Chai Trails – Episode 1
Shimla, a city that never ceases to enchant you. From its classic British architecture to the English lineage that is still followed in how people dress up. From its natural beauty to the crowded township that look as feeble as a house of cards; the tall pine trees and the rays of the sun that somehow manage to find their way to these forest covered paths!
Right from the ancient times, Shimla has been a city of great importance, both geographically and economically. There is a lot of historic character that this small town boasts of. Unfortunately we are losing that to the new world charms of bigger houses, smarter phones and decked up cars. That connect with the charm of Shimla is slowly getting lost somewhere. My idea with Chai Trails is to reconnect people with that charm, that history and that nature!
We start from Shimla towards the hill of Sanjauli and maneuver our way through some very heavy traffic till Dhall. From here, we separate our path from the old Hindustan Tibet Road and take on the road to Mashobra. This little town has had its share of tryst with some famous personalities. From the Gandhis to Khushwant Singh, all have had very close and personal affairs with the place. The legend has it that our Former Prime Minister Sh. Rajiv Gandhi raced around in his white gypsy here! The list of famous personalities is endless, politicians, writers, sports personalities – this place has seen them all.
We leave the tarmac leveled road at Mashobra and hit the forest trail towards Bakelthi. An 18 km forest path leads all the way to Bakelthi. This was an engineering marvel from the local legend Baba Bhalku. For those who do not know Baba Bhalku is the man who conceptualized the breathtaking Shimla – Kalka Railway line. When all engineering prowess of the mighty British failed, a local lad by the name of Bhalku enlightened them with how to cross the mighty Shivaliks to reach Shimla. Bhalku then started serving as a consultant to the British on all Civil engineering projects. Talk about the impact of college degrees! Anyway, Baba Bhalku identified this track as an all season road that would let people commute towards the higher parts of Himachal – Narkanda, Kinnaur, Spiti in the winters when the Kufri Pass would be closed due to heavy snow. The road still holds true in all weather conditions.
The Mashobra- Bakelthi track has a thick cover of pine trees (Deodars) as it forms an extension of the densest forest in Asia – The Shimla Kufri catchment area. Another engineering marvel of the olden times – but that’s another trail. On the way you will come across small villages set on both sides of the track and with a few private villas and mansions belonging to the rich and the mighty. The most prominent village would probably be Dak- Bangla and Tikker. There are multiple single tracks and walking trails that connect to the Kufri pass. The climb to reach Kufri is mostly short and steep. On the left, the forest opens up giving views of Shalli Tibba and even higher peaks on the left. You can easily spot the greater Himalayan range in the backdrop covered with snow.
The traffic is very minimal with mostly only local vehicles from the villages ferrying vegetables and people. The trail on an easy mode ride will take you approximately 1.5- 2 hours. It is highly advisable that you pick up apples from the numerous orchards on the way. Or just engage a local in a conversation and he will bring them for you. The trail is often slushy with a lot of seasonal streams on the way and some turning into waterfalls in the monsoons.
The end of the trail you reach Bakalethi on the National Highway and the old Hindustan Tibet Road. Here lies our first Chai Guru – Mohan Lal. He hails from the Baramati district and has been running this shop for 12 years now. How he got to Shimla is an interesting story. His relatives ran a shop close to Shimla and he came here in search of employment. He finally managed to rent out this shop some 12 years ago and has been selling very very good tea here since then. Mohan loves cyclists. He says they are special. They are different and are not like the regular tourists that come here. Cyclists are polite and respect the place. In his own words “ Cycle waale bahut pasand hai humme. Ache hote hai, pyaar se baat karte hain, hamari izzat karte hain, aur chai bhi bahut peete hain. Mehenati bhi bahut hote hai cycle waale, apni duniya mein rehte hai, kissi ko tang nahi karte – unke liye mein apni special chai banata hoon”. (Translated as – I really like bikers. They are nice people and respect us. They are hardworking, polite and mind their own business. They drink a lot of tea and I make my special tea for them).
Mohan also makes very yummy – rajmah, kadi, chawal, pakodas and bun butter. Chai and bun butter are my favourites, though he claims his rajma and kadhi are the best. He is helped at the shop by his wife. His 7 year old son and a 4 year old daughter both attend the Gita Memorial school. On an average, his sales for the day are around 1500-2000 INR with sales peaking in the apple season to nearly 4000 INR a day. It’s a tough life but he does it with dignity and pride.
He is Our first Chai Guru. So the next time, dump that fancy chain burger and coffee and try the adrak chai and bun butter. It will only cost you twenty rupees and give you a lifetime of memories.
|Trail Distance||25 km from Shimla one way (through Mashobra)|
|Trail Name||Mohan Lal Baikethi waale bhaiaya / Bhalkus Epiphany|
|Elevation gain||300 meters one way|
|Terrain||Offroad/ bumpy/ slushy/ rocky with very small climbs|
|Trail beauty Rating||3.5/5|
NOTE: This article is based on the experience of the author and individual experiences might vary. The author or HASTPA take no responsibility of the quality of the food.