufri for the last 10 years and to find snow when there is none in Shimla you will need to travel further afield than Khufri. The guides are opportunists who only want to convince you of the need to take donkeys/ponies/horses for a 2 km hike to the top of Khufri. The reward for hiking (through donkey poo) or clinging precariously to the ears of a bad-tempered, ill-used ass, is a squalid and pathetic shrine of sorts. There is a view overlooking valleys on 3 sides and some interesting mountain ranges in the distance. Surrounding the shrine are the usual assortment of shantystalls selling stuff you don't want or need for that trip into the shrine you never signed up to visit. The gamut of emotions on the faces of the suckers who fell for the guides' ploys and hired the asses range from slothlike, pigs-in-muck enjoyment to sheer terror as the animals laboured up the incline carrying people of all ages on paths that clung to edge of the hill side. We saw a very scared girl fall off her ride as she was actually frozen stiff with fear and didn't register that the pony had started going downhill which meant she needed to shift her weight towards the back of the animal rather than the front!
Within Shimla we climbed to Jhakhoo temple or Monkey Top as its also known. Make this hike before 5pm as the light fades very quickly after that. It is a medium level 45 min walk but make sure you have absolutely no carrybags. As you reach the temple you walk through a gauntlet of fairly aggresive monkeys which might take sunglasses or other items to get you to surrender your food to them. Food that is not even visible. My husband lost his brand new designer prescription glasses to one such monkey who only gave them up after we had given him 3 lots of food, and only because a local advised us to leave the last food packet closed. The monkey needed 2 hands to get into the packet and so he threw aside the spectacles!! It scared our younger one something rotten, and I admit I definitly don't find simians cute or cuddly.
The main reason I thought of writing this today was the Neemrana Fort Palace. It is a snippy 1.5 hours from Gurgaon and is set into the hillside about 10 mins off NH8. Picturesque, charming, atmospherial, rustic, did I say charming, quaint, relaxing are all words that would describe it. I recommend it to everyone looking for an overnight break or a few days away. Unlike a lot of the palace hotels that India is famed for this one is not as fancy nor is it as expensive. We had a massive 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom suite with a double height living room for Rs.8000.00 a night. The venues for meals kept changing so you never got bored. All the rooms are themed 'mahals'. We will definitely be going back soon. In the winter we hope to walk all the hills in that area.
On that note...thanks if you are still reading. I'll try to be more regular in future, with the blog, I mean.