Thursday, August 9, 2007
It’s a one road, two hotel, four shop, six home, dozen horse and plenty of potato and apple town. That equation hasn’t changed in years. Fagu seems like a déjà vu hamlet. It has remained just the way it was when I visited it 20 years back. Picturesque, verdant, quiet, slow yet engaging. It’s a blessing how it has managed to retain that charming touch despite rampant concretisation taking place all over Himachal. That fact is more surprising, and comforting at the same time, as it’s mere 22 km from state capital Shimla, where the deodars have made way for a brick and mortar jungle that keeps expanding its limits, throwing all ecology caution to the winds.
It was blazing hot in the plains when we set off for Fagu. A casual cardigan is about all that went into the bag. How cold could it be up there, when Shimla too was reeling under the heat? Grandpa had warned us of more than occasional downpour in the hamlet and how cold it got. “Definitely take rainwear along,” he stressed. We listened to him but didn’t think it necessary to heed the advice. We couldn’t have been caught more deliciously on the backfoot. It rained, no it poured the moment we landed. As accompaniment, the wind howled and we shivered. Grandpa knows these hills like the back of his palm. He deserved more respect from us. We saluted him, and ruing our fate gunned for cover, snuggling into the warmth of the quilts. Hours later when the mobiles began chiming, with lesser mortals from the scorched plains complaining about the heat, we elaborated on how comfortably we were placed in cool climes. No, we didn’t tell them we walked around the hotel foyer in borrowed blankets.
The rain adds an impressionist dimension to the Fagu canvas. We didn’t move out of the hotel room. We didn’t need to. Our windowscape was exhilarating enough. In front of us were blue rolling hills offset by lush green vales neatly contoured with terraced fields. The one odd home with bright roof added a speck of colour to the panorama. The rain bought in curls of mist that softly settled around an apple tree or sat plum on a potato field. The vista looked ethereal and at our feet the electric heater felt blissful.
At 2,450 m, Fagu is at a higher altitude than Shimla and being hugged by valleys the winds get trapped in the bowl, adding to the chill factor. Locals said they never moved out without a warm cover or an umbrella, both being prerequisites as we realised. The weather here changes before you can drop the proverbial hat, or rain-cap in this case.
Sometimes it doesn’t rain in Fagu. Sometimes the sun spreads its splendour. That’s the time you should set off to explore. The pine hilltop, at the edge of a spur, had carpets of dainty daisies, making the hill appear like a frame out of the vale of flowers. Down in the valleys the potato fields were a sea of green with the sporadic white blossom and apple trees had button-size fruit bunched on branches. I met the lady farm owner and got chatting about profits of the produce. We mange well, she said. “She does very well,” her neighbour chipped in. “Last year she had a turnover of Rs 40 lakh!” She smiled. I seriously began contemplating not to bother posting my CV on job sites and instead concentrating on improving my spading skills.
Residents also make an extra buck by offering horse rides in nearby Kufri and their handsome steeds can be spotted grazing in the hills early morning before they set out to work.
The only visible change in Fagu is of some homes shedding their traditional slate and wood architecture for modern finishing. Himachal Tourism’s Hotel Peach Blossom, where we checked in, used to be slate-roofed structure with fire-place etc but it had weathered and in its place now stands a new construction with contemporary trappings. Comfortable, yes, but the former was cosy. There’s another hotel on the hilltop about which the less said the better.
Fagu is a weekend retreat. For times when you have want to do nothing. When you do feel like adding a bit of spice to nothingness there’s Kufri and its pony rides six km away; Shimla and its Mall packed with honeymooners is a half-hour drive (would have been faster but for the traffic); Narkanda is double digit miles away where you can romp through cherry orchards or munch on any fruit of your choice day long; yonder is Thanedar; where the American Graham Stokes planted the first few grafts of the red apple strain known today as the Kotgarhi that changed the face of Himachal’s economy. Further ahead is…Halt! At times one needs to do nothing.
Railway: Kalka (35 km from Chandigarh) is the nearest broad gauge railhead. The Kalka-Shimla narrow gauge is amongst the world’s oldest and can be connected to Delhi via Chandigarh (Kalka Mail and Shatabdi Express).
Road distances: Shimla (22 km), Kufri (6 km), Chandigarh (142 km), Delhi (400 km)
Accommodation: HPTDC’s Hotel Peach Blossom 01783-239469