Delhi to Rakh: Pine trails, lush fields
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For years the overnight train from Delhi to Pathankot has been my preferred mode of travel to Himachal Pradesh. It offers easy access to the Tibetan colonies of McLeodganj and Dharamsala, and Palampur’s pretty riverside. All busy, popular tourist spots that I now try and avoid. Recently, I decided to visit the unassuming village of Rakh, a speck in the sprawling Kangra Valley. Rakh is two-and-a-half hours from Pathankot and the journey is completed by train and a cab.
As I approached the village, the tea estates that produce the famed Kangra brew gave way to terraced fields of wheat and corn. Pine forests crept up the higher reaches, and the rock-interspersed Nuggal river, a tributary of the Beas, wended through the valley.
When I arrived at Rakh, what struck me was the glorious absence of the usual hum of tourists that is so typical of hill stations.
Right after I checked into the Rakkh Resort, I eagerly set out on foot to explore the place.
The primarily agrarian settlement sits in the shadow of the Dhauladhar mountains. Lush fields of grain were interspersed with guava and pear trees.
Walking through the village, I noticed several little mud structures. A local woman tending to her crop led me to a low-roofed watermill. A channel of water directed from a stream through the village powers these mills for grinding wheat.
Further up the mountain road, a stream crossed my path, where rosy-cheeked children were intently observing tadpoles in a clear pool. At a roadside tea stall, chacha (uncle) , as everyone calls him, handed me a cup of tea made with goat milk. He then started chopping a local fern called lungru for lunch. “It grows in the wild,” he said, with a sweeping gesture towards the mountain on his left.
Later that afternoon, I grabbed a mountain bike and explored more of the area, accompanied by keen children on their own bikes who were also visiting Rakh with their families. A steep incline knocked the wind out of us, but the rewards of going downhill were rather sweet. The lush terraced valley to my left was a blur of green as I hurtled down a pine needle strewn mountain path. The Dhauladhar mountains loomed large in the distance.
On a quick run to the nearby Gopalpur village (5km) to get a few supplies, I came upon a cycling trail that wound past scenes of a slow village life: tea pickers working at the plantations, a lone man standing at a post office, and children, with arms interlocked, walking home from school.
Next morning, I found a flat patch atop a hilltop to do some yoga enjoying the beautiful view.
The dining space at the resort is set high on a hill, flanked by mountains on three sides. Breakfasts here are long, languid affairs. I sipped endless cups of coffee while watching birds glide effortlessly over the valleys. Golden-bellied eagles swooped above spindly pine trees, and ever so often, a magpie would hop on to an empty table.
After breakfast, I set off on an easy hike to the nearby Manimahesh temple. It was hard to choose a route, with lush trails going in virtually every direction. Several trekking paths led to hilltop temples and monasteries in the valley, including a challenging route to the Himani Chamunda temple.
Later that night, the resort laid out a traditional Himachali-style dhaam feast under the stars. The feast embodies the traditions of pahadi cooking. Local vegetarian specialties were cooked in shiny brass pots. Seated on rugs, I and the other guests at the resort, ate off large leaf plates called pattul. There were dishes with familiar tastes—coarse rice, black dal, sour chana, rajma and meetha chawal (sweet rice).
As we ate, folk musicians sang about the charms of various Himachali regions—the history of Chamba, the forests of Parvati, the winds of Kinnaur. Gradually, their lilting melodies meandered into songs about a slower time that did not have the distractions of technology and fast food.
Rakh did feel like a throwback to such an era.
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