stumbled across Chindi a few years ago trying to go from Manali
to Tabo in Spiti, when I made the incredibly naive and dumb
mistake of thinking that an apparent shortcut on a map could
really be as easy as it looked. This was definitely one of
the more serendipitous mistakes I've made in map reading,
and revealed a region that still attracts few visitors, yet
with landscapes that really are the jewels of Himachal Pradesh.
Chindi - like Karsog and most
of this area - is quite isolated and really ideal for those
touring by Enfield Bullet. While it makes a nice enough destination
in itself, the real point is getting there via the amazing
twisting roads that pass through this beautiful and serene
landscape of terraced valleys and pine forested slopes. There
are plenty of good stopping points with jaw dropping views,
ideal for taking the all important 'natural beauty' break.
There is very little traffic on the road from Sundernagar
and the area is very wind still, and with the engine switched
off, the incredible silence in some places is sufficient to
hear the proverbial pin drop at a hundred paces. At one stop,
the nearest village we could see was at least three KM away,
yet we could hear the crystal clear and haunting tones of
a wooden flute, broken only by the occasional moo of a cow.
There are few places we've seen with this utter sense of peace.
Be warned though; no map we have seen gives any clue as to
how twisting the road really is, and it's tempting to think
that it's an easy eighty-ish KM from Sundernagar. In fact
the drive is fairly hard work, as in places the steep climbs
and hairpin bends make it quite slow going - although if you
love to ride bikes on twisting roads, that's what makes it
so much fun and it's certainly an ideal road for some serious
footpeg-scraping. In places the tarmac surface has some oddly
conceived cambers, and the single lane road has some deep
'ruts' (trenches is more apt than ruts) from the passage of
over laden buses and trucks. Allow more time than you expect
for the ride, especially if you are two-up with luggage. It's
also worth making sure you have a full tank, as petrol stations
were a bit thin on the ground when we last visited.
There's not much of Chindi itself; a small village with a
beautiful old Kali temple, a few shops, and a couple of particularly
authentic old chai shops built out of a mismatched collection
of old planks, bits of chicken wire and some serious ingenuity.
Places of this kind are rapidly biting the dust in rural India
with the rocketing price of timber and the onset of concrete
as the modern building material of choice. They have atmosphere
in spades, with simple wooden benches and wonky tables worn
down and polished to a gloss by three or four generations
of villagers trading gossip over a top notch chai and a beedi.
But Chindi's real claim to fame in India at large lies at
the top of the hill above the village; the Chindi rest house.
Rest houses kept by the Forestry or Public Works department
are not uncommon in rural areas, although few match Chindi
for sheer style, elegance and location. The house itself looks
something like a miniature Georgian country manor house, with
a large, well kept garden and a serene view, looking out as
it does over miles of gently rolling hills.
The Rest Houses are principally built for workers on official
government business, although its usually possible for a foreign
tourist to stay at the discretion of the manager if there
is room. Not Chindi however, which seems to be principally
a holiday resort for those higher up the food chain in the
Indian civil service, and is definitely off limits to us 'gora'
- at least in our experience. We've tried twice and been told
no with a distinct sniff and a slightly upturned nose, in
what appeared to be a bit of inverted Raj snobbery - perhaps
appropriate as the building looks to be pre-independence (see
note). Or perhaps they'd had a few
Israeli tour groups on Bullets.
There is a much newer (2001) HPTDC place just down the road
from the Chindi Rest house, which is nice but expensive. It's
worth hanging around Chindi - and/or nearby Karsog - for a
few days just to have a few walks and drink in the serene
atmosphere of the hills. The surrounding region has endless
possibilities, with Shimla a short ride to the south and numerous
scenic spots dotted around the triangle between Mandi, Rampur
and Shimla. Its also a good stop off if you're heading on
toward Kinnaur or Spiti, and an alternative route to going
through the Banjar valley and over the Jalori pass.
NOTE: There was a consolation prize,
however, in that we were invited to take tea with the splendid
Colonel P.P. Singh (Retd) and his wife, who saw us getting
the heave-ho and must have taken pity. Col Singh it seems
is something of a legend in India. He writes extensively for
an army in-house magazine, and travels extensively around
the country to get material for his stories, accompanied by
his wife, who has a truly wicked sense of humour. These two
extremely open minded pensioners have more energy, enthusiasm
and sparkle than most people half their age, and are surely
the definition of 'making the most of your retirement'.