Destination: Kharapathar, East of Shimla
Distance from New Delhi: 410km
Altitude: 8,900 feet
Most Indians head out for a holiday on a long weekend and mid of August was no different. Our Independence Day fell on a Friday and this meant every single hill-station of North India was fully booked leaving us with no option but to explore a lesser known destination called Kharapathar.
Located on the Shimla-Route route, Kharapathar is the highest point on this stretch and this town is located at almost 9000 feet above mean sea level. It also falls bang in the middle of the main apple belt of this side of Himachal Pradesh.
Route to Kharapathar: The route leading to this town passes through Shimla and this meant we had to take NH-1 leading towards Ambala from Delhi. We decided to leave very early and by 4:20am, we were on the road in the new updated Volkswagen Polo. This was the 1.5-litre TDI version and I was more than eager to stretch the car’s legs on the open roads. From Delhi to Ambala, we had to stick to NH-1 and it was smooth sailing all the way as most of the flyovers are now functional apart from a few ones after Karnal. There are two toll booths in all and there is no lack of either fuel pumps or good eating joints.
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Thanks to sparse traffic and the lovely diesel engine, it took us less than just over two hours and thirty minutes to cross Ambala, 200km from our starting point. A few km after Ambala, the highway cuts in two – the NH1 continues to Ludhiana while NH-22 leads to Shimla. The highway remains four-lane all the way to the base of the hills till Parwanoo and this means that chewing up miles is an easy affair.
Around 10-15km before Parwanoo, we came across the Himalayan Expressway, one of the most scenic four-lane highways in North India. This new highway bypasses the congested town of Kalka and meets the highway at Parwanoo. This is also where we entered Himachal Pradesh – it had taken us less than four hours to cover 265km till here.
The highway from here is a typical 2-lane affair. Thankfully as we hit this patch early in the morning, traffic was less and allowed us to drive to Shimla at a relatively quick pace. We were pretty hungry but decided to drive non-stop in order to skip the mad tourist (and traffic rush of Shimla).
The views started becoming better and rain gods kept away from slowing us down. At 10:15am, we finally entered the town of Shimla. If you are heading ahead of this town, it is advisable to take the new ISBT road. This is a bit longer but helps you skip both the local and outstation traffic of the main town area. This bypass road goes and joins the highway again at Dhalli and from here on, elevation rose again.
It was at Kufri that we finally took a halt and had our late breakfast. There are numerous eating joints, some of which also double up as a location to hire a pony or pose with a Yak!
The road to Kharapathar starts at a town called Theog, 10-15mins ahead of Kufri. We knew this stretch is notorious for being bad and from here on, our average speeds dropped drastically. It took us a good 2.5 hours to cover 45km from Theog to Kharapathar but the views enroute were very scenic. This part of Himachal is devoid of commercialization and after years has the road work finally started. The only good option in the town of Kharapathar is the tourism hotel – it’s called GiriGanga resort and gets its name from the source of the Giri river. The source is located 6km away through a jeepable road, not recommended for small cars.
The best thing about this town is that you can enjoy a lazy holiday and soak yourselves in the views around. Every room of this hotel has a balcony that overlooks the huge valley. The rooms don’t have a fan also which hints at the perfect weather even in the peak of summer. After a quick lunch we decided to catch some sleep as we had been awake since 4am!
We woke up at 7pm, just in time to catch the fading sky. It was becoming dark (and cold) and within a few minutes, the valley was full of shimmering lights, the sources of which were little houses spread across the hills. This sight was something and the clear sky with a million stars added to the whole feel of being in the middle of nowhere.
Later at night, we went for a quick walk outside the hotel and for the first time in our lives, we saw a shooting star – it lasted less than a second but looked magical. Dinner was had in the balcony while soaking in the serene views and enjoying the cold wind hitting our faces.
We woke up lazily and by 10am, were on the road again to Delhi. This time we decided to be little thieves, stealing a few apples from the numerous trees lined up next to the road itself. The bad stretch back to Theog took time and as we were late, we decided to skip Shimla and bypass the town along with the main highway by taking an interior road that went and joined Dagshai, around 15-20km before Parwanoo. This interior road was a bit shorter but had its own share of rough patches. However we weren’t complaining and traffic was almost zero, allowing us to drive with ease.
The rest of the drive was rather uneventful and we reach Delhi by late evening. This quick trip to the hills had its own charm. We were more than happy to have skipped the usual tourist hub of Shimla. Visiting Kharapathar in winters is a different experience as well but having a 4×4 SUV is recommended. For hotel booking, you can log on to http://www.hptdc.nic.in