Kufri – A paradox
This post appeared in The Alternative
Could a journey be a delight for some and dismay for the forsaken?
It had been a long drive from Delhi to Shimla by road. I was tired and somnolent but the thought of sighting the mighty Himalayas kept me awake. The ride from Chandigarh to Shimla takes a good three and half hours and I was greeted to the sight of tall, cone shaped, deodar trees or the cedar. It was as if they tried to reach the sky and spread a layer of shadow on the ground. Every direction that I turned I could see civilization in clusters in the valleys surrounded by the coniferous trees. If you are lucky the sun god could show his grace and give a peekaboo appearance in the cold winter days.
People are seen playing in the snow, taking a dig into parathas, bhajis, noodles and momos or clambering on to a Yak and taking photographs. You also could experience the flying fox and the various rides in the amusement park. People throw plastic bottles and waste all around with no proper facility for garbage disposal.
Next morning I walked on the narrow roads with layers of warm clothing for a glimpse and shower of the huge yellow star. It seemed as if he wasn’t much interested to appear from behind the clouds. Temperature had dipped down to zero degrees Celsius. Water on the roads had frozen to form a thin sheet of ice. Shimla had received its first snowfall for the year and the talks around the town were Kufri had started to turn white. I bought a cup of tea in one of the local stalls as I walked up the steep roads. Walking didn’t seem to be my cup of tea in Shimla for I was soon puffing and panting. The tea had started to turn cold as soon as it was handed over to me. Anything and everything had to be savored immediately else one would be left with cold food that would be despised by the taste buds. A cool breeze wafted around and I tightened the muffler around my neck. It was indeed contradicting considering for one moment I would find it warm when the yellow ball cast its heat around. I would have to peel off few layers and the next moment when I would walk elsewhere with not much light around, cast in shadow I would have to again pack myself.
Shimla, the queen of the hills a quaint town in Himachal Pradesh was quite intriguing. It had this old world charm all around it with its colonial architecture and structures with gabled roofs. Most of them were one or two storied and some of the rooms in the top floor hung out of the structure. In the distant I could see the snow clad mountains. I had traveled all the way from Pune with my nine year old son for the National Ice Skating Competition to be held in Shimla. He was all eager and perked up for his first sight of snow and cajoled me for a short trip to Kufri. Kufri is a hill station about fifteen kilometers from Shimla that could be approached by road. It is one of the skiing destinations in India which was a popular getaway for the British. We took a taxi and headed on NH 22 for the first experience of snow. I was in for a surprise as I saw a sea of tourists eagerly waiting at the base to go up the hill. There was commotion and a long queue to park the cars. Waiting time was high for renting the gum boots to protect ones feet in snow. The only conveyance to travel up the hilltop was mules, hinnies else you could walk. Hoards of mule (kacchar in Hindi) owners flock around and tourists are seen haggling with them for a better deal.
For a ride up and down the hill you are charged close to 200 INR. The arduous ride starts with around 3 to 4 of these animals tied together back to back and one attendant to manage them. The gallop traverses through curves that circle the hill filled with mud, sludge and stones. There are ditches and fissures that the poor animals trod upon. They urinate and poop en-route the grueling trip and are treated to lashes by the attendant intermittently. The earlier they reach the top the more the number of trips the animals would be able to make which in turn would lead to cash jingling in the owners pockets. The journey is adrenaline pumping as you are left to the mercy of the poor animals trotting the dangerous journey. The climb takes around thirty minutes after which you get to view the snow clad mountains.
Once you are done with your ordeal you would have to wait for long hours till you get the animals to travel back to the base. If you found the uphill journey scary then the downhill tread is multifold. You are left wondering when this journey would come to an end. Many of the riders fall off the horse and are seen being pulled for couple of meters by the mules. The slope is very dangerous and you are left worrying about your safety. The state government could definitely work on the roads and also ensure rules are brought in on the number of animals per owner as well as the number of trips per day. Eco friendly means of transport like bicycles on rent could be made available. Sanitation facilities need to be set up. The drudgery that the animals go through is heart breaking. I returned to the hotel room glad to be safe and in one piece but the thought of the animals laboring day in and out under dangerous conditions didn’t seem to get off my mind. The entire ordeal had left me heavy.
Kufri, definitely not for the faint hearted!