15- 16 February: second destination for our tour group in India
Toy train ride and romantic dinner
We gathered on the Kangra station platform, huddled together against the cold air. We’d spent the morning walking around the magnificent ruins of Kangra Fort. The fort was first mentioned in Alexander the Great’s war records in the 4th century BC; it predates the birth of Christ. It was built by the Royal family of Kangra, is the largest fort in the Himalayas and probably the oldest dated fort in India.
After a lunch of thali ( a tin platter of lentil dal, rice, flat bread, vegetable curry) outside the fascinating Maharaja Sansar Chand museum (he was a much loved and popular ruler), we had made our way to the station for a Toy Train ride to Jwalamukhinr near the Heritage Village of Pragpur where were to spend the night.
Surprise, surprise, our train was delayed, so we strolled along the line to look at a bridge built by the British: a unique multi-arched steel bridge which reminded me of a Roman aqueduct.
Our path took us along the track, past the dilapidated police station and a public toilet in unmentionable condition. When our train pulled in some twenty minutes after schedule, sari-clad women and excited children beamed at us from through the grimy windows.
We boarded and made our way to the exceedingly small hard wooden bench seats. The whistle blew and we clattered off, winding our way along the snaky single gauge track. The views down into the valley were breathtaking. For a few daredevil souls the temptation to hang by one arm out of the carriage door and over the sheer drop was too tempting, and as I watched I held my breath several times.
We arrived at our unpronounceable destination after an hour, and alighted to the warm welcome of our drivers, who had left us at Kangra Fort to drive our vehicles while we experienced one of the most delightful excursions in this area: the train ride takes three times as long as the drive, but we weren’t complaining.
The Judges Court hotel in Pragpur is possibly the most charming hotel I have ever stayed in.
After being welcomed and shown to our elegant rooms by smiling, courteous staff, we ventured out to the garden at the rear of the hotel. Fairy lights adorned the area, and a drinks table had been set up on the lawn, along with comfortable chairs arranged around an open brazier. To our surprise a pipe band marched towards us, and entertained us while we sipped our cocktails. Dinner was served on beautifully arranged tables covered with damask pink and white linen. We retired, contentedly replete, before 9.00pm.
Next day we took a gentle stroll through the village, past a ramshackle technology shop, a scruffy ‘fast food’ outlet, and women washing their clothes on flat wide stones.
We were surprised to see some ginger-haired fellows apparenty descended from Irish or Scottish soldiers during the British Raj. Duly impressed by intricate carvings on wooden doors, we departed for a six hour drive to Shimla, our next destination. After speeding along winding, potholed mountain roads, overtaking smoke-belching lorries and wobbly motorbikes, we were happy to clamber out into the overcrowded carpark of our Shimla hotel.